Posts tagged books.

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GBLT Characters in the Anita Blake Series

When it comes to the portrayal of GBLT people, the Anita Blake series is a classic warning that quantity is never a substitution for quality and that mere number of portrayals does not make a book, TV series or film friendly to GBLT people. We’ve seen this in True Blood as well, where, again, sheer number of portrayals doesn’t change the very large problems with those portrayals.

I can understand the reaction. Most books and series simply don’t have any GBL inclusion at all. And when they do it’s usually one or two characters, in minor roles (usually as best friends and support staff - barely even side kicks). We have started praising even the tiniest inclusion - it’s depressing when we see even progressive blogs analysing media, praising Teen Wolf for its single bit-token gay character, while criticising it for its portrayals of other, more numerous, minorities. So when we see a series that has several GBL characters it is extremely rare and it is tempting to praise it - especially when tiny, virtually characterless tokens are seemingly due fawning.

But quality matters. A book with a terrible, trope laden stereotypes is bad, problematic and prejudiced. The mere fact you have a hundred of them rather than just one doesn’t makes these terrible, trope laden stereotypes ok. And this is abundantly clear in the Anita Blake series.

The easiest place to begin is to look at some of the villains of the Anita Blake series, because I think I spot a pattern:

  •     Asher, bisexual – was a villain but was redeemed to the good guys by the sweet love and gentleness of Anita (behold the power of a straight woman’s love!) Its bitter, implied sadistic and now confines 99% of his sexing to Anita.
  •     Raina, bisexual. Sadist, rapist, murderer, torturer and generally not a nice woman. Also rapes straight women. Is portrayed as “perverse”.
  •     Gabriel: Bisexual, sadist, rapist, torturer, pimp and generally not a nice man. Rapes straight men. Is also portrayed as “perverse”.
  •     Chimera: gay or bisexual. Sadist, rapist, torturer. Is more than implied that the reason why he is a sadistic murdering, multiple personality (yes there’s ableism there) rapist is because of his rejection of his own sexuality.
  •     Belle Morte: Bisexual, rapist, makes straight people have sex with their own gender for her amusement.
  •     Traveller: Gay. Uses his power to possess straight men so he can have sex in their bodies (i.e. rapes them).
  •     Niley: Gay, rapes straight men. And tortures them. Bonus points, deals with daemons and is actually looking for a holy relic to defile it.


Did you catch the pattern? When you have more GBL rapists in a series than you can count on the fingers of one hand? There’s a problem.

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Reverse Oppression: A Fad that Needs to End

It’s not a new idea - we’ve certainly seen it raising its ugly head in media repeatedly, but it’s become popular again - the “flipped prejudice” fiction. Victoria Foyt’s racist Save the Pearls  did it for race and we now have the homophobic versions: a kickstarter for the book Out by Laura Preble and the film Love is all You Need. I hate linking to them but they need to be seen. They both have the same premise: an all gay world that persecutes the straight minority.

So that’s more appropriating the issues we live with, our history, our suffering and then shitting on it all by making us the perpetrators of the violations committed against us. How can they not see how offensive this is? How can they not see how offensive taking the severe bigotry thrown at us every day and throughout history, bigotry that has cost us so much and then making our oppressors the victims and us the attackers, is? This is appropriative, this is offensive, it’s disrespectful and it’s outright bigoted.

Y’know, if you actually want to talk about prejudice and persecution and how they can affect people’s lives, why not use actual marginalised people? You want to show how a person navigates a society that has extreme prejudice against their skin colour? Why not make your protagonist a POC? You want to show a society that persecutes people based on who they’re attracted to and who they love? Why not make your protagonist gay?

Oh, but then that becomes a specialist subject, right? A “niche”, dealing with marginalised issues. A POC book. A Gay/Lesbian book. Totally inappropriate for mainstream audience – when we can take the same story and flip it to bizarre bigot world and make the poor straight, white person the persecuted victim and we’re back in mainstream land. Funny, that.

Is that what this is? This whole offensive, bullshit trend (I mean, apart from prejudiced arsehattery, which kind of goes without saying)? A desire to use prejudice as a plot point but not sully your main character by making them an actual minority?

And don’t tell me it will help straight/white people understand oppression. Because if a privileged person will only hear about prejudiced issues when it comes from a privileged mouth then what is the point? I’ve said this before when we’ve had similar bullshit, how are you going to encourage people to address prejudice and marginalisation while at the same time training them that it’s only worth listening to privileged people?

Because that’s what I hear when this excuse is trawled out. Straight, white people can’t possibly empathise with a POC or GBLT protagonist so we have to present these prejudiced issues through a privileged lens, from a privileged mouth. Either by making being privileged a marginalisation like in the examples above - or by making up an entirely new, fictional prejudice. As we’ve mentioned before with the appropriation of magrinalised groups for “fantastic prejudice” where vampires/fae/witches are persecuted for not being mundane humans. This can even be doubly offensive when we mix both offensive appropriations - such as in Lost Girl - with the white Kenzi being oppressed by the Black fae for being human.

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Why Author Identity Matters

There is an ongoing conversation in various venues about the identity of writers - specifically, marginalised writers and whether or not it truly matters whether a writeR is a POC, GBLT, disabled or holds another marginalisation. We know a whole lot of people are quick to ask who cares whether an author is POC, GBLT et al? Why is this relevant?

Well, we do, and it is relevant. It’s usually one of the first things we try to find out when coming across a new author.

We’ve spoken before about the gatekeepers that marginalised authors face. We’ve seen the drama in YA trying to exclude gay characters, we’ve seen the white washing that covers face if they presume to show a POC. This is one of the reasons we’re supportive of webisodes and self-publishing, because there are a lot of gatekeepers out there that make it hard for maginalised people to be traditionally published. With these gatekeepers, it is reasonable for marginalised people and their allies to try and turn the tide by deliberately going out of their way to support marginalised authors.

Even when marginalised authors do write about their own marginalisation and are published, it greatly increases the chance the book will be shelved as niche and considered undesirable for mainstream consumption. It becomes all the more important to buy the book, support the author and to say this book belongs on the shelves.

There’s also a matter of authenticity. And this doesn’t mean that privileged people can’t write marginalised characters. In fact, we don’t even think it’s hard for privileged people to write marginalised characters - but it’s a very common excuse not to do so. Which is a reason why we seek marginalised authors because so many privileged authors keep writing trope laden stereotypes that it has frequently reached a point where we wish these authors would erase us; erasure would be preferably to the offensive portrayals they create.

But even aside from that, there is power in a marginalised person telling their own story. There is a power in authenticity. It matters, in genres that are erased, where our own writers are so rare, to be able to pick up a book about us, by us. In so much of life our stories, the narratives of our lives, are either completely ignored or are framed and shaped by the oppressor. It is white people who we repeatedly see talking about race. It is straight people declaiming their opinions on GBLT people. It is the able bodied who speak on disability. Our lives are common property to be picked over and we are often not considered to be experts or experienced in our own lives.


We know this authenticity is valued, because we know there are a horrendous number of privileged writers appropriating marginalised identities in order to claim it. In the M/M genre we saw this with numerous authors who weren’t gay men, pretending to be gay men; but it’s hardly unique to the genre - People of Colour (The Education of Little Tree, anyone?) and disabled people have faced the same identity appropriation. By pretending to be marginalised, they deceive the community that is seeking this authenticity, the community that is seeking a shared experience, a shared culture or just a shared understanding.

With these people peddling fake authenticity, it becomes even more important for marginalised people to find actual marginalised authors - if nothing else but to actually make sure they are noticed among the fakes.

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Review: Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner

Katie is a suburban housewife. She has a 14 year old daughter and a 2 year old son and a husband who loves her dearly – and she spends her life holding her family together. It’s hard work, but she meets each days challenges (more of less) successfully.

She even manages her husband’s political ambitions, being called upon to host elaborate dinner and cocktail parties (often at ridiculously short notice); very essential to get all the proper endorsements. And, of course, she and her daughter are still dealing with the ongoing grief of losing her first husband that has never quite gone away. It’s an involved life.

And then the demons show up. Once, she worked with the Vatican, she was a demon hunter, a trained killer, lethal fighter who sought out the demonic and slew it, banishing it from the world. But she’s retired and hasn’t fought in over a decade – she certainly never thought she’d have to fight in San Diablo, which she had chosen for its lack of demons.

Now she has demons threatening her family and, worse of all, a higher demon that is seeking to destroy the whole city and she’s the only hunter spare. No matter how rusty her skills, how frustrating the investigation or how difficult it is to schedule demon slaying in between play dates, Katie has to step up.

One thing I love about this book is how much it makes it clear that being a stay-at-home mother is not, in any way, laziness or easiness. Societally we have a strong level of contempt for “women’s work” and a woman who doesn’t work but stays at home with the kids is often regarded as being lazy or somehow failing. Indeed, housework and childcare about both labour that is highly devalued and disrespected despite how essential it is. Katie spends her life bouncing from appointment to appointment – ferrying children about their lives, caring for her toddler who constantly demands her attention, cooking, cleaning, advising and observing her daughter, dealing with the sudden parties her ambitious-politician husband keeps throwing at her. And she alternates this with constant guilt and pressure that is so often understated – is she the perfect politician’s wife? Is she the perfect hostess? She put the baby down in front of the television, is that bad parenting? Did she tell Allie the right thing? It’s a really good representation of the pressure she’s under.

Then throw in demon hunting and she’s well and truly snowed under – the constant battle to fit in all she has to do in her normal life and still do what’s necessary to stop Goramesh is really well portrayed and pretty uncommon in the genre. Usually, an Urban Fantasy protagonist is able to dedicate their full lives to the mystical drama du jour. If they’re overwhelmed it’s because the mystical drama requires a lot of work, or they have several mystical dramas at once. It’s rare for it to actually be their own home lives that intrude on their supernatural lives.

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Stop the GR Bullies: Stalking, Tantrums and Bullying

It seems a new site has been started called Stop the GR Bullies, aimed at book reviewers at Goodreads. It seems to be author driven in response to the many many trainwrecks we have see all too often; you know the kind, an author sees a less-than-shining review and unwisely decides to respond - frequently leading to cringeworthy temper tantrums and shocking behaviour.

There is a lesson these authors seem to be sorely missing. They are producing a product and they are producing a work of art. The first means that people will review and critique the product they bought (as is their right), the second means that, given the subjective nature of artwork, some people will not like it - in fact some will loathe it and they will say so. They will never please everyone all of the time and it is no-one’s duty to lavish praise when it is not deserved. The book is not their baby, it is not something precious and special that needs to be treated gently - it is a product that is being sold and, like any other product we buy, if it’s awful - be that new furniture or a takeaway pizza - then we will say so, quite possibly in intemperate and scathing terms. Books are not a special category that makes them somehow untouchable.

That is not bullying. This is critiquing. This is reviewing. This has been going on, not just with artwork, but with every and all products since the beginning of time. It is actually insulting and offensive to call this bullying, especially at a time when we are seeing so much more attention to the bullying rates among schools and the horrendous rate of teen suicide it causes. To try and invoke this imagery because people are criticising your book? No, really, that’s not on.

On to the drama reports - which is one of the things they’ve accused Cuddlebuggery of. Now, I actually read Cuddlebuggery, partly because it’s amusing, partly to keep my eye out for decent books and, yes, partly because I want to have a heads up if an author is going to explode into chunks of messy outrage should I review one of their books and find it less than utterly perfect. And, yes, I will be avoiding that author, why would I seek them out? And I will say that, yes, they’re snarky, yes they can be (justly) harsh but they are never anything but honest - and every single one of those drama posts they’ve written have been a direct, honest report of actual poor author behaviour (which is considerably more honest than the highly skewed and dubious accounts Stop the GR Bullies has written, to be honest) and they include links back for you to see the authors in all their failing glory.

You are not being bullied if someone honestly reports your actions. If you show your arse to the world and people point out that your butt cheeks are on display, it’s not their fault that everyone is commenting on it, criticising it and disapprove of your arse bare to the wind. You are facing the consequences of your actions and your utter lack of professionalism; not being bullied.

Also, let us add that you’re not being “driven off goodreads” by these mean critics. If someone criticises your book, even harshly, that is not driving you off. If you respond to a negative review (which is already foolish) and people continue to criticise and, yes, even mock, that is not driving you off. If your dubious, unprofessional and unacceptable behaviour is reported and people mock you for it, that is not driving you off. If you leave in these conditions you are not being driven off - you are flouncing.

But, you know what? Even if these reviewers were tearing up your precious, even if they said some truly hurtful, mean and even personal things. Even then this site would still be beyond the pale. At Stop the GR Bulllies, they go to extreme lengths to attack their critics. I actually would run out of space trying to list their terrible behaviour - and I am in two minds of linking to their site because of what they’ve written there:

They post the real name (and if they don’t have it, they keep looking), home city and, if they can find one, photograph (again, if they can’t find one, they keep looking) of the people they’re attacking. This is already frightening and, frankly, dangerous; but they then compound that by listing their place of work and their schedule.

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Face off: Mortal Instruments vs The Infernal Devices

Cassandra Clare is the author of The Mortal Instruments Series and the Infernal Devices series. By now most know the history of Clare and plagiarism but in her published work she has shifted from stealing from others to borrowing liberally from herself. Yes, a step up I know.  As a reader it is beyond frustrating to be promised new characters and a new plot only to discover that the author could not be arsed to come up with anything original.  In the following face off to prove this point, we are going to compare a few of the major characters from each series to prove this point.  Unless you are a fan of reading the same book twice, we suggest you pick a series and stick with it.

Shall we look at the 2 main characters in each book?

Jace

Jace is a Shadowhunter of extreme skill. His fighting prowess is second to none and truly remarkable. He is also blessed with stunning good looks that you can’t help but be in awe of.  Unfortunately he also has a dark and terrible past and is completely estranged from his family, being all but adopted by the Shadow Hunters who run the institute instead. His dark and terrible past looms heavily on his current life, meaning he drives people away, often with his acerbic and venomous tongue. Despite this, Clary is drawn to him and impossibly attracted to him no matter how much he tries to drive her away. For a considerable amount of time he believes himself cursed due to the demon blood he believes went into his conception - which further causes him to drive people away; thankfully this turns out not to be the case and, yes, he can let people get close to him.

Thankfully Jace can rely on his friend and parabati, the quietly tortured Alec.

Will

Shall I just copy and paste? Shadow hunter of extreme skill? Yes. Stunning good looks? That would be yes. Dark and Terrible past? Oh yes, not gone into great detail, but yes especially since he believed he killed his sister. Naturally this also estranged him from his family and has caused him to be all but adopted by the Shadow Hunters who runs the institute. He believed he suffered from a dark and terrible curse that killed anyone he was close to - so he drove them away with his acerbic and venomous tongue. Which, yes, turned out to be incorrect. And yes, despite this Tessa still likes him.

Thankfully will can rely on his friend and parabati, the quietly tortured Jem

We’ve reached a point where the main difference between these two is their hair colour. No, really. And I’m sure many of you will rush to tell me how different they are - but with this many similarities, the differences become moot.  The women of both stories are highly invested in their performance of femininity. 

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Review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seath Grahame-Smith

Abraham Lincoln, statesman, orator, president of the United States, leader of the Union during the Civil Warm, the man whose Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the US and a vampire slayer.

Being left the journals of Lincoln, a young aspiring writer is given the mammoth task of chronicling Abraham Lincoln’s life. His entire life – and that included hunting vampires almost from childhood after his mother fell beneath the fangs of one. Since then he has trained hard and fought desperately against vampires across the US. At every stage of his history – from his youth in Kentucky through to Washington DC, vampire slaying was always a part of his life

But Vampire slaying was more than just a part of his life. Vampire slaying is one of the prime motivations of his existence – to fight and destroy all vampires in the US, firstly out of revenge for his mother’s death. But, as he learns more about them and their schemes, eventually it becomes a battle to save all of the United States from falling under their brutal control. It’s a fight that causes him to pursue the presidency. Ultimately, it’s a battle that leads him and the whole nation to war.

Stylistically, I’m not fond of this book. It is written as if by a modern author adapting and transcribing Abraham Lincoln’s journals with many direct excerpts. This means the book often switches from 3rd to first person and we sometimes switch actors as well. It wasn’t hard to follow but it wasn’t a style I enjoyed nor do I think it made it easier to read.

Ultimately, I think this story rests on gimmickery. This isn’t just a 19th century vampire hunter, it’s Abraham Lincoln. I think I miss part of the power of that simply because I’m English. Abraham Lincoln isn’t a major figure in my history or my culture – nor are the events and times described. It doesn’t have the same impact for me. It also means as we follow most of this book – following his life, his childhood, his family, his relationships, his children, the places he lived and the jobs he worked – well, to me they’re not all that interesting or fascinating. Maybe if, culturally, he was a more major figure to me it would be more compelling. As it is, I was rather bored, I didn’t find it fascinating or even particularly interesting. I won’t say it was awful – and I’ve certainly read worse, but it was never more than mildly amusing to me.

I didn’t find the plot – a man hunting and killing vampires which are evil monsters – to be especially fascinating. It’s not original, it’s nothing special. I won’t say it’s boring – and I found the action parts of the book to be great fun and really well written – well paced and perfectly described without so much that it feels bogged down yet not so sparse that we can’t follow the action.

I think this is a book that’s going to be very dependent on taste and whether the insertion of a historical figure into fantastic story is something you find appealing. Personally, it’s not exactly to my taste

Ok, now to the biggie that I cannot ignore and knew was coming from the moment I opened the book. Appropriation. There was no way a fictionalised book with Abraham Lincoln as the core character wasn’t going to involve some appropriation but oooooh it was a doozey. It was one of those books I went into faintly cringing knowing it was coming and I was still bowled over when it actually happened.

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Face Off: Which Book do you Want to See Turn to TV?

As anyone visiting our site knows, we have read a lot of Urban Fantasy. A lot of those books go on to be made into a films or, even better, TV series - which we always run to check out. And, we have to say, we’re often disappointed, upset and even bemused by the choices made. After watching an entire season of Secret Circle, the only good thing I can say about it is that at least it wasn’t repeated for another season. Having attempted to read the books, I can’t imagine anyone expecting better. Another CW creation is The Vampire Diaries. Now, we have spoken at length about the problems of The Vampire Diaries and we’re not exactly looking forward to it coming back, but, having read the books I have to applaud CW. Yes, I applaud them - because the series is monumentally better than those books.

Even True Blood, which we enjoy, was hardly based on our favourite series. Of course, maybe we should be grateful as some books I have enjoyed - the Dresden Files and Blood Ties have been turned into rather mediocre TV series

But now we’re looking at what series we’d really love to see reach the TV screen - if The Vampire Diaries and Twilight were worthy of TV and film adaptation, then surely some of our favourites deserve a chance!

So, which one of these do you think should make it to the screen? Or do you have your own suggestion?

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The International Day Againt Homophobia and Transphobia isn’t a Marketing Tool

Often in the writing blogosphere we see various forms of Blog Hops and blog tours and similar promotions to draw attention to authors, their books and let readers connect with authors who may interest them.

One upcoming blog hop is Hop against Homophobia

This is a blog hop of authors of the M/M genre. It allows writers in the m/m genre to gain attention to their M/M books and offer M/M prizes. The site itself explains its purpose:

the purpose is to get readers to a) see your name b) see your books and c) have the option to follow your blog to get to know you as an author and to be kept up to date about your future work.

And to start it off they’re going to set things rolling on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

So, what is The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia? Well, it’s pretty much exactly what it says. It is a day where we fight against the damage these bigotries do. It is a day when we look at the damage these bigotries do.

And let us never underestimate the power of this bigotry. There are still a horrendous number of countries out there where being GBLT is a crime. In some of them you will be tortured or executed. Others will imprison you for years and, of course, should you serve your sentence you face being returned to prison since, of course, people don’t stop being GBLT.

People are killed for being GBLT. People lose their jobs for being GBLT (often without any recourse in law). People lose their homes for being GBLT. People are denied any legal partnership rights for being GBLT, people are denied medical care for being GBLT, people are vilified and attacked and destroyed for being GBLT. People turn to drugs and alcohol because of anti-GBLT bigotry and countless GBLT people are driven to suicide every year by anti-GBLT bigotry.

In short, homophobia and transphobia are devastating forces out there and any campaign to battle them (Including this day) is vital and precious and very very important (though we can have debates about the effectiveness of individual days, that is a different discussion).

And these authors have decided to use this day to shill their books. They’re using this day about bigotry against GBLT people for marketing. Worse, not only are they appropriating this day for marketing, the actual purpose of the day they are using does not even remotely have to be involved

From the site itself:
- Talk about the International Day Against Homophobia in your May 17th blog entry (as little as just a mention – your choice).
—- Add the colorful Hop Against Homophobia image to your blog/website with a link to the official hop site:

There, you don’t have to actually do anything about homophobia or transphobia or talk about the day or what it actually aims for – don’t let silly things like that put you off. Don’t let the actual purpose of the day get in the way of your marketing. No, so long as you mention the name (all the better to appropriate it properly) and then you’ll get a giant anti-homophobia rainbow banner as well! Sure you don’t actually have to do anything about homophobia or transphobia, but you get the banner. I wonder if it comes with cookies?

Let me repeat this so we can be abundantly clear – no part of this blog hop requires acting or speaking against homophobia or transphobia, nor does it require being a GBLT member or ally (and no, being part of the M/M genre is not synonymous with allydom. Using us does not make you an ally, writing these books does not grant automatic status as a supporter - far from it). It is not about GBLT rights –it is about advertising, marketing and giving away free M/M stuff to attract more readers and followers

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