Saturday, June 24, 2017

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

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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.