Thursday, March 19, 2015

Do We Need an Invitation?

A few weeks back, my science fiction and fantasy literature teacher gave us a seemingly simple assignment. Create a hero. Write five paragraphs about their life, personality, physical appearance, and other basics. There was a handout without "getting to know you" type questions to guide us. Immediately after the teacher passed them around, hands flew into the air.
"Is it alright if my hero's a bear?"
"Is it alright if my hero's ninety seven years old?"
"Is it alright if my hero's schizophrenic?"
"Is it alright if my hero's a character in a story I've previously written?"
And on and on and on. The teacher said yes in every case and yet they kept coming. There were absolutely no Do Nots on the paper. But because the paper didn't say "Feel free to make your character a ninety seven year old schizophrenic bear," they thought they needed special permission.
Every year from seventh to eleventh grade, I've had my female chemistry teacher, female physics teacher, female biology teacher, female eighth grade science teacher, or my female science foundations teacher hand me pamphlets for No Boys Allowed STEM conferences. They hang posters in the counseling center and advertise them over morning announcements. From age twelve I had the idea that girls were not only allowed to pursue careers in STEM, but obligated.
Last semester I took a web design class. I never planned on going into the computer industry but I needed to plug a hole in my schedule. Besides, I'll probably have to design my own website at some point in my life, and it would teach me tidbits I could use to pretty up my blogs. When I walked in class on the first day I discovered I was one of five girls.
I purposely took a seat on the back row with two other girls. That way, I wouldn't feel stupid when I asked my neighbor a question. All my teenage life I'd been told GIRLS CAN. Stepping into the room was the first time I heard GIRL CAN'T, and even then, nobody was telling me I wasn't welcome. My friend Tianna had a similar experience. She's one of four girls taking calculus. They weren't labeled Boys' Calculus or Web Design for Guys. We can't see the gender breakdown when we sign up for class. Yet somehow, girls get the idea we aren't welcome. Perhaps we should copy the conferences and open a Girl's Calculus class.
Yes, yes, I see the problem here. What if boys think they aren't welcome either? Well, I took American Women's History last semester, and the name didn't stop three guys from enrolling. Apparently boys don't need an invitation.
It strikes me as incredibly stupid to let unspoken messages dictate your life. If you never hear them, how can you be so sure the limits exist in the first place? Look at your own life. How many classes could you take, how many stories could you write, how many lives could you change if you just stopped waiting for an invitation?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Author Interview with Natalie Whipple

Natalie Whipple grew up in the Bay Area and relocated to Utah for high school, which was quite the culture shock for her anime-loving teen self. But the Rocky Mountains eventually won her over, and she stuck around to earn her degree in English linguistics at BYU, with a minor in editing. Natalie still lives in Utah with her husband and three kids, and keeps the local Asian market in business with all her attempts to cook.

She is the author of the TRANSPARENT series, HOUSE OF IVY & SORROW, the I'M A NINJA series, and FISH OUT OF WATER. In addition to that, she is on the writing team for the cRPG Torment: Tides of Numenera that should be out sometime in 2015. Today Natalie joins us for an interview about her newest release, FISH, as well as some other titles. 

UK Cover
"People like to think fish don't have feelings – it's easier that way – but as I watch the last guppy squirm in his bag, his eyes seem to plead with me. I get the sense that it knows just as well as I do that bad things are on the horizon."

Mika Arlington has her perfect summer all planned out, but the arrival of both her estranged grandmother and too cool Dylan are going to make some very big waves in her life.

Told with Natalie Whipple's signature whip-smart wit and warmth, this is a story about prejudice, growing up and the true meaning of sticking by your family.

US Cover
1. Tell us a little more about your latest book.
FISH came from a very personal place, in that it was my way of coming to terms with some things that happened around my paternal grandmother's death. Basically, when my dad went to see her before she passed, she said she never forgave him for converting to the LDS faith, and she told my uncle she never approved of his Filipino wife. It was hard for me to accept that she would choose these kinds of things to say to her sons so close to death. It struck me as strange and beautiful that I could both love and dislike my grandmother at the same time. So I pulled these kind of dynamics into FISH because I needed to explore that muddiness in relationships for myself.

2. You've published science fiction, fantasy, and now contemporary. What's the next frontier?
I don't know! Well, I do know one thing, but it's still a secret. Hopefully I can talk about it soon:) I've been writing some fantasy and sci-fi, so there may be something there in the future. I don't know. I am not under contract for anything right now, so my horizons are wide open and unpredictable.

3. Tosh (from Relax, I'm A Ninja) and Jo (witchy girl from House of Ivy and Sorrow). Who would win in a fight?Wow, hmmm. Well, if it was JUST Tosh, I think Jo would win hands down. But if it was Tosh AND Amy against Jo...then it'd be an interesting and pretty even battle, depending on how much Jo gave up for her spells.

4. If you could hand your books to your teenage self, what would surprise her most about your writing?Probably that there's swearing in my books, ha. I was a pretty clean cut teen who followed rules like a self-righteous paladin. The sexy times in FISH would probably traumatize teen me, as well.


5. Diversity is a hot topic—as well as a hot button issue—in YA right now. Both Fish Out of Water and your Ninja series can be categorized as diverse because they have Japanese protagonists. When we talk about diversity, it usually means race, but sexuality, religion, and physical and mental disabilities have been put under that umbrella as well. How do you define diversity? 

I think you've done a good job of defining it right there. But I would define writing diversely as being aware of how you are portraying people from all walks of life, and not only that but trying to do it as authentically as possible. It's not doing it because it's "in," but because your characters come that way.

Diversity has always been an organic thing for me. I grew up in a diverse community (Bay Area), my family is diverse (I'm actually part-Maori, and half my siblings live in New Zealand where my maternal grandmother was born.), I have an anxiety disorder (social anxiety), etc. I don't necessarily add diversity on purpose, and some of my books are less diverse than others. I try to listen to my characters and learn about them, whoever they may be. And I research if I feel I don't know enough to portray who they are properly.


6. In what ways is Fish Out of Water different and similar to your previous books?
Well, clearly it's difference because it's contemporary and there are no fantastical elements. But I think it's definitely got my signature brand of "quirk" in there. Mika, the main character, has unique interests in marine biology and sand sculpture. There's all sorts of different and unexpected things in that book, I feel. But they are things I love and have personal ties to me, which is a common thing in all my work as well. 

7. I hear several scenes in FISH take place in an Indian restaurant. Will Fish Out of Water make your readers crave Indian food?
I have heard this happens at least 95% of the time;) So you've all been warned.

Curse you, Natalie. Now I'm hungry. Thanks for stopping by! 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Failsafe by Traci Hunter Abramson


Charlotte Martin is no field agent. She and her adopted father are tucked away, quietly maintaining a top-secret NSA database from their family farm. She’s only seen danger from behind a laptopuntil two armed men come calling. They kill her father but not before he can issue the failsafe protocol, leaving Charlotte as the only one who can access the system. Now she’s on the run, and with public transportation too easily tracked, she heads across the country on horseback to meet up with the only man who can help her. Charlotte will need both her tech-savvy and farm-girl skills to survive.
All Jake Bradford wanted to do was ditch his childhood home, move to New York, and become a writer. When his parents die, he’s forced to move back to Virginia and take care of his dementia-stricken grandmother. He doesn’t know how he can juggle his career and family obligationsuntil a beautiful, mysterious woman rides onto his property like a character from one of his novels.­­­
Charlotte takes a job caring for Jake’s grandmother while she lies low. She finds herself looking to her own past for the killer’s motives and even lets herself dream of romance with Jake, though she knows her father’s killers could come for her at any moment. Besides, how can she love a man when she can’t trust him with more than her alias?
Charlotte is a resourceful, savvy heroine, and many readers will appreciate the male lead being a writer. The romantic subplot eats up most of the middle portion of the book, but snippets from other characters’ points of view keep the tension up and assure the reader that Charlotte is never too far from danger. Told in third person, the story flows easily despite the high character count and many of them using aliases.
Failsafe is a suspense novel with strong romantic overtones by Whitney Award–winning author Traci Hunter Abramson.