Just what is YA?

Children’s Book Week – June 12-16

When books were just books

When I was growing up, there was no such thing as “young adult” as a marketing niche.

In my house, there were just books. Never was I told that any of those books were not for me. I was reading fully “grown-up” literature when I was 7. I read my mother’s Pearl Buck collection before I was 10 and I didn’t have any difficulty with any of it.

Children who are encouraged to read and permitted to read will find their own level. They might well enjoy today’s “age-appropriate” middle grade or YA offerings, But then, if the books are good enough, so will many people who have long since left their teens behind. A good story can be read by anybody who loves to read, from age 12 to 92, without any artificial age boundaries in there.

And I’m using 12 as a beginning with a distinct sense that it is fungible. There are precocious readers who can read this stuff much younger, as I did, The relationship between a book and its reader is always very individual and specific and quite often unpredictable.

Age distinctions are a recent development, and since their arrival we have had kidlit fragment into picture books for VERY young readers, chapter books, middle grade, YA, New Adult.

People are constantly asking where are the lines? And that is a good question because it simply isn’t true that a young protagonist is all that it takes for a book to be YA. You could look at “Lolita” through that lens and because it has a young girl center stage – she’s even the title – you might throw a wholly undeserved YA label on it.

For a long time Harry Potter was pretty much THE YA genre. Everyone knew about Harry. And a generation grew up having picked up the first book when they were Harry’s age and then aged concurrently with it, adding their years just as Harry did his.

But the Harry Potter books and movies are very much a ladder and the first one feels almost simplistic. The subsequent books are much darker, much more complicated while still rated YA. Young readers are expected to cope with a very broad range of material, and this is often underestimated when it comes to “children’s literature”. Children can understand so very much – especially if you root it in familiar tropes.

My first YA series

Worldweavers coversThe first series I wrote for a YA audience was Worldweavers (“Gift of the Unmage”, “Spellspam”, “Cybermage”, “Dawn of Magic”) It was born out of a YA panel at the 2002 Fantasy Worldcon, where Jane Yolen, the grande dame of children’s lit, said at one point that she didn’t like the way the Potter books treated their girls. I lost the rest of the panel completely because that was all it took for Thea Winthrop to step out of the shadows and introduce herself to me.

Her story had all the tropes. Thea went to a school known as the Last Ditch School for the Incurably Incompetent, a place for the weird and geekish in her magical world. Thea was a Double Seventh, the seventh child of two seventh children, and her magical gifts were expected to be profound. Instead, she grew up as the Girl Who Couldn’t Do Magic.

It wasn’t that she was bad at magic in her magical world – she could not do it at all. To her, it was like she was standing behind a glass wall, unable to reach or touch or practice it. The reason behind that initial paralysis drove the whole series.

I peopled my book with three different kinds of creatures.

There are humans, much like us who can’t do magic. And there are those who can. And some of the magic users were rather famous in our own world, like Nikola Tesla, known widely as the Wizard of the West during his life and, when he appears in my books, the only quad-Elemental mage in human history.

The second group group of creatures are those I wholly invented, like my Alphiri. They look like Tolkien’s elves but have the grasping souls of Star Trek’s Ferengi and a built-in conviction that everything is for sale.

The third group of creatures are drawn from the American mythos – creatures like Grandmother Spider, and Tawaha the Sun God, and Coyote the Trickster.

I wove a story around them all – a story which revolved around one thing: about Thea’s coming of age, and into her own.

In fact, she becomes powerful indeed – becomes something quite unique (no spoilers; you’ll have to read the books to find out what.) But this doesn’t happen overnight, or easily. There are things she has to be willing to sacrifice on her road to the apex of her existence. She has to be willing to offer things she cherishes deeply, in order to save a friend. And then in order to save her world, she has to make tough choices that will haunt her for the rest of her life. By the end of these books, my little girl is a little girl no longer. She is a grown, fully developed human being.

That is not to say she has become perfect – but that is not the point of a YA book. It is not to tell a young reader that one has to be flawless in order to survive. It is to assure them that flaws are inevitable, even necessary, but that it is possible to transcend them, or incorporate them into one’s being, and grow through that process.

Thea Winthrop is an amazing character who was a gift to work with. She is fourteen when we first meet her, and she is the perfect insecure teenager, one who disappoints her parents and knows it and is made miserable by it. She doesn’t quite know how to make it right. This is familiar territory to many young readers, who don’t live in a world of magic but who have, in their time, known that look of disappointment on their elders’ faces and have quailed at it. They will be standing right there next to Thea when she has her experiences. They understand – and they will be waiting for her to deal with that burden, to see how she does it, to see if they can learn something about how to deal with their own.

I wrote a book and series about choices and about growing up DIFFERENT and how to handle it all, even when you have to do it with fear, or with reluctance, or with only just enough grace to scrape by. And also with joy – the joy of discovery of one’s real identity, one’s real potential. The joy of friendship. The joy of learning, and of growing wise. And also the bitterness of betrayal, and the agony of failure, and what sometimes feels the almost unbearable burden of survival against the odds. It’s about proving something, both to oneself and to others.

In some ways, that journey is the best of “children’s literature” – the coming of age stories – and there are many out there, from Susan Cooper, to Madeleine L’Engle, to C S Lewis, to J K Rowling and the Potterverse. And I’m not talking about just fantasy. There are plenty of authors over there in the REAL “real” world who tell stories that could well have happened in our own real lives. But is something like “Stand by Me” or “The Outsiders” truly limited to a YA audience? Can the people who might already have passed the finish line of the “coming of age” race and are acknowledged as fully adult not be allowed to look back and remember the road they travelled to get there, in the worlds of “children’s literature”?

It’s all about the story

The best of children’s literature is basically a good story which can be enjoyed by a reader of any age. In the end, what it boils down to is whether your young reader can stand beside a character in a story, stand beside them and support them, at the same time stand beside them and learn from them what is possible, what is permitted and what is unthinkable – and why.

“Children’s literature” is formative, introducing the young to the realms of Story where they will either flourish and thrive or where they will founder – and foundering is easy enough, if the readers in question are bullied or forced into books. A fostered love of reading is essential when it comes to staying in love with the written word.

In my books, that translates into a certain complexity of story. Thea’s tale is layered and complicated, just like any “real” growing up would have been. I paint relationships there – very different ones – relationships where she is very much the acolyte, relationships where she is the adversary, and relationships where she is loved and cherished.

They are all necessary for the story to get woven together. They form as complex a backdrop as any “real” life might, and the reason they are necessary and the reason they work are the same – they sparkle with recognition, with tiny glittering pieces which a reader might pause and take a closer look at and find something very familiar in them, perhaps a reflection of themselves.

When we are adults, we assume that we understand the world we live in and are able to deal with what it throws at us because we are familiar with the context of it all. In “Children’s literature” the protagonist is just starting to come to terms with a world – that is often baffling and sometimes frightening.

That is what makes the Worldweavers books the “youngest” books I have ever written, not because of a simplistic measure like the age of their protagonist but because this isn’t about a journey finished and now remembered, being, instead, about the journey AS IT HAPPENS, counting the steps it takes to cross a room, a river, or a world. The young readers of such books are sharing that journey themselves, in real time, and that is why a good “kid” book is going to appeal to them – they will recognize themselves in the protagonist and that protagonist’s position in the story they’re reading.

In the space of a few short days devoted to a Children’s Literature Week, it is impossible to cover all the books that matter in this context – but what is important is simply this: that there are certain books which are The Beginning, the origin station for a lifelong journey into the world of the word. And that is to be celebrated.

My second YA series is The Were Chronicles – but that’s for another time.

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Quote of the Day

“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you have been.” ~ Novelist Madeleine L’Engle

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5 things to do …

Another year is almost over, and it’s time to begin reflecting – amongst other things – on the act of writing, and those who perform it.

Here’s something true: before you can write about life, at least adequately, you have to have lived it. In some way, shape or form. And I don’t mean vicariously on Facebook, or even online at all.

Here are five things to do with your life before you’re ready to be a writer. There are  more than five things, of course. But these are pretty broad.  Feel free to add in your own subcategories, or nuances.

1) DO SOMETHING DANGEROUS.

Know what an adrenaline surge REALLY feels like. You cannot possibly write about one without that visceral knowledge. And “dangerous” is huge – you can fit in a lot of things under that umbrella – do something that your mother might have warned you about, or something that society considers “unsafe”, or something simply exhilarating.

Here are a few of mine.

*Three of my (young, female) friends and I once climbed down from Table Mountain in Cape Town, on foot, in the dark, sliding down scree slopes and falling into the switchback roads, until we finally ended up hitch-hiking a ride the rest of the way down in a solitary car coming down from the topside parking lot, with a single male occupant inside. He was nice. We were taken down the mountainside and deposited at its foot without any incident at all. I was in my twenties; this was half my life ago. The adrenaline rush remains to this day.

*I jumped off a mountain. In a parachute. With an instructor, to be sure, in tandem, but still – I parasailed off a mountainside. I have pictures to prove it. When my father saw them – unexpectedly, before I did, long story – his response was, “If you survived that, when you get home, I’m going to kill you.” Yeah. Adrenaline.

*I swam off the edge of a coral reef. The adrenaline of THAT makes my teeth ache right now while I am thinking about it. The experience can still make my heart race.

*I gave my heart completely. And had it broken. And it HURT. And I’m the better off for having dared to do it.

2) TRAVEL.

You will gain only a very limited understanding of humanity if you seek it only with people who live in the small town where you were born, and you’re too afraid to venture beyond the edges into the great wide world beyond. Learn at least the basics of another language in which you can communicate with people who are NOT LIKE YOU. The world will open up like an unexpected dream. It’s nice if your destination is far flung and exotic, but it doesn’t have to be. Take a road trip. A train ride. If you have to start small, begin by going an hour, two, four, six, outside your comfort zone. Then ,if you feel ready, tackle the world.

Some of the places I’ve been:

* Fiji and Tahiti (learned a few phrases of the Micronesian/Polynesian vernacular, learned to snorkel, swam with dolphins, saw an octopus and a coconut crab in the wild, made friends with local people and learned their dreams. And I will never forget the colors of the coral lagoons, nor the black depths of ocean that lie beyond them. The colors of the world.)

* Vienna (walked the polished wooden floors of Imperial palaces and the cobbles of its streets, listened to waltzes, drank young wine in the wine shops of Grinzig, tasted Sacher Torte in the Sacher Hotel where it was born.)

* Kruger National Park, South Africa, and Etosha National Park, Namibia (saw lions and leopards in the wild, saw an elephant pace slowly and majestically away into the purple African twilight, breathed in the dust and the heat while watching herds of impala and zebra and wildebeest. Learned that rhinos are the firemen of the African savannah, and run TO a fire instead of away from it, and stomp it out with those hard-soled stumpy little feet of theirs if they can – which means that they can be damned dangerous to campsites when they blunder into the midst of fragile human campers.

* Japan (the first and only place on this earth where I was ever totally functionally illiterate – but I managed. Learned about the Shinto and the Buddhist faiths, and what each means to the Japanese people. Saw many beautiful temples. Saw many beautiful gardens. Been aware that I walked the ground where an ancient and vivid civilization had thrived for CENTURIES, and felt breathless with that knowledge, particularly when gazing, in a museum, at a samurai sword from something like 1452 – still bright and shining steel and still probably capable of cutting a hair in half as it floated down upon its edge.)

You get the idea. The world is a wide and wonderful place, and it is FULL of gifts.

3) FEEL REAL GRIEF.

You cannot know what it’s like to lose a living thing that you love until you do that – until you lose the cat you’ve had by your side for the last fifteen or twenty years of your life from a simple and inevitable advent of old age, or watch a beloved pet waste away before its time from something you cannot do anything about and make the decision on their behalf that they have suffered enough, or sit by the bedside of a grandparent who is slipping away and holding the soft wrinkled hands in your own knowing that they may not feel your doing so but that somehow, somehow, they know that you are there.

Real grief is raw and bitter, and tastes of tears. Before you write of it, you have to have had it tear your own heart apart. Because everything else will feel inadequate to those readers of your future work who HAVE known such grief, and will know if you speak the truth.

4) FEEL REAL ANGER.

Something should make you feel your way down to your core, until you find that cold hard ember that is at the heart of you, not the swift mundane attacks of being cross about someone cutting you off in traffic or being rude to you on a subway. Something should reach all the way down to that primeval thing, the cold fury, the anger that does not leave you blinded with temporary passion but leaves you clear headed and clear eyed and knowing that ALL OF YOU hates this thing that you are seeing, hates with every fiber. True fury needs few words,  but if you want to write about it, you have to know what it FEELS LIKE. What it feels like to be REALLY that angry.

So look for something. Cruelty to animals. Cruelty to children. Pointless war. Something precious being willfully wasted. Ignorance and bigotry. Hypocrisy. Something, anything, something that you consider to be IMPORTANT ENOUGH to tap that cold fury in support of. Know it, understand it. Only then can you own it.

5) FAIL.

Because you will. it is inevitable. Do what you need to do anyway, knowing that it may meet this fate. Because fear of failure is otherwise going to put the brakes on too many things that you need to do or want or know in your life before you can understand any other human being alive deeply enough to write their story. You HAVE to know what it means to fail.

The lives of the very rich and the very happy seldom make for good story fodder – because these people can be seen as insulated from failure. Everything is handed to them, and if failure becomes a looming option then a scapegoat is found to take the weight of it leaving the one who truly failed unscathed by it all. The most interesting stories come from people who have failed HARD, and then learned from that failure, and risen up like proverbial phoenixes to touch fire again. Don’t be afraid to fail. Just be afraid of not trying.

Any questions…?

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If you liked that book, you would surely like my…

Christmas and the end of the year are approaching and you are beginning to think about finding gifts for mom and dad and the kids, as well as Aunt Sarah, your best friend and maybe a work mate or two.

Personally, I think there is only one indispensable gift for any occasion — a book, naturally.

Wolf boy cartoonWhile there are hundreds of wonderful reads out there waiting to be discovered, I have a few suggestions involving… surprise… my own books. If you don’t know them, let me help you decide which ones might be of interest to you and your gift recipients.

If you  loved Harry Potter... try my Worldweavers series (Gift of the Unmage, Spellspam, Cybermage, Dawn of Magic). It’s the story of a girl who couldn’t do magic, then grew up to be the greatest mage her world had ever known.

If you loved Jo Walton‘s “My Other Children”, . try “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”

If you love Guy Gavriel Kay… try “Secrets of Jin Shei”, “Embers of Heaven”, or my newest, “Empress”.

If you love Cassandra Clare or Suzanne Collins, try The Were Chronicles (Random, WOlf, Shifter)

if you Loved John Scalzi‘s “Red Shirts”, try “AbductiCon” in which time-traveling androids kidnap a hotel full of Science fiction fans and take them for a loop around the moon.

You can get further information and links to sales points for all my books by going to “My Books” in the top menu under the header.

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Girls can. Girls SHOULD

How Thea Winthrop became the world’s greatest wizard

Back in 2002, back when Harry Potter WAS the YA genre – (Number One, and then twenty empty spaces behind it before the next contender), I attended that year’s World Fantasy Convention.

At that time, I had no real interest in paddling in the YA pool. My writing was aimed at an adult readership, not least because of the way I have always used language, rich and lush and peppered with words that might send some readers to a dictionary.

But then I heard Jane Yolen say during a panel discussion that she had never particularly liked the way that the Potter books had treated girls. I missed the rest of the panel because I was sitting in the back with a story flowering in my head. A story as American as Harry Potter was British. A story not about a boy but a GIRL…a girl named Thea Winthrop.

The story became the Worldweavers trilogy, published by HarperCollins.

Spellspam HarperCollins coverThea was a rare thing, a Double Seventh, a seventh child of two seventh children. In her world, her potential was unlimited, and its manifestation eagerly awaited. Except that she…COULDN’T. It wasn’t even that she was BAD at magic, it was that she couldn’t do ANY.

As a final attempt at triggering something, her father sends her back in time to the tender mercies of a shaman from a long vanished tribe, the Anasazi. Cheveyo of the Anasazi awakens something long sleeping in Thea, and introduces her to the world of the Elder Days and ancient magic rooted in Native American lore.

It is this that becomes the first part of the solid bedrock on which Thea learns to take a stand. That took up most of the first book, “The Gift of the Unmage” – that, and this glorious concept of the Last Ditch School for the Incurably Incompetent, a school where untalented children of magical families are warehoused, safely out of the way of their more endowed siblings.

The second part of Thea’s coming of age is her unexpected ability to channel something that looks very like magic through computers. In her world, computers are almost the only thing that is proof against magic – they are practical and rooted in the empirical world, and they have been used to store magic spells because it’s safer than storing them in the classic grimoire books. Magic locked up inside a computer was supposedly tamper proof and escape proof.

Until that stops being the case. In the second book, “Spellspam”, the spam familiar to all of us start bearing real live spells. In the opening scene of that book,  an email offering “The clearest skin you can ever imagine” delivers precisely that – skin that turns TRANSPARENT. (Oh, I had fun with these.) It seems that Thea is no longer the only one who can tamper with magic through computers. There Is Another. And she is roped in to help find that other, and stop them.

In the process of doing this, a white cube is found that is clearly full of magic but which nobody can figure out how to open. Until Thea does in the third Worldweavers book, Cybermage, and discovers Nikola Tesla, the only human Wizard who could command all four of the elements, Air, Water, Earth, and Fire.

Thea helps Nikola Tesla, who had been tricked into losing his Elemental magic to regain it in the face of attempts of the grasping greedy race called the Alphiri (think High Elves with the souls of Star Trek’s Ferengi) to steal it for themselves. The Alphiri are defeated, Nikola Tesla is redeemed, and Thea finds her place in the world.

That seemed to be the end of it, a nice tidy place to finish, except… that it wasn’t.

Some years later a fourth book would come knocking, demanding to be written, the rest of Thea’s story, taking the whole tale neatly back to its beginnings. “Dawn of Magic” concludes the Worldweavers saga in epic fashion, and is one of my favorites amongst my books, because of the way that the main triad of characters – Thea, Tesla, and Coyote the Trickster who goes by the name of Corey – carry the story.

This book is all about human magic, and what it is, and what it means, and where it hides. There is a luminousness to it, a quiet shine.

Going back to that panel in 2002… I wrote a book about American magic, about an American girl. I wrote that book that Jane Yolen whispered about between the lines in that panel. I wrote a book about the GIRL who had the adventures. And it was good. Girls can. Girls SHOULD.

Thea Winthrop was nobody’s sidekick – she went out and grasped things with her own two hands. She didn’t follow – she sometimes walked beside (one can’t do better than that, with Nikola Tesla), but more often than that, she was in the lead. She did the difficult things that others shied from doing, and lived with the consequences. She could be hurt. She could falter. She could fall. But she had known the bitter taste of defeat once, and she would never go back there again.

The books, when they came out, garnered two very different sets of reviews. On the heels of the fade of the HP phenomenon, some reviewers came up with various iterations of “For those suffering from Harry Potter withdrawal, this is just the ticket”, implying that the books were more of the same HP juggernaut stuff.

Others begged to differ and specifically described the books as wholly original, owing nothing to Harry Potter. Either way, they were hitting SOME sort of target.

Because Thea isn’t (yet?) a household name, you will gather that they didn’t hit the HP bullseye. But for those who found and treasured them, the books seemed to find a very special niche.

Thea Winthrop was the girl who held her own against anybody.

There would be absolutely no problem in the way the Worldweavers books treated girls. They treated them as equals, as worthy, as real. These books treat girls as people. And I’m proud of that.

The essay in full can be read at the Book View Cafe HERE

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Quote of the Day
Who Won the West? posterIt all depends…

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Moving Potterverse

Once upon a time there was a literary phenomenon named Harry Potter.

The twenty first century YA and children’s literature has been dominated by this story like no other, with its midnight launch parties at bookstores across multiple nations, massively popular movies, and characters that became as iconic as the Potter crew… or the much-vaunted School of Magic itself, Hogwarts The Magnificent. (Well, all right, the honorific wasn’t in there. But it’s the unheard suffix to that name. You know it. The world believes it.)

The author of this grand literary endeavor, JK Rowlings, has been transformed into one of the world’s richest and most recognizable women. She could live in luxury on the Potter millions without writing another line for the rest of her life. But that’s not what writers do.

After the Potter books were done, she tried writing a couple of books in an entirely different and unrelated genre. They did… fair to middling. And in the end, she went back to to her magnificent Potterverse. Minor controversies dogged this endeavour – like the casting of a grown-up Hermione in the new Potter installment as black.

But then Rowlings tried to go global…and far bigger problems emerged.

Harry Potter coverLet’s just reiterate one thing about the original Harry Potter books – the canon, the history of HP himself, Hogwarts, all of that. What it all is, really, is the iconic British Boarding School Story with a layer of magic thrown over it like a cloak, set into a wildly inventive world.

You would have had to be heart-dead, if you love fantasy at all, not to respond to wonderful things like owls carrying mail, Diagon Alley, and that wonderful castle. (I went to boarding school in a castle, too, BTW, but it wasn’t anything like Hogwarts with the FEASTS they had for every mealtime.)

This is where Rowlings’ gift was – invention. She invented stuff, scattering these wonderful shiny ideas across the basic backbone of the story in double handfuls of fairy glitter until the thing fairly LOOKED like a unicorn – and people loved it. A couple of generations of kids have grown up with these things.

But the strength of these stories is this: they are bone-deep BRITISH. It’s English mythology, with a couple of generic things thrown in from somewhere else. It is something that Rowlings knew from within, being a part of it herself, and dammit, it showed, because you could take any part of that narrative and pull it out and it would be nicely and solidly BRITISH.

The appeal was double-pronged – for the home-crowd readers it was the beauty of familiarity and the ability to simply relax into a familiar story, comfortable in the knowledge that no matter what the story-inventions actually came up with in terms of the glittering ideas the basic narrative was a non-threatening one which would prop up and support an already existing worldview.

For the away team, the Across-The-Pond American readers, one attraction was the sense of delicious foreignness to it all, a layer of extra magic over the original story – first magical and Hogwartsy, then oh so British and weird. And so the scene was set and the foundation was laid and Harry Potter rode forth to conquer the world.
But the cozy British Boarding School narrative doesn’t work as well when planted in foreign soil.

To do this properly, it would require half a lifetime of research and dedication. You would practically have to get a PhD in comparative mythology and enchantment, or perhaps several, one from each different sphere of study – and there are so many spheres.  Unfortunately, Rowlings seems to have rushed her fences and assumed that the old trick would work – picking up that fairy dust and sprinkling it over a different base this time, and expecting the same magic to happen.

But the result was quite the opposite.

I won’t rehash it all here. Rowlings’ original stories about “Magic in North America” and the backlash to them from various indigenous groups and individuals are all over the net, and some of those people have already done a perfectly good job in reacting to Rowlings’ attempt to Potterize America. I will just make a few salient points.

1)    The most basic error here was the crass generalization – the “Native American community”, indeed. The reason for the generalization appears to be simply that it was easier to cherry-pick bits from this tribal culture and bits from that one, and just transmogrify it all into a great generic “Native American” cloth which covered an entire continent’s worth of stories. But there is no “Native American community” in this sense, any more that there would be a “European community” under which umbrella you would be writing about a mishmash of Celtic and Norse and Greek and Roman and Slavic gods and spirits, as if just calling them all “European” they would somehow coalesce into a magically coherent backdrop to an entirely unrelated story you wanted to tell.

2)    Rowlings was using Native American props to set her stage – but that was what they were, props. Look behind the (arguably magnificent) painted scenery and – oh, look – we’re back in an Anglocentric universe. All this “Native American” stuff is not treated as vivid, and living, and real, and ITSELF.

It was simply used as a new backdrop to Rowlings’ tried-and-true basic story, but that was ALL that it was good for. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of depth or research or respect for the material she was making this patchwork quilt out of. This is not what a writer does when creating a story. You can’t just mug other people’s worlds, stuff them willy-nilly into a gunny sack and take them home where you cut them up and piece them together in some fashion convenient to you — clandestinely, in the basement, by candlelight, and hope that nobody notices the stitching.

3)    The North American School of Magic. As and of itself – I mean, good grief, anyone would think that Rowlings invented the whole school of magic idea whole-cloth. Newsflash, she didn’t – lots of such schools exist in the literature, and have done long before Hogwarts ever fluttered into its pennanted and turreted existence. Her New World school story appeared to be  an extension of the Hogwarts idea, but there were…problems. They begin to multiply when the details are examined.

One, this particular school is called “Ilvermorny”, and it was started in America… by an Irish girl. It’s divided into Houses, much like the iconic Hogwarts is, but the Houses here… in a school founded by an Irish lass… are creatures from the Native American iconography. Creatures like the Horned Serpent, Thunderbid, the Pukwudgie, the Wampus. For Houses founded by Anglo folk. With English names.

Rowlings’ own account of the formation of this school, comes a rather telling sentence: “Faithful to the taboos of his people, the Pukwudgie refused to tell [Isolt, the school’s Irish lass founder] his individual name, so she dubbed him ‘William’ after her father.”

How many ways does this wave red flags? The magical Irish lassie finds an indigenous creature in the New World. The creature *does not trust her enough to tell her its true name*. So she just calls it William. As you do, when you’re the colonial power wading into the “lesser” and the “native”. You don’t know their true names or natures, so you just give them a name you understand and can handle and treat them exactly as though you would treat any other creature by such a name with whom you might be familiar, taking little account of all the background which you’ve just swept under the carpet.

So a School of Magic founded in a New World teeming with its own magic and mythology… sets itself up in a wonderful old-fashioned British Boarding School narrative… fits itself up with Houses (and because we’re Over Here now we’ll just play games and name the characters after local creatures we really have no deeper understanding of).

But then, a burning question.

4)    What does this school teach? And to whom? Because if it simply imports nice white colonial children to be taught the magic brought all the way from the Old World and therefore superior to anything in the new world, then it is problematic on a certain level of demanding a question as to just why it exists in the first place. Young (white) wizards and witches intent on learning traditional magic… could have been shipped “home” to learn it at the source. And if the student body were to be widened to include the native-born, things really start getting sticky.

If the magic being taught is the white colonial kind, then this is a rather prettily dressed up version of the horrors of the indoctrination schools where American Indian children of many tribes were forcibly taken to be “civilized”, forced to cut their hair and not to use their own language and follow their own culture, until they could be extruded on the other end of this “education” as properly improved. Or at least “improved” enough to POSSIBLY be considered as worthy of being included in the white man’s society (and even then treated as fourth-class citizens, demeaned and denigrated and discriminated against). All their own culture and language and legends and, yes, magic, shriveled and died underneath the heavy hand of those who came to “improve” the “native lot”.

This school is White Man’s Burden writ large. No amount of pretty window dressing will make it other. There isn’t enough fairy dust in the world to hide the ugliness of this. The indigenous magic had already existed in this place long before a magic white girl named Isolt thought to build a clone of Hogwarts here. The practitioners of such magic did not need this “school” – they would have been trained, in their own way and in their own magic, by their own elders and adepts.

This is an egregious way to try and paper the tried-and-true lucrative formula that drove the Potter phenomenon over an underlying structure which has no relationship to that formula, in the hope that the Potterverse juggernaut will just keep on sailing right along.

Well, she’s been called on these points, and more besides. The resounding silence from an author who’s been known to interact with her readers on social media and elsewhere on the Internet is something of a clue that Rowlings probably realizes what a mess this all is, and is trying to figure out which way to jump from here.

Personally, I see the whole mess as having been eminently avoidable. If only the author had been able to take that sideways step, to set aside the livery of Eurocentric and Anglocentric fairytale, if she had been willing to put in the time, to talk to people she needed to talk to. It would probably be best if she were willing to take responsibility for it all now, and by that I don’t mean a defensive retro-explanation of the whole thing, trying to make it all seem copacetic in the rear view mirror. I mean take a stand and come out from behind the silence and say “I messed up but let’s see where we can go from here”.

Rowlings has found out, the hard way, that you cannot simply endlessly recycle one good idea – and most emphatically you cannot simply clothe that idea into an “exotic” overcoat and call it a new idea. There are people out there – there are always people out there – who will discern the shape beneath the cloak, and who will know the cloak as an attempt to pull a fast one. This particular effort is akin to dragging out a pantomime horse (you know, the kind made up of two people, one of whom is the horse’s ass) onto a beautifully set stage, sticking a cardboard horn on its forehead, and insisting that the audience accept it as a real Unicorn.

If you don’t have the Unicorn of a true idea… your best bet is bring on something else entirely. A budgie. A squirrel. A Capuchin monkey. A salamander. Even (if you insist on staying with a four-footed equine of some description) a zebra. Something new. Dressing up an old idea in new clothes and then laying a cloak of silence over it all… is simply not going to work.

Not even for the woman who invented Harry Potter.

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Quote of the Day

Adamtroy Castro Quote poster

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Free libraries crisis

Free LibrariesCracking down on the monstrous evil of tiny Free Lending Libraries

It’s good to know, Charlie Jane Anders reports at io9, that people are focusing on what’s really important. Some local governments have looked past the problems of homelessness and crumbling city services to tackle the real crisis: people are putting up tiny “take a book, leave a book” libraries.

Los Angeles, Shreveport, LA and Leawood, KS have all tried to levy fines and other sanctions against people who put up these tiny birdhouse-like lending libraries.

Read the whole story HERE

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“US Company will be Cursed if Ancient Fairy Fort is Destroyed”
Stone RingfortStone ringfort, “Ring of Kerry” in Ireland. (Francis Bijl/CC BY 2.0) Representational image.

Bad luck is sure to befall a US company if it builds a new factory over a fairy fort in Ireland, warns a traditional Irish lore keeper.

West Pharmaceutical Services is building a new factory on a site situated over an ancient ringfort (rath, or fairyfort) which dates back thousands of years.

Eddie Lenihan, famed Irish author, storyteller and broadcaster, says that destruction or removal of the fairy fort would spell dire consequences and bad luck for all those involved in construction or clearing the ancient dwelling, according to the Irish Examiner.

Read the whole story HERE

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Stories are addictive
The Story

Photo by Thibaud Saintin

“Sometimes friends will be over, everybody talking, and one of the little kids will get antsy so I’ll pick up a book and start reading,” Ann Finkbeiner writes in Last Word on Nothing. “…pretty soon nobody is talking any more, everybody’s listening to Winnie the Pooh and Piglet track the Heffalump. I’ll bet you can sit in any small coffee shop, open a book, start reading aloud “Once upon a time,” and by the third paragraph, the whole coffee shop will be dead silent.

“Stories.  I’ve always thought of them as addictive entertainment for which – for some reason – we happen to be hardwired.”

Read the whole essay HERE

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Native AmericansMatika Wilbur, Darkfeather, Bibiana and Eckos Ancheta (Tulalip), 2014. Inkjet print 16 x 20 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Indigenous Americans Without the Stereotypes

Three years ago photographer Matika Wilbur, a member of the Tulalip and Swinomish tribes, set out on a vast road trip across America to photograph members of all 562 of America’s federally-recognized tribes, Natasha Donovan wrote in an article in Yes Magazine.

Her collection so far includes images from more than 200 tribes she has visited in the course of traveling 80,000 miles around the western United States.

Read the whole story HERE

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The classical jokes hiding in your favorite children’s books

From Harry Potter to Winnie the Pooh, many well loved children’s books look back to the classical world in unexpected ways, Frances Myatt writes at The Guardian.

For example:
DracoTom Felton as Draco in Harry Potter:

JK Rowling actually studied classics and French, so it’s unsurprising the Harry Potter books are packed full of classical references. Most of the exotic sounding spells are really just simple commands translated into Latin – for example “crucio” means “I torture”, “evanesco” translates as “I vanish” and “accio” means “I summon”. Rowling also drew on the ancient world when naming many of her characters.Take Draco – not only does his name mean “serpent” or “dragon”, but in ancient Athens there was a famously vicious lawmaker called Draco who put people to death for stealing fruit or just being lazy.

Read the whole story HERE

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Quirky characters on the streets of Ann Arbor  
Light ReadingDavid Zinn stalks the streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan, creating temporary illustrations with chalk and charcoal, Christopher Jobson tells us at Colossal.

Zinn improvises each piece on the spot and makes use of found objects, street fixtures, and stair steps to create trompe d’oeil illusions. You can see others in his 2013 book Lost & Unfounded: Street Art by David Zinn.

See more examples HERE

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Quote of the Day
By All Meana Paint~~~~~
Alma Alexander     My books     Email me
 
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20 Serial Killers?

Unh… 20 Killer Series?

It’s satisfying to have a stand-alone book. When you are writing it, that’s the story, and when you’re done you’re done. You can go onto something else without a qualm of conscience.

But series are something else again. They don’t let you go. With the first book, they open the door just a crack. But when you come inside, you realise that there are more doors waiting for you, and it’s irresistible, you can’t NOT open them to see what happens next.

My first series was inadvertent – a 250,000-word novel was picked up by a publisher who demanded that it be split into two more manageable volumes. That became “The Hidden Queen” and “Changer of Days”.

After that, I wrote what was essentially two stand-alone novels which were set in the same world, but 400 years apart – “Secrets of Jin-shei” and “Embers of Heaven”.

And then I stepped into the series world.

The Worldweavers books were born in the aftermath of the Harry Potter mania, and happened when I heard Jane Yolen say that she wasn’t at all sure that she liked the way the Potter books treated girls. And I was off and running with Thea Winthrop and her adventures. That series was a trilogy for the longest time and then I wrote the fourth and final book in the Worldweavers canon. “Dawn of Magic” was published in 2015.

My latest series, also YA, is The Were Chronicles – “Random”, “Wolf”, “Shifter”. The genesis of these books was an anthology about the Were creatures for which I sat down to try and write a story… and discovered that my idea was far too big to fit into a short story mold. It wanted to be a novel. And then it wanted to be THREE novels. And it is possible that the ramifications of those three novels may mean that it eventually becomes SIX novels.

Series. They never let you go.

The Book Depository has come up with their list ofTop 20 SeriesIt rounds up the usual suspects: Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter…

What would you add, or subtract, from their list?

Best series ever? HERE

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Wolf Cover

 

WOLF, Book 2 in The Were Chronicles, is now available as an ebook on Amazon.

Other online vendors to follow.

 

 

 

Buy it at Amazon HERE

 

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My first book – the very very first book I sold – was a collection of new-minted fairy tales which were a cross between Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. The three stories eventually became “The Dolphin’s Daughter”, a book that went into NINE PRINTINGS and still gave me a trickle of royalties more than ten years after it was first published, which speaks volumes about the power of the fairy tale. So I do have a vested interest in the area.

At io9, Charlie Jane Anders offers
10 Books That Will Change How You Think About Fairy Tales

Fairy tales are everywhere these days, she says. They rival superheroes at the movies and TV, and novelists rush to create their own darker, more relevant versions. But how well do you really know fairy tales? Do you know this one?

e.g.
Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls by Jane Yolen
Jane YolenThe prolific Jane Yolen has been called America’s Hans Christian Andersen, and with this book she hunts down great folktales from around the world and presents them for young readers.

Read the whole story HERE

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25 Genre Novels That Should be Classics

At Flavor Wire, Emily Temple notes that there’s a stigma that keeps worthy works of genre fiction (mostly SF/fantasy, with a little historical, mystery and crime thrown in) from reaching classic status: being taught in high schools, appearing on all-time best-book lists, etc.

Some genre novels have already crossed the border into pure classic territory — Brave New World, Slaughterhouse-Five and 1984, for example. Here are 25 genre novels that should be considered classics.

e.g.
Solaris, Stanislaw Lem

Solaris

 

Lem’s weird, surrealist space novel is a classic of sorts for those in the know, but epidemically under-read.

The book vacillates between beautifully ruminative and action-packed exciting, as the inhabitants of a space station deal with the clones of their loved ones that the sentient planet they’re on continually sends their way. Also, best depiction of an alien sea that has ever been committed to print.

 

 

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS n THAT

Uhtceare: An Old English word meaning ‘lying awake before dawn and worrying.’

9 other Old English Words You Need to Be Using

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Literacy Falling From The Sky In Brazil!

In a part of the world where most adults don’t have books, it’s highly unlikely the kids will as well. Enter the “Stories In The Sky Project”. Brazilian writers donated stories and the stories were than printed on kites and handed out to kids. They would fly the kites and at some point, would cut the string and let the story kites fall to the ground where other kids could pick them up and enjoy the stories. Then those kids would start the process over again. What a brilliant way to give kids the opportunity to read!

See video HERE

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Quote of the DayQUOTE Nietzche~~~~~
Alma Alexander      My books      Email me

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Must Reads for Men !

Flavorwire asked a number of “Feminist Writers” to recommend books “Every man should read.”

My opinion wasn’t solicited. Perhaps it’s just that I’m not considered the card-carrying feminist that my husband says I am. But I’m in favor of the exercise, which came about because a men’s publication made a list of “80 Books Every Man Should Read” that had only one female writer on it.

Do I believe that girls are just as entitled to adventures as boys? Hell, yeah. We don’t want to stay at home and stare longingly at the blue and distant mountains and yearn. Is that feminism? Is writing stories about that carrying a card? If it is, then I have one. I’m one of those girls who set out for the mountains – how could it be otherwise?

Personally, if I had been asked, I’d have recommended the same book that Sonia Saraiya, Salon’s TV critic did — ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ by Ursula K. LeGuin.

It so effortlessly dismantles gender norms that it’s kind of shocking the world is still standing,” Sonia says.

Right on, I say.

Instead of getting mad about that men’s magazine list, Elisabeth Donnelly writes, “We here at Flavorwire wanted to counter that vibe by asking our favorite feminist writers what they think “every man should read.” The results were funny, smart, and a true reflection of the complex lives that we all lead. Expand your mind, and find your next favorite book, below.

For example:

Ashley C. Ford, who writes essays, interviews, and profiles recommends ‘An Untamed State’ by Roxane Gay:
An Untamed State

There is a line in this book, “It is often women who pay the price for what men want.”

Gay writes brilliantly to this point, revealing how even the good guys are accustomed to getting their way by any means necessary, and how often women are the “means”. Read this to understand what you may never know otherwise: women can be marked by men’s desires, but we can not be defined by it.

 

 

Read the article

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Read whatever the hell you want!

Should adults be reading books supposedly aimed at children and teenagers? Elizabeth Minkel asks in The New Stateman. According to the literary establishment, she says, this is a question fraught with difficulty. “But is it really as hard as all that?” she asks.

Of course it isn’t. Why are we still even talking about it?

Young adult is a marketing term, no more. I write both “Young Adult” and adult books and I think you would be hard-presssed to tell me how they are different. I don’t write down to young adults, don’t use simpler language, or present a simpler world.
Worldwavers ReaderMy Young Adults are for ‘Readers’, period.

Elizabeth Minkel discusses all this in a very thoughtful article which concludes:

So here’s a directive, to anyone who feels like the type of book – or any individual book – is being unfairly attacked: please stop making a case for what you like by putting down what other people like. Stop imagining that the conversation you hear is the only conversation being had. And if you feel like your beloved book is under attack, hit the attacker back with as much positivity as you can manage.

I’ll stand by Harry Potter not because it can be read by a child, but because it can be read by children and adults alike, how it’s a bazillion pages full of little spaces or big ideas to explore, how I fell in love first with the characters on the page, then with the sprawling conversation they inspired. I won’t put you down if you don’t enjoy them – I’ll just invite you to join in.

Read the article

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10 Science Fiction Authors Whose Books Just Kept Getting Stranger

A lot of authors tend to become more conventional over time. At io9, Charlie Jane Anders gives us 10 science fiction and fantasy authors whose books only got weirder.

e.g.
J.G. BallardJ.G. Ballard was a key part of the New Wave of experimental, literary science fiction of the 1960s and 1970s — but he kept pushing the envelope throughout his career. His late novels, starting with Cocaine Nights, examine the relationship between violence and consumerism, and conclude that the former is an inevitable consequence of the latter.

Read the article

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THIS ‘n THAT

16 brilliant paintings that will shake your faith in humanity
Red carpetSee all the paintings

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10 great women street artists
street artLady Aiko is a Tokyo-born, New York-based artist who incorporates elements of Pop Art, abstraction, graffiti and traditional Japanese imagery into her playful depictions.

See them all

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22 Literary Halloween Costumes For Duos
June-AnaisAnaïs & June, Henry and June
June: Long blonde hair, sexy dress — Anaïs: Shortdark hair, sexy dress, stack of notebooks, Mae West eyebrows

Halloween literary costumes

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Quote of the Day

If you enjoy reading something, read it.” ~ S. E. Hinton in The New Yorker on the YA debate

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Alma Alexander
My books

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