guest post

No one has walked on the moon in my lifetime,” I told them. “Yet you try to tell me that it’s my generation who has lost their wonder? That it’s the young people of today who have let everything slip and fall into ruin? You don’t understand. You had the dream and the potential and the opportunities, and you messed it all up. You got hope and moon landings and that bright, glorious future. I got only the disasters.
—  From “What Happened to Hope and Wonder in Science Fiction” by Karina Sumner-Smith, a guest post on Fantasy Cafe for Sci-Fi November
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FOTD: Christina (lastlips)

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On Knowing Your Own History

By Nina LaCour

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[Image: Author Nina LaCour (Photo Credit: Kristyn Stroble)]

When I was a kid making my way through the California public school system, I took great care in bubbling in the demographic information on our standardized test packets. For the race/ethnicity section, I filled in as many circles as applied. My mother’s best guess for her mother, who was orphaned as a child and died years before I was born, was British, so I filled in White for her. I filled in American Indian for my maternal grandfather, because my aunt, the genealogist of the family, had found her grandparents had roots in the Cherokee nation.

My father’s family was Creole, from Louisiana, a culture comprised of French, African and Native American. With White and American Indian already filled in, I added Black for them. I liked the look of those filled-in dots on the page, like little clues about where I came from.

***

My new novel, Everything Leads to You, is the story of an eighteen-year-old named Emi, an emerging production designer who gets swept up in a mystery that leads her to love.  Her father is white and a Pop Culture professor. Her mother is half-white and half-black, and a professor of Black Studies. Emi’s race is not an issue in the book; it’s one facet of who she is in the world, and having academics as parents is another. This also applies to Emi’s sexuality: it’s a lesbian love story, but the lesbianism is not an issue. It’s all about the love.

When I was working on the early drafts, I was thinking a lot about an NYT opinion article titled “As Black as You Wish to Be” and its relation to my own identity. In it, memoirist Thomas Chatterton Williams takes the historical concept that “one drop” of black blood makes a person black, and brings it into the present. Williams has a white mother and a black father. He is married to a white French woman. He states that when he has children, their black heritage may not be visible, and argues the following: “Mixed-race blacks have an ethical obligation to identify as black — and interracial couples share a similar moral imperative to inculcate certain ideas of black heritage and racial identity in their mixed-race children, regardless of how they look.”

Williams’ position struck me powerfully. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, four hundred miles away from my Creole family in Los Angeles and much farther than that from my mother’s family in Florida and North Carolina. In my daily life, I didn’t feel connected to any specific cultural or ethnic heritage. My dad made Creole food sometimes, gumbo and jambalaya, and sometimes we listened to the Neville Brothers. Otherwise, I only witnessed Creole culture when we traveled south for big family events, when my grandparents would reacquaint me with my elder relatives and I’d revel in their accents and expressions, their dark, soft faces and their reminiscences.

In some ways, I felt home among them.

But I also felt like an outsider.

In a recent conversation, my dad said that when he was younger he felt tied to his heritage, proud of it. He spoke of moving freely in and out of the houses of extended family and friends, of sprawling, weekly picnics in Griffith Park. He said he felt a part of something. When I think of the times I celebrated with all my great aunts and uncles and cousins, and the ladies of the family pulled out parasols and the men turned up the music, and the second line dance began—when I think of what it felt like to dance in that line surrounded by my family—I think I understand a little bit of what my dad must have felt.

***

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When working on my novel, I found an unplanned theme emerging. I’d be in the middle of a scene and a character would say something to the effect of how important it is to know your own history.

When thinking of my own history, I think of how census records for my dad’s parents read “Race: Negro,” of how my grandfather fought in the all-black troops in WWII, and how they left New Orleans for Los Angeles after the war in order to escape segregation and thereby have better job opportunities, and how my dad’s birth certificate’s race field says “Colored.”

I think about how my grandfather raised my dad to believe that he was black, until the Watts riots erupted in 1965 when my dad was eleven, and racial tensions ran so high in their Compton neighborhood that the disparity between identity and appearance became impossible to ignore.

I think about the night that Barack Obama was elected President, and how my dad cried, and then composed himself enough to tell us this story:

In around 1959, a traveling carnival visited Los Angeles. At that time his extended family and their friends, Creole people who had moved over a span of a few years in a mini-emigration from New Orleans, lived in a cluster, sharing households and occupying multiple units of apartment buildings. My dad’s grandfather usually stayed within their community, but they left the neighborhood one night to go to the carnival.

They parked several blocks away, and my four or five-year-old dad walked between his father and grandfather, holding their hands.

His grandfather was looking all around, taking in the scenery and the other fair-goers, until my dad felt something strange. His grandfather was shaking and his palms were sweating. My dad signaled to his dad that something was wrong.

“What is it?” his dad asked his grandfather. “What’s wrong?”

“We can’t go in there,” his grandfather said. “It’s not for us.”

My dad knew his grandfather to be a strong, unwavering man. He had never seen him afraid, but now he was trembling.

They stopped walking. His dad looked his grandfather in the eye.

“Dad,” his father said. “This is California. We can go wherever we want to go.”

***

Here is a sentence from Williams’ essay that haunts me:

[A]s I envision rearing my own kids with my blond-haired, blue-eyed wife, I’m afraid that when my future children — who may very well look white — contemplate themselves in the mirror, this same society, for the first time in its history, will encourage them not to recognize their grandfather’s face.

***

Black, White, American Indian. I can still see how those floating dots looked on the test packet and feel the satisfaction I found in coloring each of them in.

Passing as white, for me, is simple, and for most of my life that’s how I thought of myself, but it isn’t what I think anymore. I don’t consider myself black, either, but I agree with Williams, and with the characters in my book: it’s important to know your own history.

I am rarely asked to provide information on my cultural heritage anymore, but a year ago my wife and I had a baby, and a woman from the birth certificates office kept calling and dropping into my hospital room to see if we had chosen a name for our daughter. I had a complicated pregnancy and birth, and in the hazy days of recovery my wife and I took our time deciding. Finally, we had it, and after spelling it out for her, she asked what to put down on the long form under race.

“Oh,” I said.

I looked at my wife. She shrugged.

I hadn’t considered our daughter’s race, but she is fair-skinned with deep blue eyes and light hair.

“White, I guess?” I said.

“Anything else?” the woman asked.

I shook my head. And then when she was half way to the door I changed my mind.

“Actually,” I said. “Is Creole an option?”

She said yes.

We put that down, too.

The narrator in my book is much like me. People don’t register a specific ethnicity when they see her, but there is a lot of invisible history there.

No matter how many stories I’d heard about my heritage, how many photographs I’d seen of the darkly complexioned family members who came before me, when I looked in the mirror I saw straight brown hair and hazel eyes and fairly light skin. It was an article I read in the newspaper that made me reconsider how I see myself.

In a time when interracial families are more and more prevalent, more mixed-race children will choose, whether consciously or not, to remember who came before them, or to forget.

I choose to remember.

* * *

Nina LaCour is the author of the award-winning Hold Still and the widely acclaimed The Disenchantments. Formerly a bookseller and high school English teacher, she now writes and parents full time. A San Francisco Bay area native, Nina lives with her family in Oakland, California. Visit her website or follow her on Twitter @nina_lacour.

How Space Tries to Kill You From the Inside Out

guest post by jaxx-c

Science fiction writers seem fond of space. It’s vast, it’s full of pretty stars, potential sources of life, and apparently there’s a huge cloud of booze out there. Permanent free fall means floating around and having fun drinking coffee with chopsticks, and NASA does not seem too concerned about making astronauts’ feet stay on the floor. But no gravity can be problematic for us Earth creatures.

It’s common sense that space is a dangerous beauty. The vacuum can get you for sure, you only have as much as you can haul up with you (hint: not much without paying out the nose) and communication with your base can be delayed. Of course, this is if you can even get off the ground, which is a delicate process in itself: the Challenger disaster was due to a single failed O-ring. And, in addition, people are aware that zero gravity messes you up, even if it does make you three or four inches taller.

Just how much goes much deeper than zero gravity reducing your bone and muscle strength to the degree of practically having been bedridden for months. This guide is meant to help explain what is going on in your body.

Cardiovascular, or Space Makes the Heart Grow Rounder:

No gravity? That means fun times for your blood, which is no longer being pulled towards your feet. It’ll start to pool in your upper body, leading to things like “puffy face syndrome,” where your veins and arteries in your face stand out. Over 80% of returning astronauts feel lightheaded. This can have serious implications for people who already have cardiovascular problems. Here’s an image to help show what your fluids are up to:

Your body panics without its gravity, and you can lose blood volume, so astronauts end up thirsty and peeing very little.

Musculoskeletal, or A Strongman You Are Not:

Quite simply, space eats your bones. The Live Strong article predicts this can happen at a rate of up to 2% of bone density per month, up to 10% of total density in your legs. The NASA article from 2001 says it’s more like 1% per month, but up to a total of 40 to 60 percent according to their models. Why? Because like your heart, they don’t have as much work to do, so they get lazy and start losing calcium. Same with muscles, because they don’t have to fight against gravity to keep you moving and upright.

Immune, or Space Is A Double-Edged Sword Hitting You With Both Edges:

Here is where space really hates you. You see, the same chemical (osteopontin) telling your body it’s okay to drop the bone mass is hurting your spleen and thymus organs.

At the same time, space lets bacteria Hulk out. Salmonella was shown to kill mice more often in space, and E.coli was changing up its genes. The bacteria were working faster, from infection to succumbing.

How to Deal With It:

Obviously, exercise. Astronauts currently do about two and a half hours of working out on equipment specially designed to get them actually working out. As for the immune issues, one of the articles mentioned that a drug to deal with osteopontin could help with a lot of issues.

Sources and Further Reading:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/cciss_feature.html
http://science1.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast02aug_1/http://mathbio.colorado.edu/mediawiki/index.php/MBW:Gravitational_Effects_on_Blood_Flow
http://www.livestrong.com/article/362352-the-effects-of-zero-gravity-exercise/
http://www.space.com/4302-stresses-immune-organs.html

A Guide to Writing Non-Commercial YA Fantasy

By Cindy Pon

Maybe the title of this post is a little tongue-in-cheek, but not entirely.

When I was pitching my debut novel, Silver Phoenix, in 2008, one of the first editors I met at a local conference read twelve pages and said two things that stuck with me. First: This reads like Crouching Tiger crossed with The Joy Luck Club. Why is it fantasy? Second: Asian fantasy doesn’t sell.

My internal thought to the first was: But doesn’t Crouching Tiger have fantastical elements? And why is he saying it like this is a bad thing? My thought to the second was: Oh.

I immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when I was six years old, which means I learned English as a second language. I remember vividly my first grade teacher having to write my name onto the chalkboard because I didn’t know the alphabet. I remember staying home to work on my English while I watched the neighborhood kids play outside. So, when sometime in the third grade I began reading—and reading a lot—it seemed as if magical worlds had been opened to me. I had worked so hard to gain access to these story treasures!

I fell in love with books, and fantasy was one of my favorite genres. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized I had never seen a character who looked like me in any of the fantasy novels I had read. That’s why I wrote Silver Phoenix.

It was incredibly disheartening to be told by the first professional editor I’d met as a budding writer: Don’t bother. No one wants this.

Well, Silver Phoenix did sell to Greenwillow Books, and it was published in 2009, a difficult time in publishing, and an even more challenging one for debut authors. That year, my novel was the only Asian-inspired YA fantasy released by a major publisher, and now, six years later, I can still count on one hand the number that are released any given year. There have been strides, but not many.

When I began writing Serpentine, which was published on Sept. 8, I knew it was a risk. I was writing another fantasy set in my fictitious Kingdom of Xia when the sales numbers for my other books had not been strong. But if you know me personally, you know that no one tells me what to or not to do, and I am a stubborn-headed goat. When I do find a story idea, I always write that novel. Serpentine was on submission for two years, with a handful of editors giving very positive feedback, but asking to see something “entirely different” from me instead.

I was ready to self-publish when Serpentine and its sequel were acquired by Month9Books, and it has been a fantastic journey with this amazing small press. But those two years on submission gave me time to realize all the things that made Serpentine “not commercial” by the standards of what is popular in YA fantasy’s current market.

1. “Too many Asians”

My novels feature casts that are almost entirely Asian, which is very rarely seen in YA books. I’ve also come to realize that the setting itself, inspired by ancient China, is severely othered by the average Western reader, even those who are enthusiastic fantasy readers. Ancient China is more foreign and seen as less commercial than Mars or the moon.

2. “Always the handmaid, never the princess”

I’m very familiar with fantasy’s love for royalty, the princes and princesses who must be smart, brave, and persevere to save their kingdoms. I have read and loved many of these fantasy stories, but have never been drawn to writing them myself. My heroines have always been underdogs, and it is no different in Serpentine. Orphaned at birth, the main character Skybright has been a handmaid and companion to her mistress her entire life. She is pragmatic and hardworking, until one night she wakes to find the lower half of her body has morphed into a long serpentine coil. This changes what she thought she knew about herself and her life forever.

3. “Sisters before misters”

I knew from the outset that I wanted a strong female friendship to be the focus of Serpentine. It was something that was lacking in my Phoenix novels, but also, it was a tribute to all the fabulous women friends I have in my own life, who have boosted and encouraged me in my writing career. And although there is a strong romance between Skybright and a boy she meets, I do believe the core of the story is the friendship between Skybright and Zhen Ni.

4. “Different but not that different”

    I think the true irony is that I always think I am writing to market. Shapeshifters are a popular staple in fantasy, both urban and traditional, and are part of the mythos and lore of many cultures worldwide. But one of my critique readers found the idea of a serpent demon heroine “gross”, and an editor said that despite my beautiful storytelling, a half serpent with a forked tongue would be a “tough sell” to the YA readership. Well, damn. Why can I never just fit nicely in the YA Fantasy Expectations Box? I blame my fascination with the idea of monstrous beauties, as well as the Greek mythology of Medusa, who was a beautiful woman herself before she was changed into a monster.

    As for whether or not Asian fantasy sells, I think that it can, if these titles are given the same strong publicity and marketing push as other Western-inspired YA fantasies. I have yet to see this happen, and when there is strong buzz from the big publishers, it has often been for an Asian-inspired fantasy written by a white author.

    So I’m especially grateful that Serpentine has had the chance to enter the world—and that the reception, so far, has been so welcoming. And if you decide to take a chance with a non-commercial YA fantasy, reader, I hope you enjoy Serpentine.

    Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Serpentine, the first title in her next Xia duology, is a Junior Library Guild selection for Fall 2015. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at www.cindypon.com.

    Signed/personalized copies of Serpentine may be purchased from Mysterious Galaxy Books, and if you do so by Sept. 12, you will receive a brush art card (with art by Cindy Pon) with the book.

    Don’t forget! You can enter to win Serpentine and four other wonderful YA SFF novels at our Fantasy & Science Fiction Month giveaway (deadline Oct. 6).

    Some authors try to pass off subtext, allegories, “undefined relationships,” and “love that’s open to interpretation” as equal to blatant textual evidence that a character is MOGII-identified. While that was really the most people could hope for in terms of representation 50, 40, or 30 years ago, that’s not the case anymore. For example, Malinda Lo has written four novels picked up by mainstream publishers, none of which feature cishet protagonists. Ash (Little, Brown 2009) is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella with more fantasy elements, Huntress (Little, Brown 2011) is a prequel to Ash that features two queer female protagonists, and her duology Adaptation (Little, Brown 2012) is a science-fiction story with a bisexual female protagonist. Lo has been a guest at speaking events, book panels, book conferences, and signing tours since first being published in 2009; her books have sold well and all four of them are either already published or soon to be published in the U.K. and Australia.


    Despite the success of Adaptation and other Young Adult sci-fi books with one or more canon bisexual major characters such as Otherbound by CorinnBe Duyvis, Saga by Brian K. Vaughan (which is a graphic novel series, but still worth noting in this list), The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Love In The Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block, people are spending time writing articles about whether Divergent is the science fiction genre’s first bisexual allegory. It seems backwards to congratulate books for having possible queer interpretations of characters when books with canon queer characters, many of which are written by MOGII-identified authors, exist and are going unnoticed.

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    FOTD: Winter Flush
    Guest post for Powder Doom by Ceedling
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    We Don't Need Another Straight, White, Able-bodied Hero

    When Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith initially sent their postapocalyptic YA western, Stranger, out on submission, agents asked them to de-gay the book. They refused but persevered, and Stranger has just been published by Viking Juvenile. This is the story of that book’s inspiration.

    By Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

    Rachel Manija Brown: A number of years ago, I was working at the Jim Henson Company (The Muppets; Labyrinth), optioning books to be made into movies and TV shows. But what I really wanted was to create my own stories.

    I’ve always loved the images and story elements of Westerns — the stranger who comes to town and shakes things up, the desperate chase through the desert, the man with no name, the tough sheriff, the saloon where everyone in town comes to gossip. But I wanted one where the characters were more like me, and more like the people who live in the west now.

    The real California of the Gold Rush was much more diverse than it’s usually portrayed: Jews were there, and free black people, and Chinese people; Indians from various tribes, and people from Mexico, Chile, and Peru. Not to mention a whole lot of incredibly tough women. It was by no means a multicultural paradise. But it also wasn’t a place where everyone was white and women existed only as saloon girls, loyal wives, and prizes to be won by the male hero.

    Then I imagined a future west: a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles where technology had reverted back to Gold Rush levels, but which was still as diverse as the real city I lived in. An image came to my mind, of a teenage boy desperately fleeing through the desert, without food or water but carrying something precious in his battered pack. A bounty hunter was relentlessly tracking him, and the desert was full of mutated bloodsucking plants. Could he reach the refuge of a small frontier town before he succumbed to thirst, or deadly wildlife, or a bullet?

    I could see that boy in my mind’s eye. He didn’t look like the typical tall, light-skinned, blue-eyed hero of a western. He looked like the young men I saw every day in Los Angeles, the young men who had really lived in the California of the Old West. His skin was brown and his hair was black; he wasn’t tall or burly, but he was stronger than he looked. I wondered what it was that he had in his pack, that he was so desperate to protect…

    Years later, I met Sherwood to collaborate on a TV show, and I told her about that idea. By then the young man had a name: Ross Juarez.

    Sherwood Smith: I loved it! We talked back and forth, scribbling down our favorite ideas: mysterious ruins and super powers, and taking familiar tropes and turning them inside out. The brainy mechanic sidekick, who’s always a guy, would be a girl who has trouble getting outside of her own head. And she wouldn’t be a sidekick, but the heroine. The tough sheriff would be a woman — a super-strong woman, with half her face beautiful and half a skull! The town was guarded not only by adult men, but by all the townspeople — including teenagers. Some with powers, some not! And if a love triangle developed, we’d take it in a completely new direction.

    In listing all our favorite tropes (super-powers! Bad-ass teens! Weird flora and fauna! Interesting food from many cultures!), we discovered that we were also on the same wavelength concerning diversity.

    Rachel: I’d volunteered with the Virginia Avenue Project for years. It’s a program to mentor low-income kids and teenagers through the arts. I used to take the kids to a bookstore and let them buy anything they wanted to read. One day an African American girl mentioned that every time she picked up a book with a cover that showed a girl like her, she’d find that it was about gangs, drugs, or teen pregnancy.

    “I don’t relate to that!” she said. She wanted to read about black girls who were like her: who read books, who had many interests and a loving family, and who had absolutely nothing to do with gangs or drugs. And she wanted them to have the sorts of adventures that you can only have between the pages of a book.

    Sherwood: When I was in high school, I had a friend of color who admitted that much as she loved fairy tales, she wished that just once the heroine wouldn’t be pale, with golden hair, and eyes like sapphires. What would be so wrong about a heroine with brown skin, eyes, and hair?

    Because both of us have people in our lives — friends, brothers, sisters, aunts, great-uncles, and so forth — who happen to be gay or disabled, we wanted not only to reflect the patterns of ordinary life in our story, but to write one in which people who seldom get to see characters like themselves as heroes get to do just that. And, of course, in many ways we ourselves don’t fit into the standard heroic mold.

    It seemed natural to map our future Los Angeles over the actual demographics of LA. White people are already a minority; 50% of the city is Hispanic/Latino. Today many people face prejudice based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. After an apocalypse, we thought that many old prejudices would die out, once the power structure that sustained them was gone.  But humans being humans, new ones have replaced them, specifically a bias against the mutated “Changed” folk.

    We began the story as a screenplay, but the worldbuilding and the story became so involved that we turned it into a book.  Because we wanted the story to be about a community, we wrote it as an ensemble piece. The points of view rotate between five main characters. Selling this book, however, was difficult —

    and for unexpected reasons: “Authors Say Agents Try to ‘Straighten’ Gay Characters in YA” (Genreville at Publishers Weekly)

    There are two important takeaways. First, it wasn’t just one agent who wanted us to make one of our protagonists straight. That agent was just more upfront about it — and made it very clear that it wasn’t because they were personally anti-gay, but because they believed that no one would buy a book with a gay hero.

    The second important takeaway is that when we discussed this in private with some other writers, we got an outpouring of letters from other writers who’d had similar experiences, with agents or editors or simply family members who earnestly warned them that received wisdom stated you can’t sell a book with a gay hero, or a Hispanic hero, or a disabled hero.

    Our article prompted fantasy writer Malinda Lo to analyze all YA novels published in the US. She found that fewer than 1% of all YA novels have any LGBTQ characters at all, even minor supporting characters. A slightly larger number have heroes (as opposed to sidekicks and supporting characters) who are anything other than white, straight, and able-bodied.

    We are not the only writers would like to see more types of heroes, in more types of stories. If you’re interested in reading more YA fantasy and science fiction with diverse heroes of various sorts, try books by Malorie Blackman, Joseph Bruchac, Sarwat Chadda, Sarah Diemer, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Cynthia Leitich Smith, David Levithan, Malinda Lo, Marie Lu, Patrick Ness, Ellen Oh, Nnedi Okorafor, Tamora Pierce, Cindy Pon, Rick Riordan, Sherri Smith, or Laurence Yep.  And they’re not the only ones writing diverse characters. There are more extensive book lists here.

    Our belief is that if these books exist and readers can find them, they will buy them. And that will send a signal to publishers that anyone can be a hero. 

    Rachel Manija Brown is the author of all sorts of stories in all sorts of genres. She has also written comic books, short stories, poetry, television scripts, plays, video games, and a memoir. She writes the “Werewolf Marines” urban fantasy series for adults under the name of Lia Silver, and lesbian romance (also for adults) under the name of Rebecca Tregaron. In her other identity, she is a trauma/PTSD therapist. Visit Rachel’s website here.

    Sherwood Smith (www.sherwoodsmith.net) is a retired teacher, and the author of many fantasy novels for teenagers and adults, including Crown Duel and the Mythopoeic Award Finalist The Spy Princess. She lives in Southern California.

    You can purchase a copy of Stranger here.

    Guest Post by Anonymous--How to write an Asexual Character

    Yes, I am the same Anonymous as in this post. Which makes this probably out of order, but whatever. So…here we go. How to write an asexual character, told in the form of a question an answer, both of which written by me.

    Q. What do you mean by asexual?

    A. In this case, I’m talking about human beings (and, I suppose, other humanoids) who fall under the asexual umbrella.

    Q. Which is?

    A. Basically, the asexual umbrella (aka the asexual spectrum) is the range of anywhere between feeling no sexual attraction and feeling some sexual attraction. Basic terminology lesson—allosexual refers to someone who feels sexual attraction. The asexual umbrella covers people who aren’t allosexual.

    Q. So what are you?

    A. Currently, a little stressed, with a craving for Cheez-its.

    Q. …

    A. I am a gray-asexual (gray-ace) heteroromantic cis female.

    Q. Can you go over all of those terms?

    A. Easy ones first—cis female means I am female in both sex and gender. Heteroromantic means that I am romantically attracted to men. Gray-asexual (aka gray-ace) means that…well, it’s kind of complicated. Basically, there are three main classifications used for the asexual umbrella. Asexual means the person doesn’t feel sexual attraction. Demisexual means that the person feels sexual attraction only in the case of a strong emotional bond. Gray-asexual is anywhere else on the spectrum between allosexual and asexual.

    Q. Can you be more specific about gray-asexuality?

    A. It’s a deliberately vague term, but I’ll try. I identify as gray-ace for two reasons—I don’t feel I understand enough about what sexual orientation is to definitely say that I never feel it, and because what I do feel (I look at people and think that some of them are super attractive but never have the urge to have sex with any of them or with anyone at all). Some people identify as gray-ace for the same reason that I do, because they aren’t sure if they want to commit to identifying as fully asexual. Some people identify as it for other reasons—they only feel sexual attraction occasionally, they only feel sexual attraction while taking part in BDSM, they have experienced sexual attraction once in their life and feel that that is the best identifier for them because of that.

    Q. How many people in the world are asexual?

    A. Surveys and other estimate put the number at around 1% of the population.

    Q. When do people usually figure out they’re asexual?

    A. I was eighteen when I figured it out. Some people figure it out earlier. Some people figure it out later. From what I remember, late teens to early twenties is a pretty common age.

    Q. What did you think you were before you knew you were asexual?

    A. One, I’m gray-ace, not asexual. To answer the question, I thought I was just a kind of screwed up straight person.

    Q. So how would you write an asexual character?

    A. I would write a character and not put in any sexual attraction.

    Q. Really?

    A. Yeah, for me, it tends to be that easy. In fact, I have a much more difficult time actually remembering to have characters feel sexual attraction. I, however, am not a great metric, for obvious reasons. Here are a few things to remember:

    • The whole thing of lust at first sight doesn’t work. While some asexuals do feel sexual desire, it is generally not directed at anybody.
    • Some asexuals do have sex. There are a lot of reasons for asexuals to have sex. They might want to know what it feels like. They might enjoy the feel of sex. They might want to make their partner happy.
    • Sexual orientation is not tied to romantic attraction. Someone in the asexual umbrella could have any romantic orientation, just as an allosexual could have any romantic orientation.
    • There are three types of feelings in regards to sex. Sex aversion or sex repulsion are, as they sound, an aversion or repulsion to sex. This can relate to physical sex, visuals of sex, videos of sex, discussions of sex, or any number of things. Sex indifference is an indifference towards sex. Someone who is sex indifferent would not necessarily choose to have sex given no other motivators, but wouldn’t be adverse to it, either. Sex favorable means that a person enjoys and may actively seek out sex. People can be anywhere between these three. They may be averse to some things related to sex but indifferent to others.
    • People in the asexual spectrum aren’t necessarily anti-sex. I have no problem with sex. Go have sex all you want as long as I don’t need to watch it. Some are anti-sex, just as some people in all walks of life are anti-sex.
    • We are not by definition cold or frigid or antisocial or anything like that. We are people.

    Q. What are your biggest pet peeves related to how asexuality is written?

    A. It’s hard to have a pet peeve when it pretty much never shows up in media. At all. But I suppose my biggest one would be this:

    Asexuality is used as a measure of inhumanity. In some books, you can tell when a character is becoming more “human” when they begin to feel sexual attraction or sexual desire. I love Nalini Singh’s books, but it’s a bit disheartening that one of the primary attributes of a brainwashed and repressed person becoming less so is that they start to want to have sex. In Supernatural, the viewers can tell Castiel is becoming more human because he sleeps with someone.

    Lack of sexual attraction doesn’t make someone inhuman. We aren’t angels. We aren’t devils. We aren’t alien. We aren’t plants. We aren’t repressed or prudes or mourning the loss of some ex-love. I genuinely have no interest in having sex. If I wanted to have sex, I would have had sex by now.

    Q. What should someone do if they think they might be asexual?

    A. So, the “typical” answer to this is to check out AVEN (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network), but I think I’ve been on their website like twice, so I’ll give you what I used.

    This is the first website I ever found about asexuality: CupcakeArrow

    Here’s what I generally read now: TheThinkingAsexual, Asexual Agenda, TheAceTheist.

    Read what works for you.

    Q. Should non-asexuals who want to learn about asexuality read those websites?

    A. Yes…ish. AVEN, yes, definitely check that. The others, and the ones they link to, they are for people in the ace umbrella, by people in the ace umbrella. In some ways, they may need context to be understood, and that context may not exist for people who have never had those experiences. They in many cases contain really interesting pieces of queer and asexual theory, but they may not always make sense or be helpful out of context. Don’t think that just because you read those websites and understand them, you understand what it means to be asexual. You need more than that.

    Q. Anything else?

    A. Talk to people. Talk to people on different parts of the asexual umbrella. Talk to asexual people of different races, genders, sexes, socio-economic and political groups. We aren’t all the same, just like straight people aren’t all the same, or gay people, or bi people, or trans people, or any other set of people.

    How To Get Germans to Speak German To You

    One of the most common questions I hear from you guys is how to deal when other people refuse to practice your target language with you. I’m excited to present some awesome advice from Anja at The Germanz in Australia.

    Matching this awesome topic, I’ve created the new guide Make Your German Sound Amazing, featuring 26 Key Phrases For Conversations with German Speakers. Just click on the little black button here to download it and use it alongside Anja’s tips.


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    Germans and their love for English

    When you get lost in Australia, the States or the UK and ask for directions, people will most likely answer in English. When you get lost in Germany, people will most likely answer in English too. 

    Studies suggest that (only) 62% of the German population is actually able to hold a conversation in English and most movies and TV shows are still dubbed into German. In fact, most German customers still prefer things the German way and speaking German is still a necessity no matter where you live in Germany (with the exception of Berlin).
     
    So why is it that German learners complain that Germans respond to them in English? 
     
    What if I told you that you don’t just have to take it? No doubt, you can help Germans stay on track and chat away in German for ages. 

    I’m German myself and I’m going to tell you about a few easy things you can do.

    Why Germans Switch To English

    Germans switch to English for three reasons. 

    1. Sometimes they want to help you
    2. Sometimes they want to help themselves
    3. Sometimes they just prey on the vulnerable and make you the practice tool

    But most of the time, they just don’t know any better. 

    1. They want to help you

    Sometimes Germans simply think it’s being polite. They want to help you communicate more efficiently.

    When you ask them, “How goes you? I not finds the station train”, they will most likely help you out in English without speaking a word of German. ‘Oh, that’s cool, they tried in German. They’ll probably understand better when I tell them where to go in English!’, the efficient mind will think.

    Germans love speaking English, even when speaking German. Even though many Germans learn at least one foreign language in school, some of them fail to remember that only practice makes perfect.

    Additionally, some seem to forget that the comprehension skills of a learner usually outweigh their speaking abilities.

    The innocently English speaking German simply doesn’t get that you may understand, that it would be polite and helpful to respond in German. It’s like they buried their teenage memories somewhere in the deepness of their minds, along with that sneaky first kiss behind the school building.

    Germans will think you just want to break the ice by saying a few words in German. They will return that favour and will try to make the conversation as unconditionally comfortable as possible for you. In English.

    2. It’s easier for them

    But Germans are not always driven by lovely innocence. Some Germans are simply not patient enough: ‘It will be quicker and easier if I just tell them in English. I’m almost late already!’
    If their guesstimate places your German skills below their own English proficiency, they might respond in English.

    For Germans, it’s all about communicating efficiently. No overexcited small talk, no politely beating about the actual topic, no exchange of unnecessary information, but rather direct communication, cutting to the chase and getting this question answered as accurately and quickly as possible. In English.

    3. Germans want to practise their English skills

    Of course, let’s face it, a few Germans simply want to practise their English on you because they know how awesome it feels to finally speak in your language of choice. 

    Moreover, they want to show off how good their English is to impress you (and others). They are going to take advantage of you. 

    Imagine how convenient, they don’t even have to leave their country to get what they crave. Speaking English. ‘Perfect! This guy from England gets to speak German every day; doesn’t he live here in Germany?’ 

    They quickly forget that a lot of others see their opportunity as well, and this poor guy from England and his German skills fall by the wayside.

    Here’s what you should do, as well as what you should avoid, to keep up the conversation in German. 

    How to Make Them Speak German

    How can you fulfil your dreams and get those Germans to speak in German to you? Embrace these two rules that everything boils down to:
     
    1. Speak no English to Germans

    And

    2. Make your German sound better than it is.

    These two rules are the magic tricks that will lead to a happy life in Germany. 

    Let’s have a look at how to put them into practice with concrete examples and workarounds.

    Respond in German

    To really cash in and get the Germans speak German, you want to stay away from English as much as possible.
     
    Certainly, it will take some courage especially when you think your German is not good enough. But you know what? The Germans will work it out. If they don’t get what you mean, they will ask (in English or German, it doesn’t really matter). 

    But if you’re asked, you’ll get a second chance to say it. You may even get some valuable feedback.
     
    More importantly, when someone starts speaking English to you, just keep responding in German. 

    If your German is already good enough, try to translate the English response into German and say it back to them in German. Be patient and stick to German to get them back on track, no matter what.
     
    If you don’t understand, ask them what it means, in German

    Once more, under no circumstances switch to English.
     
    If you can’t remember the word and you really need to know it, do the following:

    Describe the word in German and ask them about the correct word.

    • Was heißt nochmal das eine Pedal im Auto? -Nein, das andere. Ach, ja, das Gaspedal. - What would you call that one pedal in the car? -No, the other one. Ah yes, the gas pedal.) or

    Ask them for the translation in German.

    • Wie heißt nochmal ‘dog’ auf Deutsch? - What’s the word for ‘dog’ in German again? 

    Work on your pronunciation

    As Germans like to switch when they think that communicating with you might not go too smoothly, how about you make your language skills less of a problem? 

    If Germans think that you’re comfortable speaking in German, they are less likely to switch.
     
    One way of making your German sound better than it is, is to be amazing at pronouncing things. Just practice the proper pronunciation and know how the intonation pattern of a sentence works.

    Use phrases and conversation fillers

    You could also use phrases and conversation fillers to make your responses sound more natural. 

    The idea is again that we want to make our German sound better than it is. It’s like saying, “Keep going, nothing to see here”.
     
    To keep up the flow when speaking, it’s a great idea to have handy the vocabulary you will need. But also don’t forget that natives use clichés and filler words, and they say ‘uhmm’ a lot. 
     
    Here are some examples:

    • Ach wirklich/Echt? - Ah really?
    • Cool!
    • Macht nichts!/Kein Problem. - That’s alright!/No problem.
    • Hört sich gut an. - Sounds good.
    • Ach so. - Ah yea.
    • Stimmt!/Genau - I agree./Yeah, that’s right.
    • Na ja, vielleicht. - Yeah, maybe.

    Compromise

    Let’s face it, sometimes there’s no way that subtle hints will get them back on track. 

    Please don’t take it personally, they might not even notice. The only thing that will help here is to be very clear about your goals, about genuinely wanting to learn proper German.
     
    Apart from saying “Bitte nur in Deutsch”, you can decide to blitzkrieg and offer a language tandem. Your compromise could be
     
    One hour speaking in German, another hour speaking in English.
     If you see them every day, you could agree to speak English from Monday to Wednesday and German from Thursday to Sunday.
     
    If the two of you agree to correct each other properly and also provide alternatives for certain sentences and phrases, you could both benefit from the language tandem quite a bit.

    Make (new) German friends

    As your language skills progress, you’ll be able to chat away on more and more topics. You will be developing your ‘German You.’ It may be the same as — or completely different from — the English-speaking you.
     
    With your ever-improving skills, making new German friends will become a lot easier.
     
    If you have moved to a German-speaking country, you’ll hit the jackpot by joining a club (der Verein) in the German countryside, but clubs can be found anywhere across Germany, even in the big cities. Similarly, you want to get involved and lend a hand at the local Tatort night, the German-speaking weekly handcraft meeting or the local climbing hall.
     
    Try to maintain a healthy ratio of English-speaking and only-German-speaking friends. You have a choice among about 100 million German native speakers in the European Union alone.
     
    Don’t forget, the more you get to speak German, the easier it gets. Just let Germans know you’re up for a challenge. They will be up for it as well. 

    Summary

    In summary, please don’t get turned off by responses in English, keep learning German and remember these two fundamental rules: 

    1. Don’t speak English to Germans.
    2. Make your German sound better than it is.

    On a concrete note, you could:

    • Always reply in German.
    • Ask for missing words and explanations in German.
    • Improve your pronunciation.
    • Use conversation fillers and ‘uhm’ a lot.
    • Compromise by offering language tandems.
    • Move to the German country.
    • Make (new) German speaking friends.

    You’ll find more nifty tricks on learning and speaking German on my German language blog. 

    Don’t forget to tell me in the comments about your favourite strategy in dealing with English speaking Germans. 


    This article was written by Anja. Anja lives in Melbourne, Australia, is originally from Germany and writes about the German language and culture on her blog when she is not busy teaching German language classes. Hang out and have a chat with her on Google+ or Twitter.


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    No one reads Liliane Giraudon.

    [The following review of Giraudon’s Fur is by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert. It was first published in Bakunin vol 6 (1997) as part of Alter-Gilbert’s feature on the “cruel tale.”]

    The first thing that strikes the reader of the fiction of Liliane Giraudon is that she doesn’t write like anyone else. Bearing vague traces of surrealism, Giraudon’s oeuvre draws comparison with that of Leonora Carrington, Gisèle Prassinos, and Rikki Ducornet; but Giraudon is not a surrealist. Neither is she a pure fantast like her French contemporary Julia Verlanger, nor a naive meliorist in spite of all odds like her other compatriot Marie Redonnet [ed.: Alter-Gilbert translated Redonnet’s Dead Man & Company]. Her voice is hypnotic, inscrutable, unique. A trip through one of her narratives is like a somnambular stroll through a rain-soaked ravine with an unreadable road map; a ramble in fugue-state through a wilderness where signposts are written in the language of emotion and the logic of the heart.

    Giraudon is a practitioner of silent writing—that is, writing which does not explicitly signal its meaning or purpose. Her poetically-charged prose percolates with unsaid bubblings and unstated gurglings which never surge to the surface, but rush past in irresistible riptides. Her style is discontinuous, at times even fragmentary, yet image-rich and marked by descriptive precision. This disjunctive, highly-colored verbotechny results in an exquisite fuzziness a la Mallarmé. The pieces of her puzzles are like broken mirror shards, each reflecting other parts of a larger image, but never the whole. A clue may be taken from the title of her previous collection of stories (also published by Sun & Moon) Palaksch, Palaksch: a phrase employed by deranged poet Friedrich Holderlin, to mean anything…or nothing.

    Giraudon’s operational field is a mythic space unpolluted by references to contemporary cheese culture; her characters breathe the sterile air of psycho-emotional vacuum. Her plots and themes are enigmatic and border on the unreal, if not, at times, the non-representational; but there are badges of familiar sensibility—a preoccupation with victims and victimization, revenge motifs, and acts of unrepentant enmity—conspicuous hallmarks of the cruel tale. Her inventory is stocked with fetish and fixation, aberrant behavior, medical anomaly, atavism, evolutionary warpage, and creatic compulsion. Her characters are wounded souls, lost, lonely, often self-loathing; insular anti-heroes whose private hells slowly unravel to reveal a barely controlled hysteria. Their secret selves, propelled by instinct and animal drives, are awash with dark undercurrents of primal savagery; held in bondage by a sensuality which starts out where D. H. Lawrence left off, they grope in a stew of dream and desire, around which the deformed, the disfigured, and the denatured do a dance for domination. These prisoners of the flesh, beset by strange obsessions, teased by Aeons and Archons, tortured by twisted eroticism, are gripped by predatory forces to which they are tacitly resigned. The spirit of Dr. Moreau is everywhere: hints at moonspawn and mutant progeny abound; insinuations of union between man and beasts accentuate an exploration of biomorphic boundaries and what defines them.

    At least two of Fur’s narratives sit squarely in the grand tradition of the cruel tale: “Clothilde’s Goat” and “The Yellow Glove.” Others are about life’s cruelties: its tantalizations and temptations, dashed hopes, and damaged dreams; about dead babies whose absence is commemorated by concluding lines like: “At this time, around her, that is, here, near us, the stars continue their monotonous course; a terrible heart disease is found in all dogs.”

    In “Lateral Life,” the subject is bodily sacrifice; in “The Lesson,” interruption, truncation, curtailment of action, inhibition of completion; in “The Peephole,” it is a masochistic ravishment persecution fantasy, with minatory spectral participants; in “The Tie,” the thinness of the veneer separating civilization from the teeming bestiality beneath. In “The Center,” linguistic interpreters inhabit a tactile sensorium which is a metaphor for the elusiveness of the abstract, the unobtainable nature of the absolute, and the ephemerality of all things; “Pauline Buisson” is about the art of suffering, how fate exacts its pound of flesh, how people get under the skin and make each other bleed; in “Wolf Pass” the keynote is the threat of the inhuman; in “Lidia’s Leg,” cross-species loss and longing.

    From the country which gave birth to the cruel tale, to the Theater of Cruelty and to Donatien Alphonse de Sade, comes a fresh contribution to the canon of the unkind: Fur is a book of disturbing beauty reverberant with endless mystery.

    [Gilbert Alter-Gilbert is a critic, translator, and literary historian whose recent publications include the grim anthology Life and Limb and an English-language edition of Vicente Huidobro’s Manifestos Manifest. An “experimental classicist,” Alter-Gilbert is an inveterate practitioner of fictive history (see Poets Ranked By Beard Weight), a genre pioneered by such illustrious forebears as Marcel Schwob and Raymond Roussel.]

    Ed: also see a post on Giraudon on the Project for Innovative Poetry blog.

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    HOW-TO: A WEARABLE ALTERNATIVE TO UNDERCOVER’S AW 14 BLOOD RED EYESHADOW
    By Hannah Smith for Powder Doom

    So, here’s a more wearable version of the Undercover AW 14 look: red eyeliner but much softer and less dramatic, for days when you need to look more toned down or don’t feel like drowning your face in powder.

    [EDITORS NOTE: Only use red makeup that explicitly states it is safe to use on/around your eyes/waterline - please be safe!]

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    The Diversity Struggle for a POC Author

    By Lydia Kang

    I’m a POC. Person of color. My parents were born in Korea, but I was born and raised in suburban Maryland. Until seventh grade, I was the only POC in my entire grade and for several years, the whole elementary school. In middle school, half the class was Black, but I was still the only Asian student until I hit private school in ninth grade.

    Sorry for the info dump, but there is a point, I promise.

    When I wrote CONTROL (Dial BFYR/Penguin), I confess that writing POC characters wasn’t a priority for me. My main character, Zelia, is of Jewish heritage (reflecting, perhaps, that half the kids in my grade school were Jewish). Creating the other POC characters (Hex, who is East Asian and Blink, who is a Black French Canadian) took a lot of thought, second-guessing, and work.

    I’m jealous of other authors who effortlessly make diversity a priority in their writing. But the truth is, it’s a struggle for me. You’d think that because I was a POC myself, it would be easy to integrate different cultures into my writing.

    It’s not.

    Sometimes I think that my whole childhood was whitewashed. For years, I was asked if I was Chinese or Japanese, and got used to the funny looks when I told them I was Korean. It was humiliating. Clearly, I was failing some sort of multiple-choice categorization amongst my peers. I was horribly bullied. The books I read had heroines that were almost always white. I resented being different. I hated how I looked. I didn’t tolerate my culture unless it involved food.

    It took a very long time before I embraced and loved my Korean heritage. I had to fight to undo the external and self-inflicted internal conditioning that I experienced as a kid.

    So for those of you who are putting diversity into your books, I applaud you. But I also want people to understand that just because you’re a POC, writing diversity doesn’t come easily, like we were born knowing what or how to write. I’m still learning, still processing, and still trying hard to un-whitewash my own writing because of the childhood I experienced.

    I believe my childhood would have been different if the books I read had more POC characters, and if I’d had the comfort (even fictional) that I wasn’t alone. For the sake of our readers, who consciously or unconsciously see real life and struggles and normalcy reflected in our books, we need to fight the tendencies to keep our characters’ races “safe.”

    I promise to keep working on it. If you’re a writer, I hope you’ll work on it too. And if you’re a reader, I hope you support books with POC characters. Because it does make a difference.

    I’m living proof.

    Lydia Kang is a young adult fiction author, part-time doctor, salt-lover, geek-girl, and hyphen addict. Her debut YA sci-fi novel, CONTROL (Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin) is available now and its sequel CATALYST (Kathy Dawson Books/Penguin) arrives Winter 2015.

    How to Diversify Your Writing – Without Misrepresentation by Casey Lawrence

    One of the major compliments I get on my novel Out of Order is about the diversity of its cast. Of the main four girls, two of them are women of colour, two of them are queer, and one has a chronic illness; there is only one straight, white, male character in the entire book, and he certainly isn’t the protagonist. The main character, Corey, is a mixed-raced, bisexual teenage girl. In my second book, Order in the Court, she will struggle with mental health issues, too. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with “doing” diversity in my books—and doing it right.

    Diversity is important in all genres, but especially in YA. Whether you’re 15 or 85, you want to see someone like you in the books you read. If you’re straight, white, or cisgender, odds are you’ve seen yourself in many protagonists. If you’re a disabled lesbian of colour, you probably haven’t. This isn’t because you don’t exist—far from it. We live in a diverse world that needs to be reflected in our fiction. I think one of the main reasons (besides that publishers don’t think these kinds of books will sell—this problem is getting better every day) is that authors don’t want to mess it up, don’t want to get it wrong, and therefore play it safe.

    Last summer I wrote an article for GayYA called My Big Gay Sequel where I lamented that I was no longer happy with Out of Order, which made it increasingly difficult to finish Order in the Court. Only after publishing my first book did I realise that I had fallen into some clichés and tropes: Ambiguously Bi. The One Exception. Confused Bisexuals. Turned Gay. Dead Lesbian Syndrome. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t keep trying. Here are some things I learned, good and bad, about trying to write a diverse cast.

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