Look Out South Korea – The Geeks Are Coming

3-night-seoul-sightseeing-and-shopping-tour-in-seoul-146564We are on our way to Seoul for a two-week long visit with our very generous and welcoming South Korean friends.  We’ve never been there, and we are excited beyond belief.  Here’s some betting pool suggestions to keep you occupied while I’m away:

1.  Theoretically I have something like 15 hours to do nothing but sit on a plane and stare at my laptop.  Will I write on the plane like I’m supposed to, or just sleep, entertain my offspring, and watch crappy movies?

2.  How much money will I spend on knick-knacks?  How many of my souvenirs will be books?

3.  After two weeks in a single apartment, will my family and my host family still be friends?  Can I increase the odds of a positive answer by baking them cookies?

Usually I prep like crazy before a trip, but this time I’ve been so rushed that I’m barely aware of what country we are going to.  It’s actually quite liberating to be traveling with a minimum agenda and, as my daughter says, “no spoilers.”  Will report back!

Between the Lines: What to Read While You’re Reading Emma

between the lines book club logoOne of the fun things about reading Austen is that so many people have written about Austen.  Her books are light on the surface (the plot is usually who will marry who) and dense underneath (history, class, gender, satire).

These days my favorite collection of Austen commentary is the hilarious and astute Bitch in a Bonnet:  Reclaiming Jane Austen from the Stiff, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps by Robert Rodi.  I don’t always agree with Rodi but he’s fun to read, fun to argue with (mentally) and very astute.  You can read my review of Vol 1. at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  He covers Emma in Vol. 2.

What Matters in Jane Austen, by John Mullen, is a book of commentary that points out the social clues and the themes that appear in Austen.  For a preview check out this article, “Ten Questions on Jane Austen”, several of which apply directly to Emma.

Study guides get a bad reputation because sometimes people read the guide instead of the book.  Dude.  Don’t do that.  Having said that, I find the website Shmoop to be a great resource.  I read it either after the book or alongside it and no matter how many college degrees I acquire, the authors of Shmoop always manage to point out something I’ve missed.  Here’s a link to their page on Emma.

Just for fun:  I like to read Austen while flipping through my beloved copy of The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.  It’s a lovely book that was made into a lovely movie – and it involves the Sacramento Public Library!

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Wednesday Videos Love Miss Fischer’s Mysteries

WednesdayVideoIf you aren’t watching Miss Fischer’s Mysteries oh my are you missing a treat.  This Australian series is about a female private detective in the 1920s.  OH GOD, THE CLOTHES.  We talk about the series at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and there are photos of THE CLOTHES.

I love this video so much – perfect song choice, great editing, captures Phryne Fischer’s personality.  NSFW.

And here’s an adorable clip from the show:

I SHIP THEM SO HARD!

Have fun with Miss Fischer – you can get Seasons One and Two on Netflix and on DVD.

Anatomically Correct: Realistic Portrayals of Women in Comics

allsparksComic books are famous for stylized portrayals of men and women, with men being fetishized for strength and women for sex. Some depictions of breasts are so exaggerated that they look as though the woman has two inflated balloons velcroed to her chest. Superhero characters are intended to be exaggerated versions of humanity – that’s why they are “super”. Reams have been written about the discrepancies between how women and portrayed and how men have been portrayed, so I won’t revisit that here, except to say that as a woman, I’d much rather my superpower involve muscles than gravity-defying inflatable boobs. Once in a great while, we get a moment of refreshing anatomical realism, and one such moment occurs early in Girl Genius.

 

Girl Genius is an online comic by Phil and Kaja Foglio. It’s set in a steampunk fantasy land, with a main character named Agatha. Agatha is a lovely young woman who spends a lot of time in Victorian underwear. She’s a buxom girl in true comic book style, and what with the Victorian melodrama and the underwear, her bosom heaves attractively for many pages, until a miracle occurs. Agatha faints, and when she’s drawn as resting on her back, her breasts flop over to the side, just a little. The sight of Agatha’s floppy breasts is the most charming sight I’ve every seen in comics, a medium in which breasts have supernatural abilities to stick straight up in the air regardless of the position assumed by their bearer.

 

Comic books are about heroes, but not all of them are about the kinds of superheroes with magically enhanced physiques – and that’s important, because it suggests that all of us can be heroes given opportunity, motivations, and, ideally, an enormous bank account. Agatha has a lovely figure, but it’s not a bizarrely exaggerated one. She looks like a person. In Saga, the comic by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples, Alana is very fit, but not super-humanly, so, and she complains about having “Squishy bits” a few weeks after giving birth. The women of Elfquest are famous for having a variety of shapes and sizes.

 

New mom Alana and her new clothes: "They hold in my squishy bits!"

New mom Alana and her new clothes: “They hold in my squishy bits!”

Of all the things I’ve ever gotten excited about in my life, I would not have expected to get so excited about the existence of a single panel that happened to include the natural positioning of breasts. But in a medium in which women’s bodies are distorted to comical levels in the search for eroticism, it is so refreshing to see an artist display a concept of what a woman’s body might actually look like. It has a larger importance, as well. Agatha, who has an essentially supernatural gift for invention as well as a natural talent for leadership, and Alana, who has no supernatural powers but a great deal of training and motivation, qualify as heroes. The relative realism of their bodies lends credibility to their stories, which take place in fantastical worlds. The realism of their bodies also suggests that real women, with real, complicated, sometimes wonderful and sometimes inconvenient bodies, can be heroes. There’s a place for the art of exaggeration, but there’s a place for gravity and squishy bits, as well. It’s good to be reminded that in the fight against evil, magical breasts are a bonus, not a necessity.

 

Dewshine is flat as a board, while Leetah is a more traditionally drawn comic book woman with big breasts and a tiny waist - but both are considered beautiful in  Elfquest.

Dewshine is flat as a board, while Leetah is a more traditionally drawn comic book woman with big breasts and a tiny waist – but both are considered beautiful in Elfquest.

Between the Lines Book Club: A Short Biography of Jane Austen

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This month in Between the Lines Book Club we are reading Emma, by Jane Austen.  Join us in the comments or in person on February 28th, at 10:30, at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, CA!

Jane Austen was born in 1775.  She was one of eight siblings, all of whom were boys with the exception of Jane and her sister Cassandra.  Jane and Cassandra lived together throughout most of their lives.  They both experienced failed engagements and never married.

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Jane was something of a tomboy as a child.  She and Cassandra were educated at home and at boarding school.  Jane made prolific use of the library of the time – it was a subscription library and you paid to be allowed to request that various books be sent to you for a set period of time.  Jane was a prolific writer as a child and a teen, writing plays for the family to perform as well as funny stories and essays.

Jane is often portrayed as someone who lived a small, parochial life, but she was actually quite well-travelled within Britain.  She lived for many years in the tourist town of Bath, and travelled all over the English coast.  She also loved visiting her brother in London where she went to the theater and the shops.  Through her brothers in the Navy and relatives in India and France, she had access to information about the world at large and life at sea (she manages to sneak a spectacularly dirty navy joke into Mansfield Park).  Austen published her books anonymously but her identity was an open secret and she achieved a modest amount of fame.  Then, as now, her most beloved work was Pride and Prejudice.

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Jane died in 1818.  The cause of her death is unknown, although it is frequently thought to have been Addison’s Disease.  Her novels  Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously.

You can find more at my post “10 Things you Didn’t Know about Jane Austen” and in my book Pride, Prejudice and Popcorn: TV and Film Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre.  It has a section about Jane Austen’s life and is available from these retailers for .99:

Amazon        Barnes and Noble     iTunes      Harlequin.com

 

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Wednesday Videos and Agent Carter

WednesdayVideoOver at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, we love Agent Carter so much that we have just about lost our minds.  The series begins after Steve Rogers crashes a plane and, as far as anyone but us knows, dies.  So Peggy is sad.

This music video needs more Peggy being badass.  Even in the movie as opposed to her very own series, she had a bigger role to play than adoringly watching him jump off of things.  Still, it’s sweet and does a lovely job of showing the emotional connection between Steve and Peggy.  I may have sniffled slightly.

An Interview With Emily Jiang, Author of Summoning The Phoenix

I met author Emily Jiang very briefly at the Nebula Awards and again at the Locus Holiday Party.  That sentence made it sound as though my life is far more glittering than it actually is.  Anyway, emily and I had a great time at the party talking about how parties are terrifying and singing scraps of Sondheim to a long suffering Setsu Uzme  and long story short Emily agreed to do an interview for us here at Geek Girl.  Little did I know that it would include haiku!

 

I’ll be doing several posts this month on the importance of diversity in children’s literature and YA this month.  Emily’s picture book is gorgeous to read and to look at, thanks to illustrations by April Chu (all images below are by April).  It’s a series of poems and prose about Chinese musical instruments.

 

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What did you do to prepare for this book?

Before I decided to write the book, I was only familiar with the erhu and the guzheng, so I had to research quite a bit.  I found books written in English about Chinese Music and read them cover to cover and I scoured the internet for sound clips and Youtube videos to hear what they sounded like. It was great fun.  I love learning about little-known cultures and finding little-known facts.  Sometimes those facts are not relevant, but often I’ll stumble upon a fact that shines like a gem.

 

Writing is spinning

stories from all the juicy gems

gathered from research.

 

What was your process like when working with an illustrator?

 

Unlike comic book writers, picture book authors working with traditional publishers are not supposed to suggest artwork to their books’ illustrators.  All I asked was that the children be ethnically diverse and not all Asian.

 

Here’s an example of April Chu’s fabulous artwork illustrating one of my poems.  It’s why I am so grateful I did not dictate the images in my head while I was writing my picture book:

 

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A picture book is

a true collaboration

of words and pictures.

 

 You can read more about how Chu’s illustrations complement the story at My Favorite Bit

 

Why was this book important to you?

 

I think of myself primarily as a fiction writer, more specifically as a novelist, so it’s a bit of a surprise to me that my first book was a picture book.  But I now I absolutely love it!  I am passionate about music and I am passionate about understanding non-American cultures, especially that of my ancestors.

 

Someday I will write

stories of my ancestors,

stone names worn away.

 

One thing that I’ve noticed is that the illustrations show children from a variety of ethnic backgrounds playing the instruments.  Why did you choose to have so much diversity in our book, and why should we care about diverse representation in children’s literature?

 

These questions are  best answered in this guest blog post at diversify (which also includes samples of April’s gorgeous art):

 

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Highlighting some key facts from my blog post to directly answer your question:

In this article Lee & Low also used statistics from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and made this chart that shows that while the population of people of color in the United States has risen to 37% as of 2012, the number of new traditionally published children’s books by and/or about people of color has stagnated at roughly 10% over the past eighteen years. The US census projects that by 2060, the percentage of “minority” populations will be 57% of the United States. “The US is projected to become a majority-“minority” nation in 2043.” Clearly the children’s book publishing industry in the US is not keeping up with the changing population of their young American readership.

Here’s another more immediate statistic. My acquiring editor Renee Ting wrote an article “Writing Race: Reflecting the Modern World” that stated another fact from U.S. Census Bureau: “as of July, 2011, white babies no longer comprise of the majority of births in the United States.” Therefore, right now as of 2014, our American-born three-year old children are more diverse than ever. Hopefully their parents are already reading books to them, and in a few more years, these children, our children, will start reading books on their own. Considering the needs of the newest generation of Americans and assuming the American publishing statistics remain somewhat similar to those quoted by Lee & Low in 2013 (which is highly possible since traditional publishing typically takes an average of two years to get an accepted manuscript turned into a book that can be purchased on the book shelf), the issues are pretty obvious:

We need more books where an American non-white child is the protagonist, not the sidekick. We need more books where children from underrepresented populations can see themselves as the center of the story.

Shouldn’t the American children depicted in American books reflect the growing racial diversity of the United States?

This is the epiphany I had almost two years ago, right after I had completed the revision of my manuscript that my editor was going to send to my illustrator. So I asked my editor if it would be okay to ask the illustrator to make the kids ethnically diverse with an emphasis on Asian children. Luckily, I had made a conscious choice before writing the poems to focus on the child’s relationship to music rather than to ethnic identity. This gave the illustrator even more freedom to choose each child’s appearance according to race, age, and gender.

***My book is an American book written by an American author and illustrated by an American artist and published by an American publisher.  So the children in our book should reflect America.***

…it boils down to this simple statement:

Everyone can enjoy my book about Chinese music, regardless of cultural background and/or ethnicity, because Chinese music can be enjoyed by everyone.

 

We look so diverse

on the outside, but inside

we are all human.

(Note the passage surrounded by *** is not in my original article)

 

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