I go there.
I go there.
As an author, journalist and an activist, anytime I write something, be it a social media update or my next novel, I write with the intent to empower, enlighten and entertain. If I can do all three simultaneously, golden!
I call it the E-Cubed Directive. These challenging times are a reminder why I do the work I do in the manner I do.
For those of you needing resources to entertain, empower or enlighten yourself and/or others the following are a few posts that may serve as a resource and feel free to share with others.
Stay strong and keep flying.
Making my return to Yopp Voice, today I discuss six iconic characters whose white privilege gives them a pass for their most reprehensible and downright villainous behavior.
I also explain how these narratives have real life repercussions.
Special thanks to the lovely and always awesome Kella Hanna-Wayne for helping me make this piece a reality.
Today you guys are in for a treat.
Over on 30Up, I sit down with the one and only Gail Simone and we discuss everything from comics, writing, diversity, Hollywood, Lion Forge and much more.
So one of the primary reasons I didn’t update this space much last year was because I was on constant deadline churning out a lot of pieces which didn’t leave me time to even catch my breath, much less do anything else.
This isn’t a bad thing when you’re a freelance journalist and a speculative fiction author. Not a bad thing at all. Being booked with paid gigs is always a blessing.
Nevertheless I was in Writer Mode for most of 2018 which is the visual equivalent of Puppet Angel, hence the Feature Image Header Pic. I can definitely say that I outdid myself last year with more than a few pieces. So much so I was inspired to make a Top 8 List so if you missed any of them or want to read them again, you can do so.
And don’t worry, one of my New Years Resolutions is to update here when a new piece gets published online so yeah this is me vying to do better.
Without further adieu, here are my picks for The Top 8 Articles of 2018.
Recently I was having a conversation with a couple of friends and acquaintances regarding the release of my novel, Hollowstone. As I explained the premise behind the book, they expressed it was a novel they would be very interested in reading.
They then expressed that they don’t read books. As the conversation continued, they explained it was in large part to their horrors in school. Horror stories I was all too familiar with. The others elaborated that they hated being forced to read classic literature which usually translated works written by old dead white men and ergo deemed as the only type of “literature” worth reading.
Between having to read pretentious egregious tripe that was irrelevant to teens during their adolescence and mandatory reading during their summer vacations, once they graduated, they vowed never to pick up another book again.
The truth is they aren’t alone. The truth is that there are too many people who do not read for very valid reasons.
One of the questions I’m constantly asked (which admittedly I never get tired of answering) is what my process in terms of world building and developing complex characters.
My approach to world-building and character development ultimately corresponds to my overall approach to storytelling. As a writer, I personally belong to the school of character = story. What truth do we discover along the character’s journey? More than that, whether it’s fiction, articles or blog posts, I generally have three mandates which I dub E-Cubed: Enlighten, entertain and empower.
Needless to say that E-Cubed has led to other techniques which has only enhanced my storytelling abilities over the years.
Over on Latin Negro, yours truly has a guest post discussing how a storyteller’s inspiration can often come in the unlikeliest of forms.
I won’t lie, this is probably one of my favorite pieces I’ve penned this year.
To say that fellow Amaya Radjani is one of my favorite people would be a vast understatement. In fact we constantly joke that we’re each other’s sibling from another maternal figure. When her latest novel, Tainted, was released, I knew I wanted to sit down with her and have a long chat on her new book, her creative process and all that other geeky writer stuff. I knew the Middle Child Press co-founder would have plenty to say and everything said would be nothing short of brilliant.
DRU: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Second of all, congrats on the new book Tainted. I’ve started reading and my God is it intense. Before we get to Tainted, let’s go back for a moment. Corruption, your debut novel. How did it feel having a title under your belt?
AR: It feels amazing; like I’ve sucker-punched a mountain or kicked a planet out of orbit.
DRU: Looking back on your journey from then to now, what stands out for you?
AR: Sometimes I can’t believe I wrote the book. I re-read certain passages (usually near the end) and I tell myself that I sat down and I wrote it and I know I sat down and I wrote it, but it feels like someone else did. In a way, that’s true, because when I’m under the control of the muse, I am not myself. Or maybe I am who I truly am when I’m being directed and the person you’re talking to right now is the interloper.
What stands out for me is knowing that the book took a direction I didn’t plan and the muse abandoned me until I came to grips with certain things. Once I did that, she returned and I finished the novel. It was very cathartic and I knew that I laid certain demons to rest with Corruption.
DRU: Cathartic writing and laying demons to rest, I know exactly what you mean on that score. From Corruption to Tainted, how would you say your writing has evolved?
AR: My vision and scope have broadened. I’ve become experimental with the arrangement and structure of my books. I play with margins and fonts and spacings to emphasize mood, tone, flavor and atmosphere. Books look the same once you get past the cover. It’s the standard in publishing and that’s fine. But I realized that I don’t have to follow those rules. Owning my own publishing house frees me to do whatever the hell I want and with each passing day, I realize more and more how important that is to me. I don’t have to conform to anyone’s standard; I just need to satisfy my muse. And trust me; it ain’t easy satisfying that bitch.
DRU: Were there any lessons or experiences you learned from Corruption that you applied towards producing and promoting Tainted?
AR: I learned that I’m more likely to write my books in the early part of a calendar year and publish them in the latter half of the same year, and from there I developed a cycle as a way to keep track of my progress. For Tainted, I learned how to make a book trailer, and it was a fun experience. It helped me to visualize the book in a different light and focus on what I thought were the most significant aspects of the stories within.
DRU: So for your sophomore project, were there specific objectives you wanted to accomplish?
AR: Not particularly. I just knew it would be different, but I didn’t know how much until things started coming together in the ways that they always seem to do. But when I knew the book was done, I was satisfied that I did everything I needed to do.
DRU: Do you feel you accomplished said objectives?
AR: Yes. I work and work until I hear the muse say “Stop.” And I stop. I have to be satisfied with everything at that point because touching the manuscript after I have been directed to stop will ruin it. I’ve made that mistake before and one time was all it took.
DRU: So shifting over to Tainted, tell us about this incredible book, who the players are and what’s at stake.
AR: It’s a definite deviation from Corruption, that’s for sure. There are three poems, two stories, and one central set of characters. There are pictures and bios of six stunning sistahs who represent the female protagonists, a rock band named Pink Cage. The poems are songs written by members of the band, and the stories feature the women in different perspectives.
The first story, which is actually a trilogy, is about Sereyn, who is Pink Cage’s manager. Sereyn is a woman who is having a majorly epic identity and midlife crisis. Someone from her past, present and future comes to help her sort everything out.
The second story, “Mezzanine,” is the central story in Tainted; the reason why the book had to be written. I say “had” because I did not have a choice. When the muse dropped that sweet little psychotic bombshell on my head, it was with one directive: WRITE NOW!!! RIGHT NOW!!!
“Mezzanine” focuses on Pink Cage as a rock band and as a family; the sistahs of Pink Cage are actually sisters. Kemme Thornton, aka “Charm Pink,” has embarked on a whirlwind rebound romance with Keith Marshall, a goofy-looking geek inventor and rollercoaster designer. As far as Kemme is concerned, Keith is the perfect man and an even more perfect husband…until she stumbles upon his little secret, which forces her to face who she truly is.
DRU: What inspired this story?
AR: I mentioned in my The Next Big Thing blog hop interview that “Mezzanine” is the result of several things clashing at once: the badassery of Alexis Brown, frontwoman of the metal band Straight Line Stitch; the awesomeness that is Massive Attack, specifically, their album and track of the same name, Mezzanine, which I listened to about 200 times; and a renewed crush on a musician I loved as a little girl. Everything marinated subconsciously and then one day, the muse shat the book on my head. There is simply no other way to describe how it happened.
DRU: Now Tainted is a far different beast than Corruption. The most obvious is that its spec fic. But it’s also darker and more sexual. Was this a conscious choice or an edict from your Muse?
AR: I should point out that I personally don’t think that Tainted is speculative fiction, which is a term I hate, by the way. Tainted’s got a sci-fi/supernatural component, but the majority of the book is contemporary. But to answer your question, it was an edict from the muse. She said go hard and that’s just what I did.
I am interested in readers’ reactions, especially to “Mezzanine.” With that story, I went H.A.M. I’m wondering if people will react the way I think they should. Probably not, but I haven’t gotten any reviews as of yet, so…
DRU: In your opinion, what is Tainted bringing to the dance that is lacking in fiction?
AR: Ooooh…well…it’s kind of hard for me to be absolute about this, as I haven’t done much outside reading lately. I can tell you this: everything in Tainted is connected; the poems, the pictures, the stories, the imagery…it all links and loops and forms one cohesive whole. It has an all-Black cast, most of which are women. These women are musicians, and they’re not your standard Black girl singing group. I deliberately made them dark-skinned rockers who wear funky pink hair and bad-ass costumes because that’s not something I personally have seen. There’s also the personnel component; I introduce you to the sisters of Pink Cage—Zora, Grace, Leseda, Kemme, Torii & Raz—via “chapter” breaks. There is a chance that I will be visiting them again in the future, and readers may as well know who they are now. Pink Cage is awesome.
With this book, I tried to explore the abnormal side of love, or love as it is perceived and received by minds less…*ahem,* fixed …by convention and normality. I also wanted to examine the nature of identity—who we are versus how we are perceived and where and how that line blurs. I can’t say with certainty that all of this is lacking in fiction, but I can definitely say I’ve never written anything like this before in my life…and I’ve written a lot of stuff.
DRU: So Middle Child Press seems to to be amping it up. You just released Tainted and your partner in crime Ankhesen Mie just released the Selo and Inya series. Was this random happenstance or part of a master plan to take over the world?
AR: Well, of course we plan to take over the world…but as far as the production of these projects, they were completely random. Tainted wasn’t planned, and neither was Selo & Inya. But Ankh and I feed off each other’s creativity; we inspire each other and we support each other. That, my friend, is a blessing, one every true writer needs. I know you feel me on this. So don’t be surprised if you see an increase in Ankh’s & my production this year. We’re both writing serials now.
DRU: What’s next for you?
AR: Right now, I’m working on two separate serial projects: Nightingales & the Velimir novels. I just finished the Nightingales pilot, CRASH!!!, and I’m currently drafting the first episode, cool air. CRASH!!! will probably be published this summer, but I’m not 100% sure of this. I can say with 100% certainty that it will be published this year, and if the muse is kind and God is able (which she can sometimes be and He is), cool air will be as well.
I’m also rewriting the first half of Blade Dancer, the first of the Velimir books. It became necessary to wrest Sheila and K’avir completely away from anything remotely resembling their fanfiction origins, so they are going to get a completely new and different genesis. This means restructuring the entire book and introducing new ideas and subplots. I hope that their fans appreciate my efforts, but I’d like to assure them all that Sheila & K’avir themselves have not changed.
DRU: Any parting shots?
AR: To all of my new fans, followers and readers, and to those who have been with me since LJ and ff.net, thank you so much for your support. I am honored and humbled for all the love I’ve received. I hope that you continue to support and enjoy my future efforts, and feel free to visit me in the Dark anytime.
And to you, Denny, my friend and creative sibling…thank you for this wonderful opportunity. Your support means EVERYTHING to me and I’m proud to know you.
DRU: Back atcha sis! 😉
You can learn more about Amaya and her writing at the following websites:
Hat tip to my beautiful and brilliant internet wife RVC Bard for tipping me to this excellent article. An article that brilliantly summed up everything I hated about reading during my high school and even college years.
And this is coming from a published author.
I can’t be the only one who feels like the schools pulled a sort of bait-and-switch job on us when it came to reading. When I was in elementary school, they went to a lot of trouble to make sure we thought reading was fun, with bookmobiles and read-a-thons and tons of fun books about mice and motorcycles and phantom tollbooths. I had confidence that I could go to the library and pull anything off the shelf except a Baby-Sitters Club book and I wouldn’t be disappointed.
This is one of those books that you could judge by its cover.
That was the bait. In junior high and high school, they made the switch. I guess they heard about how drug dealers give you free doses of the good stuff until you are addicted, and then once you are hooked, they start cutting it with 50 percent baby powder or something. Actually, junkies notice when you do this. And kids notice when you swap their fun books for boring crap.
So one summer you are reading A Wrinkle in Time or Fantastic Mr. Fox or whatever, and then you show up for your first day of school and BAM, The Scarlet Letter. And get on that pronto, kid, because we are going to talk about metaphors and symbolism in Chapter 1 tomorrow. I opened these books thinking they would be great and rewarding, like the books I was used to, but it was like biting into a delicious-looking cake and finding a bear trap. After my face had been so destroyed by so many bear traps (to continue the metaphor) that the greatest reconstructive surgeon in the world could do nothing to save it, I stopped looking at books as wonderful presents I couldn’t wait to open and started looking at them with a sort of low-level PTSD.
This is when the flashbacks start.
Let me be clear: I still love reading good books, but since experience has taught me that there’s about a 95 percent chance that a random (adult) book I pick up is going to be unenjoyable, I spend more time researching a book before I read it than I spent researching my house before I bought it. It’s crazy to have to be so scared and wary of something I used to look forward to so much.
I think this kind of experience is part of why only 50 percent of American adultshave read any novel, short story, poem or play in the past year, and only 54 percent have read any kind of book at all that wasn’t required. There was a bump up from 2002 to 2008, which they think was related to Oprah’s book club, or Harry Potter — you know, things reminiscent of the “Reading Is Fun” campaigns they targeted at kids, which I guess we need for adults now.
I’m not sure if this is a farcical joke about a dumb reading campaign or a satire on the way they are actually marketing books to grown-ups these days.
And as a disclaimer, I know there’s going to be people out there who loved The Scarlet Letteror A Separate Peace or what have you and feel like they got a lot out of it, and teachers who manage to get kids really engaged in discussing literature, and that is cool, but I don’t think that’s the common experience. Here are the sorts of things I think are going on a lot more often:
The Scarlet Letter, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Ethan Frome, Walden, Heart of Darkness, Madame Bovary, The Catcher in the Rye and The Sun Also Rises all suck. OK, that’s just my opinion, but the average high school student — hell, the average human being — will probably agree on a bunch of those at least.
This cover is misleading because it is much more interesting than the book.
What really gets my goat is when people act like this is our problem. They say the reason we don’t like these books is because we don’t get it. Because we are stupid and like our stories spoon-fed to us with simple words. We hate to work our brains to think about deeper themes and ambiguity. We like our comfort zone, and we get confused and angry when asked to put ourselves in the shoes of people in different places and times.
They will say you are objectively wrong and the book is objectively good, and important. Maybe the piece of writing was a groundbreaker in covering a taboo subject, or maybe it introduced a new and important idea that influenced world events (Thoreau and civil disobedience), or is a great example of dramatic or situational irony or an unreliable narrator, or maybe it proves butt jokes are ancient and universal (Shakespeare).
I remember he created a character named Bottom who had an “ass”‘ head. Not subtle.
A lot of these may be good reasons why you should read the book, but they shouldn’t be used to prove that the book is good. I’m not saying to strip all these books out of the curriculum or only make kids read things they enjoy. Life is hard and you have to do things you don’t like. When you grow up, you will have to read boring/wrong things and listen to boring/wrong people from time to time, and figure out how to pay attention and understand their point of view, and that is a skill you need to practice. But when just aboutevery single book on the reading list is something that makes the majority of your class go home and blog about how much they hate it, it starts to seem like aFahrenheit 451-style plot to destroy people’s interest in reading.
Even if you love literature and had a pretty good high school reading experience, you probably can agree that at least one book you were asked to read (in your opinion) sucked. There might be excessive exposition, laughable imagery, characters intended to be sympathetic who are grating or characters intended to be grating who are so grating that you can’t pay attention to the story (Holden Caulfield).
There are very few classrooms where you are encouraged to express this point of view, because I think a lot of teachers feel like if you admit to the book not being that great, then you open yourself up to the kids arguing that they shouldn’t have to read it. I don’t think it has to go there. I think teaching well-reasoned smack talk has a lot of value.
And not just if you get into a kung fu fight at work.
The stated goal of teaching literature isn’t just to get kids familiar with famous books; it’s also supposed to teach kids how to discuss stories and write intelligently. You teach them how to find symbolism and metaphors and hero’s journeys and character arcs in an assigned book so that when they consume other media (other books, movies, long personal lies told by disturbed family members, etc.) in the future, they can point all those things out to explain why they’re good or bad.
And to be totally realistic, most of the practical application of this would go to movies, because more people watch and discuss movies (or TV shows) than read books these days. This seems bad at first, because there are a lot of terrible movies and TV shows out there today. But there’s a lot of very smart criticismand discussion of bad movies. I’ve mentioned Red Letter Media and their reviews before. You wouldn’t think there would be anything to learn from the vacuousStar Wars prequels, but apparently there’s a lot to point out about what specific elements of story and drama are missing, and a lot more intelligent observations to be pulled out of the movies than went into them, somehow.
So of course you don’t want to let the kids get away with writing an essay about an assigned book saying, “It sucks, it was boring, Heathcliff and Catherine were stupid and annoying,” even if you admit that Wuthering Heights is a piece of shit. But what if you let them write an essay that goes negative on the book as long as they make reasoned, intelligent points that show they understood the author’s intentions and the methods they used to achieve them, and then explain why they think the author failed at this?
“I feel that Bronte was needlessly derivative in naming her main character after a cartoon cat.”
They can’t just say “The book was preachy” — they’ll have to say that a specific point was made “heavy-handedly,” cite a passage they find particularly ham-fisted and explain which words and phrases they feel butcher the idea of subtlety. They’ll have to explain why a certain chapter might have appealed to the author’s contemporary audience by showing an understanding of those readers and their situation, before explaining what’s changed in the intervening years to make that part of the story mawkish and cartoony. (Am I talking about Dickens? You decide.)
It’s a lot more motivating to write something you really believe. When you look for supporting points for your assigned essay on which character in The Great Gatsby best symbolizes the American Dream, you’ll probably be looking through your notes trying to figure out what your teacher wants you to say, and you’ll learn how to repeat things people want to hear. If you’re writing about why The Sun Also Rises sucks, your points will come from actual opinions you have and you’ll learn how to organize your own opinions and express them.
Without using penis-shaped emoticons.
Even if the kids are wrong, like they say Shakespeare was a hack, being able to actually support that opinion with good points that show they really understand the material is pretty impressive. And the real world is full of murky issues (religion, politics, which character class is overpowered) where there’s no authoritative adult to come in and say which is the “right” opinion. They need to learn how to back their shit up themselves when nobody else is there to back them up and tell the class they got the right answer. People who don’t know how to articulate their reasoning just put down their stakes defensively and end up getting into a grown-up version of “Nuh-uh”/”Uh-huh.” And it’s not cute at that age.
Sometimes they let kids read one or two “fun” books (like the Hunger Gamesbooks or something) in a concession to try to keep them into reading. But they treat them like candy, a necessary evil that you should spend as little time on as possible. Maybe you give a book report, but otherwise they don’t want to waste time on that popular crap.
The argument is that fun and popular books are too shallow to get much out of. They’re not going to have as many themes, or new vocabulary words, or symbols, or unusual storytelling techniques as a classic novel. And that’s probably true in a lot of cases. The point they’re missing here is that most high school classes never even get close to digging out all the analyzable stuff from a book, because of time limits or limits of the students’ reading level. So imagine books as oil wells, full of tarry, black, flammable ideas to analyze. War and Peace has like a ton of light sweet crude going 5 miles deep and Jurassic Park is about, I don’t know, 10 feet deep.
Not to scale.
From my experience, even the average honors class only ends up drilling down about 9 feet. Tolstoy sure has a lot more to offer, but you’re never going to get to it.
Maybe that’s a good experience to have — to know that there are books that are totally going to make you feel out of your league and take a lot of time to fully grasp. But you should also have the experience of thoroughly analyzing most of the facets of a book to get an idea of all the parts you should be looking at, and just to have the satisfaction of mastering something. You can get a Cliffs Notes overview of a big, complex book, and then just totally dismantle a more lightweight book like you are rebuilding a ’57 Chevy.
By Buck, via Wikimedia Commons
That’s one of those cars people rebuild, right? I don’t know cars.
And when you’re discussing universal themes like good and evil, redemption, belief, and farts, or common techniques like symbolism, irony, and first- vs. third-person narrative, I think it’s a mistake to only look at them in classic literature. It creates an artificial barrier between classics and modern-day popular media so that a lot of people who learn those concepts while reading Shakespeare don’t think about applying them to Inception.
I think it would be kind of neat to have an assignment dealing with a character’s turn from good to evil where you compare how it’s done in Paradise Lost, Animal Farm, Breaking Bad, the Star Wars prequels and Warcraft III. Where was it most believable and why? How much of it was character-driven and how much of it was driven by outside circumstances or magic? And you’ll probably get to use the term “deus ex machina” somewhere in there. Literary!
You’d read Paradise Lost or Dorian Gray or whatever in class, and it’s up to you to find other things to compare them to. You only get one video game. (And if it’sDeus Ex, you’re not allowed to use the term “deus ex machina.”)
I read in Reader’s Digest or something that some mom was shocked when her kid asked for this game because she thought he was saying “Day of Sex.” That is now the only thing I will call that game.
Instead of asking kids to accept the idea that some books are deep and some books are not because we say so, why not have them look at the “deep version” and the “shallow version” of the same plot? Hamlet and The Lion King or something. When they compare and contrast them, they’ll probably see for themselves what The Lion King is missing, even if they like it better. Of course they should also be allowed to say what they think Hamlet is missing, too (lions).
There is a point in time where a lot of adults stop telling kids that reading is fun and start telling them that reading should be work. That if you’re not improving your mind and broadening your horizons, reading that book is just a waste of your time. And they have a lot of ideas about what kinds of books broaden kids’ minds.
By Anton Huttenlocher, via Wikimedia Commons
This is one of the few books that doesn’t make any lists.
One writer suggests that what kids really need is more contemporary foreign literature. The comments are full of different adults saying, “What kids really need to be reading is …” followed by their favorite book, or a list of books that teach about issues important to them (the adult). Like this guy feels the most important goal of reading should be to protect kids’ minds … from religion, I think? Or communism? The Skin book is kind of random.
And this teacher feels like kids should not waste their summers reading The Hunger Games because they don’t gain much “verbal and world knowledge,” recommending The Red Badge of Courage and a bunch of nonfiction books about the horrors experienced by real people in other times and places, like Hiroshima, well-known as a great summer romp. These are really valuable books, and kids should have some idea about the world around them, but seriously, even in the summer, they can’t read a book just for fun?
She says: “Summer assignments should be about why we need to learn and why we need to talk about what we think.” Sure, that’s an important lesson that needs to be taught at some point, but when is there time for them to learn the other important lesson: Reading is something you can also do for fun, when you are taking a break from learning? You can’t just tell people that and hope they remember it when they graduate and finally have time for it. That’s something they need to learn by doing it and experiencing the fun.
Like you shouldn’t play a video game about a day of sex; you should just go out and have one.
I was a really fast reader and had no life, so I probably had the time to read important, assigned books as well as fun things over the summer, but most of the other kids I knew didn’t read that fast and had a lot of activities, and, you know, friends or something. If you assigned them a book to read for the summer, that was probably going to be the only one they would have time to get to. They would see reading as a hateful devil that chases you relentlessly, even into your leisure months.
Here is a painting of — I am not joking — the devil trying to get St. Augustine to read something.
I’m not saying people should stop teaching classics or make the entire curriculum out of Stephen King books, but at a certain point in a kid’s life, reading gets turned into all work and no play (which makes Jack uninteresting or something … I forget). You’ve got to really be pretty crazy about reading to come out on the other side still excited about the next book you’re about to open. (And you’ll probably lose that excitement after going through any literary fiction for adults these days, but that is another story.)
As for me, I haven’t given up on reading. I’m still looking for good books to read, but I’ve been burned so much by recommendations that I’ve instituted a new procedure for the approval of any new reading material. I will require at least five notarized affidavits from me-certified book evaluators who give the book at least 4 out of 5 stars in three major evaluation categories (pacing, character development and amount of dinosaurs, for example) before I will read it. Certification is a fairly straightforward process involving an application in which you list your favorite books and other media and a brief essay describing what you think I am looking for in a book. If your application is satisfactory, it will be followed by two phone interviews. Certification can be revoked at any time if evidence surfaces of you reading Fifty Shades of Grey or other disqualifying material unless you can submit witness statements from two independent evaluators testifying that you were only reading it so you could write jokes about it. This might sound like a great deal of trouble to recommend a book, but think about what’s at stake, man. I could be bored for several hours! Who wants that on their hands?