Monday, May 31, 2010

Wiscon Pics

It was amazing. Here are a few pics . . .

Here I am with Guest of Honor, Mary Anne Mohanraj. I first met Maryann over six years ago when we were both panelists at a South Asian women's lit fest. That was before she was a mom - still a powerhouse, but not yet a mom ;).

Haitian SFF writer, Ibi Zoboi, is sandwiched between me and Nora (N.K. Jemison). Apparently, "N" names are very popular among women of color - at least at Wiscon - Neesha, Nora, Nnedi, Nisi, Nalo . . .

Guest of Honor Nnedi Okorafor with Ibi and I after our lunch on day one of the con. I was both delighted and relieved to discover that Nnedi and I share similar (unpopular) views on Avatar, sheltering children from violence, and roles of creation versus destruction in the universe.

Here is my Wiscon roommate, Hiromi Goto, author of the incredible HALF WORLD. She is a brilliant mind, a warm and connected spirit, and a generous, creative soul. She is also a fellow Canadian, fellow child of mushroom farmers, and fellow fierce author of color.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Summer, Summer, Summertime . . .

sea shells Pictures, Images and Photos

Have a wonderful, safe, joy-filled first weekend of this lazy and delectable season!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Last night, I met one of my closest friends - who was in from San Francisco for the book expo - for dinner. We sat in the meat-packing district near her hotel and stared in utter dismay at the scene around us. It was a TUESDAY, people. And women were out in full Saturday night gear, with super-short, super-tight miniskirts, clutching the arm of their partner or bff as they hobbled around in shoes like these:

Yes, friends. Stipper-chic seems to be the hottest trend right now on the runways and in the streets. Ah, progress. Obviously, discussions of feminism in today's world are as obsolete as discussions of racism in a post-racial US (/sarcasm).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sheltering Children

This Friday, I head off to Wiscon for three panels. One of them is called "Should Children be Sheltered from Violence?" In a previous post, someone asked me what my views were on this subject. I started to respond to her, but soon realized I'd need to write an entire post. So here are a few quick thoughts . . .

I grew up in a home where no one was allowed to talk about sex . We all acted like it didn't actually exist. I couldn't even say the word b-o-y without someone interrogating me for a good month or two afterward. We (my brother and I) couldn't date, and we couldn't be seen in public with anyone of the opposite sex. And yet, no one ever considered sheltering us from the violence we watched on a regular basis on television. My parents let us watch everything - evening news, horror films, all kinds of violent and bloody epic battles on TV.

It got to the point where I started self-censoring the images I consumed because they would flash through my mind constantly, and I was in a perpetual state of anxiety. I was afraid to be alone in any room of the house, even the bathroom. To this day, I have to cover my eyes when the scary music comes on at movies. There have been numerous studies about the long-term effects of violent media images on children. Nancy Carlsson Paige has an entire site devoted to the subject, and makes some interesting points about the relationship between deregulation of the entertainment industry in the '80s, and increased marketing of violent films directly toward children.

I know "protecting children" is the official line of most censorship boards, but to me censoring is NOT the same as protecting. Censoring is about control. It is a blanket prohibition of all things related to the material considered offensive, rather than looking at the context of the material and the possible benefits of exposing young minds to said material. Sheltering/protecting, however, connotes providing guidelines, looking at material with young people and having thoughtful, honest dialogue during and/or afterward. "Sheltering" (I'm sure there's a better term), in my view, is more of a response to caring about the emotional and psychological health of young people - not wanting to control or contain them.

The censorship of books like Judy Blume's, Chris Crutcher's, J.K. Rowling's, Ellen Hopkins', and a whole list of others is more about the fear of the adults doing the censoring - not about what kids can handle. Reading those books never damaged me as a child, and children reading them today are not being subjected to long-term emotional or psychological damage caused by the content within their pages.

Then I think about the MIA video I blogged about earlier and how shaken up I was by it. It depicted brutal violence at its most graphic. I'm glad I saw it because it really is a remarkable statement about the fallacy of using violence to "end" violence, and the whole concept of profiling terrorists, but I couldn't eat for the rest of the day after I watched it. The images made their way into my dreams and I was jittery for days. And I would NEVER watch it again.

I don't think children should be kept away from what is real and what affects them in their daily lives. Things like cursing (there are words a hundred times more painful to hear than some curse words), poverty, racism, sexuality, gender issues, etc. are around us all the time and should be honestly discussed - not hidden, softened, or prettied up. Children aren't dumb and selectively blind. They see things, hear things, are highly sensitive witnesses. They want and deserve the truth. They need to understand and we, as the adults in their lives, are their primary source of information.

At the same time, witnessing acts of extreme violence and brutality can be traumatizing to adults, never mind young people. Within the context of a film or television show (or music video!), the viewer is expected to suspend his/her disbelief. Children do this far more readily than adults. When you suspend your disbelief, you immerse yourself in the narrative. You become part of the emerging story. And if that story is violent and scary, you actually LIVE it. You experience it fully. It's why we're on the edge of our seats and our hearts are in our throats as we read a book or watch a film.

Ultimately, I think we have to know what children are seeing and/or reading (especially since children tend to read "up" from their age/grade level), we have to be prepared to talk about it and answer the tough questions, and we have to be comfortable with the discomfort.

I have a lot more to add on this topic - particularly from the perspective of writers and artists who create work about (or that includes) violence, but I will save it for the panel at Wiscon. If you have thoughts you'd like to add, I'd love to read them.

I will do a post after the conference, too, so hopefully I can cover more of the discussion points then.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

TELL US WE'RE HOME by Marina Budhos

I received a copy of TELL US WE'RE HOME from Atheneum/Simon & Schuster and couldn't wait to crack it open. The story is a twist on the usual teen girl friendship novel - in this tale, the protagonists are Jaya, Maria, and Lola, eighth-grade daughters of maids and nannies in an affluent New Jersey suburb.

This is the paragraph that made my eyes sting:
Lola began to weep. This was it, the steely truth of her life. What she had been fighting ever since they'd come to America. This was a lonely land of firsts, where no one, not even your parents, could help you cross over. And she had no choice but to do it by herself . . . You pushed ahead, in the chilling rain, hoping you didn't die from being first.
That paragraph resonated deeply for me. Maybe because I am one of those "firsts" and know the cutting truth of those words. But also maybe because it is true for so many who've landed on these shores as strangers in a strange land.

Budhos touches on so many issues in this novel of social and personal awakening - the fallacy of the American dream, the myth of meritocracy, entitlement, class-based arrogance/ignorance, and xenophobia, just to start.

The girls' relationship with one another is sweet, but I was most won over by the relationships between the mothers and daughters. All girls are either fatherless, or un-fathered (under-fathered?). The plight of single mothers carrying the full emotional and financial burden of raising their children in a new land that cuts them little to no slack is heart-breaking. Not to mention that these same women must often neglect their own children's needs to tend to the needs and whims of their employers' children (or parents, as the case may be).

Budhos handles these issues with a light, deft touch. And everything is not wrapped up with a pretty bow at the end, either. It is left exactly as Life leaves things - untidy. But TELL US WE'RE HOME  is a satisfying read for both teen readers and adults alike. Pick up a copy now here, or at Indiebound. And visit Marina's site for more info about her and her other works.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

HIS OWN WHERE, by June Jordan

The Feminist Press recently sent me a review copy of HIS OWN WHERE by June Jordan. The book was first published in 1971 and was a finalist for the National Book Award. It was the first book written "entirely in Black English." The Feminist Press is reissuing the novel-in-poetry on May 25th and if you don't pick up a copy, you'll be missing out on one of the best YA novels written by one of the master wordsmiths of our time.

HIS OWN WHERE is about Buddy, a young black man in America. It's a tender love story told in language that is stripped down to simple, bold, and beautiful truth:
His mother hungering for order among things themselves, for space she could admire, simply hungering and gone. Where did she go, and Buddy wondering about this last disorder she did not repair. This disordering of life of marriage of her motherhood. Strange lovely woman warm and hungering and gone.
It is a rare and loving depiction of black masculinity - Buddy is sensitive, protective (of love, of vulnerability), nurturing, creative, communicative. He has a loving relationship with is father. Together, they tear down the insides of the home they live in and build it back up so they can they can feel free:
Buddy father clean the house down to the linoleum. Remove the moldings. Take away the window drapes and teach him, Buddy, how to calculate essentials how to calculate one table and two chairs, four plates, two mugs. Together they build shelves and stain them. Throw out the cabinets and bureaus opening and closing like a bank. His father teach him hammering and saws and measuring and workshop science. House be like a workshop where men live creating how they live.[...] On duty in the night his father dream and draw the next plan for the next day, working the house into a dream they can manage with their hands.
Jordan paints an unflinching portrait of life in small, cramped homes, parents working day and night for bare essentials, the restriction of movement in the urban landscape, and the desperate need for mobility, growth, expansion. And then, of course, there is teen love and sexual awakening in the midst of it all...
Buddy could never get over this difference between women and their daughters. Like this nurse, this obnoxious, nosy woman who spoke to him like that when they were strangers, she was the mother of his Angela. She was the mother of the girl Buddy felt guilty to be so aware of there right where his father lay, his face asleep, his life dying.
I read this book in one big gulp because I couldn't put it down. Not because of the plot (it's not one of those, "OMG, what happens next?!?!" books), but because of the language. Because of the Truth in its words. Because Jordan left her heart in those pages. And it saddens me that books like these often aren't seen as "lead" titles, or "big sellers" - if they manage to even become published at all.

I wonder what would happen if books like HIS OWN WHERE were published with the enthusiasm of something like the Twilight series. If as much money were thrown behind them and as much buzz were generated. Would we start to see copycats of revolutionary books by black authors? Would there be series after series of books about sensitive, loving, young black men who are gardeners and carpenters, builders and protectors, creators and lovers? Could you imagine . . . ? Books upon books of black and brown people reshaping their landscapes, tearing down and rebuilding the walls holding them in . . . Seriously, could you imagine . . . ?

I would like to get this book as much exposure as possible. If you are a blogger and/or reviewer with a large readership, please email me. I will send you my copy as long as you agree to review/blog about the book and create as much buzz about it as you can in a timely manner (remember, pub date is May, within the next month or two).

Everyone else: BUY THIS BOOK.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time Keeps On Slipping...

This week is already shot. How does all that time just slip away like that? I'm working on my third book in the romance series - and by "working on," I actually mean "not writing". I did a school visit this morning (*totally* fun - one of the questions I got was, "Can you write a story for my sister?" So. Cute.), will be working on edits this week and next, and there are two conferences next week. I'm only going to one, but one of my closest friends EVER is coming in from San Francisco for BEA, so I will, obviously, need to gallivant around town with her before heading off to Wiscon at the end of the month.

And then we're into June! SHINE comes out in paperback June 15th (yay!), and I'll be in Brooklyn for a reading/discussion to celebrate. Don't know if this will be a public event, or geared for a private audience, but will post more details as soon as I have them.

How are we already half way through the year???

Monday, May 17, 2010

Insides, Outsides; Words, Pictures

The theme this weekend, and all of last week, even, seemed to be "images". The workshop at GWN was on graphic novels (another fantastic workshop), and then I went down to the Lower East Side with the fam to see InsideOut; OutsideIn, an installation by image artist, Shantell Martin. She's at the Colette Blanchard Gallery on Clinton Street for the rest of this week, so if you get a chance to go, do - it's definitely worth it. Shantell is warm and engaging, and her work is a fascinating reflection of an internal journey on an external landscape. She also draws on just about everything - including people, so be prepared to walk out as a piece of living art ;).

Having been a media studies/film major, I've always been intrigued by the merging of words and images. I was never an avid reader of comics, but I absolutely adored Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and Alison Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For. I couldn't imagine those novels written in any other format. If I were a more skilled illustrator, graphic novels are something I would most definitely explore writing. As it is, words are enough for me to grapple with, ha. O_o

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May Happenings

Okay, May is zooming by. Earlier this month, I was at the Hudson Children's Book Festival - which was great fun. I blogged about it here. Since I came back, I got romance novel number two (written under a pen name) on contract and am waiting for the edit letter from my lovely editor for that - should have it any day now. I have a manuscript on sub and am working on romance number three while waiting patiently :). BEA is in a couple weeks, and events at my kids' school are revving up as we start winding down the school year.

At the end of the month, I will be at Wiscon, [deep, movie-announcer voice] the leading feminist sci-fi convention [/deep, movie-announcer voice]. I'll be on three panels - Race Basics; What is Feminist Romance?; and Should Children Be Sheltered from Violence?. That last one I am moderating. So, if you are in or around Madison, WI, please send me an email! I'd love to meet you if my schedule permits.

Collision of Contradictions

Thanks to Ultrabrown for pointing me to this video of a US soldier, presumably a Punjabi US soldier, dancing to bhangra music in Iraq. What a collision of contradictions - east and west; warmth and violence; the laughter of children amidst rubble; and a young South Asian transplanted in the west, going east to fight the neighbours of his ancestors.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Documentary: DESIGIRLS!

Was just pointed to this trailer for DESIGIRLS! from Racialicious about the idea of a collective single South Asian community and how that doesn't always work for South Asian LGBTQ folk. There's an article on about the doc with links to parts one and two on Youtube. Definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Power of Images and Words

I woke up this morning to pouring rain and a family running around in stealth mode as they prepared for Mom's Day. H took the kids out and I sat down at the computer for some leisurely surfing with my tea and breakfast.

First video I saw was MIA's Born Free. Holy Wow. I wish I had been more prepared. My gut was churning, and I was trembling for at least an hour afterward. Take that as a warning if you plan to watch the video. It is intense. Violent. MIA flips stereotypes upside down by showing US forces rounding up redheaded young males and taking them into the desert to pick them off one by one in a sort of "redhead genocide". Disturbing, to say the least. And kind of eye-opening, too. I'm sure it will/does challenge many viewers' assumptions and associations with certain images and representations.

I wandered around afterward, searching for ways to get back to that leisurely space I was in pre-MIA-video, and it struck me how privileged I am - to know that my kids are safe. That I can sit at my computer and leisurely surf while eating breakfast. That I know I'll wake up tomorrow and celebrate with my family. What a jolt to be reminded that these are considered privileges and not rights. Basic human rights.

I didn't know what to do with myself because I was a bit of a mess with those images still fresh in my mind. So I started tidying up, a trick I learned from my mother who was always a bit of a mess :). And my eyes lit upon a video the hubs brought home - Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak, by Lance Bangs and Spike Jonze. I popped it in. The images of trees, the silence of Connecticut in the winter, the colour of leaves in the fall, the love between siblings and friends and family, and the connection with animals were soothing. Reminded me of the fragile, but persistent struggle for Life to prevail, even in the harshest of circumstances.

I thought, too, of what a gift words and images can be - what a soothing balm they often have been. Bringing me off ledges and surrounding me in warmth and safety. Sometimes tearing me down and other times building me up.

There were many poignant moments in the video, but here are a few quotes from Sendak's interview in Tell Them Anything You Want:

About Where the Wild Things Are, "I knew, I knew, I knew it would cause a lot of trouble. And my editor knew it and all she did was encourage me. 'Go for it, go for it. Don't worry about anything or anybody'."

About his editor, "Her name was Ursula Nordstrom. She made me who I am. She gave me a book every year. She kept me working. I mean, can you imagine mentorship from a publishing house? She intended that I should be an important illustrator. She knew I could be. I had bad habits, I never went to art school, I drew in a clumsy fashion, but she could see beneath that."

"It's not true that I write books for children because I have this adoration of childhood. No. It's a peculiarity of mine that I do this. What I do is peculiar, but it's all I can do."

"Having children takes talent, like any creative thing you want to do - if you want to be good at it."

"When I was gay, the world was extremely unwelcoming and it was very different. And it was something you hid...I missed out on a lot of fun... When I was young, I was worried that that knowledge, were it to come out, would ruin my career."

"I did some good books, which mostly is an isolationist's form of life--doing books, doing pictures. And it is the only true happiness I've ever, ever enjoyed in my life. It's sublime. To just go into another room and make pictures. It's magic time, where all your weaknesses of character and all blemishes of personality and whatever else torments you fades just doesn't matter. You're doing the one thing you want to do and you do it well and you know you do it well and you're happy."

"I think what I offered was different, but not because I drew better than anybody, or wrote better than anybody, but because I was more honest than anybody."

"And in the discussion of children and the lives of children and fantasies of children and the language of children, I said anything I wanted. Because I don't believe...that there's a demarcation - 'well, you mustn't tell them that and you mustn't tell them that.' You can tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it's true. If it's true, you tell them."

Friday, May 7, 2010

First Female Indian Idol

I love this and just had to share. The star of the video below is Sourabhee Debbarma, winner of Indian Idol '09. She's twenty-four, the first female to win Indian Idol, and according to her wiki entry, she is of Twipra descent (the indigenous people of the Tripura region).

It's not until I actually see these that I realize how hungry I am for images like this, and also this--where brown people are not just in the picture to educate about race/racism, to be studied, to be tokens, or as a splash of colour in an otherwise all-white landscape*. I love seeing this young woman have her spotlight on a show that dominates the cultural airwaves the world over, and in a context where she can just BE.

She's beautiful, isn't she? Though if she'd grown up with someone like my dad, she'd have heard this her whole life: "EAT. Or we're going to have to weigh you down on windy days. Eat MORE. [headshake] You don't eat enough..."

*I know Indians have their own tokens and "to-be-studied" groups--plenty of bigotry, racism, and downright supremacy abounds on the subcontinent. No arguments there. However, this post is within the context of North American media and images - and PoC within those frameworks.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Being Effective

A few weeks back, Girls Write Now hosted a fantastic guest at one of their workshops - Katie Orenstein of the Op-ed Project. She's a wonderful speaker - witty, clear, engaging. She spoke about some of the reasons women might not contribute to the Op-ed sections of newspapers like the NY Times, the Washington Post and other large scale distribution newspapers. Here's a summary of the problem according to the site:
"The op-ed pages of our nation’s newspapers are overwhelmingly dominated—80% or more—by men. Because the op-ed pages feed all other media, the under-representation of women here perpetuates and exaggerates the under-representation of women in larger ways. For example, men are:
• 84% of guests on influential Sunday morning political talk shows on TV
• 85% of Hollywood producers
• 85% of nonfiction books on The New York Times best-selling
• 85-90% of radio producers
• 83% of congress
In short, public debate all but excludes half the population."

Interesting stats, no? Says quite a lot about how far we still have to go in the push for equal representation--on oh-so-many fronts.

One of the (other) interesting things Katie said during her presentation that really stuck with me, and that I think is applicable to blogging and many other things as well, is that she learned a hard lesson after one particular piece she wrote about Sex and the City. She realized, after the onslaught of letters and emails she received (from unhappy readers) in response to the piece, that she had quite possibly alienated four out of five of her readers. And that's when it struck her that perhaps it was more important to be effective rather than right.

True in so many areas of life - from blogging to receiving feedback on one's writing, to dealing with friends and partners, to communicating with children and teens... One of the things I try to keep in mind when I'm in the heat of the moment - when I'm angry and passionate about something (whether it's with my spouse, kids, friends, on the blog, whatever) or when my buttons have been pushed and it's hard to see beyond my own indignation - is that my goal is not to vent, it is to be effective. To grow, to push for change, create awareness and help build some sort of connection.

Thanks, Katie, for reminding me of the difference, and for spotlighting an important area more women can become active - an area that can help shape the world around us to reflect the sets of values and priorities of an entire population, not just a select few.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hudson Recap

Hudson was a blast. Of course, how can you go wrong spending the day with a whole bunch of women (and a smattering of men) who write stories for young people? Here are some quick highlights:

1. Amanda Marrone's giant, LIVE hissing cockroach
2. the "author handlers" who asked us at regular intervals if we needed anything. Thinking of ways I can something like this at home
3. lunch delivered to the table. Ditto above comment
4. sitting next to Siobhan Vivian who has to be kin somewhere down the line
5. seeing Ellen Jensen Abbott again (who, by the way, is a far wilder lady than you might guess)
6. seeing familiar Debs, Michelle Zink and Danielle Cohen Joseph, and meeting new ones - always a treat. I was speaking with Megan Frazer for a good half hour with my "author face" on before I realized I'd been interacting with her for, like, two years online
7. seeing Olugbemisola's beautiful posse come out in full support of Superstar Author Mom
8. meeting an Italian teacher who grew up with similar cultural/traditional restrictions as I did as a Punjabi, Sikh girl (!! - who knew?)
9. having Sarah Darer Littman yell, "ARE YOU SERIOUS????" in my ear
10. cozy panel discussion on Writing About Social/Political issues with Lyn Miller-Lachmann, Zetta Elliott and Sarah Darer Littman. Audience members asked some great questions and we touched on some very important points

11. meeting amazing, committed, and dedicated teachers, librarians, parents, and young people

There were so many more, but I need an iced latte. NYC is a steam bath today. Have a great rest-of-the-weekend, all!