Where did you get those big eyes?

My mother.

And where did you get those lips?

My mother.

And the loneliness?

My mother.

And that broken heart?

My mother.

And the absence, where did you get that?

My father.

—  Inheritance, Warsan Shire
Race, Sexuality, and the Mainstream

By Malinda Lo

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[Image: The book cover for Inheritance (left); the author, Malinda Lo (right)]

Yesterday my novel Inheritance, the sequel to Adaptation, was published. Inheritance picks up minutes after the end of Adaptation, and I think of the two books as one big story cut in two halves. They’re X-Files-inspired science fiction thrillers about a 17-year-old girl, Reese Holloway, who has to uncover what exactly happened to her and her friend David Li while they were unconscious at a secret military base in Nevada following a freak car accident.

My first two novels, Ash and Huntress, were YA fantasies about queer girls. Ash was a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, and Huntress was inspired by Chinese and Japanese traditions. I am both a lesbian and a Chinese American, and the subject of my identity comes up often when I do interviews or panels. So, when Adaptation came out, I was known for writing YA about nonstraight, nonwhite characters. That’s fine — up to a point.

Last fall, I did several events to promote Adaptation. At one of them, someone in the audience asked, “Is Reese white and straight in order to make Adaptation more mainstream?”

(Talk about a loaded question!)

I answered, firstly: “What makes you think Reese is straight?”

The person who asked that question had only read the first paragraph of the jacket copy, which described Reese’s feelings about David: “Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens.”

She hadn’t read down to the end yet, when a girl named Amber is mentioned: “When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction…”

The jacket copy didn’t spell it out because we didn’t want to spoil the plot (although personally I think it’s pretty suggestive), but let me tell you: Reese is not straight. This is an assumption you should never make — not in fiction, and not in real life.

But the question of whether I made Reese white in order to make the book more mainstream has a much more complicated answer.

Was I tempted to make her white because … well, everybody knows that books about white people sell more? To be honest, of course that thought crossed my mind. It probably crosses the mind of every author out there writing about people of color. And if it doesn’t cross their mind, someone will suggest it to them.

But let me ask you this: Should authors who have written about people of color in the past never be allowed to write about white people?

And here’s another question: Since I’m a person of color, should I only write about people of color?

The answer to both questions, in my opinion, is no. As a writer, I’m allowed to write about whatever the hell I want. As a writer of color, I’m allowed to write about people who are not like me. The same goes for every writer out there.

Also: It is not a crime to want your book to do well in the marketplace. Some writers write only from the heart; others write almost entirely thinking about the bank. I’m going to bet that most writers fall somewhere in between, like me. I need to be creatively inspired to write, but at the same time, I know that the creative decisions I make can push a book in various directions: literary, niche, commercial, somewhere in between. I’m lucky that I’m married to someone who has a “real job,” and I don’t need to depend wholly on the income from my writing to support myself.

Because of that privilege, I have the luxury of writing the books I want to write. In Adaptation, the main character is white. Does that make the book more mainstream? I don’t know, because not only is she not straight, she’s involved in a bisexual love triangle with another girl (Amber) and a boy who is Asian American (David).

And there are so many racist stereotypes about Asian men.

In Hollywood, Asians are rarely if ever leading men because Asian men are either kung fu experts (who still don’t get the girl) or nerds. Bruce Lee or Long Duk Dong. There’s no in between. And in real life, plenty of women — women of all races — embrace these stereotypes by saying they would never date an Asian man.

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[Image: Bruce Lee (left) and the character Long Duk Dong (right) from the movie Sixteen Candles.]

I have a father who is half Chinese. I have a Chinese American brother. I’m married to a woman now, but my ex-boyfriend, whom I was with for five years, was also Chinese American. Those stereotypes about Asian men make me really angry. That’s why I wanted to write a book in which an Asian American boy was a romantic lead. I wanted him to be sexy and strong and smart.

And I admit I thought his desirability would be underscored if he dated a white girl. I would be flipping the established, often very racist practice of white men being with exotic Asian women. I was purposely subverting that stereotype.

For me, the decision to make Reese white was tangled up in all of these complicated things. It wasn’t a simple, white = commercial success decision. And while I do think Adaptation and Inheritance are more commercial than my previous books, it’s not because the main character is white. It’s because the style I wrote it in is more commercial. It is, frankly, less literary than Ash or Huntress. It’s a science fiction thriller, and things actually do explode in it. There are conspiracies, and men in black, and Area 51, and a love triangle that I think is pretty darn sexy.

Whether or not it’s “mainstream” is for the market to determine, not me, though I freely admit that I’ve always written more for the mainstream than for the experimental fringe. I know that mainstream can have connotations of blandness and whitewashing, but it can also indicate acceptance and success. I don’t think it’s wrong — especially not for an Asian American lesbian — to hope for some of that.

Inheritance is now available. Visit Malinda Lo at her website, tumblr, or follow her on twitter.

basically the whole series is just
  • Brom:Don't do the thing Eragon.
  • Arya:Don't do the thing Eragon.
  • Roran:Don't do the thing Eragon.
  • Oromis:Eragon don't do the thing until I teach you to do it right. Then you still shouldn't do the thing.
  • Everyone:Don't do the thing Eragon.
  • Saphira:Eragon we shouldn't do the thing.
  • Angela:Do the thing Eragon.
  • ...
  • Eragon:Guys I did the thing.
The Rise of the Non-Working Rich

In a new Pew poll, more than three quarters of self-described conservatives believe “poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything.”

In reality, most of America’s poor work hard, often in two or more jobs.

The real non-workers are the wealthy who inherit their fortunes. And their ranks are growing. 

In fact, we’re on the cusp of the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in history.

The wealth is coming from those who over the last three decades earned huge amounts on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms, or as high-tech entrepreneurs.

It’s going to their children, who did nothing except be born into the right family.

The “self-made” man or woman, the symbol of American meritocracy, is disappearing. Six of today’s ten wealthiest Americans are heirs to prominent fortunes. Just six Walmart heirs have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined (up from 30 percent in 2007).

The U.S. Trust bank just released a poll of Americans with more than $3 million of investable assets.

Nearly three-quarters of those over age 69, and 61 per cent of boomers (between the ages of 50 and 68), were the first in their generation to accumulate significant wealth.

But the bank found inherited wealth far more common among rich millennials under age 35.

This is the dynastic form of wealth French economist Thomas Piketty warns about. It’s been the major source of wealth in Europe for centuries. It’s about to become the major source in America – unless, that is, we do something about it.

As income from work has become more concentrated in America, the super rich have invested in businesses, real estate, art, and other assets. The income from these assets is now concentrating even faster than income from work.

In 1979, the richest 1 percent of households accounted for 17 percent of business income. By 2007 they were getting 43 percent. They were also taking in 75 percent of capital gains. Today, with the stock market significantly higher than where it was before the crash, the top is raking even more from their investments.

Both political parties have encouraged this great wealth transfer, as beneficiaries provide a growing share of campaign contributions.

But Republicans have been even more ardent than Democrats.

For example, family trusts used to be limited to about 90 years. Legal changes implemented under Ronald Reagan extended them in perpetuity. So-called “dynasty trusts” now allow super-rich families to pass on to their heirs money and property largely free from taxes, and to do so for generations.

George W. Bush’s biggest tax breaks helped high earners but they provided even more help to people living off accumulated wealth. While the top tax rate on income from work dropped from 39.6% to 35 percent, the top rate on dividends went from 39.6% (taxed as ordinary income) to 15 percent, and the estate tax was completely eliminated. (Conservatives called it the “death tax” even though it only applied to the richest two-tenths of one percent.)

Barack Obama rolled back some of these cuts, but many remain.  

Before George W. Bush, the estate tax kicked in at $2 million of assets per couple, and then applied a 55 percent rate. Now it kicks in at $10 million per couple, with a 40 percent rate.

House Republicans want to go even further than Bush did.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s “road map,” which continues to be the bible of Republican economic policy, eliminates all taxes on interest, dividends, capital gains, and estates.

Yet the specter of an entire generation who do nothing for their money other than speed-dial their wealth management advisors isn’t particularly attractive.

It’s also dangerous to our democracy, as dynastic wealth inevitably accumulates political influence.

What to do? First, restore the estate tax in full.

Second, eliminate the “stepped-up-basis on death” rule. This obscure tax provision allows heirs to avoid paying capital gains taxes on the increased value of assets accumulated during the life of the deceased. Such untaxed gains account for more than half of the value of estates worth more than $100 million, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Third, institute a wealth tax. We already have an annual wealth tax on homes, the major asset of the middle class. It’s called the property tax. Why not a small annual tax on the value of stocks and bonds, the major assets of the wealthy?

We don’t have to sit by and watch our meritocracy be replaced by a permanent aristocracy, and our democracy be undermined by dynastic wealth. We can and must take action — before it’s too late. 

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Coming in just under the wire to mark Bi Awareness Day, I shamelessly post this to remind my readers (and the Internet!) that the entirety of my Adaptation series is now out, including the Bisexual Book Award-winning Inheritance. Here’s more about them:

And I should remind you that due to continuing difficulties in business negotiations with Amazon, you will likely have problems buying them on Amazon. So please if you’re interested, try buying them elsewhere! Your local independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Google Play, etc., will all be able to get them to you — as well as your local library.

Happy Bi Awareness Day!

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Photographer Shares a Glimpse of Her Grandfather’s Life Through the Belongings He Left Behind

While many typically turn to old pictures, letters, and journals to remember their deceased loved ones by, a photographer decided to pay homage to her grandfather and give a glimpse of his life by taking photos of all the personal possessions he left behind. http://bit.ly/1g4v7kr

… the demonization of anyone who talks about the dangers of concentrated wealth is based on a misreading of both the past and the present. Such talk isn’t un-American; it’s very much in the American tradition.
— 

Paul Krugman, America’s Taxation Tradition

We saw the ills of Old Europe and their hereditary wealth

"[in] America, which introduced an income tax in 1913 and an inheritance tax in 1916, led the way in the rise of progressive taxation, that it was “far out in front” of Europe. Mr. Piketty goes so far as to say that “confiscatory taxation of excessive incomes” — that is, taxation whose goal was to reduce income and wealth disparities, rather than to raise money — was an “American invention.”

Krugman notes the wisdom of the day:

"the New World was at risk of turning into Old Europe. And they were forthright in arguing that public policy should seek to limit inequality for political as well as economic reasons, that great wealth posed a danger to democracy."

We once had politicians who took steps to build a great society. We now have politicians trying to pick apart and slice the great society into portions for the richest in America.

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books I’ve read this year
 // the hundred thousand kingdoms (n.k. jemisim)

Consider: an immensely powerful being is yours to command. He must obey your every whim. Wouldn’t the temptation to diminish him, to humble him and make yourself feel powerful by doing so, be almost irresistible?

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