Hello, everyone! It feels like a very long time since I reviewed some self-pubbed titles, doesn’t it?! And, yes, it really has been; for the last couple of years, due to Muffin being the focus of my book-buying budget, I have been at the mercy of the library catalogue for developing my own TBR, and we all know many libraries do not carry indie or small press releases. But this Christmas when I amazingly had a gift card that wasn’t earmarked for something else, I used it to search out some indie authors I’d been meaning to try. And one of these titles was a gift from the author. So a couple of months ago, I took a break from paring down the mountain of discards I took from the library last year, to finish (and even review! yay!) some of the non-trad titles. Here we go!
The Thor Bozman Collection by Wm Brett Hill
These stories are unique, written with a clear voice, and each is different. The tales aren’t connected to one another, but all the narrators feel authentic to their own story. The settings and plots wildly vary, too. The author gets a chance to explore a variety of themes and thoughts, and I really liked the twists — even the couple that I suspected were coming were delivered in a satisfying way. There is some gory violence and a little adult language, not a bad thing in my view, just for readers to be aware of in case it’s not your cup of tea. If you like sci-fi and spec fic (including dystopian or post-apocalypse), these are neat tales to immerse yourself in. I read one a night across the span of about a week, and every night it was an hour well spent. I’m looking forward to what Hill may tackle next!
Snapshots by Jeff Coleman
This was a real find. I used to follow this author’s blog, where every week he’d release a new piece of flash fiction. Although he has moved on to full-length novels (do look him up!), I am so, so pleased he bundled together the blog posts and published them as an anthology. Many of them are short (1-2 pages), so you can read several in one go. Each piece features a different setting, location, premise and narrator, and while the voice does very often sound the same, it doesn’t matter; Coleman’s writing is at once expansive and relatable, interesting, serious when it needs to be, touching or funny (when it fits), and some of these “snapshots” are incredibly deep and meaningful to parts of the human experience. Coleman literally runs the whole range of spec fic, from magical realism and fantasy to sci fi and dystopia, to truly scary horror. The collection is neatly divided by category, so finding something you’re in the mood for won’t be hard. My personal favorites are “Redemption” and “The Machine,” both of which move me nearly to tears on each reading. If you like short fiction, this is definitely a treasure trove.
The Hare and the Hatter by Kyle R Shultz
Once upon a time, a mad lad called Kyle Robert Shultz decided to create a fictional place called The Afterverse, and blend subverting fairytale tropes with the historical mystery genre, throw in some references to Alice in Wonderland, and include time travel and he made it all work. Five canon books, a spin-off series, a number of related short stories, and many flailing fans later (who generally just communicate with each other about plot twists by screaming), Shultz returned to the Afterverse this year with The Hare and the Hatter. If you haven’t already read these, it’s impossible to give a proper review without MASSIVE spoilers, so I won’t ruin it for you — just buy Beaumont and Beasley #1, The Beast of Talesend, and get started on the journey.
The fact is, this is one of the most unique and enjoyable fantasy series you’re ever likely to read. Most of the books are fairly short, and while there are a lot of them (including the spin-off series of Crockett and Crane), you can read one usually in a few days (truly, you’ll want to, because boring bits in the middle is not something Shultz does, like, ever). While I may be biased since, yes, this author and I used to work together a lot (he designed several beautiful covers for me), I still like this series, this world, and these characters in their own rights. The Afterverse is home to one of my biggest fictional crushes, not gonna lie, the shapeshifting dragon Malcolm Blackfire. I literally want to marry this man (yes, I know he’s just words on paper, shut it), and tend to get a tad…emotional if this character’s suffering reaches a certain level that I’m not comfortable with him having to endure (basically anything more intense than a papercut). This is by no means the only reason, but indeed one of the main reasons, that I will totally finish this series to the end, no matter how long it takes to acquire and read the rest of the books.
So, there we have it! I hope to have more indie reviews coming up soon! Take care, everyone!
Good morning! Today I have a very special review — featuring A Literary Picnic by Alison Walsh (who is the author of the lovely and impressive blend of classic lit and mad baking skills, A Literary Tea Party, and A Literary Holiday Cookbook). As the title would suggest, A Literary Picnic combines the summer tradition of enjoying indulgent food outside with some of our favorite fictional tales.
Number one: Walsh is a knowledgeable, kind, approachable author. As someone whose disability makes baking from scratch nearly impossible, I never once felt intimidated while trying to find a recipe in A Literary Tea Party that I could tackle. (For anybody who’s interested, it was Arrietty’s Mini Cherry Cakes, inspired by The Borrowers.) While it’s clear that she’s well-versed in culinary arts, her cookbooks only come across as a fellow book-reading hostess attempting to help you create a memorable occasion to share with family or friends. If you enjoy entertaining, with homemade food, I cannot recommend Walsh’s recipes and tips enough (for women or men in the kitchen!).
So, onto the specifics of A Literary Picnic!
To begin with…the photographs are outstanding. I believe the author took them all herself, and I am quite in awe of the fantastic spreads she arranged, and the lighting, and the closeups, and, just, wow. I only have room for a few of them here, but the book is chock full of their gorgeousness!
Each menu in A Literary Picnic includes an appetizer, entree, side dish, dessert, and beverage. The menus range from the very traditional (inspired by Alice in Wonderland), to cute and modern twists (such as the Poison Apple Punch and Wild Swan cookies found in the Fairytales section), to the wonderfully fancy Secret Garden options, to the perfectly homey Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh selections!
Honestly, I think my favorite menu is The Secret Garden-based, with its fruit and flower chicken salad croissants (yuuuuum) and the chocolate raspberry cream puffs (omgggg). But the lovely Rabbit’s Garden Wraps, Tigger’s fruit strips, the chewy granola bars and honeybee cupcakes from Pooh and friends’ picnic runs a very close second!
Along with each menu having detailed recipes (I imagine you could easily mix and match as well, if you so desired!), there are handy tips for getting satisfying results, a list of effective kitchen tools, a conversion chart for different units of measurement (so no wondering how many ounces to cups to liters here!), and fill-in-able recipe cards, so that you can add your favorites to your own collection. This is a cookbook, after all, and Walsh is absolutely efficient in that department!
In short, I highly recommend downloading this new release to add some sparkle to your summer plans! Pick your favorite menu, pack up the basket, and find a sunny (or shady!) spot to enjoy!
You can find plenty more of the author’s mouth-watering treats on https://wonderlandrecipes.com/, and A Literary Picnic, A Literary Tea Party, and A Literary Holiday Cookbook are all available on Amazon!
So, because we’re nearly halfway (?!?!?!) through the year, it makes sense that I would want to make sure I’ve kept everybody up to date on writing progress and the like. But, I confess, there’s a major factor outside of my control that spurred me towards releasing an update post now as opposed to July (which was my original plan).
As some of you may have heard, Amazon has decided to raise its printing costs for authors. As you can imagine, this means what we’re paid in royalties is going to change. This means we’re being strongly encouraged (practically forced, unfortunately) to change the listings of our book prices, so that when the new minimum royalty rate goes into effect, we’ll actually earn something after the cost of printing/distributing our book. And this means that we authors are now faced with the conundrum of having to raise the prices on our work (perhaps significantly), or keep them where they are, and risk seeing our royalties drop, possibly drastically.
So (after a fair amount of mood swings and malcontent over this entire situation), I’ve made the decision to raise the prices on my Amazon listings. It’s not a choice I take lightly, and honestly, I’m gutted. I proudly kept my prices low — despite it affecting my royalties — out of the love for fellow bookworms who are on a tight budget. I have always been so very pleased that random people across the country are enthused about my work, and I wanted to provide it at a cost that felt reasonable, and kind, to these readers who certainly have millions of other options clamoring for their attention. However, I make very little as it is when it comes to book sales (as an indie author with a modest platform), and the idea of not getting anything after distribution is a heartwrenching one.
And, because I do want my readers to know this choice is truly not personal, I have made some strategic calls regarding my KDP account:
Previous editions of some of my work (that have not done well in terms of sales) have been archived, and the availability of certain formats reflects the feedback from my reports. The digital and paperback versions (new covers) of Volume 1, 2, and 3 of The Order of the Twelve Tribes are consistently on sale, as well as the print version of Fire and Wind. The ebook of all of my short stories, I is for Invisible, M is for Moth, can be bought on Kindle.
Because I respect the free market and readers needing to shop around, I’ve left the print versions of my short stories, and the original covers for Volumes 1, 2 and 3 on Barnes & Noble. Also, the promotional version of How To Be A Savage and Other Tales can be found in print via B&N.
Although I am raising prices on Amazon, prices on Barnes & Noble will stay put. Exercising my right as an independent contractor.
Volume 4 will be released to both retailers, and I will let readers make their own choice on which they purchase the new title from.
I am looking into other options for digital distribution, so that I can expand my reach to readers in other, non-‘Zon markets.
Now, onto the much more pleasant topic of Volume 4’s impending arrival! There is editing and formatting to finish, BUT, readers should be able to have it in their hands before September. In my typical style, I’m not going to nail down a date, but as we complete further steps, I will let everyone know that we’re getting closer, and provide an updated time frame for publishing.
Thanks to an arts grant I received, I will have the ability to order extra promotional copies! So look for a giveaway here in the next few months!
ALSO: Anyone who has read through Volume 3 and would be interested in being on the release team for Volume 4, please leave me a comment below! I was terribly flobby with advertising Fire and Wind, so I’m hoping to get back on the horse, as it were, for the next installment!
Along these same lines, I do want to try and put together at least a little bit of a blog tour for Fire and Wind, my somewhat neglected standalone, that I worked so hard on and am still proud of. (As I should be, yes, yes, I know. Just let me admit my guilt and do a moment of penance.) Anyway, again, if you’ve read through Volume 3 (because after finishing that the premise of Fire and Wind makes the most sense) and would be interested in getting a review copy, please drop a comment to that effect and we’ll chat!
Now, when it comes to further writing, I had originally debated whether to have 4, 5, or 6 volumes in the canon (anything longer than that and series tend to lose their mojo). Because I feel that my initial storyline has come to a very good point where many things feel settled, but there are still quite a number of established things in the worldbuilding that could easily create a new plot, I’ve opted to include a newstandalone/companion novel, as well as eventually release Volume 5. I can already see Volume 5 taking all of the arcs of my main characters and capitalizing on their experiences and growth, and being a nice way to round out the canon while still leaving the door open for further stories in the same world.
So, for now, that’s all (I think?!)! To all of you, as always, THANK YOU for your support and encouragement; it means so very much to this moth. Have a great week, everyone!
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but I make an exception for biographies and memoirs. My interest is especially piqued by “the story behind the story” books, that reveal what really happened to a person when the public image of that tale is either very one-sided, or a lot of facts have been left out. (Marie Antoinette is a great example of this.)
I also appreciate memoirs by still living people that are somewhat famous for something not necessarily related to what the book is about — like, we all know Stephen King is a horror author, but I’ve loved reading his autobiographical essays that don’t focus on his writing, and discuss just regular life stuff from his past, the things that helped shape who he is as a person, not simply as a writer.
Because of this interest, I went through a phase when I gobbled up a number of Bill Bryson’s travel audiobooks (when he’s known as more of a historian and journalist), the autobiography of advice columnist Amy Dickinson (mostly because she literally lives five miles from my house, and I’d run into her at the local library a few times), and several other, varied lifestories of people who worked at the Ivy League university near my residence. The “behind the scenes” looks at the non-famous, non-public-image sides of these real, still human people.
Anyway, as I’ve completed these, I’ve come to find there are some major differences between biography and memoir, the most obvious being that memoir is, of course, more reliant on the subjective feelings and views of the author. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And sometimes that’s what we’re after. Sometimes we don’t want to read “just the facts, ma’am.” When I choose a memoir over a biography, it’s because I’m in the mood for those “behind the scenes” tidbits.
But recently, I finished two memoirs that were touted more as biographies, and both included a fair amount of “facts” — but I realized after reading, while reflecting on the content, that a whole lot of what the authors discussed as “actually happening” simply didn’t add up to, well, being that.
First is Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, who is a journalist who has worked in New York City for a long time and for a number of publications. The short, uncontested version is that she came from a very poor family from West Virginia, with neglectful, borderline abusive parents, and she and her siblings worked hard for their college scholarships that got them decent jobs and out of a bad home situation. All of this is easily backed up or confirmed; and, unfortunately, realistic enough that I highly doubt anyone would immediately claim fictionalization. However. There are many things brought up in the course of this book that make me seriously wonder.
To begin with, Walls refers to various incidents from her childhood that sound downright horrific — such as catching herself on fire while cooking for herself, because her mother wouldn’t (yes, wouldn’t) — and yet, there seem to be no follow-up actions, consequences, or events to things that should have been incredibly impactful on Walls’ entire life. Supposedly, the family was constantly “on the run” until Walls was a tween, because the father was an alcoholic who charmed people and then conned them out of money, and the mother was a manic depressive who would rather paint landscapes and still-lifes than take care of her children. The impression is given early on that bill collectors, social services, and extended relatives were frequently trying to track the family down — and I don’t give a damn that this was the 1960s and 70s, the fact is, if the children were THAT neglected and THAT much on the official radar, SOMEBODY would have eventually caught up to them and taken the kids away or put the father in jail or SOMETHING.
It makes a lot more sense that, once the family was back in West Virginia (after traveling across many states in Walls’ early life), the father’s alcoholism and the mother’s depressive episodes were easier to hide in a small town where people weren’t quite sure what to do. The idea that the school/teachers helped the kids work their hardest to get top marks and huge scholarships so they could get away from this type of homelife totally rings true. But. And it’s a pretty huge but. The intense contradiction of the portrayal of Walls’ childhood versus her adolescence makes me, quite honestly, feel that the former was largely fictionalized to sell books.
I mean, if a young child burns herself badly, wouldn’t there be, well, problems arising from that? Wouldn’t she suffer from PTSD, including nightmares, an intense fear of fire, a refusal to cook, to undress around anyone else (because of the scar tissue???), and other, natural reactions to such an accident? Wouldn’t she have physical obstacles, such as skin that didn’t heal well, or a limited range of motion in certain limbs, or…again, scar tissue? The impression is given that Walls experienced this and it’s used as a way to show how terrible her parents were — and then it’s never really brought up again. Apparently this sort of thing — which supposedly was happening to Walls and her siblings often — didn’t emotionally traumatize them or result in any rebellious behavior on their part. They’re all portrayed as model students and well-liked adults, and the idea that repeatedly being malnourished and possibly abused by relatives and witnessing their parents’ drinking and arguing and hitting each other did not do anything to them long-term — other than make them want to be financially secure — is downright RIDICULIOUS.
Again, it leads me to conclude that the most basic version of Walls’ parents — alcoholic and manic depressive, not good with money, wanting to love their kids but not being sure how to — is what’s really true. And I have to believe that most of the rest was created by editors wanting to capitalize on Walls’ established name as a well-known journalist.
This is a theory shared by many other readers of this “biography.” A lot of the reviews I read cited the way Walls describes certain things that she’d have no accurate memory of, because she was so young — which was something I noted — as well as the lack of coherent follow-through that would have been occurred with (for example!) major accidents or life-threatening circumstances. I was also deeply disturbed by the notion that Walls’ parents literally almost killed her or a sibling (more than once!) because they were such clueless morons, AND YET when the kids grew up they still wanted to take care of their dying father and forgive their pathetic excuse of a mother. Bunches of real people have cut ties with their abusive families and never looked back — and THAT makes sense, considering human nature, societal advances, and modern therapists’ advice. Walls’ story just does not.
The other memoir that will be sticking in my craw (and very possibly moving me away from the genre) is Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This is the tale, supposedly, of one woman who, grieving the loss of her mother, hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (which does exist, and runs from the California-Mexico border to Washington state). And, yes, her mother did die, from cancer. Yes, that sucks. So, I’m definitely not here to claim the author had no trauma or crap she was dealing with, because she clearly was.
My complaints begin with the idea that a person who was — by her own admission — so incredibly unprepared for such a major undertaking — in the legit wilderness — actually survived. Without being eaten by a bear, falling off a cliff, getting overheated in the desert, running out of clean water, getting done in by one of the many hitchhikers she got rides from (when she got lost or exhausted on the trail, which happened a lot), or collapsing into the snow that she didn’t think would still be on the Sierra Nevadas in June.
There is NO WAY this woman hiked even the part of the Pacific Crest Trail she claimed to. It’s extremely possible that she indeed planned to do this, started to, made it maybe a few days, before realizing how extremely not cut out for this she was, and then took a Greyhound bus to Portland, Oregon, where she eventually settled. Honestly, if that was the truth, and the book was about the acceptance of her failure, and how even the attempt had changed her thinking about her loss and her life, I would’ve been fine with that.
Instead, the book switches back and forth between her “hike” and remembering things that happened right around or after her mother’s death. The hiking chapters are filled with elaborate descriptions of Strayed, with some Superwoman-like ability, managing to develop Green-Beret-level survival skills, and getting herself through desert, snow, past wild animals, finding her way back to the trail after going miles off course (despite barely understanding how to use a compass), and being beloved by every other hiker she encounters and the many random motorists who pick her up (right off the trail, hefting a massive backpack, dirty and smelly and looking like a strung-out hippie). NOPE. Nope, nope, nope!
I don’t buy for an instant that people were in awe of her, a young single woman, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail — since women have been hiking the Appalachian Trail for years — nor that all those people would’ve immediately seen her as worthy of their friendship, when she portrays numerous instances when she needed help from more experienced hikers, and got it, but didn’t even seem grateful, and did nothing for them in return. She claims that later down the trail, she’d meet up with these people again, and everyone would be so excited to see her, and I couldn’t help but wonder, Why???
The flashbacks about Strayed’s behavior after her mother’s death are deeply upsetting. She freely admits to heroin use, to cheating on her husband (with a bunch of different men, by the way), and not being able to maintain relationships with her siblings and stepfather (gee, can’t imagine why…). She agrees that these actions led to her husband wanting a divorce, but also wails on for several chapters about having to let him go (while acknowledging she singlehandedly destroyed their marriage).
She also constantly touts her academic achievements (a double major in college), but shows that apparently all she has are book smarts — the ongoing issue with her hiking boots being too small, and she keeps losing toenails because of it, for example, is a recurring theme throughout the PCT chapters. It takes her about four weeks, if I followed the timeline correctly, to find a way to call the store where she bought the boots and ask for a different size. She even keeps track of how many toenails she has left, in a similar fashion to keeping a scorecard — and, just, WHAT?!
There was also, close to the end of the book, a big hippie music thing, where, while on a break from the trail, she ate a bunch of vegan food and hooked up with someone in a band, and… Well, it just felt surreal after all the wilderness exploits and raw and even gruesome comments about her mother’s death and her drug-and-sex-addled past. And it also made me feel that this woman who was so concerned about growing up, about acting mature after ruining her marriage and her health and possibly any chance at higher education or a good career…had, after at least a month on the trail, learned absolutely nothing. If, after enduring all the weather and animal and getting lost drama, she jumps at the first opportunity to get drunk and high with a bunch of hippies and have a one-night stand with one of them, this indicates she didn’t actually want to change. This does not sound like a person who really took some intense real-world lessons to heart. It made me feel very ambivalent towards the author as I continued reading.
Especially since it was soon after the hippie music stuff that Strayed admitted…her mother was a terrible parent. Her mother was often neglectful, selfish, didn’t encourage her children, or even seem to care what they needed out of life; she was so stuck on toxic positivity that she never recognized her own failings or tried to adjust her parenting style so that she wasn’t stoned, or working too late when the kids didn’t have a babysitter, or not deliberately trying to piss off the neighbors, so that no one wanted to socialize with the family. Her kids were isolated, and insulated from the real world, and because of this bombshell, a lot of Strayed’s previous narration now makes sense. Her utter entitlement — doing drugs because she felt like it, sleeping around because she felt like it — driving a wedge between herself and her family but not recognizing her part in it, being somewhat aware how she was living was damaging but trying to deflect the fact she needed to take responsibility for super-crappy decisions. Like mother, like daughter, it would absolutely seem.
And it made me wonder — more than the disparate “facts” about her ability to survive in the wilderness with no formal training and little preparation — just how true this account is. I mean, Strayed spends big chunks of the book professing how much she loved her mother, how close they were, how she hated that they wouldn’t get to share so many more years together. And, yet. This sudden confession that, actually, the mom was a failed, flaky hippie with a chip on her shoulder about mainstream society, who taught her kids they didn’t need anything but each other… That’s not loving. That’s not wholesome, or uplifting. That’s controlling, manipulative, and unbalanced.
And after getting that bombshell dropped on my head less than 100 pages from the end of the book, I feel manipulated. Which is it, Strayed? Was your mom awesome, a paragon of parenting? Or was she a terrible witch and deep down you always knew that but didn’t want to say it out loud because she’d suddenly died?
If the book had started with all the mom’s failings, and a contrite, confused author’s response to the news this person whom she kind of despised had cancer, it would have felt completely different.
When Strayed finally reaches her end goal of the Bridge of the Gods in Portland, Oregon, I didn’t experience elation or satisfaction; I truly felt cheated. So much of this tale seems fabricated, or at the very least highly exaggerated, and I know it’s meant to be inspiring and we’re supposed to root for the narrator…but I seriously couldn’t believe this woman actually does have a successful career, as an advice columnist, nonetheless. If she was half as irritating and dumb in real life as she came across in Wild, I’m genuinely shocked she went on to find such vocational acclaim.
I mean, yes, people do change, and sometimes when it’s been years since we did something (Strayed took her hike in the late 1990s, which we all know was a while ago now), we can develop rose-tinted views of events or people that in the moment we were either angry or hurt or stupid over. But this whole reading experience made me think, “If this is a person who becomes a lauded advice columnist…this could be why the world is such a mess.”
The only good thing is that I got the book from a Little Free Library.
It’s going into my recycling bin.
Memoirs aren’t meant to be entirely factual, because you can’t make concrete statements about someone’s feelings or opinions. But when editors and publishers don’t fact check the parts of memoirs that require it (as one reviewer pointed out, Strayed wrote that she brought a professional camera on her hike, but she doesn’t have a single photograph of her time on the PCT, and that in itself is quite sketchy), they are simply letting down readers, and really the whole of society. How many publishers have gotten in trouble for not looking into a slightly dodgy or slightly unbelievable account, and later journalists or attorneys proved to them the “firsthand” tale was totally made up? (Hint: There are enough to make my point.)
All in all, I think I’m done reading “biographies” for a while.
Yesterday I braved the long lines and crowded aisles at my local Friends of the Library book sale, a bi-annual event in my area that boasts an entire warehouse full of all genres of books, movies, audio and music, puzzles and board games for all ages. It’s a well-organized, well-attended sale that’s well-known in the region, and I engage all my coping mechanisms one weekend every spring and fall so that I can hopefully find my own low-priced treasures.
Maybe I was just in an introspective mood, but as I perused the many, many selections, I found myself wondering: Were there always this many titles in the Outlander series and I legit just never noticed? Hey, did they move the travel section? Where are the hardcovers, again? How come I’ve seen this person on Twitter and never found their books in real life — oh my gosh, there it is!
As the years pass, you can always tell what’s fallen out of favor with the reading public (for example, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter are now consistently seen, despite their ongoing popularity for many people), as well as being able to tell what was a garage or attic clearout (most of the stock comes from donations), versus library discards. On the children’s shelves especially, I saw many older publications (Beverly Cleary, James Howe, Gary Paulsen), which are great stories, but just don’t translate for the new generation. For the first time ever, there was an entire rack devoted to graphic novels for kids, and it was full, unfortunately for me, mostly with titles Muffin has either already read or dismissed as not for him. But this rack also showed signs of having been browsed a lot just in the few hours the sale had been open, backing up my recently-developed theory that graphic novels are only going to keep growing in popularity. And when compared to the overstuffed (and unattended) juvenile chapter books section, this definitely indicates my observation on what’s truly popular with children (less words, more pictures) rings true.
The other thing that really sunk in was that I didn’t see any indie titles. Sure, used book sales often do acquire the mass market paperbacks and outdated non-fiction that clutters up people’s attics, or that stop circulating in libraries because tastes change. But I had to wonder — is that because readers are more likely to keep indie-pubbed books (because they were a gift, or they’re showing support for an author/community), or is it due to readers simply…not buying that much indie pub. The latter definitely gave me a moment’s pause.
And then Muffin called my cell, having a separation anxiety meltdown. While I was trying to head for the checkout line. Behind at least 20 other people who had finished their browsing and were just hoping to get out of there. So, yeah, ruminations got pushed aside.
When I got home, and showed off to my children what prizes I had found (and in a place that size, with that much inventory, you do have to hunt for them), I compared what I’d brought to hauls of previous years, and realized this was the least amount of books and movies since, well, ever. On the one hand, yes, I came in well under my allotted budget, which was cool. But, on the other, it was for the very discouraging reason of, Muffin’s already read that, I don’t like that genre, I could get this from the library, that’s too expensive if Muffin changes his mind, who knows what White Fang’s into nowadays. I also realized that certain categories — like the board games and jigsaw puzzles — held no appeal, not because we don’t like those things (we do), but due to the lack of something new. I don’t mean fresh from the factory; I mean, you can only look at the piles and piles of Life and Candyland and Monopoly for so long (in my case, I think 10 minutes is my limit) without wanting something else.
And, yes, I’m aware that modern tabletop roleplaying games, that are presently on people’s kitchen tables rather than in their garages, won’t likely turn up at used book sales. But all the repetition I saw on the shelves (throughout categories and genres and format) led me to this musing: How many times do we have to cycle through the same old thing, before we decide it’s time to let go of the whole idea?
Yeah, I know, the point is bargain hunting, to each their own, one person’s trash… Blah de blah.
Good morning, everyone! Nothing like not getting this post out until we’re halfway through the month in question! Honestly, though, I really wasn’t sure what to blog about — I mean, specifically — when it came to Autism Awareness this year. A lot of the issues surrounding this campaign are difficult to navigate when you are autistic, mostly because the ideas behind “autism awareness” actually come from organizations that support “curing” autism, rather than seeking to educate the general population and encourage acceptance. So, those of us who are on the spectrum — and see no need for the way we think, perceive the world, experience life, and express our own personalities to be “cured” — have been trying to take back this month, and that often means putting ourselves in a spotlight that we’d rather avoid.
We like peace and quiet, and not just admitting the need for the spotlight but bringing it to our places of sanctuary — like one moth’s little corner of the blogisphere where she prefers to rant and rave about books and movies — can be frightening. But it’s also necessary, since we’re going to continue being autistic when April ends, and encouraging acceptance of a lifelong condition, unfortunately, takes time, and requires repeating oneself.
This June, I’m going to be holding a workshop for writers and readers on how to effectively portray characters with disabilities — meaning a realistic depiction of someone who traditionally in literature would be misunderstood or deliberately set up to be unlikable to prove how terrible a certain disorder or condition is. (Massive insert of disapproval here.) Sadly, it’s only been in the last couple of decades that many industries — publishing included — have realized that there’s nothing wrong with using one’s commercial reach to try to alter public misconceptions for no reason other than helping people care for one another. Luckily, this finally has started to include publishing marginalized authors who are actually allowed to exist on their platform as disabled, without needing to profess their desire to be cured of whatever, and to honestly share stories that reflect our real life experiences and connect with those who relate personally, while still educating those who don’t. But, this is still considered a “niche” of the industry, and has a long way to go to achieve its real mission.
When I applied to participate in a regional literary festival, this was my goal — I wanted to find a way to discuss a topic that is important to me, that needs more understanding among writers and readers, without feeling like I was “selling out” or catering to the current bandwagon of “it’s cool to have a disabled character right now!” Because, as already mentioned, disabilities are not fleeting, not a passing phase for those of us who were born with something physical or neurological that we will have to handle every single day forever. So we as authors, editors, and publishers need to create characters that inform and benefit society, so they need to be grounded in reality and based on facts — and readers should demand characters who are accurate and not designed for fake drama only.
In my cozy fantasy series, I have two autistic characters, and since they’re both based on my own experiences on the spectrum, they’re both certainly realistic, and I’ve painted them in an empathetic light. I show them as humans, with loved ones, responsibilities, interests; and challenges unique to autists, such as heightened sensory intake, not feeling accepted by others, and the external pressure to “adapt” or “fit in.” In this instance, both these characters also happen to have magical powers — but their powers do not cure their autism. They still struggle to live in a world that’s too loud, too crowded, too confusing for them.
So, I’ve hit my major talking points on the topic with my characters: They’re not part of a bandwagon, they’re realistic, they accept themselves as they are. Since this is the one biggest thing I see all the time among online communities of autistic individuals, it’s part of what I want to always include: We don’t need to be cured of being autistic. We need people not to care that we’re different from them. We need people not to want us to change. We need to hear that we’re valid — even when the sun is too bright, no matter that the birds are too loud today, in spite of the fact wool is too woolly.
The sad fact is that, even in the 21st century, acceptance is still as much of a struggle as when there’s too much stimulation. But the latter we can try to eliminate. And if there’s anything that does need a cure, it’s intolerance.
I’m taking a big chance by appearing in front of people and discussing why they should make sure their character can’t take the subway or look at a neon green wall or refuses to eat jam without making it a joke. But it’s important to, and since I am a crusader for acceptance, I will be doing my very level best to carry this out.
So, this April, as every April, I do want my readers, and my community, to remember this: True inclusion means including all sorts of people, no matter how different from each other they may be. True acceptance means recognizing someone’s limitations and boundaries and not trying to change them. True love means not seeing a physical condition, a learning disorder, or a chronic illness as something that makes a person unlovable.
Becoming more tolerant of coping mechanisms you don’t use yourself or understand the need for makes you a stronger, more caring person. Letting people avoid places or events that you couldn’t give up means you’re validating their needs. Helping someone with tasks you find simple, without expressing judgment, means you’re showing compassion and kindness.
Trying to make sure there are no more autistic people won’t make the world a better place.
Trying to make the world a more welcoming place for those of us who happen to be autistic will.
Yes, that’s right! Here it is! Three years (sadly, not kidding!) after starting to draft what will be the fourth in the canon of my cozy fantasy series, this tale has a cover!
Crafted by Emily’s World of Design (fellow writers, if you need book-related art done, totally check her out!), I am so delighted with the results and so glad to be able to share it with you all!
This art reveals the big plot twist for this instalment, that came about in the dumpster fire stage of drafting, the one I didn’t realize I needed for this story, but that has absolutely made the difference in having it all come together: Time travel. There were too many things going on at the end of Volume 3, with various characters and very separate plot points, and I needed a way to tie them all up without falling into very deep holes of way too much exposition and splitting up the characters’ stories in a rather long-winded fashion. So, I took a gamble on an approach that definitely needed a lot of focus and keeping track of many moving pieces (why do I do this to myself…), but it’s been worth it. The resulting story has turned out a LOT better than the previous drafts, and I finally feel confident that when it’s published, it will fit in with the series, the world, the lore I’ve put together over the last several years.
I know I say it a lot, but it needs to be echoed and never die off: To those of you who have followed this little journey of families in a secret organization and a warehouse of magical artifacts and all sorts of wonderous beings from myth and legend, THANK YOU for being here and waiting so patiently for the next part of my tale.
Recently I watched season 1 of the Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon. I had originally decided I wasn’t going to watch it because, a) I no longer have HBO, and b) like any rational person, I’m still upset about that ending. Although I knew the book prequel was in fact published (I’ve shelved the damn thing), and the showrunners aren’t pulling their material out of thin air, I was still not feeling it for a visual adaptation (even one starring Matt Smith).
Anyway, here’s the short version on why I changed my mind: One day while sorting returns at work, my eye fell on the new release DVD of HotD, and the rendering of the dragon behind the Iron Throne and one of Dany’s ancestors, about the same age as Dany was herself at the start of GoT. In a heartbeat, I was reminded of what we all loved about the original series — sharing the journey of a young woman simultaneously blessed and cursed with a great birthright, and everyone else trying to take it from her.
I was hooked from the beginning. I watched all 10 episodes in 2 days. I thought about each plot point constantly when I wasn’t watching. I couldn’t imagine the agony of having to wait a whole week between new episodes when it first broadcast. I had to know what would happen next.
In short, I loved it, and I need season 2 NOW.
I liked it more than Game of Thrones. And this is coming from someone who genuinely appreciated some of the plots/themes/storytelling in both the books (yes, I have read them) and the OG show. BUT, GoT always gave me (many) reasons to hate it, too (even before we reached the extremely problematic finale).
I could write an entire separate post on this (maybe one day I will), so here’s a brief recap of the stuff I won’t ever forgive GoT for:
The CONSTANT violence against women and children. There were seasons when we couldn’t go a single episode without seeing some poor woman raped or a child murdered. There was less brutality in the books, so they can’t even claim it was sticking to the source. And I didn’t need to witness every bit of every incident, either. It was why I skipped a majority of seasons 4 and 5. ENOUGH, ALREADY!
The absolute lack of rationale on the part of, well, practically everybody. In the books, there were only a handful of people clamoring for the Iron Throne, and it was always someone who believed they had a legitimate claim through original royal lineage (like Dany), or through the altered succession brought about by the coup (like the Lannisters and the Barentheons). In the show, the fact that pretty much any small-time knight with a parcel of land to his name decided he had the right to grab for the crown just became silly.
The way nobody ever seemed to think it necessary to explain things to the audience. When you adapt a book to the screen, you have to assume many viewers will not have read the original stories, and it’s clear GoT‘s showrunners didn’t understand that. The ONLY reason I knew who was related/allied to/hated each other, and why, was because I looked up the family trees on Wikipedia before reading the books. On screen, there was so little explanation of the connections I missed almost all of it, and was totally lost until I did the research.
Because you couldn’t follow 90% of what was going on, you couldn’t get invested in the seasonal subplots. I skipped entire character arcs because I was bored. I didn’t care about what’s-his-name from where’s-it doing something terrible to who-the-hell-is-this-again-and-how-does-it-matter. The books went into ALL the details, and yes, that means they’re behemoths, but they’re behemoths that make sense.
Of course that ending. No logic plot-wise, totally breaking character for EVERYONE, major deaths happening offscreen, and ending on the MOST DEPRESSING, STUPIDEST note EVER, by crowning an arrogant kid with NO royal blood and sending the RIGHTFUL king to the Wall.
*Deep breath* Okay, so, on to House of the Dragon. *Warning: Spoilers!*
The show starts off by establishing it’s taking place about 6 generations before Dany, and the current setting is during the rule of Viserys the Peaceful, so called because the Seven Kingdoms remained together and largely without war. We’re introduced to the present king — who is apparently slowly going insane — and his family, which at this moment consists of his very pregnant queen, and his only living daughter, Rhaenyra. Of course, it goes very badly for the queen, and not only do both mother and child not make it, the king is left without the hope of a male heir. And we all know in worlds set in medieval times, this is considered a BIG problem.
This show is shot on a smaller scale than the original, meaning there are only a couple of big battles, and many of the effects are saved for the dragons (which are AWESOME). There is considerably LESS graphic violence against women (thank God!), and child death is few and far between and mostly offscreen. The explicit violence is absolutely still explicit, so be warned for that. But even the profanity was toned way down (it’s like the directors had a limit for f-bombs and really objectionable swears!).
It wasn’t surprising to me that Viserys goes against the grain and names Rhaenyra his successor. What did intrigue me was the lack of public outcry about it. When it happens, the lords (and ladies) that don’t really approve keep their opinion quiet, and the competition for who will become the future queen’s husband is on. This hints at some major long-game playing here, and that’s what the original show lacked. The only OG character with a clear long game was Dany; the Lannisters and the Barentheons and all the northern lords didn’t have a plan for civil war breaking out, or the people of King’s Landing rejecting them, or if another nation invaded, or, or, or. In Westeros’ past, everybody was quite aware that if there was more than one challenger to the Iron Throne, the entire system could come crashing down, which is bad for all of them.
Despite there being a whole lot of minor characters, there was a bunch of dialogue that explained who was who, who meant what to the king, and who is in control in what area. The scenes of the Green Council meetings aren’t filler; they give us vital clues as to who will stay loyal to whom, and who will probably switch sides and create later conflict. I appreciated this so much after 8 seasons of GoT pronoun-and-nickname-gaming.
The first round of the long game goes to Lord Hightower, who encourages his daughter, Alicent, to befriend the newly-widowed king, and the friendship becomes more, and the king eventually marries Alicent. It is a little uncouth by modern standards, as Viserys is about 40, and Alicent is only 16 or so, but, again, medieval times, different cultures (and, remember, it’s fiction, folks). From the perspective of Alicent’s father, Lord Hightower (who believes Westeros will never accept a woman ruler and wants to avoid civil war), it’s a stroke of genius. Indeed, pretty soon Alicent starts having children, and she does give the king a son — by many views, the obvious, real heir.
But the twist is that Viserys won’t hear of changing his succession, and he continues trying to find Rhaenyra a proper future prince consort. The next issue comes up when there are indications towards Rhaenyra and her uncle (the king’s half-brother, who we know very little about) getting involved in the “odd custom” (yup, think Cersei and Jamie). Viserys doesn’t like that at all, and when his brother Daemon does ask to marry Rhaenyra, it’s a flat-out no, and the king arranges a “more suitable” match for his daughter.
However, Viserys’ choice is a disaster waiting to happen — it’s his distant cousin’s son, who is secretly gay, and therefore very unlikely to produce heirs for the kingdom. A whole lot of drama does occur in the future (sooner and later) because of this unfortunate pairing. And, again, it all goes back to people doing what someone else wants because of trying to avoid a war. As the episodes progress, it’s clear that war will become inevitable.
It’s time for a tangent on how much I love Rhaenyra. This princess is totally badass, determined to hold on to what’s hers by right, and refusing to play to stereotypes about her gender. She tries to play nice even with the people she’s worried are plotting against her. She knows her cousin’s secret, and agrees to keep it, protecting his life and his family’s reputation. She finds a lover — an honorable knight — and maintains a discreet relationship, producing grandchildren for her father and the royal line. Later, when people guess something’s not solid and start questioning who really fathered her children, she doesn’t cave to pressure and doesn’t sell out her fake husband or her lover. (The truth is uncovered through a network of devious spies in the castle, and it’s pretty obvious they’d sell Rhaenyra herself down the river, given half a chance.) Despite suffering significant personal losses, Rhaenyra rises strong at the end, ready to defend her birthright, even though it means challenging her own half-brother for the Iron Throne.
And, no, I know we can’t get around the “odd custom” issue as being problematic; and while I don’t deny that, here’s why I feel it’s not as straighforward ewww and ick as, yup, Cersei and Jamie. In some cases. Yes, there’s actually a range in this show. For several reasons. Bear with me.
Rhaenyra’s mother was from a family in Riverrun, so that’s no previous relation to Viserys. Cool. Since Rhaenyra doesn’t “couple” with her arranged husband, and her lover is from a noble family outside of the Targaryen line, that means her first, second, and third sons got a diverse mix of DNA. (And I really like the way her in-laws still consider those kids their grandchildren, although everyone knows that biology-wise, it’s realistically not true.)
Then, when Rhaenyra and Daemon do wed later on, yes, he’s said to be her uncle — but, according to an early episode, the nobility knows Daemon is Viserys’ half-sibling, at best, and I had to wonder (more than once) if the real reason so many of the lords are so resistant to the idea of Daemon being granted any higher rank or power is because he’s not really a Targaryen. The only “proof” we’re given of Daemon’s parentage is that someone told Viserys this was his half-brother — that’s literally it. And at one point, Daemon openly refers to himself as a “bastard second son,” so that means his heritage has probably always been uncertain. So, maybe the bloodlines of Rhaenyra’s fourth and fifth sons aren’t as entwined as we might think.
Besides, when you consider that initially Viserys and Alicent were both extremely adverse to the notion of marrying too closely within the family tree…and then as the king descended further into madness, and Alicent deeper into desperation and paranoia, they wed their oldest son to their youngest daughter — EWWWWW!!! ICKKKK!!! That’s so much worse than Rhaenyra and Damon (especially if my theory is even close).
Here’s the other thing I majorly appreciated about the storytelling, even with the controversial themes and morally iffy characters — all of the main players in this complex long game were easy to sympathize with. Unlike GoT, where eventually I wanted to see almost everybody die (except for Dany, Jon Snow, and Tyrion), I don’t believe there’s really a villain here.
Viserys went mad, something that probably couldn’t have been prevented. Alicent was the pawn in a system that was always going to use her purely as a means to an end. Rhaenyra has to fight tooth and nail against exile at best, death for her whole family at worst. Daemon never wanted to be king, never tried to take anything from Viserys, but has to constantly prove his loyalty; and, yes, there is a dark side to Daemon, and you do have to wonder how far he might go to save himself or his loved ones, given the circumstances. But, again, consider the fact that everyone is against him and he has been surrounded, for years, by those who would see him not just fail as prince, but be dead.
All the lords who choose Aegon over Rhaenyra when Viserys dies are definitely perpetrating a sexist system; but they’re also trying to keep their own houses safe, in a world where forward thinking and change really isn’t a thing; so if saying so-and-so is king and somebody else isn’t means thousands of lives are spared, you can hardly blame their reasoning.
If anything, the villain in House of the Dragon is itself; the corruption within a system that the Targaryens helped to build; the greed from certain family members for ultimate power; the lengths some people will go to achieve their own selfish ambitions. There are plenty of characters and plot moments I haven’t even touched on here, mostly because it would make this post waaay too long. Suffice it to say, if you don’t mind the well-deserved R-rating, like high fantasy, historical fiction, and/or were ever invested in A Song of Ice and Fire, this is absolutely worth a watch.
I’m already so excited for season 2 — and hoping and praying these writers acknowledge the past sins of their colleagues, and give this story a sound, fitting ending, one worthy of Dragonriders.
So, in recent months, I definitely have not been watching many new releases or even paying much attention to the hot movies or shows; mostly because I saw or heard just enough, thanks to those few unskippable ads on YouTube, to convince me there wasn’t a lot out there that matched my tastes right now. But lately, a few pieces stood out to me, and although my access to streaming services is extremely limited, I do have the ability to use the regional library catalog, and that means I don’t have to wait until I can afford to buy the DVDs. This definitely worked to my favor because I got to see Violent Night and House of the Dragon without spending a penny. Oh, and I caved to Muffin’s encouragement, and watched Wednesday, too.
Violent Night was so much fun! I’m aware there are very split views on whether violent Christmas movies are actually “okay” or not, but this is certainly not a film meant to be sentimental or romantic or sweet. The entire premise is that bad things happen to good people, and that the power of optimism and maintaining faith in something bigger than yourself, even in the face of terrible circumstances, can pay off. Maybe it was the mood I was in that night, but watching Santa Claus tan some bad guy hide really hit the right note. Between the very deserved R-rating and the concept, I know this definitely won’t be on everyone’s list, but if it is on yours, it’ll be a blast!
Bullet Train and The Lost City were also library DVD grabs. Having watched both of them within a week, I absolutely stand behind Sandra Bullock and Brad Pitt having cameos in each other’s movies for the next 10 years, and giving us tons more of those adorable platonic BFF vibes in these brief but totally awesome scenes. On their own, each of these films were definitely campy, but again, a lot of fun, and there were still some good points in Bullet Train about family and friendship loyalty, and in The Lost City about not judging a book by its cover, literally, and regarding people.
I’ve never been a huge fan of The Addams Family, but I do remember the movies from the 90s (no one think too hard about how old I am, pleeeeease), so I know the main characters and some of their major traits. This meant I didn’t dive into the deep end of Wednesday without a clue. And, when it comes to keeping up what people expect from these beloved characters, yes, I think the show did a pretty good job, especially for the title character, Uncle Fester, and Thing. (THING! More on him in a bit.)
BUT. As with any updating of a classic story, there might be problems, and when it comes to the plot, Wednesday has about a MILLION of them.
For one, taking such an established canon world as The Addams Family, which turned the tropes of monsters-in-the-human-world on its head, and making the premise of this show about as cliche as possible — there’s a boarding school! with vampires! and werewolves! and just generic weirdos who need a place to fit in! — makes me shake my head more than a little. Also, of course both of Wednesday’s parents attended Nevermore — of course that was where they met — and of course the current Headmistress has a questionable past with Gomez and Morticia. Sigh.
Not a single grumble about the casting for Wednesday and Morticia; both Jenna Ortega and Catherine Zeta-Jones were fantastic. And the complicated mother-daughter relationship portrayed works because it comes across as authentic here, not just for drama. But it also isn’t, well, necessary. Particularly when the episode where the families come to visit the school give the impression that all the kids have “complicated parental relationship” issues, and then it feels even worse than cliche — it’s repetitive. If Wednesday was the only one who didn’t get along with her family, and Enid’s mother wasn’t a jerk, and the siren community wasn’t manipulative, and Xavier’s parents didn’t have high standing to worry about, and… It was literally the same old, same old for every secondary character, and it meant I barely paid attention to the subplots (evidenced by the fact I can’t even remember some of their names or what their particular concern was, since it all just blended together, and promptly faded away).
The whole plot of the Hyde, and who the monster really is, is so convoluted that it makes very little sense by the time we get to the big reveal in the season finale. It’s one of those times where, if you think about it too hard, the whole thing just falls apart. People’s motivations don’t make sense, the connections to the school and past students and families don’t really work, and the concept behind the ghost that appears to Wednesday was simply ridiculous. The idea of an Addams ancestor being part of the Puritan witch hysteria in colonial New England does not measure up at all — especially because somebody states Gomez’s ancestors were from Mexico, something that I don’t ever remember hearing before, and there were no Mexicans in colonial New England. It isn’t bigoted, it’s factual to state this. Such a mistake by the scriptwriters, the directors, and the editors is just sloppy, or arrogant, and really ticked me off.
I did keep watching to the end, partly because Muffin had already watched the whole season and raved about it (he’s only 8 and more forgiving of tropes and errors, after all), and he wanted me to do the same. The number of times I rolled my eyes went up more and more with each episode, but I do have to say, the flashback in episode 6 with the young Gomez and Morticia was great. Those actors, for all of their 10-minute screen time, had excellent connection and a grasp of the characterization and the meaning of the moment they were showing the audience. Honestly, I’d watch a spinoff season about Wednesday’s parents’ time at Nevermore starring those two. That’d be fun.
The other super-bright spot for me in this really tangled web of Addams Family spinoff was Thing. Thing being so protective of Wednesday, guiding her, helping her learn to trust her new friends, all without saying a word (naturally, as he’s just a hand) was so good. Enid’s bond with Thing, Uncle Fester’s history with him, Thing arranging Wednesday’s date to the dance with the boy he knew she really liked… Just, THING! It’s fair to say he was my favorite character.
And now, just a bit about House of the Dragon (since I’ll probably write a whole post about this pretty soon).
House of the Dragon is even better than Game of Thrones. The storytelling is deeper, more straightforward, a lot less symbolic and rambling on about side tangents designed to make us realize how terrible 95% of the people in this world are. Since it’s a prequel, there are plenty of familiar families and places, but going back about 5 generations helps us to find out who was truly seen as good and bad, and we finally get all the divisions spelled out, and why. The audience at last — without having to Google it — gets to see where the Targaryen family tree split, and how sides were picked among the houses of the nobility. Although it was harder to follow some of the minor characters, and I missed the grander worldbuilding among the various cultures that we saw in the early seasons of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragonmakes sense, and when I was so lost for much of the previous 8 seasons in this universe, that was such a refreshing change. And even the characters who are meant to be bad, or morally grey at best, I could understand their motivations and watched with great interest to see what became of their plans. There’s also a LOT less graphic sex in the prequel, though the violence was even upgraded a bit — which is saying something! — and these shows absolutely remain TV-MA. Also, there were distinctly less dragon scenes, which feels a bit ironic for a program titled House of the Dragon. Oh, well. There’s no way there won’t be a season 2, and here’s to hoping and praying these writers learn from the sins of their colleagues, and keep the storyline concise and rational.
And that’s all for today! Have a great week, everyone!
The publishing industry has been making some big headlines lately, and unfortunately not for good reasons. Between the recent strikes and lawsuit hearings that involved some of the Big 5 publishers, the apparent acceptance of using AI to create art, and the announcement that some of Roald Dahl’s books are going to be edited for content and then re-released, life in or near the industry has been, well, interesting.
Personally, I supported the editors and agents who chose to strike — awful working conditions for them haven’t exactly been a secret — and truly hope they are getting the results they need. I read some of the news reports regarding court cases on not letting already massive publishers merge and become even more corporate, and really, I agree with that, too. And yes, the idea that newbie authors could use AI to help them generate a story or a novel, which they would then rep with an agent, and yes, possibly get a publishing contract, does seem like cheating, taking the creativity out of creative writing, putting authors who literally make it all up ourselves at an extreme disadvantage, if the AI results are considered “more desirable” by the industry. But, I have to say, because the news about Roald Dahl’s works has come in the midst of all these things shaking up the status quo of the industry, I do believe this is the straw that will break the corporate publishing camel’s back.
I don’t like censorship — not even censorship of books that I personally find problematic, even controversial. Basically, once most people realize a book is truly bad, in terms of deliberate misinformation or pushing a message that’s not very healthy or beneficial for readers to take to heart, sales drop off so drastically that often the books become almost hard to find, and usually old copies show up in library discard bins or bargain sales at thrift stores. My point is, give the public a chance to decide if something isn’t just distasteful but really dangerous. Let people use their brains, instead of being spoonfed (and in some cases having it shoved down their throats) what’s actually “good” and “bad” when it comes to fiction.
That’s the part that blows my mind about the whole Dahl situation: The publishers are insisting — for example — that people will be traumatized from reading multiple uses of the word “fat” in a fictional children’s tale. Written in the 1960s, when, whether we like it or not, the word “fat” was just what one said when describing a plus size person. If any of this theory is true, and humans are such whiners who are scarred for life because a nasty antagonist also happens to be overweight, then, WOW. And having read many different takes on the “correcting” and re-releasing debacle over the last few days, I honestly don’t think anyone is.
Dahl has been a controversial writer forever. He has many devoted fans, fans who still see problems with his work, and critics who stand by their argument that his work is too racist and sexist and stereotypical. Having read a few of his books and seen a few of the movies, I’d put myself in the category of, I can see what fans appreciate, but I also see issues, and wouldn’t call myself a fan. BUT, a whole lot of this discussion needs to take CONTEXT into consideration, and that’s a major factor the publisher is just plain ignoring.
These books were written in a different era, a time period when, by modern standards, politeness was not that polite, when common prejudices weren’t called out, when the majority of people reading children’s books just were middle class Caucasian families. None of that is cool; it’s awesome that literacy and accessibility to literature and genre fiction has expanded SO much in the last 50 years, and nowadays there are big chances of a kid from a racial or ethnic minority coming across James and the Giant Peach or Matilda or The Witches in a public library. (And they may even love it.)
So, back to the heart of the matter: CONTEXT. If the publisher were to pull older editions (pre-2023) of Dahl, then include in the re-releases a note or a reader’s guide, about the importance of putting Dahl’s stories into the CONTEXT of the era in which they were produced, without changing any of the actual text, that would be seen as honest, transparent, even admirable. This is a great time to be talking about what characterizations or plot points are considered problematic, and why we might not use certain adjectives or phrases or slang in literature now. But to remove the offensive parts in question, replace them and act as if they never existed, that opens up an enormous can of worms.
For one, the publisher is attempting to rewrite history. They’re doing so right under the nose of the reading public, without their permission, without caring if they object. The company is being blatant about altering the long-set-in-stone words of an author who has been dead for a long time. What does that mean for other authors’ books in the future? Let’s say in the year 2078 someone decides Stephen King shouldn’t have described Pennywise the Clown as having a red nose, because that’s somehow offensive. Are they going to make sure whoever owns the rights to Mr. King’s publications at that point hunts down every single potential reprint of “It” to have the printers remove the horrific combination of red and nose in the same sentence? Maybe by 2078 clowns won’t even be a thing anymore, so, again, people, CONTEXT.
And, from a practical standpoint, how much money is Puffin going to waste on these new Dahl editions? Which will, after all the hoopla, probably not sell very well at all? The devoted fans are already condemning them. People on the fence about Dahl’s stories weren’t excited about buying them, anyway. And many of Dahl’s critics will realistically say it’s too little, too late.
This isn’t just a cautionary tale for not mucking about with classic lit. This is being seen by many authors as a huge red flag about the sanctity of copyright laws. Readers are very concerned about not only the censorship, but the way Puffin is taking matters into their own hands, against general legal advice and common publishing practice. If there was going to be an event in this year that wouldn’t just shake up the industry but shake it down, I really believe this is it.
Only time will tell. But I really do sense some rumblings — so here’s hoping they’re moving in a good direction.