Mad Words Turn To Positive Action

On the 4th day of this year, I had an experience that I was tempted to write a long rant about. However, I didn’t want to start off 2014 on a negative note. I pondered and pondered what I would write and then came up with this experiment and call to action. First off, a bit of background.

 
Between Christmas and my birthday, I received quite a bit of book money, including a gift card from Barnes & Noble. I went through my book list, trying to decide what books I wanted. List in hand, I went to Barnes & Noble hoping the majority of my book list would be at the store. I knew a number wouldn’t because they are books by authors of color. What ended up happening had me steaming mad.

flames on the side of my face
The second book of Ellen Oh’s Dragon King series, Warrior, had just come out 5 days before I went to the store, so I expected it to be there. The book was a new release by Harper Teen, not a small imprint in the least. It should have been in the newly released section. I should have found it. I didn’t. I searched and searched and a brand new book, a second book from a popular series, was not on the shelves of one of the largest book sellers in America. In fact, only two of the books on my list were there Matt De La Pena’s “The Living” and N.K. Jemisin’s “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms”, of which I bought the ONLY book.

warriorthe livingJemisin_Hundred-Thousand-Kingdoms-TP

Needless to say I was vexed at Barnes & Nobles’ dismal representation of diversity and was kinda mean to the checkout person (sorry!). I ranted to my husband, who ultimately ended up saying, “well, how will you let them know?” And after I tired myself out from my tantrum, I thought about what he said. I let it settle in my heart and thought…what is the most productive way to express my rage? How do I let Barnes & Noble know that their stores are lacking in diversity and while yes, I can order the books online, book store visibility helps novels by authors of color been seen and sold. Barnes & Noble needs to do their part in promoting diversity and not just shelving books by authors of color in their respective “ethnic” section.

So I propose an experiment, a call to action, and I urge many of you to take part. Here is what I would like you to do:

1. Make a list of books you could potentially buy – all by authors of color (this even includes non-YA books).

2. Visit your local Barnes & Noble and check the shelves. If a book is listed, note how many and where it is shelved. If it’s not, note that as well.

3. Go to the checkout and ask the sales clerk, or even manager (remember to be nice) and ask why the books you want are not there. Ask why they are not shelved, not visible and that you would like to see these books (and others like it) sold at the store and not just online.

4. Write a letter (or email) to Barnes & Noble about your experience.
Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Attn: Jaime Carey, Chief Merchandising Officer
122 Fifth Ave
New York, NY 10011
Email: jcarey@bn.com
(I hope this is the right address. If someone has better GoogleFu than me, please let me know and I can update this post.)

5. Report back here with your findings and/or if you have a blog, turn your letter into a post and share the link.

In my February essay/OpEd, I’ll share my findings and letter and hopefully some of your experiences. Hopefully we can get a movement going and have Barnes & Noble change their business practices. Let’s put our frustration into action.

Please signal boost this post. The more voices calling for change, the better.

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New Releases

An interesting memoir told through poetry. I might have to think about using some of these poems when I teach poetry.

howHow I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson

Dial

Summary: A powerful and thought-provoking Civil Rights era memoir from one of America’s most celebrated poets.

Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War era, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement.

A first-person account of African-American history, this is a book to study, discuss, and treasure. (Cover image and summary via IndieBound)

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My Favs of 2013

When I first decided to write my year in review, I thought it would be easy to write a post on the books I read this year. But then came time to sit down and write and my mind went blank. I had a hard time trying to even remember most of the books I read this year, especially ones that were published in 2013. Next year, I’m making a list and checking it twice. In the end, I was able to come up with a small list, plus a few books I’m looking forward to in 2014.

 
eleanor and parkOverall Favorite Book of 2013
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

OMG, I loved this book! The minute I started reading it, I had a smile on my face all the way through. Okay, not all the way as the story takes a darker turn, but I was still rooting for Eleanor and Park because I loved both the characters and I loved their relationship. Rainbow Rowell tells their love story in such a sweet and realistic way that you fall in love with both of them as they fall in love. Another aspect of the novel, for me, was the nostalgia factor as the story was set in 1986, so a number of cultural references I could relate to. Even thinking about this book gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and I know this will be a book I will read again and again.

 
Favorite SciFi/Fantasy Book of 2013
Immortal Rules/The Eternity Cure, by Julie Kagawa

julie-kagawa-immortal-rules-eternity-cure-book-covers-2

I know that Eternity Cure actually came out this year, but in order for me to write my review (link here) I had to read Immortal Rules, so I’m placing both books as my favorite for this year. This series is just so intense and it makes vampires scary again, not mopey teenagers in love. I completely lost myself in the world that Julie Kagawa created and fell in love with Allison and Zeke. The Blood of Eden series will be one I’m sure I’ll read again and again. Plus, after the cliffhanger that Kagawa left us on, I’m eagerly anticipating the next book, which is titled “The Forever Song” and publishes in April.

 

 

via Goodreads

via Goodreads

My “Diversity Done Right” Award
House of Hades, by Rick Riordan

I only started reading the Heroes of Olympus series at the request of my students and ended up enjoying the series. While my students were over the moon excited for the 4th book, I was a bit ambivalent as I really didn’t like Mark of Athena all that much. I have to say that I was extremely pleased with House of Hades, the improvements by Riordan to handle the narrative of 7 points of view, as well as how he handled issues of diversity amongst the characters. He doesn’t shy away from it, but he also doesn’t make it a “afternoon school special” feel. He also made a beloved character gay, which shocked my students, but pleased me immensely because Riordan’s world now felt like the one we live in.

 Book I Can’t Wait For

courtesy of Goodreads

courtesy of Goodreads

Ignite Me, by Tahereh Mafi

If you haven’t read the “Shatter Me” series  you need to. It is such an intense series and beautifully written at the same time. Ignite Me is the last book of the series and I can’t wait to see how it’s going to end. Also, isn’t the cover just gorgeous?

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Book Review: He Said She Said

Title: He Said She Said
Author: Kwame Alexander
Genres: Romance, Contemporary
Pages: 330
Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers
Review Copy: ebook from Amazon
Availability: On Shelves now

he saidSummary: He says: Omar T-Diddy Smalls has got it made: a full football ride to UMiami, hero-worship status at school, and pick of any girl at West Charleston High.

She says: Football, shmootball. Here’s what Claudia Clarke cares about: the hungry, the poor, the disenfranchised, Harvard, her GPA, Pat Conroy, the staggering teen pregnancy rate, investigative journalism…the list goes on. She does NOT have a minute to waste on Mr. T-Diddy Smalls and his harem of bimbos.

He Said, She Said is a fun and fresh novel from Kwame Alexander that throws these two high school seniors together when they unexpectedly end up leading the biggest social protest this side of the Mississippi—with a lot of help from Facebook and Twitter.

The stakes are high, the romance is hot, and when these worlds collide, behold the fireworks! — cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: I have yet to read a “hip hop” novel because the genre doesn’t appeal to me, but I thought I’d check out “He Said, She Said” because I know of Kwame Alexander’s work with school kids and admire his Book-in-a-Day program. I know he is a talented poet and children’s author, so I was looking forward to reading his first young adult novel. Unfortunately, Alexander’s novel didn’t sway me into reading more “hip hop” novels.

When I teach creative writing with my students, I encourage them to “show, not tell” by adding dialogue to their short stories. Usually, in a creative work, the use of dialogue adds to the story, moves the plot forward, reveals character, etc. In Alexander’s novel, the overuse of a dialogue backfires and instead leads to more telling, rather than showing. Because Alexander relied heavily on dialogue to tell his story, I never got a sense of setting, of the physical world Omar and Claudia live in. For example, they protest that their school is run down, but there is not a single description of the school. In what way was the school run down? Were the walls filled with graffiti? Were all the toilets broken? Were there broken desks everywhere?  Dialogue in a story is helpful, but all the senses need to be engaged for a reader to really lose themselves in a story and Alexander does not make use of all the senses.

I’m big into writers creating well-rounded characters, flawed characters, characters that make us root for them. Again, unfortunately for Alexander, the male main character, Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls, is extremely unlikeable. The reader is supposed to not like him in the beginning so that we can see his growth, but the change truly comes a little to late. I think Alexander tried to have the reader like Omar earlier, but he would always ruin a moment of Omar’s growth by some gross sexist comment towards Claudia and “getting in her panties”. I understand teenage boys can be that foul, but even in his quiet moments, Omar’s thoughts were the same. It got really annoying after a while. I also felt that Claudia could have been written better instead of written as “the hard to get girl who eventually crumbles to the bad boy’s charm”.  It’s such a bad trope and not very true to life. At times it felt as if the feelings Claudia began to have for Omar came out from no where and not from a genuine place. In fact, both Omar and Claudia didn’t feel very genuine at all. They were one dimensional characters that were often there to occasionally shout platitudes towards fighting the man, and to create a very unconvincing love story.

He Said, She Said is a good premise – two unlikely people finding love while finding a purpose – but in execution, the story is lacking. I feel that Alexander could have relied less on the use of dialogue (literally pages at a time) and spent more time constructing the story. He Said She Said could have used a few more rounds of revision in order to make this a truly engrossing novel.

Recommendation: Skip It.

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Are We Food?

One night as I was reading a novel, a character description, one that I’ve seen in countless stories, struck me as odd. The character in question was described as having olive skin. I know the type of picture that is coming to your mind when I use the words “olive skin”. However, on that particular night, whether I had just had a martini or seen a picture of olives or something, but suddenly the words “olive skin” to describe characters of color just didn’t feel right.

Let’s look at Exhibit A: A picture of people with “olive skin”
oliveskin
Exhibit B: A picture of olives.
olives-herbs-ck-1065517-l
Exhibit C: Do these olives fit?
olives-wallpaper
Do you see what I see? The images don’t exactly match. Now, I do know there are a variety of olives out there and maybe Exhibit C olives could work, but the question still remains, why and how did writers ever come up with using olive as a skin tone? As someone who falls into the olive skin tone category, I’m a bit insulted because my skin looks nothing like an olive. I don’t have greenish undertones to my skin, I have yellow. And really, human beings only have yellow or red undertones to their skin, but that is an entirely different essay on an entirely different type of blog.

 
While I’m focusing on the use of olive skin tones as my point, there is a larger question at work here. Why are characters of color often described using food metaphors? Think about it. We have chocolate, caramel, brown sugar, honey skin. Granted, I have seen white characters as creamy and milk, but there is a large reliance on authors to use food as a descriptor for characters of color. It’s not just non-POC writers who use food, but writers of color as well. We’ve internalized the use of food to describe each other in our communities so often, that it makes sense that we use the same descriptions in our writing. We’ve internalized these descriptions for so long, that we don’t recognize them as potentially harmful. Maybe it’s time for this to change.

 

 
There has been a call by a number of POC writers, specifically in the Science Fiction/Fantasy community, to end using food descriptions as metaphors. Many authors have written blog posts about how to write character of colors and get away from the stereotypical food descriptions. For me, at first I was unsure of how I felt on the topic, but when I was revising my novel I decided to not use food to describe any of my characters. It was a challenge for me, to change my way of thinking, but I am proud that I was able to write good character descriptions without having to use stereotypical metaphors. So, for any writers that read our blog, I challenge you. Try to write your characters without describing them as food (same for using almond eyes to note someone is Asian). Describe your characters differently. Maybe use a different metaphor; I read one that compared a character’s skin color to a brass doorknob. Or, as my mentor suggested, write skin tone in contrast to something different, like their clothing. It’s really up to you. The point is to extend your thinking and find unique and different ways to describe your characters.

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New Releases

Two new releases this week, both of which I’m really looking forward to. The first I’m reviewing for Rich In Color, so look for my thoughts in Dec. and the second book is the sequel to a fascinating dystopian YA novel that deals with angels. I loved Susan Ee’s first novel “Angelfall”, so I’ve been looking forward to the sequel for some time now. I don’t know about you, but my reading list keeps getting longer and longer. Thank goodness Thanksgiving vacation is next week.

he saidHe Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander

Amistad Press

Summary: He says: Omar T-Diddy Smalls has got it made: a full football ride to UMiami, hero-worship status at school, and pick of any girl at West Charleston High.

She says: Football, shmootball. Here’s what Claudia Clarke cares about: the hungry, the poor, the disenfranchised, Harvard, her GPA, Pat Conroy, the staggering teen pregnancy rate, investigative journalism…the list goes on. She does NOT have a minute to waste on Mr. T-Diddy Smalls and his harem of bimbos.

He Said, She Said is a fun and fresh novel from Kwame Alexander that throws these two high school seniors together when they unexpectedly end up leading the biggest social protest this side of the Mississippi—with a lot of help from Facebook and Twitter.

The stakes are high, the romance is hot, and when these worlds collide, behold the fireworks! (cover image and summary via Goodreads)

world afterWorld After (Penryn & End of Days #2) by Susan Ee

Skyscape

In this sequel to the bestselling fantasy thriller, Angelfall, the survivors of the angel apocalypse begin to scrape back together what’s left of the modern world.

When a group of people capture Penryn’s sister Paige, thinking she’s a monster, the situation ends in a massacre. Paige disappears. Humans are terrified. Mom is heartbroken.

Penryn drives through the streets of San Francisco looking for Paige. Why are the streets so empty? Where is everybody? Her search leads her into the heart of the angels’ secret plans where she catches a glimpse of their motivations, and learns the horrifying extent to which the angels are willing to go.

Meanwhile, Raffe hunts for his wings. Without them, he can’t rejoin the angels, can’t take his rightful place as one of their leaders. When faced with recapturing his wings or helping Penryn survive, which will he choose? (cover image and summary via Goodreads)

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