By Malinda Lo
Last October, I posted a list of YA books about LGBT characters of color. It’s been tough to find more books, so these additions expand the goal slightly and are about (1) a queer person of color protagonist; (2) a queer protagonist in a romantic…
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
For more charismatic heroines against the odds, try these…
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett for the original story of an abandoned girl and school politics
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor for a complex heroine in a supernatural story
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys for complicated mother/daughter relationships in an historical setting
The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein for a dark story of school cliques and unexplained events
I wrote a book. It sucked. I wrote nine more books. They sucked too. Meanwhile, I read every single thing I could find on publishing and writing, went to conferences, joined professional organizations, hooked up with fellow writers in critique groups, and didn’t give up. Then I wrote one more book.
The Muggle Studies classroom is always locked. In fact, there are few rooms in the castle with as much magical protection. There’s a special password needed to enter that’s distributed carefully to the year’s students on the first day of classes. They are sworn to secrecy and, to date, no one has broken that trust.
There’s more to this security than just fear of vandalism, though there has been that. Charity Burbage spent more than her fair share of time scrubbing nasty messages off her office door when she first started teaching. For a while it was a point of pride that she used her own effort to remove the hateful words. Then came the morning when she fell asleep next to a bucket of soapy water and was nearly late for her first lesson of the day. After that, she cast a Repelling Charm on her office and tried not to feel guilty about it.
The real reason for the layers of charms wrapped around the classroom is what goes on after hours. If you were to stroll by on any given night. you may see a tearful first year or a stressed out fifth year or even a cool and confident prefect strolling up to the door. You’d see them execute a complex set of wand patterns, whisper a word, and look around furtively before they enter.
If you were to follow them in (and I would not suggest this, for the room has its own way of dealing with intruders), you’d see students of all Houses and years, talking and studying and reading. But you may miss what they have in common: they’re all Muggle born. This classroom is the after-hours refuge of those who feel as if they don’t belong, those who find themselves trapped between the magical and the mundane, their parents and their classmates. Here there are shelves of magazines whose covers don’t move; there are stacks of textbooks on science and math, heavy tomes of Shakespeare and thin volumes of poetry.
In the corner you may see Justin Finch-Fletchley studying for his A-levels. He had promised his mum that he would at least try for them, even if he wasn’t sure he would ever leave the magical world. Sometimes Hermione Granger joins him, and they teach each other calculus and world history and pore over the periodic table.
By the fireplace you could find that tearful first year sitting with the calm prefect, their heads bent close. You might hear the first year pour out his heart, outline his fears, confess his insecurities. The prefect could respond in kind, admitting to the knot of confusion that lies underneath her placid exterior. They might then take out their wands and practice a spell, or pull out a child’s fairy tale collection and read aloud.
If you were a Muggle-born, this might be your sanctuary. It might be the place you miss most when you go home for the summer and try to fit your square peg into a world of round holes. It might be what you defend at the Battle of Hogwarts, fighting for your right to be confused and not fit in. It might be why you come back as the new Muggle Studies professor, why you create an after-hours class to help others get their A-levels and apply to university.
But then again, it might be just another classroom.
(written and submitted by the lovely ppyajunebug. There’s a tremendous sweetness to this that I find very appealing, something comforting about knowing that the Muggle-borns have their own space. This blog often explores the horrifying and strange, but sometimes it’s nice to consider good things, as well.)
Please help send Kristi Cook and I on a Whistlestop Tour! Just Reblog so AMTRAK can see this! :)
DYIIIIIIING to read Magnolia!
Love the idea of expanding on the writer-in-residency Amtrak idea to include book tour stops.
On fandom, parasocial relationships, and what we don’t know
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.
What this post made me think about is the parallel between the way we view and understand fictional characters and the way we view and understand real people that we do not actually know. There’s a long tradition of research in media studies on what they call “parasocial relationships,” which are one-sided relationships formed with (for example) TV personalities, fictional characters, or celebrities. The basic idea is that it’s easy to fool our brains into thinking we know someone. If you see someone a lot—on television, in magazines, or even just on your twitter feed—of course you start to feel like you know that person. In the course of our evolutionary history, if you saw or heard someone that often, you almost certainly did know them.
But that’s not the case in the modern world. And that’s where you get parasocial relationships, which are, by definition, one-sided. Spend enough time reading interviews with Jennifer Lawrence or read enough celebrity gossip about Taylor Swift, and you start to feel like you really know them. It’s one-sided because they do not know you.
Interestingly, social scientists have long-argued that the parasocial relationships we have with real people we do not actually know operate very similarly to the relationships we have with fictional characters. And both of the above parallel our actual two-sided, real-world relationships in a variety of interesting ways. For example, seeing a picture of a favorite fictional character can have what they call “social facilitation effects,” which we would normally see if you were in the presence of a friend. Being primed with your favorite celebrity (and/or character) increase self esteem and can make you feel a sense of belonging. When a favorite show is cancelled, the resulting emotional distress can look a lot like a break-up.
Long story short, there is a ton of super interesting research that documents a tendency to view fictional characters and real people we don’t know (like celebrities) much like we view real people who we actually know. This can be wonderful! Oh, the fictional friends I have made! But this tendency also has the potential to come with a variety of side-effects, because while fiction is often purposefully written to make certain we know tons of stuff about the personalities, backgrounds, inner workings, flaws, strengths, moral status, and emotional cores of the characters on the page, this is not true of parasocial interactions with real people. When your brain tricks you into thinking that you really know a fictional character, there are many ways in which that is true. But when real people are involved?
It’s not true. It’s not true at all.
In my day job, I study the science of fiction and why we like stories and what the cognitive effects of engaging with fictional characters and fictional worlds might be. In this field, we’re starting to see evidence that reading fiction might improve (or otherwise be related to) the ability to get inside other people’s heads: to read their emotions, and understand what they think and believe so forth. People like Lisa Zunshine and Raymond Mar and Keith Oatley have all kinds of wonderful papers (and books!) on this relationship between spending time with fictional characters and being able to read real people.
How does this work? It’s early days, still, so we don’t really know. But what does seem to be true is that fiction often gives us a front row seat to people’s emotions and relationships and thoughts and beliefs and desires in a way that reality usually does not. In the real world, you might infer, based on the fact that someone bolts in the middle of their father’s funeral, that they are upset or overwhelmed. You might even feel like you know that. But in fiction, you often do know it—you see the before and the after and the moment when the character lets him/herself break down because there is no one there to see it.
But in reality? We don’t have this kind of access. In life, there is no author or director making sure we have the information we need to have in order to understand the “characters.” As a result, in the real world, we only perceive ourselves as knowing what other people are thinking and feeling. We make inferences based on behavioral cues, but we have no direct access to their minds. Oftentimes, we can guess and guess well, but it’s always that… a guess.
What does all of this have to do with Sarah’s post?
I think that a lot of the negative experiences that Sarah talks about female authors (specifically those who used to write fanfic) having are the result of people feeling like they know things that they could not possibly know. Like what an author was thinking when they wrote XYZ character, or what the author’s intention was when they did/said that one thing, or why Author X is friends with Author Y.
In fiction, you frequently (though not always) have the access you need to make conclusions about characters’ mental states and motivations with a high level of certainty. Most of the time in reality, you do not—especially if the people you’re attributing mental states and intentions and dispositions to are people you do not actually know, people you are watching from afar.
Reading Sarah’s post made me wonder if those of us who engage with fiction frequently and passionately and, yes, through fandom, writing stories and daydreaming about characters and diagnosing their motivations—I wonder if that level of engagement could potentially have very real cognitive effects on us, beyond what has already been studied. On the one hand, that kind of engagement might actually make us better at understanding people. But at the same time, I think it quite possibly increases our perceptions of how good we are at doing that, beyond what is actually possible. Regular engagement with fiction—particularly active engagement through fandom—might fool us into thinking, even more than people who are less engaged with fiction, that we really, truly know what other people are thinking or intending and who they are deep down.
Might we get into the habit of telling ourselves stories about real people’s motivations, the same way that fandom thinks about and expands on the inner lives of the characters in the books and television shows we love? And might this trick us, in real-world settings, into forgetting that these stories, in our minds, about these people who are REAL—are not real themselves?
The stories we tell ourselves are just that—stories. They are, at best, guesses, and often, they’re not very good ones. We do not have special access to another person’s thoughts or emotions, no matter how much we’ve read about them. We do not “really know” them better than the people they are close to in real life. It is not in any way rational to think that, based on your familiarity with someone’s writing or twitter feed or something you were peripherally involved with ten years ago, you have superior knowledge of that person’s current mental states, emotions, personality, and moral proclivities than do people who currently hang out with that person on a daily basis.
And yet, this happens. It happens all the time. We judge people not just on their actions, but on the stories we tell ourselves about those actions, not just on their work, but on the stories we tell ourselves about how we think that work came to be. And there are very real reasons to think that the people who might be most prone to this feeling—that we really know someone, that we understand their intentions and emotions and motivations and inspirations—are those of us who spend the most time in fictional worlds, with fictional characters, telling ourselves stories about them.
This is what I was thinking when I read Sarah’s blog entry. I was thinking about parasocial relationships and the way we perceive mental states and how fiction can fool you into thinking those perceptions are more than guesses. I was thinking about the way that gender almost certainly plays a role in what those guesses end up being. And I was thinking that it would probably do a world of good if we made more of an active effort to remind ourselves of all the things we don’t know.
Q: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.
Neil Gaiman referenced Asimov in Neverwhere:
And G.K. Chesterton in Coraline:
And William Gibson in Neverwhere:
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.
Librarians with a particular interest in readers’ advisory are cordially invited to join a group of like-minded folk at Darien Library on Friday, May 16, 2014, for the Library’s first annual RA Unconference. Or, as we’ve been calling it, RAUNCON. (Pronounced RON-CON.) Darien…
Maybe Heaven will be a library. Then I will be able to finish my to-read list.
It is rainy and gray outside, and today is the day I will finish my novel.
It won’t really be finished, of course. I’ve had to rewrite it several times as I peeled back the layers of the characters and the world and discover exactly the thing I was meaning to say. I’ve pulled and sliced and hammered and gently place words until they are close to being in the right order. And even now, I can see the almost insurmountable amount of work that still lies before.
I have typed “the end” to this manuscript three times already. But I will type it again today, even though we all know it is a lie.
It is rainy and gray outside, and today is the day I will finish my novel.
I went outside for some inspiration, and instead froze my hands off, so I’m back inside now, writing the final chapter with the stubby remains of my fingers.
I just typed this:
“Four fantastic teen authors will join us to read from their new books and give a sneak-peek at some soon-to-be-published books, including:
"The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone" by Adele Griffin (early fall 2014)
"We Were Liars" by E. Lockhart (May 2014)
"Don’t Even Think About It" by Sarah Mlynowski (March 2014)
"The Waking Dark" by Robin Wasserman
After these new works, we’ll get a chance hear the authors’ fledgling literary attempts. All writers have those skeletons in their closets… but do they read them to you? Not usually, but it will happen tonight! Wasserman, Mlynowski, Lockhart and Griffin will read from their sometimes-awkward early attempts at writing. Come cringe with us and eat cookies while we listen to their weird and spindly early writings.”