Friday, November 27, 2009

Links: Twilight Essay; Awesome Editor Interview

A couple of links for your holiday reading:

1) If you want to read my thoughts on how Twilight, Bollywood, and Disney capitalize on the sexuality of young girls (and their mothers), check out this essay on Racialicious:
"But after seeing [Twilight], I have a whole new understanding of why this film has banked as much revenue as it has. And how closely it resembles Bollywood romance films. The success of Bollywood romance films and novels like Twilight are a huge reflection of their consumers’ needs and wants, as well as the accepted social context within which these stories thrive.
Now, this is nothing new — the budding sexuality and innocence of young girls has been exploited historically by media giants like the Disney corporation for years. Disney princesses have been swooning over their prince saviours and waiting for rescue for decades. These are stories little girls grow up reading and hearing at bedtime and many know by heart..."
2) Zetta has an amazing interview up with former children's book editor, Laura Atkins. If you are interested in publishing, multicultural children's books, and issues of race and representation, do check it out. Here is one of my favourite bits--how to go about actively seeking voices from writers of colour:
"·      seek out published authors for adults (fiction and non-fiction) who I thought could write for young readers;
·      contact editors of anthologies (especially those featuring diverse authors, or, for instance, Native American stories) and ask for suggestions of new talent;
·      post on listservs and bulletin boards for writing groups featuring authors of color – sometimes saying I was looking for something in particular (such as contemporary Native American or Filipino American stories – anywhere I saw a hole in the market)
·      contact journalists who wrote in relevant areas to see if they had considered writing for young people
·      talk to curators from museums representing diverse communities to have them tell me about artists or concepts that might work for children’s books.

These days, you could post on blogs saying you are actively seeking diverse new authors and illustrators and the word would certainly spread.  I get frustrated when I hear editors say they would love to publish more diverse authors if their stories would only come across their desks.  Getting through all the steps it takes to get published is a huge obstacle, so this really needs intentional efforts from editors..."
The rest of the interview is fantastic, as well.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Grateful, Unsettled, and Cherishing

As we ease on into the (US) Thanksgiving weekend, I am grateful for many things, unsettled by others, and cherishing one or two--the true gems around which my life revolves.

Grateful: for a warm home, loving friends and family, an extraordinary year, new connections with like-minded souls, progress and forward movement in areas both personal, as well as professional.

Unsettled: Thanksgiving is not one of my favourite holidays. It is not as big a deal in Canada as it is here, in the US. And this big deal -- in the schools, in particular, is a real problem for me. I struggle to infuse what my girls learn at school, with a more balanced perspective (see this post for an example). As my girls come home with feather headdresses and songs about tepees and how the Indians and Pilgrims were friends, I wish desperately that they were old enough to read this -- one of my favourite articles about Thanksgiving from a Native American perspective. Instead, I do my best to distill the information and translate it into a five-year-old and eight-year-old vocabulary.

Cherishing: the health of my children and life partner, and the opportunity to wake up every morning and try again to help shape this world into something closer to what it can be.

I wish you all a safe, relaxing, hope-filled holiday weekend.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Interview, and Links

Here is a link to a recent interview I did on Why A? In it, I talk about my path to publishing, when I began writing, my advice to writers, and I also reveal something "unexpected" about myself (!!).

In addition, I wanted to mention this review by one of our favourite booksellers, The Happy Nappy Bookseller. It is a review of Paul Griffin's Orange Houses, and she makes some keen, insightful observations. I've posted a quick thought in the comments section, but wanted to note the difference between this book by a white, male author featuring characters of colour, and the review I did of Chris Crutcher's WHALE TALK. Big difference. These two reviews also relate to the issues Justine Larbalestier raised in her posts on white writers writing PoC. An important conversation that needs to continue.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Are Writers of Colour Damaged?

Just read this post at Brooklyn Arden which references an article in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, then read Zetta's response. I'm adding my contribution to the discussion here, rather than on either of those posts, because it is rather long to be a comment . . .

Historical white supremacy does not excuse current publishing houses from actively seeking AND NURTURING work from writers of colour. I know Brooklyn Arden's post has this disclaimer, but it needs to be said again.

Editors have been known to acquire books that need ground-up revisions from writers in whom they see "promise." And, since white writers are published in far larger numbers than writers of colour, most of those "promising" writers tend to be white.

I find it hard to believe that "fully formed" writers of colour have been so irreparably damaged by historical white supremacy that our writing shows no promise, whatsoever. And that, unless you catch us in grade school or high school, we'll likely live with that damage for the rest of our years.

I find it harder, still, to believe that an editor who would take a manuscript through several rounds of ground-up revisions with a white author wouldn't find a promising writer of colour that s/he could make similar ground-up revisions with.

And I find it almost impossible to believe that writers suffering from the long-term impacts of historical male-supremacy, historical hetero-supremacy, and other kinds of historical oppression, haven't, likewise, been so irreparably damaged.

Some of the most poignant, powerful writing comes from those who've suffered unimaginable transgressions, from people whose lives have been torn and blasted in many ways, sometimes for generations. And editors take the heart-wrenching stories of these survivors--these *thrivers*--and help the writer shape these stories into works of beauty.

The pain and suffering of people of colour is *always* on the pages of our writing--whether we are writing romance, humour, fantasy, or contemporary realistic fiction. There is no escaping it because it is fused to our genetic make-up through history, culture, socio-economics. But finding editors and agents who stare at that pain with unflinching compassion, and a burning desire to be part of the solution . . . well, that is a rare find, indeed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Letter from An Afghan (American) Woman

I read this wonderfully enlightening note on a listserv I subscribe to and just *had* to get in touch with its author. I am reprinting it here, with permission from the writer, Zohra Saed.

Here is a bit about Zohra from her website:
Zohra Saed was born in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. She learned to walk in Tehran, Iran. Zohra spent her childhood first in Amman, Jordan and later in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia before her father brought his family to Brooklyn. She is a poet, academic, and editor.

And here is her very thought-provoking post . . .
Okay, I have to bring this up because I've gotten into too many conversations with women "writing for" Afghan women and referring to us as Afghani. What is this odd little "i" at the end?

Let me clarify why I feel tense whenever I hear the term "Afghani" used by well-meaning friends (okay, maybe they don't want to be friends with me. Maybe they just want me as their sounding board to fact-check their story that is about an "Afghan-I-" woman. They will usually not know that I think these things inside my little round head).

When you use the term "Afghani" it means that you do not really know us, Afghans, very well and that perhaps a few newspaper clippings have intrigued you. Perhaps you heard a few stories, but really when it comes down to it -- you really wouldn't know a Pashai from a Kandahari from a Mazari. etc. But you'll just ride the elevator with me telling me all about your Afghani experiences. (Please, please--this doesn't mean Afghans know themselves any better or each other for that, but least we don't ride elevators telling one another how well we know what Afghans think or would do under so-and-so situation).

When you use the term "Afghani," it means that you do not know that our currency is the Afghani (well, I haven't used an Afghani since I chewed one up when I was a year old in Jalalabad, but you know, even if I grew up with dollars, I wouldn't refer to myself as the currency of the place I was born in).

I suppose us 'Ghans use the term Afghani as well, but we get dirty looks from each other just the same. Usually we use Afghani to describe things, not people. Like "Did you get some Afghani bread at the Afghani store with the Afghani carpets everywhere?" But we would never say, "Hi, I'm Afghani Zohra, how do you do?"

So, please, at least write more than newspaper headlines and understand our nuances.  This is not to boast that Afghans all know their nuances, we're so varied from one another, and so many years of war and scatterings have kept us from knowing ourselves. But at least we would never attach that gangly "I" at the end of Afghan because we are Afghan, not like-Afghan, which is what the "i" connotes.

I have made a big issue out of this, but I must share it with you, my sisters. Please . . . in the love of global sisterhood, at least name us properly. Give us some nuances, some texture.

Zohra, the brutish/brooding Afghan(American)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Spotlighting L.K. Madigan's FLASH BURNOUT

Today, I get to spotlight L.K. Madigan's FLASH BURNOUT! I haven't read this one, but L.K. is a super-cool Deb and I can't wait to get my hands on her debut novel.

About L.K. Madigan:
L.K. Madigan is a writer living in Portland, Oregon, who finds it odd to speak in the third person. Therefore:

Hi. I am married with one son, two big black dogs, hundreds of books, and a couple of beaters, I mean vintage cars.

(See? Told you she was super-cool.)

Fifteen-year-old Blake has a girlfriend and a friend who's a girl. One of them loves him, the other one needs him.

When he snapped a picture of a street person for his photography homework, Blake never dreamed that the woman in the photo was his friend Marissa's long-lost meth addicted mom.

In a tangle of life, death, and love, Blake will emerge with a more sharply defined snapshot of loyalty.

Here are L.K.'s answers to the Thorough Three . . .

NM: What is the age of your protagonist/s?

LKM: Blake is 15, and turns 16 during the course of the book.

NM: What is the single, most important bit of advice you'd give to the You that was the same age as your protagonist/s?

LKM: Please, I beg you … don’t wear that one-armed purple dress with the uneven handkerchief hemline to your high school graduation.

NM: Complete the following sentences:

Everyone should definitely, for sure _____________.

You should NEVER, EVER ___________. But if you absolutely must, make sure to ____________.

LKM: Everyone should definitely, for sure travel outside the United States at least once.

You should NEVER, EVER respond to negative reviews. But if you absolutely must, make sure to be witty and dry.

*Very* good advice, that last one. For more info on L.K. and her work, visit her site. And to buy a copy of her book, go here!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Brave Dissenting Voices

This past weekend, at a poetry workshop for mentors and mentees of Girls Write Now, I was introduced to HBO's Brave New Voices series. As one of the mentors in the series says, the series proves that not all young people consume mass media culture without questioning it, challenging it, and raising their voices against it. Many (if not most) young people--young adults--are out there actively dissenting--actively and *critically* engaging in the world around them. Railing and shouting in the face of corporate and media giants that muzzle true creativity; the forces of imperialism and colonialism; and oppression and injustice of all kinds.

Check out the below clips of teens letting the fire rage through them; crackling, regenerating, and transforming . . . as it creates hope, and breathes new life.

Here's 15-year-old Alexis, of Team New York City, y'all:

And Aysha, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania:

And Jamaica, "A self-described 'mixed mutt' in ethnic background, Jamaica says, 'I'm Hawaiian, Chinese, German, Portuguese, English, Irish and French. I am almost a quarter Hawaiian and definitely identify mostly as a Hawaiian.'":

Watching these young people rage and express makes my heart swell with pride. It gives me the push I need to keep writing work that speaks to their experience, and reflects their realities. As we head toward Thanksgiving weekend, these videos remind me that Love is the motivating spark behind all true and great creative expression.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Winning One For the Team

I just had to post this, even if it meant posting twice in one day . . .

I did a review some time ago about the awesomeness of Zetta Elliott's A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT. If you read that review, you'll know that Elliott self-published WISH after facing a zillion closed doors from agents, editors, and publishers. Well, her novel went on to sell like crazy, and generated massive buzz on the internet--all due to the relentless dedication of the author.

Now, in this post, Zetta has announced that Amazon's Encore publishing program has picked up WISH!! I couldn't be more thrilled for her. She deserves it. She took the "road less traveled" and prevailed. And, her courage and commitment is an inspiration for marginalized voices everywhere. It is a testament to the fact that we have options. That, as Ms. Elliott states in her post, there is always a "third way."

Go, Zetta!!!

Take That, PW

I love Guerrilla Girls' post on the Best Books of 2009. They have an extensive list of books by women and people of Colour--all of which were ignored when Publisher's Weekly created their list of Best Books of 2009.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Spotlighting Kristina Springer's THE ESPRESSOLOGIST

Today, I'm spotlighting Kristina Springer's THE ESPRESSOLOGIST. Here's a little about Kristina:
Kristina Springer has a Bachelor of Arts in English Education from Illinois State University and a Master of Arts in Writing from DePaul University. Her first novel, THE ESPRESSOLOGIST, was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux on October 27, 2009. Her second novel, MY FAKE BOYFRIEND IS BETTER THAN YOURS, also from FSG, will be published in the fall of 2010. She lives in a suburb of Chicago, IL with her husband Athens and their four small children Teegan, Maya, London, and Gavin.

About THE ESPRESSOLOGIST: What’s your drink of choice? Is it a small pumpkin spice latte? Then you’re lots of fun and a bit sassy. Or a medium americano? You prefer simplicity in life. Or perhaps it’s a small decaf soy sugar-free hazelnut caffe latte? Some might call you a yuppie. Seventeen-year-old barista Jane Turner has this theory that you can tell a lot about a person by their regular coffee drink. She scribbles it all down in a notebook and calls it Espressology. So it’s not a totally crazy idea when Jane starts hooking up some of her friends based on their coffee orders. Like her best friend, Em, a medium hot chocolate, and Cam, a toffee nut latte. But when her boss, Derek, gets wind of Jane’s Espressology, he makes it an in-store holiday promotion, promising customers their perfect matches for the price of their favorite coffee. Things are going better than Derek could ever have hoped, so why is Jane so freaked out? Does it have anything to do with Em dating Cam? She’s the one who set them up! She should be happy for them, right?

I don't know about you, but I am seriously impressed that Kristina gets anything done with four kids, let alone writing and publishing novels!

Here are Kristina's answers to the Thorough Three . . .

NM: What is the age of your protagonist/s?

KS: 17

NM: What is the single, most important bit of advice you'd give to the You that was the same age as your protagonist/s?

KS: Hang on, things get SO much better from here!

NM: Complete the following sentences:

Everyone should definitely, for sure ____________.
You should NEVER, EVER ______________. But if you absolutely must, make sure to ____________.

KS: Everyone should definitely, for sure do what makes them happy.

You should NEVER, EVER get the sugar-free syrups at Starbucks. But if you absolutely must, make sure to get the sugar-free vanilla--it's the only almost passable one.

Thanks, Kristina! For more info about Kristina and her work, go here. To buy a copy of THE ESPRESSOLOGIST, go here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Quick AASL Recap

The AASL conference in Charlotte, North Carolina was, quite simply, a blast. I met with fellow authors, an agent or two, and tons of smart, dedicated, committed librarians. They stopped by the Author Pit Stop on Friday to chat, laugh, share, and get cool swag. And two dear, kind-hearted souls took pity on Shani Petroff and I (as we sat glued to our signing station) by bringing us cupcakes and champagne!

I am also *thrilled* to report that SHINE, COCONUT MOON sold out by day two of the conference. I was ecstatic by the interest, but a little sad for the librarians who stopped by hoping to buy a copy. I did sign bookmarks and postcards for them and, though it's not quite the same as a signed book, everyone went away happy.

The food in Charlotte was delicious, the people friendly, the nightlife bustling . . . but the company of fellow authors was what made the whole experience really sparkle. It is one I will definitely cherish.

Check back for pictures; coming soon!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Spotlighting Jon Skovron's STRUTS & FRETS

I am super excited to spotlight Jon Skovron's STRUTS & FRETS this week. I met Jon when he came to New York in the summer, but before that we'd exchanged emails and discovered that we share similar views on some important issues. Jon's partner-in-crime also has her own very cool blog and everyone should totally go and check that out, too.

I am happy to call Jon a friend and thrilled that his novel is out making its way in the world. Here's a little bit about Jon and Struts & Frets, in his own words . . .

About Jon Skovron:
Jon Skovron is an insatiable music geek who can play eight instruments, but none of them well. He was born in Columbus, Ohio, has lived all over the US, and now resides with his wife and two sons in Washington, DC. His short stories and reviews have appeared in publications like Jim Baen's Universe and Internet Review of Science Fiction. Struts and Frets is his first novel.

More than anything, Sammy wants to play guitar in a famous indie rock band. The problem is that his front man is a jerk who can't sing, his bassist is a burn-out who can't remember the songs, and his drummer is just out to lunch. But Sammy needs this band because it's the only good thing he's got going. His father skipped out before he was born, his mother is an overworked therapist with a drinking problem, his grandfather is slowly losing his mind to Alzheimer's, and the girl of his dreams is dating his jerk lead singer.

Now that jerk lead singer has entered them in a Battle of the Bands contest to win free studio time and guaranteed radio play. Sammy has two weeks to get them to sound like a real band, or face public humiliation in front of the entire local indie music scene.

And here are Jon's answers to the Thorough Three . . .

NM: What is the age of your protagonist/s?

JS: 17

NM: What is the single, most important bit of advice you'd give to the You that was the same age as your protagonist/s?

JS: Lighten up a little! Oh, and FYI, the teased Robert Smith hair really doesn't look good on you, no matter what you think.

NM: Complete the following sentences:
Everyone should definitely, for sure _____________.

You should NEVER, EVER ___________.  But if you absolutely must, make sure to ____________.

JS: Everyone should definitely, for sure make mistakes. Loud, glorious, committed mistakes.

You should NEVER, EVER drink the green beer on St. Patrick's Day. But if you absolutely must, make sure to have a bucket handy.

Thanks, Jon! For more information about Jon and his work, visit his website. To get your copy of Struts & Frets, go here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Several YA authors, including myself, Zetta Elliott, Sara Ryan, and Kekla Magoon, share our thoughts on "mean girls" in YA literature (as well as popular media) in this post on Chasing Ray. Here are a few quotes:

"Mean girls versus good girls is black versus white. It’s anti-heroine versus heroine. It’s a game, and someone will win. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s my age, but I grow increasingly interested, as I read and write, in the shades of gray, and what they teach us." --Beth Kephart

"I think one of the limitations of some feminist movements and/or thinkers is the refusal to acknowledge that women aren’t monolithic; they don’t all share the same values or goals, and there’s no automatic instinct for female solidarity that kicks in whenever one of us is in trouble (women of color learned this very early on when dealing with white middle-class feminists; queer women know this about straight women, etc.)." --Zetta Elliott

"I KNOW that most tortured awesome girls will go off into their adult lives and recover, and grow wings and leave the stupid mean girls in a cloud of dust. Most girls won't won't upturn the social order of the lunchroom, so much as they'll outgrow it. It WILL make them stronger in some cases, but slowly, quietly." --Laurel Snyder

"These stories don't typically appeal to me, at least when they're glorifying the mean girls as heroines or role models. I connect with the stories that take the point of view of someone who falls on the outside of these sorts of cliques, and/or suffers on their margins. I do think the archetypal "mean girl" character reflects reality, but only a slice of it. So does the idea of popular girl cliques who step on others in the quest for...whatever it is they're truly after, be it popularity, the illusion of control over their lives, or the lives of others, or simply the heady assurance that they have something other people want. Where I see meanness, I see weakness, and those aren't characters I want to get close to, though they can serve a story in myriad ways." --Kekla Magoon

Go and check out the post; all of the answers are thought-provoking. What do you think about the "mean girls" phenomenon?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mystical Indians and Mythical Indians

So, I'm in between travel and wanted to post a few thoughts sparked by the last conference I went to (the NEATE one in Rhode Island). It was amazing to meet and interact with so many dedicated, caring English teachers. They were a lovely group, especially the ones in our workshop ;).

In my intro comments, I spoke a bit about how I came to write SHINE, COCONUT MOON and I wanted to share those here.

The book started out, initially, as a love letter to my eldest daughter. A while back she came home, chattering animatedly about Columbus Day. She described what she'd learned about the voyage across the Atlantic, the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, and how Columbus discovered a strange new land, making friends with strange new people.

I held my tongue for the most part, and worked very hard to find age-appropriate ways to question and challenge some of the assumptions she was learning at school. I asked her how it's possible to discover something when there are already people there who obviously know about its existence. She nodded her head thoughtfully, pondering that one.

Everything was well and good until she said this:
"And we learned about the Indians. They lived a long time ago and they lived in teepees."

All of my composure and resolve to act as a mature parent was now in danger of crumbling. I told her that First Nations people and the indegenous people of North and South America are still alive and well, and living among us.

I could not convince her that this was true. Because somewhere in her mind, as a result of what she was being taught in school, she believed, without a doubt, that Native Americans were a myth.

I thought (okay, maybe obsessed) about this for some time afterward. I had to figure out a way to have my daughter question what she was learning without alienating herself, or making life difficult for herself in relating to her peers. I knew if that happened, I could lose her. She could easily turn her back to anything else I said down the line, because listening to me might result in painful alienation and isolation from her friends. And, as we all know, friends and social life are the MOST important things during those key, formative years.

I realized, too, that this same sort of mythification and mystification happens with "my kind" of Indians. I knew this on other levels before, but I'd never quite seen it in action before like this. I'd always known that India was romanticized in a lot of the literature I'd read. That India was portrayed as this far off, exotic land, waaaay across the ocean, with music that Madonna and the Beatles had decided to incorporate into their mega-gazillion dollar albums. This was not news to me.

What was different this time was the realization of how this affects kids in school. How, in Chimamanda Adichie's insightful words (see previous post), the "single story" shapes young minds--even in terms of their *own* identities. When, rather than looking to their own experience to define themselves, children reach, instead, for the "single story" that some teachers (many of whom are with these children more hours of the day than their own caregivers), teach from textbooks without examining its content or effects.

I don't know what the stats are on the exact percentage of kids who are bullied at school. But I would hazard a guess that a large percentage of that bullying is targeted towards children and teens who have some *identifiable* difference (race, class, not adhering to heteronormative confines, differently abled, etc). And while I love that many teachers and educators are on board with teaching children and teens about embracing and accepting difference, I am concerned that, at least in terms of race and multicultural education, that difference is still about "exotic others" living in far off lands.

For instance, teaching children about Guatemalan children feeding their animals in Guatemala doesn't necessarily help Guatemalan children here, dealing with their peers on a day to day basis. Likewise, my daughter learns at school about children in India and what their lives are like "over there". To her, there is absolutely NO connection between those children and her life. She looks at those children as exotic others because she doesn't identify with them. This is the same way she learned that Native Americans "lived long ago in teepees." Because the representations she saw were of Columbus's voyage, and that was all. She saw no other representations that year, or the next two after, of Native American children and/or people. She saw no images of Indigenous North American children of *today*, interacting with kids like herself and her friends.

On the other hand, if my daughter should read about or see images of South Asians in the present, navigating their daily life's challenges--challenges she can relate to and identify with--she will see herself in those depictions. And should her friends and peers read about, or see such images, they will begin to see her as a person who lives, loves, walks, and breathes among them. Not an exotic, mystical "other".

This was a huge reason I chose to write SHINE. It's also the reason I devoured novels like The House On Mango Street, The Joy Luck Club, The Absolutey True Diary of A Part Time Indian, Born Confused, The Not So Star Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, and a host of others. Though I love fantasy (and am writing two fantasy novels right now) as well as historical novels, I wanted my daughter and her friends to learn about what life is like for people here and now, when there is an obvious, identifiable difference to negotiate. And I want them to think critically about how much of that difference is real, as well as how much of it is an illusion. But they can never learn to negotiate that difference if it is always posited as being somewhere far away, or long ago, outside of their immediate experience.

Sometimes books help us find paths we never knew existed. Or allow us to dream up and forge new paths. I know some of the books listed above helped me do that, and I strive to provide the same in all of the books I write, regardless of genre. And the emails I'm getting on a daily basis let me know it's working, even if it's one little window at a time.