Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How Do You Decide to Add Books to Your TBR?

My economics professor might say this: our ability to read is limited by finite resources. Unless you’re Fillmore from Sherman’s Lagoon the thing you are going to run out of is not books—it is TIME.

Library books
Flickr Credit: faungg's photos
If everything were perfect, we’d have all the time in the world to read any and every book that takes our fancy. But it isn’t a perfect world. We can’t read everything we want, Blofeld shoots Tracy as they drive off into the sunset, and George Lazenby never stars in another Bond film again. (If you don’t like my James Bond references, then that is your problem.)

In other words (again, as my economics professor might say it) we have to make choices with what we read because our time is scarce.

So how do you pick what you’re going to read? And, for that matter, how do I pick what I’m going to read?

The latter question is easy, ‘cause I’m about to tell you.

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1. It is an author or series that I already love.

I feel like this probably goes without saying for many bookworms. If I know I like the author or it’s a series and I’m loving it—of course it will go on the TBR list! Of course it will. That’s what people do.

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2. I like the genre or the style.

I look for something new and interesting to read sometimes, and when I do, I generally look to my friend SPECULATIVE FICTION. Which does not mean just thinking about fiction, as I originally thought—it’s like sci-fi and fantasy and paranormal and stuff. I like those kinds of books, so if I find a book that is in the bubble I usually read, I plunk it on that list. A girl’s gotta read.

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3. I’m trying to expand my horizons or perspective or understanding of the subject at hand. 

This usually happens because I’m trying to read more diverse books than because I actually want to know the origins of gardening tools, or something like that. Maybe if it is for school, I can motivate myself with that thought. As it is, the biggo issue I’m going for now is trying to look at the world from perspectives that are not my own, and appreciating them for what they are. So I have a lot of those. That I will get to. Eventually.

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4. I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe in you.

There is hype, and there is many respectable blogging buddies esteeming a particular novel. Hype is like weird emotions that people feel and share and make books seem (maybe) cooler than they are. But when I see that other bloggers, who may like what I like or share similar interests or ALL THINK THIS BOOK IS THE BEST THING EVER… then it usually goes on my list. I trust that the people whose words I like to read can give me other good sources of reading. And it does happen often. Like, if I’m a regular on your blog, you can pretty much bet that I’ve got your name next to a book I’m meaning to read thanks to your recommendation.

And I mean that.

I am not always good about getting on top of these, unfortunately. In part because I am more inclined to read books I already know I’ll like—the main perp here being rereads—but sometimes I am just selfish and biased and don’t get to books other people recommend even though I should.

But, like I said, my time is a scarce resources. I’m forced to make choices. And maybe they’re not the best choices—but I’m working on it!


All of that, of course, leads to the final discussion. YOU. I am talking about you, who is reading this, just now. How do you decide what you’re going to put on your TBR? And (dun dun dun) how good are you at getting to them? (Because I am not that good.)


Monday, March 28, 2016

Sentiments After Trunking a Novel

Gargoyle
Flickr Credit: mrholle
Everything is bad.

Okay, no it’s not. That’s just my catchphrase when things “take a turn for the worse,” as we Oregon Trail fans might say. There is no scale or reason to the phrase; I just say it. Good book kills amazing characters? Everything is bad. Terrorism and hate crimes happen every day? Everything is bad. We are out of cheese? Everything is bad. …Deciding to trunk a novel?

Everything is bad.

I made my decision on Friday night. Notebook Spawn, which I’ve been in the process of editing since this summer, is done. Over. I’m not going to work on it anymore. At the time, it seemed like a good idea because it was late and I was tired—the relief that followed seemed like a good omen.

It was harder to stick to that decision when I finally moved the folder into the TRUNK file on my hard drive. It felt less good, then. If I gave it just a few more days… a few more attempts… then I wouldn’t have to give up.

It’s weird thinking that I have to commit to stop writing a novel, but I need to.

This novel doesn’t make me happy. I hate this sentence because it’s true. I’m certain that the edits I’ve made thus far to the novel were the best so far—looking back, I’m proud of the new quality I produced. I liked my writing, but not the novel itself. It was written with a sentiment I don’t feel and can’t support anymore, and since so much of the story is tied up in that sentiment, editing it kind of drags me down.

This was a “practice novel.” I wrote this because I figured that pretending to write a novel would help me be a “real writer” someday. Well, fun fact, if you actually write things you can’t pretend to be a writer—but that “practice-ness” feels glued to the story, and I want to write with the confidence that I am a writer, not that I’m going to be.

I can’t give it the attention it needs. I imagine that someday I’ll come back to this novel, but right now, I don’t have the time or energy to untangle the story and the characters from the aforementioned sentiments and practice-ness that could really make it awesome. I’m not doing myself or the novel any favors by pretending I’ll get to it tomorrow.

And that’s just it—there’s a lot rolled into this novel, and I’m not going to get to it for a while. I’ll be more productive and more happy working on something else for the time being—even though the reasons I just listed sound whiny and dumb-sounding whenever I reread them.

Don’t good writers stick it out ‘til the end of every draft? Don’t they not mope? Don’t they respect the fact that other people have put work in their stuff and see it through despite their feelings? Aren’t they stronger than general dissent?

Everything is bad. Everything is okay. Everything is I don’t know.

I’m keeping the trunk locked for now. Sometimes you have to be stronger than your urge to keep going, and work on something new and awesome despite what everyone else says. I don’t really know why all of this is; I just know it to be true. I’ll manage.


Have you ever trunked a novel partway through writing it? How did that make you feel?


Friday, March 25, 2016

Five Weird Bloggy Things That Bother Me

I’ve been itching to criticize all week. The last two times I tried (a.k.a. Monday and Wednesday) didn’t work—but we’re going to do some criticizing today. Because I really need to, and there is always room for it. Always, because I am a Sith.

Bumblebee
Flickr Credit: StalkERR

And what shall I criticize? Bloggy things! Specifically, five bloggy things that I see in the blogosphere all the time and should probably go away.

Let’s begin:

1. No Favicon


See that little purple handprint next to “Sometimes I’m a Story” up in your tabs? That’s my favicon—you should look at it and think “That is Heather’s blog.” But a baffling number of people leave the generic favicons. It bothers me, because favicons help me tell my tabs apart, which they can’t do if they all look the same.

Instead, upload an .ico file so that it is personal and I can recognize it! And, if you cannot save images as .ico files on your computer, here is a converter. Boom. Resources.

2. No Spaces Between Paragraphs


The most important thing about your blog is that people can read it. Again: the most important thing about your blog is that people can read it. Once it’s set up, it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance—but it does need to be set up.

For that reason, white space! The more the better. It doesn’t require short paragraphs—though it’s a personal goal of mine—but putting an extra space between complete thoughts goes a long way in preventing your reader from overload. Observe:

3. Wrong Picture Amounts/Styles/Things


We like pictures. I know. They are pretty. But also, there should probably not be twenty big photos in a blog post. Even if your blog is about sharing pictures I suspect it might go over better in small bursts. But also, there should be pictures! A gif, at least, or something.

I mean, I don’t have any great reasons. Except maybe one. Visually engaging us with a few pictures is good. Visually overloading us with too many pictures is not. And no visual engagement for some reason makes things harder.

(Side note: I use too many gifs sometimes. What do you guys think is a proper gif amount per post?)

4. No Shareable Pictures


*headdesk* This is simultaneously one of my pet peeves and one of my own bloggy faults. On some blogs, I want to save a super awesome post for later, when I need it, and then the only pictures available to pin are buttons from other people’s blogs. Brilliant.

And the way to do that is have a picture that can be shared on social media, if possible. Except Facebook is so lame about pictures. And Twitter takes forever. Pinterest is okay, though. Do it for Pinterest, friend. Build something for yourself!


5. Weird Amounts of Labels


You know those little keywords at the bottom? Labels? One for this post is Blogger’s Life, if that helps. On the one hand, these little keywords make you more marketable because Google is more likely to pick up on those keywords. At the same time, it bothers me when every little thing gets a label. In Heather’s Theory of Good Blogging, key words work better for things you talk about a lot.

I myself manage this by cleaning out my tags yearly. Currently I have 42 labels, ten of which have been used less than ten times. It works for me, anyway, and I think it helps. Because like, if you have an Artemis Fowl tag, there had better be a good chunk of blog posts for me to scroll through. (Please.)


Don’t feel bad if you do these things. I do them sometimes too. Should I really have 42 labels? Should I have more? Should I pay more attention to the shareability of my photos? I think just as much of me as I do all the other people out there blogging. Which is, of course, why we needed this criticism in the first place.

What are some common behaviors in the blogosphere that bother you?


Hey, fellow space rangers! Do you have the power to write? Do you have thoughts on something? Are those thoughts on writing? Or reading? Or something kind of like that? GREAT NEWS. You could totally guest post for me in April if you felt like it. Just message me on my contact page or DM me on Twitter, and we can talk! (And by could, I mean please do. Gracias.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Do Male Voices Dominate in Your School Reading?

Untitled
Flickr Credit: Izabela Pawlicka
I realized right before I started to write this that I should make sure this isn’t a question already answered on Google. Okay, I Googled it. I was not satisfied. This will be a short post—but get your typing fingers ready. I’m curious about what you have to say about this subject.

I am in my second semester of college now, and I love it. It’s fun to be in an environment where there is always learning and always questions and always books. I like the community and I like what I do there.

Even so, life is not perfect.

It’s niggled at me a little. Every now and again, just a thought—the times when I maybe don’t like what I am reading at that very second and so let my mind wander into the critical. And in my criticisms, I have noticed this:

We don’t read as many books written by women in college. 

I mean, yeah, I’ve only been around two semesters, but I don’t think I’m completely off-base here.

I took a look at my reading log to recall my AP Literature class, which I took last school year and is the most comparable course for this discussion, and all of the books that I’ve read for school during this semester and the last. And I have read fewer full texts by women in college.

For my AP Literature class, we read 10 full-length texts. Of those texts, six were written by male authors and four were written by female authors. If you like ratios, the female/male ratio is 0.66; if you like percents, 40% of all the texts were written by women.

Also, as I scour my reading log, the beginning of the year was top-heavy with male authors, but after that, the authors’ genders switched off. One of our books was a choice novel, so that isn’t how it worked for everyone, but that’s how it turned out for me.

Thus far in college, I’ve read 21 full-length texts. Of those texts, 14 were written by male authors and five by female. The f/m ratio, 0.36; the percent of the total, 26%. And I’m on the cusp of finishing two more books, also written by men.

And... I have had classes where we read no books by women at all.

That is a 14% drop in full-length books written by women that I’ve read for school since enrolling in college. This isn’t a representation of all my school reading material—in both scenarios my classes often included short stories, excerpts from textbooks, or articles written by various men and women. These are of course important sources we rely upon, but I only count books I’ve read cover to cover on my reading log. What’s more, books we are asked to read cover to cover generally receive a greater focus in the curriculum.

And now I don’t really know what to do with that.

I don’t have any desire to change my classes from the way they are. I’m not an enforcement agency. I’m motivated to read more women’s voices outside of class… but there is every chance I might have done that anyway. And mostly I just have this observation.

Since it’s only my observation, I decided to bring it to you.

Tell me about what you read at your school. You don’t have to be as specific as I was, but give me your guesses! Do you think your academic reading hails from more male or female voices? Why do you think that is?


As for me, I have no answers. But I am planning on finding them. Until then, I stalk my prey…

Monday, March 21, 2016

Major Issues

I am a college student. Perhaps you know this, perhaps you don’t—I certainly don’t need telling. It works like this: I pay money to a university and they teach me stuff. Most of the time it works out okay.

Through my open window
Flickr Credit: JLS Photography - Alaska

But it is that time of the semester again. Registration. As I write/edit/schedule this, I am waiting for the clock to strike twelve. It’s one of those things where instead of my coach turning back into a pumpkin, I gain the power to sign up for fall semester classes.

Like, yeah… I could do it tomorrow morning and still get the classes I want. But I am awake right now, and it is better to be safe than sorry.

As it is, my class-taking is all in pursuit of a mystical goal called a degree. I do not know who invented degrees or why they need such big frames when they are so small, but it is important to get one. For specialized skills. Jobs. Life. And to get one of these esoteric pieces of paper, you must declare a major.

Deciding on your major is a decision that falls upon your shoulders when you hit, I dunno, Kindergarten, and plagues you with its weight and importance until last week when they made you do it or else NO REGISTRATION FOR YOU.

More or less. In truth, I’ve thought about my major for a good while. The first step was simply acknowledging that I was going to be a writer about it—in my senior year of high school I stopped torturing myself with indecision and said, “From now on, you’re a writer. Act like it. And if you don’t like it, you can stop, but until then, don’t.”

I haven’t. I still write, and that simple claim to this identity was a huge step. But it was a step with questions, like, “What do writers major in?”

According to important people, writers get degrees in writing or English except not really because they don’t improve your writing skills and aren’t competitive on account of every writer gets those, so major in something else you’re good at and provides you material to write about without impeding on your writing time but makes enough money for you to live until you can be a full-time poor writer. Good luck.

So I decided to put my decision off until later.

I entered my first semester at college not knowing what I wanted to do. I figured I’d major in a subject I could write about, like science or history. Why learn to write if you don’t have something to write about? Well… because I want science to possess the humor and enthusiasm of Youtube and lack the intimacy of O Chem. That idea died pretty fast.

My professors, on the other hand, sort of just looked at me and were like “Yeahhh, English major.” Which I was dubious of at first. There was still the problem of being a writer without an area of expertise.

A problem that only lasted until I realized that writing about books and the stuff in them is a totally viable option.*

We do it all the time at school. I love my classes that focus on fiction—or even include fiction at all. I love reading about it, writing about it, talking about it, thinking about it, and all the other abouts of it. And though there’s more to English majors than just fiction, I declared that one anyway. For reading. For writing. For awesome. I have no regrets.

Admittedly it has only been like a week of no regrets… but I plan to have fun yet.

My only problem now is that I don’t know what I’m going to minor in. I have gotten suggestions but I don’t like them. Right now, my top choice is supervillainy—but get ready for your heart to break, because that one isn’t offered at my school. Alas.

Still! I’m excited about the English major stuff. I’m very close to registration. And I’m glad that this looks like a field where I can grow and be satisfied as a writer, too.

...

BOOM. I’m registered. That wasn’t so bad.


What advice have you heard about picking majors, for writers (or other fields)? (What classes do you think you would take in a supervillainy degree? Cuz really.)


*I know, I know, book bloggers had this figured out ages ago!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Thursentary: Is Linh Cinder a Person? (YAPhilosophy)

This post though. Suffice it to say that research (thanks, Alexa and Elizabeth), philosophy, and the results of poor work conditions went into this post. Let’s hop to it.

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I’ve enjoyed The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer these past years. If you aren’t familiar with it, this sentence will catch you up for today’s proceedings: Cinder, a cyborg mechanic, attempts to save the emperor’s life from the Lunar Queen Levana, and everything goes downhill from there.

Pretty much.

I like the story. Like the characters. Really like Carswell Thorne. Most of all, I like the questions I ask in response—one of which relates to Cinder’s character as a cyborg. Though it contributes to who she is, her cyborg identity’s greater relevance is in defining who Cinder is to others. People hold lots of prejudice against cyborgs in her world. Many people believe that cyborgs are less than, and perhaps not even, human. They don’t get the same rights or securities as “normal people.”

Cinder doesn’t like it, but that’s a protagonist’s bias. I’m curious. The way that cyborgs are built, combining humans and computers… in the context of TLC, can we call cyborgs people? Is Cinder a person? What makes her that way?

That is what I will ask. But first, a few points worth making:

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People with prosthetics are, of course, people.  

Were Cinder just a girl with prosthetics, this post would not even exist. Prosthetics do not bear on one’s existence as a person. As current technology allows, most prosthetics exist either for an aesthetic or functional purpose. The aesthetic ones mimic the appearance of able limbs/organs, like fake hands or glass eyes; functional ones help people do things their old limbs/organs used to, like how a prosthetic leg might help an amputee walk.

Though some prosthetics (like for hands) have a mobility to them, it’s because their mechanism is triggered through movement or electrodes. So far, prosthetic technology works without us bonding a computer to someone’s brain and operating them that way.

But that is how cyborgs work.

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Computers are not people. 

As science people explore the wonders of Artificial Intelligence, maybe someday this will change. I don’t think computers have yet gained any sentient consciousnesses yet. Sure, we have Siri and Galaxy, robots and androids that respond to and impersonate people, but they are not people.

And before you say so, the human brain isn’t really a computer:

  • you can’t distinguish the hardware and software in your brain
  • computers turn off; human’s don’t
  • the ways our memory work are so different (short-term, long-term, storage, all the things)
  • computers are not electrochemical; we are
  • computers are digital; we are analog, like clocks
  • computers don’t have bodies; we do, and we use them, and it’s weird

(And if you’d like to know more, I got all that information from right here.)

While a character like Iko, an android, might bring the personhood of computers into question, let’s leave it at this for now: Iko has a subjective experience (there is something that it is like to be Iko) but that doesn’t negate the fact that she’s a computer. She has no illusions about this. She might not be a person. But again, later.

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Why is Cinder’s Personhood in Question? 

We’ve established that humans are people and computers are not. Cinder’s personhood is in question, though, because she is both. 

Yes, her body’s mostly intact. Yes, she has a human personality. And from what I can tell, yeah, her consciousness is housed in the organic part of her brain.

But some of Cinder’s brain isn’t organic. To operate her prostheses, Cinder’s brain connects to and functions alongside a computer—a computer she can’t function without. Cinder has a digital brain. Cinder has software in her head, her memory is stored by both parts. Cinder can be turned off. 

In other words, yeah, Cinder acts like a human… but she also acts with traits unique to computers. What does that mean? Are cyborgs people turned into computers? Are cyborgs just people with computer access in their bodies? Are they something else?

I don’t know what Marissa Meyer had in mind when she thought of Cinder, and I’m not convinced it applies to all cyborgs… but I think Cinder is a person who can equally identify as human and computer.

Cinder has a digital mind, she can turn off. You can’t ignore her computer self. She couldn’t survive without it. Forget her leg and arm—that computer operates the cybernetic fibers in her heart (which is a pretty important organ, btw). These pieces are parts of Cinder, who she really is, body and mind.

But she’s still human, too. She has emotions. She has an ingenuity and talent that computers haven’t attained, and maybe can’t. She has a consciousness, a perspective we can witness in her narrative—she can share her experience. On top of that, without the body to give them meaning, the computer parts of Cinder would just be machinery. Cinder’s human-ness gives her a real significance we all identify with.

We can’t separate Cinder the computer and Cinder the human, but together, they make one whole person. She’s a character I myself know and love. One side of her can’t be and isn’t more important, nor can we consider her half a person.

Maybe it’s a stupid ending, but I’m gonna say it anyway: Cinder is a person because she is more than the sum of her parts. And there you go.

Did you think about Cinder's personhood when you read The Lunar Chronicles? What did you conclude?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Reread, Rewrite, BURN Tag!

THIS WILL BE SO FUN. The magnificent Liz from Out of Coffee, Out of Mind tagged me for the Reread, Rewrite, Burn Tag—a tag for books based off the “Kiss, Marry, Kill” game that we play with humans sometimes. Or “Bed, Wed, Behead,” if you’re King Henry VIII.


Anyway.

How It Works:

  • divide 15 books you’ve read into groups of three
  • for one trio, choose one book to reread, one to rewrite, and one to BURN
  • do that five more times
  • tag people

As for me, I’m doing this tag with the last fifteen books I’ve read. In order. Left to right, top to bottom, these are my last fifteen… and what I thought of them. Mwahahaha. Let’s go!

ROUND ONE

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REREADAs I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (ha! like I could try to improve Faulkner, guys. we can’t.)
REWRITESherman’s Lagoon: Surfer Safari by Jim Toomey (I do love me some Sherman’s Lagoon. it could use some touch-ups, but still. good enough to keep.)
BURNNone of the Above by I.W. Gregorio (this was a really interesting look at an intersex character. I’d never had that experience and I’m glad I did. but also I am not a huge contemporary fan. sorry, not sorry.)

ROUND TWO

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REREADCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (which I just did for the third time, if you were wondering.)
REWRITEAll My Sons by Arthur Miller (it’s a really good story but also I think Keller should have had to pay for his crimes in a different way. he took the coward’s way out.)
BURNChoose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris (it was funny and enjoyable but choose-your-own adventures are hard to get through the way they want. no need to repeat for a while.)

ROUND THREE

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REREADDays of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (ohhh so beautiful so painful so shiny so everything please help I am so desperate)
REWRITEA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (really interesting idea, but really slow execution and also Lila needs to stop putting women down. I won’t abide that girl until she shapes up.)
BURNThe Jungle by Upton Sinclair (such an important historical work but also kind of boring and not of the greatest literary quality.)

ROUND FOUR

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REREADApollo: The Brilliant One by George O’Connor (because he never disappoints, guys. also, we so rarely focus on Apollo as being equally terrible as he is good and inspirational… so that was revealing.)
REWRITEThe Supervillain Handbook by King Oblivion, PhD (quirky and I liked the idea but it really satirized the comic book villain which made it feel very superficial.)
BURNA Matter of Life by Jeffery Brown (a perfectly decent book but I’m not really interested in rereading it)

ROUND FIVE

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REREADDeadlock by Mark Walden (we should all just know by now that H.I.V.E. will always take this spot. and all my emotions sort of died again, and mostly I’m just sad and desperate now.)
REWRITEThe Starplace by Vicki Grove (I sort of mentioned this previously. it handled a tough topic well for kids, but I feel like at the end there could have been some closing thoughts helping kids understand how the world is/isn’t different now and how to be respectful in their own lives.)
BURNHark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton (this was such a great book! it was funny and historical and beautiful, and I recommend it. but also once I’ve heard a joke it kind of stops being funny until I forget, so I would burn it so I could move on and rediscover it and laugh again in ten years.)


That wasn’t too painful, was it? I enjoyed myself. Some of those books I’m glad suffered those fates.

In the meantime, I will do some tags. I invite Cait (Paper Fury), Alyssa (The Devil Orders Takeout), Victoria (Endless Oceans of My Mind), and Shar and Shanti (Virtually Read) because I think your answers would be interesting and/or some of you might have funny reactions. Like suffering. That would be amusing.

What are the last three books you read? Which would you reread, which would you rewrite, and which would you kill?


Monday, March 14, 2016

Five Reasons for Writers to Guest Post

First things first: Happy Pi Day! Go eat pie and do math to celebrate. (I know we like reading and writing here, but just imagine where we’d be without algebra, or geometry. And even if you don’t like them, there’s still pie.)

Second things second: Guest posting.

Most of the time, we talk about the importance of getting out there and guest posting from a blogger’s point of view. It matters to bloggers. You get more views and expand your audience. Maybe there is some other incentive involved. These are not wrong.

But forget blogging a moment—writers should guest post too, for writerly reasons. See, look:

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1. It’s Writing Practice

IT IS ALL WRITING PRACTICE. Practicing is how we get better at our job. This kind of practice, though, does not just exercise your writing muscles but your critique-receiving muscles. A new audience means new blood, and with that? New reactions to respond to.

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2. You Make Connections

Connections are important to writers. That is what I have been told. And also I know it for a fact. Through guest posting, you can meet new CPs or beta readers, new friends to enter your support group, or new readers who love your writing. Guesting posting is the big cheese… just another way to get out and about.

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3. It Will Challenge You

Guest posting is challenging. When I do it, it is because it scares me—I recently entered a contest just because my first reaction was “oh my hell no I would never do that not in a million years nuh-uh.” So I made myself do it to grow as a person. I didn’t win, but my victory was in the submission and kicking fear in its face. Not everyone gets challenged that way, obviously. Even so, I think guest posting inherently comes with the challenge to speak to a new audience, find where your interests intersect, and then present yourself and your ideas in a way that will be meaningful to them. Is that not challenge itself?

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4. You Read (Reading Helps)

Well, maybe not everybody does this. I do. Before I guest post, I read samplings of the host blogger’s work and guest posts they’ve previously accepted to get an idea of what they’re looking for. How will I do what I will do? In doing this, you take on the job of studying style and being damn stylish in response to that.

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5. It is Fun!

Writing should be fun, and ultimately guest posting is. You have the awesome opportunity to connect with other people, especially other writers, and who knows? Maybe they will give you a vacation to Hawaii if you rock! (Just kidding. No one does that. But trust me, it is fun.)


And now I present the awkward transition, where I switch to the end, and as you may have guessed, is where I ask for guest posts. I say something like “next month is the end of the semester which will be super complicado so it would be the coolest thing if three or so people were willing to guest post on my blog so I don’t have to.”

Next month is the end of the semester which will be super complicado so it would be the coolest thing if three or so people were willing to guest post on my blog so I don’t have to.

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this is literally the best gif I have saved to convince you that blogging here is great

I am flexible on that though. We could trade guests posts, if you wanted (although letting me get back to you in May would be a bro move on your part). You could have all the thunder to yourself and just donate a post. And if you don’t want to post, you could still show up here and give the currently non-verified guest posters some high fives to say “Good job!” and “Yay you!”

If this sounds like something you might like to do (and, I mean, why wouldn't you? I just gave you five great reasons to give it a try), visit my contact page or DM me on Twitter and I can give you a fuller idea of what I have in mind for guest posting, and you can pitch a few ideas about what you might like to talk about.

I fully recognize that this post is both pleading and suggestive. That is all.

Have you ever guest posted before?


Friday, March 11, 2016

WBI: Shan Yu

Shan Yu is a tricky villain to tackle because he isn’t the main problem of Mulan. The problem is that Mulan is a girl in the imperial army who will die if she is found out. But read on. He’s interesting anyway.

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WBI Profile

Classification :: Φ01578#
Role :: Agent of Chaos (muck up the emperor!)
Motivations :: chaos (dissolution of reigning order), evil (murdering small girls is fun), lifestyle (HUNS), personal/material gain (proving he can muck up the emperor), power/influence (conquering China)
Bonus :: minions (Hun army)

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His Significance to…

The Emperor—Shan Yu’s forces threaten the livelihood and happiness of every man, woman, and child to which the Emperor is accountable. That’s kind of a big deal.

Shang—on the one hand, Shan Yu creates the war that promotes him to captain. And on the other, Shan Yu’s war kills his father and almost his emperor and some of his men. But he meets Mulan, so.

Mulan—the demand for her injured, older father to fight in a war he can’t survive calls Mulan to action. Shan Yu’s threat leads her to become a soldier, enter battles, decimate most of the Hun army, and bring great shame upon her family. Until she saves the emperor’s life. Then no shame.

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Notable Actions

accepting the challenge—Shan Yu’s first “Agent of Chaos moment” appears in the opening scene when he explains that the construction of the Great Wall was an invitation to invade China. The Wall is a defensive structure, but also symbolizes order and strength he feels compelled to dissolve.

killing that child—he regards a doll with a smile on his lips and says, “Besides, little girl will be missing her doll. We should return it to her.” It amuses him to slaughter everyone in that town. He takes pleasure in dissolving the lives of ordinary people, their lives, families, towns, and people. Which is messed up.

plugging on—Mulan destroys the Hun army in a single blow. She reduces what was a group of several hundred men brutalizing the Chinese mountain populations to a group of like, eight. Dang, girl. Despite all that, Shan Yu survives and still almost kills the emperor, because that man is determined.

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Big Idea

clever, but cruel—I like Shan Yu. He’s pleasant in a “I’m secretly raving and about to slit your throat” kind of way. He enlists talented, efficient soldiers. He has a dry sense of humor. He’s good. But also bad, because he likes what he does.

we side with his values—upon learning that the person who saved all their lives is a woman, the Chinese army wants to execute her and actually abandons her. Upon learning that the person who killed his army and saved the emperor is a woman, Shan Yu just accepts it and tries to kill her in revenge. For the army, it’s who she is; for Shan Yu, it’s what she did. How should we feel about a villain who judges our protagonist for the measure of her actions when her own people won’t?

he attacks culture—this is the big one, the crux of his Agent-of-Chaos-ness. We do not see the homes, families, or children of the Huns; they exist only in the realm of war. Though perhaps not a good measure against history, this trait matters because it contrasts the Chinese identity. The Chinese are cultured. The film shows they have customs, practices, and attitudes regarding war, dress, livelihoods, familial roles, gender roles, relationships to children and the elderly as well as one’s ancestors. They’re rich with the traits that make them Chinese—Shan Yu would take all that away. He’d conquer the Great Wall. He’d assassinate the figurehead of Chinese unity and identity. And he wouldn’t stop. Could he rule all China? Probably not. But could the essence of China survive when plunged into the culture-less, war-ridden waste the Huns would enforce upon them? No, not really. If Shan Yu did all he wanted, he’d stop culture and progress in its tracks. He is chaos. He is the end.

Wow, Heather, that was deep. Why do I care?

I’m glad you asked. See, Shan Yu isn’t the only one threatening culture and tradition in this film. The other threat? Mulan herself! She challenges her people’s gender roles, customs, and traditions—a crime so unforgiveable that the punishment is death. But she is absolved and allowed to move forward. The change she incites is worth making. That’s why she goes home with honor and Shan Yu does not. Shan Yu dies, as he needed to. He represents the kind of threat that would not help a culture evolve, but end a culture altogether. And without culture, who on earth would we be?

We should fear Shan Yu. Yes, he takes lives, but he also eliminates the core of what unites us as people. Our traditions, our culture, and our unity. And that’s crazy scary, if you ask me.

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“Congratulations, boys. You found the Hun army.” –Shan Yu, Mulan

Have you watched Mulan? (Have you read the poem? Because Alyssa can hook you up.) What did you think of Shan Yu?


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Starplace and Asking Questions

Over winter break I decided to pull a few volumes from my shelves and reread them to make sure I still supported the values represented inside the books. Because I was okay with some stuff as a kid I should not have been okay with. As I enter my adult years, I don’t want to be that way.

That’s why I picked up The Starplace by Vicki Grove again.

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The gist is this: Frannie, a thirteen-year-old “woman” growing up in 1960’s Oklahoma finds herself in a tough place when Celeste, an African American girl, moves to town. Celeste is the only African America in the school and since many other students bully her, Frannie isn’t sure she wants to begin a friendship guaranteed to be challenging. As the girls bond, Frannie begins to question how race is perceived in her society and how she ought to respond to it as she grows up.

I didn’t want to start this book. It’s been many a year since I read it last—probably elementary school, possibly fourth or fifth grade. I liked it, but I was also a child hugely insensitive regarding white supremacy and hate crimes and stuff. This book totally could have been some horrible story that downplayed the suffering of African Americans and contributed to my past life of insensitivity and ignorance.

Turns out it wasn’t. I was pleasantly surprised—not because it handled the topic of race well (which should, let’s face it, be something of a given) but because it resonated so deeply with my own journey to adulthood.

But first, let’s talk about the social values and why they made this book important:

It’s a snapshot of our roots. Racism is of course an issue today, but our perceived face of prejudice has changed over the last fifty years. In Frannie’s time, they didn’t learn about the desegregation of schools because none of them were POC—so obviously, they wouldn’t need to know. A character explicitly says that it is a person’s Christian duty to not get offended when someone uses a racial slur against them, even if it isn’t nice. There’s an image of what it was like, and it was startling to see how bad things were back then… and how some bad things are reminiscent of today.

It’s dark, but not intense. Celeste and her father explore the presence of the KKK in Frannie’s hometown, and when they get trapped in a mine (long story) Celeste relates some of the hate crimes of the past decades. They’re told from a third person narrative, so it’s not like children are getting the George R.R. Martin version of the Jim Crow era, but lynchings are lynchings. It doesn’t shy away from the terror or the horror, even for young people.

Also, sexism. One of the book’s subplots is that Frannie’s mom is getting licensed so that she can become a real estate agent, only to be demeaned and put down when she attempts to enter the business. The focus is on race, but the book also acknowledges that this time period saw a lot of injustice.

Asking Questions. Frannie’s story in great part is about asking questions. She never questioned the way life was before, until she saw that her friend was suffering because of “the way it is.” Questioning norms in this era was a really important beginning, and if I could change one thing about this book, I’d include discussion questions in the back to help young readers begin to question their own society, too.

(If I could change two things there might be an author’s note or something informing children that this is historical fiction and just because it’s accurate doesn’t mean it is currently okay to call people “negroes” anymore.)

I guess that leads us to my own story.

I really identified with Frannie. I also grew up unaware of my privilege and not in the habit of asking questions about race or gender. I just accepted what I was told—and much of what I was told was ignorant or hurtful. Part of my teenage experience has been learning to ask those questions and to recognize that others know better and I need to listen. It’s hard.

I mean, not as hard as it would be for the victims of racism. I don’t get bullied, I’m not disadvantaged, I won’t get cut from my favorite activities, and I’m not ignored because of my skin color. That really sucks for them.

But even if it is a lesser suck, disillusionment sucks, too. And even if a story is about a teenage girl who hasn’t been taught to see her privilege and suffers a painful and confusing transition because of that, I think it is worth learning from.

I mean, we obviously have a long way to go.

Do you have any books that resonated with you lately?


Monday, March 7, 2016

Raiding a Writer's House

House
Flickr Credit: Ant Smith

As I mentioned last week, my grandfather, Papa, died last Saturday. Papa was many things, but in this post, we’ll narrow the list down to three characteristics. First, he was a writer. Second, he was a traveler. Third, he was a hoarder.

And I went through his house on Saturday.

Papa crammed his house with books, travel memorabilia, and a bunch of other stuff that takes up every flat surface in that house. There’s paper, there’s Shakespeare candy, there were CDs and more VHS tapes than I thought godly, clothes, magazines, a dying piano, a china hutch, mail from the last few years… He had a bookshelf filled with notebooks, some of which he had used, some of which he had not. They weren’t sorted to let you know which were which. He kept his translations of The Qu’ran, The Book of Mormon, and the Bhagavad-Gita on the same shelf as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling and The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket. In his basement he had a castle and a chain saw and enough National Geographic magazines to keep an inmate busy through his life sentence.

He had so many books stacked everywhere that my family and I kept crashing into one another. He designed the path through his belongings to fit but one person.

It was messy, it was stuffy, it was cramped, and it was stale. I thought I was going to get a lung disease in that house. I tell you all this not to make you think badly of my grandfather (though you are welcome to think badly of the house), but to give you an image of what I was wading through. Because even if it was too much stuff and, oftentimes, junk, going to my grandpa’s house was like walking into the mind of a writer.

It wasn’t my favorite experience, but the concept is kind of cool. How many of us get to walk into a writer’s house, the physical representation of his mind and heart, and then take whatever we want from it?

At least from my observation, there were a few things worth noting, and that you might find interesting too.

His house demonstrated what he cared about. He cared about writing, and he had books and scraps of writing and notebooks and papers and pens and pencils to show for it. He cared about traveling, and he had memorabilia from Tanzania, China, Slovakia, and many other places all around his house. And he cared about stuff—he genuinely cared about having material objects to prove what he did and how great it was.

He didn’t prioritize. Papa wrote this poem called “David’s Method,” which is more or less about how he organizes things/how he never did. To paraphrase two sentiments in that poem: “everything is important” and “save everything.” It sounds nice when you say it like that, but actually means “the man had no priorities.” Everything was important, nothing was a priority. He ignored everything in favor of being creative. It’s one of the reasons that house is so filthy.

My little PSA after being in that house is this: Even if everything is significant, it is your responsibility to find what is important—what is a priority—to you, and organize your home and your belongings around that specifically. Let the other things go. Someday your kids are going to throw all that shit away because you’re dead. The least you can do is have treasured that stuff they’re trashing.

Finally, it was interesting to see where our interests overlapped. There were cool things in his house that were fun to look at but I wasn’t about to keep, like his three hundred VHS tapes. Instead, I took things from our trip to England last summer, a CD of Afghani music and a model of a Lewis Chessman; a few writing tools, including a few books and a novel-writing kit; and a few unused notebooks and supplies he had lying around.

Like my grandfather, I think I have an attraction to writing and traveling as well. Still, I also don’t like having loads of stuff, so it’s probably a good thing all these things had to fit in my carryon for the flight home—I got to bring home stuff I valued, and won’t bring too much clutter in my home.

Because I’m building a writer’s house, too, you know. Wouldn’t you like to know what’s inside?

Have you ever been in another writer’s house? What struck you about it? 


Friday, March 4, 2016

One of "Those" Bloggers


Blog
Flickr Credit: Markus Tacker
Maybe this is just me.

I write a post. Sometimes I’m leaking pride out my ears because I love this post so much. Sometimes it is just an average post wrapped neatly in satisfaction. (I try to avoid posting things I’m displeased with. I’m guessing that is a dismal blogger move.)

6 AM arrives the day of, the post goes live, and then comes the waiting.

Waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting.

Because someone might comment on it. And when someone comments on it, it might be someone cool. And by “someone cool,” I mean someone from “that crowd,” the crowd that is cool and awesome and I wish I could be friends with that crowd because then I would be a cool blogger too.

I wait for those people to comment.

I mean, I don’t sit around staring at my inbox all day waiting for comments. That would be an exaggeration. I am in college. I have other blog posts to write. I am trying to edit a novel. Plus my parents ask me to do chores sometimes. Other times I drive to the library.

But still.

When gauging the success of my posts, I spend too much time placing benchmarks on who comments, not how many there are or the quality of those posted. And upon reflection, that doesn’t seem okay to me. It is another dismal blogger move.

In the first place, it suggests that some bloggers are more valuable than others. And while I think it’s fair to say that some comments are more valuable than others and some opinions are more valuable than others, there are not people who are more valuable than others. Thinking that the presence of some people is going to make or break a blog post is stupid—this is the blookunity. If the Duchess of Highhurst doesn’t make it to the party, my reputation shall not suffer.

But not only is this idea a covert way of putting other bloggers down. It is a covert way of putting myself down.

Why aren’t I one of those bloggers? How can I truly value my blog and the work I put into it if I don’t consider it just as worthwhile as every other blog I read? Sure, I have some fixing-up to do—but if I deny my potential entirely, what exactly am I doing here? Commenters are valuable people, but bloggers are valuable people, too. Even if that blogger is me.

My own pride in my work should be a benchmark in the mix. Of course, part of that pride comes from being able to connect with my audience and post things that others will enjoy, but whether a certain person from a certain crowd comments, it shouldn’t matter.

(What is a crowd, anyway? I’ll always associate Pirates of Penzance, Dances with Wolves, and The Princess Bride with one another because they sit on the same shelf in my house, but I bet you don’t. Whoever I consider to be in the cool crowd may not believe they belong to any crowd at all!)

Anyway.

This could just be me. I could just be worrying about something or other from the recesses of my own mind. But even if it is, I like this post the way I wrote it. Likewise, I know I’ll enjoy the conversations I have because of this post, because they’ll all be cool in their own right.

That is all.

What benchmarks do you use to gauge the success of your own blog?


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Pixar Book Tag

Sometimes I save stuff for myself to do them later, and then I find out that I meant to steal The Pixar Book Tag from Nova at Out of Time when she did it last July. Well, February is kind of like July. Right? Of course right. On to the tag!

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Your Favorite Pixar Movie | either The Incredibles or Inside Out. <3

Toy Story: Your Favorite Childhood Book You Never Grew Out Of | the Myth-o-Mania series by Kate McMullen is silly and ridiculous in terms of Greek Mythology but secretly I am an eight-year-old so

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A Bug’s Life: A Book That Felt Too Similar To Another Popular One | I don’t have a really popular comparison to make, but I will say that the end of Lion Heart by A.C. Gaughen kind of disappointed me because it was that “girl takes on government and wins” scenario and it was not different enough to enthuse me

Monsters Inc: A Villain That You Couldn’t Hate | Mr. Gabriel of Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudson is too hot and too demonically sexy to hate

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Finding Nemo: Best Family Relationship in a Book | Liraz, Haziel, and Akiva from Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor have kept my heart bleeding lately

The Incredibles: A Superpower of a Character You Wish You Had | y’know… I don’t actually envy superpowers all that much, I just like to read about them

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Cars: A Book Where the Characters Go on a Road Trip/Travel a Lot | can Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones count because I don’t really like road trip books

Ratatouille: Your Favorite Sidekick in a Book | as much as he would hate for me to say it I feel like Carswell Thorne is Cinder’s sidekick (from The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer) and he is glamorous while being so

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WALL-E: Your Favorite Dystopian/Series | either The Giver by Lois Lowry or The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood because I don’t really like dystopias and these two are blessedly critical

Up: The Most Beautiful Romance You’ve Ever Read | Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples is pretty darn adorable, even though it makes my heart break wide open every time I get a new issue

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Brave: The Most Badass Character You’ve Ever Read | Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy features a young woman named Genya and she does not need fixing

Inside Out: A Book That Gave You All the Feels | More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera was a roller coaster because I read the ending and it still surprised me and blew me out of the water

And in the spirit of laziness and procrastination, I’m not going to tag anyone, either. If you too would like to follow my example and do the tag eight months from now in November or something, be my guest!

If November is a little far away for you, you tell me! What is your favorite Pixar movie and what book would you categorize with it?