Friday, September 24, 2021

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade (Review/Rant)

Image: Two drawn figures lean in for a kiss. The man is blond, tall, and lean wearing a black and gold coat with black pants and gloves. The woman is shorter and fat with red hair in a white dress. They both have closed eyes. His one arm is around her waist and her one arm is around his neck with a hand on his chest. The background is teal with white line drawings of trees, buildings, and what looks to be the Golden Gate Bridge.
Marcus is an actor who secretly writes fanfiction about his own show. April is a fat geologist who writes fanfiction (unknowingly) with Marcus and does cosplay. When April's plus-size interpretation of a character goes viral in a mixed way on Twitter, Marcus asks her out to stick it to the trolls... realizing only during the date that she's the beta reader and friend he's had online for two years. But, if anyone finds out he writes fanfiction, he will never work in Hollywood again. 

I really wanted to like this book. It seemed a little like a fat girl fairytale with a bunch of geeky stuff thrown in. Meeting up with your server pals at a convention? Yes, please! Size acceptance in a romance? Always welcome. However...

April's body is basically described as a bunch of circles and softness. On repeat, really. We never know her dress size, just how spherical she is with red-blond hair and brown eyes. Oh, and freckles!

She has body image issues, which I understand, but she has them to such a degree she should not be dating. Marcus invites April to the gym with him because he has to maintain his figure, and she sees it as him trying to change her; she does not ask him if this is what he is trying to do... she just ends their outing coldly. Afterward, he proposes a date she does agree to:  Taste-testing donuts! Nope, not kidding. April sabotages things due to her size more than once, and Marcus is always floundering to please her.

Marcus pretends to be vapid and shallow as a shield because his parents made him feel unintelligent due to his undiagnosed dyslexia. They were teachers at a prep school, but never figured out their kid had dyslexia and how best to help him... they just made him feel lesser. I don't buy that they never considered it or tested him. 

A lot of Marcus' and April's issues stem from their parents. April's father was all about appearances to the point where the mom had to maintain a specific weight and therefore put her anxiety on her daughter. Marcus feels like he has nothing to offer but a pretty face because his parents made him feel like he had nothing else. There are difficult and angsty conversations with both of their families. I know families can be a difficult thing to navigate, but the way everything goes down makes it seem like April and Marcus are in their early 20s trying to figure out their identities (she is 36 and he's 40).  

Secondary characters are mostly bland with only a couple being fleshed out at all. Marcus' best friend is another actor who has ADHD, also looks like a god, is very rich, and loves extraordinarily fat ladies... what are the odds? But, at least Alex has more to him than most of the other side characters. I keep thinking most of these people are teenagers and not professionals who are adults.

The incident/secret that temporarily splits up the couple is ridiculous.

Sex scenes are graphic but also boring. There are only so many different ways a vanilla couple can get it on. There is plenty of swearing and dirty words for genitalia, though!

I did read it all the way, so the story must have been proficient in some form. But, ultimately, I do not recommend this book. What could have been fun and interesting became bland histrionics.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Crip Lyrics: The Unapologetic Poetry of Disability by Val Vera (Review)

Image: A man in a black T-shirt and gray pants faces an orange sunset across the water. He is in a power wheelchair and has his hand on the joystick. He has black hair and facial hair. The title of the book is above the sun in the sky and the poet's name is on the bottom left of the image.

Please note:  I was given a copy of this book in order to review it.

So, this chair thing
This, you’re kind of scared thing
This eye-catching, make you stare thing
The thought-prompting, curiosity-leading,
Cause you to wonder thing
Let me answer your everything
-from "Chair Thing"

Lyricists and slam artists are a subset of poet praised on the stage but often neglected on the page. It might be "proper poetry" having an aversion to modern rhyme. Possibly, it's due to the energy and sparks spit by performers that can't easily be replicated on paper or a screen. But, Val Vera's words don't lack fire... even in the quieter arena.

My Cripple is more than rubber tires, this chariot bathed in black.
Rolling on the spineless skin of ableism’s back.
-From "My Cripple"

Through twenty-two different poems, we're taken through an unflinching look at ableism, cripdom, gawkers, Karens, love, power, pain, and more. Each poem earns its place in the collection and says everything clearly. There is anger, incredulity, and softness in the narrator's voice. He weaves back and forth between the political and pedestrian, the lover and the display. So often, I found myself nodding as I read.

It’s time to collect.

From institutions that segregate.
Media that manipulate.
Police who violate
With force and guns.
Creating programs so we don’t run.
-From "Not Your Granddaddy’s Crip"

One of the pitfalls of collections of tight rhyme is that the pattern gets samey or sing-songy in some spots, which is something I occasionally found here. Luckily, it didn't happen often in Vera's deft hands.

I really hope there are performances for some of these lyrics out in the world. The way some lines sizzle on the page would be electric to hear/see live. It might be good advertising for the book, too.

Look what you’ve done,
what you’ve created
Quiet poster child turned Crip
Unapologetic and jaded
Shunned by abled news
Shaped by privileged views
-From "Creation"

Each poem in the collection is accompanied by a visual art piece by 
Melissa Marie Eckardt. I don't know how the collaboration started, but the end results are glorious. The beats in the lyrics and smoothness in the art make for a soulful duet.

There are slight sexual references and swearing but nothing excessive. One of the accompanying paintings in the collections is sexual in nature and depicts oral sex (though all the viewer sees is part of a butt and cupped genitalia).

I absolutely loved this short collection. I recommend it.
Will you add:

Crip Lyrics: The Unapologetic Poetry of Disability can be pre-ordered at this link.
Biography:  Val Vera is a Disability Justice activist, speaker, and writer. Originally from Chicago, Val began his Disability Justice career in San Diego and has served on several boards focused on disability culture and equity. His intersectional experience as a Disabled Latinx, coupled with his Disability Justice work, is revealed by the imagery and passion in his writing. 

Val currently lives in Denton, TX where he organizes, educates and serves with the local Disability Community. He is an avid moviegoer, music lover and sports aficionado. Above all, Val enjoys laughing and spending unscripted time with his favorite person Michelle. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Things Changing on HUP

 1. Submissions for the blog will be open from February 1st through April 30th and August 1st through October 31st. We will be closed to submissions all other times. 

2. The mentor program will follow the submission schedule. This will give us more time to find and confirm with our mentors. Not sure if other changes need to be made.

3. The Peer-to-Peer initiative was never utilized, so we shut it down. We are also considering closing the Disabled/Neurodivergent Creatives List as there aren't many entries for it.

4. Only nonfiction (including reviews and interviews) submissions will have the requirement of being connected to disability/neurodivergence and art at the same time. Poetry, fiction, visual, and performance art will not. Of course, submissions are still only considered from our community.

* We'd like to keep The Cripendy Contest, but we have to see how much interest there is in it going forward. 

Questions? Contact us!

Friday, September 3, 2021

Video Games: Overcooked 2 & Wheelchair-User Rep

The Overcooked franchise (debuting in 2016) is a game series where little chefs work together in obstacle-laden kitchens to deliver food to customers within a time limit. Each level amps the difficulty into a chaotic frenzy of tossed food (no health inspectors involved), fires, and lost orders. Players must get high enough scores to unlock new areas and characters.

The first Overcooked had a raccoon in a wheelchair (he's also unlockable in the sequel). Some people, like me, adored the furry little guy and how he could keep up with the rest of the chefs. Others weren't as thrilled, "why isn't it human?" I still don't have an answer, but it never bothered me much. 

Image: A brown raccoon with no legs sits in a gray wheelchair with a yellow seat. He is smiling and giving a "thumbs up" with his right hand (but has no arm). His chef hat is a soft blue and his uniform is white and red with six black buttons down the front. He wears a red cravat. The chair has no armrests or foot pedals (none do).

Overcooked! 2 (debuting a bit over three years ago) added another wheelchair-user to their roster with a DLC pack. She is a stunt woman... an Evel Knievel on double the wheels! I was immediately drawn to her boldness. A badass woman zipping around and killing it? Yes, more of this!

Image: A caucasian, puppet-like character faces the screen. Her wheelchair is red, white, and blue with stars on the back tires. Her hands have white gloves with a red star in the middle and her outfit is similar to the raccoon's except for the pilot's hat and goggles under her chef's hat with a star on her cravat. A cape is hinted at behind her. She has a smear of batter near the left side of her mouth. A rocket is seen by the right side of her head (attached to the chair).

Skins (changes to an existing character) brought us a Black grandmother who has a dynamite pair of glasses. She looks like she's in on the world's biggest secret which is quite a feat... considering the somewhat simplistic artstyle of the series.

Image: On a two-tone gray background sits a Black woman with full cheeks in a gray and steel blue wheelchair with grip-rims on the back tires. She's holding one hand to her mouth and holding up the other in either a "hello" or "wait" gesture. Black, curly hair sneaks out around the bottom of her light blue chef's hat. Her uniform is a medium blue and looks like the raccoon's. She wears gold hoop earrings and neon pink cat's eye sunglasses.

Every being in a wheelchair goes the same speed as everyone else. People in manual wheelchairs still have both hands ready for serving up requests... without someone pushing them. The lack of realism isn't a deal breaker when your fellow chefs are a unicorn and a walrus, though. 

I haven't seen other types of disability representation in the franchise, but that doesn't mean it won't exist down the road. It might even exist now, since there are characters I came across in my research that I never saw while playing either Overcooked game. It's nice to see a crip is allowed to burn down a kitchen just like everyone else.