Saturday, June 24, 2017

It's too late, Barbie, I can't take you back now

Barbie and I spent a lot of time together. She and her army of blonde clones dressed, arranged furniture in the town house (we never could afford the actual dream house), and struck poses for Ken.

I only had the one Ken and his head constantly popped off. Sometimes he was the headless boyfriend and Barbie just had to make do with his head on a platter on the pink plastic table. She had a pretty good sense of humor about and it and she and I stayed close through several long years of elementary school.

Barbie's tiny waist and out of whack bust line didn't bother me at all. I didn't even care that much about her high heeled feet, which never went flat. She wore shoes or she went on tip-toes. My Barbie just didn't worry about footwear all that much. However, it bothered me that she was so blond, so pale and so blue-eyed. She looked like the girl society loved.

And, I was not that girl.

I complained to my blonde mother about my jet black hair, chocolate black eyes and olive skin all the time. "How could I make myself look like Barbie?" I could dye my hair, but what about my eye-lids? What about my skin? Could I get contacts for my eyes? I dreamed of one-upping Barbie and turning my eyes light purple.

My mom responded first with a garage sale Wonder Woman doll with slightly chewed feet. She stood taller than all the Barbie's, her suit painted on and her face odd and out of proportion. The only non-blonde doll I owned was also the ugliest. My self esteem did not improve.

Not to be deterred, my mom, who is nothing if not a stubborn woman, struck again with Marie Osman. Marie was roughly the same size as the Barbies, with chestnut brown hair and pale skin. I had no idea who she was and my mother explained she had a talk show with her brother and something like ten children. Marie Osman just never lived up to Barbie's cool standards. She was not an astronaut, a doctor, a dentist or a space scientist homemaker. The Barbie harem had the pretty clothes and Marie couldn't date Donnie Osman, he was her brother, so Ken still ruled the roost.

My mother's last attempt came in the form of a Barbie's Hawaiian friend, Miko. She looked the most like me, but not quite. The clothes fit her and she was pretty much able to keep up with the Barbie girls. But, she just didn't fit perfectly. She wasn't even a Barbie, she was a Miko. No one ever talked about Miko on TV. She just couldn't fill the gap.

Not long after Miko joined my doll collection I started to drift away from Barbie. All the dolls became relics of a different life. I focused on real life people-- mostly boys-- and lost interest in Barbie. We broke up slowly and one day I just packed all the dolls away.

Recently, Matel announced a new diverse round-up of Barbies and Kens. Hopefully, these dolls will connect with a new generation of girls, who will see themselves in these plastic shells and decide to make friends with their own images. It's too late for me, though.

Barbie and I broke up a long time ago and I'm at peace with that.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Layers of writing and plot

Sometimes I read a book and the layers of writing are gorgeous, inspirational, unbelievable and awe-striking. I taste. I see. I hear. I feel. I am in every way, through every moment of the book, enthralled and engaged with the words slipping through my mind.

I so want to love it because the writing is almost hypnotic. But, I just can't. The plot meanders. The characters shift from one foot to the next, but never step forward. All the beautiful words, creating all the engaging images, only add up to a total immersion in a world that's just, well, not that interesting.

American Gods ended up being one of these books for me. I followed the main character, Shadow, through a long and winding trip across an entire book of well-written passages and perfect descriptions. After all that shared experience, we never really got anywhere. At least not anywhere worth going.

Neil Gamon is a genius. This book is beloved by many. Don't get me wrong, I'm no Neil Gamon, but that's why I'm so disappointed. Shadow is a multi-layered, deep and likeable character who I want to spend time with. Unfortunately, most of the other characters, and there are so many it's difficult to keep track of them, were mere moments on the page. They faded. I got them confused. And, the road trip that lasted forever, was essentially beside the point.

All through the book Shadow traveled, but he never really got anywhere. I hung in because of Shadow's depth and because the writing itself was so delicious. In the end, the book left me stranded and confused, unfulfilled and uninspired.

Writing is critical, but plot, as it turns out, matters just as much.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Fangirl and such

I'm completely over the moon for a series by Darynda Jones about a grim reaper and private detective named Charley Davidson. These are spit-out-your-nachos-all-over-you-plate in a huge guffaw kind of funny. As an aside, I did that once (spit my nachos all over my plate) while eating in a fairly fancy restaurant with my sister and a friend of hers. They were not amused because some of the nachos ended up on their plates. Who gets that mad over a extra food? They should have been thanking me.

Regardless, Charley Davidson is a stitch. She is hilarity embodied. I pre-ordered the twelfth book, which is just not something I do. I just don't plan my reading that far ahead normally, since I never know when I'm going to actually have time to read something in between all the junk that must happen to keep this household moving in a somewhat orderly fashion toward whatever it is we are keeping it moving toward.

Once, I met Darynda Jones at a conference and all of my plans to charm her with my wit disintegrated into ash, whereupon I thanked her for a critique she did for me once on a synopsis and then mumbled incoherently for a couple of seconds until she agreed to pose for this picture.  (Knowing she loved that synopsis gets me through the wash of rejections it gets whenever I give in to the urge to pitch that book).

So, today, in honor of me coming across this picture, I'm going to encourage you to go and buy the first Charley Davidson book right now.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What do you stand for?

"If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything," my mother used to say to my brothers and I on a near weekly basis. "What do you stand for?"

Typically, she would proceed this advice with the blaring of a country music song with that particular chorus every time one of us made the tragic mistake of stepping into her car. My mother was a great believer in the wisdom of country music lyrics, Chinese proverbs and defying authority to stand up for the little guy or gal.

When I was a teenager I dreamed of running off to join Greenpeace or at least wearing tie-die and taking part in some 1960s inspired protests. Peace. Love. Earth Day. These were my inspiration. In middle school I wrote and starred in an earth day play that my science teacher helped me take on the road to educate elementary school children in our small town about their new holiday and their responsibility to recycle. I saw a future in political activism for myself, although I certainly did not have that language, nor did my hometown have much of that kind of activity back in those days.

By the time I got to college, working as a waitress and doing homework had bogged down every piece of my motivation to change the world. I didn't even recycle. I just wanted to make it through the day to the next day so that eventually I could reach the day where I didn't have to scrounge, work, study every second.

It wasn't until my thirties that I came back to the question my mother had asked me all those years ago with so much urgency. "What do you stand for?" I didn't like the answer all that much. I had great kids, a great corporate job and a house in the suburbs.

So, I started to pursue my passion for helping kids, beyond just my own. I started to do public school advocacy and I did advocacy work around important services to help poor families. I started a scholarship program to help kids without the means at our middle school go to Washington, D.C. with their peers. And, I started writing again, giving my characters struggles, making them ever more diverse, working to integrate the points of view of many different kinds of people into my books.

At the end of the day, I always feel like I should be doing more. But, I'm starting to feel like I stand for something that goes beyond just myself and that's deeply fulfilling.

So, what do you stand for?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Diverse Books are More Important Than Ever

The world isn't increasingly diverse.

It was diverse when Ann Frank was pulled out of her hiding place and transported to a concentration camp, where her short life ended despite her poetic mind.

It was diverse when African citizens were forced on to boats and delivered to American plantation owners like property.

It was diverse when Emmett Till was lynched for no crime other than being a young man in a racist society.

It was diverse when Harvey Milk was murdered simply for being openly gay. 

Religion. Race. Family Origin. Ethnicity. Culture. Ability. Gender. Socio-economics. These, and other ways too numerous to list, are all ways that we are diverse. These differences can be appreciated or turned into markers for discrimination and violence.

When YA authors feature diverse characters in our books, we help the next generation jump into the heads of different kinds of people from different backgrounds and walks of life. When we support authors from diverse backgrounds, we ensure the voices young people hear are authentic and appropriate.

Our diverse history has been full of heartbreak and hurt. Hate, fueled by fear, in too many places, is becoming normalized again in the current political environment way too often. Each of us has to do our part. YA Authors do that by making sure our characters reflect the full scope of the human experience. YA Readers do that by reading books that expand their experiences and immerse them in a wide range of cultures. We all do this by speaking out against violence and hate in any form, every time with see it, without exception.

The world isn't increasingly diverse. But, we must be increasingly more aware of our diversity and embrace each other or we risk repeating some of the worst of history.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Me

After months of waiting, watching the trailers more than once, searching online for clues and generally anticipating like crazy, last night I got to disappear into the Potter-verse again. My fabulous husband arranged for us to attend The Beastly Bash at the Gateway Theater.

The event was sponsored by The Ohio State University Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. These people make their living reading literature, exploring the other literature and stuff that it was inspired by and writing academic papers about their findings. Then they teach classes on topics I would be very inclined to find interesting.

So, Dr. Friedman from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign gave a talk about the zoological and mythical sources for the Potter-verse. Which was interesting, but also not, because he totally read his paper out loud for an hour. He did, however, have some cool slides with pictures of mythical creatures from 1300 BC and pictures from the Harry Potter movies. I give the lecture 3 stars.

The five star fun started after that when Dan the Baker gave us all wands made of bread (check out the picture below!) and Dough Mama fed us treacle tarts (Harry's favorite!). We had Fudge and snitch shaped golden desserts and Butter Beer! Then we headed into the theater to see the movie. The Gateway is a nonprofit, independent theater and the manager shared with us that Harry Potter fans are always the kindest and best crowd because of the themes in the books about love. Bonus points to him for his Black Lives Matter t-shirt. I give the Gateway Theater 5 stars.

After that the movie started. My expectations were so high. Anticipation filled my lungs and then....

SPOILER ALERT*******************

The movie met every last expectation I had and then some. 6 star out of five! First of all, the main character was named Tina Goldstein. GOLDSTEIN! Which is my maiden name. And, so clearly JK Rowling has written this series just for me. Entirely for me. Obviously.

Okay. Okay. Not, really. But, still. That was cool for me. You probably don't care so I will share a few other things I loved.

Jacob the Baker. The most lovable muggle ever. I know I should say, No-Mag, but I don't think that's going to happen. I'm just going to speak wizard with an English accent. Let's just assume I went to Hogwarts. I studied abroad.

This kind of thing happens. Get past it. But, please don't get past Jacob.

Evil guy who I knew was even more evil than expected from very early on in the movie. Spoiler Alert #2. I totally called the true identity of Graves in his third scene. I love being right!

Queenie. She saves the day and she reads minds, all while being loving and an awesome cook. She's the real deal.

Go see this movie now. I'm going to see it again in the theaters this week.

Fantastic Beasts is where you'll find me!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Varied sentence structure

Today, I'm focused on varied sentence structure. Basic craft, right? It's all I can do not to scream, because this stuff seems so easy, but, apparently, it's actually hard. (Next up: figuring out what was wrong with the comma situation in that last sentence.)

Why? What in the world could possibly grab me and shake me and tell me I need to pay some attention to varied sentences? Contest feedback. One of my judges gave me feedback that I needed to switch up sentences more. She also hated my premise, had a real problem with my comma usage and was pretty hard all around on the book. My second judge in the same contest praised the writing, offered all kinds of detailed constructive advice and also questioned my comma use. (So, I'm definitely going to be tackling commas next!)

It would be easy to discount the first judge, since the second one was so complimentary, but there is truth in every perspective and I'm grateful for the feedback. Spending time on sentence structure will only make me a better writer. So, I say many, many thanks to all the contest judges out there helping other writers move along. Writing is subjective. It's like ripping out your heart and throwing it on the table for others to poke and prod. Yet, I can't think of anything more magical, awe-inspiring and connecting in the whole world.

If you're still confused about varied sentence structure, below is the quote that sorted it all for me:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
-Gary Provost