Month: July 2013

To Judge a Book

Have you ever wandered through a bookstore or library, your fingers trailing lightly along the spines of all the quiet books waiting to be read, only to pull one out, take a quick look at the cover, and shove it back onto the shelf without bothering to even read the inside flap? Making a snap judgment based solely on the series of images emblazoning the jacket? I know I have. Judging a book by its cover is a fairly trite idiom in the English language, but I think that as an idea it stands up well under examination, both literally and metaphorically.

Bet you wouldn't even watch the HBO adaptation of the girly one.

Bet you wouldn’t even watch the HBO adaptation
of the girly one.

A few months ago, author Maureen Johnson posed an interesting question to her readers and followers. After receiving numerous letters from male readers asking her to please change the covers of her books so that they wouldn’t feel embarrassed to read them in public, Ms. Johnson came to the conclusion that while men and women “can write books about the same subject matter, at the same level of quality, the woman is simply more likely to get the soft-sell cover with the warm glow and the feeling of smooth jazz blowing off of it.” To subvert this notion, she asked her Twitter followers to participate in an experiment called Coverflip–first, take a well-known book, then imagine the author of that book was of the opposite gender, and imagine what that cover might look like.

You can read about the full experiment here, and I recommend looking at the slideshow of the resulting images. I found them both hilarious and upsetting, for a variety of reasons. Maybe some other day I’ll rant about gender inequality, but today I think I’d like to talk about something even more basic: people judging people by the covers of the books they read.

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Dancing Queen

Courtesy of the Birmingham Royal Ballet

Courtesy of the Birmingham Royal Ballet

I’ve always loved dance. All kinds of dance. Like most little girls, I adored ballerinas, with their sparkling tiaras and fluffy tutus and elegant buns. I saw The Nutcracker for the first time in kindergarden, and was entranced by everything about the ballet; from the wind-up doll ballerina to the horrible rat soldiers to the dashing Nutcracker Prince. But most of all, I admired the Sugar Plum Fairy, gliding effortlessly across the stage en pointe, barely seeming to touch the ground as she performed pliés and pirouettes and arabesques.

Soon after, I discovered the great old classic musicals and fell in love with tap dance and ballroom. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. I would rewind videos again and again to rewatch my favorite dance sequences, trying and failing to replicate the gloriously complicated and utterly romantic routines in my own living room.

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Dream a Little Dream

If you know me well, or have been reading my blog long enough, you have probably realized by now that I’m a leeetle bit obsessed with dreams. Not in a “Oh, dreams are pretty cool I guess” way, but in a “Why can’t I eschew the real world and live perpetually in the nonsense realm of my sleeping brain” manner. You may think this is strange, and that’s okay. It is. I’m generally a fairly strange person.

Yeah, a Nazi AND a wizard. Trust me, it's scary.

Yeah, a Nazi AND a wizard. Trust me, it’s scary.

My dreams are nearly always vivid, but they run the gamut in terms of subject matter. Complex. Silly. Terrifying. Trippy. Occasionally, I’ll even have dreams with recurring themes. Anxiety dreams are the most common of these themes; it’s finals week and I’ve just realized I haven’t been to calculus all semester. Harrison Ford weirdly appears in many of my dreams; more often than not he’s a Nazi-wizard and he’s chasing me. But recently, I’ve started having a new recurring dream. Nearly once a week for the past two months, I’ve dreamed that there’s a tall black stallion, wild and untamed, and I’m the only one who can ride him.

Whatever could it mean?

Before I continue, I’d like to say that while I’m not sure what purpose dreams truly serve, I do think they have the capacity to be symbolic. Jung hypothesized that our dreams contained universal archetypes derived from a collective unconscious; I think this may be going a bit far. Our minds are, however, bombarded with culturally significant symbols and images from a very young age, and it seems entirely plausible that these patterns would find meaningful expression in our dreams. It also seems likely that our own individual experiences could lead our unconscious minds to assign meaning to otherwise meaningless minutiae.

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The Cape Conundrum

"And what's your superpower, young man?" "I can...throw my shield. Really, really hard." Image belongs to Marvel Comics

“And what’s your superpower, young man?”
“I can…throw my shield. Really, really hard.”
Image belongs to Marvel Comics

I watched The Avengers last night for the first time (I know, I showed up really late to that party) and as I watched I was struck by how none of the superheroes were really very super. In fact, in terms of inborn or created abilities, there weren’t many superpowers to speak of. Among the Avengers, objects are the name of the game. Tony Stark flies around in a technologically advanced suit of armor–the only thing really special about him is his intellect. Hawkeye has a bow and arrow; Thor has a giant hammer; Captain America has a fancy shield.

Hulk…well, Hulk smash.

Superheroes have been central to the cultural iconography of America for most of the 20th century, and have undergone a marked renaissance in the 21st. Nearly every major superhero has enjoyed a movie (if not an entire franchise) dedicated to them in the past decade. Even superheroes who are considered “old-fashioned” (Superman) or less popular (Green Lantern) than heroes like Spiderman and Batman have been recently rebooted to suit modern times. And the Avengers, despite being more technologically reliant than many of their brethren, easily share the stage with more classically gifted superheroes like Superman, Spiderman, and the X-Men. So why the shift in modern times to a more technologically-reliant superhero? And what does it say about our culture’s fascination with superheroes in general?

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The Story Paradox

“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.”   –Terry Pratchett

The first thing I usually do upon finishing a draft of one manuscript is to start thinking about what to write next. I have notebooks full of half-baked ideas and infant plot-lines, but the challenge when beginning a story–short- or long-form–is to judge whether or not it’s worth telling. And one thing I’ve come to terms with–as both a reader and a writer–is that not all stories are worth telling. And even if they are worth telling, they shouldn’t all be told the same way.

Why build a regular house when you could build this house? Habitat 67, Montreal, Canada

Why build a regular house when you could build this house?
Habitat 67, Montreal, Canada

I like to think of a story as a house. In the simplest sense, a house has four walls and a roof. Similarly, a story must meet some bare structural specification before it can even qualify as a story: some semblance of a plot, perhaps a character or two, maybe some dialogue. (James Joyce might argue that this is not the case, but let’s leave him out of it for now). But beyond those basics, a lot of variation is possible. How the story is created–what devices and structures are employed–that’s what makes the house a home, so to speak. Just as there are log cabins and chateaus and open-plan lofts, so there are a thousand and one ways a story may grow into something unique and compelling.

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This Is Crazy…Beta Maybe?

If y’all have been paying attention you’ll know that I’ve spent the last few months revising the heck out of the manuscript I completed this past spring. Now, the only step left before I can release this project out into the big, scary universe is to let people actually read it. So far I’ve let my mom and my husband read it, but that’s it. And they’re not exactly the most objective readers in the world when it comes to my work.

Not that kind of beta, silly.

Not that kind of beta, silly.

So, Uncle Lyra Wants You! Yes, You! Do you like words printed on paper? Do you like reading brand new manuscripts that haven’t yet seen the light of day? Are you a critical thinker and a careful reader? Are you bored with summer yet? Then you are the perfect candidate for being a beta reader!

Here’s a little bit of information about the novel in question:

Title: Blood King

Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

Length: 106,000 words (that’s about the length of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, just to give you a comparison)

Synopsis: Dez Ashwood has only been King of the Blue Bloods for a few months when a spate of undead revenants threatens to upset the delicate balance between Life and Death. A stolen artifact, an ancient prophecy, and rogue necromancers owing fealty to a wraith bent on destroying the world; all are pieces of the puzzle that Dez must solve before time runs out. Will she be able to keep the streets of London safe from hordes of the undead? Or is it just her destiny to die trying?

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Life, and Other Animals

Howdy folks. As you may (or may not) have noticed, I haven’t been ’round these parts over the past few weeks. Things have been pretty madcap and hectic on my end; between a destination wedding, finishing the second draft of my manuscript, and moving house and home all the way to Boston, I haven’t been finding much time for this here blog.

Plus–as if all that wasn’t enough–due to a series of incredibly unfortunate events I had my laptop stolen last week. Fortunately for my sanity, I had just backed up the second draft of my WIP to the Cloud, otherwise I would currently be enjoying a very close relationship with yellow wallpaper and reciting lines from the Scottish play (sorry, old theater habits die hard). But even though I had made sure to back up all the most important things, like completed manuscripts and wedding photos, so many of the smaller tidbits that accumulate in a hard-drive were lost for good. Incomplete short stories. Camera-dumps from college, many of which I never bothered posting to Facebook or other social networking sites. Old emails. Term papers. Midnight ramblings. Music. Lots and lots of music.

All gone.

"Billions of blue blistering barnacles." Pretty much my reaction...

“Billions of blue blistering barnacles.”
Pretty much my reaction…

I’m trying not to think about it too much, because it’s often the case that the things you rarely use you don’t particularly need, and if I don’t think too much about the small things I’ve lost I’ll eventually discover that they weren’t very important after all. Still. After a certain point, a hard-drive becomes an accumulation of a life being lived, and part of me feels like I’ve lost some vestigial limb. Yeah, I might not use it that much, but the fact that it was there was somehow important.

Anyway, life keeps on going, and I’m sure I’ll get a new computer and fill it with all the crap I accumulate over the next seven years of my life. I’ll write new short stories (and maybe complete them). I’ll take new pictures, and write new emails. And sometimes loss is a good thing, because it reminds us of all the valuable things we still have, and how to better protect the valuable things we’ll find or create in the future.

So I guess thanks, Universe. Because this crappy experience will definitely make me more vigilant about saving the important things somewhere a thief can’t take them.

Thanks, but no thanks. I better have some awesome karma coming my way.

Have you ever had something like a laptop that died or was stolen? How did you get over all the things, big and small, that you lost? Comments welcome below!