I’ve Been (Starting to Think About Publishing Edition)

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  • Really enjoying Amazon’s Carnival Row. Has anyone else seen it? It’s a fantasy-mystery set in a sort of steampunk Victorian England called the Burgue, where humans and mythical creatures live side by side (though not without significant problems…) It’s definitely not perfect, but I really like it. It was renewed for a second season but production halted due to the pandemic. Then it resumed, then it stopped again. As of now there are five episodes for season two filmed, and Amazon plans to release those and then film the rest when they can. I’m hoping that’ll be soon!
  • Also really liking Netflix’s The Chair.
  • In a bit of a reading slump. For me, reading slumps don’t make me read less (nothing makes me read less!) but I enjoy it less. Probably because I’ve read several “blah” books in a row. Here’s hoping I find something good soon!
  • Getting lots of ideas for posts. I don’t know why that is, but my drafts folder is bursting. So stay tuned for more.
  • In the stage of editing hell where every word I write seems absolutely unpublishable and I start to wonder if I was crazy thinking that I could write another book.
  • Trying to make my internet presence a little more author-y (since I’m starting to work on actually publishing Frost. Ahhhhh!). I’m looking at new templates for my website, updating information, making logos… In some ways my blog/social media presence is all over the place. I know it’s supposed to be targeted to my potential audience and I should be focusing on read alikes for my blog, and similar genres in terms of film, tv, etc. But I’m not a focused person. My interests run far and wide, and I’d rather be myself online than focus and build a business. Besides you never know what will turn up in my writing someday.
  • Starting to think about getting some advance reviews for Frost. When Beautiful was published, one thing I wish I’d known is how much having advance reviews help with pre-orders and initial sales. So I definitely want to think about it for this release.
  • Wondering how on earth some authors are able to write and release several books a year! (see this post for more about that) I want to get to the point where I can do one book in two years, but it takes me four years per book to write/publish at the moment. Who knows if/when I’ll get there? I keep telling myself that’s OK: writing and publishing any books is an accomplishment! But I feel like I have a lot of stories I want to tell….
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Meditations on “The Chair”

OK it’s not the best post title. You’d think I could do better with a show called “The Chair” but apparently, I can’t. Anyway, I did really enjoy this Netflix series recently. I’ve got a few thoughts about it floating around in my head, so I thought I’d do a review-type thingy.

I’ve always thought that in another life I might have really enjoyed being an English Lit professor. I didn’t go down that road for a number of reasons, but I think I would have loved a job where I could live in books. I could spend my days thinking about them, talking about them, and sharing them with others. I loved being a lit major at a liberal arts college for just that reason, and being a professor always seemed to me to be a way to extend that, indefinitely. In some ways, The Chair cured me of that romanticized vision! Yes, loving books is a big part of it. But another part is departmental politics, worry about enrollments and the future of the field, losing office space, IT related stress, and a bit of racism, ageism, and sexism thrown in.

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The show follows Ji-Yoon Kim, the first female chair of the English department at prestigious Pembroke University. It opens with Ji-Yoon about to assume that role for first time at the start of a new semester. She expects to face some resistance from the old guard, but she also wants to usher the department into the 21st century. She wants to build and encourage diversity. The deans are worried about enrollment in the English department (kids are going for STEM fields rather than humanities) and that’s also something she expects to confront and hopefully overcome.

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What she doesn’t expect is the face resistance to the tenure of a young, Black colleague (who would be the department’s first Black female tenured professor), a PR nightmare surrounding her friend/crush, and the egos of the elderly, long time professors. She finds herself trapped between the old guard which is largely white and male, and the demand for more diversity from students and donors. She’s also trying to be a single parent to her (adopted, a fact that her daughter brings up repeatedly) daughter Ju-Hee (aka “Ju Ju”) who is strong willed, intelligent, precocious and, well, let’s just say not always appropriate.

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The show was co-written and co-created by Amanda Peet, the actress known for TV shows like Dirty John, Brockmire, and Togetherness, as well as films including The Whole Nine Yards, Something’s Gotta Give, and Identity Thief. I did some googling when I learned this, and discovered that she’s also the the writer of the play Our Very Own Carlin McCollough and the co-author of the children’s book Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein. Perhaps that’s why the show has an appearance from David Duchovny (best known from The X Files), playing himself, who I learned has degrees from Princeton and Yale in English Literature, and started a PhD at Yale though his dissertation remains unfinished. He’s also the author of four novels. He plays himself on the show and his literary cred is important to the plot. I wrote a bit a while ago about how authors and actors are similar, and this show is further proof that it’s true.

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But Hollywood fun aside, the show walks a fine line, portraying struggles that have implications for the larger world. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out where it stands in terms of those issues. Ji-Yoon’s friend/crush/”it’s complicated” is fellow English professor, widower, Bill Dobson. When Bill does a mocking Hitler salute in class (part of a discussion about fascism and absurdism) an out of context video goes viral on TikTik, and Bill is branded a Nazi in public opinion. Students protest, donors threaten to withdraw funding, and it’s Ji-Yoon’s problem. She knows that Bill isn’t a Nazi, and understands that he was giving the gesture in a mocking way. She’s also, perhaps, somewhat biased in his favor because of their friendship. But the optics are bad for the department. She encourages Bill to apologize, but when Bill’s “sorry if you were offended by my joke” doesn’t go over well, she’s in a moral quandary. Does she discipline Bill for something that she thinks was blown out of proportion for the sake of optics? Does she stand by Bill and take on responsibility for the consequences?

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I think this plotline has a dual satirical purpose. One is that Ji-Yoon, an Asian woman in a position of power, has to clean up after her white, male subordinate. Another is as a critique of so called “cancel culture.” The show makes it clear that Bill doesn’t deserve to be fired for his mistake. A bad joke? Maybe. A hate crime? Probably not. People who criticize “cancel culture” often object to white men facing consequences for their actions. In this case, Bill doesn’t deserve the consequence he faces. He’s kind of a jerk for his refusal to apologize, but other than that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. This suggests that Bill is a victim in some way, which I don’t think is intended on the show’s part. I think that there is some justification for satirizing people’s quickness to throw stones, but the show doesn’t really take the time to explore any nuance with the issue. By centering this storyline, the show has been criticized for sidelining the stories of Ji-Yoon, Yaz McKay (who is set to be the first tenured black professor in the department) and Joan Hambling (who 30 years earlier became the first female professor in the English department) That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy this plot point. I did. And I think it’s central focus is interesting in a show that explores how POC are sidelined in academia. Are the creators of the show attempting to call attention to the focus on the problems of white men? Or did they fall into the trap that so many creators have before, of thinking this person’s problems are the most interesting?

Overall, the show left me with the sense that systemic change is hard and takes time. Sometimes you need to take two steps back to take one step forward. It finishes in a place that could be an ending, or it could be a springboard for another season that hopefully further explores some of these ideas.

Overall it was nice food for thought and a fun, witty look for me at the road untaken. I’m aware that it’s not always an accurate, realistic portrayal of academia, but that doesn’t really matter to me so much. It’s a comedy and things are played for humor. It also has elements of drama and some things are played for dramatic effect. That’s as it should be. Are there many “realistic” TV shows (outside of documentary)? It’s a fun, witty, sometimes thought provoking depiction of characters and plots. It makes us think about the real world, but it doesn’t have to reflect the real world 100% in order to do that.

Am I A “Writer?” Am I A “Published Author?”

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Let me make one thing clear:

If you write, you are a writer.

Full stop.

You don’t have to be published.

You don’t have to be paid.

You can write anything, anywhere.

I believe that completely. But it’s only in the last few years that I started to feel comfortable calling myself a writer. Really, the thing that changed was the publication of Beautiful. So why, if I believe all of the above, was I uncomfortable calling myself a writer before I’d published a book?

I think the reason my have something to do with how other people respond. Usually the first question that someone asks when you say you’re a writer, is “What do you write?” (or “What have you written?”)

I could have answered that before I published my book. I could have pointed to short fiction and articles in various publications, as well as the novels and novel fragments sitting on my computer while I tried to figure out what to do with them. But I didn’t feel comfortable answering that question until I was able to point to a book (or a link to a book) and say “that.”

My standards for myself have always been different from what I expect of other people. I’m harder on myself, and I demand more of myself. I think that’s probably fairly common. So while my criteria for other people is “you have to write to be a writer,” my criteria for myself was “you have to write and publish a novel to call yourself a writer.” Is it fair? Perhaps not. Is it hypocrical? Maybe. But it’s what made me comfortable.

Once I managed to call myself a writer though, I was surprised to find another mountain behind it. I’m still struggling to call myself a “published writer.”

Yes, I have a book out. It’s available to purchase. I’ve held a physical copy in my hands. The ebook is on amazon. But there are still a lot of prejudices about self publishing vs. traditional publishing. There’s also a lot of incorrect information. Note: I’ve addressed some of this in the past here. I see traditional publishing and self publishing as different means, to the same end- a published book.

But in spite of that, the words “published author” have a glamorous connotation. I picture book tours, hotels, signings and release parties. I think TV and film rights. In other words, I picture the complete opposite of my daily life! So I’m still trying to reconcile the difference in my head between being a “published author,” and the glamorous, high flying image, that I think depicts very few real-life authors, whether they’re self published or traditionally published.

As of right now, I’m calling myself a “published author” even though it does make me uncomfortable.

Because I know that the image that I have of the glitzy, beguiling author is completely fictional.

Because I know that self publishing is just as valid as traditional publishing.

Because I probably shouldn’t have waited as long as I did to call myself a “writer,” and I don’t want to make the same mistake with “published author.”

“So You Had A Bad Day…”

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We all have them now and then. For most of us they fall on a spectrum that can range from a day of general bad luck/ things not working out right; to absolutely horrific, involving health crises or the loss of a loved one. I’ve had all of the above in my lifetime, and as much as I’d like to believe that all my bad days are behind me, I don’t. They’re a part of life and we have to learn to deal with them. Of course in my case, “dealing with them” can fall on a spectrum too; from healthy (yoga) to unhealthy (chocolate. in massive quantities)

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For the “no so bad” bad days, I used to have a way to deal. I would have a TV series I would watch at the end of the day. I wouldn’t binge: I’d watch in single episode increments. I would make myself a cup of cinnamon tea, and drink it, one spoonful at a time as I watched. Having something relaxing to look forward to helped make those days when nothing goes quite right a bit more deal-able.

So why did I stop? To be honest, I’m not quite sure. I think it required some discipline that I lacked at some point: after all, I had to have a series that I only reserved for “emergencies.” But sometimes it’s nice to binge! I would also have to discipline myself to sipping my tea slowly. When, let’s face it, delaying gratification doesn’t appeal when you’ve had a rough time of it!

But I’ve been thinking about getting back into this habit again. Or at least trying to. Because on a bad day, it helped to have something nice to look forward to. No, obviously it’s not so effective when something truly terrible happens. But there are plenty of days when you just feel defeated by the end of it, and you need to be nice to yourself. That’s what this is for.

So how do you deal with bad days (of any kind)? Any tips? Tricks? Treats?

Thankfulness and Shameless Self Promotion

This is just a quickie:

I hope that everyone celebrating Thanksgiving had a happy, safe, and healthy holiday.

I was thankful to have been included in Portergirl’s list of The Best Indie Authors You’ve Never Heard Of! True to the title, I’ve never heard of the other authors in the post, but I’ll have to check them out.

A bit of promotion for someone else too:

This year, Enchanted Quill Press released a fairytale continuation series. To celebrate, they’re doing a $500 Amazon gift card giveaway. You can enter at the link.

That’s all for now. Please be healthy and safe this holiday season!

Top Ten Tuesday: Best MetaFiction

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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July 28: Freebie (This week you get to come up with your own TTT topic!)

I made this list recently and decided to use it here. For the purpose of this list, I’m calling metafiction a “self conscious” novel. These books discuss, and think about themselves as works of fiction, within the context of the novel. So we have lots of books within books, narrative footnotes that continue to story while commenting on it, and other forms withing the novel (diaries, letters, poetry, essays, plays etc).

51va-sxea5l._ac_uy218_1.The Princess Bride by William Goldman – The author frames the story as an abridged  retelling of an older book with the boring parts taken out. He frequently alludes to these parts throughout the text.  In the film adaptation this was handled by having frame story in which a grandfather reads his grandson the novel. We see this in the book as well, but it’s less prevalent.

“He held up a book then. “I’m going to read it to you for relax.”
“Does it have any sports in it?”
“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest Ladies. Snakes. Spiders… Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
“Sounds okay,” I said and I kind of closed my eyes.”

 

71jfo2zkzvl._ac_uy218_2.If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino– This one opens with “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.” Throughout the text the fictional reader and real reader’s relationship is discussed and addressed, blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. There are also several books within  the book that we read (at least in part).

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice — they won’t hear you otherwise — “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything: just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

810pcxbl3l._ac_uy218_3. House of Leaves by Mark Danielwski– This books is has text arranged in strange ways that mirrors the events of the story. It contains lots of footnotes (which also have footnotes themselves) that reference works that don’t really exist. There are several narrators some of whom directly address the reader. It claims to be an unpublished manuscript of a lost documentary film, annotated by a tattoo artists. There’s also an appendix of letters from the tattoo artist’s (insane) mother.

“This much I’m certain of: it doesn’t happen immediately. You’ll finish [the book] and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You’ll be sick or feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life. It won’t matter. Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realize things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how. You’ll have forgotten what granted you this awareness in the first place”

 

81oy308r7ql._ac_uy218_4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles– This novel looks at the 19th century novel as seen through a late 20th century perspective. We read the story that takes place in 1867, and the narration that calls one’s attention to the fact that the 1867 plot line is in fact, fictional. This was handled in the film adaptation by having a second timeline in which we see the 1867 story line being made into a film.

“You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons: for money, for fame, for reviewers, for parents, for friends, for loved ones; for vanity, for pride, for curiosity, for amusement: as skilled furniture makers enjoy making furniture, as drunkards like drinking, as judges like judging, as Sicilians like emptying a shotgun into an enemy’s back. I could fill a book with reasons, and they would all be true, though not true of all. Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine. We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world (a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world. It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.”

 

71scqfzfhel._ac_uy218_5.  Atonement by Ian McEwan– Minor spoiler alert: The book turns out to have been “written” by one of the characters in the novel. The reasons that the character has for doing this involve much bigger spoilers. Interestingly the film adaptation didn’t try to do anything fancy with a secondary timeline. The “reveal” is simply there at the end.

“How can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her. In her imagination she has set the limits and the terms. No atonement for God, or novelists, even if they are atheists. It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all.”

 

51xunct3xjl._ac_uy218_6. The Keep by Jennifer Egan– In the first chapter, this shifts from a story about two estranged cousins a Gothic castle to being about a man named Ray who is writing the story as a part of a prison’s creative writing program. The two stories unfold, switching back and forth, as the storylines reflect  back on one another.

Being somewhere but not completely: that was home for Danny, and it sure as hell was easier to land than a decent apartment. All he needed was a cell phone, or I-access, or both at once, or even just a plan to leave wherever he was and go someplace else really really soon. Being in one place and thinking about another place could make him feel at home.”

81qh7u4anel._ac_uy218_7. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne– I remember reading this in college with a big, “WTF!?” expression on my face the whole time! It claims to be the memoirs of a country gentleman, but it’s really one digression after another, and sometimes the digressions have digressions of their own! We also get some sermons, essays, drawings and more mixed in there. I tend to think of metafiction as being postmodern, so it’s amazing that this book was written in the 18th century!

“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading;—take them out of this book for instance,—you might as well take the book along with them;”

 

813yvojs9pl._ac_uy218_8.The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood– This book includes a story within a novel within a novel. Iris is publishing a book written by her sister, Laura. Her book is about Alex Thomas, an author pulp sci-fi, who has a complicated relationship with two sisters (who may be counterparts for Iris and Laura). It also contains one of Alex’s stories, The Blind Assassin. Got that?

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

a150ni9rjrl._ac_uy218_9.Possession by AS Byatt- This novel follows two academics as they follow a paper trail, researching the love affair between two fictional 19th century poets. It incorporates fictional diary entries, letters, and poems. These devices are ultimately used to question the authority of textual narratives.

“Think of this – that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.”

 

71vksxqmbul._ac_uy218_10. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz– Susan is editing the new manuscript by best selling mystery author Alan Conway, known for writing in the tradition of authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. We read the manuscript along with her. But there seems to be a chapter missing. Specifically, the last one where we learn whodunnit! Susan figures that it’s a mistake and she’ll talk to Alan on Monday and get the missing pages. But then she learns that Alan has just died and the missing pages are nowhere to be found. As she starts looking for the rest of the book, Susan discovers that the missing portion of the manuscript may reveal more than just the murderer in the novel: it may also contain information about who was responsible for Alan’s own death. In this case not only the manuscript, but the title itself if a clue as to whodunnit.

“I had chosen to play the detective—and if there is one thing that unites all the detectives I’ve ever read about, it’s their inherent loneliness. The suspects know each other. They may well be family or friends. But the detective is always the outsider. He asks the necessary questions but he doesn’t actually form a relationship with anyone. He doesn’t trust them, and they in turn are afraid of him. It’s a relationship based entirely on deception and it’s one that, ultimately, goes nowhere. Once the killer has been identified, the detective leaves and is never seen again. In fact, everyone is glad to see the back of him.”

“Need A Sitter?” Why yes, I do…

When I was between the ages of eight and eleven, I was all about The Babysitter’s Club.

  • I saw the film
  • I watched the TV series
  • I played the board game
  • I read the Little Sister spin off series
  • I had a favorite babysitter (Stacy) and I could tell you the one that I was most like (Mary Anne)
  • At the age of 9 Ann M. Martin did a book signing near my house and I made plans with my friend to go. That morning I woke up with itchy red spots on my skin. I actually kept quiet about having Chicken Pox so that I could get my book signed. (I have gotten more aware of, and responsible about, public health issues as I’ve aged!)
  • I couldn’t wait until I was actually old enough  to babysit, myself.

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The book that started it all (Image source: amazon.com)

In the years since then, I’ve grown up. I have babysat, myself. It’s not as fun as it seemed in the books. In fact, it’s yet another thing that sounded a lot more fun in tween literature than it is in real life (Judy Blume, I’m looking at you. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret made menstruation sound a lot more fun than it turned out to be!) And my fondness for The Babysitter’s Club (or BSC) became more nostalgic than fanatical.

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The BSC in the 1990’s TV series based on the novels (Image source: IMDB)

But when Netflix announced a reboot, I was onboard. For one thing, Rachel Shukert (author of the guilty pleasure, too soon aborted, Starstruck series) was taking on show running duties. And for another it was a return of characters who seemed a lot like childhood friends to me. They saw me through troubles and school and with friends. And I felt like I was there for Kristy when she struggled to accept her new step-family. I supported Claudia when her Grandmother suffered a stroke. I was rooting for Stacy as she  learned to manage her Diabetes. I’m sure they all appreciated the support.

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The club as seen in the 1995 film (image source: glamour.com)

I watched the series 4th of July weekend, and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the show. I was expected some nostalgic corniness. And yes, there’s a slight schmaltz factor here, but not as much as you might expect. For the most part, the series found a note that was intelligent without being cynical, sweet without being saccharine, and optimistic without being oblivious. I’d had sort of a stressful week with work. Watching this series over the weekend seriously saved my sanity.

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The BSC as seen on Netflix in 2020 (imagesource: Netflix.com)

The characters in the series were largely good role models for girls: smart, motivated, good hearted, and well intentioned. Yes they screwed up, but they also took responsibility for their mistakes. I wondered briefly as I watched, if there was a conscious effort to make the girls role models. If so, I don’t think it was an effort that the show made. Perhaps it was an effort on the part of the books, because the girls were pretty solid role models in those too. It was essentially a series about a group of go-getters who start their own business, in middle school. They run their business and juggle their school work friendships and home responsibilities. Sometimes they get overwhelmed.That’s when their friends come in and help out.Those bonds are tested as the girls grow together and sometimes apart.

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Boy-Crazy Stacy in it’s original book form (image source: amazon.com)

In the books, and the new series there are boys. In the book Boy Crazy Stacy (which becomes an episode in the Netflix series) we see Stacy go gaga over an older boy, neglecting her friendships and babysitting duties to go after him. But we also see her realize the error of her ways. We also see Mary-Anne become involved in a fairly healthy (as far as relationships between two thirteen year olds go) romance with Logan Bruno, both on the page and onscreen.  But the boys are secondary. They focus of the series remains on the girls. It’s about their friendships and all the aspects of their lives. That includes crushes and boyfriends sometimes. But those relationships remain one part of a richer, more complex picture.

 

Most of the episodes of the series were rooted in the books. But occasionally they were updated in ways that made them relevant to the world of 2020. When the real world tie ins were present, they weren’t preachy or overbearing. For example at summer camp, the girls learn that certain activities are only available to the campers who pay more. Meaning that campers who can’t afford to do so cannot participate. Their response to income inequality, even in a childhood setting, is very revealing of the adults that they may someday become. (The theater geek in me also loved the Les Miserables shout out when they built a barricade as part of their protest!) The tie ins to the larger world, to big discussions of the wealth gap are there. A parent may chose to extend that discussion with their child. But the show doesn’t belabor the point. Rather it lets the seeds germinate in viewers minds as they may.

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Kristy’s step sister, Karen Brewer, shares some imaginative theories with Mary-Anne in the Netflix series. (image source: vulture.com)

Another example is Mordella Destiny. Kristy’s stepsister Karen got her own “Little Sister” spin off book series (which I also read and loved). In the first of these books, Karen (age 7, with an overactive imagination)  thinks her neighbor Mrs. Porter is a witch named Mordella Destiny. In the Netlix series, it turns out she’s right. In a way.  As “Mordella” explains to everyone, she’s a woman who doesn’t follow along with what most people consider the “right” or “proper” way to behave. She’s a bit odd. And historically, people, (Particularly women) who broke the mold were called witches. She concludes, “When kids tell you things, believe them.” Wise words in so many ways.  Again, this isn’t a major plot point, but it’s a nice moment, that gives voice not only to the many accused witches of the past, but also kids who are too often ignored or talked over.

When I was a kid, my Dad didn’t really approve of my BSC reading. He didn’t forbid it, but he tolerated it with an occasional eyeroll. I think he just thought they were silly reads. So I did too, and I regarded them as sort of a guilty pleasure at the time. But watching the series this past weekend I realized that maybe there was something more to them than I originally thought. As I was writing this blog I did a search for reviews of the news series and I noticed a many other, similar, pieces by readers who felt a similar fondness in their hearts for these characters and books. That makes me think that these were more than just “silly” books. While their literary values is debatable they taught  several generations a lot about life. And business. And friendship. I hope that the Netflix series introduces these girls to a new young audience. Because today’s kids can learn a lot from them.

Did you read The Babysitter’s Club books as a kid? Have you seen the new Netflix series? What did you think?

I’ve Been…

  • adventure arid barren coast

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    In a dry spell writing wise. I’m editing Frozen Heart (and thinking about changing the title to Frost. Thoughts?) and really struggling to get things done. I keep thinking I’ll break through but I think a lot of the stressors of the past few months have made it hard for me to work. I feel like the space in my head that I usually devote to writing is being taken up by other things.  It’s hard because writing is usually a way to escape from whatever’s stressing me out, but lately it hasn’t been working so well. Any  advice from fellow writers? I feel like there’s a sense of shame we feel when this happens: like we should be more disciplined or just better somehow. Is that true or is it just counterproductive thinking?

  • Exploring The StoryGraph and still not sure how I feel about it. Is it supposed to be different from Goodreads? Because it feels very similar? For the record my StoryGraph profile is here and you can find me on Goodreads here. Feel free to follow, friend, connect, whatever.
  • glad young woman working on laptop in living room

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    Growing kind of frustrated with the fact that there are now about 8,460 streaming services out there. I’m interested in  one or two shows on each. Is there any way to watch the show without subscribing to the whole service? I don’t want to end up spending $500 a month on streaming services! At the moment I just subscribe to Netflix. Is there another service that I should be subscribing to?

  • Making themed book lists when I get stressed. Weird things like “books about witches” or “books set at sea” for the most part. It’s oddly soothing. I’m thinking about posting them on there. Should I just same them for Top Ten Tuesday when I don’t like the topic, or post them independently?
  • Reading:
    • American Royals by Katharine McGee -Trashy fun
    • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid- I can’t decide if the characters in this one annoyed me because they were poorly written or because they were well written. But it did present some interesting questions and situations.
    • Lock Every Door by Riley Sager– A bit of a let down after some other, better work by Sager.
    • Three Girls and their Brother by Theresa Rebeck- Someone on Goodreads said that this was like The Catcher in the Rye  meets Project Runway, and in an odd way that’s perfect to describe this satire of the the fashion and entertainment world as seen through the eyes of four teens thrust into the middle of it.
    • Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdich- Really intriguing premise that never lived up to its potential.
    • The Group by Mary McCarthy- I had been wanting to read this for a while and sadly it didn’t live up to expectations. I started watching the film, but about an hour in, I didn’t feel like it added anything to the book. I didn’t feel like I was getting anything more out of it, so I called it quits.
    • The Runaway Royal by Lindsay Emory- I was hoping for something light and fully but this just fell flat.
    • Bird Box by Josh Malerman- Enjoyable and tense. I was disappointed in some of the changes made to the film adaptation. The writing in the book felt very cinematic and I don’t think those changes were necessary.
    • Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews Edwards- I didn’t like this quite as much as I liked the first volume of her memoir, Home. But I did like it, and I was pleased that she discussed her writing career and the inspiration behind some of her novels.
    • Final Girls by Riley Sager- This  was really fun. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • Binging:
    • The Good Witch– I’m not usually a Hallmark Channel Girl (the occasional Christmas movie aside) but I did enjoy this series, mostly for the magical realism vibe, which I wish we saw in more shows. The show did get saccharine in larger doses though.
    • Impostors– This one was witty and fun but suffered the same problem about being slightly too much in larger doses.
    • NOS4A2– I only watched the first three episodes (because that was all my preview would let me watch without subscribing the the streaming service!) but I thought it was intriguing. Maybe I’ll read the book and then if I like that take the streaming plunge…
    • The Order– I recently started this one on Netflix. I’m only a few episodes in and I’m not too impressed so far. Has anyone seen it? Is it worth sticking with?
  • Movie Watching:
    • Bird Box– A tense viewing experience but I do wish some elements had stayed closer to the book.
    • Knives Out– A fun whodunnit and “who was behind it”
    • Yesterday– I wanted this to be better than it was.  I found myself rather bored.

On Race, Justice, and Other Pressing Issues of the Day (and also books)

protesters holding signs

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It’s been a crazy time. It continues to be. I saw someone say that it’s like the Spanish Flu and the mass protests of the late 60’s/early 70’s happened during the Great Depression. I also saw a tweet (can’t find it right now) saying that “Not even in my darkest hours of 2016 did I imagine telling my husband that we’d have to eat dinner out of our quarantine rations because I didn’t have a chance to go shopping before the police curfew.” And yet, here we are.

I haven’t posted until now because I wanted to give myself a chance to process my thoughts. That’s still ongoing, but I feel like I can start to express myself. First of all, I want to state that Black Lives Matter. Absolutely. Unequivocally. It should go without saying, but it unfortunately it doesn’t. So it falls on all of us to say it, and believe it, and act on it.

protesters walking on street

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I can only talk about this from my own experience as a white woman. One who reads a lot and tries to understand and empathize with others, but who has ultimately experienced the world from a position of racial privilege. A lot of the talk about institutionalized racism makes me think of a few things:

  • One is Thug Life, which is urban slang coined by 2Pac Shakur. It was also the name of a hip hop group consisting of  2Pac, Stretch, Big Syke, Mopreme, Macadoshis, and The Rated R.  The name is an acronym for “The Hate U Gives Little Infants F*cks Everybody.” I have to confess that I’m only familiar with it because it was referenced in a  best-selling YA novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I think it’s talking about institutionalized racism. The systems of oppression that we all absorb as we go through life (“the hate we give little infants”) then  oppresses the next generation, even the oppressors (“f*cks everybody”).
  • One is a song from the musical South Pacific called “You Have To Be Carefully Taught.” As a card carrying theater geek, this is more my musical wheelhouse.  Written in 1949 it was of the first songs in a musical to explicitly deal with racism, arguing that it’s not something that we’re born with but rather, something that’s nurtured within us.  In it, a man contemplating an interracial relationship talks to a woman contemplating a marriage to a man with two mixed race children from a prior marriage. The lyrics to the song are: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/ you’ve got be taught from year to year/ it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear/ you’ve got to be carefully taught/ You’ve got to be taught to be afraid / Of people whose eyes are oddly made / Or people whose skin is a different shade / You’ve got to be carefully taught /  You’ve got to be taught / Before it’s too late/ Before your are six / Or seven or eight / To hate all the people your relatives hate/ You’ve got to be carefully taught. ” I believe that those lyrics are true, but we are taught racism even if our relatives don’t actually sit there drumming it in our “dear little ear” because systems of racism in our society teaches us and the ways that different races are portrayed (or not portrayed) in media.  Therefore, we reach a point where we either take part in that system, either actively or passively, or we can try to tear that system down.

I’m not going to say that I’m not a racist, because that doesn’t accomplish anything. In many ways, I’m luckier than most. I grew up with parents who explicitly taught me that no one was superior to anyone else on the basis of their skin color. They taught me that our merit is determined by our actions not our race, religion, nationality of ethnicity.  They read me anti-racist books as a child and made sure that I had exposure to people who were different from me, and that I interacted with people who were different. But I still live in the same world as everyone else. That’s a world that has systems of privilege and oppression built into it. I’ve benefited from those systems more than I deserve because of the color of my skin. I don’t like that, but it’s true nonetheless.

Over the last ten days or so, I’ve done a lot of reflecting about how I can help to rectify a system that’s been broken for hundreds of years. I wish that I had a definite answer, but I don’t. When I’m unsure, I look to books to help me. Fortunately #BlackLivesMatter has an awesome anti-racist reading list (as well as an incredible list of resources to help white people be allies).

 

 

I’ve read a few of these, but I hope to read many more. As an educator, I also hope to make use of some of these wonderful books in the future. I believe that reading has taught me empathy. It has taught me compassion. I believe that education can change the world. If we read with an open mind and an open heart we can learn to be better. We can learn how to be effective in changing these systems.  And don’t forget to buy your books from Black owned independent bookstores! There’s a pretty comprehensive list here.

I think that there are a lot of people who do want to support this movement, but don’t feel able to, either because they can’t protest or can’t donate. But there are other ways to make your voice heard. One of my favorite resources is 5calls.org. This allows people to call the appropriate legislators about issues that are important to them. Just enter your location. You’ll see a list of issues (at the moment there are a number of issues around police reform listed) . Click on one, and you’ll get the phone number of the legislator or representative to call about a certain issue as well as a suggested phone script (which you can modify as much or as little as you want). It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s effective. #BlackLivesMatter also has lists of actions that anyone can take from their own home for no money, such as phone calls, letter writing, and petitions. If you can’t go out to protest, or don’t have the money to make donations, there is still important work to be done. Most important of all, we have to VOTE for people who will make the changes that we need a reality. There is NO excuse for not voting.

The last thing that I want to do is add to the noise around this topic without contributing anything meaningful. But I believe that there are meaningful ways for all of us to help create a better world for all. The first step is often reading, thinking and looking inward. But that should be where it starts. The next step is turning it into meaningful action in some way. That way may look different for each of us.

On a related topic:

group of people parading in street

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I know that JK Rowling has come out with some trans-phobic statements of twitter that have hurt a lot of people. I love her work, but I do not support her statements or her opinion. Trans Lives Matter. Trans rights are human rights.  If you want to help the Trans community at this time there are a lot of ways to do so.

To learn more about the work that needs to be done, visit the Trans Justice Funding Project, The National Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, The Marsha P. Johnson Institute, The Okra Project, The Trans Women of Color Collective, and more. 5calls.org also has entries that support Trans rights at times, particularly when there is pending legislation about them.  Bookmark that site, since it’s so valuable for activism on a regular basis.

If you want to read more about transgender issues and gender identity, great. That’s important work that can to break down bias’ we didn’t even know we had. It can open minds and spur further activism. You can find a number of wonderful lists online for adults here and here, teens and young adults here, and children and teens here and here. You can also find lists for all ages.

It’s sad that JK Rowling chose to use her platform and influence to express harmful idea. But she also gave us a book series that teaches us to stand up for what’s right, that silence equals complicity and that by joining our efforts together we can accomplish great things. Let’s take that lesson and use it.

I’ve Been… (Lockdown Edition)

man in yellow protective suit

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  • Editing what I once called Frozen Heart, or what I might now call Frost. Which title do you prefer? Or a different one? It’s going alright, but I think I’m at the point where I need to call in a professional editor.
  • Writing. I’ve started a new project. It’s inspired by Cinderella. I never saw that as a fairy tale I’d want to retell (my first thought is always that it’s over done) but much like the case with Beauty and the Beast, I realized that I had something to say about it. I will say it’s a Cinderella I don’t think we’ve seen quite like this before, and a Godmother who is also rather unexpected. But it’s still a very new project, so, for now, I won’t say much more.
  • woman in white sleeve shirt with blue face mask

    Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

    Locked down. My city has pretty strict rules about staying in, but even if we didn’t, I don’t think I’d be going out much! My weekly grocery runs are about as much stress as I can take. If you told me a few months ago, that it’s the only time I’d really go out, I’d have thought it would be something I’d look forward to. But between worrying about staying a safe distance from others and showering and wiping down my purchases as soon as I get home, it just doesn’t seem worth it!

  • Reading. I always read a lot  and this lockdown is certainly no exception. And if nothing else, this has convinced me that it makes perfect sense to have a huge pile of unread books in your space. This is a perfect example of just such an occasion. That’s a big “so there!” to anyone who ever told me that it was a waste of space! If you want to see what I’ve been reading lately, it’s all on here.
  • Working Out. Fortunately there’s enough of Youtube to keep me fit! I love some of these workout channels. Check them out. They’re a way to stay fit indoors (all have low impact workouts or at least low impact options so you don’t need to jump around and disturb the downstairs neighbors, if you have them)
  • Binging:
    • Ozark– It’s not my usually type of show (slow burn crime drama) but somehow I got drawn in and now I’m hooked! I’m just starting the third season, so no spoilers please!
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      netflix.com
    • Schitt’s Creek– I caught up on the finale last night. I’m really going to miss this show! Feel good viewing that makes you laugh is rare, and with the loss of this and The Good Place in the same year, it’s now lacking in my TV line up!
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      Hollywoodreporter.com
    • Unorthadox– I saw this recommended a few places and I loved it. How often to we get a miniseries with no big “stars,” set in the Hasidic community, about a young woman’s self discovery? While it’s not exactly what I’d call action/adventure, this character driven drama is really compelling and absorbing. It’s only 4 episodes so you can binge it in a day if you want.
    • mejores-series-para-ver-en-netflix
      • flipboard.com
  • Oddly, socializing a lot. My extended family has gotten together for “virtual brunch.” My book club started doing virtual meetings. And I’ve touched base with a number of people to check in and see how they’re doing. It’s not ideal, but I appreciate the various ways that we’ve found to keep isolation for being too isolating.
  • A wreck. If any of this makes it sound like I’ve mastered quarantine, rest assured I’m just as nervous and stressed as anyone else. I’m just hoping and praying for the best for myself , my loved ones, the people around me, the people away from me and the world at large.

How have you been dealing with this weird, frightening experience?

Stay in and stay safe everyone!