Friday, August 18, 2017

Why I'm No Longer a "Grammar Vigilante"

I was one of "those people".  Do you know the dipstick always correcting other people's spelling and punctuation online?  That was me.  I thought (for some) I was doing them a favor, one they just didn't ask me to do.  For other people, I used it as a way to undermine their trolling.

I will still (at times) "edit for" trolls, especially when they're trying to sound intellectually superior to someone else.  Truly smart people don't flaunt their intelligence to make others feel inferior (and most people who try such a thing tend to have atrocious spelling).

However, I won't give unsolicited editing to acquaintances.  It's a crappy thing to do to someone who is just sharing random thoughts with the world.  I even considered my behavior trolling, once I looked at it closely.  A person on Facebook might not have English as a first (or even third) language.  A disabled person might not have the dexterity to type flawlessly.  Creative spelling and punctuation could be a conscious choice.  Mistakes can happen to anyone.

There is a time for editing words.  At the wrong time, it becomes annoying and hurtful.  I'm thankful I realized it years ago... I'd be insufferable on Twitter!

Have you ever corrected someone's grammar or spelling on social media? If so, why?






Friday, August 11, 2017

Interview with Poet Jeannine Hall Gailey

Photo: Jeannine Hall Gailey 

What influenced you to start writing and how old were you when you started?
I started writing poetry at around 10 years old, at the encouragement of my teacher and my mom. I also started competing in poetry recitation contests, which were a really fun excuse to memorize great poems. I still know at least a large bit of e.e. cummings' "Anyone lives in a Pretty How Town" and Louis Simpson's "My Father in the Night Commanding No" because of contests in the 5th and 6th grades! 

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it? If not, why not?
I've always been what I call a "regular sporadic" writer - I wrote in fits, sometimes two poems at a time, sometimes four poems a month. Now I'm trying to make a more concerted effort to write twice weekly. Even if I don't love the results, it's a good practice.

You came back to poetry during a time of illness, when your previous career path wasn't sustainable.  What was your official diagnosis and how did writing affect your outlook on your diagnosis/symptoms?
Yes, I had to quit a fairly demanding job as a technical manager at Microsoft because of my health. I didn't have many of my conditions diagnosed properly until years later - but it turned out I had a primary immune deficiency, a heritable bleeding disorder, plus early signs of the neurological problems that would become more serious later on. My husband encouraged me to go back to school to get an MFA after I quit my job - and because I was in a low-residency program, I was able to participate even while I was dealing with health struggles. Half-way through the program, I had my first book accepted for publication. It definitely took taking time off to get serious about - not reading and writing so much as the part I hadn't had time for - submitting, editing, volunteering, reviewing, etc. 
My health issues have had a huge influence on my writing - and my writing is a great practice that sustains me in the middle of physical illness, injuries, etc. . 

You write fairly often about changes in the (female) body, often with fantastical elements.  Has your relationship with your body influenced this interest?  If so, in what way?

One of the recurring themes in my work is the horrifying, the grotesque, and the monstrous - probably because I've always identified myself as a real-life mutant and being female is already treated as somewhat grotesque and monstrous by our culture. Selkies, mermaids, and dragons, in particular, repeatedly appear in my work. I also explore the tropes of comics - how supervillains are often portrayed as having mutations, illnesses/deformities/things that keep them in wheelchairs. I think if I didn't feel like quite so much of a medical mystery, I might not be quite so interested in these tropes.

Readers of your speculative poetry reach out to you more often than literary poetry readers.  Why do you think that is?  Do you think "genre-snobs" are less of an issue in poetry than in fiction?
It is interesting that I think maybe more people who are interested in my work happen to be fans of speculative and genre work. Maybe these people are more enthusiastic readers than poets are, in general? There are probably still people who don't want their poetry "contaminated" by speculative elements - but notice that Tracy K. Smith, whose Life on Mars was maybe one of my favorite speculative books of poetry, just got named Poet Laureate of our country, so I think the barriers between "literary" and speculative have been breaking down. 

How important to you is the form/style a poem takes?  Is there a form/type of poem you'd never try?
My early training in poetry was very much in a formalist bent, which I think I've mostly reacted against. I did embrace Japanese forms like haiku and haibun, especially in the years I was studying the language, culture of folklore of Japan, because those forms seemed more freeing and interesting to me than the sonnet, sestina, villanelle, etc. I've always been interested in hybrid forms, so I do mess around with couplets, prose poems, mini-paragraphs in poetry, that sort of thing.

You served as poet laureate of Redmond, Washington.  Was the appointment a surprise?  What was the most unexpected part of the position?
No, it was actually a position I was nominated for and then had to apply, just like a job application, and interview for, so by the time it happened, it was not a surprise. Although the fact that Redmond, a city mostly known for its tech (it's the home of Microsoft, among other companies) felt it was important to have a poet laureate program at all, was really exciting to me. The most surprising part was when I got to talk about poetry to Redmond's mayor and interact with local artists - those seemed like great moments of the intersection of civics and literary arts. The most enjoyable part was speaking with teenagers at local schools and doing youth workshops for the city. Redmond's young people are amazingly, inspiringly smart and driven.

Who are your literary influences/favorite writers? (They need not be disabled/neurodivergent.)
There's a big list! I think the biggest influencers have been Margaret Atwood, Louise Gluck, Haruki Murakami, Lucille Clifton, a Japanese writer named Osamu Dazai who is very well known in Japan but less well-known in America, and Kelly Link. Probably fairy tales, comics and television shows have also provided a lot of the inspiration for my work - probably from childhood experiences being sick and stuck indoors, I absorbed a lot of imagination ammunition from watching Miyazaki's movies and reading Andrew Lang's color series of Fairy Books.

What is the worst piece of advice you've ever received on writing/publishing?  Did you take the advice?  If so, what happened?
Strangely enough, I feel like I didn't get a lot of advice about publishing in either my M.A. program or my MFA program. I kind of had to stumble into the "business-side" of poetry for myself, which is why I've been a big fan of projects like the Poet's Market for new writers and have been writing a how-to book for poets about publishing and PR. I also had a group of friends, early in my writing career, who got together to talk about submissions and markets and that was a great thing for me. I really encourage writers to get together to encourage and support each other this way. The writing life is a LOT about rejection - and that can be hard to deal with in isolation. The poetry world can feel like such a secret club, and I don't like that feeling of exclusivity. Poetry should be for everyone - both reading it and writing it. 

You're writing a nonfiction book about PR just for poets.  Why is it so important for a guide to be written specifically for them?  Do you think a lot of books about marketing/branding leave poets out?
Yes, I have found in my own life that there were practically no resources out there specifically for poets on how to market their work. I mean, everyone assumed that poets didn't care, or weren't capable of marketing? I don't know. All the "how to market your book" material I found was mostly focused on fiction writers. Anyway, it was so hard scraping around and finding resources that I started posting blog posts about the topic that were very popular, and then my friend Kelli Agodon, herself a poet and one of the editors at Two Sylvias Press, encouraged me to address the lack of information with a book of my own. I worked on it for two years and I'm excited that it can provide at least a little information for people who have never thought about how to publicize a book of poetry (or knew that they would someday be required to.)
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Note from Jeannine about her medical issues:  About a decade ago, I started having mysterious falls and some motor skill issues as well as numbness in my hands and feet. These were symptoms I had had for a while but hadn't thought much about, writing them off as clumsiness or stress. A neurological exam - suggested after an orthopedic surgeon determined one of my bone breaks was probably caused by neurological problems, not just "clumsiness" -  revealed neurological damage, and my MRI revealed a handful of lesions in my brain. It was unclear then what the lesions were. I had a new one show up last year. After workups for things like MS and stroke, the current thought is that a lifelong inability to process b12 - not just through my diet, but even shots - has caused permanent neurological damage. I started physical therapy especially for the proprioception and motor skill issues six years ago, when I was told I would be in a wheelchair permanently by three different neurologists. Though I still have setbacks that require a cane or even the wheelchair, I am happy to state that though my problems may continue and worsen as I age, the physical therapy had some success - enough to make walks in the park and going to readings without a cane a possibility for me again. 
I wrote a lot of poems about mermaids while I was in a wheelchair; one of them, "Mermaid on Land" is here: http://eyetothetelescope.com/archives/018issue.html
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Biography:  Jeannine Hall Gailey recently served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She’s the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the VillainessShe Returns to the Floating WorldUnexplained FeversThe Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, coming from Moon City Press in 2016. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review and Prairie Schooner.  Her web site is www.webbish6.com and you can follow her on Twitter @webbish6.

You can find links to her books on Amazon - and to purchasing signed books from her directly - here: http://webbish6.com/books/

But she also encourages people to seek out and support small publishers by buying the books directly from them - Steel Toe Books, Two Sylvias Press, New Binary Press, Moon City Press, Mayapple Press. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Updates to Lists

Greetings,

I made a few updates to the Literary Links of Interest and the Inclusive Mainstream Publications lists.

On Literary Links of Interest I added:

Disabled Writers
Exceptions Journal
Intima
The Healing Muse

Thanks to Erica Verrillo who runs the fabulous blog: Publishing ... and Other Forms of Insanity for a couple of these.

Plus the following hashtags were added:

#DisLit and #WriteDis

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On the Inclusive Mainstream Publications I added:

The online literary magazine BODY
The speculative fiction publication VOICES
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Well, those are the updates.  As always, if you have more recommendations, please let me know.

In late 2017 (or early 2018), I will be adding a tab on this site just for inclusive mainstream presses.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Thoughts on Kaz from Six of Crows

Last week, I posted my review on Six of Crows.  In it, I mentioned I had difficulties/thoughts with how Kaz became disabled and how he views it.

On page 401, there’s a paragraph in Six of Crows which talks about how Kaz came to limp:

When he was fourteen, Kaz had put together a crew to rob the bank that had helped Hertzoon prey upon him and Jordie.  His crew got away with fifty thousand Kruge, but he’d broken his leg dropping down from the rooftop.  The bone didn’t set right, and he’d limped ever after.  So, he’d found himself a Fabrikator and had his cane made.  It became a declaration.  There was no part of him that was not broken, that had not healed wrong, and there was no part of him that was not stronger for having been broken.  The cane became a part of the myth he built.  No one knew who he was.  No one knew where he came from.  He’d become Kaz Brekker, cripple and confidence man, bastard of the Barrel.

At first, my mind said this is Kaz wanting to show the world he’s a broken man on the inside by becoming physically disabled, wanting people to know everything he’s been through.  I didn’t like my initial impression of this tidbit in the novel.  Visibly disabled people aren’t visibly disabled because they have troubled souls or sinful histories. 

But, Kaz also wants the world to know he’s limped through hell and can still burn it all down if he chooses.  He sees his limp as something to illustrate his strength and tenacity.  He never uses his disability to play the victim and, if his enemies see weakness because of his limp, they are going to be in for an awful surprise.

He uses his limp also, it seems, to make him distinctive.  It is his legend, the cripple who can still kick ass.  It is a great thing, to see a disabled person strong and uncompromising. 

There were healers, though, who could have healed him without permanent damage.  Were they too expensive at the time of his injury?  Did he break his leg and see it as an opportunity to reinvent himself?  The paragraph merely says his leg never healed right, not that he did anything to alter it, for good or bad.  Maybe, like most of us, he just uses any angle he has.

I would have liked to know if Kaz turned down the chance to properly heal, or if he was too low in the gang’s ranks to warrant a Grisha (magic-user) healer, or if he thought that his broken leg wasn’t that detrimental.  It probably doesn’t matter, but part of the lore of his disability left me with an icky feeling, though Kaz is never portrayed as anything other than a strong, crafty, complex anti-hero.

Is it something he purposely chose?  Something he didn’t think about until later?  If Kaz let himself become physically disabled, does it change how I’d feel about his character?
I possibly read too much into a fictional character’s choices.

Have you read the book?  What do you think about the explanation for Kaz’s limp?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sagamihara Anniversary

One year ago, a eugenicist prick killed nineteen disabled people and critically wounded more at a care center in Sagamihara, Japan.  The ideology and identity of the murderer was given more media attention than the survivors... any of them.  The victims became a number, nothing else.

The ripples through the disabled community were widespread.  It was horrific and sad.  But, it didn't surprise us.  Ableist beliefs have lead to the deaths of our people before...

A year has gone by.  No updates about the survivors are readily available.
A year has gone by.  No details on any increase in security have manifested online.
A year has gone by.  We still don't know their names.

It almost makes it unreal, to not have names or faces.  The public isn't owed the information.  But, are the victims owed the acknowledgement?  Shouldn't they be worth more media coverage than a vile piece of scum?

A year has gone by.  And we still remember.


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.
~*~*~*~
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.