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professornana July 24 2014, 00:18

back to school supplies

I admit it: I love buying pens and paper and stuff whether or not it is time to go back to school or not. But lately, the displays in office stories are growing with bask to school aisles and displays. I saw folders for a penny recently, and I had to keep myself from buying some. I have no need for folders, mind you, but they were on sale!

The back to school supplies for my courses in the fall are fairly predictable: books and time to read. Students will have a new reading list this flu, one I have been revising for some time. I have cut back on the required and opened up more CHOICE of books. Granted, the choice is still limited, but I am feeling my way to a more open selection thanks, in part, to a great conversation with Margaret Hale. My colleague Karin Perry helped me make some tough decisions in terms of cutting required and how to offer more choice. It has been a process of collaboration, one I hope will benefit students in the fall.

I think the supplies I require are essential for success as a school librarian. School librarians need to read, need to know books. They need to know how to connect kids to books, too. That means knowing kids, books, and strategies and activities for connecting the two. I wrote about this in my first book 11 years ago. It is still true today.

As these final weeks drift away, I wish all teachers time to read and stacks of books at the ready. Right now I am stacking books for an upcoming trip to Arkansas. Priorities, you know.
metteharrison July 23 2014, 22:09

What I Love About Writing

So, we writers complain a lot that writing is hard. And it is. It can be really, really hard. It can be so hard we think about quitting. Maybe more than sometimes. Our dearest companions sometimes may suggest to us that we do something other than writing, temporarily or permanently because of our bad moods about writing.

But when writing goes right, and by that I don’t mean being easy, but by that feeling of satisfaction you get when by God—you captured something in words that no one else has been able to write before—writing is such a joy.

There is a time to commiserate with writers about the terrible pay, the lack of control of creative people over our own work, the grind of writing to deadline, the pressure to do more than write by having a “presence” on the internet, the emails, the cover art issues, the business end even when you are getting paid, and of course, the

I’m not going to write anymore about that now, though. I am going to write about the sheer, unadulterated pleasure that is writing on a good day, on the right day when it turns right because you got that sentence right or you figured out who the murderer is or because you know now why your main character does that thing she does.

Why I love being a writer:

1. Writing in my pajamas, whenever the notion strikes me.

2. Eating food while writing.

3. Sitting down and rocking the world.

4. Reading a note from someone who “got” your book in just the way that I one day hoped someone would.

5. Finding out a truth about myself that I would never have known if I hadn’t been writing that character that day.

6. The light that goes off in the middle of the night and you know how you’re going to do that revision and fix EVERYTHING!

7. When I’m cooking dinner and my characters talk to me about what they would be eating instead.

8. Cutting out the weight that was holding my book down and now it feels so free, so clean, and so pure.

9. Surprising my editor and making her say, “Woah! That is awesome!”

10. When people tell me the part they loved about the book, and that they wanted more and were sad when they reached “THE END.”

11. Figuring out what the next chapter is going to be about.

12. Writing dialog that makes you want to read it out loud.

13. Taking out a notebook when your brain is on fire and writing words down with an actual pen.

greygirlbeast July 23 2014, 17:18

"Where covered wagons and the wings of missing planes float between black fish underneath..."

Today it will be hot for Providence, 87˚F (heat index 95˚F+), and tomorrow it will be cooler and very stormy. We may have to leave the House today, because it will probably get extremely uncomfortable in here.

I clearly cursed myself yesterday by writing, "I'm sleeping too much." Last night, I had the first real bout with insomnia that I've had in months. I might have slept three hours, all broken up. I tossed and turned in our hot bedroom, listening to the drone of all the fans. I dreamed, briefly, of spending time in the company of William Burroughs. I suppose if the insomnia was responsible for that dream its as worth not sleeping.

Yesterday, after spending the day working on "The Cats of River Street (1925)," I posted this to Facebook:

Occasionally I'm asked why I don't write more historical fiction, since I'm actually fairly good at it. Today is a good example why. Working on a story set in 1925, I needed four hours (!!) to write a mere 747 words. It's very rare that the economics of writing, the business side of this thing I do, make such undertakings cost effective. And I hate speaking of writing in such terms, but that's reality.

In other words, my productivity is cut, at least, in half. Which would be fine if I were paid twice as much for historical fiction.


Also from Facebook yesterday:

I'll pay the World $100 if everyone will please stop using "butthurt." It just sounds utterly fucking idiotic. It makes me cringe. And here's a thing: I understand slang. Slang fascinates me. I can reel off slang going back into the late 1800s. I am very aware of the evolution and role of slang. And there has never, ever been a time when it sounded as idiotic as does the baby-talk internet slang of Now. And I suspect most people using it are unaware of the homophobic connotations of "butthurt." (First known usage online dates to 1998, though it only became widespread more than a decade later.)

And yes, I am entirely aware that "butthurt: may actually have originated as a reference to someone behaving like a child who's just been spanked. That is, most likely, the correct etymology, and, likely, many people use it that way. But the connotation is still, undeniably, right there, and I also know that I've watched people use it in such a way that the anal rape-gay sex connotation is clearly intentional. On Facebook, Elizabeth Donald wrote, in response to my comment, "I hate it because it is generally is used when someone is being called on a sexist, racist, homophobic or other nasty attitude or comment, and it is used to dismiss all criticism as unimportant and hysterical. It's a word of blind privilege." Yes. Very much so. And, in fact, it's that out-of-hand dismissiveness that most annoys me about "butthurt." That and the fact that it's yet more baby talk. Also, I rather like the phrase, "a word of blind privilege."


In the comments to yesterday's entry, dipsomaniac wrote, "With all the meds you're taking and your mental state I wonder if you've ever considered applying for disability. I know it's a very personal decision but it is an option."

In 1992, I was declared "permanently disabled for psychological reasons" by the State of Alabama*, and for four years I received food stamps, Medicaid, and SSI checks. Stingy little SSI checks, but I got by on it. And I started writing. By 1996, I was making enough off my short fiction that I had to stop receiving benefits (though, technically, I'm still legally disabled). This is neither a secret, nor is it widely known. But I'm not ashamed of it. And I'm also aware that there may come a time when I am, once again, too sick to work. Truthfully, there have been times like that, on and off, over the years, but my will power and various meds and Spooky have always pulled me through back to this place where I can at least write. But could I go into work at a traditional job everyday? Could I get along with other employees? Could I deal with a rigid schedule? No. When I say I'm crazy, and people chide me for calling myself mentally ill, they need to know, I am genuinely mentally ill, to the point I cannot lead the sort of life most do. And yes, I do consider that a medical illness (actually, several in my case). And no, I'd prefer not to share all the diagnoses, though I'm sure a lot of that has leaked out over the last two decades.

And, on that note, I have to try to write a paltry few hundred words today, heat or no heat.

Not Awake,
Aunt Beast

* And this was before I was diagnosed in 2008 with a PNES seizure disorder and before my feet blew out in 2005 (Morton's neuromas, numbness, severe pain, inability to stand for long periods, etc.).
dawn_metcalf July 23 2014, 15:35

Who Gets to Screw Up?

I think I've figured out one of the biggest things that bug me in this "Who Gets To Write What" discourse going around lately.

I think it has something to do with the fear of making mistakes and who gets to make them.

There have been a lot of great ongoing conversations about this, but I have been thinking about it a lot and something just clicked in that nebulous, 2 a.m. way it does sometimes. In the kid lit world, there's a lot of discussion about diversity and fair representation in the publishing world. This conversation was boosted by whitewashing covers, banned books, bad Con decisions and misrepresentation on big-name panels that prompted things like #WeNeedDiverseBooks (which is still going strong). I am a member of SCBWI and our esteemed Executive Director, Lin Oliver, weighed in with her personal thoughts on the matter:

"I don’t believe that I can authentically write from the point of view of a contemporary protagonist who is telling a unique story that derives from a racial or cultural experience not my own. Some people may feel comfortable with that. I don’t. One of the reasons I’m so eager to read literature written by people with diverse backgrounds is to get their authentic take on their experience. I just don’t trust that my take on it would ever be completely true or right." (entire letter is here)

And while I completely respect and applaud her decision on this, I must admit that I don't share it. It's not that I do not agree that she has every right to know her own comfort levels with her own writing or that we do not, as a community and a society, need to include all sorts of diverse perspectives in the kidlitosphere, it's just that I am a firm believer that everyone is free to write all sorts of stories--include characters and opinions outside of their own, personal experience--and that people can do justice to those groups that are being represented even if the author does not, in fact, belong to them. In the most basic sense, we are writing the human experience, which is identifiable to all its myriad shapes, sizes and colors. I have gone into my reasons in detail before, but it recently occurred to me why this was rubbing me the wrong way anew; it's that if you flip the argument, it completely falls apart. In essence, by saying that someone CAN'T write outside their own categories (be they gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, culture, socio-economic status, etc.) then that's close to saying that minorities can ONLY write inside these categories and should be equally limited. Which is just plain ridiculous.

Of course I don't think it's as simple as that, but hear me out: if we are saying that Caucasian, Christian, heterosexual, middle-class, MFA educated females can only write about Caucasian, Christian, heterosexual, middle-class, someday-MFA-educated female teens/kids, then are we also saying that African, Muslim, bisexual PhD educated males can ONLY write about African Muslim bisexual someday-to-be-PhD-educated male teens/adults? Of course not. Are we just saying that they are obligated to write these stories as representatives of their race/gender/sexual-orientation/religion/culture/class/etc.? What? No!

So what *are* we saying?

We want there to be room in the pool for diverse writers to write their diverse stories and get published for a mainstream audience. I think so, too! But in our rush to do this, I think some fears and P.C.-ness is getting us sidetracked. While I agree with all of these sentiments, the message of scarcity, that there is a finite amount of stories and storytellers allowed "in" at one time is wrong. (And with traditional publishing now getting competition from self-publishing and hybrid publishing, there's even more reading room & reach.) I don't think we should be advocating for who should write what. What I think we *should* be advocating is: Everyone is free to write whatever they want. Does that make sense? Write whatever you want. Instead of "Write what you know," I like to think it's more accurate to say "Write what you're passionate about." Remember, no one is an expert on vampires and yet someone broke the rules, made 'em sparkly, and changed the paradigm. Same could be said for witches being women who ride broomsticks with black cats and wizards as old, bearded men with pointy hats; Hogwarts and Quiddich completely changed the name of the game. John Irving said the “write-what-you-know dictum has no place in imaginative literature” and I happen to agree. Should you do research? Yes! Should you read what's out there? Yes! Should you listen for the voices that aren't your own? Yes twice! Should you talk to people? Experts? Groups? Ask hard questions? Get confronted? Screw up? Make mistakes? Yes! All that and more. Remember Neil Gaiman's New Year's wish for us all:

"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes."

It is the kindest gift you can give to anyone: children, teens, adults, strangers. The benefit of the doubt, the freedom to try, screw up and try again. The truth is, no one will "get it right" 100% of the time and you can't simply because everyone is different. You shouldn't be trying to write everyone's story (or, worse, try to get everyone's approval), but write the best story you can, the one that inspires YOU, the one that makes you sing inside, the one that demands to be told and do your characters the courtesy of lending them the voices that grow beyond you and your total experience, shaped by stereotype, television (or worse, the news) and get out there to see the world, experience something new and best yet, meet someone new. Listen. Learn. Get inspired. And then write.

What if Mr. African, Muslim, bisexual PhD wanted to write a fairy tale retelling of Snow White set in modern-day Amish Pennsylvania? Who is going to tell him that he can't? Not me. He can write whatever he likes. And if someone thinks we need an African, Muslim, bisexual story out there in the world, they can go write one if so inclined. I wouldn't want to limit *anyone* in their quest for inspiration and lifelong learning and I certainly don't want someone limiting mine. I have enough limitations of my own, thank you. I am still discovering new blind spots, new ignorances, new prejudices, and--if I'm lucky--making new mistakes because I'm out there in the trenches trying it out. I'm talking and listening and asking dumb questions and reading beyond my usual TBR list. And I'm writing the story that moves me and I'll *still* get things wrong. But that's how we learn. That's how we grow.

Go grow, make mistakes & make good art!

dawn_metcalf July 23 2014, 14:19

Fun Film Friday: Word Crimes


This recent piece of brilliance has been flooding the writerly corner of the Internet with intergalactic speed and it's no surprise why: it's *amazing* in the way only Weird Al can be! Our family has been a huge fan of his since the Dr. Demento Show (dating ourselves much?) and have seen him perform live twice; both times struck with what an amazing wordsmith and performer he is. Really, there's just not enough room to gush.

Now marry our love for the Polka Wonder with truly epic grammar magic that managed to turn Thicke's cringe-worthy song and even worse music video into an epic worthy of the ages. Truly, this is an insta-classic!

deenaml July 23 2014, 01:41

DESERTED is here!

One month after the release of my YA ebook BLACKOUT, the sequel DESERTED is available from e-tailers!


The desert can be dangerous...especially when you've been deserted.

Seventeen-year-old Kara is done spying on people for her father, the wealthy and morally corrupt businessman Dr. Ellison. Last summer, when her father’s project literally blew up, she fell hard for one of his victims: Leo, the hot musician who made her question her family’s rules. Now Leo’s clear across the country, and Kara’s ready to reinvent herself in Las Vegas.

Of course her father has to mess up that plan, too. He claims a rogue environmental group wants him dead because of his latest alternative energy business venture, and that he needs Kara back on his payroll as the only one he can fully trust. With nowhere else to turn, Kara sends Leo a distressed text message – just before she’s kidnapped, a bargaining chip of the vigilantes who are determined to end her father’s moneymaking plans.

Leo is battling the pains of his last run-in with Dr. Ellison but he wastes no time hopping a plane to Vegas to rescue Kara. As he struggles to find her, the pair tries to learn all they can about the project Dr. Ellison is directing in the hopes of using the information to free Kara. Because if there’s one thing they’ve learned from Dr. Ellison, it’s that no risk is too big when it comes to fame and fortune, life and death.

It is available through the links on my website: http://www.deenalipomi.com/books.html (and BLACKOUT is on sale for .99 through August 1st, too!).

Thanks, LJ readers, for your years of online friendship and support!
deenaml July 23 2014, 01:33

Who Do They Think She Is? (108)

THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by Jennifer Mathieu
Alice is a slut who killed the star quarterback according to a bathroom wall in Healy High, but maybe Alice isn't who the rumors have made her out to be...and maybe there's more to her classmates than meets the eye as well. Told from the povs of four Healy students who knew or know Alice in ways that share all of their stories, this upper-YA novel rings true in the way rumors fly and high school relationships can turn on a dime where emotions run high. Each pov is clear, and each character is more than meets the eye and they have their own transformations as well. A well-written, compelling, concise novel that is highly recommended. (Roaring Brook Press, 2014)
professornana July 23 2014, 00:52

puzzle pieces

I never was a big fan of jigsaw puzzles. I am fine when it comes to edges and corners, but if you ask to start filling out beyond that, I can only progress so far. I tend to work with some sort of pattern such as a color or shape from the finished picture of the puzzle. And piece by piece it begins to come together. It is laborious, though, and not something that I turn to willingly as a hobby.

I think much of the current discussion (and that is not the right word from my perspective, but let's stick with it for now) of a need for balanced literacy, though, is part of a larger puzzle. I have been seeing some of the pieces in various locations, and they are beginning to form a larger picture. Here are some of the pieces to consider:

1. This snarky piece from the NY Post decries the NYPL Summer Reading List by opening with this paragraph: "What should kids read this summer? Don’t ask the New York Public Library: Its “Summer Reading Challenge 2014” is among the silliest, most politically correct and uninspiring lists around." It decries the lack of anything other than fluff (from this writer's perspective). Here is a link to the middle school books: https://www.nypl.org/sites/default/files/Middle%20School%20Booklist%202014.pdf. Not much fluff here. As a matter of fact, I spy some award winners, some delicious paranormal books, and a great assortment of books about other people, places, and times.

2. Several editorial pieces in the NYT have called for an end to using "popular" literature inside of the classroom and recommended it be used only for "leisure" reading.

3. Many, many, many pieces in various outlets are calling for a "return" to the standards, specifically CCSS.

4. Troubling endorsement of tough standards (and specifically CCSS by various organizations as if CCSS is some sort of miraculous way to get rid of the achievement gap.

5. Some other states pulling out of CCSS.

Ah, the picture is beginning to emerge. See it?
metteharrison July 22 2014, 20:46

Let’s Get You Stronger

This is something that one of my early therapists told me. She was actually pretty smart, but I didn’t keep seeing her for very long because I wasn’t ready for some of the things she had to tell me. In this case, I told her all these things that had crushed me and when she said that her job was to help me get stronger, I was so furious. I didn’t want to get stronger. I wanted the world to get easier. Basically, she was saying that I was going to have to change, to do work, and I was too depressed to think about any of that.

This is a frequent problem with depression. If someone in your life is depressed and you find yourself thinking up brilliant suggestions for them which they hate, well, you’re not doing the wrong thing necessarily. It’s just that often you have to wait for the depressed person to initiate movement toward change. I’m not sure you can do much to push them forward except standing by them and giving support—sometimes even when it seems ridiculous. Say “yes” and nod a lot, make sympathetic noises. And eventually they may get to the part where they have enough energy and enough clarity to change.

That change may include medication or it may not. It may include therapy. It may include weird things that you think are stupid. Diet changes. Exercise changes. Sleep changes. Relationship changes. They may change things that didn’t need to be changed and they regret them. But at least they’re trying something. Of course they can’t see clearly, but the energy to do some change is a good thing at base.

And the truth is, my therapist was right. There was nothing she could do to make the world less cruel, to take away the pain that I was suffering. There might be people around me doing things that hurt me more. But she and I couldn’t change them. I wanted to point fingers and say everyone else was doing everything wrong, that they were the problem. This is pretty common in depression. And I’m not even saying it wasn’t true. It just didn’t matter that much. Because when you’re the one in pain, you’re mostly the one who has to change—even if the only thing you can change is getting rid of the people in your life who are unable to stop causing you pain.
greygirlbeast July 22 2014, 16:57

Howard Hughes Goes Round and Round (and Round)

The warm air is coming back. We got low eighties yesterday, and currently it's 84˚F, and supposedly it feels like 91˚F out there. I'm going to guess the humidity must be very high.

I didn't write yesterday. I didn't write the day before. I'm wasting time like I'm foolish enough to think maybe I have a lot of the stuff to waste. Toady, I'm going to try to get back to work on "The Cats of River Street (1925)." Great opening scene, then a wall. I suspect my fears of losing our short summer is helping to impede progress on this story.

I'm sleeping too much. I feel like I never truly wake up until nine or ten p.m. This is what happens when we have to mix our Seroquel, Lamictal, and Gabapentin. Toss in continuing depression and the other miscellaneous insanity happy time that slips past the drugs, and a lot of time all I want to do is sleep. Sometimes, this seems a vastly preferable option to my chronic insomnia, but other times it doesn't, such as when I'm too groggy to think and therefore too groggy to write well.

This morning, I dreamt I was in the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences (I see someone has renamed the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, which sucks), which I've not visited since October 1986, when I did work on mosasaurs in the collection there*. In my dream, the decor was far more Victorian than it is today. The only light came from within the display cases. And all the taxidermied animals were alive. It was beautiful and deeply unsettling.

Fuck, I'm not awake. Bonjour, Monsieur Taureau Rouge!

I'm also watching too much television, but at least some of it's good. We blew through three seasons of Ink Masters in about a week (and I'm sad to watch it's rapid decline into trashy, ratings-grabbing drama). This season of Defiance is really excellent, even better than Season One. I am in love with Doc Yewll! And last night we saw the first two episodes of The Strain. It feels a bit like early del Toro, circa 1993, and also a bit like Fringe. I think we caught a nod to the latter, a character named Peter Bishop who met a sudden, unpleasant, messy demise (and the first episode strongly echoes the first episode of Fringe). But I'm liking it quite a lot, and I was afraid I wouldn't. It has just the right sort of gruesome campiness, coupled with some genuinely horrific moments (the end of the second episode, for instance).

Okay. I'm gonna go try to write now.

Later Taters,
Aunt Beast

* Kiernan, C. R. 1992. Clidastes Cope, 1868 (Reptilia, Sauria): proposed designation of Clidastes propython Cope, 1869 as the type species. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 49:137–139.
eldritchhobbit July 22 2014, 11:53

News of the Now

It's official! I've happily accepted the position of Department Chair of Literature and Language at Signum University. Speaking of which, registration is open for my online "Science Fiction, Part I" course for Fall 2014 at Mythgard Institute at Signum University.

I'm getting ready to head out for a quick trip south to offer guest lectures on intellectual history and The Hunger Games, Serenity, and YA dystopian fiction. (It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.) Here is a quick look at my upcoming speaking schedule.

Science Fiction, Part 1 at Mythgard Institute

Where I Will Be Speaking When

"Life Is Improv" Seminar at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia

Loncon 3/the 72nd Worldcon in London, UK
Here is my updated schedule.Collapse )

A Long-Expected Party 3 in Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky

A Long Expected Party 3
metteharrison July 21 2014, 22:53

It's All Fodder

It’s easy to get depressed when you get rejection letter after rejection letter. Knowing that it’s part of the process helps a little, but doesn’t take away the sting completely. And there are other parts of the writing process that are even more painful. Giving up on a manuscript and putting it aside. Rewriting a manuscript so that large chunks you love are gone. Realizing that a manuscript you’re working on is derivative—or that something far too similar has just been published by someone you never heard of.

When you are feeling like this sucks and there is no point in writing another word, I hope it’s helpful to hear things like this:

1. This is all going to make a great book someday. Either a book about a writer or a book about someone who is rejected in ways that are like a writer.

2. I’m making that editor into the villain in my next manuscript.

3. The people who rejected me are going to wish they hadn’t. (Sometimes this actually does happen.)

4. Anger and despair are just more fuel for the creative fire.

5. Now that I’ve suffered, I really get what other artists are talking about.

6. I can write characters who have been through bad stuff a lot better now.

7. If I can figure out why people do these things that hurt me, I can write better villains. And make them suffer even more when I take away everything they care about. Mwahahah!

8. I’m going to devise a fantasy world in which things like this don’t happen. And I’m going to spend a lot of time worldbuilding to show how it can be done.

9. I get to the god of my next novel and I will make all the people I create suffer the way I’ve suffered, and it will be delicious!

10. I am going to work on my inspiring talk on how to keep working hard, no matter how bad the rejection gets, and aspiring authors are going to one day give me standing ovations.

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