Category Archives: Literature

Dear White Authors: Our Fantasy Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

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Hi friends! It’s been awhile. I’ve been focusing on fiction. The sequel to Panther in the Hive has been released, by the way!  (The Rooster’s Garden, here.) But I did write a blog this week.

Below you will find an excerpt to my latest, “Dear White Authors: Our Fantasy Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum” which has been published on Huffington Post. I encourage you to read it here.

You see, our fantasies don’t exist in a vacuum. Every character we create, every world we imagine, every king we conjure, and every centaur or alien or whatever we weave together with our words comes from somewhere. Writers, I know: we like to imagine our stories as apparitions that arise from magic or stardust; a miraculous creation that channeled through us from a mystic source. But that’s untrue: our stories come from us, and “us” is often problematic.

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People of Color DO Survive the Apocalypse: 5 Books You Should Read

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It’s been written about before: the problem with mainstream post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction and its absence of people of color. In the imaginations of so many writers of these genres, people of color don’t ever seem to survive the apocalypse, or somehow the series of events that led to the dystopian society that has banned smiling (or dreaming, or whatever the big “gasp” factor is) wiped out people of color along the way. Post-apocalyptic fiction is a craze, and not a new one: we have always, on some level, wondered what happens next, after we destroy ourselves, for a long time. (Think about it: the Bible’s versions of Heaven and Hell are a kind of dystopian fiction in itself. A book talking about what happens next if we keep f@&#ing up the way we have been? Just saying.) Yet somehow the versions of these stories that make it into the mainstream—and don’t get me started on Hollywood—almost invariably star white people, and especially white girls. But in case you’ve ever looked at the whitewashed array of dystopian and post-apocalyptic books that line the shelves and asked yourself, “Do people of color survive the apocalypse?” the answer is yes. Read these books.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Environmental and economic crises lead to societal disintegration in Parable of the Sower. Lauren Olamina is the daughter of a minister who loses her entire family when the chaos of the outside world enters her home compound. She ventures out into the wasteland of America alone and what follows is her journey to a new future in the face of almost certain death. Octavia Butler was a genius and you should read everything she’s ever written. Pronto. You can buy Parable of the Sower here.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

The setting for this post-apocalyptic future is Saharan Africa, in a world that is ruined by rape and genocide. A young girl named Onyesonwu—which means Who Fears Death?—is raised in the midst of a society that hates her; a society that she must overcome if she is to 1) survive and 2) save the world from the evil that plagues it. She is not only extremely brave, but flawed, funny, and powerful, and the story involves magic, self-discovery, and analyses of racism and sexism. In short: it rocks. You can buy Who Fears Death here.

Panther in the Hive by Olivia A. Cole

Chicago hasn’t really gotten its fair shake when it comes to post-apocalyptic stories, and this book takes place in a Chicago of the not-so-distant future, following the story of Tasha Lockett, an oddball brown girl who finds herself alone in the city when a cybertronic disaster overcomes the States. It’s a coming of age story that takes on healthcare, racism, sexism, and political corruption. Oh, and I wrote it. Just throwing that in there. You can buy Panther in the Hive here.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

If you like zombie novels, here’s one for you. Colson Whitehead isn’t known for genre work, but this book was a doozy. The story follows Mark Spitz, a survivor in a civilian sweeper unit who is clearing Zone One of straggler zombies. It’s deep, dark, and literary, and it will leave you thinking. You can buy Zone One here.

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson has won too many awards to count, and you should really check out all of her work. But Brown Girl in the Ring suits the purposes of this blog, following the story of Ti-Jeanne, a new mother who finds herself alone in a Toronto that has collapsed into violence and gang rule, with the rich and privilege having fled the city and barricaded everyone else inside. A little bit of voodoo. A little bit of love. A lot of adventure. You can buy Brown Girl in the Ring here.

There are others: this is just five. Do you have a favorite that isn’t listed here? Share it in the comments. There’s a shortage of these stories in fiction, so let’s collect them here.

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On Women, Friendship, and Ass-Kicking in Fiction

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Do you remember my piece about isolationism in American media? In it, I wrote about the way Hollywood takes characters of color and isolates them on screen and in the imagining of their character, effectively tokenizing them and driving home the message of solitary existence. Those characters are cut off from other characters of color, making them more easily dominated by the white characters onscreen. We know the same thing is happening with female characters. I wrote about the Bechdel test in that same post and the way women in Hollywood rarely interact with one another onscreen, making female bonding impossible.

Well, the same thing is being done in popular fiction, and I’m sick of it.

For one, I’m sick of the focus of relationship-building in books like The Hunger Games being on romance over friendship. At this point, the genre of Young Adult Fiction should just be called Young Adult Romance. Sure, Katniss kicks ass. But where are her bonds with female characters? Yes, there are her sister and Rue (briefly) but the majority of the series focuses on the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. And don’t even get me started on Twilight. Bella Swan kicks far less ass (far, far less ass) than Katniss, and the relationship between Bella and Edward’s sparkly behind is weird and unhealthy. Even in Harry Potter—which I hate to slander—the brilliant Hermione Granger doesn’t have any real girlfriends. Harry and Ron are it, and one of them is a love interest. And what about adult books? 50 Shades of Grey? Don’t even get me started.

What’s happening to female friendship in fiction? It scares me that it’s going the way of the dodo in the face of popular romantic plotlines, in which the only important relationships are the ones in which sex is involved. Hermione Granger was smart and no-nonsense, but she was alone. It is not enough to simply have one dynamic female character. There must be many. They must talk to each other. Otherwise, we are teaching young readers (and adult readers) that strong women exist alone, in competition and at odds with other women. “You can kick ass,” we tell them. “You can take on the world. But you’re gonna be kicking ass by yourself.” The books that have resonated with me throughout my life—and, indeed, the ones that have shaped the person I am—aren’t like that. They’re books like Sula, The Color Purple, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Bell Jar: books in which the relationships between women are strong and deep and complicated. The books in which women are not alone, even as we come apart and put ourselves back together again. Characters that, even as they set out on long journeys to discover themselves, do so with a tribe of women to support them along the way. I’m not seeing these relationships in mainstream books: I’ve been missing a book that explores the connections between women, the bonding we do that is separate from men and sex and romance.

So I wrote one.

I’m telling you this because there are over 2,000 of you that are subscribed to this blog, and if you’re still here by now, something tells me you might be missing this book too. So far you’ve only read my nonfiction: my ranting about #WhiteGirlsRock, my disgust for Miley Cyrus. Now I feel it’s time to share my fiction with you, with the hope that it might give you something you’ve been looking for.

I’m self-publishing it because….well, mainstream publishers want a love interest that takes up half the plot-line. They don’t believe in the power of a book that exists to highlight the bonds of women, especially in the context of the apocalypse, which is what my book takes place within. But I do. I do believe in it, and if you’re still here, you do too. In Panther in the Hive, as this book is titled, Tasha Lockett is a biracial former fashion-addict who fights for survival in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, all the while learning that it may not be only a blade that saves her life, but the friendship of other women as well.

I’ve started a campaign for the book here. I urge you to contribute. $3 from each of you could put this campaign at goal. And if you share this campaign? Who knows what will happen. Maybe we’ll finally have a mainstream book that tells the lives of women as whole human beings.

ps. Want a sneak peek into Chapter 1? You know you do. Peep it here.

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Mrs. Jones – Microfiction

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She considered briefly that the screen would reveal an extraterrestrial fetus napping somewhere in a bubble between her major organs, but decided that part of being an old woman was dismissing these thoughts. She chose to watch the clock instead. It seemed to be in a bit of a rush, she thought, ticking her life away. She thought of the Mad Hatter, the old cartoon, his buttering the clock and making a sandwich of it. Perhaps that was how you beat time. You ate it.

The nurse continued his slow rubbing across her stomach, the ultrasound gel warm and thick.

“Breathe normally,” the nurse said, stern. She must have been panting.

The question hiding in the holes where her wisdom teeth once lived hunkered deeper. It was both small and large, shrinking and swelling; trying, at once, to abort and be born.

“Do you see anything?”

There it was, an unshelled peanut falling from her mouth.

“What?” The nurse paused his rubbing and stared. Probably she sounded drunk, or like she was speaking an alien language. His eyebrows were impatient. He had other stomachs to rub with his eyeless, all-seeing machine; other livers to examine; other plagues to diagnose.

“Do you see anything?” She thought she sounded human but couldn’t be sure.

Silence.

She couldn’t see what the screen revealed: he had it tilted toward him, a secret. She realized watching his face might provide some clue, so she turned her attention from the clock to him. If only he was wearing glasses—she could peer into the reflection; spy on the shadowy masses he surely saw.

She imagined the dark terrain of her body, its geography of organ continents and the oceans of blood between them. Her blood. She could almost feel the rays or waves or whatever of the ultrasound piercing through her skin and fat, a dull slicing into the private world inside. Through the protective bars of her ribs. No defense. The invisible made visible; the hidden revealed.

The nurse spluttered, the gel smearing down his forearm as she rose, her shirt still tucked up in her beige bra.

“Ma’am, the procedure isn’t over—”

She was already gone, power-walking down the hall empty-handed, formalities being called down the corridor after her—ma’am and miss and Mrs. Jones. The door was in front of her, her palms against the cool metal bar, and she was pushing through into October, into a street that would lead her to safety.

The Mazda struck her body from the side. The sound was dull.

On the ground, little pieces of stone and glass made marbled indentations in her skin—she imagined it as a pattern like scales, the smooth perfection of a quick green snake. She turned her neck slowly, becoming, charting the path on which she would slither toward freedom, away from the crowd gathering. Beside her was a bird, longer dead. Its body was open, the terrain of its heart and spleen solved.

Mrs. Jones followed the map.

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This is my story. There are many like it but this one is mine.

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I’ve always been a panderer.  In second grade when we first started writing stories with beginnings, middles, and ends, I would write what I hoped my classmates would like. Also—because I was an attention whore, a trait (I think) I have since cast off—I wrote what I thought my teacher would most likely ask me to read aloud to the class. I liked telling stories. I wanted to tell them. So I wrote for the “popular market” of my second grade classmates. And it worked. My teachers let me read out loud. My classmates laughed at “the funny parts.” And I felt like a phony.

This continued throughout my burgeoning “career” as a writer. For contests, I wrote things that I thought the judges would like, as opposed to submitting work that I’d already written that I thought fit with the theme. And it worked. I won. I got money. My name was in anthologies. I was a successful panderer.

But I wasn’t happy with my writing. When I wrote my first novel—which I am currently shopping—I made certain decisions that I thought would be popular. Themes, word choices, scenarios. It was the book I wanted to write, but elements of it were pander-y. (Yes, pander-y.) And not only was I unhappy with its quality, readers weren’t connecting with those parts. When your voice is missing, it doesn’t go unnoticed. The novel has since changed in a myriad of ways, and I have slowly begun to feel as if it is truly the story I intended to write.

So my lesson, dear readers <Mother Goose voice>, is what I think tons of literary agents would echo: write the book YOU want to write. And, by extension, don’t write for trends. Kinda like the Rifleman’s Creed, but the Writerwoman’s Creed: “This is my story. There are many like it but this one is mine.” This one is yours. Make it count.

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For Writers Who Considered Marketing When the Art Wasn’t [Paying] Enough

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Nothing you are doing is a waste.

This is what I tell myself. Every day I go to my job where I’m a senior marketing specialist, and I know it’s a lie. I am not a specialist of marketing. I am not a specialist of anything except for putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and writing writing writing. When I graduated college and stepped into the 9-5 world, I felt the emptiness that artists feel when straying from their art in order to pay the bills. Resentment. Anger. Bitterness, even. But eventually I learned: nothing I am doing is a waste. And nothing you are doing is a waste either.

The skills I learn here I will one day apply to my own career. When I am a published author, I will use these years spent marketing to promote my book; publicizing with tight strategic campaigns, incorporating PPC, social media, blogs, and guest posts. Won’t I? I refuse to waste these years.

What are you? Besides a writer? Are you in sales? When you pitch to a client, keep your book in your mind: you’ll pitch it one day. You work in a plant—watch the machines. In the turning gears you might see the next great science fiction novel. You’re in retail. Ha. You have the easiest job of all. Watch those people, the ones that f*ck up your carefully arranged towers of t-shirts, and record every single stupid thing they do. You don’t love retail. I don’t love marketing. But I love what it will create.

All of this matters. Your life is not a waste. Folding t-shirts doesn’t mean you’re not a writer—you’re just a writer folding t-shirts.

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The same old shit

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I won’t actually ask the question, because it’s been asked, but I’ll remind you of it: “Is it possible to separate an artist from her/his work?”

Sure. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. But it’s not always possible. When an artist is so much in their work—whether the presence is conscious or unconscious—it becomes difficult to ignore. It’s distracting.

Five minutes ago I finished reading Stephen King’s The Stand. And, to quote a friend, the “religiosity” became “hokey.” But more distracting than that was the subtle racism.

The Satan-esque villain known as “the black man.” The black soldiers being enormous and muscle-bound and barely human. The complete absence of “good” black characters with the exception of the religious, cornbread-baking prophet woman. The ending, with Africans carrying spears and falling dumbly down at Flagg’s feet (the book took place in the ‘90s). And don’t get me started on the female characters.

What else can I say besides the fact that it’s tiresome? I realize it was written in the 70’s. And that’s always the excuse of people who defend this and other writing. “Well that was then; there weren’t black main characters back then,” as if it was the Stone Age. As if this means it is exempt from criticism.

It’s not. Stephen King wasn’t employing these metaphors for literary effect. It’s casual. Included by way of his own subconscious notions. If this were purely a thing of the past and a pattern not present in 90% of popular fiction and film, maybe it would be easier to lay the old dog to rest.

But that dog is barking, and it only makes it worse to read this puffed-up book from the 70’s and see how little has changed.

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