Last weekend I attended an event called Swordpunk. Here are a few of my photos from the event.
Last weekend I attended an event called Swordpunk. Here are a few of my photos from the event.
A little while ago, I came across the Queer Book List website, https://queerbooklist.com/. This is a website that provides educational resources about queer literature as well as a list of queer young adult novels arranged by date, so you can look back over the history of queer literature. There is also a section for queer adult books, marked as “coming soon”.
I thought it would be nice to talk to the creator of the site, Chris Morabito, about this project.
Please start by telling us a little bit about yourself.
I’m currently in my second year of grad school, where I am pursuing a Ph.D in English. My research is largely concerned with queer literacy, the ways in which queer characters, particularly adolescents, use reading and writing as a means of both discovering and expressing their gender and sexual identities. The motivation for this research stems from my own coming out experience in high school, where I did not really feel that I had people to turn to, so I turned to books instead.
I’m a certified high school English teacher in the state of New York, but I’m currently teaching introductory English classes at my local public university. Ultimately, my goal is to obtain my Ph.D and teach a variety of queer lit courses. I would also love to find a way to get involved in schools, holding professional development workshops for teachers, events for students, and working on curriculum design. All of these areas combine on my website.
And please introduce your Queer Book List project.
Queer Book List is a lot of different things, and it is constantly evolving. At its core, it is exactly as the name indicates — a list of books that contain queer content. The largest part of the project is a list of queer young adult books organized by year of publication. As I read the books, I also post reviews where I provide a brief overview of the book and reflect on the way in which it reflects queer life. Since I started the project last January, I have expanded it in a number of ways. The first major expansion took the form of a resources tab, where I post anything that I think might be of use to people — such as sample lesson plans, how-to guides, and workshops (More on this below). More recently, I have also included a blog page so that I can share more experiential content, such as reflections on my own queer adolescence and on my teaching practices. Ultimately, I really just want Queer Book List to be a resource for queer adolescents, educators, and anyone else really, to turn to in order to learn more about queer literature and maybe even queerness more generally.
What sort of educational resources are available on your site?
If you visit the resources tab of queerbooklist.com, you will find a variety of resources for all kinds of educators. I have created a number of high school lesson plans for various queer young adult books. The lesson plans incorporate common core standards and include text analysis as well as writing prompts. Accompanying the lesson plans is also a rationale that will hopefully help convince teachers to use these or other similar texts, or that teachers can show to principals to justify teaching these texts. I have also created a sample syllabus for a college course using the same young adult texts that I wrote the lesson plans for. There are How-to guides, where I offer suggestions for how to make a classroom more inclusive and some criteria that I think are important in selecting a queer book to teach if you are only going to teach one. The final type of resource that I have on Queer Book List is a workshop that I recommend teachers use before going into any unit with queer content, as it serves as an introduction to terminology and sociopolitical issues. All of these resources are open for anyone to use and modify to better fit their specific needs.
What made you decide to start this project?
During the first semester of my Ph.D. program, I took a course on children’s and young adult literature. It was during this course that I began to do the research that started Queer Book List. While doing research for an assignment, I realized just how few resources there are out there cataloging queer young adult literature. Knowing that I would need to know a lot about these books for my dissertation, I started trying to read and take notes on as many books as I could find. The idea for Queer Book List simply came from the realization that, since I was already doing this work, I should share it with other people who might benefit from it. Since then, I have continually tried to think of other resources that I believe would be useful for people to find.
Why does queer representation matter to you?
On a personal level, queer representation matters to me because I had very little of it to turn to when I was working towards understanding my sexual identity and coming out. I remember desperately seeking out queer representation wherever I could find it. I began reading queer subplots into everything that I read because I was so desperate to find myself reflected in the books I was reading — even before I knew that was what I was doing and/or looking for. It was not that these resources did not exist, the young adult page on Queer Book List proves that they did, but that I could not find them. That’s why, when I did find them, I was compelled to share what I found.
I know, however, that I was lucky. I had teachers that I could open up to and friends and family to support me — even if they couldn’t understand exactly what it was that I was going through. It is true that there are more mainstream representations of queerness than ever before, but it also remains true that these are not accessible to all, especially for those who cannot access these resources openly. Moreover, queer representation is not only something for queer people. It is something that everyone should be exposed to, because queer people exist everywhere, if not always openly, and this is something that everyone should be aware of. Queer representation is about exposure; it is both about learning of the self and learning of others, and that is why it is so important.
Do you have any criteria for deciding what books should go on your young adult book list?
This is a really interesting question, because it is something that I am still struggling to figure out. What makes a queer young adult book a queer young adult book? Does the character have to be openly queer (at least to themselves)? Does the queer character (open or otherwise) have to be the main protagonist? If you compare the second half of the 20th century to this current first half of the 21st century, the difference between the number of QYA publications is quite stark. During the three decades from 1969 to 1999, no more than thirteen books with any form of queer content were published in a single year, and in fact, the number was often quite lower. Because these numbers were so small, and the need for these books was so great, excluding texts for any reason would have been counterproductive.
Now, however, with more QYA books published in 2018 than the first two decades of QYA combined, narrowing down seems to make more sense. I try to select books where queerness is important to the narrative, either because the protagonist or another main character is queer, or if queerness seems to drive the plot in some way. A gay background character would not be enough of a reason to include a book on my list. Typically books make the list when I find some mention of them being queer. Once I get around to reading the book, I will better gauge if it belongs on the list and review it. I know that this is not a perfect system, but it is a place to start while I work on creating a better one.
What are your plans for the project moving forward?
Moving forward, my main goal is to just keep doing what I’m already doing. As a grad student who is also teaching and tutoring part time, I never feel like I have enough time to even keep up with what is already on the site. I have a pile of books that I have already read but still need to review and post. As of writing this, it is 2019, but my list of queer young adult books is still in 2018, and there are many years where information is incomplete or missing entirely.
One thing that I would really like to work on is the adult literature page. Right now, my biggest problem with it is trying to figure out how to structure it and what books to include, because it would be impossible to create an entirely inclusive list, especially one that is arranged chronologically. The page has been “coming soon” for over a year now, and I would really like to change that
My ideal next step for Queer Book List would be to create some sort of online book club. I would love to, for example, select a book each month and create a space where people can come together and share their ideas about the book or anything else. I don’t think Queer Book List has enough of a following quite yet to make this idea work, but I am hopeful for the future. Other than that, who knows.(?) The project has already expanded in a number of ways that I could not have predicted a year ago, so I’m excited to see what the future brings to the site.
Is there anything people can do to assist this project?
Right now, the biggest way people can help out is by providing me with feedback: what is working well, what can I improve, what would you like to see. I would also greatly appreciate book recommendations, since it is incredibly difficult to track them all down. Of course, the easiest way to assist this project is simply to share it with everyone you know, especially educators.
This is a large project and one that I never feel like I have enough time to fully work on, so I have considered bringing on other people to assist with the site, but I’m not really sure how I would go about this and if I am ready to relinquish complete control over the project. That being said, if you are interested in getting involved or assisting in any way that I mentioned or any way that I have not, please feel free to contact me at Queerbooklist@outlook.com and we can discuss the possibility further.
How can people find out more?
The easiest way to find out more is to follow me on social media. You can find my Facebook page by searching for Queer Book List. My Twitter handle is @Queerbooklist and Instagram is @Queer_Booklist. My Instagram seems to have the most interaction, and therefore I am most active on it, but I try to share on all three whenever there is an update on the website. If there is something specific that you are interested in finding out or learning more about, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My nephew has the most amazing book. It’s called Recipe for a Story and it’s all about creating a story, but told using the metaphor of baking a cake. The narrator mixes in ingredients like characters and words, good and bad. At one point, the narrator stirs it until the plot begins to thicken.
This is the sort of story that will appeal to writers because there are lines like “I’ll weigh out the words – just enough. Choosing the rights ones can be tough.” There’s another bit later about not knowing what the story’s about until you roll it out, and I’m reading this thing going, “Yep, sounds about right.”
There are some wonderful illustrations too, like a jar of “giggly words preserves” that’s full of smiley faces, and full stops are in a pepper shaker. On one page, there’s a pile of books with various word pun titles.
My nephew enjoys it but as a writer, I think it’s fantastic. It’s my new favourite book because it’s a beautiful way to talk about the writing process.
This isn’t exactly a formal book review, but if you have young children you want to read to, I highly recommend it.
It takes a long time for a novel to go from initial idea through to finished book. It goes through initial draft, rewrites, finding a publisher, and then the publication process itself, which can sometimes take a year from when a publisher says yes to the book being released. I remember wondering, as I was writing Wolf Unleashed, whether the book would still feel relevant by the time it was officially published.
I wrote chunks of that book while protests were going on in America about unarmed black people being killed, while people were being locked up, beaten, tear-gassed, or otherwise hurt for simply calling out people who were doing wrong. I remember doing what little I could with petitions and donations and sharing stories, hoping that those protests would have an impact, that the authorities would step in to address some of the issues of institutional racism that were at the heart of so much of the suffering, but I also remember wondering what that might mean for my book. If progress was made, my book might feel old before it was even born. It might be launched into the world already feeling like it was focused on last year’s subject.
And then Trump was elected. He came into power and tried to have Muslims banned from the country, and I went back into a particular scene of the book, where the Muslim character Mehmood is talking about things he’s experienced, and rewrote some of the dialogue to draw a clearer parallel. Suddenly those moments with Mehmood started to feel more relevant again.
And now we have stories on the news about children being taken away from parents, children being rounded up, children being put in cages. And I’m left wishing that my story, with it’s scene in which children are taken from their mother and put in cages, didn’t feel so relevant. I wrote awful things into the book, where a group of people are being treated as less than human, their rights and wellbeing ignored. And now I’m watching it happen on the news, reading articles about the inhumanity with which groups of people are being treated.
I wanted my book to still feel relevant when it was published, but it’s like the old saying goes: be careful what you wish for.
My book’s message was “Werewolves are people too” but it’s painful to look at what’s happening in the world and know that the message “refugees are people too” is just as real and important a message as ever. This suffering and dehumanising behaviour isn’t just something that happens in books, but it’s something that’s happening right now in the real world, and it’s heartbreaking to see it going on.
There are organisations you can donate to if you want to help those suffering right now in the concentration camps Trump has set up. Act Blue has a fund called Support Kids at the Border that let’s you donate to several charities and groups all at once if you don’t know which group is the best one to give to. Let’s hope that the issues in my book start feeling less relevant sometime very soon.
I had intended to post this yesterday, but then my home was out of power for the entire day due to a fault on the line. So there were technical difficulties in posting this message about technical difficulties.
If you tried to log on to my site this time last week, you might have noticed a slight problem with it. And by “slight problem” I mean that the entire website had disappeared.
Thankfully, I managed to get everything back and I didn’t lose any data. All my old posts are safe and sound.
This shouldn’t happen again any time in the near future, so you can relax and enjoy the reviews, recommendations, and writing talk, and I can stop fretting about whether or not Skynet is trying to eat my blog.
The good thing is that the data for the queer reading list is stored elsewhere, so even if I had lost the site, it would have been possible to resurrect the reading list, this just meant that the page was down for a bit. This technical… hiccup… did mean that I didn’t do the queer reading list update last weekend. That wasn’t actually an issue because there have been no suggestions for new books over the past couple of weeks. Don’t forget that I’m doing a giveaway all through 2018 and you can win a free book by recommending new books to go on the reading list.
Despite there being no books to add, the reading list is still getting an update this week. I’ve made a number of changes to the layout and interface. Most of these changes are specifically in two areas: navigation buttons and filters.
You can still navigate the list by clicking on the arrow buttons to move between pages, but I’ve also added some flag buttons that will let you navigate directly to the area you’re interested in. So if you’re interested in reading books with asexual, demi-sexual, or aromantic representation, you can still click on the navigation arrows until you reach page 6, or you can click on the ace pride flag button and skip straight there. I’ve put these navigation buttons on each page so you can jump around between pages as you wish.
I’ve changed a few things about the filters on each page, with the most obvious being that I’ve changed them to buttons rather than a list with tick boxes. This should make it easier to apply filters. I’ve done some resizing and moving around of these buttons on most of the pages to try and make the filters a little less cramped. They’re still crammed in together on the Agender, Genderqueer, Intersex, and Non-Binary page, but there should be less overlap between filter boxes which again should make it easier to select the filters that you’re interested in. One minor change around these is that I’ve switched the order of the filter buttons for each category so that True now comes before False on all of these buttons.
Hopefully this will improve the usability of the list. To further assist with this, I have added alt text descriptions to elements on the views to try and improve this list from an accessibility point of view but unfortunately there were some changes I wasn’t able to do. I was asked about making the scrolling bar wider but unfortunately this isn’t a setting I’m able to control. I have suggested it to the company whose software I’m using to make the list that they might want to make this an adjustable settings, especially for accessibility reasons, but I can’t do much about it unless they decide to listen to that feedback. If you are struggling to use the list for accessibility reasons, let me know and I might be able to give you access to the back end data behind the list. That wouldn’t give you the same ability to filter all the settings, but if there’s a particular sort of representation you’re interested in (e.g. lesbian representation) I could create a pre-filtered view on the back end data and that might be easier to consume if you use a screenreader. If there are other aspects to the list causing accessibility issues, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
I was recently advised to watch the show Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency on Netflix. I hadn’t bothered with this show for a long time because I had never been particularly keen on the book of the same name by Douglas Adams. A friend of mine was very enthusiastic about this show, so I decided to give it a try and loved it.
The story is based around a group of characters, mainly the eponymous Dirk Gently, who solve bizarre cases through a series of strange and seemingly random coincidences. I won’t say much to spoil the plot but I will say that while I enjoyed the first season, I absolutely loved the second season, partly because of a couple of amazing new characters, but also because the story wove in a high fantasy parody. It should be no surprise to anyone reading this blog that I love fantasy, and so I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy parody world dreamt up in this story.
It is a world that takes itself very seriously indeed, but has knights fighting with giant pairs of scissors, burgers growing on trees, and a series of ridiculous names that I think warrant some of the actors deserving awards for just getting their lines out with a straight face. I had a notion to take clips from this silly parody plotline and try to piece them together in a way that made the story seem like a serious, fantasy epic. This was not an easy task, especially since all the shots of the armies with their weapons looked ridiculously silly, and the wide shots feature a man in the moon, but I had fun with it. Here is the result: The Epic of Wendimoor.
It goes without saying that I’ve been very selective in my use of clips but I’ve somehow managed to make it so that the title character isn’t actually in any of them. So don’t be surprised when you watch the real show and it’s nothing like I’ve made it seem here.
I remember once reading an article by another author who was talking about how piracy of her books had massively damaged her career as a writer – including leading to a publisher cancelling an edition of a book because they weren’t seeing enough sales. In the comments, someone had remarked that they didn’t feel bad about pirating books because they were just going to borrow them from the library for free anyway.
I wanted to take a minute to explain why borrowing a book from a library is not the same as piracy.
If you want to borrow a book from a library, then the library or one nearby must have a copy of the book. This means there has been at least one sale for the author. If lots of people are requesting the same book, then the chances are that two or three libraries in the area will get a copy of the book. There are over four thousand libraries in the UK. Not every library will have every book in the catalogue because libraries allow for people at one library to request a book from another nearby library, but if we imagine that 1 in 10 libraries need a book to cover that area, that still means 400 purchases, and that would be a significant chunk of sales for most authors. This is obvious at the upper end, but if across the country people requested a book at a library instead of pirating it, that author would notice the difference.
Then there’s what happens when the author’s next book comes out. If a book is being requested and checked out a lot, the library are vastly more likely to buy the next book the author publishes. You don’t have to pay a penny, but the author is still getting some income from sales.
Libraries are often supportive of local authors. At my local libraries, I’ve done talks and coffee mornings to promote my books, which usually leads to a couple of sales. There are local author days where writers are invited in to give presentations. All of this helps an author get their name known and library staff are more likely to want to work with an author if their books are being requested and read by members of the public.
Then there are public lending rights fees. In the UK, every time someone borrows a book from a public library, the author gets paid a few pence. At the moment it’s 7.82 pence, but they’re looking to increase that from February to 8.2 pence per loan. That may not sound like much, but that’s why every borrow counts. There are some authors (particularly in the romance genre) who rely on this for a significant percentage of their income. If you pirate a book, the author gets nothing. If you borrow it from a UK library, the author gets a few pence. Those few pence can add up over time.
So the next time you’re tempted to pirate a book, consider borrowing it from your local library instead.
Here be spoilers.
I’d been trying to avoid spoilers about the new Star Wars film, but I couldn’t help seeing some murmurings about it online and I went in there expecting disappointment. Overall, it was entertaining enough but suffered a major problem with plot.
In story telling, a plot is more than just a sequence of actions happening one after the other. It is a sequence of actions that has direction and payoff, that has impact on the story as a whole, that has purpose.
Let’s look at Finn’s plotline for the bulk of this movie. He attempts to run away (completely undermining his character development from The Force Awakens, but that’s a separate rant), meets Rose, they come up with a plan, they go to the casino, get arrested, make a deal with a codebreaker, break onto the ship, get captured, and then manage to escape when the ship is destroyed. Lots of events happen, but to what end? They achieve nothing and end up with the resistance, exactly where they would be if they’d done nothing. There are only two events in their whole plotline that could loosely be considered significant: spreading the story of the resistance, and killing Phasma.
I quite liked the ending with the kids telling the story of the resistance – it was a nice little closing piece about hope being still alive and the resistance message going on – but it’s hardly a major event in the plot of the film overall. Maybe something significant will come of it in the next instalment and make it feel like there was purpose to this little dangling plot thread, but if you look at this film on its own, it was too minor to feel like a proper payoff for their plot.
The killing of Phasma likewise didn’t feel significant enough. She was a non-entity in this film, who only showed up to be killed. I was seeing this film with my parents, both of whom had only seen The Force Awakens once, when it first came out. Neither of them remembered Phasma. If seen in the context of the previous film, this moment might have been worth something, but again, treating this movie as an entity in its own right, she wasn’t a significant enough player for this to be important. If she had been seen earlier on, ordering Stormtroopers to board resistance ships, commanding parts of the battle, playing a role in the conflict with Hux and Kylo Ren, her death might have had more meaning.
As it was, you could have cut that entire plotline and it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the story as a whole.
The same applies to Poe’s failed mutiny. What does that achieve? He gets worried that their leader is just running with no real plan, stages a mutiny, gets shot, and then learns that she’d had a plan all along. All it would have taken was her saying, “I do have a plan,” for none of that to have happened. She wouldn’t have even had to reveal what her plan was (although there was absolutely no reason to conceal it), just reassure the resistance fighters that there was a plan at all. Poe only acted because he thought she was just running until they ran out of fuel. This whole conflict was pointless, and it ended exactly the same way it would have done if he’d done absolutely nothing.
These were cul-de-sac plots – they feel like they’re heading somewhere but to end up going nowhere. It felt like Finn and Poe were being given busy work to keep them occupied while the main plot happened with Rey and Kylo Ren.
There needed to be payoff to the plotlines for the story to work as a whole. This payoff needn’t have been the characters’ intended goals but it should have impacted on the rest of the story as a whole. If we take the original Star Wars film as an example, Luke and co’s goal was to deliver R2 to Alderaan. Instead, they found Alderaan destroyed and were utterly unable to complete the mission they were intent on. But that inability to complete the mission led to the rescue of Leia. The Last Jedi needed the Finn and Poe plotlines to result in something.
Rey and Kylo Ren were on one ship on the fleet while Rose and Finn were breaking in to try and shut down the tracker. I was never clear whether they were on the same ship or not, but if they were, the plotlines could have intersected. Kylo Ren was knocked unconscious after the fight with Rey, so why not have the same happen to Rey? Finn and Rose could have escaped from the Stormtroopers, found Rey, and the three of them escape together. Or they could have sabotaged the weapons allowing more transports to escape. They could have achieved something on that ship to give a purpose to everything that came before.
The same goes for Poe after the first five minutes of the movie are over. His conflict with the admiral was entirely pointless, both because it could have been avoided with a single line of dialogue and because it achieved nothing. He needed a purpose to his plotline. Maybe the admiral was being secretive because she was afraid a First Order spy was sending their ship location and that was how they were being tracked. Poe could have been uncovering a spy and saving the ship that way while everything else was going on.
The film was enjoyable enough to watch while it was going on, but incredibly frustrating to think about afterwards. It still outshone the prequels in a big way, but I think it missed being what it could have been because of failures in plotting.
I am in the process of updating my queer reading list. The old list is just that – a list. I list science fiction and fantasy books that contain significant queer representation and which I have enjoyed reading.
The new version, I’m hoping will be more useful for people looking for SF&F books that contain queer representation. It’s a bit more visual, with a list of books and their cover images on the left.
Through the use of filters, people can search the list for specific types of representation – e.g. a book with an intersex protagonist, or an asexual major character. The main page shows broad categories for representation.
But there are arrows underneath the list that let you scroll through different pages. The other pages focus in on a specific group of representation and let you narrow down the search in more detail.
You can find the new version here: http://www.plot-twister.co.uk/queer-reading-list-search/.
It is currently a work in progress, so I would be interested in hearing feedback or ideas for improvement.
I’m also interested in finding contributors to the list. The old list was put together solely by myself, which means new books could get added only at the rate at which I could read them. If I can find more people interested in adding books to the list, then this can becoming something much longer and more useful. If you are interested in adding books to the list, please let me know.
I recently had a short trip to Slovenia and while I was in Ljubljana, I went on a walking tour of the city. I usually like walking tours because you get some background and some nice anecdotes and see some things that you might not notice walking around on your own. This was a particularly good one. It lasted over two hours but it never felt slow because the guy doing the tour (our tour guide was Peter) was extremely entertaining. He was very cheerful and made it fun while telling his various stories.
One such story involved dragons. If you ever go to Ljubljana, you will see an awful lot of dragons. Not live ones, unfortunately, but as statues on the aptly named Dragon Bridge, in the gift shops, in carvings, and so on. Apparently there is also a cave with salamanders that the locals once thought were dragon hatchlings, at least until they laid eggs and had babies of their own.
There is a story in Ljubljana that the Greek hero Jason, when he was sailing back with the golden fleece, sailed through the area and came face to face with a dragon. Of course Jason, being a Greek hero, fought the dragon, defeated it, and went sailing on his way. The dragon, which was supposed to be the protector of the region, holed up inside a mountain to sulk about being defeated. Peter speculated that this might explain why Ljubljana spent so many centuries under foreign rule.
The dragon is supposedly still there.