Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Image: A crow at the top part of the image dips a very large wing until it touches the bottom edge.  It is on a background of grayish-white stormy clouds.  Individual feathers splay out from the bottom half of the wing.  The title starts where the wing starts and is written is curly white letters.  There is red subtext that reads "Six dangerous outcasts.  One impossible heist."

Kaz, a well-known lieutenant for the Dregs (a street gang) is given the opportunity for the payday of a lifetime.  The catch?  He and his crew must break into the Ice Castle, a fortress with a prison no one has ever broken into (or escaped from) and bring back an important prisoner… alive.  In a world of magic, rival gangs, and shaky alliances, the greatest heist in the land may turn into the worst decision ever made.

Kaz is a bad guy doing bad things in a worse world.  He walks with a limp, using a cane as both a mobility aid and a weapon.  Kaz cannot stand to be touched, skin-to-skin. His backstory was interesting and his character’s actions felt real because of it. 

The book is really about an ensemble cast, and the author gives all characters dimension and diversity.  Outside of Kaz we have Inej, the religious spy who hates killing (I read her as Native or Latina). And Jesper, the gunslinger with a gambling problem (he isn’t white, but am unsure what he’d be considered).  Wylan, a young man with a privileged past and an uncertain future accompanies them as well as a Grisha (magic-user) prostitute, and a man raised to hunt Grisha into extinction.

This book has disability done well.  It covers mobility impairment, PTSD, and learning disability.

The settings were nice, but weren’t described into oblivion.  I knew where the characters were, enough details to imagine the places, and that’s it.

Kaz wasn’t the only one with a backstory, many other characters had one as well, breaking into the flow of the “current story”.  At first, this irritated me because I didn’t want to be pulled between the present and past.  But, the backstories kept my attention and provided richness to the characters developing in my mind as I read.  I began looking forward to the times I got another piece of the puzzle that made up each character.  There was a scene or two where I didn’t realize the time transitioned, but that was rare.

The action was plentiful.  There were explosions, gunfights, and breathless escapes.  The pacing seemed right, after adjusting to the presence of the backstories.

The magic system in this book was pretty solid.  There were different classes of magic with different Grisha able to do different things.  It wasn’t the most unique concept, but it was interesting and served its purpose well.

This book might not be for everyone.  There is violence, the presence of sex slavery (but no explicit rape).  There is also a drug in this story that makes Grisha (magic-users) almost immediately addicted and has a large role in the novel.

There is a small aspect of this book, almost easy to miss, that I don’t know how to feel about.  In this world, there are Grisha who are healers.  Kaz has a limp because of a leg that set wrong after breaking and chooses not to get it fixed. (I find nothing wrong with not choosing a cure, in fact, it’s refreshing in fiction.)  At one point, it mentions Kaz not fixing his leg because he there is no part of him that hasn’t been broken, or made stronger from the breaking.  As if it were a badge, I guess. 
(I have many thoughts on this, maybe best left for next week.)

I really liked and recommend this book.  There is a sequel (out now) I will definitely be reading.  I hope the next one is as exciting and rich as this one was.

 One small warning, this book ends on a cliffhanger.

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Author Bio:  Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom and the Grisha Trilogy: Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from Yale University, and has worked in advertising, journalism, and most recently, makeup and special effects. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: Out of My Mind By Sharon M. Draper

On a blue background, an orange goldfish jumps from it's bowl of water on the left of the image to the upper right.  On the bottom, there is a darker blue rectangle with the title in small, white words and the name of the author in a lighter blue across the bottom.

Melody, a brilliant eleven-year-old with severe Cerebral Palsy, receives an assisted communication device.  With the ability to voice her thoughts for the first time, she tries out for the school quiz team.  But not everyone is glad Melody can participate.
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I loved Melody!  She’s funny, smart, and complex.  She longs for all the things “normal” kids have without falling into total pity and despair.  She loves her family intensely.

Melody is surrounded by people who want her to succeed.  Her parents are fierce in their love for her, advocating for her.  Her neighbor babysits for her and her baby sister, and is one of her first major allies.  A new aide at school helps open up her world.
But, for everyone who is good for Melody, there are people who dislike her.  There are teachers throughout her life who make things harder on her.  Students in her integrated classes make fun of her. 

The first eleven (or so) chapters of the book are like short stories of Melody’s life.  One is about the goldfish she lost.  Another is about her mom’s pregnancy and the fear her baby sister would be disabled, too.  The chapters follow the order of Melody’s life, so the reader is able to perceive her growing up.

The settings are okay.  They aren’t overly descriptive, they just have enough detail for a reader to visualize them.

Even though this book is for “kids”, I had no trouble relating to it.  The author doesn’t over-explain or gloss over the more difficult aspects of Melody’s life. 
In one scene, Melody’s quiz team goes out to eat at a restaurant.  The handicapped-accessible entrance doesn’t work, so Melody has to be maneuvered up the steps outside by her mother.  Once inside, her teammates make conversation with each other, without involving her.  Melody dreads eating in front of her peers because she needs assistance and doesn’t want them to see.  It is an uncomfortable scene, but an honest one.

 A couple of minor plot points felt like they didn’t really lend much to the story, but that’s all I can really say in regards to negatives.

I got teary-eyed twice reading this book, the first time being when Melody was finally able to tell her parents she loved them using her device.  I also smiled and became angry at different parts. What happens to Melody before the national quiz competition wasn’t shocking, but was infuriating nonetheless. 

This is definitely a worthwhile read.
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Author Biography:  Sharon Draper is a two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winning author, most recently for Copper Sun, and previously for Forged by Fire. She's also the recipient of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Author Award for New Talent for Tears of a Tiger and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho and November Blues. 

Her other books include Romiette and Julio, Darkness Before Dawn, and Double Dutch. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she taught high school English for twenty-five years. She's a popular conference speaker, addressing educational and literary groups both nationally and internationally.
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There are books where (I wish) I could spoil the entire plot because I want to tell you so badly what scenes caused me to love (or hate) a novel. 

I’ve also thought about live-tweeting a book.  Maybe someday.

A quick note:  After today, this blog will be on hiatus until June or July.  I have a lot of things going on in my life right now, and I don’t have anyone I trust to take the reins while I’m gone.  I will still be on Twitter and checking my email.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Diverse Writers/Diverse Worlds Grants, Updated Markets

The Diverse Writers and Diverse Worlds grants are open to speculative fiction writers.  Applications close July 31st.

The $500 Diverse Writers grant is intended to support new and emerging writers from underrepresented and underprivileged groups, such as writers of color, women, queer writers, disabled writers, working-class writers, etc. — those whose marginalized identities may present additional obstacles in the writing / publishing process.

The $500 Diverse Worlds grant is intended for work that best presents a diverse world, regardless of the writer’s background.

Writers can apply for both grants, if they want/fit the criteria.
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The Inclusive Mainstream Publications tab has been updated with every resource we have available.  The literary/periodical section now has thirty-two entries.  The most recent ones are:  Teen Vogue, Magma Poetry Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, Polychrome Ink,  Cosmonauts Avenue,  The Huffington Post, and BuzzFeed READER.

We'd love to add more places!  Please let us know if you can recommend any others.
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Reminder:  We are open for submissions of guest posts and book reviews.  Pay is $3 via Paypal.

Books reviewed must have a disabled/neurodivergent main character and/or a disabled/neurodivergent author.

Guest posts must be about writing/books and disability/neurodivergence.  A post about writing through brain fog, for instance, counts.  A post about training guide dogs doesn't... unless you can tie it back to writing, somehow.

We are also looking for writers/editors to interview.




Friday, May 5, 2017

Do You Read/View #OwnVoices Books Differently?

Do you purposely search for Own Voices books?  Do you approach books with disabled/neurodivergent protagonists differently if you know they're written by a neurotypical/nondisabled author?

As a reader:  

I used to only care about the story.  Almost every author I was introduced to in school was able-bodied and neurotypical and, if a writer wasn't, it wasn't discussed.  I went through most of my childhood with a scant handful of famous disabled/neurodivergent in my head; I just thought there were too few of us doing great things.  I didn't think that a great person's disability wouldn't be talked about.

Reading books with disabled protagonists was (and often still is) unsatisfactory.  A disabled person is used as the obstacle in a nondisabled person's life.  A neurodivergent person is a villain.  We can't be regular people.  Well, we can, we just have to be miserable.  Or hateful.

A book by an Own Voices author is an invitation to explore a story without trepidation.    And, while a novel by someone who is disabled/neurodivergent writer isn't a guaranteed enjoyable experience, I don't have to worry as much about ableism or botched portrayals.


As a reviewer:

I review books by both disabled and nondisabled writers.  My review process is the same regardless of the writer, though I ponder motive a bit when a nondisabled/neurotypical author writes disabled/neurodivergent narratives:  Did the main characters come to the author on crutches, or is it a gimmick?  

It is important to me to review Own Voices books and I try to give them priority.  Publishing (and related industries) tend to "innocently" neglect books by minorities and I refuse to add to that problem.  But, I can't turn my back on nondisabled authors who write disabled characters; I'd lose out on some great reads if I did.  

As a writer:

Reading Own Voices books and connecting with disabled/neurodivergent writers is nourishing.  One of the best things for anyone's art is being around those who "get it" without a mile of footnotes.  Picking up a novel and knowing there's a landscape inside that doesn't erase you, or twist lives like yours into something lesser, is a thing of beauty and comfort.

I like knowing there are other disabled/neurodivergent writers succeeding.  And holding the proof of it in my hands.  





Friday, April 28, 2017

Links of Interest Page Has Been Updated

We have added three new publications to the Links of Interest page.  We are starting to run into roadblocks regarding sites that have been abandoned.

Next week, we'll hopefully have a larger update for the Inclusive Mainstream Publications page.  That is, if brain fog or chronic pain doesn't keep us from it.
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Final note:  Found this listed on the Writers and Poets with Disabilities Facebook group and thought it might benefit some of you to have it listed here.

Stormé DeLarverie writing residency for under-represented writers (writers of color, both American and international, including Native peoples, as well as, disabled people, and those who identify as LGBTQ+).

An honorarium of $500 will accompany the residency.

https://balticwritingresidency.submittable.com/submit

The application fee is $15.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sagamihara: Fear and Anger

The second the news hit, the media put the butcher in the same category as his victims.
He's sick.  He's mentally ill.  We should pity him, really.  He's just like them.

No.  He isn't.  Don't twist it so that he's "a victim himself".  To describe a horrible person's actions as mental illness harms the disabled/neurodivergent community.  We needed the focus on the true victims.  Things like ableism are due to ignorance, hatred... but not mental illness.  This attitude makes it easier for future violence against disabled/neurodivergent people because it paints us into "the volatile other".
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Then, there are the people on the perpetrator's side, people who see disabled people as having a partial life (as though having no life is more merciful-- better than having limits).  People who see disabled people as leeches who give nothing to the world.
The people who think disabled/neurodivergent people don't deserve something as vital as breath scare me.  People who don't see the humanity in others should scare everyone.
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All these months later, and I still haven't found one update on the survivors.  I haven't heard if any new security measures were added to care centers.  No one outside of the disabled community spoke up after the attack beyond the usual words of "terrible", "tragic", "poor people", or similar.

Maybe things changed that I didn't hear about because I'm in America.  Maybe people are more protected now.  I can hope that's the case-- hope and remember what happened.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Our Mentors

Are you a disabled/neurodivergent writer who mentors?  Are those you mentor disabled/neurodivergent?  How did you find each other?

Most writers find their mentors at college or, failing that, at conferences/workshops. So many disabled/neurodivergent writers never had the opportunity to go to college (or were forced to drop out).  Few conferences are affordable or accessible.  The ways for us to find mentors are limited.

The Internet is often the only way disabled/neurodivergent writers can find one another.  But, even with social media, connections are mainly tenuous or peripheral.  We congratulate one another, share the occasional submission opportunity, commiserate about ableism in the industry, and then go back to the grind alone.

A lot of writers, especially disabled/neurodivergent writers, are self-taught.  Some of us write in secret, not having a single person in our lives to encourage us.  We're used to not having someone to guide us.  But a lot of us wish things were different.
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Few of us believe we're capable (or accomplished enough) to become mentors.  There is always an invisible mark we feel we must meet before we reach out, a place in our careers that grants us the ability to lend our knowledge.  It's a falsehood, but a persistent one.

Then, there are disabled/neurodivergent writers who would love to mentor but can't and feel horrible because of it.  I wish they wouldn't.  As an artist, your creations should come before assisting someone else with theirs.  If you can barely sling words, don't worry about everyone else's.  
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I wonder how many of us have mentors-- or want them. 
Do you want a mentor?  If so, does it matter if they're disabled/neurodivergent?  
Are mentors overrated in this technological age?

Let me know your thoughts!