Just letting you guys know that silence hasn’t meant inactivity on the stalking front. A number of irons are in the fire, and I’m getting more information than ever before. I just don’t want to burden you too hard with all of it or make my Tumblr / internet presence ENTIRELY ABOUT this terrible…
Sarah Rees Brennan has a new post up about her experiences (some of them heart-breaking) as a now-published author who used to write fanfiction. It’s well worth a read, especially for the way it highlights the role that gender may play in these issues.
Ok, don't get me wrong because it's just curiosity, but I have to ask: how much of Supernatural is in Demon's Lexicon, if any? Please don't get this wrong, i love your books, it's a great story with great characters (and better storytelling, to be fair). It's just that I started to watch it recently and some similiarities struck me. And because it would be SO great if someone made a tv show out of DL :)
Oh, you poor sweetie. Please don’t feel at all self-conscious about asking this question, because it’s totally fine, and I so appreciate you saying you like the books (and I would love to have a TV show!) but this is actually something that comes up a lot. This ask about my books is really nice, which is why I chose it, because people have told me they find hostile asks upsetting. I do myself.
Since this question DOES come up a lot, sometimes in not-so-nice ways, I figured maybe I could use this nice question and write some kind of Ultimate Tumblr Answer to all such questions so I wouldn’t have to answer it again.
This is going to be kind of a BIG answer and it might feel overwhelming, so check out of it any time after the simple answer, which is:
None. Zero. Zip. Nada.
There is no Supernatural in my books. I promise you.
I have only seen a few episodes of the first season of Supernatural, back maybe six years ago, and I didn’t enjoy it. (Which doesn’t mean that people can’t enjoy it. Many people cooler than me enjoy it. I have a brilliant lady astrophysicist friend who owns all the box sets!) I’m not going to go into why I didn’t enjoy it, because then people will come and argue with me about my judgy ways, and criticise all the stuff like Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf that I do like. Fair enough, people. Let us all like what we like, accept that we like different things, and everything will be lovely!
I always feel like I have to be careful talking about Supernatural: if any Supernatural fans read the Demon’s Lexicon series and think to themselves, ‘Hey, this contains some of the stuff what I like, i.e. demons and brothers (the only two things TDL and SPN have in common)’ - then fabulous. I want people to read my books, and whatever way they get to my books is wonderful.
But it’s also important to be clear and honest: I would not base a book series on a TV show I never saw much of, and which I didn’t enjoy. That would be a lot of time to devote to stuff I didn’t enjoy! I wouldn’t do it. (Why do people think I would? Well, we’ll get to that later.)
There are a lot of demon stories out there, and a lot of family stories out there, but here are some obvious dissimilarities between Supernatural and the Demon’s Lexicon series:
1. The brothers in Supernatural are actually blood related, while the brothers I wrote about are not blood related. They are not even the same species.
2. One of the brothers in Demon’s Lexicon is disabled.
3. Road-Trip-Through-Small-Town America is a very distinct aesthetic Supernatural seemed to be going for. Can’t be achieved when your setting is England. The magic system itself is rooted in American folklore—mine is totally different.
4. There are ladies in my series who are present in every book and important, whereas I do not believe the Supernatural series has a female lead present in every episode or indeed season.
5. There’s also a queer character present and important in every book, and I do not believe the Supernatural series has a queer character present in every episode. Or indeed season.
6. There are no angels in my world and I understand angels become pretty important in Supernatural. Obviously, they like angels and I like—other stuff.
This has come out seeming judgy of Supernatural after all. I understand that Supernatural now has a queer lady character played by Felicia Day, and that’s excellent. I don’t mean to bag on Supernatural. But it is a very different story to the story in my books, and its creators have very different priorities to me, and I think that’s pretty clear.
There’s something else to be discussed here, which is that people may say unto me: Why’d you write books about brothers and demons if you didn’t want people to think your books were fanfiction, you dumb jerk?
I have two answers to that.
1) I can write what I like and I think it’s gross to say that I can’t.
2) It wouldn’t have mattered what I wrote about. Every book I’ve ever written gets this. My books haven’t just been called Supernatural fanfiction. They get called Harry Potter fanfiction, too. Definitely! How would I have the ability to come up with my own characters?
No, the hero of Demon’s Lexicon is definitely Harry Potter. (Y’all remember that Harry Potter was an evil demon, right?) And Unspoken is definitely Harry Potter too. (Y’all remember that Harry Potter was a part-Japanese sassy girl detective? As well as being an evil demon. That Harry Potter. Such a multi-faceted individual.)
My books are also Twilight fanfiction. (What isn’t?) And Full Metal Alchemist fanfiction. Just ceaseless fanfiction. And that means of course that the books are very, very bad.
My books get called fanfiction all the time, I think, for two reasons:
a) I am a girl. Dudes get to write perceived-as-derivative/actually-derivative fiction all the time and it’s a HOMAGE, but girls can’t do either. People decide girls’ stuff is derivative and lousy all the time, whereas boys’ stuff is part of a literary tradition and an important conversation. This is sexist and terrible.
Yet I do not see Neil Gaiman getting chased around and called a plagiarist like I was this summer when I wrote three words which also appear in the Hunger Games! (And before that, as it turns out, in The Emperor’s New Groove. Llamas, sue the Hunger Games!)
I am very tired of seeing women insulted for things every dude in the world is allowed to do. It is not literary critique. It is violent misogyny.
b) I used to write fanfiction. (These two issues—sexism and fanfiction—are actually very closely intertwined, because writing fanfiction is something that mostly girls do, and thus like all things Associated With Ladies, such as sewing and pink, is treated as dumb and worthless. And fanfiction, as I’m going to discuss, provides people with a narrative that go ‘why this lady actually sucks’ and people love narratives which say that.)
For those who didn’t know I used to write fanfiction, it’s obviously irrelevant to your opinion of me, and honestly, you can cut out here. Definitely if the person who asked me about Supernatural this time around wants to cut out here… they should. I am about to get mad. It is not your fault. I have just got this too many times, and I have had it up to here.
When someone is traditionally published after writing fanfiction, they get treated like trash, both by people who think fanfiction is weird rubbish and by people who themselves like to write and read fanfiction.
The problem that needs to be fixed is not kick all the girls out of YA, it’s teach boys that stories featuring female protagonists or written by female authors also apply to them. Boys fall in love. Boys want to be important. Boys have hopes and fears and dreams and ambitions. What boys also have is a sexist society in which they are belittled for “liking girl stuff.” Male is neutral, female is specific.
I heard someone mention that Sarah Rees Brennan’s THE DEMON’S LEXICON would be great for boys, but they’d never read it with that cover. Friends, then the problem is NOT with the book. It’s with the society that’s raising that boy. It’s with the community who inculcated that boy with the idea that he can’t read a book with an attractive guy on the cover.
Here’s how we solve the OMG SO MANY GIRLS IN YA problem: quit treating women like secondary appendages. Quit treating women’s art like it’s a niche, novelty creation only for girls. Quit teaching boys to fear the feminine, quit insisting that it’s a hardship for men to have to relate to anything that doesn’t specifically cater to them.
Because if I can watch Raiders of the Lost Ark and want to grow up to be an archaeologist, there’s no reason at all that a boy shouldn’t be able to read THE DEMON’S LEXICON with its cover on. My friends, sexism doesn’t just hurt women, and our young men’s abysmal rate of attraction to literacy is the proof of it.
If you want to fix the male literary crisis, here’s your solution:
Someone forgets I pay attention, sweetheart. As I've said a few times before, you're going to have to wait until July for anything further. If NZ does extradite Dotcom, they can do the same to me when and if the Feds ask. Too bad they've had to wait two and a half years, kike bitch.
I apologize for the language above, but it is left whole to show a rather ugly point.
So: My ask box is closed now.
And I’m doing something very, very, very rarely do, and my friends have been begging me to do about this whole thing since day one: meet it head on.
The above ask was sent in by my stalker. This is why my ask box remains closed.
Maybe it is time to show what stalking really is and does.
Imagine getting messages, the type of which make the above seem mild and sweet (add in sexual threats, death threats, and vows to be up to this forever), any time you have any ability for anyone to contact you.
Every day. At times multiple times a day, sometimes in a stream of messages that clog your inbox.
And when you never once address that, they start contacting your friends, your sister, your parents. Your brother in law. Your infant nephew/godson.
Threatens them consistently. Sends them packages. Sends them postcards. Look sup their private info and parade it in front of them.
For 5.5 years.
Things that thus far haven’t helped: An arrest. An international warrant. International attention. Stays in mental health facilities. Nothing deters this behavior.
Stalking is one of the crimes that takes the victim out of the equation, because of how likely it is that being in it exacerbates the situation. And if we do nothing and let the world exist like this, we are enabling a kind of malice that could threaten the very positive and at times powerful ways we exchange ideas and connect to each other.
The Internet is the wild west, and at some point the cavalry’s gotta come in, here.
The FBI has been amazing but are limited by a foreign nation’s wish to completely ignore a situation that has been proven many times over to exist.
I can only be so defiant in private while balancing the need for my and my family’s safety.
You may think, “I’ve seen her at LeakyCons, she’s not affected by this at all!” Never make an assumption by the strength someone is able to project that they are unaffected. And never assume that someone who doesn’t give her life over to something negative completely - disappear from the internet, etc - doesn’t just as much peace and justice as those whose lives lose major functions because of this activity. There is sometimes a paternalistic rise in compassion that rises to meet the level to which a person has been affected. If we start judging that way, we forget that no matter the victim and no matter the effect, the crime is the same and it must be stopped.
So there you go. A glimpse into my life.
If you wish to stand against stalking, please reblog; and as a bonus, please add your own thoughts about the necessity that a country’s law enforcement agency (in this case New Zealand’s) starts to take this seriously.
This post is for teachers, mostly, but also librarians and people who like posts. For ONE WEEK—March 17 to 21—I am doing an SKYPE TOUR in which I will speak to classrooms and (potentially) library groups via the WIZARDRY of Skype. Visits are free, of course. All you need to do to schedule one is sign up on this page and Penguin will be in touch!
ANOTHER OPEN REPLY TO THAT BLOGGING COMPANY, ON THE OCCASION OF THEIR SECOND LETTER TO ME
MJ: HI!!!!!!!! YOU WROTE AGAIN! We are best friends now! Anyone who writes to me twice is in the INNER CIRCLE.
As part of our [PROGRAM], [COMPANY] is working hard to generate enthusiasm about quality writing by drafting engaging, original posts for blogs like yours.
MJ: You are using words I love to hear. Original. Engaging. QUALITY. Many people—bitter, angry people—might say that hiring total strangers to write content on your own, personal site is the opposite of original. But those people are thinking small, and I think big, like you. And there is nothing more I like than a QUALITY BLOG POST. I want my posts to be like German cars—put together in a factory far, far away from me.
After reviewing your site, I’d like to suggest a topic for your readers: Some Things Children can Learn from Dr. Seuss.
MJ: Oh. I *guess* this is fine? You’re the expert—I don’t want to second-guess you, but, I don’t really write for that age group, and I think a lot of things children can learn from Dr. Seuss are pretty evident. Also, which book? Is The Lorax? I hope it is the Lorax. I always liked The Lorax, because he used to stand on a stump in his underwear and speak for the trees. And, I mean—again, I don’t want to step on your toes—isn’t this kind of a big subject? He wrote A LOT of books.
Is it okay for me to send the draft to this email address?
MJ: **** YES.
For your background, [COMPANY] makes an automated online proofreader that finds and explains grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes in all types of writing. Because more than 3 million users have submitted their writing to [COMPANY] for proofreading, our team has incredible insight into not only how people are writing, but also what mistakes they’re making.
MJ: It is completely correct for you to equate the number of people who submit to your service online with having a high level of expertise. Because the one thing we know for sure is that the internet is not full of idiots who will sign up for literally anything. Also, nothing provides insight like an automated proofreading program. This is why Clippy was so popular and is a beloved feature of Microsoft Word.
For some examples of past guest posts we’ve written as part of our program, check out the blogs of [SOME PEOPLE]. Please let me know when you can squeeze this post into your blog calendar.
MJ: Squeeze! You have again correctly assumed that a). I schedule blog posts b). I have so many of them that that schedule is packed tight and c). in this very tight schedule of many, many blog posts I would like to SQUEEZE stuff written by total strangers into every open space. I’ll crowbar it in if I have to. You know why? When I see a space, I like to fill it. When I hear silence, I scream. When I see a peaceful, empty landscape, I hope someone puts a strip mall in it. Like you, I think the internet should be CRAMMED TO THE MAXIMUM with anything. Literally anything.
Assuming it’s a date range that works for both of us,
MJ: Are you like, super-busy?
I’ll send you the article straight away and it’ll be yours to approve or reject. I’m looking forward to your feedback!
The authors you think are so “big” that they have become celebrities— they’re real people. They have real lives and real pain, just like you do. Please remember this when you interact with authors either in real life or online.
When authors see a nasty review, they cry…
I grew up wanting to be an author more than anything else and I assumed they all had charmed lives where they never had to worry about mundane stuff. And even though I am a writer and I should no better, sometimes I am still guilty of thinking that way about writers I really love and do not know.
MJ please help me I have just finished the Madness Underneath and I can tell what's real and what's not about the rest of the series. What is the Boy in the Smoke? Is that one of the 4 books in the series, or does that not count? When is the Shadow Cabinet coming out (even like generally, what year?) And also HOW COULD YOU?? HE'S MY BABY.
Here are your answers:
1. The Boy in the Smoke is a novella I wrote about Stephen for World Book Day UK. As part of World Book Day, this book will be available for £1 at pretty much ALL THE BOOKSTORES in the UK. £1! HOORAY!
Because of the special nature of World Book Day (it is a charity event, and it is a celebration to encourage READING!) I have to wait a few weeks before bringing out the book anywhere else. But I make you this promise: YOU WILL BE ABLE TO GET IT. I can’t say more because the rest is a SURPRISE.
As for what Boy in the Smoke IS—if you ever wondered what exactly happened to Stephen before he became a Shade…if you ever wondered about his family, his sister, and the events that landed him in London…The Boy in the Smoke tells that story. Some of it is quite painful. Some of it is GHOSTASTIC.
2. As for IS IT ONE OF THE FOUR BOOKS…good question. No. It is not. There will be FOUR full books in the series itself. This novella is an additional PIECE OF THE PUZZLE.
3. The Shadow Cabinet is coming out THIS FALL. Because of the aforementioned secret, we are still working out the exact date, but it will be in the September-October region.
4. As for your question about the thing we don’t need to mention … okay. If it is KILLING you (and I am DELIGHTED if it is!) here is a CLUE. This is not a SPOILER. This is a CLUE. What does it mean? It could mean so many things. Do you want to see the clue? Do you want to speculate on the clue? If the answer is YES, click here to see THE CLUE. I say no more.
As part of our [name of program redacted], [NAME OF COMPANY] is working hard to generate enthusiasm about quality writing by drafting engaging, original posts for blogs like yours. After reviewing your site, I’d like to suggest the topic: Professional Blogging.
Is it okay for me to send the draft to this email address?
For your background, [COMPANY] makes an automated online proofreader that finds and explains grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes in all types of writing. Because more than 3 million users have submitted their writing to [COMPANY] for proofreading, our team has incredible insight into not only how people are writing, but also what mistakes they’re making. For some examples of past guest posts we’ve written as part of our program, check out the blogs of [SOME PEOPLE].
Please let me know when you can squeeze this post into your blog calendar. Assuming it’s a date range that works for both of us, I’ll send you the article straight away and it’ll be yours to approve or reject. I’m looking forward to your feedback!
THANK YOU FOR YOUR NOTE!!!!
I am incredibly excited about this opportunity.
First of all, I think you GET me. I can see you did your research. I like people who want to “generate enthusiasm about quality writing” by having a company generate blog posts for me.
Because I love blogs. And quality writing. But writing them? BLERGH! Who wants that? I mean, it’s my job. I am a writer by profession. I know. I KNOW. UGH. But anyway.
So, you looked at my site and thought Professional Blogging was the topic for me. I LOVE THIS IDEA! I guess you’ll tell me what that is? Will that be in the post?
Furthermore, I was PSYCHED when you said “our team has incredible insight into not only how people are writing, but also what mistakes they’re making.” Preach it. Sometimes it just feels like some content is so tone-deaf, you know? Like people who have NO IDEA who their audience is are just RAMBLING ON to FILL SPACE in order to try to prove that they are “social media experts.” I think you and I are probably on the same page with that term, amirite?
Anyway, I am replying by blog post (or TUMBLR post, which has no E which is CRAZY, right?) because I LOVE BLOGGING!
Let’s do this. Let’s turn the internet around. Let’s make magic together. You and me. Forever. YOU AND ME.
Auntie MJ! My creative writing professor just deadpanned that there are no new ideas, no new plots, nothing that someone hasn't already said or written! Just retellings of the same old! Auntie MJ! (wavers exasperatedly) I am deeply disheartened borderline appalled, and don't understand. Auntie MJ, tell me, is this true? What are your feelings about this? Most sincerely, Nicki
Don’t panic. Your professor didn’t come up with that one. That’s a very common statement about story and nothing to fret about.
The basic idea is that when you boil a story down to its bones, you’ll get a skeletal structure that probably falls into one of a few categories of love story or tragedy or quest, etc. Many excellent books are written on the subject (such as The Seven Basic Plots and the classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces).
But stories are like people in this respect—while we might have a similar bone structure underneath, we are all quite different as the stuff that makes us US tends not to be bone, but the stuff ON the bone, and mostly the squishy grey stuff inside the skull. A story is only its plot up to a point. The story is really IN THE TELLING. Ideas, in and of themselves, are cheap. So when people say (and I hear this a lot), “I have an idea for a book! I just need to write it down!”…I giggle a bit. Because this is a little like saying, “I have an idea for a recipe, which is the same thing as dinner so let’s eat!” You don’t eat the conceptual recipe. You have to refine it, get the food, cook it. The proof, AS THEY SAY, is in the pudding. I never knew what that meant, but it makes sense in this context.
The story is not the idea. The story is the telling. Crafting a good plot is one skill. Telling the story is another. Both are necessary, but arguably the second takes much more time and is where the art is. You could give 20 authors the same exact story idea and you’d get 20 different books.
At some point, you’ll probably hear someone say that Shakespeare “just retold a bunch of old stories,” which is true, but he was SHAKESPEARE and reinvented the language and constructed entire worlds of ideas and cut new mental landscapes. So when someone says that to you, tell them to quit it with the “just.”
So yes, when you study literature, you will learn that many plots are connected. The more you read, the more you will see the familiar bone structures under the text—but this will never (or should never) diminish what you are reading. That would be like saying, “I met this guy? And he had a NOSE? And I am so over noses. I’ve seen a nose before.”
So don’t freak out. It’s fine. Look into this! There’s much good stuff written on the subject.
ME: *is cooking* *sets dish of cool sauce to side of stove*
ME: *accidentally bumps bowl* *some sauce splashes to floor, where DOG is sleeping*
ZELDA: *sits up quickly* *ears up*
ME: Crap. *gets paper towel to clean dog*
ZELDA: *sniffs self* What…what IS this? Am I dreaming?
ME: Let me clean you girl.
ZELDA: *licks self* I’m … I’m … COVERED IN FLAVOR.
ME: Girl, let me …
ZELDA: *coils up on to self, furious licking* FLAVOR. I AM COVERED IN FLAVOR. Are YOU covered in flavor? Lick yourself and see!
ME: Zelda, let me clean you.
ZELDA: I HAVE DREAMED OF THIS DAY. I DREAMED OF THE DAY I WOULD WAKE COVERED IN FLAVOR AND THE DAY HAS COME! IT HAS COME!
ME: *tries to clean dog*
ZELDA: *runs into living room* I MUST TELL THE OTHERS!
ZELDA: *runs* *licks* *runs*
OSCAR: What’s going on?
ME: Sauce … dog …
ME: I got sauce on the dog! Catch her!
OSCAR: How did you get SAUCE on the dog?
ME: I just … did. Help me.
OSCAR: But …
ME: Look. I got SAUCE on the dog, okay? Remember that time I went away on tour for a few days and I came home and there was that spot on her face and you said it was jam you accidentally got on her? And it was STILL THERE days later?
OSCAR: It’s hard to get jam off a dog.
ZELDA: *furious licking*
ZELDA: I TASTE BETTER THAN THE ELEVATOR FLOOR. I DID NOT KNOW SUCH THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.
ME: You get jam off the dog with water and a towel.
OSCAR: It was marmalade. It was very sticky.
ME: How did you her marmalade on the dog, anyway?
OSCAR: It was a … toast thing.
ZELDA: *runs in circles*
ME: What KIND of a toast thing?
OSCAR: Aren’t you supposed to be getting sauce off the dog?
ME: That ship has sailed.
ZELDA: I AM BECOME FOOD. I … AM … BECOME … FOOOOOOOD.
In recent years, I have developed a bit of a BEEF with winter. I always remember being a bit put off by dark winter nights (I’m fine with the days), but it took a while before I realized I REALLY didn’t like the short days. And last year I had some surgery in December and got a post-surgical infection in January, so I wasn’t really able to go out or do much for the two darkest months of the year…at which point I decided it was NONSENSE and started thinking about WHAT TO DO ABOUT WINTER. I started reading about it and making a PLAN.
I know a lot of you feel the same, so here is my list of WINTER TIPS. Some of them are KNOWN THINGS and some are MY LITTLE IDEAS—20 WAYS TO HELP YOU DEAL WITH WINTER.
1. GO OUTSIDE. I work from home, and I have a rule in all seasons—I have to go outside at least one hour a day. I call it my SUNSHINE WALK, and it makes me a normal. If you stay inside all the time, you may become an INSIDE MONSTER. Go out and walk around and expose yourself to the actual sky as much as you can.
It’s nice outside in winter. You’ll have fun.
2. EXERCISE. Yes, this is one of those they always say too but it REALLY WORKS. I particularly like yoga classes in the winter. My NEW JAM is AERIAL YOGA where you HANG FROM THE CEILING in a hammock. Why not try a NEW THING?
3. EAT WELL. If you have WINTER DROOPS, it really does help to eat some fruit and vegetables. And while I AM NOT A DOCTOR, so I CANNOT TELL YOU WHAT TO DO, I also take vitamin D and some extra Omega 3s.
4. ONE OF THOSE SUN LAMP THINGS. I have a blue light box on my desk, which I generally use for 30 minutes or so during winter mornings to help fight fatigue. I like it. I think it made a difference last year, when I couldn’t get out as much and I became convinced I might through a chair through a window if I stayed inside any longer.
5. HOT BATH MAGIC! Do you get all sore during winter? I do. I get that muscle ache. You can totally KICK THAT with a HOT BATH. And you don’t need no CRAZY EXPENSIVE STUFF for your bath. Get on over to the drug store and buy some EPSOM SALTS. They’re cheap. You can buy the slightly more expensive ones with lavender and chamomile and stuff in them, and those are STILL cheap. Like, $2-4 a bag. What I do is buy some big bags, then I have a JAR in my bathroom. I keep that jar full of the salts (which I mix up, some plain, some lavender, some camomile, whatever I’ve got). You put a cup or two in some hot water and grab a book and HEY! You’re in business. I have a window in my bathroom now, and what I like to do it OPEN IT so cold air comes in and in the hot bath I feel like I am in an OUTDOOR HOT TUB! (Or if you have a hot tub, I guess you could get in that.)
6. MEDITATION. It’s a real thing, and something I could go on about for a long time. I’ll talk in brief here—it made a huge difference in my life when I developed ANXIETY. I started a regular practice and it made a huge difference in my life. The key is regularity. How do you start? I recommend taking a class (there’s probably one around). But want to start now? There are a ton of good apps for phones that are fantastic. I collect these things. My current favorite is Buddify.
7. TAKE THE NAP. I get the sleepies on dark days and I used to fight and fight that urge to nap. Then one day I did it and I suddenly wasn’t as tired, like magic! If you work or are in some setting where you can nap a little, I think you should do it. Winston Churchill used to nap EVERY DAY for HOURS in the afternoon, and that was DURING World War II and he won the war, so there must be something in it. #proof
8. DISTRACT YOURSELF WITH STUPID STUFF. Just give in. Do it. Want to watch 50 stupid videos? Just do it. DO IT! Want to read a pile of rock biographies until you dream about Stevie Nick’s hair?* DO IT. Go ahead—search for and examine 500 pictures of Sherlock. Play games on your iPad. Why fight it? It’s better than sitting around thinking about being grumpy. Already doing this? AWESOME.
9. CALL A FRIEND OR TALK TO THEM ONLINE OR SOMETHING. Tell them about your nap and those 500 pictures of Sherlock!
10. READ A BOOK. Hopefully you are already doing this. Why not read one of mine? WHY NOT?????
Reading! It’s fun!
11. WRITE DOWN THREE THINGS YOU ARE THANKFUL FOR. Sounds like one of those touchy-feely bits of nonsense, but this actually triggers happy bits in your brain. Want to learn more about this and other fun mind hacks? One good book on the subject is :59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman.
12. VOLUNTEER FOR SOMETHING GOOD. This is a whole bunch of good stuff coming together at once—getting out, working with people, doing something for the good of others, etc. (Or working on something from home that helps others—JUST AS GOOD.)
13. SEE A SHOW. I went to theater school and this time of year was JAMMING. Winter is PRIME theater time. If you have a chance, go see something. There’s a major difference between being in a movie theater or watching a television and watching ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS perform.
14. BOARD GAMES. It’s always BOARD GAME SEASON, but winter is when you can really get your four to five hour games on.
15. BAKE. Again, this is PRIME TIME for baking. Why not bake some bread? WHY NOT???? If you don’t want to eat it, send it to me. I’ll eat it.
16. MAKE SOMETHING. What have you always wanted to make? Want to write? Draw? Play music? Make videos? Knit? Create a game? You may be slumped in front of your computer now, but go on, get up! GIVE IT A GO. Here’s a Lifehacker piece on how getting started is everything.
17. TURN SOME MUSIC ON. Amazing how big of a difference that can make.
18. COME AND WALK MY PUPPY. I think she needs to go out and because it’s winter, I gotta put boots on, and her boots, and my coat, and her coat. Worth a shot.
19. YOU MIGHT EVEN LIKE IT. This, for me, is the big one. On many levels, I LIKE WINTER. I REALLY LIKE IT. I love snow. I love bright winter mornings. I like COATS. I like hot coffee and hot chocolate. Once I stop complaining I remember it’s ACTUALLY PRETTY FUN in the winter. I’ve had a lot of my MOST FUNNEST TIMES during the winter. If you start looking for some good stuff about winter, YOU MIGHT FIND YOU LIKE IT.
20. MOVE. It’s an option.
(I should also say, this is just a FUN LIST for people who are just a bit PUT OUT. If you are having issues with seasonal depression—go see your doctor. They can help. Seriously. Go. You can certainly do these other things on a day-to-day basis, but go.)
Hi Auntie MJ! Recently there has been a post going around tumblr saying that someone who hasn't written in a long time is "not a writer", and that being a writer is not a profession or a hobby but some innate QUALITY about a person, and more stuff about how only people who write every day can be considered writers. Is it just me or is this total nonsense and very harmful to people who want to write and be creative? Not to mention pretty elitist :S Thanks!
My answer is in two parts, as I think there are two issues here.
1. I don’t know anything about this post aside from what you’ve said here, so I can only go on that. Based on what you’ve said, I wouldn’t agree. I usually go with “Have you written something? You’re a writer, then.” But there are as many definitions of writer as there are stars in the sky, so I wouldn’t sweat it.
2. But what ACTUALLY made me wonder was that you put so much stock in the perceived damage value of a post you don’t agree with. (And presumably, one I don’t agree with.) It may be nonsense, but no, I actually don’t think it is ultimately harmful.
There will always be some post going around, or some tweet, or something. Anyone can write a post or a tweet. I’M DOING IT RIGHT NOW! It doesn’t even matter if it is popular—it’s still just SOME POST. I think there is a perception sometimes that just because something is said, and just because some people read it, there is some kind of intrinsic authority in the thing. If this person thinks that’s what being a writer is, who cares? If other people agree, who cares? Seriously, who cares?
I know you may be thinking, “But what if that makes someone feel bad?” Well … I guess they will feel bad? Sometimes … that is okay?
Life will throw far greater challenges at you someone trying to define what they think a writer is in a Tumblr post. That’s a tweak on the nose, really. And sometimes we need a tweak on the nose to get our engine going. Don’t agree? Okay! Prove that person wrong. Or just ignore that person. It seriously DOES NOT MATTER.
In order to survive as a writer AT ALL, you absolutely need to grow an extra layer of skin. If you can manage it, grow a few extra layers. Not everyone will like your work, and they will tell you. Maybe you’ll publish something, and maybe it won’t do well. Tons of stuff will get in your way—demotivators and spirit-crushers and plan-killers, and you just have to work with them. This is reality. This is every part of life.
I’m not even sure this qualifies. This is just someone postulating for him or herself about the qualities that make a writer. So what? That person actually has ever right to do that. People have been doing that for centuries. (See “what is art?”—the eternal discussion.) I went to grad school for writing. I have read HUNDREDS of variations on this theme. I have read THOUSANDS of reviews, many of which speculate on this very question. And I’m online, like you, so add another few thousand data points to the data pile.
As for the question about it being elitist, no idea. Haven’t read the post. Based on what you’ve told me, it’s actually not elitist, as it seems to value personal effort.
I realize this is perhaps not the answer you were expecting, but I hope it does not bring you down. Ultimately, my message is quite positive, because guess who determines if you are a writer? YOU DO. No one can prove otherwise. When you dwell on something like this too long, you give it agency. You could be writing and making something of your own instead. DO THAT!
When my mother got me The Bermudez Triangle for Christmas, I was thrilled. I even tweeted you about it. I had read books with queer characters before, of course (for a bisexual bibliophile, there is no better path to self-discovery), but I had never owned any for myself. I could not wait to begin reading it. Life interfered, however, and a week and a half passed before I could find the time to get more than a couple pages in.
I loved it. I loved it dearly, and you must trust me when I say that I have exacting standards honed by large quantities of novel-length slashfic. I am very difficult to please. But you met those standards, just as you did in The Name of the Star, which was the first of your books I read. However, I was quickly stopped short by a line about a “bisexual sex addict” (pg. 121). Well, one gets used to such deptictions in the media, so I made a displeased face and moved on. Then, just a few chapters later, Avery makes a remark about how “bi girls…go back and forth” (pg. 152). That one stung me. More, it was like a kick to the shin: sudden, unexpected, unwarranted, and painful. I realize that the views of a character are not necessarily the views of the author, but that line hurt enough that I had to put the book down for some time.
Thank you for your letter. I take this extremely seriously, and it saddened me deeply that anything I wrote might make you feel lesser about your bisexuality. Whatever you TOOK from the book is valid, but it does sadden me deeply that that is what you got. I can only assure that the AUTHOR of the book has only love for bisexual teens. And I’m answering because it so upsets me that I, though unintentionally, brought you any sadness in this regard.
I reply now not to say you are wrong—you’re not wrong. I reply because you asked and wrote such a nice letter and I wanted to tell you a little about what I was doing, or trying to do. Everyone is entitled to their interpretation of my work (or anyone’s work). I can only tell you that this was not my intention. I went into that book only wanting to make something good. I wanted to paint the picture complexly, warts and all. The Bermudez Triangle was the second YA novel I wrote—and I was writing it slightly on top of my first book, The Key to the Golden Firebird. What I wanted to do, more than anything, was to make teenagers that were real. I did a series of interviews with lesbian and bisexual women, asking them quite specifically about their experiences coming out in high school. As you can imagine, I got a wildly differing set of replies. I asked what book they would have wanted to see as teenagers—what kind of book would have spoken to a young lesbian or bisexual girl, and the answer I got was really just—ones with them in it. Ones with an actual story and a romance and real stuff. Real stuff. That was the key.
To address a specific concern:
“Then, just a few chapters later, Avery makes a remark about how “bi girls…go back and forth” (pg. 152) … . It hurt me to see, from an author and a person who I admire, a description of bisexual girls going back and forth, with the implication that none of us could ever be satisfied with a monogamous relationship, or that if we do “settle down”, then we’re actually gay, or actually straight.”
Avery is moving around not because she is bi, but because she is seventeen. She says this because she’s criticizing herself in a non-helpful way (more on this below). She only dates two people in the book—Mel and Gaz. She isn’t in any way out of control. Wanting to make out with two different people when you are seventeen (or really, any age) is not sex addition. It’s super normal. The same thing happens to Nina. Gay, straight, bisexual, anywhere on the spectrum—age seventeen is going to throw you some curveballs. Most people have no idea what they want at seventeen. This isn’t just about sexuality—this is about life, career, education, the future in general. There are a lot of options out there. Of course she can settle down! But she’s not going to do it yet. None of them are. If you think this is a treatment I reserve for bisexual characters, see all my other books for details because NO ONE IS SPARED. I don’t really do the happily-ever-after at seventeen stories. I do the “oh my God what is even happening to me” ones where everyone is on fire. I’d mention specifics but then I’d been giving spoilers and THEY WOULD COME FOR ME IN THE NIGHT.
I should point out, then, that there are Bermudez spoilers below.
At its heart, Bermudez is a story about friendship, and what you do with friendship when some of the friends begin to date. The romance part of this story had a full arc—it was about a getting together, a being together, and a breaking up. One person in this book had to be the breaker-upper and one person the dumpee. Breakups are always bad. Breakups make weird crap go through our heads, no matter what side we are on. It’s a million times worse when we still really care about the other person.
Because we currently live in a goofy, hetronormative world that falsely assumes everyone is cisgendered—we get problems when normal, healthy kids start to come into their sexual natures and smack up against this wall of garbage. Morons tell them they can’t be gay or bi or genderqueer. Avery, too, has this in her head. Frankly, her biggest surprise isn’t that she likes girls—it’s that she likes MEL, who has been her friend FOREVER. That’s the shocker. But then, she realizes that she also likes guys. She’s having the first realization that’s she bi. She isn’t being a great girlfriend to her very good friend—not because she is bi, but because this is a young, sweet romance between friends, and they have all that friend stuff in the background. They used to spend a bazillion hours a day together, but that can be super-weird when you date. They have to cross the friend-girlfriend divide, and not everyone survives the crossing. This is totally normal. And when you realize you might break up with someone you really have deep feelings for, the confusion and the self-loathing come up.
Avery basically asks herself—what the hell is wrong with me? This is something almost every person asks themselves one time or another, for a million different reasons. We always think there’s something WRONG with us and that’s why we run into conflict with the world, and how things theoretically SHOULD be. We tell ourselves we should be better or smarter or faster or nicer or thinner or more productive or blahblahblahblahblah. Anything but what we are. It’s not so much about her bisexuality, but about the fact that she has what SHOULD be the perfect girlfriend (Mel) and she’s breaking up with her. But, still, she is breaking up. Because people break up. And Avery, who does not pull punches, turns on herself as the person doing the breaking. She does use commentary that comes from the world at large, commentary that happens to be bullshit. I did this because these are the kinds of real feelings that come up, and I wasn’t going to make it less real because Avery was bisexual. (She’s not straight, by the way. She’s only dated one girl so far.)
Also, Avery’s not a baddie for breaking up. People do break up. But I think she feels like a baddie because it’s Mel. Avery feels deeply responsible and guilty about what she feels she must do. I didn’t just want to write a queer romance, but a breakup as well, because the breakup is the rub. When you break up at seventeen, you tend to reach out for anything that tells you that it’s survivable and other people have walked that path before. (Spoiler: it’s survivable. It just sucks so bad.) Had Avery managed the breakup and never felt bad, she would have been kind of a monster.
What you are saying is totally understandable. There you are, a bisexual teen, and you’re waiting for SOMEONE to come along and be bisexual in a book and be totally comfortable with it so you could finally point to one and say, “There’s my girl. Well-adjusted and happy!” This is a reasonable thing to want. On the whole, I think Avery is, because she often has the most accurate take on a situation. Except when it comes to herself. This is a pattern that’s pretty common in life, and so it’s the pattern I put in the book. Avery is a grouch, and I happen to love her. I see nothing wrong with her grouchiness. The roiling feelings she has now will mellow with experience.
We now reach the part where I consider talking about all the people who write and talk about how Bermudez helped them in a good way and was exactly the book they needed. I will accomplish that in the previous, rather awkward sentence. It reached some people. I am sorry it didn’t give you what you needed at the time. And I DO understand. I might do it differently now, as I now know more about the general sweep of YA lit. And things have changed in the last ten years. And you are RIGHT—we need more bisexual characters, and some of them need to be more HAPPY.
But honestly? I might not. I might keep grumpy Avery just as grumpy as ever, and I might have her say the same things to herself, as people do say these kinds of things to themselves. Characters need flaws and need to make mistakes and yeah, as you say, they often say things that have nothing to do with the author’s beliefs. And some books will hit with some people and miss with others. And maybe I screwed the whole thing up, but I certainly tried. Never doubt that I tried.
So, okay, now you have my thought process in the creation of this part of the story. Does it make ANY difference? I hope at least it reassures you about what I MEANT to do, at least. There will always be a gulf between the writing of the book and how it reaches the reader. We write, and then it goes away, and what happens to the book after that— well, we don’t have a say any more. After that, it is your book. If this is how you feel, it’s valid. Full stop. I am permitted my sadness over your sadness, but that’s it.
And I will tell you how extremely happy it makes me that there are happy and out bisexual girls out there. More of this, please. More of it. Because, ten years out from the writing of that book, this is what I was hoping we would have more of. And more and more until every one of these walls of garbage comes down. I will also tell you that I will tighten my thinking cap when it comes to my bisexual characters. There is much in the commentary for me to think about. I only want to be better in this regard.
Also, I am thrilled to pieces for your personally for coming out in an atmosphere that was homophobic. You win, you win, you win. Take me to task any time you like. I may reply, but I reply thinking you are awesome.
[Note: The Bermudez Triangle is now called On the Count of Three, in case you are all, WHAT IS THIS BOOK? The name was changed because Penguin suggested giving it a new title to give it a new lease on life in a re-release.]
“Stephen Herondale would have killed me if he’d ever met me. I would not have been safe living among people like you, or like him. I am the wife and mother of warriors who fought and died and never dishonored themselves as you have. I have worn gear, wielded blades, and…
Auntie MJ has been skiing twice, so she is an expert in these matters. Listen to a story…
I grew up surrounded by People Who Skied, but we did not ski. It was just not done by members of our household, despite the fact that my uncle was a ski instructor who offered me free lessons. My mom was constantly coming up with reasons why this was dangerous, crazy, and impossible, and so I never skied as a kid.
The first time I skied, I was over 30 and had been inculcated with years of both fear-mongering and also with lots of media images of people skiing, and those people always smiled and looked happy, so i figured it must not be too hard. I mean, I roller-skated a lot as a kid, and I’d done a lot of sledding, so I figured it must have been like one of those and no big deal.
SKI TRIP ONE
I went with a family of skiers to a mountain in what I believe was Maryland. These people all did Black Diamonds, as I believe the hard mountains are called (don’t correct me, I don’t care if I am wrong). I sat in the care, smiling lightly and looking out the window. They kept saying things about how it would be dark and icy but probably less crowded, and I just continued smiling.
They took me to the rental counter and fixed me up with some skis, and I immediately saw that this was not like roller-skating at all. But I still hadn’t given up hope and shuffled out merrily. I thought I would just mostly do that—shuffle around. But instead, they ushered me to the ski lift. Now, here is what I expected a ski lift to do:
3. Allow you to settle comfortably, put on a seat belt, and when you were ready to go, raise a hand in a royal wave.
I was informed while in line that this is not how it works. Instead, I was told, the ski lift just SNEAKS UP BEHIND YOU and SCOOPS YOU UP and CARRIES YOU OFF whether or not you are ready and you put the bar down yourself and try not to die. This information was delivered just as I felt the device hit the back of my knees and someone started to yell “SIT. SIT. SIT.” And I sat, but my ski caught on something and fell off and then we were IN THE AIR. The person behind us called to us and said, “I HAVE YOUR SKI” and waved it around.
This is when I started to question ski lift part two, because as I thought it stopped to let you on, it be gang to dawn on me that stopping was not part of the plan at all.
"So…how do we get off?" I asked.
"You ski off," was the reply.
"But I don’t ski."
"Well, you kind of ski off. It’s not far."
"But I am missing a ski and don’t ski."
The person I was with went silent and looked away, toward the trees, and I suddenly understood everything the world intended me to know.
A plan would be necessary. I had no idea what it looked like at the top of a ski mountain. I didn’t know if there was a building or a greeting committee or if it was just a TINY, TINY POINT like the tops of mountains in cartoons. I considered just staying on but was informed this was impossible, so there was only one other plan—I would have to throw myself off the lift and roll. I figured that if I was at least SOMEWHAT PREPARED for this it wouldn’t be too bad. And so, that is how I began skiing—by getting to the top of the mountain and THROWING MYSELF OFF THE LIFT WITH A SCREAM and rolling until I hit a sign.
SKI TRIP TWO
Took place about five years later or so. This time, I went with Oscar, the English person I consort with. Oscar is English, and some of his relatives were, at the time, living in Switzerland. He was going to visit for New Year’s Eve and invited me to come for five days of skiing in the Alps.
Being from A Family That Did Not Ski, spending New Year’s Eve skiing in the Alps sounded about as likely as spending it on the moon, but it was an actual offer and not impossible, and so I went because Life!
My first trip had been with People Who Skied. This trip was with People Who Really, Really Skied. All the people on this trip had started skiing from the time they were small children and now could actually leap out of helicopters and ski away down avalanche-prone mountainsides that they quaintly insisted on calling “off-piste” (which I know is a thing but it was not a thing to ME).
But, if there is one thing about me that I know—I can suppress learning behavior. I smiled and decided that this trip would also be just fine, despite the fact that the Alps are high and cold and this is where skiing was probably born and these were some of the world’s most serious skiers and Oh My God.
It was there that I was matched up with the last English-speaking instructor. I do speak some French, but my French is poor and did not include any skiing terms outside of Le Ski and Le Fall Down, the second of which is not technically French.
My instructor’s name was Jean-Claude. He was about sixty and ruggedly handsome and white-haired. I introduced myself and asked if he specialized in beginners, and Jean-Claude informed me that he was once a trainer for the French Olympic downhill racing team. To my credit, I did not run away, but this was ONLY because I’d already been put in a pair of skis and abandoned on the top of a hill and I couldn’t actually make it back to the cable car by myself.
"Come on!’ he said, in his rugged French accent. "Come, Maureen. Allez. We go up."
See, I thought i had gone up. I was on the top of the mountain, I thought. But no. Jean-Claude wanted to go HIGHER. So he shoved me at a t-bar, which is another terrible device, but not as terrible as the scoopy chair. The t-bar goes between your legs and drags you up the hill like a sack of flour. You can’t ride the t-bar back because it floats away high in the air and there is nothing to sit on. I guess you could cling to it with your hands, but you would probably die.
So there I was again, on the top of a mountain, with—I would soon discover—a madman. Because the first thing Jean-Claude did was knock me over. Literally, and on purpose. He knocked me over into the snow on my side.
JEAN-CLAUDE: Maureen, you fall. You must learn to get up.
ME: *scrabbles in snow like lost crab in snow*
JEAN-CLAUDE: Allez, Maureen. You get up.
JEAN-CLAUDE: *pointless instruction*
JEAN-CLAUDE: *just pulls up*
JEAN-CLAUDE: *knocks over again*
ME: *scrabbles like lost crab*
JEAN-CLAUDE: Allez, Maureen. You must learn.
This went on for something like a half an hour. I’d get up, and Jean-Claude would knock me over sideways again. I got very used to the words “Allez, Maureen.” Let me translate that for you. It means: “I’m going to knock you over as soon as you get up.” Later, it would mean, “I just found a new way to kill you. Follow me.”
I spent two days with Jean-Claude, during which, apparently, I learned how to ski. I don’t remember much in detail, until the last hour.
The last hour, there was a blizzard at the top of the mountain. Everyone started to leave, but Jena-Claude got ALL EXCITED.
"More space for us. Allez, Maureen."
And up we went, into nothing. I have never seen anything like it. I’d heard of whiteouts, but I didn’t know what they were actually like. Everything is white. Everything. You can’t see more than a few feet in front of you, and literally EVERYTHING LOOKS THE SAME. The ground. The sky. You can’t tell up from down. I only knew I was going up because I knew that’s where the t-bar was taking me, but I couldn’t see up.
We were alone at the top, and I knew I had to be looking down, but down looked the same as everything else. The only thing I COULD see was Jean-Claude. And that wasn’t even for long, because he then said, “Now, Maureen, you ski.” AND THEN HE TOOK OFF DOWN THE MOUNTAIN AND LEFT ME. “FOLLOW ME!” he yelled.
And then he was a red dot in the snow, ever decreasing in size.
I was too stunned to even know what to do fro a moment, but then, after saying a lot of unprintable things, I pushed off and followed up.
Oscar was at the bottom of this slope and saw me come down. I only have his report about what happened next. Apparently, I was skiing beautifully, and very, very quickly, curving and swaying and doing all the things you are supposed to do and really FLYING ALONG.
Here is what I remember:
2. While I knew I had to be going down, I couldn’t see down, so it didn’t bother me.
3. Because I couldn’t see anything whipping by, I also had no idea about my speed.
So it turns out when you have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING, you can do things very well. This is the lesson I took from skiing and I have applied it to every day of my life since.