Sunday, May 20, 2012
Thank you for the support over the last year! I've loved writing this blog, researching obscure LGBT trends, and reading amazing YA books. As many of you know, I just launched a new online magazine called T(OUR), an exciting literary project about true experiences in the queer community. I'm taking a break from the blog to put all my efforts into the magazine. I hope our paths continue to cross on the interwebs in other ways. Keep being awesome! Thanks again.
Over and out,
Photo credit: hollywoodlostandfound.net
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Maddow doesn't know how to fix the problems within the US military, but she offers eight "to-dos" at the end of Drift - solutions like raising money for each new war and shrinking our nuke supply. One of her suggestions expands on "Colin Powell's cautionary 'Pottery Barn Rule' - you not only own it if you break it," she says, "you own it if you build it too." Simple stuff. Common sense. The sort of thing you shouldn't have to say.
Maddow and her book have been well received on this book tour, especially in Seattle. How many other authors get a standing ovation at Town Hall before saying one word? "It's so nice to actually see an audience," she told the sold-out crowd last week. "Usually if people are watching me talk, I can't see them."
In person, Maddow is just like her book: witty, honest, and completely endearing. As she talked onstage about her different career steps, Maddow impersonated herself being drunk, which was almost as funny as her impression of Ronald Reagan having a temper tantrum while writing in his presidential diary. More than anything, she seemed genuinely interested in conversation as she opened up the room for questions. She talked about social justice. She talked about how Dick Cheney can be both a villain and a man to be admired (her book bears the dedication: "To former vice president Dick Cheney. Oh, please let me interview you"). Maddow discussed the ways in which her book will hopefully provoke more conversation about the military. "There are lots of ways to worry about nuclear weapons, and I worry about them all," she said. "Which makes me no fun at a dinner party."
Though American politics are dear to her heart, Maddow admitted to me in a post-reading interview that she didn't enjoy the book-writing process or "the nuances of procrastination" that came with it. "I needed to commit to starting to write," she said. Her distaste, though endearing, doesn't show in the text. Drift resonates with an overwhelming sentiment: Our military situation sucks. So let's fix it."
(My article is also featured in the April 25, 2012 issue of The Stranger.)
Photo credit: images.nymag.com
Friday, April 20, 2012
Gloria's tale of emerging queerness is riveting, and Chana's accounts of Gloria's pain, depression, and journey through a cruel therapy program are heartbreaking and heartfelt. She inserts comic relief in all the right places, like secret jokes at a funeral. When Gloria admits her pro-lady tendencies and confirms she has no interest in men, Chana says, "Well, Mom, I hate to tell you, but you're not bisexual, you're a lesbian," to which Gloria is "pretty damn nonchalant: 'Guess so, honey.'" Many of Chana's discoveries about Gloria's life unfolded through a series of radio interviews between the mother and daughter that Chana recorded in 1974 for KPFA-FM in Berkeley. (You can listen to original interview clips on the Riding Fury Home website.)
It is Chana's childhood that sticks with you. Her journey seemed to go backwards, starting with when she was forced to run a household as a young girl. "First, I was the mother and she was the daughter," Chana said to the crowd at Elliot Bay Book Company for her reading last night. "When we came out, we were like two teenagers. Then, when I needed it, she mothered me."
(You can also read my review on The Stranger's website.)
Photo credit: www.goodreads.com
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Friday, March 16, 2012
Monday, March 12, 2012
Monday, March 5, 2012
Writer Donovan Hohn uses Ernie’s Sesame Street “Rubber Duckie” tune in his latest, Moby Duck, to introduce a bizarre news event of 1992. In January, a shipment of toys was en route from Hong Kong to Tacoma, WA when the ship was caught in a storm. Much of the cargo – including 28,800 plastic animals (most notably, 7,200 rubber ducks) – fell overboard in the accident. The occurrence was never reported (due to liability). Then, starting in 2003, rubber ducks began showing up on the shores of Seattle, different beaches throughout California, Alaska, and, somehow, Maine. One way or another the ducks not only survived, but ended up on beaches all over the country, then later, the world.
Hohn was a high school English teacher when he first heard about the rubber duck phenomenon. While he had never before worked in the fields of science, oceanography, or environmentalism (nor knew anything about beachcombers), Hohn became obsessed with the string of events that led to the rubber duck spill, as well as the accident’s aftermath.
He writes in both a fiction and non-fiction manner. On the one hand, Hohn explains the trials and tribulations of one wide-eyed explorer of the unknown, “a near-sighted, school-teaching, would-be archaeologist of the ordinary,” but also examines the intricate details of oceanography, polyethylene (the most commonly used plastic), and other chemicals that have slowly been poisoning the earth’s water supply.
The style and subsequent editing of the book is puzzling, however. In some ways, Hohn transforms an incredibly dry subject (for some) into a thriller, a mystery, and an action-packed drama. But his sentence structure is a bit like Yoda from Star Wars:
“I also liked them because I have since childhood found natural history more enchanting than nature, whatever that was.”
The book itself is also unnecessarily long. Hohn’s discoveries are interesting, and the reader appreciates a quick explanation of the fancy science jargon, but the story feels like Hohn never decided whether to write a book about his life or a book about neat scientific things. There is too much of both.
The quirky one-liners are worth it, though, and Hohn’s story is, of course, extraordinary. Plus, aside from the bizarre sentence structure, the man can definitely write:
“Wildly out of scale and dyed a lurid, maraschino red, the beaver seems altogether out of place in this menagerie, a mammalian interloper from somebody’s acid trip.”
More than, anything, however, Hohn’s story feels real. On top of the many complications he faced on his journey, Hohn was on the brink of first-time parenthood when he began his research. His struggles with parenting, paired with his fear of sharks and complete submission to the unknown, makes his writing relatable, as well as memorable.
Moby Duck was published on February 28, 2012 by Penguin Books.
Photo credit: www.brainpickings.org
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Sunday, February 19, 2012
When Peggy Orenstein began her writing career, she wanted to help mothers prepare their daughters for an overly feminine culture. For years, she visited high schools, grade schools, and Girl Scout meetings to spread the word on avoiding gender stereotypes. But then Orenstein had a daughter of her own. In her latest, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, Orenstein inspects feminine culture from a mother’s perspective, and speaks to the challenges of pursuing strong, independent images for girls across America, particularly for her own daughter, Daisy.
In Cinderella, the author looks at Disney Princesses, American Girls, and Barbies, all of which were originally rebellious counter-culture icons compared to the typical feminine images of their day but, over time, have only succumbed to the same old media-induced gender stereotypes. While Barbie first exemplified a strong, independent woman – a fierce and sassy flight attendant, nurse, and police officer – she now faces the problem many women continue to endure: “struggling to fulfill all the new expectations [society has] for them without letting go of the old ones.” In this way, Orenstein’s writing has a great sense of balance. She points out the red flags in girl’s activities and role models, but plays Devil’s Advocate as needed. Without being accusatory, the author presents the simple facts of why most so-called positive media heroines (like the tomboy Dora the Explorer) have ultimately given a negative or confusing message to girls (like when Dora became a princess anyway and started saying things like, “Vamanos! Let’s go to fairy land!”).
One of the most powerful aspects of Cinderella is the way Orenstein draws connections between genres, products, role models, and ideas. The author compares the way young girls play dress-up (in frilly dresses and boas) to emulate Snow White to the way young adolescents dress up (in mini skirts and fedoras) to emulate Miley Cyrus. And the main difference between the Little Mermaid and Rapunzel, according to Orenstein? The former literally gives up her voice for a man while the latter attracts a man with only her voice. MIND BLOWN.
Not to mention the statistics the author pulls to emphasize her horror – there are currently 26,000 Disney Princess items (pencils, t-shirts, dolls) for sale; pre-teen girls now spend over $40 million a month on beauty products; there were 12,000 injections of Botox administered to girls 13 to 19 in the year 2009 alone. Orenstein has built up a powerful argument regarding the detrimental relationship between the media and young women.
But girls, Orenstein discovers, are not the only ones set into rigid gender roles. In many ways, boys are stuck in just as many identity ruts. The author reminds readers that few serious role models exist for boys who want to dance, wear pink, or aspire to be a Disney Prince (or Princess). And, as Orenstein’s four-year-old daughter points out, “Did you know that girls can choose all kinds of things to wear, but boys can only wear pants?” While the author briefly touches on this double-edged sword of gender identity in the media (and, by extension, real life), she succeeds in teasing the reader with information, but doesn’t expand on her findings. Cinderella could surely continue for an additional 50 pages analyzing the effect of girly-girl culture on growing boys.
Overall, though, Orenstein powerfully dissects that tricky fine line of girly culture. Does removing Disney Princesses protect young girls from giving in to gender stereotypes, or teach girls that femininity – dresses, dolls, the color pink – are inherently bad? The author seeks to prove not only to Daisy, but to every toddler, tween, and teen out there that there are no “behavior[s] or toy[s] or profession[s]” that are unattainable for the female sex, nor “mandatory for [the female] sex.” Throughout Cinderella, Orenstein encourages gender-neutral freedom of choice for both girls and boys, be it the love of tutus or football jerseys.
Cinderella Ate My Daughter was published on January 25, 2011 by Harper.
(Look out for an extended version of my review in an upcoming issue of The Stranger)
Photo credit: www.goodreads.com
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Sunday, February 12, 2012
The free monthly evening of poetry, short stories, and performance pieces is entering it's ninth year. The night usually starts with a featured artist, followed by an open space for anyone to get up on stage. The latest Spit showdown, February 9, featured Broch Bender, an incredible trans-poet, producer (Robin Hood Is So Gay), published author (Hello My Name Is Broch Bender and Truth 1), and all-around badass. Bender read several pieces, including a gut-wrenching narrative about his late grandfather and a sexy true-life tale of a white water rafting experience with a (questionably gay) tour guide named Steve.
"Seattle Spit is designed to foster and encourage grassroots Queer community through spoken word, creativity and conversation," Bender told Seattle Gay News. "Events like this one are important for community-building in a supportive, friendly, Queer environment."
In the past, featured artists have included Ann Tweedy and Betsy Iverson (I'm Home: What It's Like To Love A Woman) and Cedar Adison Smith, who, when performing at Spit in January 2012, read a poem about refusing other people's ideas of gender. "I am not both," he said to Seattle Gay News. "I am not one or the other - I am just other."
Do yourself a favor and check out Seattle Spit on Facebook or in person, the second Thursday of every month at Wildrose, easily one of the best queer bars in town.
Photo credit: www.theseattlelesbian.com
Thursday, February 9, 2012
The young adult world has seen more than enough vampires, wizards, and post-Apocalyptic America. It has seen the typical coming-of-age stories and predictable coming-out stories. Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post is both a coming-of-age and coming-out tale, but not typical, predictable, and there are definitely no vampires (well, except for this one scene, but it’s quick and painless).
In Danforth’s 1990s rural Montana setting, you get what you expect. Some kids being kids – breaking into broken down buildings, getting high in the woods – and some conservatives being conservatives, complete with the Gates of Praise worship center, the old-fashioned school dances, and God's Promise, a LGBT “treatment” facility where “the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality. It is Holiness.”
But Miseducation is not about the protagonist, Cameron’s, cliché struggle with being queer, or at least not entirely. The book inspects the raw parts of acceptance, healing, and moving forward. Cameron isn’t just answering the questions “Am I gay?” or “Who am I?” She must deal with her parent’s abrupt and Final Destination 2-like death, followed by a series of frustrating friendships (some of which turn into relationships). She’s an immediately relatable female Holden Caulfield, but Danforth has created a unique character, a girl who walks out on arguments she doesn’t like, who finds great joy in Bubblicious gum, who turns to every VHS tape she can find for life advice, for “something official to show [her] how all of this should feel.” Danforth's book is straight out of a young adult's stream of consciousness. Her descriptions are teenage awkward and totally accurate:
"Grandma stooped over with a yellow rag, sprinkling out the cleanser, that chemical-mint smell puffing around us, her son dead and her daughter-in-law dead and her only grandchild a now-orphaned shoplifter, a girl who kissed girls, and she didn't even know, and now she was cleaning up my vomit, feeling even worse because of me: That's what made me cry."
In a refreshing way, the author avoids the "religion is so ridiculous" plotline, although uses the appropriate humor to get her point across. Yes, it's absolutely bogus to get sent off to cure your gayness, but the protagonist eventually gets to a place where she can relate a crazy Bible-thumper's faith to her own peace from a mountain jog. My only complaint is the momentum in the book's final section. The narrator kisses another girl, discovers her parents are dead, and hits the ground running (in all senses of the word). But the plot slows way down once Cameron arrives at God's Promise. Other than that, the book is absolutely worth it. Miseducation is real and gritty, and a gem in both the YA lit and queer fiction worlds.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post was published on February 7, 2012 by Balzer and Bray. The book is Danforth's first novel.
(Look out for an extended version of my review in an upcoming issue of The Stranger!)
Photo credit: thebooklopedia.blogspot.com
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Young readers cite any number of reasons for avoiding books - boredom, little action, or lack of concentrated imagination. "Since struggling readers often complain that they can’t see or visualize text," states Caroline Derksen of the Williams Lake Tribune, "the graphic element of these books helps readers connect and comprehend the material in a way not possible with traditional literature."
Graphic novels like Brian Ralph's Daybreak (2011) Vera Brosgal's Anya's Ghost (2011) take readers on journeys through aesthetically beautiful story lines, settings, and events. The plots feature characters of all different backgrounds, races, and socio-economic lives. Readers can both relate to and imagine the scenes in graphic novels. The genre's audience has expanded in recent years, in fact, or rather gone back to basics, after a whirlwind of steps in multiple directions.
When comic strips began appearing in newspapers in the 1890s, they spoke to a largely adult audience because those were the folks reading the paper. During the rise of the first comic books in the 1930s, the genre trickled into a younger audience and the criticism of comics began. Adults insisted the reading material was no good for youth and had no literary merit, according to a 2009 article in the University of Illinois news journal. In the 1950s, the genre swung back to a mainly adult crowd - the cheap comics became boring and the good comics became too expensive for kids to buy. "Comics became incredibly tame," says Carol L. Tilley, a professor of library and information sciences at U of I, "and the more sophisticate comics were direct sales to adults from the comics publishers."
Everything changed with the graphic novel. By taking larger literary plots and combining stories with illustrations (picture book-style), readers of all ages have the opportunity to embrace literature in an entirely different way. Young learners, teenagers, and adults have begun to choose the latest Frank Miller creation over spending an afternoon parked in front of mindless media.
"Graphic novels can serve as an intermediary for a teen [or adult] who would rather be watching television than reading a book," says author and librarian, Michele Gorman.
Graphic novels will continue to bleed into mainstream culture, whether it be through big screen adaptations of V For Vendetta or Constantine (both originally GNs) or the newest copy on the library shelf. Either way, the genre is here to stay and making a positive impact on audiences.
Photo credit: www.classroomitemss.com
Friday, February 3, 2012
Book Review: Leslie DuBois's "The Queen Bee of Bridgeton (Dancing Dream #1)"...And Why Free Ebooks Are A Great Idea
The Queen Bee of Bridgeton tells the story of Sonya, an African American dancer living in a broken down neighborhood. Sonya's sister, Sasha, is the academic of the two girls. She gets them both enrolled in the city's top college-prep school - Bridgeton Academy. But Sonya can't wait to get out of there. Her dangerous neighborhood and the snooty school are places she has never fit in. Then Sonya realizes something strange is happening at school. Pranks begin to pop up, and not the harmless "Girls Have Cooties sign on your locker" kind of prank. Sonya finds another girl crying and naked in the stairwell - the stranger has been abused, her car has been vandalized, and she transfers to another school the following day. Suddenly, Sonya can't be invisible anymore. And she can't keep quiet.
Structure: 4.5 out of 5 stars
What starts out as a story about a lost teen quickly turns into a gut-wrenching drama with a few honest to goodness gasp-out-loud surprises. The author has written Sonya's life in two parallels - her battle to steer clear of her neighborhood (literally her past and present) and her fight to not succumb to the typical teenage life at her high school. To counteract these struggles, Sonya excels at and embraces her ballet career. On the street or in the hall, she may be a nobody. But on stage, she is everything.
Of course, a gentleman caller gets involved - the misunderstood basketball champ, Will. Then things get topsy-turvy when Sonya's life goes haywire and her enemies become friends and her friends become enemies and she doesn't know who to trust. Great plot, even if just a touch ultra girly at times.
Character: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Sonya is a great role model for YA readers. She admits she isn't the best at school and she doesn't know how to make friends. She's awkward, self-conscious, and unsure of her strengths and weaknesses. But by God, she can dance. Sonya throws her unknowns, her hopes and dreams and wishes, onto that stage. It is the one familiarity in a big world. I appreciate the way the author uses dance as a metaphor throughout the novel, and not in an obvious way. DuBois takes care in crafting Sonya's character, and her interactions with Sasha, her mother, Will, and the folks at school. The author provides depth, desire, and remains consistent.
In a similar way, Sasha blows it out of the water. Her personality has been particularly crafted, with just enough foreshadowing to prepare the reader for later chapters.
Will, on the other hand, I had a hard time trusting. He makes a huge character shift and the protagonist accepts him without a grain of salt, but the reader doesn't. I needed more reasons to believe in his intentions.
Voice: 4 out of 5 stars
Not only is Sonya a great role model for ladies, but her voice is pure and true. She doesn't hide anything from the reader. To round out her character, though, I would have liked to see more self-doubt, which would have made her arch more powerful. The elements Sonya despises - her neighborhood and her school - remain negative areas of her life, while dance remains the one saving power. If the author had messed with the protagonist a little, made her really struggle with those positives and negatives, it would make her voice and character more believable.
The Queen Bee of Bridgeton was published in March 2011 by Little Prince Publishing, and is the first of a dance series. DuBois's second installment, The Devil of DiRisio (Dancing Dream #2), was released in September 2011. Like the first book, Devil had a short-term free stint in the Kindle store. As such, the author notes that book sales have worked in her favor after the free runs on Amazon.
Don't make the same mistake I did and write-off those free ebooks just yet. It turns out that publicity - and subsequent sales - often skyrocket for authors who release their novels at $0 charge for a few days. But more about that another time...
Photo credit: yaadict.blogspot.com
Monday, January 30, 2012
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Sophie, MJ, and Claudia met in college and part ways post-graduation to pursue their individual dreams. Sophie secures a position with one of the biggest advertising firms in the country, MJ heads to a prestigious science graduate program in England, and Claudia moves in with her boyfriend while she finishes her first novel. But the three girls face circumstances they never imagined and must successfully navigate through all the unexpected, gut-wrenching, and sometimes inappropriate events. Kristan Hoffman’s Twenty-Somewhere, a 40-episode ebook, accurately portrays the self-identity, panic, and enthusiasm many post-grads feel as they enter their first year of true adulthood.
Structure: 4 out of 5 stars
The author weaves the three girls’ stories together and dedicates an equal amount of literary real estate to each one. Chapters vary lengths and intensity and flow nicely. The plot is realistic and full of sarcasm, much like the typical post-grad experience. While the story line follows a consistent pace, I would have enjoyed a bit more depth to the script. Relationships and jobs are certainly challenging for everyone - the author has built up the right momentum to extend those two aspects of life into more treacherous waters. Perhaps the sequel could do so?
Character: 4 out of 5 stars
I was glad to see the author present three strong female leads. Claudia's strength as a character takes 3/4 of the novel to appear (she spends a big part of her time relying on her boyfriend), but then finally takes control of her own future and her character beautifully transforms. Overall, the women offer unique stories. For Sophie, MJ, and Claudia, their careers, respect, and happiness come first and all else comes second - a refreshing set of protagonists. However, the author takes a turn when Sophie quits her job and decides to indulge in fashion instead. This is not entirely a step back - Sophie demonstrates her expertise and control in the fashion industry - but I felt like the author emphasizes a somewhat stereotypical obsession with cute clothes rather than a sharp sense of marketing. Likewise, both Sophie and MJ take a small "boy crazy" shift for several chapters, but then jump right back. Apart from those moments, the women are champion female leads.
Voice: 4 out of 5 stars
Because all three girls have stories to tell, all three voices get limelight. The author did a great job making the characters sound similar enough to be former college roommates, but still distinctive enough to be identifiable. There are also sections of the novel where secondary characters, like Claudia's slightly crazed fan, Michelle, pop up via email and therefore even more voices get explored.
Twenty-Somewhere was published in 2010 as an Amazon ebook, and hit #9 on the Kindle list of free ebooks during the 4 days it was free. Read more about Kristan Hoffman's experiences with ebook publishing here.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Tara Luna already has her typical teenage problems – friendships, relationships, identity, and being the new kid in the high school. She also has her fair share of unique issues: Tara can see ghosts, non-Sixth Sense style. And, to top it off, she’s also psychic and can’t tell anyone for fear of being called crazy. But then Tara stumbles onto a deadly vision, a kidnapping, and a murder mystery in her new town and suddenly she must start talking or other people might feel the consequences. Sharon Sala’s My Lunatic Life, the first in her new Lunatic series, brings the reader some big-time adventures in a small-time town.
Structure: 3 out of 5 stars
Readers discover Tara’s gifts in the first few pages and just go with it. The author offers some of the stereotypical obstacles in the teenage protagonist’s way – the trio of rude cheerleaders, the cryptic mixed-signals from the bad boy, the struggles to fit in – but then also a slew of craziness, including a dead body, an unforeseen friendship, and a fire. While I enjoyed the twists and turns, I found some of the plot too easy for Tara. As challenges arise, the book’s heroine always has the solution and, if anyone questions her, she tells the simple truth: “I’m psychic” or “I’m talking to a ghost.” Even if characters don’t believe her with that one line, they do after the next few lines she says. I find it hard to understand that no one questions her abilities, nor tell others about her gifts. If the author presented more conflict with her powers, the story would run much more smoothly.
Character: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Tara has spent her entire life on the move, and her subsequent tough persona is quite satisfying. She doesn’t tolerate any nonsense from anyone, including sassy classmates, the popular crowd, or even the authorities. The readers love learning about Henry and Millicent, Tara’s ghost friends. Because of the protagonist’s psychic powers, the reader also enjoys the brief but telling information snippets Tara sees in the students, teachers, and friends around her. Through the main character’s head, we discover past experiences and quirks about all secondary characters.
But I didn’t know enough about the closest folks in Tara’s life – how did Henry and Millicent find the protagonist, and what are their respective stories? Why is her Uncle Pat always on the move? How did Tara herself react when she realized her powers? I like the author’s unique use of exposition, but it needs further development.
Voice: 4 out of 5 stars
In a similar way to learning character stories from Tara’s visions, the reader also hears multiple character voices, even though the story is only told from the heroine’s perspective. As the protagonist, Tara has a strong, distinctive voice, albeit it often floats into a slightly stereotypical teenage girl voice (using phrases like, “so not cool,” etc). These slips somewhat detract from Tara’s power as a fierce female. In the same way, the voice of Flynn O’Mara (Tara’s boyfriend) will shift from passionate and gentle to nonchalant and rough, almost as if the author wants to make sure readers remember Flynn is still a teenage boy. As a strong secondary character, Flynn’s appeal would intensify if the author had consistently made his character fiercely sensitive throughout.
Overall, My Lunatic Life is a quick lighthearted delight. The book was published in August 2011 by BelleBooks in the UK. The next novel in the installment, Lunatic Detective, was released shortly afterwards in November 2011.
To read more about author Sharon Sala, check out her website.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
I've often scoffed at the crazy plots of "transportation" films. No way do that many unique personalities meet on the same mode of transport, tell stories, exchange snacks, offer help, and bond over the literal and metaphorical bumps in the road.
But I'm on Day Two of a cross-country Amtrak train trip. I've met an ex-Marine, a Coast Guard, a blogger, a retired banker traveling the world, a Chemistry student, an angry bartender, two men from an oil rig, a mother in search of her son, a singing waitress, and a man who is about to walk the length of the United States (yes, on foot). I've witnessed strangers share baked goods, assist with dead cell phones, and keep watch over carry-on bags while others are away from their seats. I've helped the woman next to me take photos of the passing Montana horizon while the elderly couple to our left discuss salmon fishing. In twenty-four hours, I've somehow been deemed "that writer from Car 14" and have been extremely honored and humbled to have people shake me awake from a nap to tell me about a short story idea I might like. In front of me, a man named Aaron has become "the Internet guy" and strangers have walked into our car to ask him about changing trends in technology (even now, as I write this blog post on my iPhone).
I've eaten the best veggie burger of my life seated in a dining car passing Williston, North Dakota. I've been offered someone else's jacket when the power/heat went out at 3am. I've successfully changed my clothes in a bathroom smaller than my toaster oven. But more than that, I've met the melting pot, the one that so many presidential campaigns have referenced. Those people of every gender, race, religion, and background are contained within three sleeper cars, five coaches, two dining cars, and a lounge, but the gang's all here.
A man from Champagne talked to me last night as the sun set outside the lounge window. He said, "I'm tired of politicians claiming they know Americans. Want to know the real America? Ride an Amtrak or a Greyhound. Those are the people of the United States and beyond. Those are the stories politicians need to know."
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go play cards with a recently converted Buddhist and her two marine biologist friends. We will collectively tweet Newt Gingrich when we're done.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Friday, January 13, 2012
In 1994, sixteen authors contributed unique and, at times, bizarre coming-of-age stories to a collection called Am I Blue? Coming Out From the Silence. Marion Dane Bauer edits this delightful collaboration, which features settings ranging from a hidden beach cove in the 1950s (James Cross Giblin’s Three Mondays in July) to the fantasy world of female warriors (Jane Yolen’s Blood Sisters) to the terrifying parent-teacher conferences of a conservative high school (Nancy Garden’s Parents’ Night). Each story empowers youth in a way that honors the book’s dedication: “for all young people in their search of themselves.”
Structure: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The short stories vary lengths, themes, and plots, but overall contain effective individual layouts. Of the sixteen tales, only two stuck out as underdeveloped pieces, and even those don't lack powerful content.
Characters: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Again, overall very strong. The characters in C.S. Adler’s Michael’s Little Sister and Marion Dane Bauer’s Dancing Backwards in particular offer potent perspectives and interesting archs. Protagonists throughout the book offer first and third person narratives. I would have liked to see a few of character stories extended – M. E. Kerr’s We Might As Well Be Strangers was far too short to get me involved, and Ellen Howard’s Running characters, Terry and Sheila, needed to see a more satisfying conclusion. Otherwise, the collection offers an abundance of sassy role models, frustrating parents, empowered teens, and unexpected heroes.
Voice: 5 out of 5 stars
Across the board, readers can engage with each character’s unique voice. Stories are joyful, angry, shocking, and endearing, but generally very commanding. Readers have the opportunity to be inside sixteen incredible protagonists’ heads, and every minute is worth the read.
Am I Blue? was published by HarperCollins in 1994 and is the first published queer youth anthology.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
When sixteen-year-old Sirena discovers her parents are getting divorced and she is being shipped to Rhode Island to live with her Aunt Ellie for the summer, Sirena assumes she'll lie low and feel sorry for herself. But then Sirena finds her way to the beach and walks into the lives of Antonio, an eighty-year-old Brazilian painter, and Pilot, the bizarre lifeguard. Coupled with the ghosts she encounters in her aunt's attic, Sirena's summer turns into anything but ordinary.
Friday, January 6, 2012
Throughout the recent rave over Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows, another feisty detective is on the prowl. Fictional protagonist Tori Trotter is witty, sophisticated, and detail-oriented. Also, Trotter is a cat.