July 30, 2011

Scribbled Bits...

Fantasy Magazine is amazing as a resource, and I really enjoy going back and rereading old issues for fun and to provoke thoughts. Most recently I was reading about how steampunk has overwritten fantasy tropes in the May issue. (Since I am once again attempting a fantasy/fairy tale kind of thing, and in our writing group we were recently discussing the Hero's Journey, this trope-twisting struck a chord.) The piece on automatons was really, really cool.

I really enjoyed the reprint of Kelly Link's Swans, which was excerpted from Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales, edited by Ellen Datlow & Terry Windling. Two other nonfiction essays were helpful, one on the princess thing - and how despite Disney and how the princess is still forming and informing a lot of fantasy fiction. (You may not agree), and the other on unicorns. Other than the people who write about them fighting zombies, they did, once upon a time, have literary significance.

And for you great writers of bad prose, the Bulwer-Lytton contest results are in. Oh, be so afraid. Winner: SciFi Category:

"Morgan ‘Bamboo’ Barnes, Star Pilot of the Galaxia (flagship of the Solar Brigade), accepted an hors d’oeuvre from the triangular-shaped platter offered to him from the Princess Qwillia—lavender-skinned she was and busty, with two of her four eyes what Barnes called ‘bedroom eyes’—and marveled at how on her planet, Chlamydia-5, these snacks were called ‘Hi-Dee-Hoes’ but on Earth they were simply called Ritz Crackers with Velveeta."

Greg Homer
Placerville, CA

Happy Weekend to all of you scribblers and readers!

July 28, 2011

Thursday Review: WITH OR WITHOUT YOU by Brian Farrey

Dear FCC: I bought an electronic copy of this book. Additional Disclaimer: This book was written by my editor, who is a debut author in his own right.

Reader Gut Reaction: With or Without You is a story of love, friendship, family, and holding fast to what makes you you despite overwhelming pressure to do otherwise. At the beginning of the story, graduating senior Evan Weiss seems to know exactly who he is and where he's going—specifically, he and his best friend Davis are getting out of Madison, where they have to endure the taunts and beatings that go along with being gay, and heading for college in Chicago in the fall. But not only do his plans change quicker than he imagined, we as readers also learn that there's a lot of uncertainty hidden beneath Evan's calm surface.

This wasn't an easy book to read in the sense that it was painful to bear witness to the way gay teenagers are treated in many places in the U.S. At the same time, it was also distressing to see the dysfunctional way some individuals choose to respond to mistreatment—distressing because it rang so true.

Concerning Character: The narrator Evan Weiss is a truly relatable and engaging character, generally clearheaded, with a strong sense of himself that keeps him afloat during times of trouble—unlike his friend Davis, who tends to glom onto every new thing that gets him excited and then discard it later, whether it's a hobby, a new friend, or a new cause. When Davis finds out about a new group for gay teens called the Chasers, he leaps in with both feet. But Evan, more cautious, has a weird feeling about it all.

Not only that, Evan doesn't have time for a new group he doesn't much care for to begin with--most of his spare time has been taken up with either work at his parents' store or with his boyfriend, Erik. I loved how the relationship between Evan and Erik was portrayed—it was loving, solid, and realistic, a refreshing change from a lot of mainstream teen fiction in which relationships are shown as melodramatic or dysfunctional. I also thought the family relationships were shown in a believable light, both the good relationship he has with his sister and the more troubled and distant relationship with his parents.

Ultimately, though Evan seems wise beyond his years, his lack of experience in life and in relationships causes him to make a few major mistakes. How Evan chooses to deal with these situations gives the story a personal angle; it's not simply an "issue book." In a few spots I wasn't sure if Evan's reactions seemed consistent with his personality, but, that aside, I found this an absorbing read, and an important one.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Books about the journey to finding out who you really are, like any of John Green's novels but particularly Paper Towns and Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Books portraying strong, positive gay teen relationships, like David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy.

Authorial Asides: You can visit Brian Farrey's blog and website. And, if you want to find out why I feel like the luckiest writer in the world as far as editors go (well, one reason why, anyway), you can read his bio. Two words: Doctor Who!

You can find With or Without You at an independent bookstore near you!

July 27, 2011


You MUST read this great post about six underrated MG/YA science fiction novels that you might not remember. (Well - I remember most of them, but I'm old.) Patrice (not Patricia) Kindl and Willo Davis Roberts for the win!

I'm tentatively working my way through Baen's backlist of what they think might be YA or at least good crossover stuff, but the SF Signal list put together by guest poster Courtney Schafer is six for six, real science fiction novels written with a young audience in mind. And if you haven't read it yet, Patricia Kindl's OWL series is well worth your time

Now I need to dig out some old books...

P.S. - Do you like Catherine Fischer? There's a four book Fischer giveaway at F&SF Lovin' News and Reviews. Go.

July 26, 2011

Turning Pages: Another Fine Mess

While this book isn't marketed specifically to YA audiences, the main characters are in their very early twenties, fresh out of wizarding school.

If you're a fan of Terry Pratchett's Rincewind character, or ever wondered about life post-Hogwarth's for those not especially exceptional teen characters after graduation, this is one version of What Happened Next...

Reader Gut Reaction: I was entertained from the very first page of this book. K.E. Mills - or Karen Miller, when she's not writing under a pseudonym - has a light, amusing touch when dealing with her characters, and writes well about the hapless, less than attractive, and less than exceptional. And somehow, she makes them not only endearingly awkward and relatable, but through the darkness of their experiences, she give them bona fides and makes them worthy and real.

The minute I finished this novel, I went out and reserved everything else she's written. (And yes, thank you, FCC, the library is where I found this book.)

Concerning Character: Gerald Dunwoody is a wizard... which is really all that can be said. He's not an exceptional wizard. Not a wizard with a special scar or suprerme powers or a nemesis in the version of He Who Must Not Be Named. He's the type of wizard who inspires mild contempt and bullying, not lifelong antipathy. He doesn't have a whole lot of friends, but, it can also be said, neither does he have a whole lot of enemies. He's just a basic skills sort of wizard who got a Grade Three certification and makes sure that everyone else follows The Rules. It's a sucky job, as most first jobs are, but it's money for his tiny studio apartment and canned bean meals.

Aaaand, then one day, even that goes belly up. Spectacularly.

It's just another fine mess in the life of Gerald Dunwoody.

He answers a dicey ad for court wizard for a backwater kingdom called New Ottosland, and thinks he can wait out the cloud of failure he's been under. But this temp job turns out to be ...not quite as advertised. For one thing, the backwater king isn't just the vain boytoy he seemed -- he's a lot more astute. Terrifyingly astute. For another, Gerald thought he'd seen the failure before? Now he's facing a troubled prime minister/imperiled princess, a centuries old contract being breeched, a kingdom on the brink of war, and an international magical incident.

Oh, and vampire butterflies, just to keep things interesting.

Gerald has to save the world, and prove his worth to himself, if no one else. But, how do unexceptional wizards do that?

Recommended for Fans Of...: Standard Hero Behavior, by John David Anderson -- this is essentially an older-guy version of the same novel, only without the long trip to find a missing parents. Oh, and with those bloodthirsty butterflies. And a bit more darkness and dreadful consequences, since it's not for middle grade.

Themes & Things: The Hero's Journey has nine hundred million permutations -- and The Accidental Sorcerer, of course, shows yet another one, and one of the more successful. Gerald has to combat his own mediocrity, timidity, and belief about himself and his place in the world in comparison to others in order to succeed. He has to learn what it is to truly, wretchedly, and completely fail - and he also has to clean up his own colossal mistakes, and learn to rely on himself, and forgive himself. Those are some hard lesson to learn - and Gerald's on an accelerated course. However, this is book one of a series - he might have a lot to learn, but the author is giving him more time in which to learn it.

You can find THE ACCIDENTAL SORCERER, in hardback, paperback, or with its scary audio book cover, at an independent bookstore near you!

July 22, 2011

Mr. Twain Apparently Had Daughters

Finnieston 284
It's apparently a heckuva weird summer in Scotland. Bad girls are everywhere!

From the New York Review of Books: an illustrated slideshow of Mark Twain's 1865 children's story, "Advice to Little Girls," which was later published as part of a larger book. Now illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky, this amusing set of instructions reminds us that even back in the day that SOME little girls were were more likely to have blood shed on their crinolines than be dusted with "sugar and spice and everything nice."

With the traditional tongue-in-cheek style of Twain, he exhorted little girls to be nasty to their brothers - but with appropriate slyness and ultimate deniability - to mind their teachers -- until their backs were turned, and to obey their parents - at least on the surface. All in all, he tells little girls to do pretty much what they -- and little boys -- mostly do anyway. Radunksy's scribbly doodled illustration makes it seem like advice from little girls to other little girls -- and removes the adult voice from the piece entirely, which is quite fun.

I especially love "You should ever bear in mind that it is to your kind parents that you are indebted for your food, and for the privilege of staying home from school when you let on that you are sick. Therefore you ought to respect their little prejudices, and humor their little whims, and put up with their little foibles until they get to crowding you too much."

Indeed. And then, bring out the shouty voice... You'll note how quickly everything changes then... one way or another...

Via Jane Martinson @ the Guardian blog.

July 21, 2011

Toon Thursday: From the Archives

I am pursuing an obscure hobby at a conference this week. In my absence, please enjoy this old skool Toon Thursday froooom the paaaaassst. I promise I'll have a new one next time.

Disclaimer: No offense to prodigies! Good for you! And pardon me while I grumble grumble grumble! You kids get off my lawn!

July 19, 2011

Turning Pages: Craft Fantasy

Time for another flip through some pages. This one I chose because I happened to be strolling through the library (heads up, FCC! Thank you) the other day, and saw the title of a book that was the subject of Charlotte's most recent Waiting on Wednesday. Obviously, the chance to read it first, and crow quietly under my breath that Charlotte hasn't yet is something I couldn't pass up! Also, the model on the front of mine had Charlotte-y hair, as opposed to the US version, which just has a vague female face and a bird on it -- borrrr-ing! Actually, I'm joking, that's nothing like Charlotte's hair. Except sans brush, and in very, very high humidity...

I must say, the covers for this novel vary so much - the audio book cover is ...scary. What's that about? Not sure what they were trying to depict there. But - onward!

Reader Gut Reaction: I really do love craft fantasy, and the idea of Girls Doing Stuff, in an olden-days (this is semi-medieval) kind of setting. I love stained glass; I worked in a stained glass factory in high school, and I know both the drudgery and the delight of seeing bits and pieces of inch thick glass come together as a glorious, cohesive whole. I think the topic was wonderful, the varying kingdoms detailed and interesting, and the characters well-drawn.

Concerning Character: Rain is a well-beloved daughter of a glasswright, the widower, Torrent, and she herself has mad stained glass designing skills. It is she who is responsible for her father's success - she designs and he creates. Unfortunately, it's illegal where they live for girls to go to glasswright's school. Rain's father decides to buck tradition, and teach her anyway, but it's bad news to her cousins, who stand to inherit the shop when Torrent is gone. It seems best and easiest to send her away for awhile, on a journey, on behalf of the King, to a faraway land called Magharna.

Peri is the son of scavengers -- that's the name of anyone who hunts or deals with dead bodies in his country. He's a falconer, anywhere else, bringing in the food that feeds the hungry wealthy of the city, but his caste is of such untouchable lowness that he must be ceremonially bathed before going into the city, even on business, and no one of high caste is to speak to him, much less touch him, without frantic bathing, spitting, and fury. Even animals which are hunters are treated in the same fashion, so no cat fanciers among the rich and titled. But Peri is patient - patience personified, really. Somehow, none of all of this touches him. He has his birds, he has his family, and the families of the other scavengers. What does it matter, what the Master and the wealthier castes get up to? His world is small and peaceful, and he is sure of himself, in that he knows the boundaries of it. When he meets Rain, her life at risk at the hand of a bandit, everything he knows is turned upside down. Misunderstandings and mistakes abound - and prejudices, and vast, life-changing love affairs.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Heather Tomlinson's Toads & Diamonds, and Disney's Aladdin. Honestly, Rain has something Jasmine-y going on.

Themes & Things: Because this is a love story at heart, things like turning aside prejudice, and that the pure in heart can accomplish anything through love are the loudest themes. Determination and cooperation are also themes that reemerge first for Rain and her father, then again for Rain and her new community.

Authorial Asides: While this book has won an award, it wasn't quite a win for me. The beginning is filled with Rain's flashbacks, and inner-mind; it's description-heavy and without action or dialogue for too long. I expected a strong female character, because Rain identifies as a craftswoman, but her character was difficult for me to get a handle on - she seems passive and wooden in the beginning of the novel, going where her father bids her, doing what he says, in spite of her misgivings about her father, her cousins, and her fate. She encounters trouble, not speaking the language well enough, but resigns herself to passively follow orders -- and then suddenly, she has miraculously mastered the language, and, preternaturally optimistic and idealistic, she determines it is up to her to Save The World.

As the other main character, Peri's surreal patience makes him a bit unrealistic as a real human being for me. Once he meets Rain, his patience is no longer his hallmark. Abruptly, he begins to act very Alpha Male in a way which is hard to accept, but which I suspect the readers are meant to find amusing or endearing. I didn't - perhaps because I didn't really ever get much of an emotional connection with him one way or the other, though I love the description of his birds and enjoyed the depiction of the closeknit scavenger community. While it is human nature to root for True Love, it was difficult, in this case, to get a feel for the romance, what with the backdrop of reforming an entire society and Righting Old Wrongs.

I think the biggest problem for me is that I was told a lot and shown less. That's a rule one can get away with breaking a lot in fiction, but it has to be done for a reason. There was a lot of struggle and emotion I wish I could have seen in this characters, and a lot of reaction and thought-process I was told about that I could have done without.

Popular British author Julia Golding has created a novel stuffed with a lot of action and tension. One of the joys of booktalking is our many opinions - you may entirely love it, and be whirled away from your own world, or you may feel there's so much going on, you don't know where to look. Unarguably, there's a great deal of atmosphere and detail in the setting, which is just wonderful, and the culture and class settings show a great deal of invention.

I'd love to hear other opinions about this novel, from those of you who received copies of the book from your forays at the ALA and other bookish stops this summer. Cheryl Rainfield really loves it.

Julia Golding's THE GLASS SWALLOW is coming to the U.S. in October, but hopefully not with the same sinister looking audio cover! Either way, find it at an independent bookstore near you!

July 18, 2011

There's Still Time to Be Book Smart

Technically I'm out of town this week, so I'm just cruising by to remind you that Reading Is Fundamental's Be Book Smart campaign is still running through the end of this month.

If you shop at Macy's and give $3 to provide a book for a child, Macy's will donate your $3 to Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) to help reach their goal of giving 1 million books to kids. You'll also be eligible for $10 off a $50 purchase. Give a little, get a little...and kids will get a LOT.

If you missed last week's Summer Blog Blast Tour, you can still check out the Master Schedule over at Chasing Ray.

Have you visited Hip Writer Mama lately? As of, um, several months ago (sorry for being so slow on the uptake), Ms. Vivian Lee Mahoney has a gorgeous new website, complete with writing tips, prompts, and inspirational writing advice. Go check it out!

July 16, 2011

The End of Something. Or, Maybe Not.

Is it just me, or does this feel weirdly like looking back at a picture from your childhood, too??

Ah, the Potter thing. Remember when the big buzz was about this "welfare mother" - or, to put it in Britishese, this "desperate Mum on the dole" -- who'd written a book, which just barely saved her from Certain Ruin? (Which would be what, exactly?) Remember the book challenges (ongoing), concerned parents discussing fantasy, arguments on "normalizing" witchcraft, defensive teachers, hysterical sermons from ministers who'd never read the books? That's the late 90's Harry Potter legacy I remember most.

I also remember reading the first book, and realized that none of that was the point.

More than anything, I wanted to write a book like the first book of the Potter series. Not necessarily fantasy, or about a hero's journey, or anything like that -- no. I more wanted to write a novel where there were six new things per page, where there were high emotional stakes and detailed mental challenges. I wanted to write characters with much to discover, much to win, and much to lose. When I read the first HP, I was transported into a world not my own - my disbelief so suspended that I could and did gulp the whole thing down in one breathless sitting, and think, "why did I wait so long to read this?"

I'm waiting to feel that again. I'm eager for the next Theodosia, the next Gilda Joyce, the next Sorcery and Celia, and the next book of deep fantasy which takes me out of myself, and into a new world. And, perhaps like you, I'm waiting with interest for the next Rowling.

Keep writing, writers; we are all eager for the next books which will hijack our imaginations. And cheers to you, Jo Rowling, for making such an impression on our (extended) childhoods.

July 15, 2011

SBBT: The Finale

There are REAL live male authors on tap for the show today! Don't miss this rarity in the YA and children's lit field! It's been a great run this week, and if you act now, you can reserve your tickets to the show during the Winter Blog Blast Tour. See you then!

Check Colleen's Master List for everything you haven't seen.

July 14, 2011

NPR Kidlit Tidbits

I dare you to try to say "kidlit tidbits" 5 times fast. (Disclaimer: This blogger bears no responsibility for untangling the wicked sailor knot in your tongue.)

Anyway, today I've got a couple of kidlit-related radio stories for you...when I was out and about earlier, I caught a "where are they now?"-style segment, Can Wizards and Vampires Collect Unemployment? talking about what the Harry Potter and Twilight actors have been up to since their fame as YA book-to-movie icons. That segued rather nicely into a discussion of what book will come up next to fill the Harry Potter gap (including a plug for the upcoming Hunger Games movie). And then apparently I missed a segment on Kelly Link a little while later, which I'll have to catch at some point.

Secondly, if you'll indulge me in a little shameless self-promotion, TOMORROW morning at 11:00 a.m. EST, I will be on NPR's Tell Me More with Michel Martin, talking about THE LATTE REBELLION and representing for YA lit as part of the Summer Blend Book Club. I already went in and taped it, which is good, because it means (hopefully) they'll edit out all the awkward pauses. :) 

Tell Me More airs primarily on the East Coast, but also some places in the Midwest and South. Unfortunately, it does not air anywhere in California, but you can listen live at the NPR website or catch the podcast later in the day. To listen live at 11:00 a.m. EST (8:00 a.m. PST), go here and click on Listen using the NPR Media Player (requires Flash).

The podcast should be available later in the afternoon on this page.

Day Four of the Blog Blast

A full and spectacular week of authors and today an author-illustrator!

Mistress Colleen has a Master List for everything you haven't yet seen. Of the Summer Blog Blast Tour, anyway. A Compendium Of Completely Useless Information is where you'll have to look for everything else.

July 13, 2011

Wednesday on the Blog Tour is a BIG DON'T MISS!

The curtains part...
The drum rolls.......

YES!! Do you see that!?
Our very own AF comes out from behind the book and the blog and gives an interview!!

If you're behind on your reading in the Summer Blog Blast Tour, it won't take long to catch up. See Mistress Colleen's Master List for everything you haven't seen.

July 12, 2011

Day Two of the Summer Show...

Did you miss the show yesterday? Fortunately, the internets do reruns! Check Colleen's Master List for everything you haven't seen.

July 11, 2011

Two Too Cool

First cool thing today:

Second cool thing today, via The Mary Sue: Flannery O'Connor's college cartoons will soon be published in a book!! Quel exciting!

Now back to your regularly scheduled book review!

Monday Review: FLY TRAP by Frances Hardinge

Dear FCC: I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from ALA Midwinter in January. I think I've almost made it through my ARC pile...

Fly Trap is the sequel to Fly By Night, the story of twelve-year-old orphan Mosca Mye and how she and her viciously (perhaps homicidally) loyal goose Saracen ended up traveling in the company of a shifty con man with a heart of gold, Eponymous Clent. Two very mildly evil geniuses can get into a lot of trouble together, and in this sequel, Mosca finds herself going, of course, from the frying pan into the fire in the decidedly two-faced town of Toll.

Reader Gut Reaction: One thing I love about Frances Hardinge's books is that they're full of delightful cleverness without being overly or gratuitously clever. This volume is no exception, as the author takes the fascinating naming conventions of Mosca's world and works them into the plot in a most ingenious way. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say this: Mosca learns the hard way that prejudices that seem superficial may in fact run irrationally deep. What's in a name, indeed? Evidently quite a lot, if you were unfortunate enough to be born during the hour of Goodman Palpitattle, the lord of the flies.

Concerning Character: Although there is zero shortage of action and adventure in this book—kidnapping, daring escapes, outlandish plots, and so forth—in a way the entire plot revolves around the idea of character: specifically, what one's character really means and whether it's predetermined or something that you earn. In terms of of specific characters, Mosca is the plucky, smart-mouthed and adventuresome moppet fans will remember from the first book, and her relationship with Clent is that of a mentor and apprentice, with just a hint, perhaps, of an uncle indulging his favorite niece. Neither one wants to be vulnerable, so it's all hints and subtext here and there, but Hardinge makes it clear that they're fond of one another, beyond the fact that they depend on each other for their survival in an increasingly hostile environment.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Stories about plucky young heroines, like the Wolves books by Joan Aiken and the Theodosia books by R.L. LaFevers.

Authorial Asides: You all probably know I am a huge Frances Hardinge fan. I particularly thought that The Lost Conspiracy, the book she released just prior to this one, was brilliant, and I'm consistently amazed at her ability to bring an unusual setting to vivid, believable life. Fly Trap is out now in hardcover.

You can find Fly Trap at an independent bookstore near you!

July 07, 2011

Toon Thursday: Drunk Tweets!

Now that I've got your attention, here is your cartoon for the next fortnight. Click on it for an enlarged view.

Note: By "diehard fans," I do not mean "Die Hard fans."

Happy weekend!

P.S. Sorry this cartoon was posted so late. I scheduled it for 8 am, but...as Blogger is wont to do...it reverted my post to draft status. ARGH.

July 06, 2011

Good Day in the Kidlitosphere

With still doing the happy dance over SCOTT WESTERFELD being at the KidCon September 16-17, finding out that there IS a line that won't be crossed for celebrity children's books, hearing that SHANNON AWESOME HALE has sold novel rights to a film company (sadly not for one of her YA books, but it's a start), and finding out that DANIEL RADCLIFFE has banished his dementors in real life, it's been a good week in the children's lit news.

The fact that author and lit advocate and generally hilarious woman MAUREEN JOHNSON is going to speak openly and intelligently with children's book critic MEGHAN COX GURDON of the Wall Street Journal on NPR of all things -- that makes today pretty well perfect.

Despite the fact that I don't know that a lot of people are capable of meaningful discourse on this topic, I'm excited that YA and children's books are once more being spotlighted.

Happy Wednesday!

UPDATE: Here's Maureeeen! This was an intense, difficult conversation, and I cannot say that either side really came away with changed opinions. Certainly Ms. Gurdon seemed to dodge a lot of direct questions and talk around things - she sounded flustered and frustrated at times; at times she talked over Maureen, and didn't let her finish sentences, which seemed unprofessional. What frustrated me the most, I think, is that Gurdon seemed to have this misapprehension that pain is something which is based on age - twelve year olds don't need to know that, they need to never know that people hurt - but the callers were a treat, especially the authors and young adults.

July 05, 2011

Writer's Rites: Preaching to the Choir

This past weekend, I visited Sociological Images, my go-to blog for when I pretend to my second career as a sociologist. Oh, don't laugh at me - I think most writers are amateur anthropologists and sociologists, not to mention psychologists - we observe the weird human animal, and we report.

Anyway, on SI, I saw a video that really got me blinking. You might have heard of the song, "Random Black Girl." It ...wow. It is funny and snide, and bemoaned the role of "random black girls" in musicals (and also comments on Asian women on Broadway - that the roles are limited to Miss Saigon or pole-dancing), and for me, it set memories reverberating.

If you're an African American tween or teen, in a lot of schools, you're expected to do a couple of things: one, be a high-scoring forward on a basketball team, two, mow down the opposition playing football, or three, go out for track, play baseball, or just be a jock on some sports team. If you're not a jock, you're expected to sing and/or dance. If you're really special, you must be the soloist/lead dancer. Somehow band, debate team, chess club, computers, the Honor Roll - those are expectations are left to ...others.

My faux-suitability for these roles was demonstrated to me tons of times in high school. In junior high, I auditioned with a classical piece for a solo, in competition with my fellow choir members, and though only one piece was on offer, another was created. I was shortly told I had been given a soulful, wailing solo in a spiritual we were going to learn. It was, I was told, "appropriate" for my voice. (Apparently spirituals were more appropriate for me than anything from Handel.)

When I was a teen on a treasure hunt through San Francisco with a group of friends, we were tasked with finding the menu from a jazz supper club. My friend Tim beamed.

"We're in!" he said with a grin. "Tee can get it."
"Um, and she will do this how?" I asked. The club was really exclusive - fancy, and there was a gauntlet of parking valets, and concierges, hostesses and waiters between myself and a menu. I was in cut-off jeans with long johns beneath them, and a sweatshirt - and none of my cohort looked any more club ready.

"It's a jazz club," Tim said, impatiently whisking a hank of strawberry blond hair from his forehead. "Just go in there, do a bit of scat, and you're golden!"

Beyond the fact that this still remains the stupidest plan I have ever heard -- yeah, like nobody would notice or mind a random black girl in cut-offs and long johns, swanning in, singing -- Tim's assumption that a.) she is brown-skinned, thus, b.) she can automatically sing scat like Sarah Vaughn, that was just stunningly, astoundingly, mind-numbingly misguided. I had to unpack this whole set of assumptions for him, and we ended up having a low-voiced discussion on the sidewalk in front of this club while the others looked on with interest. Things ended with me crossing the street and watching my team, my face hot with humiliation, as they made their move. As it turned out, a Caucasian boy was a much better choice to go in and be charming and get what we needed.

And, after all that, we didn't even win.

Yeah, so, what has this to do with you as a writer? Nothing, really. And everything.

We writers are PC enough to know that we aren't supposed to deal in cliché, and we're wise enough not to make all the Asians in our stories super-smart, and all the Italians unruly and thuggish like mobsters. Yet, it gets in. How? We are INUNDATED with media that reinforces stereotypes. I mean, we can ignore the whole Jersey Shore thing as an exercise in large-scale tackiness (as well as every Tyler Perry film that has ever been made), but consider the more insidious truth: slice-of-life movies and TV, talk shows, and reality shows -- even the innocuous ones -- manipulate our perceptions, and in a way alter our view of the world outside of the screen. Reality television producers have been outed long ago as controlling the unscripted storylines of their programs -- by throwing in types. The Instigator, the Nerd, the Brain, the Diva, the Weeper, the Thug. That these "types" often correspond with a socio-economic class or ethnicity is less obvious.

Have you ever felt a flash of nerves around a group of brown-skinned guys in a group? Even if they weren't talking to you or looking at you, have you ever crossed the street, or angled your body away, because your brain identified them as Dangerous Thug Types? Have you ever walked into a room full of fit, good looking woman from the dominant culture, and felt intimidated, or that they felt they were better than you because of their ethnicity, money, or body type and hair color? Did your brain sneer, "Cheerleaders?"

Guilty as charged.

"But, there's truth at the core of every stereotype,or it wouldn't be a stereotype," I've heard people argue.

Only the most error-riddled truth. We create generalizations to explain our experiences, but that's a poll based on a sample polling group of one. Our experiences are too small to be the whole truth. The problem is that we repeat and share our generalizations and they become stereotypes, because they are taken and shared as facts by people with no experience of our observation whatsoever.

These are the sorts of oversimplified, lazy thought-processes, assumptions, and superstitions that creep out in our belief systems, and through them, if we're not careful, our work. Prejudices are, after all, only pre-judgments of things we THINK we know, and insist are correct, without supporting facts or proof. It's easy to substitute "Angry Urban Black Man," and "Ignorant Redneck Southerner" into our text and see what happens next. When we deal in "randoms," the sort stand-in characters from central casting, bad things happen.

I think the biggest loss to our writing when we use those central casting "blanks" is that we lose distinction and specificity. In our "smart Asians" category, are we including Filipinos, and Malaysians? In our "all Scandinavians are blonde, hot, and sexy," label, do we include the Sami? Do we even know who they are? Do our male British characters all have bad teeth, and are all the females breathless, Bridget Jones clones with thickly applied eye makeup or posh accents?

One of the things I've learned living abroad is that there is more that we do NOT know about people than we know. Writing gives me the chance to explore, to learn, and to pass on not more generalization, but tiny bits of truth that can open doors into the experiences of others.

What's been your experience?

July 04, 2011

Monday Review: BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray

Dear FCC: I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from ALA Midwinter in January.

What could be better for a Fourth of July review than a book about a planeload of Miss Teen Dream USA pageant contestants who crash-land on a (nearly) deserted island? Um, probably a lot of things, but it sort of fits a Yay America theme, right? Right. I mean, just look at that cover. (I think it's really clever, despite my general dislike of headless teenagers on YA book covers.) Oh, and there's adventure, pirates, romance, an insane third world dictator, and an evil soulless corporation with a


volcano lair. Volcano lair!!

Reader Gut Reaction: I've enjoyed Libba Bray's books—they're always good fun with a dash (sometimes more than a dash) of craziness—and I admit to being immediately drawn in by the wacky and wicked premise. This was in many ways a very gutsy book in terms of its structure, in that there are not just multiple narrators, but MANY narrators. Told in a relatively omniscient third person, something like five or seven of the 12 surviving crash-landed beauty queens get chapters of their own throughout the book. That worked reasonably well for me, and I enjoyed the "extras" sprinkled between chapters, like fake commercials for Corporation products and beauty queens' data sheets. I wasn't as hot on the footnotes, which I found distracting. I hate to get on my high horse, but I sort of feel like unless you're Terry Pratchett or David Foster Wallace, it's pretty tough to pull off the amusingly sardonic footnote. Still, a very fun book, with plenty of humor, hijinks, creatively used fashion items, and inconveniently revealed dirty secrets.

Concerning Character...and Themes: I was impressed by how much depth the author created in the narrating characters considering there were so many of them, and considering we as readers are constantly switching from one to another from chapter to chapter. There was a sort-of "main" character in Miss New Hampshire, Adina Greenberg, whose viewpoint starts off the story and who is immediately placed as an outsider relative to the other characters—she's an undercover school journalist who wants to take the whole pageant down.

However, as we gradually find out more about the other contestants, of course we learn that none of them is simply a cookie-cutter pageant girl. They've all got something that sets them apart from the crowd, and over the course of the story they learn that rather than trying to suppress those things that make them unique in order to fit into a pageant mold, their differences can be strengths. I'm kind of in awe that the author was able to develop a set of characters who were mostly, at the beginning, satirical caricatures, and turn them into fleshed-out human beings, while still retaining strong sense of humor throughout. Again, a gutsy maneuver.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Libba Bray's other non-Gemma Doyle book, Going Bovine (reviewed here). Stories about madcap capers, like David Macinnis Gill's Soul Enchilada (reviewed here).

You can find Beauty Queens at an independent bookstore near you!

July 03, 2011

Hunger Mountain: Bright & Dark

Need a break from potato salad and parades?
Have a bit of brain food:

After all the brouhaha about That Woman and the Wall Street Journal Thingy, and the idea of YA lit being "dark," Hunger Mountain explores the themes of bright and shadow in this month's edition. Neesha Meminger kicks it off with a piece on the task and purpose of writing - are you writing to impart lessons - which is what it seemed that the WSJ chick wanted YA writers to do - or do you only want to create art? Is there a way to even only do that anymore? All stories contain a message... what's yours?

The Flipside pieces bring out another dimension of messages, lessons, darkness and light in YA lit. It's Jennifer Ziegler for the light, and Clare B. Dunkle comes to us from the dark side. (Exciting! love her work) As always, there's the happy array of short fiction, a couple of pieces from new writers, and we want to especially point out the one from Jen Hubbard called "Monsters." You'll want to see that.

Read. Savor. Have another helping of potato salad.

July 01, 2011

Turning Pages: Guantanamo Boy

Right off, I knew this would be a tough one. With a title like Guantánamo Boy, I knew I would be doing some sniffling.

People: I don't like to cry. I so did not want to read this book.

And yet, I requested it from NetGalley (hi, FCC, .pdf ARC here, thank you), because to not read it would be cowardice. I can't hide from the facts of Guantánamo Bay prison. The ugliness that snatched people of Egyptian, Arabic, and in some cases, South Asian descent, and thrust them into trauma is real. The world is still full of fearful, knee-jerk, panic-driven, vengeful, racist people, and as a reader and writer I need to not hide my eyes because mean people suck, and sad things make me sad.

You need to read this book. I won't lie; I can't say I loved it, and want to read it over and over. It's not that kind of book. Frankly, parts of this novel may really mess you up. But it's worth a few tears, because it makes you think.