Friday, April 11, 2014

I'm not a feminist, but...

I've always had a fairly complicated relationship with feminism.

When I was younger, I was fairly proud to not be a feminist. Feminists were screaming harpies who demanded attention and were just causing trouble. Sure, I'd see things that were wrong with society, but I'd say something along the lines of, "I'm not a feminist, but..."

This attitude carried on for quite some time. I remember first coming up with this idea of "I'm not a feminist, but..." in high school--I don't remember the exact reasoning behind the words, but I remember having that attitude. I had that attitude in college, too. We'd discuss literature that obviously had sexist undertones (typical, to be fair, of European literature of a certain age), and that phrase would come up. When I participated in the semi-political professional organization of my state's branch of the National Education Association, I'd make arguments for fair wages and treatment and say, "I'm not a feminist, but..."

But we deserve equal pay.
But the society we live in isn't fair.
But not enough people are standing up for the rights of others.
But we deserve respect.
But it's not right for a woman to be judged solely by her gender.
But, but, but.

There are two things wrong with the phrase, "I'm not a feminist, but..."

First, it's wrong for me to couch my opinions with a disclaimer. Saying something like, "I'm not a feminist, but I feel like women deserve the same rights as men," belittles not just the idea of feminism, but also the idea that what I'm saying matters. I'm dismissing my own words before I even speak them. I'm giving an excuse for why I should be allowed to say the words following the phrase, as if the only reason I would say those words is if I had such an excuse.

The second thing wrong about that phrase is the fact that it exists.

Our society has turned "feminist" into a bad thing to be. A screaming harpie seeking attention and trouble. A thing that we should distance ourself from.

But we deserve equal pay.
But the society we live in isn't fair.
But not enough people are standing up for the rights of others.
But we deserve respect.
But it's not right for a woman to be judged solely by her gender.
But, but, but.

On my second Breathless Reads book tour, I remember very clearly a man from the audience asking us if we felt guilty that we had written books told from a female's point of view. "What about the boys?" he asked. "What about their voices?" Disregarding that myself and Marie Lu had written books that were half from a boy's point of view, I want to point out that word he used.

Guilty. For writing from a woman's perspective.


I'm not a feminist, but I should feel guilty for writing from a girl's point of view.

Across the Universe won an award from RT Book Reviews--the best YA of the year--in 2012. I told a friend about the award.

"What does RT stand for?" she asked.

"Romantic Times."

I can see the confusion in her eyes. "Like...romance novels?"

"Yeah," I said.

She smiled sadly. "Well, it's nice you won an award, even if it's from romance people."

Even if it's from romance people--a genre dominated by women. A genre entirely dismissed as being lesser. Is romance lesser? Of course not. There are some poor romance novels. But there are poor novels in every single genre in print. Had I won an award from, for example, SFWA--maybe an Andre Norton Award for YA SF--that, that would have been prestigious. There are just as many bad SF novels as there are bad romance novels.

I'm not a feminist, but an award in a female-dominated genre is regarded as less that one from a male-dominated one.

(By the way, I'm damn proud of that RT award, and I am freaking excited to accept another one for Shades of Earth next month.)

I'm not a feminist, but books written by women in YA tend to have far more gendered covers than books written by male authors.

I'm not a feminist, but when a book is written about a girl who's real and embraces herself for who she is, it's labeled as feminist, as if such a book cannot stand on its own merit and is somehow odd for being that way.

I'm not a feminist, but when an author is female and writes a female character, some critics automatically assume that the character is far more vapid and stupid than if a male had written a female character.

I'm not a feminist, but I have read book reviews of female authors which are focused primarily on the authors' appearance, giving the book less points because the author is either too slutty or not lady-like or too fat or wears too much (or too little) make-up.

I'm not a feminist, but when a female author is aggressive about her own marketing plan, she's dismissed as being pushy or bossy, but when she's not, she's dismissed as being meek and worthless.

I'm not a feminist, but JK Rowling has never published a book with an obviously female author name.

I'm not a feminist, but an actress in an upcoming YA film recently dismissed the entire YA genre for "diminishing a book's value."

And when I started adding up all these "buts," I realized something important.

I don't have a complicated relationship with feminism at all.

I am a feminist, and I am damn proud of it. Because all a feminist wants is equal treatment and respect. That's all. And the reason why we need feminists in society is because we don't have equal treatment and respect.

It's because even when we see these discrepancies in the world, we still say, "I'm not a feminist, but..."

But...that's changing. Slowly but surely. And part of the reason our society is changing is because more and more people aren't letting their voices fade to silence. From now on, I'm going to say:

I am a feminist, and I believe we're going to change the world.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why You Should Read Salvage Right Now

Today marks the release of one of my favorite YA science fiction novels! From the very first page, I was enraptured with the brilliance of Alexandra Duncan's world.

Okay, so I'm working under the assumption that everyone on Earth has seen the brilliant show Firefly, yes? If not, GET ON THAT PEOPLE, there's naked Nathan Fillion to be had. But meanwhile, you know that episode where we see Saffron for the first time? And we think she's just a completely naive girl from a planet that's kept their society rather primitive, and then she winds up on a spaceship and having adventures? Salvage reminds me of Saffron (except minus the knock-out lipstick).

Let me try to explain in words that don't rely on a deep-seated love of Firefly to understand. Salvage follows Ava, a girl raised on a spaceship that is ruled in a very specific, limiting way. But after she tastes a different life, she is forced to flee her ship. And that's just the beginning...

What I loved about this book (the same thing, btw, that I loved about The Martian and the movie Gravity) was the realism. Alexa has done her science--when Ava leaves the spaceship she's lived on all her life, she doesn't just walk off with no issues at all. But she also knows her sociology and psychology, exploring not just Ava's perspective, but also the different societies she winds up in and how Ava fits into that.

But it's also real in the way it seems like the world and the people are real. Some books you read, and you know they're fiction. And that's fine. We need an escape, and there are some books I pick up, and I know there's going to be a happily ever after, and I know there's going to good guy's going to win, and I can see the plot as it unfolds.

Salvage is not that book.

In Salvage, I had no idea what would happen next. I had no idea if Ava would find a happily ever after. If the characters I'd come to love would live.

Salvage was real.

So definitely give this one a read. It will creep inside your mind and stay under your skin for a long time.

Find out more about the book
Find out more about the author

The Best Students are Teachers

I am extraordinarily lucky to have had the opportunity to pursue two careers--writing and teaching. Although I'm no longer a teacher (I used to teach English to high school students), there's a part of me that still sees the world through an educator's eyes. I'll visit a museum and think of my former students who would like to see the exhibit, or I'll read something and think to myself, "that would make a great lesson!" I've harassed Laura, my fellow teacher and dear friend, more than a few times with ideas for her to turn something into a lesson because I'm no longer in the classroom.

This is probably why I'm an active mod over at the YA Writers group on Reddit, why I make blog posts about books that are sometimes in an academic or instructional variety, and why my favorite style of presentation to give is a Q&A. It's also probably why I identified so strongly with Hermione Granger.

I'm always afraid of pushing the Hermione-ness of myself too much, and I try not to be a know-it-all, but if you're my friend, there's a 99% chance I've tried to one-up you in a conversation, or slip in a random historical fact, or inserted a weird bit of trivia. It should be noted that the husband won't play Trivial Pursuit with me, and that's probably why we've got such a happy marriage.

But seeing the world with an eye for education has definitely helped me to understand the world better, and to seek out the why of things.

Teaching something forces you to know more about the subject than a student does. This was the first thing I learned as a teacher, the most important lesson, and the one that has stayed with me. I thought I was so smart as a college student. I had a decent GPA, I was young, I was brilliant, I was going to change the world! But knowing the answers to the test don't always mean you understand why an answer exists.

My first few weeks of teaching taught me more about education than five years of college and two degrees and three certificates did. I did far more homework as a teacher than as a student. I prepared a million times more. For every page my students read, I read ten. When I taught a novel, I read not only the novel, but all the criticism, all the analyses, all the background.

In order to condense my lesson into a short, 90 minute lecture, I compiled enough information to fill a book.

Every year, at least one kid would ask: "Why do we have to learn English anyway? How is that going to help us in the real world?" And every year, I struggled to find an answer. Math and science are easy to see the relevance of. Vocational studies had real-world implications. Even PE could have a lasting effect on the body, if not the mind. But English...it was all just stories and grammar, right? And while lessons on the parts of speech and how to compose a resume are helpful, the literature--the core of every English class--has no real world implications, do they? Your ability to read Shakespeare will likely no effect your chances of securing a job; your understanding of symbolism in modern literature won't get you a pay raise.

Except English classes and literature aren't about what you learn. I don't really care if you know that Moby Dick is a whale or not. English classes and literature are about how you learn, and what matters is that you understand the futility of Captain Ahab's quest.

I never really had a good answer for "why do we have to learn English" when I was a teacher. I tried--the quickest way to distract me from a lesson and invoke a thirty-minute rant from me was to ask that question during class. But it's only now, as a writer, as someone who's making literature, that I realize the importance of it. Just as, as a teacher, I had to truly understand a subject before I could teach it, as a writer, I have to understand the importance of literature before I can write it. And just as my point as a teacher was always to help guide my students into understanding rather than rote memorization, my goal as a writer is to show the world and the character and the story and leave the meaning to grow in the reader's mind.

Writing books isn't just about telling a story. It's about creating a story not of ink and paper, but of thoughts and ideas. If I've done my job--and I try very hard to do this with everything I write--then the story exists beyond the book. It changes the way you see not just the characters, but yourself.

That's why we learn English lit.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Upcoming Newsletter & Information

On April 1st, the next edition of my monthly newsletter will be out! I just wanted to remind everyone of two important things:

Every month, I'm giving away one signed copy of one of my books to a random subscriber to my newsletter! All you have to do is sign up for the newsletter--nothing else is required. You're automatically entered, and I'll be drawing one name every month for a winner.

The other thing I want everyone to know is that this is not just a newsletter about me. Every month, I collect the best and coolest links dealing with the sci fi nerdy stuff I love, and compile it into the newsletter. I do have book information, but most of the newsletter is cool links and info that I think people would want to read whether or not they're interested in my books. This month's newsletter has information about NASA, a satire film on the Cosmos, info on an exciting new sci fi documentary, Sailor Moon details, a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game, and more! So please don't think that I'm going to be spamming you every month with info on me and my books--I'm so not that interesting. :)

If you'd like to sign up, here's an easy form. And I promise: I don't send out emails more than monthly, and I never use your email for anything other than the newsletters or to alert winners of the prizes they've won. The next newsletter goes out on April 1.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Skip a Starbucks Day!

Note: let's blame Blogger for the fact that this post didn't go up when I thought I'd scheduled it for... 

CJ Redwine is an amazing person--not only is she the author of the Defiance trilogy, but she's one of the most kind and giving people I know.

So kind, in fact, that she's opened her heart and her home up to adoption. A few years ago, she adopted a little girl from China. And now she's trying to do it again.

CJ and her family has been paired with Isabella, a precious little girl who was born with a few birth defects. Because of her special needs and the timing, CJ and her family need to come up with $15k--fast. And they're asking for help. When good people ask for help for a good cause, the world rises up to meet them.

But CJ and her family aren't asking for the world--they're just asking for a coffee.

Your average coffee at Starbucks costs about $5--and a $5 donation is a simple, easy thing to give. It adds up fast, and it can change the life of this family. Also? A simple, $5 donation will enter you in a prize pack of awesome proportions. There are TONS of prizes available, including an entire set of signed books from me!

Please consider donating to this worthy cause.

For more information, including details of all the prizes, just click here!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Girls Gone Sci Fi Tour Event!

Announcing the Girls Gone Sci Fi Tour!

Throughout this week, the ladies above are going to be touring around the south. You can find the full schedule of events here--definitely check it out if you're in the area! And if you happen to be around Asheville, I'll be a guest author at their last stop at Malaprop's Bookstore, 7pm, THIS SATURDAY!

I really hope to see you there! It should be a lot of fun, and I'm honored to be with such amazing ladies!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Genre Elitists

Today at the League, I write about the YA SF community, and a few members who think there's no real point in writing anything after Heinlein juveniles. Definitely check it out if you're so inclined!

In writing that post, I was reminded of one of my least favorite authors--Faulkner. Which is a shocking thing for me to say, considering I'm Southern and all, but Faulkner is just...well... definitely not my cup of tea.

Part of it comes from me being contrary. In my very Southern university, I was among the most Southern of Southern students, and my profs tended to insist that "of course YOU will LOVE Faulkner!" despite the fact that, yeah, no, I never have. Don't get me started on Gone With the Wind. If you tell me I have to love something, I will probably hate it.

But beyond that, I also tend to fall into the Hemingway camp on Faulkner's literary style.

Source: Rachel Draws

In case you can't read the lovely graphic:

Faulkner: He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.

Hemingway: Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?

While my article at the League references YA Science Fiction specifically, I think a similar attitude has befallen YA in general. There's a prevailing idea that because a book is YA, it is lesser. 

But do these people really think that adult emotions only come from adult books? 

YA genre isn't about anything lesser. There are, if anything more emotions--emotional characters are a part of the trope!

These so-called "genre-elitists" are the worst kind of readers, in my opinion. When someone ascribes the idea that something is better or has more merit or prestige, when someone assigns class levels to art, then that person is diminishing not the art itself, but the people who enjoy that art.   

Art is an object. It has no feeling. It simply is. 

But the people who like the art do have emotions and feelings. When you insult an art, when you say it is lesser, or not important, or not as worthwhile, you are insulting the people who like the art. It's as simple as that. 

I could go on and on about this, but let me take a leaf out of Hemingway's book (rather than Faulkner's). I don't need fancy words for this anyway. 

People who insult other people for liking the things they like are assholes. 

Source: Tom Gauld, via Kelly Said