Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Real Life Time-Travel Story

If you get a chance, check out my guest post for The Book Smugglers' Smugglivus Festival. I reveal my real life time-travel story and share my favourite films/TV shows/books of 2011, in addition to offering a quick glimpse at what I'm looking forward to in 2012... aaaaand, you can win an advance reading copy of INTO THE WISE DARK :).

Happy first day of increasing sunlight hours! And happy holidays to those of you celebrating something this month!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's A Great Time to Speak Up

Sometimes, I look at my timeline on Twitter, and see authors, myself included, squeeing about new book covers, pleading with readers to buy/help promote books, discussing ways to hone one's skills and increase chances of getting published, etc. Usually, this is in the midst of tweets from other parts of the world where people are tweeting about the very real climate crisis, the very real revolutions going on in different parts of the planet, and the very real movements for social justice during one of the most critical times our collective human brain has witnessed to date. In case you missed it, we're teetering on a cusp right now. The decisions we make as a collective can really affect whether we survive. Seriously.

As I've written before, many, many voices and expressions are routinely muted while others are lifted in this society of ours. That's what the Occupy movement is all about. A handful of people make decisions about who gets to sit in the spotlight and how many thousands hold audience in the dark. A limited few perspectives get held up to the light, receive financial support, or are aggressively marketed and amplified. But you know what? We're not living in times where we can afford to wait for someone to give us the nod before we express our thoughts and opinions. One voice can and does make a difference. We've seen it time and again throughout history.

Things are changing--fast. There is access to new technology. Anyone can record and broadcast human rights violations and police brutality as they are happening. Thousands tweeted the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, despite Mayor Bloomberg's "media blackout." In fact, Occupy Wall Street has morphed into Occupy Our Homes -- taking back hundreds of thousands of empty, foreclosed homes in one of the highest periods of homelessness in this country, ever. Ebooks are widely accepted and read, and are available globally to anyone who has access to a reader, computer, or cell phone. Thoughts, ideas, and information are exchanged with lightning speed over the internet. The balance of power is totally shifting.

If ever there was a time it was more important for people to speak up, to not wait for someone else to provide validation, to throw their contribution into the ring to help shape the future of this little planet under siege, now is it.

Some of my friends have said to me, "Come on. It's not that bad. There are some really great publishers/filmmakers/singers, etc., doing great stuff, no?"

Yes, there are. But they're not the most visible or as widely publicized. And there are not enough of us to compensate for the tremendous imbalance in access and representation. I tell my friends, "If you think things are not 'really that bad,' you haven't been paying attention. Or you've been paying attention to the loudest, not necessarily the truest. Turn off mainstream media for a week and seek out other sources of news and information, then let's talk." Because guess what? We're not supposed to know how bad things are. If we did, we'd all be dropping everything to make it right. We'd unplug from the buying machine, and demand something different -- create something different.

Things are that bad. But the good news is that there is time for change. The U.N. Summit for Climate Change just took place in Durban, South Africa. There are scientists pleading with nations to take responsibility, to implement policies that will reverse some of the damage we've done to the planet, to reduce greenhouse emissions and help steer us toward another path -- a less destructive path. But the most powerful nations on the planet are, at best, not listening. At worse, they are flat out denying that climate change is even real, or even worser, putting the blame/responsibility squarely on the shoulders of poorer nations.

The message is: We don't have to change anything. Things are working fine the way they are. Don't worry your pretty little heads, we got this.

The problem is that things are not working fine for a huge majority of the planet. And that huge majority just happens to be mostly PoC, mostly women and children, and mostly working class.

So, yeah. Now is the time to speak up. Artists/writers/storytellers/musicians have, historically, helped shape the cultures and societies they've lived in. They've served as a voice and mirror for the people. They've entertained, educated, and enlightened.

Folks in positions of power are not about to give their power up. But the rest of us are not completely power-less. If someone won't help you put your book out, you can put it out yourself. These days, the production quality of independently published books is right on par with corporate publishers. Just make your book the very best piece of art you've ever created. Put your expression as an artist, a world citizen, as someone with something valuable to contribute, out there. Release your voice into the world, so that more and more perspectives are heard. Until there is a strong chorus, challenging the same tunes we keep hearing over and over again. Art that supports the status quo is akin to propaganda. Art that challenges and throws the status quo into a new light is creativity. It's dynamic love.

The audience always outnumbers the performers. Participate. And totally squee about books and promote them and buy them. But let's help get more voices out in the mix. It'll completely change the landscape. More people speaking up and putting their perspectives out there is the only thing that will create the kind of change we need right now.

"I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't." -- Audre Lorde

"Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now." -- Audre Lorde

"Say something!" -- Bob Marley

Monday, December 5, 2011

Still On Representation

This past weekend, I saw Stick Fly, a play produced by Alicia Keys, featuring Dule Hill, Mekhi Phifer, and Tracie Thoms. I can't say that I loved it, or that I even thought it was *good*, but I am absolutely glad I got to see it. Out of the literally hundreds of shows on Broadway, there are about *three* featuring (or written by) PoC.

As I mentioned, I wasn't crazy about some of the things in this play (for a show about family, I would have included mothers on the stage, and I would not have silenced a woman for speaking truth, but that's just me), but I truly appreciated this writer's humor, characterization, psychological depth, and frank dialogue on race dynamics, class, and colorism among the African-American elite. It's her perspective, her contribution, and I can respect that.

As I thought about it later, I wondered again, what it would be like to see more representations of PoC, in all our myriad expressions, on center screen, on the main stage, in the spotlight. How differently would we navigate life? What new possibilities would we conjure up? What new opportunities would we see that now elude us?

Even after multiple shining reviews in other cities, Stick Fly took almost six years to make it to Broadway for lack of funding and support. I thought about how many wonderful, brilliant stories there are out there that will never see the light of day because there is no financial backing for them. This story was not how I would have written a story about family, but it was a good story that deserved to be on stage -- on Broadway -- nonetheless. How many others are out there just like it, waiting for a producer's approval, an editor's nod, a bookstore's/reviewer's stamp? And how many will never get that nod because the person reading/viewing the story doesn't relate to it, or simply can't see themselves in it?

And then, this morning, I read this post on Zoetrope, about the "dead girl" look on some YA book covers, and I was reminded, once again, that the struggle for representation continues on all fronts.

But I was heartened by this BBC article about Indian youth wanting to see their own faces on stage. Whereas before, the preference was for white faces on the stage, young Indians now want to see their own images and values reflected back to them, in all their unique beauty and complexity. And the result is a uniquely Indian sound, exploding onto the Indie music scene.

History has shown us that independent thinkers/musicians/artists have paved the way for sweeping social and cultural change. I think we're in the midst of some of that same sweeping change here, too, with the balance of power shifting. It's we're on the cusp of something very significant, very important. It's slow going, yes, but I'm in it for the long haul.