blogging, community

Some Uncomfortable Truths

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Good morning! For those of you hoping for a light and fluffy blog read – sorry, today, this isn’t it. There’s been a lot on my mind lately that I feel we, book bloggers, readers, and writers, need to talk about, and not all of it is pleasant.

In my traditional fashion, I will be discussing some hot button topics, throwing in random cute animal pictures in between, so that we can soften the blow, while still getting to the heart of very important matters.

Can’t say I didn’t warn you. So, here we go.

When I was younger, I read several novels tackling racism and civil rights, on breaking down the walls and how to start building bridges. I’m afraid my younger self has forgotten a lot of titles and authors; but I do remember the focus was on tolerance, leading to empathy, on all sides. Not just on demanding white people pay for what their ancestors had done to people of color. Sometimes the conversation only got as far as recognizing racism was real, and that it was wrong; maybe that was as far as those characters could go, based on the setting or the premise. But I still think that was a necessary step.

Developing empathy for suffering endured by people that you can’t completely relate to is crucial to increasing understanding and inclusion. I don’t see it as pity, nor is it condescending. Empathy makes us better human beings.

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Here’s the vital other side of that coin: Too many people don’t seem to understand that ALL forms of prejudice are wrong. Too many people are still screaming about injustice, without admitting to their own faulty views.

Would you march in a Black Lives Matter protest, but feel very strange if your son or daughter brought home a significant other of a different race? Do you push for people who look just like you to read “important” books on racism — but only the titles written by someone who shares your exact perspective on the topic? Do you scream about rights for all, but wouldn’t give up your spot in the grocery store line to a disabled person?

I may be in the majority race in my country, come from a “respectable” background, economically and class-wise, have a college degree and work in a profession requiring some intellectual effort. HOWEVER, I have absolutely experienced prejudice. Because I’m autistic — meaning I’m “different” from many people — what’s a natural state of being to me may make others feel odd — for no reason other than it’s unfamiliar or out of their realm of experience.

So, the groundwork being laid, let’s get to the heart of this post:

Uncomfortable Truth #1: People of color can be racist, too.

In Misty Copeland’s autobiography (Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina), she relates having a stepfather, a black man, who held very discriminatory views on Hispanics and Asian-Americans and Caucasians. She relates how she was aware of the subconscious racism in ballet, as she struggled to be awarded roles that were almost always performed by white women. But she also didn’t hesitate to give credit to the white people who appreciated her talent and helped further her career. And there is a definite tone in this memoir of recognizing that no one had the right perspective in this matter, and that views on race, color, and culture within this melting pot country are complex, and continuing to grow and change.

This is more true than the current gatekeepers on the discussion of racial relations want to admit. I’m really tired of reading novels and non-fiction that promote the theory that every single white person must be racist in some form, whether they’re aware of it or not. I shouldn’t have to be afraid of giving a diverse book a bad review because I genuinely thought it was poorly written. I didn’t like The Hate U Give, purely due to what I felt was a flawed execution of the plot itself, nothing to do with the tough theme it covered. The author’s second novel, On The Come Up, I thought was great, and gave it a glowing review according to my standards of character development and story cohesion.

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Uncomfortable Truth #2: Cancel culture is more dangerous than the thing it’s trying to cancel.

Just because an author is white, writing about white people, DOES NOT mean this author is racist. Jumping on social media and screaming that certain people need to be “cancelled” without having any proof that their point of view is problematic does more harm than good. And we really need to stop pushing the idea that it isn’t okay for natives of whatever group to celebrate their own culture.

In her amazing non-fiction title, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?, Dr. Beverly Tatum points out that “race shaming” won’t solve anything. She also touches on the often-overlooked fact that there are more than two races, and trying to paint all whites as racist, or all blacks as violent, all Asians as computer nerds, all Hispanics as drug addicts, etc., are equally harmful stereotypes — whether the stereotype comes from outside, or from within, your own community.

She also brings up the willingly-ignored truth that people need to be around their racial and cultural peers, and that not only is there nothing wrong with having a spouse, friends, acquaintances of your own ancestry group, doing so actually encourages a sense of pride in where you come from. To purposefully shut out other groups, or believe them to be inferior, is discriminatory. But if you’re, for example, a WASP who knows lots of other WASPs, that on its own isn’t the problem.

shouldn’t have to apologize for being most familiar with British and European culture and history, since it’s also my own. This doesn’t mean I’m not appreciative of or cool with other cultures. Do I read books/watch movies and TV shows with diverse casts? Yes, totally. Is that all I read? No, because I like to mix it up.

Doesn’t a healthy combination sound more…well, inclusive?

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Uncomfortable Truth #3: Forcing diversity is inauthentic, and promotes division, not the opposite.

We’ve all heard the complaint — “Oh, look, it’s the token minority character.” Deliberately shoehorning in POC or disabled or LGBT characters does holler, “See how politically correct we are!” And it turns out this approach has backfired. Since many of us do have diverse relationships in our lives, we’d much prefer more natural and authentic representation. And we pretty much resent the notion that we “need” a group of (let’s be honest, mostly white, straight, abled, wealthy) powers-that-be telling us that “hate is stupid.”

I generally write middle-class white characters, but this is just because I know this culture firsthand, so I’m presenting a honest point of view. I do include characters outside of this group as well, and not to seem “woke,” but because it makes sense — I’m writing about an organization with international ties and members who are either immigrants or bi-racial. That simple.

Why aren’t we encouraging more Own Voices to increase everybody’s education on various ethnic groups? I’d never presume to “hijack” the story of a religion or nationality that I haven’t lived personally.

Nor would I want someone else to do the same to my own tale.

As far as we’ve come in this conversation, there’s still a long way to go.

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Autism, community

Autism Acceptance Is The Goal

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So, today is Autism Awareness Day. There have been and still are and will most likely continue to be a variety of debates around this phrasing. Why? Because making neurotypical people simply aware that autism exists accomplishes about nothing as to what happens next.

Every time the human race learns about something new to them, the immediate question then becomes: Well, what do we do about it? Humans, in case anybody hasn’t noticed, aren’t really content to just let things be. This includes autism.

Autism has been seen as everything from an inconvenience to a plague upon society. (No, the irony of saying that while a real pandemic is going on does not escape me for a second.) Autistic people have, for years, been made to feel that how we naturally are is some sort of horrible mistake, and that we should either strive to become “like everyone else,” or at least feel bad about being different.

After being stuck in this cycle for decades, forced to believe it, and not fight against it, finally, one day, we autists became convinced there had to be a better way…and we started saying: “What happens next?”

The research, the stats, and our own experiences showed: Autistic children grew into autistic adults, and our sensory perception, social interaction challenges, and emotional processing difficulties did not go away. Yes, we could learn what others considered appropriate speech and tone and mannerisms; yes, we can frequently apply them. We can go to concerts, sports matches, the cinema, the theatre, camping and college and work. We can take public transportation, go to the grocery store, figure out how to create a Facebook account. Yes, we function very well in civilization.

But at what cost?

Because the bus is ALWAYS too crowded, the campground too muddy, the bar too loud. We will NEVER stop craving peace and quiet, and wondering if it really mattered that we didn’t get that joke all our co-workers laughed at.

In the midst of transitioning from thinking of ourselves as how the world thinks of us, to how we view ourselves, we discovered that the biggest barrier is NOT a lack of awareness of autism: It’s a lack of acceptance.

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You probably hear me banging on about this pretty often. With good reason. This is the hill I will die on: Being autistic does NOT make people less, nor should we have to change to make others around us feel more comfortable. We don’t need more organizations founded by neurotypicals explaining to other neurotypicals that we have “an intellectual disability that impairs motor function and social connectedness.” We need people who don’t relate to how we live our lives being OKAY with us being US.

We don’t need pity; we need tolerance.

We don’t need cures; we need accommodations.

What’s the point of making us just like the rest of the world?

It makes us less scary to those who place conformity above equality and liberty. And the god of Conformity has a pretty big altar in many civilizations today.

Who does it actually benefit when we’re forced to stop stimming, to mask our natural behavior? Not us.

Who will have a better quality of life because we aren’t automatically picked out of a crowd as neurodivergent? Not us.

This is how those of us diagnosed with ASD have been forced to live, for a very long while. When does it change? What happens next?

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I’m only one of many who wish for a world that doesn’t find it necessary to draw attention to my “quirks.” That sees the value in looking at things from another perspective. That won’t strive to take away parts of myself, claiming it won’t hurt.

It seems we’re born autistic, which means we don’t have any more control over it than our skin color or ethnic heritage. We can’t decide to be on the spectrum. But you can decide how to treat us.

Today, please note that #ActuallyAutistic individuals on Twitter are promoting a new symbol, a rainbow infinity sign that we are pushing over the blue puzzle piece, selected for us by neurotypicals who feel autism is a plague that needs a cure. We want to present as fact that we do, and should, feel pretty good about being us.

That ideal world I spoke of does not yet exist. (At least, not here on Earth. If it is somewhere in the galaxy, let me know, okay?) So we have to keep trying to make it.

Yes, it is a fight; people with intellectual disabilities being seen as equal is one of the newest waves in civil rights struggles. And we need advocates on all fronts: In our families, our schools, politically and legally, medically and socially.

If you’d like to join us, please, today, speak of acceptance. That’s the crucial word now. The cause, the goal.

We’ve already accepted that you think we’re different.

Now we’re asking you to accept that it doesn’t matter.

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blogging, community

What It’s Really Like to Work in a Library

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You think you know libraries. They’re quiet, calm, tranquil places of wisdom, learning, a corner of the world where you can hide away and lose yourself in someone else’s fictional creation.

None of this is actually untrue; but there’s more to the story than the common image. Also gone are the days of librarians being 100-year-old ladies with blue hair and huge glasses who threateningly shush you if you dare to whisper a reference question to a fellow patron. We tend to be moms with kids still at home, politely checking out whatever materials you pass our way, no judgment, only shushing you if you’re really pushing the limit.

And we are busy. You wouldn’t believe how much we have to do to complete the supposedly simple tasks that result in you having those coveted books and discs in your hands. It isn’t just scanning the barcode and placing it on a shelf or in a bag. Oh, no. It’s not more complicated, but the process is more time-and-energy-consuming than many realize.

For example: We begin our day with collecting all the items people returned the evening before, or early in the morning, when we weren’t open. Most libraries have a “dropbox” outside the building, which does just what it says on the tin. And we go out in whatever sort of weather to toss into bags and haul inside the realistically several dozen returns.

Then we can begin processing which returns are going back on our shelves, to other libraries, or are going on hold for someone else who has requested that title. When you need to scan the barcode and find where an item is going…at least 50 times…all in the half hour before the library once again opens to the public for the day… You get the idea.

And when people start arriving, they bring more returns with them. And they need things (how dare they). They need to collect their holds, and check more stuff out, and print or copy or fax things, and…

And when the printer is down and the IT guy is forbidding you to get near a single computer, even to make the literal 3-foot-high stacks dwindle quicker… Yeah, you get it.

Being a library clerk is a position that requires patience, and flexibility.

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And if you thought that working in a library would be a bookworm’s paradise… Well, not quite.

The fact is, we simply don’t have the time to peruse all the interesting new titles that cross our paths. Even when we’re not at work. And there are days when you go home and the thought of handling another book just…isn’t appealing.

But there absolutely are bookworm perks to this position, too. Free ARCs, and first shot at brand new releases. Not being charged to use the copier, fax, or printer. Not having to wait in line to check out your selections, because you can glide right behind the desk and do it yourself!

You also never have to wonder what next month’s book club pick is, since you’ve just been discussing it with your co-workers (and you get a copy early, too). If there are extras in giveaway piles (leftover from programs and events), you may not even have to ask for those.

One thing that definitely has not changed about libraries since I was a kid is: They are positively overflowing with books. And not just regular fiction and nonfiction; there’s also large print and paperbacks, audiobooks and movies and TV series, plenty of YA and MG and picture books, not only currently bestselling authors, but plenty of great writers you’ve never heard of. One of the joys of the job remains seeing readers (and watchers) find their next favorite.

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I also have a new appreciation for the community services libraries provide nowadays. Yes, I’ve been taking advantage of sending White Fang to the kids’ programs for free for years. But since being “on the other side of the desk,” I’ve begun to realize just how important a library can be, as a fixture in a small town where many residents have few resources when it comes to technology and extracurricular activities. Until the means catches up to the vision of how people are supposed to be living in the 21st century, we’ll be here.

And I’m sure even long after that. The general public being literate is a relatively new concept in the world. We librarians still have a lot of work to do.

And some complications or frustrations or obstacles aside, most of us really enjoy what we signed up for.

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books, community

Literary Snobbery Bites

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Just what is literary snobbery, and why does it make us say ouch, and want to avoid it? Well, most of us who are avid readers, or writers and readers, are aware that there are some people in the world who simply feel one type of literature is “better” than all the rest. This perspective ranges from demeaning certain genres, styles, and/or authors, to being downright nasty on social media or in real life socializing, to concretely boycotting and encouraging boycott of particular titles, or — again — authors or genres.

Just like any other kind of snob, literary snobs are just eewww. And like other kind of snobs, literary ones feel they are absolutely right, no matter what, why can’t you see that, and, no, you aren’t going to change their perfect and complete minds.

A-hem. Okay, let’s temper this salt just a little.

The biggest reason literary snobs get under the skin of those who just plain like to read what we like to read is their superiority attitude. Bookworms — and especially bookdragons — are always going on about how much their favorite titles mean to them, and how everybody they know should read immediately, and love them just as intensely. However, what makes us not-a-snob is the fact that, if someone doesn’t like our favorite book, we may be disappointed or even miffed, but we will not proceed to formulate plans to hunt down these individuals in the night and…

Oh, right, less salt.

Unfortunately, we have probably all had an experience (more than one?) where we either got into a heated argument or a very uncomfortable debate with somebody based on literary snobbery. I know it’s happened to me. But what’s really the best way to deal with it? Other than passionately defending your dear papered loves…particularly when the party opposite refuses to be swayed, even a tiny bit?

And really, what’s our end goal? To get them to admit our favorite book is the best ever? Or just to get off their stupid soapbox and admit something that simply isn’t to their taste still has value?

For most of us, it’s the latter.

So, how do we do this constructively? While retaining our own sanity?

Maybe there are reasons literary snobs are this way. Let’s start with that.

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Do they genuinely realize how hard it is to be a writer? A lot of enthusiastic readers probably don’t. This may be surprising, but since becoming a self-published author, I’ve come across a monumental amount of misconceptions or misinformation among readers about writers. One is this notion that if you’re talented and trained, or at least educated via academia or the school of life, about doing a thing — such as writing a book — that it should come easily. Very intelligent people can have no concept of how the creative brain operates.

There’s also the fact that society tends to decide what’s “mainstream” and what’s “fringe.” Science fiction and fantasy, graphic novels, horror, speculative religious or spiritual fiction, tends to be seen in our society as “fringe.” The reason romances and mysteries and biographies of politicians and celebrities are in bookstores and libraries everywhere is because they’re more conforming, more generalized, easier to get ahold of (for sellers or distributors), and more people consider them acceptable to read — and be seen reading.

Changing people’s minds about what’s “acceptable” can be a hard road. There are lots of people I know passingly in my area that find fantasy and juvenile fiction to be “beneath” authors, and readers. Because this is what write, I am not always appreciated wherever I go as a card-carrying author. This gets tedious, but also, I get used to it.

Not that I like it. So, again, what’s the solution?

Maybe there isn’t one when it comes to taste?

Or maybe we can at least try to encourage broadening horizons? What if someone reads a book in a genre or style they swore they’d never try…and they enjoyed it? This does happen, and not as infrequently as we might believe. It’s a step forward…

How do you make sure you don’t accidentally turn into a literary snob yourself? My advice is to always have a variety of authors, in at least two different genres, that are your go-tos for new titles/releases, and don’t be afraid to try suggestions. Generally I read YA and MG fantasy, but there are a handful of adult fantasy or adult romance novelists I return to now and again. Sometimes I shake it up with a biography or memoir or a title I haven’t read since about 1998. It’s all good.

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If someone will never agree with your recommendations, learn to let it go. Live and let live. Peace (and your sanity) is more important.

What to do if you’re surrounded by literary snobs?

Well…is there any way to change your circumstances? I mean, if your co-workers fit this category, but you’re more open-minded, but can’t just quit your job, there are always online communities where you can find those sharing your interests and views.

If it’s something you don’t have to be involved in — like me and a certain book club I mentioned recently — then just remove yourself from it, and be glad of the escape.

What if pushing forward with your own intention to broaden is the way it has to be — because the literary snobs are your family, students, or you’re — for example — the head of the book club?

I know someone who refuses to give up. She’s making a bunch of retired grandmothers (who are very picky on their reading selections) get through Stephen King’s Bag of Bones in October.

And if you are well-read, please be kind to those who may not be. You could unintentionally turn somebody off from reading a certain genre or author, depending on your reaction to their lack of knowledge.

And there are many reasons why people either don’t have the time or inclination towards reading something you feel they should’ve finished years ago.

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Since we all love reading, we want to encourage others to pursue it. If we make it feel like reading for pleasure is something that’s unreachable or unrelatable, our passion won’t get much past us.

Let’s grow the flock.

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Autism, community

Get Ready For Autism Pride Month


I really hope you’re ready for a whole lot of autism.

April is Autism Awareness Month in many English-speaking countries, and many of us #ActuallyAutistic folks have an issue with the way we’re often portrayed during this time period. “Autism awareness” all too frequently translates to “being aware of the affliction of autism.” When we don’t consider ourselves afflicted, generally. Some of us suffer with physical difficulties, such as seizures or food allergies or other medical conditions, that happen to go along with our being on the spectrum. But just having autism is NOT what creates our “affliction.”

To us, we just ARE how we are. Our normal IS having autism. We don’t know anything different. Some of us don’t care for that status quo, and some of us would change it. But most of us don’t see the need. And all we want is to be ACCEPTED for taking that point of view.

We don’t need to conform, we don’t need to become just like everyone else. We can bring so much value to this messed up world simply by being ourselves.

There’s a push in the #ActuallyAutistic community this spring to TAKE BACK the month devoted to “raising awareness” about us. We’re going to call it Autism Pride.


So, throughout April 2019, every post I make on this blog will be dedicated to something about autism. Once or twice a week, I’ll pick a topic and share all the positives and negatives, all the “it is what it is” of the subject.

The prevailing theme for all of this WILL be taking pride in being autistic — no matter what the rest of the world says. No matter how hard it gets sometimes. No matter how much we do struggle.

It took me most of my life to figure out I’m on the spectrum. And when the realization finally did come, it was AMAZING. All the human behavior and perspectives I never could understand, now I got WHY I didn’t grasp it. The environments and hobbies that made me squirm because of the noise and heat and too many other people all made sense. I stopped feeling the push to apologize for wanting to be introverted, for not wanting to look at other faces the entire time I was talking, for not joining groups or having a very small social circle. I no longer cared if I wore makeup, high heels, or dresses more than twice a year. I embraced sticking to my comfort zone, at last comprehending that all my boundaries had developed from a very real physical reason of protecting my extremely sensitive nerves — not at all from shyness or stubborness or a refusal to adjust. wasn’t what required adjusting.

Knowing that, for the first time, finally, felt LIBERATING.


For years, I’ve been speaking up on behalf of my autistic son, fighting for his acceptance in a world that would rather change him before tolerating him. Now I’m also fighting for myself, and for the next generation of ASD girls, so that they can be heard, and not have to spend their lives doubting, fearing, aching.

Neurodivergence is the civil rights platform most of us never thought we’d have the opportunity to stand on. Now that we are, and on the cusp of turning the corner, we can’t give up. We’ve been abused and mistreated for decades, and at last that’s being exposed and shamed. It’s not too late for our children to have a great life, their strengths applauded, discrimination scaled back.

Who’s with me?



community, entertainment, family

The YouTube Discussion


So, many of you are probably aware that there’s this website called YouTube, where you can find EVERYTHING — clips from movies and TV shows, often whole episodes of cancelled or long out-of-production series, extended trailers for upcoming films, music videos, and plenty of original content by contributors who might be your neighbor down the street, or world famous in their own right.

It’s an interesting cultural shift, one that most likely never would have happened without the internet. Remember just 20 to 30 years ago, when your relatives invited everybody over to watch their vacation slides, and we all groaned and grit our teeth and wracked our brains for something polite to say? People came up with excuses ranging from, “I can’t, I’m having my wisdom teeth out,” to, “I’d love to, but I just sat down in this comfy chair.” Now suddenly, random strangers from around the globe put their home videos of their family getaway to Cancun on YouTube, and it hits 15,678 views in less than 24 hours.

The major difference between YouTube and the sharing-of-home-videos-of-olden-days is the fact that YouTube can make overnight celebrities. I think pretty much everyone and his dog knows by now that YouTube will pay people whose channels reach a significant number of subscribers and/or views. It’s not a foolproof instant way to hit a high salary and quit your day job; there are only a lucky few who make it to more than 10,000 subscribers, and fewer still who actually have a million or more people regularly tuning in.

But this is now an established, accepted part of American entertainment, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

And we’re certainly feeding the beast — YouTube is among the top pick for media platforms regarding movie trailers, music videos, original videos, and lots of artists (in traditional corporate contracts as well as indie) release production news via their YouTube channel. The public finds the free features extremely appealing (myself included), and so do indie artists who can’t afford thousands of dollars for a marketing campaign that could reach potentially millions of people.

However, for all that’s good, just like with anything else, the scope and scale of this phenomenon have created some dark sides.


For example, there’s no rating system, G, PG, etc., so it’s criminally easy for your 4-year-old to stumble on recorded game play of Doom or Five Nights at Freddy’s. (And for those of you who claim, “Well, parents should be watching their children,” let’s see you stick by that argument when it’s either race to the bathroom or wet the floor, and your misbehaving, headstrong preschooler will climb the furniture to grab the stashed remote while you’re literally indisposed.) While plenty of contributors do keep their uploads clean and family friendly, there are just as many who don’t consider that necessary, nor do they leave a note on their channel that what they post may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Yes, there are parental controls available on a variety of devices, and we don’t have to let our children watch certain things; but as the “parent network,” YouTube should bear some of the responsibility. After all, the major broadcasters — NBC, PBS, FOX, HBO, etc. — either relegate more mature viewing to hours when small ones are in bed, or they advertise all over the place that particular shows aren’t meant for those of us under age 18. We genuinely can’t say we weren’t warned about The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones.

YouTube doesn’t appear to have the same concerns about their viewers that traditional TV networks do. The trad folks are very aware of lawsuits and fines and even threats of jail time. And, yes, they’re doing “the right thing” primarily to keep their business earning money; but at least they’re following a code of values that most of us feel pretty good about — and if we don’t, we always have the option not to watch.

Do we have the option to block or turn off YouTube as well? Of course. Though with this platform becoming ever more prevalent, that’s growing slightly difficult.

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Because YouTube is now featuring many “regular people” contributors who have hit it big on their platform, children especially are very attracted to the “kids just like me” they see in a lot of these videos. One of Muffin’s favorites is Ryan’s Toy/Family Review, which is run by an Asian-American family in California, that has gone from posting 10-minute videos of their son playing with new toys to a multi-million-dollar empire of several channels on YouTube, a line of toys and clothing being sold at major retailers, and enough income for the parents to quit their jobs and build a new house. Yes, you read all of that right. As a parent myself, I have some serious moral qualms about what this level of fame at such a young age (the “star,” Ryan, is only 7 years old!) might do later in life, but I’m evidently in the minority. Lots of families are coming up with concepts for their children to film and upload, and actively help them do so. The hope, I’m sure, is that one day they all end up with a similar situation to Ryan.

All Muffin knows about Ryan is that the kids are playing with lots of fun toys and seem to be having a blast, and there’s no swearing or violence or anything that Mummy finds objectionable, so he is allowed to watch it as often as he wants.

And when faced with the alternative of something horribly inappropriate, I know I will keep letting him choose Ryan.

I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t add that I pray this family knows what they’re doing.

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What happens if, one day, YouTube executives wake up and decide they don’t need certain channels anymore? What happens to the celebrity families who have now made this platform their career and sole form of wages? How hard would the transition be back to an “average” lifestyle? For the kids as well as the adults?

And, as a child of the 1980s, I remember all too well hearing about former “child stars,” young actors and actresses and musicians that my generation grew up with and admired, getting arrested or checking into rehab, again, or dying from some tragic, preventable occurrence. In another decade or so, will that be the fate of the current YouTube-famous tweens with 1.1 million subscribers?

Unfortunately, only time will tell. But if we hit the year 2025 and all of today’s YouTube kid stars are happily married with a rescue dog and tons of security guards around their inground pool and giant Lego playhouse, then I’ll thank God.

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I let White Fang start his own YouTube channel a couple of years back, and it was mostly to post videos of himself playing Minecraft to share with his friends. He has around 200 subscribers, last I knew, and while he hasn’t updated it in a long time, it still exists, and he may go back to it one day. He’s proud of what he did accomplish, in terms of learning how to use his camera to film the videos, upload them, and be brave enough to share his passion with others.

He’s also found some of the most inspiring and talented individuals by getting involved with the Minecraft and Warriors fan communities on YouTube. Captain Sparklez, anybody? TryHardNinja? And Rainimator has taken the Minecraft community by storm (his work even inspired a character White Fang helped me design for The Order of the Twelve Tribes world.)

And many famous YouTubers are kind and generous; ToyLabTV (they make Jurassic Park styled less-scary dinosaur videos for younger kids) recently hosted a family whose sick child’s “wish” (through the Make A Wish Foundation) was to film a video with them. (Just thinking about that gets me choked up.)

So, YouTube itself is far from evil. But in a world that didn’t even imagine it would be in all our homes until, suddenly, it is, I think we’re still in the infancy of learning just how all this may go.

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community, reading

Stretching Your Wings: The Importance of Readers (and Writers) Trying New Things

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I could’ve just as easily called this post: Why Genre Matters, and Why It Shouldn’t Have To. But that feels a bit tongue-twisty, and mind-bendy, for this early in the morning.

Anyway. So, here we go: When you tell someone you like to read, or you announce you’re a writer, the next question is inevitably — Which genre? Which genre do you read or write? And, yes, there has to be a classification, a distinction — Mystery? Romance? Thriller? Historical? Fantasy? Science fiction? Biographies? People are persnickety about it.

Here’s the part where it gets a little confusing (in an existential crisis way): I don’t necessarily disagree with the finnickyness — and yet I do. Because I think it does — and at the same time doesn’t — matter what genre(s) you read and write. As a writer, if you’ve declared a genre for your work, it should fall into the guidelines of that category, at least for the most part. And I’m not talking tropes or cliches; I’m all for originality, so I think crafting a ghost story or a chick lit with fresh characters and an unexpected ending is excellent. But readers are also looking for certain things from genre works, and they will reward authors (financially, by buying their books, and with praise) for delivering that.

However, as an author myself who likes to stretch the boundaries of the genre I have loved my whole life and do write in, I will put forth that being able to cross the category divides is a good thing. My YA fantasy series has garnered some high praise from middle-aged (and above) adults who may not be well-versed in speculative fiction. In my view, this is an absolute plus. When I started on Volume 1, I wasn’t intending to create a novel that would immediately be granted status among the classics of epic fantasy; I simply wanted to tell the story I wanted to tell.

And, yes, it was one hundred and ten percent going to have pixies and talking cats and references to Doctor Who in it.

Some readers take issue with that.

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SFF authors meet them everywhere we go — those few that literally turn up their noses when we answer the genre question. As if speculative fiction isn’t as worthy as other types of novels. There are a bunch of excuses — we’re avoiding reality by delving into myths and legends and implausible theories; we’re only in it for the money, and we aren’t crafting anything that will be taken seriously a decade from now; we need to bite the bullet and grow up already.

Well, let’s see: Who wants to be in touch with the current reality? Turn on the evening news for 5 minutes and you’ll be wishing you were on a rocket to Neptune in the year 2100. Or that dinosaurs would come back and just obliterate entire societies. When we write about what could be, not simply what is, we’re doing our part to make the world better for our children.

And what money? How many of us are Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater? Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater. There are reasons Tolkien and CS Lewis held down professorships, and classic sci-fi authors were also journalists or teachers or worked in some other field. Making a ton of cash as a SFF writer is a new thing, and still quite rare. If we wanted an instant bestseller, we’d choose a different plot, characters, and themes. Nope, we do this because it’s where our hearts are.

And growing up is overrated. Everybody knows it; they just won’t admit it yet. What period of life do adults get all nostalgic about? The grueling early days of being at the bottom rung of their career ladder? No! Their childhood! The carefree afternoons frolicking in meadows barefoot. This is precisely why Narnia and Middle Earth and Hogwarts are places people in their 30s and 40s still love to visit. (So much for the “what you published will be forgotten in a decade” bit.)

So, why isn’t spec fic as “important” as other types of literature?

It is as important. Full stop.

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How do we change the minds of those readers who claim differently?

Get them to actually read SFF. Take them out of their comfort zone. Stretch their limits.

They might, in fact, like it.

The same people who insist on drilling into their children: “You won’t know unless you try,” really need to abide by this themselves.

On the other side of the coin, SFF readers (and some writers) could stand to be a little less snobbish about other genres. How can they be sure that “traditional mystery” is a bore without having skimmed a single page of it? Or that they’ll despise the characters in that historical romance they never checked out of the library? Yes, we all have personal taste, and there’s nothing wrong with that — key point: nothing wrong. If you want to draw more unconventional SFF readers to your own work, try branching out yourself.

In the end, genres do exist with good reason; but we really shouldn’t be judging each other as people based on what we like to read.

And since we unfortunately already do this, how about we stop?

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community, reading

The Future of My Reading Habits

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So recently, I explained my decision to leave Goodreads as a user. This meant that my reviewer and reader account was closed and removed from the site, and although my published works remain there, I won’t be making any personal comments or updates anymore.

I went into the details in “Explaining My Recent Decision to Leave Goodreads” (sorry, it’s been a big week and I’m too lazy right now to attach a link), but it also relates very strongly to my post a few months ago, “It’s Time to Stop Being So Neurotic About Goodreads.”

Even before I reached the point of feeling completely overwhelmed by the toxicity of some of the reviewers, I was beginning to lose it when it came to GR. The way the site seems to turn reading into a competition just becomes suffocating.

Before I joined GR, my TBR was anywhere from 1-10 books at any given time, and this changed frequently depending on what else was going on in my life.

For example, if it had just been Christmas or my birthday, and I’d bought a bunch of new books, those came to the top of the list.

If I’d checked a bunch out from the library all at once, those came first.

If things had just gone bat guano crazy (like this week did), then my reading material would definitely be limited to either a trusted and beloved re-read (for comfort, and that I could pick up in small chunks), or nothing at all for a few days.

After I joined GR, my TBR swelled to as many as 60 titles I hoped to read in the next several months. I’m aware this seems like nothing to the folks who regularly have at least 100 books on their TBR, and find themselves constantly adding to it. But for me — a mom to special needs kids, who’s trying to work from an already-busy home — anything upwards of 20 feels stifling.

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And I was starting to lose the joy of reading. I’d frantically run to the library every week, to grab all the hot new releases before anyone else did, so that I could read them and review them as quickly as possible. Even if I hated them. Even if I DNF’ed them. Even if I was only reading them because 1,000 other people on Goodreads were.

That’s where the stress came in. Almost all the excitement of picking up a brand new title was being sucked out of my soul. The thrill of being able to add higher numbers to my “finished” list was providing more emotional juice than the wonderful story I’d just absorbed.

Especially since it often wasn’t wonderful. In the past 16 months, I read a LOT of books I never had before, and I have to say, probably 80% of the time, I was disappointed.

There were also some really awesome finds, including fellow indie authors, and titles in genres I’d usually shy away from. And I learned a TON about myself as a reader, and this is important. I learned what I really can’t stand, what I’m okay giving a try, and where I need to draw the line.

I have decided I do not care what my friends are reading, how fast they’re finishing, or how many books they complete in a year. I support their life goals, and if they’re happy, then I’m happy for them.

My personal reading goals will be much different from now on.

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I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but these circumstances called for it.

So, here are my priorities for reading starting now:

It will be fun. As soon as a new title (borrowed, bought, discovered in a rubbish pile) stops being enjoyable, I will put it down and not pressure myself to keep going.

It will fit into time I already have. Usually in the evenings, there isn’t much on TV that I’m interested in, so after Jeopardy! I crack open a book. This is also a good way to wind down at the end of the day, and relax. Since I generally need some time to focus on something that is not children or everyday-life-related before I attempt to settle down enough for sleeping, spending an hour or so diving into Maggie Stiefvater or Warriors or Beaumont and Beasley easily accomplishes this.

I’d found myself devoting massive chunks of time (when I could have been doing something else) to 500-page books that I wanted to finish only to be able to say I finished it. Not recommended.

I will not force myself to plow through genres/authors/content I find objectionable or just plain tedious. Everybody has different tastes, and that’s why there are so many options out there for readers. There’s nothing wrong with my preferring certain subjects and genres, styles and levels of content. So what if it means I’m much more likely to choose a MG or YA fiction, when I’m an adult?

I will not have a set time limit, nor a goal for how many books I’ll read in x amount of days. Part of the stress of feeling like your TBR is going to crush you if you don’t get through, say, half of it before 2020, is the sensed impending doom of that deadline. The fact is, the world will not end if I only read 15 books in 12 months, or if I only add 8 more to my TBR.

All of this combined should mean that I keep my sanity, and my love for reading as a hobby, and as a writer. After all, that’s what it’s really about.

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community, family, reading

New Discussion: Who is YA For?

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Note: I’ve chosen to feature the original art of Maggie Stiefvater in this post. Please remember to give all the credit for these gorgeous pieces to her.

Extra note: Why Maggie Stiefvater? Other than she’s one of my favorite authors? Well, the fact that she was part of the catalyst of this discussion that started on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about what she and others said, and about the post that really got the ball rolling on this topic.

So, here’s an interesting question: Who is Young Adult fiction actually for? It may seem like a “duh, Captain Obvious” answer — Young Adult fiction is for those under 21 — but the data behind sales, library checkouts, and online reviews proves, no, it isn’t.

The majority of readers of the labeled (and marketed) YA genre in the 21st century are women ages 18 to 45. That’s right. Women with children of their own. And yet…most of us wouldn’t necessarily recommend most YA titles to our adolescents.

Once upon a time, there was something called “New Adult,” a genre that targeted women readers approximately 19 to 30, people who were just starting out on being financially independent, having to manage an apartment or house, an exclusive relationship, and just being a grown-up. “What a great idea!” so many of us currently in that stage of life exclaimed (myself included, as then a new wife and mother). I enjoyed some of those books, sometimes a lot. When you’re about 25, most of us are past the point of relating to your biggest problem being whether to cut math class or not. That was what most YA was like back then.

However, two distinct things happened. One: There was a shift in what NA was, from real plots and discussing relationships and life to little more than pornography (which many readers were not happy with, myself included). Two: YA changed from being about the actual issues teens face to focusing on world-weary 16-year-olds living in dystopian settings that forced them to become the breadwinner or the chosen one or the next queen of the realm.

And this altering of dynamics resulted in some tricky situations. Real high school students ate up The Hunger Games and Divergent and The Maze Runner — but so did parents, for very different reasons. Actual teens were drawn to the escapism of dystopia: it was so far removed from anything they know that it was all about action and adventure and good guys versus bad guys. Parents, on the other hand, considered these series, and others like them, important cautionary tales, for what can happen to our civil liberties and democracies if we get complacent.

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So, in the wake of the demise of NA, a new type of “YA” emerged: the kind where any novel featuring a protagonist who was 15, 16, or 17 — regardless of the content, subject matter, or genre — was automatically marketed to real life adolescents.

Many parents do not want their kids reading it. There’s too much profanity, casual alcohol use, cutting school, fornication, and little to no consequences for unwise behavior.

And actual teenagers don’t want to read it, because the wild parties, skipping class on a whim, having sex without worrying, and paying all the bills on time so your irresponsible parent doesn’t forget to sounds like no one they know.

Recently I read a blog post written by a current adolescent, who stated many of these (and other issues) as reasons why she doesn’t read much “YA” anymore. And I agree with her — not as a teen, obviously, but as the mother of a teen who’s having a hard time finding reading material that he can relate to.

And as a mother who’s trying to raise a gentleman, I’m having a hard time finding reading material for him that encourages not swearing, not picking up random girls, and not getting blasted on a Friday night.

(That is a whole post unto itself. Anyway.)

A lot of the issue is this: Publishers saw a goldmine by getting the parents — the people with salaries — to purchase overpriced “YA” novels. Again, who’s mostly reading “YA” these days? Adults. Are kids reading the new releases by “YA” authors their parents are bringing home? Maybe, maybe not.

But here’s the other thing happening while all this is going on: Teens are much more likely to stick with MG fiction, or switch to not reading for fun at all. In English class, they’ll suffer through Shakespeare and the classics, and in their everyday lives, avoid them like the plague. They’ll just check out graphic novels or manga from the library, or skip reading anything and go straight to the movie version.

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Is this all teens? No. But is it becoming more and more prevalent and should we be worried about it? Yes.

When I was White Fang’s age (he’s 15 now), YA was just coming into its own. Too many teachers and librarians had complained that kids were expected to leap from Charlotte’s Web to A Separate Peace, and adolescent minds weren’t receiving proper nourishment. So some really smart people decided to create a market specifically for the 14-year-olds who weren’t “into kids’ stuff” anymore, but not ready for highbrow literary analysis.

And there is no denying that series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson did what seemed the impossible at the cusp of the millenium — they turned kids away from computers and back to books, boys and girls, ages 8 to 18.

Now, though, we’re facing the reverse. And it’s because, once more, publishers are shutting teens out of the market. Kids who have a $10 a week allowance can’t afford $35 new hardcovers. They aren’t going to spend that money on stories that don’t make them feel connected or impacted, anyway.

Authors who write “YA” branded books but are aware their audience is mostly adults can be torn as well. (Enter Ms. Stiefvater’s Twitter thread on the subject.) They want to write about these characters, who happen to be adolescents. They want to write deeper, grittier stories than what you’d find in MG. Do some of them feel they’d be compromising their creative vision by “scaling down” certain things to gear it more towards “real” teens? Yeah, they do. Is that wrong? Hmm. No?

So, what’s the solution?

Well, here are my ideas: We need to go back to writing and publishing a market that teens can relate to and learn from. We also need to be aware there are plenty of adults who want to read fun, adventure-filled novels with a minimum of graphic violence and sex and language, and produce more fiction like that — just with 32-year-old protagonists.

And we need to try to drive down the cost of books to begin with — reading will become an elite past-time if we don’t consider the budget of 90% of working Americans.

Maybe we should also stop looking at the almighty dollar as our number one goal, and think more about the expression on someone’s face when they’ve found their next favorite read.

After all, that’s what literature is meant for.

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community, pop culture

Whatever Happened to Feng Shui?

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Do you ever wonder what happened to certain things that were popular years ago, but you suddenly realize, “Hey, we never hear about ______ anymore?”

The other day, for some reason, I thought this about Feng Shui. For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s an Asian architectural and inner decor method that became popular elsewhere in the late 20th century. Basically, the idea is to arrange your house in the optimal way for garnering good luck and blessings from the universe. The concept hit it big here, probably due to the idea of coercing cosmic good fortune to rain down upon individuals. People started businesses where official Feng Shui consultants would come to your house or company and tell you what to rearrange and how (and most likely charge you a great deal of money for this information).

True Feng Shui is far more complex than I ever felt confident of tackling. (Plus, I’m not sure that having my bathroom perfectly aligned with my chakras will actually ensure getting the job of my dreams). I read a few books on the subject, and the major thing I got out of it was that: A) this is too heavy, dude, and B) materialism isn’t necessarily good for us.

Now I’m not a minimalist; there are certain things I like having plenty of. (Books, for example.) Though I can definitely agree that being focused on acquiring objects is a predominantly Western fixation that may not bring us health and prosperity.

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Part of me really likes the notion of creating your immediate environment to be ultimately soothing and beneficial, not simply functional. This really appeals to my autistic nature, which craves stability, routine, being able to find things quickly, and know what’s going to come at you. And I won’t deny that I love to be organized.

Even if my organization system doesn’t make sense to anybody else. For example, I don’t have a physical to-do list, scribbled on a scrap piece of paper; I have a stack of letters or forms to be filled out, on the top is the one that I need to do first based on its date, and then everything underneath it is also arranged by this same order of importance.

My bookshelves may look like they aren’t arranged in any particular way; but I know that they are, and where to find a title or author. And since they’re my books, and no one besides me will ever need to find something, does it really matter if I can’t explain my reasoning more tangibly than that?

What would Feng Shui have to say about my cavalier attitude towards the placement of objects?

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Maybe in some ways I’m just too practical to really delve into Feng Shui and give it a wholehearted chance. There are many aspects of my life that would make this endeavor an extremely difficult one. My guess is these practices from ancient China weren’t really designed with modern American cul-de-sac residences in mind. Nor is it necessarily possible for me to make sure of things like the “fire” and “water” parts of my house not being too close together; I can’t change where the gas lines and pipes run to.

However, I can absolutely agree that consumerism can get out of control, and that keeping possessions well organized is paramount to maintaining a healthy environment.

This can be a hard practice to keep up in our society.

You tell your kids to get rid of the toys they’re done playing with (and you know they’re done because they haven’t touched said items in over a calendar year). But, but, but, they’ll insist, those objects have such sentimental value, and don’t we always encourage them to form meaningful memories? So you relent…and then wish you hadn’t when Christmas shopping season comes around again — because you’ll realize there are all these new things the kids want…and that will need somewhere to be stored when they tire of them.

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There are always charities and secondhand shops that will happily take these items when you’re finished with them. The system of passing on stuff that no longer works for your family but will for someone else is an excellent one. And we live in the land of garage sales and flea markets, carrying the unofficial motto, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

If…if you can ever get your family to part with said “trash.”

So, does Feng Shui actually serve a purpose in our culture? Can it be adapted to make our homes and businesses channel more effective and positive energy throughout our lives? Should we even be worrying about it?

And I have to wonder — for a society that was so enamored with this concept just a couple of decades ago, and now it doesn’t really seem to be “a thing”… Does this mean that following trends are more important to us than holding on to something innovative and establishing long-lasting change?

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