Updates on Book 2 and Other Assorted Nonsense

How’s it going, y’all?

I hope everyone is safe, and your families too. A lot’s happened since I last posted. Well, in the world; not for me. Still no job; still a basement dweller.

It would help if it were full of wine.

Image by Tania Dimas from Pixabay

Some updates:

Screenplay

The screenplay continues to grind along very slowly. I don’t think a massive online open course where people can proceed at their own pace (i.e. fall behind) is best for beginners learning a very interactive writing process. There are so many people in the class that no one can connect. The platform doesn’t allow you to follow anyone to see their progress. This is massively frustrating, since we’re required to give feedback to other writers. I would have preferred an in-person class with more interaction.

Even Zoom would help.

Image by Jagrit Parajuli from Pixabay

Critique is useful, but I’m tempted to just proceed on my own. I downloaded all the videos and lectures. Although I think it could be shot on a fairly low budget, I highly doubt I’ll ever do anything with it. It’s fine; this screenplay is only for learning anyway. Your first anything will never be your best.

Book 2

I’ve set a release date of January 2021 for Book 2. And — I have a working title! It’s Confluence.

If I hustle, I should be able to revise and find an editor (and then revise again after that). Setting a deadline will hold me accountable. I really wish I could go somewhere else to work — the library would be good — but Missouri’s caseload keeps going up, so no.

I’m in your state, being a little bitch.

Image by Pabitra Kaity from Pixabay

Meanwhile, I took some time yesterday to mock up a layout of Chris’s house from Tunerville, where his maternal grandparents lived. When they died, his mother sold the house to him to keep it in the family, since Chris intended to stay in Martinsburg. Paulette and Alan moved to St. Thomas close to Chris’s brother Adam, his wife Carmen, and their grandchildren Mags and Henry. (Martinsburg and St. Thomas in Missouri are both fictional.) If you haven’t read it yet, you can get it at the title link.

Here’s the ground floor and the basement.

Image: A. Elizabeth West

Here’s the upstairs and the attic. I did these in Word, which sucks. I need to find some cheap (or free) easy-to-use room layout software.

Image: A. Elizabeth West

It helps me to have a representation of the space. When I’m writing, rooms tend to shift around in my head. During Book 1, the living room kept changing places with the dining room and the parlor / study. And the downstairs bath didn’t even exist! Chris’s bedroom also moved from the back to the front. But the kitchen has always been in that spot.

I don’t care if it’s not perfect. This is how it looks in my head. I need a solid image of the space for a pivotal scene.  

Workshops

In June, I attended two online workshops — How to Write Fights and Action Scenes, and Act Like a Writer — with comic book and NYT best-selling novel writer Jonathan Maberry, author of V-Wars and the Joe Ledger series, among others.

He presented scads of useful information and even took questions. Jonathan is very accessible on Twitter and prices his workshops affordably, a great help to little starveling writers like me. The proceeds from both went to an affordable housing organization, so coughing up $50 felt worth it in every way.

The Shiny Folk and other stories

I’ve taken my story collection down from the Boomkaart Books website temporarily. WordPress downgraded my ability to sell it directly from that platform unless I purchase an expensive Business account. I can’t do that presently, so the only alternative is to sell it via Amazon (ugh, I know). To do that, I have to raise the price a little and burn one of my ISBN numbers, so I’m including new content and a brand new cover. This will be the last edition of the collection. When it’s ready, I will let you know.

Conlang / Worldbuilding

Again, plugging away. I finally settled on place names for the world that goes with it. Of course, anything can change at any time as I plunge deeper into grammar, etc.

I also made a map using Inkarnate, an online map maker any Dungeons and Dragons players reading this will probably recognize. I like it despite the free version being somewhat limited. Should I stay on the high fantasy kick, I might pony up for a (very reasonable) Pro account.

Here’s a teaser:

That’s pronounced BETTHH-rah, by the way. In this language, ss is pronounced as the th in them. That’s all you’re getting. I’ve already said more than I probably should.

I’ve never gone this deep into fantasy before, and I’m not sure it will be a success, but it’s fun, so I don’t really care. If you enjoy the story, that’s all that counts.

I’ll leave you now to return to job hunting and revision. Stay safe — wash your hands, wear your masks, and avoid all the germy people (most of them).

And don’t forget to register to vote!

Diversity in Tunerville and I Promise to Finish the Series, Y’all

Yep, I wrote a sequel. Yep, that’s the one I finished in December 2018. Yep, there will be one more.

Last year, I got into a discussion with some people who were reluctant to buy into book series because they’d previously been burned when a writer bailed and didn’t finish. I understand how frustrating it is to get invested in something that disappears (Firefly, anyone?), but traditional publishers will ditch a series if the first book doesn’t sell.

Since this is my enterprise, I’m free to plunge ahead regardless. I don’t know if anyone beyond my blog or my friends will read my current work. Even if that list is small, everyone on it deserves the best and most complete story I can give them.

With that in mind, I formally declare my intention to FINISH THE DAMN SERIES.

yelling cat sitting on a tiny polka dot sofa

Whether you want it or not!

Image by Deutsch / pixabay.com

Now that Tunerville is out and you may have read it already, I want to talk a little bit about the characters in the context of diversity. If you have not read the book yet and would rather not know anything, you might want to bail on this post now.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can get Tunerville (and my story collection, The Shiny Folk) here. I’m not sure that Amazon is shipping physical books currently; due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re focusing on supplies. Paperbacks might have to wait. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get a free app here. It works on everything.

Consensus seems to be, rightfully, that lived experiences are best and most authentically portrayed by those who have lived them. The controversy around Jeanine Cummins’ recent novel American Dirt is a case in point. The linked article contains a quote from actress Eva Longoria, who points out:

“There’s a bidding war over this book, which means all the publishers wanted this book. And they wanted some sort of way in to a different community. The problem with that is that the publishing industry is 80% white, from agents to editors and publicists.”

I don’t think it’s impossible for a white, cisgender, straight author to write about a culture or identity to which they don’t belong. However, because the majority of white, cisgender, straight authors are divorced from anything other than our own experience (and this is by design in a white supremacist society), if we choose to, it falls on us to approach it carefully.

The LGBTQ characters and those of color in Tunerville function in the book’s close orbits admittedly without much friction. The Crew is inclusive; they coalesce around their shared interest in ghost hunting. Gabriel, who is black, is the one who started the Ghost Crew. His wife Ann-Marie is a law student. Josh’s new boyfriend Trevor is welcomed, his extreme disengagement the only eyebrow-raiser.

While Chris’s impulse to help ghosts is laudable, it takes him a while to grasp the real meaning of the saying “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” The media attention around Chris drives Josh to remove himself from the Ghost Crew for his and Trevor’s safety. In a stinging diatribe, he serves Chris a blunt reminder of the latter’s selfishness — and his privilege:

“[…] just because you don’t hassle people for being who they are doesn’t mean everybody is so enlightened. You don’t have a clue. You can walk down the street holding somebody’s hand and nobody throws a beer bottle at you.”

An invisible hand clamped over Chris’s mouth. Neither Josh nor his last boyfriend, the other victim of that attack, had wanted to report it, lest they invite more harassment or scrutiny.

“Nobody objects to where you live,” Josh continued. “Nobody leaves nasty notes on your car. Nobody tells you, ‘You better keep away from my kids if you move in here.’” He choked on the last word. “You got what you wanted. I’m trying to have what I want. And I will not lose this relationship because of you.”

Chris faces a public shaming directly after this conversation. It’s a hard lesson for him. The tuner is a great leveler — a reminder that everybody dies. But the questions it raises bring out the tendency of people to judge and categorize. The ghosts of all demographics find themselves reduced to a novelty, their humanity the subject of endless debate.

The viewpoint in Tunerville remains grounded in that of the white, straight characters — Chris, Hannah, and Hector, with a brief sojourn into Dean’s head. Of these, only Dean could be considered marginalized; as an incorporated ghost, he’s well aware of the prejudice the newly resurrected face. He’s not only out of place but out of time.

I think she can understand that.

I wanted to make a point there about Chris’s self-indulgence beyond the longing that drove him to invent the tuner in the first place. He’s a creature of privilege whose ability to indulge his own desires without question has never been challenged. When it is, he bristles, but since he’s good at heart, I let him embrace the opportunity to widen his view, which is what we all should be doing.

ESPECIALLY RIGHT NOW. Viruses have no nationality, y’all.

As a cishet white woman (who isn’t a ghost — yet), discrimination is not likely to affect me. Nobody is profiling me or trying to deport me. My only experience of marginalization is being female in a male-centric world and dyscalculic in a math-centered one. I don’t face death and abuse every time I walk out the door.

I couldn’t leave out people who aren’t like me entirely, because they exist, in my world and in Chris’s. When I wrote this book, I knew less than I do now, and I know less today than I will tomorrow. Every day is a chance to learn.

For now, staying in my lane felt like the safe choice and the most respectful one. I’d rather hear those stories from the people who lived them.

Book 2 will feature more Hannah. And lest you think I fridged Josh, he will return. I have plans for him.

At some point, I’ll have a job again and when I do, perhaps I’ll have enough money to do a Goodreads giveaway. They charge for that and it’s not cheap.

In the meantime, listen to the Toilet Paper Knight — stay home and stay safe!!

He’s not the hero we deserve, but he’s the one we need right now.

What I’ve Learned (So Far) from Self-Publishing My Book

If you follow this blog, you probably know by now that I said “F*ck it,” and put Tunerville up on Amazon (see Buy Me! page). Someone posted a review already, and it was a good one. Thanks, mysterious internet reader!

I’ve learned a few things and probably have a lot more to learn. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

How to do various things in GIMP

GIMP is the freeware version of Adobe Photoshop. It probably has a different interface — I don’t know, since I can’t afford to even kiss the hem of Adobe’s garments. But the concepts of image manipulation are the same.

Someday I hope to approach the magnificence that is this guy.

I found a wonderful image free for commercial use that really seemed to capture the book. I googled a zillion ways to make the lettering look good, and armed with a picture and some knowledge, I designed both an ebook and paperback cover.

The latter was a complete nightmare.

First, I had to figure out how to wrap the picture around the spine. When I thought I had it down, I made my cover, but I used the wrong template for the number of pages. The Amazon publishing platform rejected it twice before I figured that out. Yes, I had to start all over again. More than once.

But it turned out pretty good!

This is a proof copy. The inside still needed a bit of work.
The back.

And the spine. Ignore my hipster headphones in the background.

I was pretty impressed with the quality of the paper, too. It’s print-on-demand, so if you order a copy, they crank one out and send it to you. This means I do not have to ship them out of my mum’s garage.

When you do this, you have to do EVERYTHING by yourself

Although I ran the cover design by someone, I made it all alone. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing walks you through almost everything, but it can’t answer all questions. They have customer service. I called them once and they called me back. But my phone died temporarily, and I missed the call. Fortunately, I figured out the issue by myself.

Making the inside look good also took work. You can find folks on Fiverr and other e-lance platforms who will help you, but I didn’t have any money for that. I used their guidelines and a template and lots of advice from Derek Murphy at Creativeindie. Thanks, Derek!

Despite it being mostly free, to do it right still cost me money

Sure, I could have just published an ebook for nothing on Amazon and raked in my tiny royalties. But I wanted to do a paperback, since the more formats you have, the more readers you can reach. To do that, I had to get an ISBN, or International Standard Book Number.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s the identifier distributors, booksellers, libraries, etc. use to identify and find your book. Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t require one for ebooks, but you need one for a physical book, even print-on-demand. While Amazon will give you one for free, it’s limited. You can only use that ISBN on their platform.

Bowker has a monopoly on ISBNs and is the only place you can get them in the U.S. No, it’s not super cheap. If you buy one, it’s $125. If you buy ten, it’s $295. The more you buy, the cheaper the unit price for each number. As you can imagine, publishers get them in bulk.

I bought ten so I could use one for the ebook and one for the paperback. This means the numbers belong to me, not Amazon, forever. And I have eight more for future editions or anything else I want to crank out. They never expire, but I cannot reuse any of them.

Of course, this cost money that I couldn’t really spare. Here’s hoping I can make it back in sales.

Speaking of sales…

I don’t know jack about marketing

I made a dumb AF book trailer (seriously, it’s hilariously stupid) and a friend who has a Roku channel that plays old horror B-movies and other assorted weird stuff offered to play it. He said they have 20,000 viewers. Hey, one of them might buy it. You never know.

Here’s the trailer. Someday I’m going to look back on this and cringe. Probably tomorrow.

Besides trailers, you have to talk up your book on social media. You have to make an author page at Goodreads (I did). You have to solicit reviews, because if you don’t have any, Amazon will think you suck and yank you. That’s the part that freaks me out a little, approaching people I don’t know and asking them to read my crap.

Someone posted a 4-star review at Amazon and I was elated (thank you!). Before that, the poor thing was alone, naked, and afraid.

Kind of ironic for a book about ghosts.

If you don’t have a website or a blog or any kind of following, it’s going to be a lot harder to sell books. I advise writers, even traditionally published ones, to get on the damn internet and create a social media presence. It’s important not only to post but to engage with followers. Follow people back (check them out first, obviously), like and retweet/share, connect with industry folks.

This isn’t what I wanted, but it’s what I needed

I wrote the sequel to this book a year ago. But since then, I’ve been stuck. Part of that had to do with the endless, agonizing job hunt and the major decision to sell out and move. I didn’t want to do it with Amazon, either, but using my own ISBNs gives me a little more flexibility.

I’ve spent so much time getting this to the book I wanted it to be, but I found myself re-editing after writing the sequel. Now the story is fixed and I can move on and quit mucking with it. Plus, since things are awful right now, it gave me a much-needed boost of self-esteem. I DID something, y’all.

If you’re thinking about publishing a book this way, I would definitely do the following:

1. Read as much as you can about it. I’ll share some links that helped me.

2. Let go of your expectations. You’re very unlikely to get famous this way. If you’re entrepreneurial, you might make a little money.

3. Make sure you have a great product. Don’t just slap your trunk novel up. Choose your best work.

4. Do not let a book out into the wild without getting another person, preferably a professional editor, to look it over. You’re competing with professionally produced books.

5. If you can afford it, hire a cover designer. It was a no-go for me, unfortunately. I just did the best I could.

Would I have preferred traditional publishing? Yes. Am I still going after it? Of course, with something else. But I did it, and you can read it now, and that’s the most important thing.

Links:

How to Get an ISBN: An Author’s Guide For All Things ISBN

Writing Your Book’s Back-Cover Copy

Sarra Cannon’s Self-Pub Guides

What’s Your Book Marketing Plan? 6 Crucial Steps to Include

And if you’re committed to looking for a small press rather than going it alone, Writer Beware has your back.

Victoria Strauss — Precautions for Small Press Authors

Sorry, I’ve Been Away Fighting For Your Rights and Let’s Talk About Revision

*peeks*

U up?

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been spending a ton of time there tweeting about voting, Brexit, and kittens, oh my! It’s hard to think about anything else right now. Every day brings us more crazy.

In addition to that, I’ve been job hunting. Still nothing there. I’m still halfway between overqualified and underqualified for just about everything, as well as trying to figure out how to make a career change with my old pal dyscalculia. But enough about that

Been busy with this, too. Go see it before it’s out of cinemas or I will disown you.

Let’s talk about revision!

Tunerville has been copyedited a total of fifteen times. I’ve had three beta readers and two editors (thank you omg, free copy for sure). It’s the latter I want to talk about.

You may think your manuscript doesn’t need a professional look-see, but you’d be wrong. Writers who aren’t working with a publisher, you need to budget in professional editing services if you can (or furiously cultivate some friendships and your network). You cannot properly edit your own work. You just can’t. You’re too close to it.

“In writing, you must kill your darlings,” said William Faulkner, Stephen King, and this glaring white-tailed sea eagle. Believe them.

Image: Phil_Bird / freedigitalphotos.net

I just finished a massive revision of Tunerville on the advice of Editor #2. And I mean massive. We’re talking major restructuring, the painful but necessary killing of many darlings, rewrites, and even brand new scenes. I went in with a plan; it took two weeks of intense and focused work.  

Despite how exhausting it was, I LOVED IT. I love editing. I love rewriting. If you’ve been with me for a while, you know I hate writing first drafts. I wish I could just download my brain. Yes, of course my dream is to do this all the time. And to secretly be an Avenger. A grad school wisely teacher told me no amount of writing is wasted. So even if something is less than perfect, you will learn from every mission. Every encounter with an Infinity Stone will exponentially increase your power. Oh sorry, I mean every time you sit down at the computer. 

Is it better? I hope so. I probably won’t hear back until the end of August, but in the meantime, I have a lot of other work to do — and hopefully actual work to do. Unemployment is not a vacation.

Book 2 has commenced. I’m mulling over whether a grand overhaul of Secret Book is even worth it. I have two other books in notes stage. A garage sale is in the offing, in case I have to move. I’m still resisting (online, even if I can’t travel to marches).

Meanwhile, please enjoy the smooth beauty of this heirloom tomato. I grew it myself. And check your voter registration. We outnumber them, but it only works if we show up at the polls in November.

Cherokee Purple variety, if you please. A fine tomato for fresh consumption.

*shameless plug*

If you haven’t yet read my short story collection, hop on over to the Buy Me! page of this blog and download a copy for only 99 cents. Bought it and liked it? Share the link!

*addendum*
For a friend who is hotly anticipating Avengers 4 along with me because more Cap and Bucky.  :)

I Made an E-Book and You Can Help Hurricane Victims With It

So I made a little e-book, y’all!  And you can help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico with it!

Through October 25, I’m donating 100% of all sales I get, no matter how big or small (hopefully big), to the Hispanic Federation’s Unidos program.

Just go to the brand-new Buy Me page on this site to purchase the e-book (click the link, or it’s at the top on the main menu). You get some stories; the Hispanic Federation gets some money to help people in Puerto Rico; it’s all good.

If you like the book or you think someone else will, please share widely! And thank you!

If you want to make a personal donation to help people impacted by the recent natural disasters, you can also choose One America Appeal, a fund set up for hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean by all five living former U.S. presidents. Or donate to Oxfam America, which has stepped up in the face of this administration’s inadequate response. You can also give to earthquake relief for Mexico through the Hispanic Federation’s link.

Annoy a Politician: Read a Banned Book Today!

Holy crap, I’ve been so busy looking for work and doing things on a project I forgot all about Banned Books Week! I’ve been avoiding Twitter this past weekend, or I would have noticed before now.

From the American Library Association’s webpage:

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks)

This year, in light of recent attacks on free speech by people who should fecking know better, I will highlight books that are banned by governments. I’m confining it to books I’ve actually read. Let’s begin.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Remind you of anybody?

 Image: exampapersplus.co.uk

Orwell finished his book in 1943 and because of its criticism of the USSR and its alliance with Britain in WWII, he had to wait until 1945 before he found a publisher. Of course the USSR promptly banned it.

North Korea also banned the book, where it remains forbidden. The novel originally contained a preface that admonished the British government for suppressing criticism of the USSR. The United Arab Emirates banned it in 2002 because of the depiction of anthropomorphized pigs, considered an unclean animal in both Islam and Judaism.

Read this book and piss off Kim Jong-un!

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

This 1991 novel, made into a rather entertaining film starring Welsh actor Christian Bale and a 2013 musical (no, really), details the inner life of investment banker Patrick Bateman, who may or may not also be a serial murderer. It’s also a darkly hilarious critique of trendy ‘80s Wall Street elites and their superficial lives.

Chief complaints against the book have concerned the intense graphic violence Patrick (dreams of? Commits?) and the Australian state of Queensland banned its sale. Now you can get it in libraries there, but only if you’re over 18. Elsewhere in Australia, you can’t buy it unless you’re 18.

Everybody remembers what song was playing in this scene, right?

reactiongifs.com

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

People slammed the hell out of Steinbeck’s book as socialist propaganda when it was released in 1939, but that didn’t stop it from winning both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. You might have read the story of the Joad family, who travel from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression in search of a new life, in high school. The book was banned in parts of the U.S., including California, where the Associated Farmers of California organization decried its portrayal of the way farmers treated the migrant workers (hint: it wasn’t great).

Oh yeah, and it might have been partially because of this scene at the end, where Rose-of-Sharon, who has recently given birth to a stillborn child, offers her breast to a starving man.

A poignant scene of survival, but BEWBS.
Rosasharn: Kelly Kaduce
in Minnesota Opera – The Grapes of Wrath
Composer: Ricky Ian Gordon
Conductor: Grant Gershon
Lyrics/Libretto: Mchael Korie
Director: Eric Simonson

Image: michaelkorie.com

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

Banned in Lebanon for a positive depiction of Jews, according to Wikipedia, this 1979 novel about the relationships between several people living in a boarding house in Brooklyn absolutely broke me. If you’ve seen the film starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Peter MacNichol, you know what Sophie’s choice was.

I can’t even.

Image: listal.com

It was also banned in South Africa and in Poland for views on Polish anti-Semitism.  Controversies around this novel also included sexual material and the novelist’s decision to make his Holocaust survivor character a Polish Catholic. It came out during a time when people were just starting to really discuss the Holocaust, and Styron pointing out that it wasn’t only Jews who suffered under Hitler’s maniacal regime engendered fierce discussion of what some people saw as revisionist views.

Regardless, it’s a hell of a good read.

———–

More banned books I’ve enjoyed include:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – Inspired by the McCarthy era, Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian future in which the protagonist is a fireman whose job is not to put out fires but to start them….with forbidden books the fuel.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I read this 1951 novel right before it was yanked from my school because it has the F word in it. We didn’t read it in class but my English teacher loaned me a copy because she knew I would get it. Bless you, Mrs. Burns. It’s become one of my favorite books.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. RowlingWell of course I enjoyed this story of a boy wizard fighting the most fearsome and fascist wizard of his time. But you knew that.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonI didn’t read Hurston’s 1937 novel until I was in grad school and took a class in African-American literature, but DAMN, this is a good book. It’s about how black women are defined in their marital relationships. Janie is a strong woman and her yearning for a mutually giving relationship is very relatable. I really enjoyed her story.

Hit up Amazon or the library and read a banned book this week!

Happy Banned Books Week 2016! September 25 – October 1

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Happy Banned Books Week!  The American Library Association celebrates knowledge and access once again by encouraging everyone to read a book that has been banned, challenged, or has otherwise sustained an attempt at censorship.

I’ve already gone into my reasons why censorship sucks and the reasons books get banned in previous posts (see links).  Today, I shall choose a few of my favorite books from the list and discuss them.

1984 (1949) by George Orwell

Image:  British first edition cover / Wikipedia.org

What better way to start this list than with a book in which thought control is a major plot point?  1984 shows a dystopian, totalitarian society of the future in which the government has total authority over everything the population does, from what they eat to how they think.  Individualism is criminalized and persecuted.

Our hero, Winston Smith, does the unthinkable–he begins to question this existence and even falls in love with a Julia, a fellow worker in the let’s-revise-all-the-history-of-the-world department of the Ministry of Truth (a rather ironic name at that).  The proles, working-class members of this society, have at least the appearance of freedom–they’re allowed to hook up, fight, sing, worship, etc.  But their lives are deeply controlled by restricted access to jobs, education, and forms of entertainment not fed to them by the Ministry.  Moles report and eliminate any attempts by proles to rise above their station.

1984 has delivered several choice words and phrases to the lexicon from the book’s Newspeak language.  Among these:

Big Brother – the titular figurehead of the government in the book.  The phrase “Big Brother is watching you” means you are being observed and your insubordination noted.

Thought Police (Thinkpol) – secret law enforcement of Oceania’s government, who seek out subversives by using surveillance through the telescreens in every party member’s house and psychological manipulation.  Refers to suppression of contrasting ideology in repressive societies such as Iran, Russia, etc.  Many also believe this is happening in the U.S. as religion-backed legislators enact faith-based laws in direct defiance of its Constitution’s establishment clause.

The novel contains themes of nationalism, censorship, and the growing awareness of surveillance.  Reasons ranging from sexual content to pro-communism make 1984 an oft-challenged book.

The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) by J.R.R. Tolkien

Image:  Cover art first single volume edition, HarperCollins / Wikipedia.org

Fantasy as a genre often stirs people up–some folks associate magic, etc. with Satanism and sacrilege.  They forget that 1) magic isn’t really real, and 2) though Tolkien was quite religious himself (he was a devout Catholic), there is no mention anywhere in any of the books about Satan, God, Jesus, etc., certainly in no disparaging way.  Also, the hobbits, Strider, and Gandalf all smoke.  Well, they are adults, and I somehow don’t expect a bit of Old Toby from the Shire is going to hurt any of them.

Much has been made of Frodo as a Christ allegory, but Tolkien insisted LOTR has no such subtext, and we have to take his word on that.  However, through the use of literary doubling, Tolkien does present a dichotomy between light and dark (a much older concept that pre-dates any form of Christianity).  One might argue a somewhat Modernist take on industrialization vs. nature, after Tolkien experienced the horrors of World War I in comparison with a pastoral childhood.

Whether you agree or not, this epic fantasy set a standard for the genre and remains one of the most beloved classics of its kind.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) by Ken Kesey

Image:  First edition cover / Wikipedia.org

The main figure of the 1960s pro-psychedelic group The Merry Pranksters, Kesey used to work in a mental institution.  It was during this period he had opportunity to make close observations of the institutional system, which was being challenged at the time.

The novel presents themes of authority and control, both through individual coercion–Nurse Ratched’s subtle psychological manipulations–and the cultural and internal shame of anyone who is “different,” as a closeted Dale Harding describes himself.  It also touches on a larger, mechanistic view of society (Chief Bromden’s references to the Combine) in general.

It’s a fish-out-of-water story, in the person of loud and boisterous con man McMurphy, but one where the fish disrupts the status quo in long-lasting and profound ways.  Kesey also used the trope of an unreliable narrator to great effect here.  Chief Bromden’s feigned deafness allows him to suss out what’s really going on in the ward, but his observations are interspersed with obvious hallucinations due to his illness.

The 1975 film adaptation directed by Milos Forman, which was pretty damn good, won all five major Academy Awards (Best Director, Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor, and Actress).   The novel has been challenged for being pornographic, violent, and corrupting.

Read it anyway!

The Great Gilly Hopkins (1978) by Katherine Paterson

Image:  Cover art / Wikipedia.org

This was one of my favorite books as a child.  I still read it occasionally, having purchased a used copy at a library sale (I kept all my childhood books and added to them over the years).  The funny, poignant tale of a defiant foster child, this book earned a place on the ALA list due to mild profanity, Gilly’s racism toward her teacher, and her resistance to her foster parent’s deep faith.

It’s well worth a read for lively characters, good handling of a sensitive topic (foster care and how children in it close themselves off), and just all-around great writing.  Paterson also wrote Bridge to Terabithia, another frequently challenged book.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976) by Mildred D Taylor

Image:  Jerry Pinkney / Wikipedia.org

See that medal on the front of the book cover?  That’s a Newbery award, given to distinguished contributions to literature for young American readers.

This novel is about racism in a small Southern community during the Great Depression.  It was followed by multiple sequels —Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981), The Road to Memphis (1990), The Well: David’s Story (1995), and The Land (2001).  I haven’t read the last two but they’re on my list.

Taylor gives us the Logans, a black family in the unique position of owning their land, which is constantly under challenge by a wealthy white man who wants to take it away from them.  They deal with systemic and overt prejudice in myriad ways.

The Logan family has become one of my literary favorites.  They’re tough, they work hard and love even harder, and they withstand everything life throws at them.  They stick together no matter what and stand up for friends and neighbors, even though it’s difficult and heartbreaking at times.  And I find the character of Cassie Logan quite relatable–she feels the injustice keenly as she grows up and is extremely frustrated by her inability to speak out against it (because it’s dangerous to do so).  We’re angry right along with her.

Reading this series is painful, because we still haven’t resolved our ridiculous and deep-seated bias in this country.  For this reason alone, it should be required reading everywhere.  Reasons for challenging it have included racial slurs, violence, and inappropriateness.

The Harry Potter series (1997-2007) by J.K. Rowling

Image:  Cover UK edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone / Wikipedia.org

Oh, my my my.  You surely know all about this one.  The U.S. has no moratorium on Potterhate; this article in the U.K. paper The Telegraph will show you that.

For non-link clickers, some reasons this book series has been challenged include:

  • Promotion of witchcraft (and subsequently Satanism and the occult)
  • Dark themes (too scary)
  • Bad behavior (kids at Hogwarts routinely break rules and defy authority)

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) provides a toolkit for schools facing such challenges, as well as individuals and authors.  Quite a few schools have tried to remain sensitive to the issue by offering alternative assignments to kids who aren’t allowed to read Potter or other fantasy works.  As long as the basic requirements of an assignment are fulfilled, I see no problem with this solution.  But as the NCAC points out on the linked page:

In many cases, parents’ concerns can be addressed by requesting an alternative assignment. While this is an attractive option, alternative assignment policies can be abused to the point of wreaking havoc upon the curriculum, which cannot be tailored to every student. (Source: http://ncac.org/resource/book-censorship-toolkit)

Whatever your stance on Harry Potter, Anne Frank’s diary, or other frequently challenged reading material, it falls to all of us to ensure that everyone has access to materials that discuss difficult subjects.  Without it, we will go backward in our development; the future will not belong to us.

Urge your Congress critter to support the free exchange of ideas and information.  Use your vote to support lawmakers who do.  Spread the word on social media.  And let people see you reading a banned book!

If you like, please share in comments what banned book you’ve enjoyed and why.

Secret Book Update and a Bit of Light Reading

You might have noticed the number creeping up on the Secret Book progress meter.  I don’t know why the status bar won’t move, but whatever.  I’ve been tapping away at it–I’m determined to finish.  On a much-needed six-day staycation, I decided I would do just that.  Only seven more parts I need to write and then I’m done.  It’s been going in dribs and drabs; two consecutive nights, I wrote over 4.000 words and then nothing, then 400, then 114.  Ugh.  That’s the way it goes sometimes.

Then I wrote over 2200 words of bullshit that had nothing to do with anything (just a stupid bunch of headjunk).  But hey, at least I was writing.  Judging by how I am at work, if I had a deadline–a REAL one–I wouldn’t have this problem.  Making up my own seldom has any effect because obviously, I don’t pay any attention to them.

Instead of writing, I went shopping at Barnes & Noble (and Amazon) and bought all this–

torture

I’m not allowed to read ANY of this until I finish Secret Book!

Image:  Elizabeth West

The title of that photo is Torture, fittingly enough.  No one can stop raving about Joe Hill’s The Fireman, which debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.  I would love for that to happen to me someday.  The apple didn’t fall far from the tree there (Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son).

I’m a bad fan–I didn’t know the Clive Barker book had come out.  Forgive me, Mr. Barker!  I met him once, at a Fangoria magazine horror convention in L.A. in the early 1990s.  He’s a very nice man.

Now that I look at it, every bit of that reading material is horror/fantasy.  Wow.  I went through the bookstore and bought without really thinking about it–I knew I wanted the Joe Hill novel, and I was behind on my Stephen King (I also got The Colorado Kid on Kindle, though it’s not in the picture).

The one on the tablet is Foreign Devils, by John Hornor Jacobs, a sequel to his excellent fantasy novel The Incorruptibles.  He’s a really cool writer I met at VisionCon, the same day I met Brian Keene (whose Last of the Albatwitches also should be in that pile, though I didn’t get it at B&N).  You need to check him out.  He’s going places.

With all these lovely gems to plunder, I hope I can force my brain to get its ass in gear (brain ass? ass brain?) and just finish the damn thing.  Then I can move on to something else before I go back and finish all the research.  And I can hunker down and blast through all these beauties.  I need something to take my mind off real-life horrors.

When nightmares happen during the day, you make this face.  

When nightmares happen during the day, you make this face.

In the meantime, back to work!