They’re Not Your Friends

Jealous Bitchery in the YA “Book Community”

Like many of us this past weekend, I watched the shitstorm go down when new YA author Amélie Wen Zhao decided to pull her debut novel Blood Heir from publication, the first in a three-part series for which she received a six figure deal from Delacorte, after being accused on Twitter for her book’s “problematic” content. The alleged offending material depicted in her novel’s fantasy universe included the concept that oppression can be colorblind, a scene of a slave auction in which a “tawny skinned” character dies in order to advance the plot, a line lifted from Tolkien’s The Two Towers, and getting a few Russian names messed up. To read in detail how it all went down, it’s best to start HERE.

Blood Heir was slated to be released this June, but after advanced reader copies were scrutinized for “problematic” content by a bunch of literary Carrie Nations looking for anything challenging their very narrow scope of what’s appropriate, the tempest in a teapot started brewing. What’s shocking about the allegations (and they were nasty, one tweet referring to Wen Zhao as “a racist-ass writer”) is that these came from other YA writers. That’s right, her own competitors. What started as a “whisper campaign” exploded when the author wrote a classy statement explaining her decision to pull her book from publication due to the outrage.

Once the story reached the mainstream press with the Guardian and the New York Times writing stories, the Twitter boards blew up, and a very toxic “community” was exposed. This isn’t the first time a few loudmouths shouted down an author whose work didn’t measure up to their standards of acceptability, a moving target of mostly minority and LGTBQ fairness issues. Perhaps the author, a Chinese immigrant picked from a publishers’ call seeking “own voices” narratives, tried to get too creative with her retelling of the Russian Anatasia story. By coloring outside the lines, she offended the YA content police, the loudest of whom just happen to be YA authors themselves. Of course they claim they are protecting the children from hurtful narratives. Isn’t that their parents’ jobs? Sounds like the only thing they were protecting were their own self-interests.

Regarding social media, Wen Zhao advised to “Set out with good intentions. Be enthusiastic, be positive, be supportive, cheer people on — all those things you’d want to find in a real-life friend, be those things online and in the writing community, too.”

That was her first mistakes. Writing is a solo act. It’s rare to find a truly supportive community, and one certainly isn’t going to find it on Twitter, especially in this YA cesspool of paranoia and neuroses. One tweeter offered “hugs” to Wen Zhao as a compensation for the loss of her six figure publishing deal. Others assured outraged free-thinkers entering the fray that once Wen Zhao vowed to “do better” and “to learn” she would be back and they would all cheer her on. Sounds like classic deprogramming to me. The think-speak is so convoluted one of the original accusers (formerly accused herself for a previous transgression) called Wen Zhao tone-deaf then apologized in case any hearing impaired people were offended by her tweet. She didn’t want to be seen as “ableist”, another charged leveled at the author for having only one character using a cane. You can’t make this shit up.

For a much needed voice of reason in all of this, check out BookTuber, Francina Simone’s response.

I’m hoping that Wen Zhao has an ace up her sleeve, that this is all some awesome publicity stunt. Since the story went down a few days ago, people have been fighting it out on Twitter while the original accusers’ pages have gone dark so they can presumably do some self-care in the wake of the Twitter storm now being turned toward them.

The stories and characters may change (or not, what’s with all these retellings anyway?), but jealous bitchery is one trope that always rings true.


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Happy Halloween

October 31st is horror fans’ official holiday. This year I’m celebrating by dressing up as my favorite screen character, Baby Jane Hudson. I guess I’ve entered my Grande Dame Guignol years. I embrace it. I look forward to scaring the children on my doorstep this year.

Below are a few of my favorite Grand Dame’s, proving that they still got it past their prime (youth).

Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson

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According to B.D. Hyman’s exposé My Mother’s Keeper, Davis showed up at the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane still wearing her make-up from the previous day’s shoot and just added more. Davis’ willingness to take her performances to the extreme without any regard for her vanity is impressive. But her famous counterpart held onto her glamour with her manicured nails for dear life. For that reason and others, she’s my personal favorite.

Joan Crawford in Strait Jacket & Berserk

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Wearing a fright wig reminiscent of her Oscar winning role in Mildred Pierce, Crawford’s post Baby Jane turn as a hatchet wielding harridan in Strait Jacket is a grande dame guignol classic. Unfortunately it’s not a very good film. Still, it’s fun to watch at least once, and I have to admire Joan’s dedication to maintaining her girlish figure at 60. Even more impressive is how glamorous she looks in the 1967 British camp classic Berserk. With her perfect make-up and hairstyles, Joan plays a sixty-something carnival barker who not only still looks good in fishnet tights she sets the carnival hunks’ hearts (and other anatomy) ablaze.

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Still setting hearts ablaze.

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Nice gams!

 

Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard

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Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic may be the start of of Grande Dame Guignol cinema. These were the days when the mere thought of a fifty-year-old woman (and Swanson looks incredibly good) making it with a handsome young guy in his thirties was enough to generate horror. For the record, I’ve always found Norma Desmond much more desirable than the young and perky Betty Schaefe, and fortunately my husband agrees. I think there are plenty of men today who would “take the Vicuna.”

And finally, we can thank the ABC Movies of the Week from the 1970’s for some other great examples of Grande Dame Guignol, where older movie stars found work in television. Below are some fine examples. If you appreciate camp (and some damn good stories), you’ll find much to enjoy here. Many of these are available in low res on YouTube.

Enjoy your Halloween!

Barbara Stanwyck in A Taste of Evil (1971)

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Olivia De Havilland in The Screaming Woman (1972)

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Shelley Winters in Revenge (1971)

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Eleanor Parker in Home for the Holidays (1972)

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Autumn Reads

The other night my heart thrilled at the sight of an enormous harvest moon making wavy gold streaks on the river’s surface. I smelled the crisp scent of burning leaves in the suddenly chilly air and knew my favorite season had returned at last. In Pennsylvania we get the weather extremes, and as much as I love the hot summer nights, fall is my favorite and it’s here at last. To celebrate the season of the witch, I’ve put together a reading list to hit the sweet spots of Halloween haunts, #Victober (a cool BookTube trend of reading Victorian era books during the October month), some true crime thrown in to keep me up at night, Gothic romance because I’ll find any excuse to read those, and a crusty 80’s era horror paperback from a recent thrift shop haul.

October TBR

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. I have about 200 pages to go. This is a re-read. Halfway through this nearly 1000 page tome while I was reading all about the Mayfair Witches history in the Talamasca file that goes on forever and ever, I kept thinking why? Why did I do this to myself? This book is such a commitment, but yet I couldn’t abandon it. It slowly seduces as much as Lasher and the city of New Orleans does. Yes, I will reread the subsequent books in the series, Lasher and Taltos. And yes, I’ll ask myself why the entire time. Can someone please make a TV series of this already so I don’t have to read it again when I feel the itch?

Small Sacrifices by Anne Rule. Again, why do I do this to myself? I must have read this book three times since it came out in the late 80’s. Some video about Diane Downs came up in my YouTube feed the other day and the next thing I knew I was loading up the book in my kindle and for the past few days I could barely pull myself away. There is something about the way Anne Rule writes that elevates hers from other true crime books. She not only reports the facts, she finds the drama and digs in deep.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. This Gothic romantic classic was written in the Victorian era so I suppose it counts for a #Victober read. This is another reread, but it’s been a while. Also, I just got myself a beautiful Easton Press leather-bound copy: perfect for cozy reading by the fire (or space heater) with a cup of tea.

For a less literary Gothic romance choice, I plan to read Volume Two in the Dark Shadows book series. They’re super short and I can knock one out in a day.

For my 80’s horror paperback pick, I’m reading Soul-Eater by Dana Brookins. I have no idea if this is any good, but the cover is fantastic. Let’s hope the story lives up to it.

And finally. I plan to finally finish Mr. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood that have been withering in my kindle for months. I just completed volume five and the stories contained within were my favorite so far. Now onto volume six. I can do this.

So, here are my best laid reading plans that will probably so awry, but what fun are plans if you can’t break them? Happy reading.

 

 

A Year of Writing Dangerously

As another birthday roles around this August (Virgo,not Leo) and I do my habitual yearly self-assessment, I observe the following: I got healthier (sobriety, meditation, diet & exercise do work), learned to filter out (some) lingering negativity in my life (about time, eh?), grew out my natural hair color for the third time, read 78 books, started a BookTube channel, helped to organize a local arts festival, and wrote like the dickens (not Charles, unfortunately).

My production for the year included: three novels in a YA series, one novella, a good rough draft of one novel and the start of another, a bunch of poems, five short stories, and nearly weekly blog posts. I also quit Facebook, got back on recently then promptly quit again, and spent a lot of time alone in nature. Through all of the ups and downs, self-recriminations, broken sobriety dates, and moments of quiet (at times despairing) contemplation, I wrote. I may have skipped my exercise date, but never my morning writing session.

I owe a lot of my prolificacy to Wattpad. I joined the site just a year ago and the interaction and feedback I encountered there really spurred on my productivity.

Continue reading “A Year of Writing Dangerously”

My First BookCon

I’ve finally recovered from last week’s whirlwind weekend at BookCon in New York City. It was my first time at BookCon, and I had a blast. I will be back. In fact, next year I hope to have a booth with my YA book series (three, maybe four books in) on display. Attending BookCon helped me to visualize that goal and break down the intimidation factor. Even when I sat in on the panel and listened to authors I admire like Cassandra Clare and James Patterson, I saw that they were just people who worked really hard to achieve their levels of success. It was inspiring to me as a writer, and I returned home feeling energized and ready to get back to work.

I was also inspired to see so many young people being excited about books. I hear a lot of griping about the proliferation of YA in the bookish community. I get that, and I have definitely felt the frustration of not being able to find good adult horror, for example, but to see teenagers clutching books and jumping up and down with excitement at the prospect of meeting their favorite authors gave this former English teacher a thrill.

My First BookCon Takeaway

  • Wear comfortable shoes. I was packing a few cute outfits, including a new pair of wedgie sandals, when I decided to throw in my sneakers (just in case). Well, I ended up wearing those sneakers and a pair of jeans the entire time. I must have walked twenty miles that weekend. The cute outfits and shoes I packed stayed in my suitcase.
  • Books are heavy. Next time bring the rolling suitcase instead of the shoulder tote and check it at the Javitt’s Center, not at the hotel on the East Side (especially when there were two parades going on that weekend).
  • Talk to more people. Full disclosure, I’m a bit of an introvert. Striking up conversations with strangers does not come easy to me; however, the few times I did work up the courage to talk to people I had a positive experience. I met indie writers just like me, excited to talk about their books. I must remind myself in these situations to make an effort to connect, to ask questions, and just relax.
  • Sign up early for workshops. I did manage to get into one workshop, which was great, but many of the events I was interested in sold out soon. This was a last minute trip for me so next year I’ll plan more carefully. There were a few things I missed just because I didn’t notice it on the schedule, like the Wattpad meet and greet. 😦

This was my first time ever attending any kind of CON, and I had such a good time I will probably be heading to the next Comic Con in my area. I found some horror comics at BookCon that I plan to devour on my living room sofa today. Happy reading!

 

 

My Favorite Booktubers

They’re like friends I check in with nearly every day: my favorite BookTubers.

First up is Will, aka the BaldBookGeek.  I’ve checked out other book vloggers, but Will is the one I always come back to because he keeps it real, whether he’s waxing poetic about his favorite YA author, bitching about his incessant sinus infections, or just telling it like it is in his latest rant, I sense it’s all coming from an honest place. Plus, I just adore his accent.

Continue reading “My Favorite Booktubers”

The Tao of Writing Gurus

The art and craft of writing seems to reside in different parts of the brain: the art for art’s sake side and the practical side. Now, I realize there is an enormous branch of philosophy dedicated to the deconstruction of binaries oppositions, but for the sake of simplicity I’m going with the  model I know. The devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, the yin and yang, the two voices inside my head when I write. One, a wandering sensualist; the other, a strict disciplinarian with an eye on the bottom line. Both are essential to the creative process, at least if you want to achieve a certain level of success and I do. And although I certainly enjoy hanging out more with the former, I’ve grown to respect the latter. But it’s important to put both of them in their proper place.

I’m guessing that most of us writers spend our time in front of a computer working a little, playing a little (sometimes a little too much). Even the great George R.R. Martin admitted to Stephen King he was guilty of internet distractions, which is probably while we’re all still waiting for that damn book! When I need a break, I have my go-to guys, BookTubers usually (Peter Likes Books whom I loved even before he loved my book, Grumpy Andrew, and the Bald Book Geek)  and, of course, the “writing gurus” I stream for advice and inspiration. I’ve noticed that lately I’ve been gravitating toward two very different content creators: both offering opinions on the creative process from two diametrically opposed points of view. Continue reading “The Tao of Writing Gurus”

How to get your book reviewed on BookTube

I’ve always considered myself a shitty saleswoman, so imagine my surprise when I did something right by just writing a personal letter to one of my favorite book tubers Peter Loves Books. After watching his videos and getting to know him as a cyber “friend”, I had an inkling he might enjoy Unmasked, my campy throw-back horror novel. He hasn’t finished it yet, but so far so good. In an age when it’s so easy to just write an email or a fly off a tweet, it’s nice to know a personal letter is still appreciated. I just may buy some new stationery and make it a regular habit. Thanks, Peter!

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