Friday Book Club: The Art of Racing in the Rain

the-art-of-racing-in-the-rainHi everyone!  It’s time to start reading the book club selection for June:  The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Grant Stein.

Several people recommended this book to me.  It was a big hit when it came out and was an Oprah’s Book Club selection.  So I was pretty excited to read this book.  I presented it as an option to the Arden Dimick Book Club, they picked it, I started reading it and…

I hated it.

But, that’s OK.  Because sometimes the most interesting books are those we dislike.  It took me a while to figure out why I disliked the book so much and that process helped me figure out some pretty intense things about how women are presented in male narratives.  It also made me hug my daughter and my dog, both of whom seemed confused but pleased, so that was good.  There were passages that I loved and whole subplots that made me furious.  So I am very much looking forward to discussing this book with you all over the next few weeks.

A bit of background:  Most of what I review on Geek Girl In Love is science fiction or fantasy, but I also read quite a bit of contemporary fiction and non-fiction.  As facilitator of the Arden Dimick Book Club, I get a chance to stretch my reading a bit and try different genres and styles.  We work with one theme for three months.  In May, June, and July our theme is “Animals Among Us”.  If you live in the Sacramento area, come join us on June 22, 2014 at 2PM  for our in-person book club at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento!

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Interview with Nalini Haynes, contributor to Invisible

Invisible-FullThis week’s interview is with Nalini Hayes, one of the contributors to Invisible, and anthology about representation edited by Jim C. Hines.  Over here at Geek Girl in Love we’ve invited the contributors of Invisible to share further thoughts about how representation in genre is important to them.  In her essay, “Evil Albino Trope is Evil”, Haynes talks about how representations of people with albinism have affected her life.  Haynes is also the editor of Dark Matter Zine.  My questions are in bold, her responses are in regular type.

Are there any media or literature portrayals of people with albinism that “get it right?”

I haven’t read or seen any portrayals of people with albinism that “get it right” so far although some people have recommended literature that I’ve added to my to-be-read list.

The best portrayal of an albino I can think of is Michael Pryor’s The Extraordinaires; his albino is a gutsy intelligent female protagonist teamed with a boy who has his own point of difference. The reason Michael’s albino hasn’t “got it right” is that she uses scientific gadgets – like special glasses – that fix her eyesight. This is problematic because people assume that, if I’m wearing glasses, my eyesight is fixed. It isn’t. Glasses can’t fix or replace the missing bits in my retina*.

There is a perception out there that science should be able to fix everything, either with glasses or surgery. It’d be great if someone could write an albino accurately, without magically healing the character, to help people understand this is real and it can’t be fixed. Not with current medicine, anyway.

*For a more technical explanation see Wikipedia. My eye conditions include macular hypoplasia (no fovea and an under-developed macular due to insufficient pigmentation),  photophobia, nystagmusastigmatism, iris transillumination and floaters; all of which are caused by albinism, either directly or indirectly. (My floaters developed very early, apparently caused by the nystagmus that was caused by the albinism.)

How has living with albinism shaped your thinking about people with other forms of disabilities?  

I grew up knowing I had a disability but I refused to accept I was disabled until 2005 when workplace bullying based on disability discrimination and refusals of disability access destroyed my career. Until then I tried to pass for ‘normal’. This ‘passing’ was also aided by the minimal contact I had with other people with disabilities.

People with disabilities can be quite disconnected from the community, from each other. We’re not a people group; we often grow up in families where we’re the only one, so isolation can be an issue.

I’ve seen communities develop and people come together over a period of time, aided by increased access to public transport (particularly for wheelchair users). Government funding for programs has helped develop communities and bring people together in programs to an extent although the usual focus is either for people with physical disabilities (wheelchair access) or intellectual disabilities.

Even when I finally started to accept that I didn’t just have a disability, that I am disabled, I found myself isolated in Adelaide. The Royal Society for the Blind was awesome in trying to help me find visual aids (that I couldn’t afford) and with programs to get people together, but most people with vision impairment are elderly. I didn’t know of any program or organisation that brought together people even remotely close to my age, people who were still of an age to expect to be in the workforce.

In 2007 I heard about Reins, Rope and Red Tape, a disability arts advocacy program run by Arts Access in South Australia. I applied and was accepted for the second semester program.

Reins, Rope and Red Tape was a program run by people with disabilities for people with disabilities. This was an eye-opener. I made friends, all of whom had disabilities and all of whom were different in the challenges we faced. We learnt everything from the hierarchy of disability (which reflects the emphasis of government funding for various disabilities) to disability advocacy action in various countries.

One of the worst things about leaving Adelaide was leaving those friends behind. Afterwards I learnt Arts Access and the (separate) disability library/centre had both been defunded so these programs and focal points for people with disabilities vanished.

It was my disability that brought me in to that program, that gave me the opportunity to make those friends. It was my disability that made me acutely aware of the fracturing of the disability community as funding dried up and programs closed.

These days most of my contact with people with disabilities is via facebook. I have some kick-ass facebook friends out there rattling cages, moving and shaking for change. I have some other facebook friends I’ve never met that I just want to hug, to say ‘thank you’ and to break down some gates – like the ones withholding catheters when my friends need them.

Some of the most awesome people on this planet have disabilities. Some of the people who suffer the most in our society have disabilities. It’s a two-edged sword: enlightenment comes with great empathic pain as I see people suffer.

What would you like to see change in our culture to make it a more equitable environment?

If people really truly understood that there are two kinds of people in this world – the disabled and the not-disabled-yet – and that the karma fairy will come back to bite them, THEN I believe we might see some genuine change.

If you had total control over the filming of any book, what would you film, and why, and who would you cast?

I’d film the Children of the Black Sun trilogy by Jo Spurrier because it is the best portrayal of disability, gender issues and society combined that I’ve read. Once Isidro, one of the central characters, acquired his disability, I expected him to be magically healed or to disappear from the story with only a cameo appearance at best. Not only does neither happen, Isidro continues in this story with a totally convincing disability – his crushed arm causes him immense pain, he engages with the issue of ‘to amputate or not to amputate’ and every time he performs a task he has to work around his disability. No other author I’ve read is so convincing in a portrayal of disability. While I’m not physically disabled, I suffer headaches from eyestrain and bright lights; Isidro’s pain and work-arounds are totally convincing to me. Isidro doesn’t suddenly get up and use two hands like characters who’ve been shot in movies.

Not only that, the women characters are awesome. Several central characters provide different viewpoints including experience of an equitable polygamous society and a contrasting, more traditional monogamous society where women are subjugated. There’s a truly three dimensional villain whose acts are truly evil yet he becomes a – somewhat – sympathetic character. There is romance with complications.

Basically, Children of the Black Sun HAS IT ALL. (Note: the 3rd in the trilogy is in my TBR pile.)

Who would I cast? I’d cast an actual person with a disability as Isidro. SFX could cover him up until the point of his injury and then he’d be the most kick-ass believable disabled character on screen. Apart from Isidro, I’d cast actors oozing talent who genuinely represent the various ethnic groups relating to the characters: Siberians, Arabs and the like.

I’d get the crew from Boy and What we do in the shadows to work on it so it wouldn’t be some Hollywood clone. It would be the most epic, the most awesome movie ever.

What draws you to science fiction/fantasy?

When I was very little I think it was the adults around me reading and watching science fiction that started attracting me to science fiction. I remember hiding behind my uncle’s chair watching Doctor Who.

When I was maybe 4 or 5 I found a book of poems by C J Dennis in a corner store and my father bought it for me. He read ‘The Triantiwontigongolope’ to me; I remember laughing, saying it was silly. He challenged me to think about a world where the grass was purple and the sky was bottle green, to really think about it. I did.

‘Could I belong there too?’ I asked.

After a pause he replied, ‘Yes.’

From that day onwards I loved and adored that poem, learning it by heart.

Science fiction and fantasy offers the promise of escape from this world and the possibility of being accepted or fixed in some other time or place. I don’t see myself in the worlds I read or watch so, these days, I build mental walls to protect myself from the albinos and albino-types I see in books and on screen. Instead I try to find little things to identify with or hope for healing for some other ‘me’ in generations to come.

How has being part of an online community affected you?  

It’s been very mixed. I have very few friends here in Melbourne; I count ‘friends’ as people who I at least meet for coffee. The online community is my social life. Some people are supportive; those people are like diamonds in the mud. They’re worth picking up and treasuring! Others, not so much. I’ve learnt the value of the ‘block’ button, not to visit certain websites and never to read the comments. Again, I’ve built walls to protect myself.

This year has been a year of building bridges and reaching out to people who value diversity. It’s been a year of growth. Because of studying at university, it’s also been a year of challenge and change. How do I balance the needs and wants of the community – especially the community that visits Dark Matter Zine – with the advice of lecturers and my desire to build a career? I’m walking a tightrope; I’ve never been good at balance exercises. My yoga ‘tree’ is AWFUL.

I’m looking for a way forward for my life and my career. I feel like Gretel after the bird ate the breadcrumbs. I’m hoping that the online community may light the path to some kind of purpose and goal, a means of making a genuine contribution.

What motivates you to put so much work into your website?

After losing my job at CNAHS (Dept of Health in South Australia) I looked for volunteer work to get a reference to find paid work. It’s surprisingly difficult to get volunteer work as a person with a disability, especially because I need disability access for low vision.

In 2010 I edited one issue of a zine for a club in Melbourne before being told my services were no longer required. That one issue gave me insight into the enormous potential of a zine. An online zine had similar huge potential with no outlay of money, hence the online-and-not-printing part of Dark Matter Zine in the beginning.

As Dark Matter Zine took on a life of its own, it took over my life. Demonstrating skills and dedication alongside a strong work ethic has to be good groundwork for getting a job, right?

Dark Matter Zine runs on WordPress and has a social media presence so the technical aspects of running both should demonstrate sale-able workplace skills, right?

Dark Matter is still online, it’s still not printed (usually), but these days it’s grown so big we have to pay a hosting service for a small business package. Donations are few and far between, not nearly covering basic running costs. I need better equipment to do a good job – like a decent camcorder. I had to discard video of a launch because the sound and visuals were so very, very bad. So why am I doing this?

My mentor in the Willing & Able Mentoring Program told me Dark Matter won’t help me get a job in the publishing industry. Challenges like this shake me to the core – what else can I do to convince people I have skills and abilities? – but they also reinforce that Dark Matter Zine isn’t just about getting a job. It’s become a part of my life, it’s my baby that I’ve grown.

One thing of which I NEVER tire is talking to creative people. I love the interviews and panels I’ve had the privilege of running as part of Dark Matter Zine. I love hearing about creative people’s loves, their journeys, their insights. I love the fact that, in my own small way, I’ve made a bit of the ‘convention experience’ accessible to those for whom conventions are not accessible.

Recently a fellow student commented that a Penguin employee had been reviewing books on her blog but, after starting work at Penguin, she was told she couldn’t do that anymore. That challenged me. While I love losing myself in a good book or movie/TV program and I enjoy sharing reviews, I confess I get “all reviewed out” at times. In contrast, I love talking to creative and interesting people. Now I’m concerned that, if I’m successful and get a job in the publishing industry, I’ll have to give up Dark Matter Zine. It’s a dilemma.

So, why am I putting so much work into my website? It started out as a means to sell myself to an employer. Now – I think it’s an addiction.

An Interview with Sarah Beth Durst

TheLostCover_HiResToday we are thrilled to be interviewing author Sarah Beth Durst.  Her latest book, The Lost, comes out tomorrow (May 27, 2014).  I got to read an advance copy and I loved it.  The beginning creeped me out so badly that I couldn’t read it at night.  The middle was like a strange fairy tale, full of mingled beauty, horror, and romance.  The last section was deeply moving.  This is the first book in a trilogy.

I met Sarah Beth Durst last year at the Nebula Awards Weekend when her book Vessel was nominated for the Andre Norton Young Adult Science Fiction Award.  Her thoughts on fantasy as a literature of hope stayed with me so I was thrilled that she wanted to do an interview for Geek Girl in Love.  If you’d like to read the 2014 interview, it’s at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

In this interview, my questions are in bold and Sarah’s answers are in regular type.

The Lost is your first book that isn’t YA.  Was the experience of writing it different than your other books?  Was the publishing process different?

Whether you’re writing YA or adult or whatever, it’s all about telling a story the best you can.  The key is to stay true to the character.  If you have a twelve-year-old protagonist and you are faithful to her worldview, then the novel will come out as a middle-grade.  If you have a twenty-seven-year-old protagonist and you stay true to her, then you’ll have an adult novel.

As far as the publishing process, the primary difference is timing.  In YA, the manuscript needs to be complete a full year before it hits the shelves.  In adult publishing, the time between manuscript and finished book is more compressed.  Other than that, it hasn’t been so different.  I have worked with amazing people in both the YA and adult worlds.

Within the genre of YA, you’ve written in a lot of sub genres including fantasy, humor, suspense.  How would you characterize The Lost?  Do you have a favorite genre, and if so, why?

THE LOST is magical realism.  It’s about a woman who is trapped in a town full of only lost thing and lost people.

On the surface, it’s dramatically different from my other books — CONJURED (a sort of psychological thriller), VESSEL (an epic fantasy), DRINK SLAY LOVE (a vampire meets were-unicorn comedy), ICE (a modern fairy tale retelling), etc.  But at its heart, it is still me.  All my books have the same core: magic, adventure, and romance — just combined in different ways.

I consider myself a fantasy writer, no matter what subgenre sandbox I’m playing in.  For me, fantasy embodies all the reasons that I love books.  It takes you on a journey to places you’d never go and then brings you safely back again… maybe a little bit changed.  It’s a literature of empowerment and hope.  It has the capacity to restore a sense of wonder in a jaded world.  And I love that.

I think it’s important to write what you love to read.  A lot of times, I decide what to write next by asking myself, “If I were to walk into a bookstore or library right now, what book would I want to find?” and then I try to write that.

On your blog, in a post titled “18 things”, you write that creativity can come from a place of joy as well as pain.  Can you talk more about that?  Are there particular moments or aspects of joy that inform your writing?

Incredible art can be born from pain.  And there are wonderful artists who have suffered terribly and risen above it, and I admire and respect them.  But there are also artists who had fine childhoods and just really, really loves stories.  And that is valid and good too.

I believe that writing can come from joy as well as pain, and that writing can cause joy as well as catharsis.  Writing makes me happy.  The more I write, the happier I am.  And the happier I am, the more I write.

I am in love with writing, with stories, with words.  I love how you can craft a story out of nothing.  By arranging letters on a page, you can cast a spell to transport a stranger to another world, to touch someone’s heart, to cause laughter or tears, to comfort, to heal.

I believe that books can heal.  Books can take you away from whatever is hurting you.  Books can help you find your way past pain.  And I think it can be that way for the writer as well as the reader.  There’s joy to be found in the act of stringing sentences together — in the act of trying to make magic.

What do readers need to know about your upcoming projects?

THE LOST is the first book in a trilogy.  It will be followed by THE MISSING in December and THE FOUND in April.  In between (in October), my next YA book is coming out.  It’s called CHASING POWER, and it’s about a sort of Indiana Jones / Jumper kind of adventure about a girl with telekinesis and a boy who can teleport — and who lies as easily as he travels.

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

DURST_AuthorPhoto_HighRes

 

Guest Blogger Starling: Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced

This essay is important. It was important when I first read it several days ago and it’s important right now and it’s is totally true to my experience of living my own life with a constant awareness of danger. Thank you to Pheadra Starling for writing this.

Shapely Prose

Phaedra Starling is the pen name of a romance novelist and licensed private investigator living in small New York City apartment with two large dogs.  She practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu and makes world-class apricot muffins.

Gentlemen. Thank you for reading.

Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.

So far, so good. Miss LonelyHearts, your humble instructor, approves. Human connection…

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Friday Book Club: Jack London and Science Fiction

SWT-Book-ClubsWelcome to Friday Book Club!  This month we’ve been reading The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

Jack London is most famous for stories of adventure and for social commentary.  But he was also a science fiction writer.  In fact, the first paycheck he ever received as a writer was for his story “A Thousand Deaths”, about a mad scientist who kills and resurrects his son, which was published by The Black Cat in 1899.  He wrote fifteen short stories that contain some science fiction or speculative fiction element.

In “The Red One”, a scientist discovers a tribe of people who worship a giant red sphere that seems to come from outer space.  n “A Relic from the Pliocene”, a man in the northern wilds discovers a real-life wooly mammoth”The Shadow and the Flash” is about brother who are bitter rivals, and who race each other to develop a means of invisibility.  “The Unparrelled Invasion” is about germ warfare.  In most of his stores, the peril is human in origin, with mad scientists and unstoppable weapons abounding.  There were apocalyptic scenarios, dystopias and utopias.

London’s science fiction short stories have been collected under the title The Science Fiction of Jack London.