Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I HEART YA #3: Work Zone, No Reading Allowed

Suze Reese writes:  "Neither of us can stop reading when we get our hands on a good book, even for things like food, water, exercise, sleep, work or school... I'm fine nibbling when the book doesn't really pull me in. But if it does, it's time to say goodbye to any real-life activities. Of course, there's no way to tell what the story will do to you until it does it.

So what about you? Are you a nibbler or a devourer? Or does it depend? And what's the worse thing you've blown off for the sake of a book?"

You are totally preaching to the choir here!  I've been jealous of my mother for a long time because she can read right before bed and put herself to sleep with it.  If I try to read before bed, I end up finishing the book.  The first time I noticed it happening was with Ender's Game in college.  I picked it up, just going to give it a shot, around 10 or so, and then suddenly it was 3 am and I was finishing it.  Afterwards, of course, I was still wired.

I really do appreciate the fact that I'm a fast reader.  If I'm into a book, I can speed through it, gulping each page in hardly any time at all.  If it's a book I've read before, but adore, I can reach speeds of 30s per page (I am not a speed-reader or any of that sort of thing).  But I am also someone who likes to have my lights out around 11:30.  If I don't get enough sleep I can be cranky and non-functional, so this is a real danger for me.

For a while I assumed fanfiction could be a solution.  It was usually shorter than a book, and often predictable enough that I could tell myself to stop and actually stop.

Unsurprisingly, this failed utterly.  One night I had started reading a fic, knowing that it was a series, but assuming that the series was finite.  I read and I read.  When was I going to get to a stopping place?  I wondered, but there were so many balls still up in the air, so I plunged onward.  I plunged and plunged until, to my surprise, I heard birds chirping outside my window.  Morning had come.

It was only a month or so later when I was reading Fingersmith.  It was a bit after 3 when I hit the middle, and the unbelievable twist.  But I had learned from my mistake.  Shocked and frantic to read on, I put my bookmark in, closed the book, and went to sleep.

I can't say I never slipped up again, because oh yes, I have.  But the only all-nighter I pulled in college had nothing to do with schoolwork.  I sometimes wish that i could pace myself, and come back to a story again and again.  But to some extent I'm glad that I devour books and that they excite me enough to keep me awake.  Having a bout of insomnia a few weeks ago, I said, no, I'm not going to get angry at myself for this.  I can't sleep, but if I don't sleep I won't be able to write tomorrow, and I'll have wasted so much time.  So i turned the light on, and got out the Doomsday Book.  I was halfway through the 600pp tome, and plunged on.  At 3:45 I finished it, and was asleep by 4.  (Yes, the next day was shot, but I felt accomplished.  I had finished that book, and it was awesome.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I Heart YA #2 Who's Your Freak?

Suze Reese So, I'm jumping on this Blog Carnival train, since it looks like fun.  And I need something to remind me that YA is awesome, when the rest of my life is going to be Middle Welsh (*urgh*).

So, I haven't been into vampires since I was twelve.  When I was twelve, I was very into vampires, not YA vampires all that much (though I will admit to a weakness for LJ Smith) but Old Vampires.  The ones that went to a party and decapitated everyone, then cut off their lips and set the heads in a window so that the passers-by would think they were laughing.  I read Carmilla and Christobel, where vampirism was the embodiment of a possessive, homo-erotic, feminine sexuality.  Why wouldn't  have been into vampires?  *grin*
But I'm not into vampires anymore.  They're so Slavic, and I'm into Celtic and Sanskrit these days (re: Middle Welsh).

One of my favorite creatures is the Yogini.  She is described as a messenger from the gods, bringing their gifts of Soma to the Siddha petitioners.  Exchanging bodily fluids for the gift of flight.  But sometimes, she's not so kind and dutiful.  Sometimes she's a goddess in her own right, accepting blood sacrifice, bringing disease and death.  Sometimes she is a bird and sometimes a snake, but always a woman, and always more dangerous than you expect.

But, of course, I am a Celticist as well.  And although I get a little ragey when people talk about Druids as some secret cult and not as a politically savvy upper-class, I still have a deep affection for the Sidhe.  Nothing, though, will ever compare with Susanna Clarke's depiction of the dance at Lost Hope, the utter strangeness of a different world, the sense of beauty, so foreign from our own, and yet not foreign, the ball gown the color of rainstorms and thunder and mist.

My own Sidhe are much more normal, I suppose.  They are interested in science, in the same way humans are interested in magic, for their own ends.  To them, humans are animals, merely meat.  Their bloodlines increase in strength and power the more singular and less diffuse they are, so marrying sisters and uncles is only to be expected.  They are transfixed by a song or a poem, but find human arts crude and primitive.  They are beautiful, like an ice sculpture, but utterly inhuman.  Don't try to reach out and touch.  They won't ever let you go.
Arthur Rackham

Monday, January 23, 2012

Diversity in YA...?

Lo and behold, the semester has started again, and I'm running hard from the things I should be studying, and looking for the things I want to know.  One of the problems with Linguistics is that in its obsession with modeling reality, it can forget that what it needs to do first is look at reality, and strip away all of the lies, and find the bones that lie underneath.  If we're talking about the whole world, language is one of these bones, language as it is used.

Sometimes, we come across something beautiful, built from language as it is used, and showing us the world in the way it is rarely seen.  One of the classes I'm taking is on Judith Butler, critical theory and all that jazz, but theory is inextricably bound up with politics, and our first reading Queer and Then? really reminded me of the reason that critical theory isn't literary theory, because its subject isn't literature, it's reality.

In the article, Michael Warner quotes a passage by Zoe Leonard.

I want a dyke for president.  I want a person with aids for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn't have a choice about getting leukemia. I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn't the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their last lover to aids, who still sees that in their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying. I want a president with no airconditioning, a president who has stood on line at the clinic, at the dmv, at the welfare office and has been unemployed and layed off and sexually harassed and gaybashed and deported. I want someone who has spent the night in the tombs and had a cross burned on their lawn and survived rape. I want someone who has been in love and been hurt, who respects sex, who has made mistakes and learned from them. I want a Black woman for president. I want someone with bad teeth and an attitude, someone who has eaten that nasty hospital food, someone who crossdresses and has done drugs and been in therapy. I want someone who has committed civil disobedience. And I want to know why this isn't possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown: always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker, always a liar, always a thief and never caught.
Of course this is a powerful piece about minorities and the disenfranchised, but it got me thinking about diversity in YA, and why 'diversity' is pretty much a meaningless word to so many people.  If I were going to say what I think is our real goal with putting diversity into YA, I'd say that this is what we want.

I want a dyke in my YA novel, I want a person with aids in it too, I want the heroes for my children to be people who have known pain and suffering, people who have lost everything, and yet are looking for a way to do good in the world.  I want to not have to watch only middle class white kids fall in love and live happily ever after.  I want my fiction to be aware that the first world ends when we turn our backs.  I want to be allowed to imagine a future that is better than the past, not worse, and I want to believe that it can be real.  I want to give kids hope, but hope only shows up in the darkness.

And the truth is, it's not enough.  Hope isn't enough, showing people that there is a different way isn't enough.  But showing people the way the world works, in all its ugliness, may inspire a change in attitude that will influence those tiny every day actions that can poison the world or save it.  And maybe it can go viral, each positive act building a wave and creating a change much more vast than any one person can do alone.

Diversity in YA is about reality.  And reality is a punch in the gut.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday #113 "Pseudonyms"

Pseudonyms have always been something I worried about, since I have one of those unfortunately impossible to pronounce names.  I'll always remember the first day of senior year in High School, where I was taking 9 classes, and in every single one, the teacher started out by reading role, and would always get about 1/4 of the way down the list and start something like "kei-ruh dee..." and then give up, and I would raise my hand.  "That's me."  They'd ask me how to say it.  "Car-a (the low back 'a,' like in "Car") Dee-juh-ral-uh-moe."  Then they would blink at me in astonishment.  By the time the ninth class rolled around I as so exhausted and tired of this farce that when my last teacher looked at my name and looked pale, I started in on giving the pronunciation, and messed it up.  I had forgotten how to pronounce my own name, after so many people butchered it.

(Why don't we effing teach IPA in school?  We are a mixed society!  We have names from all over the place!  Make everyone learn IPA and this won't HAPPEN.)

So the problem with taking a pseudonym is two-fold.  1) it seems like it's capitulating to the lack of education in this country, and 2) it's an identity thing.  It's like when I went vegetarian and still ate fish, because I come from a family of fishermen, and not eating their catch would be violating my own family's identity.

I mean, I'm probably going to be publishing academic papers and such under my real name, (since it doesn't matter if you can pronounce an academic's name, and my entire field knows IPA), so if I'm writing books about princesses and such as well, (well, actually I'd really enjoy it if they were connected, since I'm not ashamed of either thing), it might be better for my professional standing if I had a pseudonym.  I could use my mother's maiden name, my middle name, (where the M. comes from), but it's a very... Anglo-Dutch name, and the fact is, Mediterranean genes are stronger than Northern European ones, and Mediterranean culture is too.  So the truth is, I don't want a pseudonym.

But the question wasn't whether you wanted one or not.  It was what would it be.  So, my choice?

C. Digger (suggested by cousin)

It sucks pants, but it's still my name, sort of.  And that's important to me, because I want to be able to eventually give some people in my family a book with my name on it, not anyone else's.  After that, changing genres, or other issues, sure, I'll think about it again.  But I want that first one to be mine.

EDIT:  Okay, everyone else is having a lot more fun with this!  Colin Smith used an anagram, which is really awesome.  I've decided that if I need one, I should have the pseudonym

Marid Alicoroga - "the jinni who asks for garlic"

This does not improve pronounceability though.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best FriendA Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know, one of the reasons I have a hard time with YA contemporary novels, (and paranormal romance), is that I can't find anything in the characters to relate to. The first one I read where I didn't entirely feel that way was Dairy Queen, since I got the sports, I got the working hard. But this book is the first one where it was like, "oh, you got it right. You got me right." And maybe none of the 'events' ever happened to me, In HS i never had a friend die, never got a girlfriend, never went on a cross-country bike trip. But the little things did. Spend too long in the basement working on sets? Check. Never quite got how gender identity was supposed to work? Check. Produced horrific productions with friends? Check. Mathletics? Plead the 5th. Spent so much time doubting that I actually had real friends that by the time I worked it out I had already left?

So in the much maligned (by me) genre of YA contemps, this book finally did all the things it was supposed to do. I'm never going to love the genre. HS and MS are not really times I'm desperate to revisit. But thank god there's finally a book that REPRESENTS! Thanks Emily Horner. I owe you one.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday BookDoomsday Book by Connie Willis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book with the worst cover in the world.   I had the choice, at my used bookstore, to pick between the plain white with medieval style lettering cover and a cover that looked like a fantasy romance. A beautiful blonde girl with a gold fillet and starry eyes adorned the cover, and below her a handsome dark haired man on a powerful steed smiled at the audience. In the corner a guy sat at the computer and two people in white lab coats pointed at a helix of DNA. Essentially, it shouted BODICE RIPPER, with maybe some swordfights and some sci fi, possibly?

Ha ha ha. Nope.

Even though I had read Connie Willis before, that cover still shook my expectations, and when the breaks came off, I was unprepared, and the revelations hit like a punch in the stomach.

Doomsday Book is vicious and beautiful and hilarious. And Connie Willis is an incredible writer. But be prepared:

1) Yes, there's time travel, it's not flashy. Yes, the book is sort of set in the future, but it is not our future (we would be lucky if it were). There are no cell phones and no internet. And it's so much more interesting because of that. It's a world where cutting edge historical research is going on at Oxford. It is a world that values the past.

2) This is not an adventure story. No one saves the world. No one falls madly in love. People do their jobs, and get into snits, and argue, and protest, and get sick, and ring bells. This is a good thing! Every single character is unfailingly, unflaggingly real. And Kivrin, with her innocent and selfish confidence, grows up, even if she wishes she didn't.

3) This is a book about disease. If the madness of horror of quarantine and epidemic, the search for the source of a mutating virus, and intradepartmental politics don't interest you, go away. Also, it's about the stupid things that people worry about when they have no power. Sometimes, that's lavatory paper.

Being an academic brat, and someone who has a fierce faith in the importance of history, this book hit all the right buttons. This isn't an adventure story, or a romantic story. It is, in fact, the least romantic story I've ever read. But above all it is a story about people, and how they keep on living their lives, doing their work, playing their roles, doing the right thing or the wrong thing, sticking to their bells, or turning on others, even under dire circumstances. If you're not interested in people, don't read it. But if you are, go ahead, you're in for a wild ride. :D

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