Category Archives: books

A Wrinkle in Time Impressions

Once Upon a time in the distant time of 2001 I was eleven years old and we had a book assigned for the fifth grade class I was in. Little did I know this book would make me want to read more books and would forever change my life and how I viewed the universe and create a dream. The book I speak of is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I love this book, it led me to reading it’s sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and the spin off book (sort of) A Ring of Endless Light.

There are sketchbooks I owned that had drawing’s of Mrs.Whatsit  in her non human form, the idea of a tesseract became a concept I kept tabs on growing up and even now think about today as an adult. Despite the heavy emphasis in L’Engle’s work on physics and biology, I was more inspired to focus on writing and literature as I grew up and wanted to write for the YA genre (I ended up with a degree in environmental science).

Then in 2002 it was announced there would be a tv movie of A Wrinkle in Time by Disney. It was awful. L’Engle was asked if it met her expectations, she said “yes. I expected it to be bad, it was.” I only saw a portion of this film, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that things were dumbed down for audiences, I didn’t like the acting, I didn’t like the full happy ending presented in the film, and I felt kind of weird seeing Mr.Murrey completely naked a few years later on Queer as Folk.

I expected nothing to be done with A Wrinkle in Time after Madeleine L’Engle passed away mid 2008. I thought this would be the best for the series since her books tackled topics concerning Christianity and science which even more so today is a very touchy subject. Then a few years ago during Frozen it was announced Disney would be adapting A Wrinkle in Time to film again.

This time with Jennifer Lee from Disney’s Frozen was placed in charge of the film. My expectations started to get high; the film went with open casting meaning Meg Murrey and her brother Charles Wallace are now bi-racial. The film also cast Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which respectably.

 Despite my stalking both Witherspoon and Kaling’s instagram religiously very little about how the film looked was revealed outside of casting. I was a little curious to see Kaling in the film since I’m use to Kaling portraying divas as opposed to the wise and intellectual Mrs.Who, I even reread some of the book just to imagine Mrs.Who with Kaling’s shrills. I also wasn’t aware Oprah was an actress, but I guess she is.

When the trailer was released yesterday I was very pleased with what I saw and I hope the film does really well next year. I have high hopes for the film because I feel at this time many of the themes of A Wrinkle in Time are relevant concerning communism and there is a need for figures like the Murrey parents who are both religious, but educated and understanding on many issues in the world. And now here is the trailer to Madelein L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

Pride Month: Interview With the Wagner

Continuing with LGBT Pride Month this week I was fortunate enough to have an interview with Cody Wagner, author of The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren last night.

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BaS- Today on Books and Smizmars we have a special guest, author of the award winning book The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren Cddy Wagner

Cody-Hi! I’m also known as Cody. JK

BaS-That damn keyboard, how are you today?

Cody-Lol I’m doing good! Just worked out and had my protein shake. So life is good. (I only workout for the shake.)

BaS-I’ve never had the shake. lol

Cody-Oh I tried a bunch of different ones (some really bad) before finding one I liked.

BaS-well that’s good

Cody-Also: Thanks for interviewing me! I’m Super excited.

BaS-I’m super excited you said yes! Right then, so where did you come up with The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a SIren (TGTGtDaS)

Cody-There’s a facebook post: “He said Yes!” Well I always knew I wanted to write a YA LGBTQ book. I just didn’t know what it would be about. Some ideas were in my head (the most prominent was sorta like that Diary of a Wimpy Kid) but nothing really appealed to me. So I actually wrote a completely different manuscript. Then, one night, I was talking to my sister about Greek Mythology and we got into the Siren. Somehow, this question randomly came up: you think gay guys were immune to the Siren’s song? And that actually kick-started the book. Funnily enough, we were just joking around but the idea stuck with me. And the rest of the book fell into my head. The next day, I ditched my other manuscript and started working on TGTGtDaS

BaS-That’s awesome! It is an interesting way to come up with a story. If you don’t mind, what was the synopsis of the other book? Was it similar?

Cody-Lol It’s not even a little bit similar. Whereas TGTGtDaS is a YA LGBT, the other is adult dystopian mixed with literary history. It’s essentially about a desperate man who tries to create a religion. I honestly don’t know exactly how to categorize it, but there you go. WHen TGTGtDaS is finished, I will be hopping back onto it.

BaS-Good to hear, I look forward to it when TGTGtDaS is finished. How was TGTGtDaS witten? Was it planned or made up as you went along?

Cody– So writers are sometimes designated as “pantsers” or “planners”. Pantsers fly by the seats of their pants and make it up as they go. Planners plan things out. I’d say I fall somewhere in the middle. I’ve tried just sitting down and writing. But, oh man, did I write some garbage! I have to begin with some direction. So I typically have a loose outline telling what each chapter is about (in just a few sentences.) Then I go in and blow them out. I don’t plan too much more than that because there’s this cool thing that happens: sometimes, characters take over the story and they end up doing something different than you expected.

BaS- I’ve heard that happen with a few authors.

Cody-Admittedly, book 2 was a bit different. I didn’t have every chapter planned out. I only had the next one or two chapters in my head and that’s it. The rest of the book ahead of that was blank.

BaS-oh wow

Cody-I think a more practical way to put it is that when you’re writing a scene, you’re immersed in the emotion that can cause things to play out differently. Yeah. Book 2 was EXTREMELY difficult for me. I always thought sequels would be easier. They definitely are not.

BaS-I believe you. Just getting one book finished is exhausting, then you gotta do it again!

Cody-Yep, exactly! And you have to market as .well.

BaS-ah. What influences went into writing TGTGtDaS

Cody-You mean who/what influenced the story?

BaS-Correct

Cody-Yes! I understood correctly! Ok I have to give a shout out to Harry Potter. It definitely played a part. In TGTGtDaS, the main character, Blaize, is sent off to a boarding school that is *very* different than it appears. It’s not a school of witchcraft or anything, but the feel is similar in that Blaize’s real home is at school. I also loved that, although there are sad/serious moments, Harry Potter also has times of joy. I wanted that in this book. While Blaize goes through some awful stuff, he also has a lot of fun. I also have to say that young me (trademark pending) influenced the book. I grew up in a tiny homophobic town. And I wanted to give young me an escape so I wrote the book for him. Honestly, the book is for all those kids like me, the ones who wanted to be themselves but weren’t able to. I’ve had several reviewers say the book reminds them a bit of gay Harry Potter and I think that’s the highest compliment.

BaS-I actually did get a Harry Potter vibe from it based on it being a boarding school with fun shenanigans happening.

Cody-SWEET!

BaS-Par of me did also wonder if there was a bit of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in there based on the title.

Cody-Oh Really? Interesting. I’ve never actually seen the show.

BaS-It was a great show, it’s not on Netflix anymore.

Cody– I have tons of friends who loved it. I’ll have to ask the ones who read the book if they also saw similarities.

BaS-Great! Why did you choose to have TGTGtDaS as a YA book?

Cody-Because I really wanted to give something to younger people who might be suffering or questioning or just curious. I don’t try to claim that my book is the be-all-end-all. But I’m just trying to show that gay kids are like everyone else. That’s one thing I worked really hard at with TGTGtDaS. I didn’t want a book about gay teens. I wanted a book about teens who just happened to be gay. And they go through the same stuff everyone does. I also deal with bullying as it’s something I dealt with as a kid. Bullying sucks (when I was a kid, older guys raised me up a flagpoles by my belt loop!!!). But looking back, I saw that it really does get better. And I want to try to convey some of that to teens.

BaS-I actually did notice you spent more time on the cast as regular teens rather than stereotypes, THANK YOU! And holy crap a flagpole? That’s actually physically possible and not something on tv?

Cody-You’re welcome, I’m basically a 14-year-old myself sooooo. Oh my belt loop broke like 10 feet up. Luckily I grabbed the pole and managed to slide down.

BaS- that sounds slightly less painful than falling onto concrete.

Cody-Very much yes! But imagine sliding down into the waiting arms of bullies. It was like slow motion. Maybe one day I’ll write a story about it.

BaS-oh dear, that does sound pretty awful.

Cody-I think those experiences can make us better people. More sympathetic or just kinder. I’m definitely not saying I’m perfect. But I’m actually glad it happened in a way.

BaS-Understandable. Now that you bring that up, there is a character named Jimmy who is bullied by two of his peers, was he your outlet for the events that happened to you?

Cody-Yes. Blaize is my outlet for wanting to be popular. Oh man, I thought being popular would solve all my problems. I put those jocks on a pedestal in high school. And I really wanted to have Blaize deal with that. Regarding bullying, Jimmy is definitely my bullying outlet. He feels a lot of things I did. It was cathartic writing that and watching Jimmy come around. Honestly, I started the book with the intention of making Jimmy unlikable. But then I felt what he was going through and he grew into probably my favorite character in the book. He actually changed as I wrote him.

BaS-It was an interesting form of character development to read through. You already answered this, but to continue on the subject, is there any of you in Blaize?

Cody-Oh very much yes. He’s goofy and unsure, just like I was. And he has lots of mouth diarrhea like I used to. On the other hand, though, I was a VERY oblivious teenager. I think it’s what got me through. And I was also very self-involved. Blaize is actually pretty intuitive and aware of his faults (even if he doesn’t fix them). That’s very different from how I was.

BaS-To be fair I think most teens are still oblivious, it must be the hormones.

Cody- That’s very true! LOL

BaS-ANy real life inspirations for other characters in your book (besides Hermione)?

Cody-As I mentioned, Jimmy is based on someone from my childhood. Also, Molly (Blaize’s little sister) is loosely based on my sister. We just talked about kids being oblivious, but my sister was the exception. So hyper aware and extremely sensitive. And I pulled that into Molly. I just love her. As you noticed, Cassie is loosely based on Hermione. I think some differences will come out in book 2 (#spoileralert LOL :)). Surprisingly, Roze isn’t really based on a specific person. I just knew what I wanted her to be and gave her characteristics to match.

BaS-How nice! Does your sister know that Molly is based on her?

Cody- Hmmmm…I don’t think so, actually. That’s because Roze originally had my sister’s name in a very early draft and I ended up changing it. So she’s bitter LOL.

BaS-oh dear! Better get a new character to fix that up! JK

Cody- LOL! In the first draft, every character was named after someone I knew. Then I went back and changed them all. I think she’d be happy knowing Molly is based on her.

BaS-I’m sure she would. The next few questions are going to be a little bit about the world of TGTGtDaS, if there are spoilers just say so.

Cody-Sounds good!

BaS-Does anyone besides the main protagonist Blaize and his friends know about the mysterious Siren?

Cody-Oh gosh. Well, I think, by the end of book one, readers strongly suspect the school knows. That’s probably obvious. But that is addressed in book 2. I just can’t say how. Yet. Mwhahahaha!

Bas-I’m gasping in shock!

Cody-Lol! I’m sensing some sarcasm? If not, um, sorry!

BaS-It’s a little bit of actual response and sarcasm lol.

Cody-Lol I just have a big mouth! And I have to be careful. For reals. I’ve been known to just blurt out horrible spoilers. That’s how I’m like Blaize.

BaS-oh dear, maybe you should troll your fans by giving outrageous unlikely events in place?

Cody-OH OK here goes: At the end of book 2, Blaize wakes up and realizes everything was just a dream!!!

BaS-Funny thing, I had suspected the Harry Potter series would end like that (spoiler, it doesn’t.) Concerning the school, the students do have access to a computer in their rooms, do some students ever use their computers to log onto social media services such as facebook and twitter? It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while lol.

Cody-If Harry Potter had ended like that, I would have thrown my books out the window!!!

BaS-Yikes, that would have killed someone!

Cody- Yeah, so there’s a good question. I don’t dive into it much. Here’s the thing: I have to give a LOT of faith to the students at Sanctuary. Given social media and everything, it would be really hard to conceal the school’s true nature. Especially with hundreds of hormonal teenagers, LOL. But I really want it to seem like, despite their differences, the students know what’s at stake if they “spill the beans.” So I assume they use social media. But they’d post only trvial things. Most, if not all, don’t want people to know they’re in a “healing” school. So they wouldn’t be posting “I’m having cleansing corn today!” LOL That’s why I don’t go into it so much. As they wouldn’t share anything relevant to the story. Does that make sense at all? I will say YouTube becomes more prominent in book 2. But that’s all I’ll say.

BaS- Oh sweet, I love YouTube!

Cody-Yeah I spend way too much time on it.

BaS-Concerning the school, it is said that students will be expelled concerning the secret being revealed; are there any families that are aware of the secret, but sent their children there for other reasons (such as bullying or harassment from a normal school)?

Cody-Oh gosh. Another great question. And one that will be addressed. So I’m trying to think how much to say. The thing is, that’s not going to be dealt with until book 3. So if I don’t answer…well, it will be a while.

BaS-Understandable, final bit of questions concerning the school; Any teachers dating each other, has a student ever been expelled for just having the worst grades, and how good are those healing hamburgers?

Cody-LOL Fun questions! Yes! Teachers are dating. In book one, two teachers hold hands at orientation. I’ve thought some about Adkins and Principal Wolcott. Maybe some details will emerge at some point. No one has been expelled for grades. Again my book takes the liberty in assuming that these kids want to be at Sanctuary so badly they will do enough to stay there…Even if it’s barely enough. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But, I think if sanctuary really existed and provided what it does, the students would REALLY REALLY want to be there. OH! LOL The food is actually based on the cafeteria at Texas Tech University. I ate lunch and dinner there every day for a year. Sometimes it was good. And sometimes it was gross. LOL I’d say the Healing Hamburgers are decent.

BaS-Oh wow, I hope none of the cafeteria workers at Texas Tech put two and two together.

Cody-I’m sure they won’t as that probably describes most cafeterias in the country.

BaS- True; considering many books are being adapted into movies and television shows, how would you feel about TGTGtDaS beng adapted into on or the other and who would be your ideal cast?

Cody-Uh that would be AMAZING. Like truly amazing, because that means people read the book and want more. That’s like the dream. THE DREAM!!! So I thought about the cast and it was really hard thinking of people who fit the characters in my eyes…until… I watched Ben Platt on the Tony’s. He’s the star in a musical called Dear Evan Hansen. And after I saw him: I realized he’s Blaize. He’s the perfect Blaize: endearing, goofy, etc.

BaS- He was also in Pitch Perfect.

Cody-Yep! I didn’t think much of him then, but his performance in Dear Evan Hansen is amazing. And I’m a singer as well so I was really surprised by his voice.

BaS-That’s good to hear, maybe they can sneak in some musical numbers.

Cody-LOL! TGTGtDaS: The Musical, I’m totally down! When Principal Wolcott reveals the true nature of the school, that would be a touching number!

BaS-it would! Just a few more questions before we finish things up.

Cody- OK shoot!

BaS-Who are your favorite authors? DId any of them provide some extra inspiration for TGTGtDaS?

Cody-Not sure, I don’t read. Kidding.

BaS- I was about to throw my laptop across the room in shock!

Cody-John Irving made me want to write. When I read A Prayer For Owen Meany, I was so touched, I decided I wanted to make people feel that way. He’s a beautiful writer. Naturally, I’m also drawn to JK Rowling. She made me bawl in book 7 so I have to give credit where credit is due. She’s also AMAZING at telling back story. I also love Neil Gaiman and his stuff. Also, while their books may not be my favorite, I’m sometimes drawn to authors by their writing style. For example, Jonathan Franzen writes some of the most amazing sentences.

BaS-Very interesting, also fun fact: both JK Rowling and Neil Gaiman have been on The Simpsons.

Cody-Really? Oh that *is* a fun fact! That’s like how you know you’ve made it: when you’re a voice on The Simpsons.

BaS-Yes, maybe one day both of us will end up animated with yellow skin.

Cody- Or I’ll just get jaundice and pretend.

BaS-haha. Finally what can we expect in the second book in TGTGtDaS? Bonus question: will we see you at Texas Teen Book Festival 2017?

Cody- Oh gosh. OK. Well, on a higher level, the book is much faster than book 1. Stuff starts hitting the fan and it never really stops. Especially as Blaize tries to decide if he wants people to know about his new power. Naturally, the Siren kicks up her efforts. How? I can’t say, but it becomes imperative that Blaize stop her. It’s really a cat and mouse game for much of book 2. Also, Blaize may or may not fall for someone. That’s all I can say. Well at this point, I will *definitely* be at the Texas Teen Book Festival. I had *such* a great time last year! It was amazing! One of the best festivals I’ve ever been to.

BaS-Yay! Hopefully I’ll be able to make it too. THank you so much for giving Books and Smizmars your time for this interview.

Cody-Awesome, I hope to see you! You are SOO very welcome! I hope it’s not the last interview as it was super fun! And I hope you have an amazing evening!

BaS-Thank you, to you as well!

That was Cody Wagner author of the YA book The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren. You can visit Cody’s website at http://www.wagner-writer.com/ and his Good Reads page at https://www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer.

Why Not Me Review

Today we are reviewing Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling. I am a big fan of Mindy Kaling as many of you know and I honestly put little to no effort in fighting back against my own rule I set for myself on my book ban until I read ten of the books on my “to read” list. I really liked this book, getting another taste of Mindy Kaling is always a nice thing, you know it, I know it, and Hulu especially knows it!

Hey look bold text, normally that means there’s spoilers ahead, but the joke is on you, you can’t spoil real life.

This book we catch up with Mindy’s life and what she’s been up to since her last book. We get a closer look on her life pre-The Office fame, some last few thoughts on weddings and friendships, and the one thing that led me to her existence. THE MINDY PROJECT! Oh and some nonsense about meeting former president Obama and having a minor fling with someone who works for him.

I’ll be honest and say the main thing I cared about in this book is how she described her life in The Mindy Project; how she got the show on FOX in the first place when NBC didn’t want to give her a pity show after The Office ended, how she had anxiety writing and producing her own show, the horrors of her tv show being cancelled by Fox, and how Hulu saved her show from a horrible fate.

I will admit I was a little disappointed with this book since I was so happy with her previous work. As previously stated I was happy with the background information on The Mindy Project, but other than that the book may fall into “chick lit” for some.

There were two main points of the book that were close to me; Mindy’s mother and her life advice to Mindy. Prior to reading this book I was under the assumption both of Mindy’s parents were still alive and watched The Mindy Project and have a good laugh at their daughter. Sadly Mindy’s mother passed away prior to the premier of TMP, and reading about the kind of woman, doctor, and parent she was made an impact on me. From things like knowing who was a good friend and who were false friends, to removing trophies because “they were given to be nice, not earned”. Even knowing that she managed to give advice to The Mindy Project before passing away is heartwarming.

Then there’s Mindy talking about body image and self confidence. How it’s impossible to love your body, but also knowing to be happy regardless of how you look naked. Finally there was a lovely essay at the end of the novel concerning having self confidence that was really nice.

I give Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling three and a half mcdonalds Mcflurries.

The Subject of Race and Ethnicity

Today I read a blogpost called You can’t do that! Stories have to be about white people and it reminded me of a subject I had been wanting to write about for a while that isn’t about the representation of gays in the media (btw yes I will review When We Rise when I see it in it’s entirety), Christianity, or essays on genres. Today we are talking about race and how the default protagonist is still white. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but it’s something that still happens. and as Darren Chetty mentioned in his blog post if you want to write about someone who is black or of another race, you have to make your story about the fact they are black/their race (as in your black character has to struggle with racism, they can’t just be black), because if your protagonist isn’t white, it doesn’t sell books as well.

What do you mean you have to make the story about a person’s race if they’re not white?

One of the things I loathed hearing about in middleschool, highschool and my first few years of college was people assuming I would write about my Mexican heritage. Like THAT was the only thing ticking in my mind. It’s not a bad thing, but every time we read stories about Mexicans in school it was always about struggle and how life was shitty for the main protagonist.

Granted I acknowledge that these authors were writing about their own life experiences and respect their stories and life struggles, but my life wasn’t their story and isn’t that story to tell. I had my own struggles, they were nothing like the struggles seen in Hispanic literature. In comparison my life would be seen as a piece of cake by those authors and my struggles would be labeled as a first world problem (which sadly they are).

As I mentioned above Chetty did mention that if I ever write a story with a Mexican protagonist, I gotta write about Mexican heritage or problems or my book (allegedly) isn’t selling squat! For publishers to even consider publishing my book, my protagonist has to either have Mexican problems or have his whole plot centered around coming out as gay (yes I snuck that in too).

What about the TV?

Television has been interesting about race; let’s start with Star Trek the original series. It had Nichelle Nichols playing Nyota Uhura and George Takei playing Hikaru Sulu. A “black woman on the tv who wasn’t a maid” (as described by Whoopi Goldberg) and a Japanese man (who would later come out as a proud homosexual) portraying characters on a science fiction show treated as equal to their colleagues despite their ethnicity.

It took a while for both movies and tv to move past have characters of different races be portrayed as characters beyond just being token minority (it’s debatable if Uhura or Sulu were token minorities). As a kid in the 90’s I saw tokenism at it’s extreme in afterschool specials, and educational television. I remember this one show shown to us at school called The Human Race Club where all the races and ethnicities were represented…and led by a blond haired blue eyed kid with glasses (it had a smart Asian girl, a black kid who liked basketball, a tom boy ginger, and a fat kid).

There was also Power Rangers; three fifth’s of the main five rangers were white (Jason, Kimberly, Billy) with Zack and Trini as the token black and asian without the producers ever realizing that they assigned Zack and Trini as the black and yellow ranger to match their races until it was too late. There was also Tommy who was later revealed to be of Native American decent, not sure if it counts though since it took four seasons to reveal that. This was fixed later when Austin St. John, Walter Emanuel Jones, and Thuy Trang left the show with Rocky (Steve Cardenas), Aisha (Karen Ashley), and Adam (Johnny Yong Bosch) as the new red, yellow, and black rangers respectively of Hispanic, black, and Asian/Jewish ethnicities included.

After the first season, Power Rangers has actually been pretty good about representation of all the races and even had a few ranger teams where the girl or a black person IS the leader (Alien Rangers, Turbo, Time Force, SPD, RPM, Dino Charge). Still no female red ranger though…

Captain Planet also had a minorateam, with the only white American usually being the whiner who had to learn a lesson in the episode. If any of the other members had a plot devoted to them, they were not the whiner. Trust me.

On the CW DC television something interesting happened; races of characters were changed from white to whatever the creators wanted. The whole West family? Black. Jimmy Olson is no longer a adorkable ginger, but is now a hunky black guy with dreamy eyes for Kara and the audience to oogle at (don’t worry, Kara has an adorkable tech friend for fans who are into that sort of thing to oogle at too). There is the issue too some that even though diversity has been added to the cast of these shows, the leads are still white people. With the addition of Legends of Tomorrow (with no MAIN character, but rather having a team lead) and Vixen (female African american (she actually is from Africa)) things are nice and diverse in the live action DC universe.

Because I can’t cover ALL media, here are some honorable mentions. Codename Kids Next Door (it’s like The Human Race Club, except bigger budget and isn’t corny), Star Wars The Clone Wars/Rebels (they have aliens, it counts), W.I.T.C.H. (multiraced badass magical girls), Steven Universe, and Drawn Together (look that show was hilarious regardless of what today’s politically correct millenials will post on Tumblr)

TV comedies (Ugly Betty, The Mindy Project, and Fresh Off the Boat)

It seems races and ethnicities get an easier time at representing different races. In some cases, rather than playing their race for the sake of drama and story telling, they play them for comedy. In the case of Ugly Betty, being of Mexican decent wasn’t a big deal too often. While the show did fall victim to relying on problems faced by immigrants today (for the first and second season Betty’s father was illegally in the US), Betty’s heritage is played for laughs except for one episode (Mark said Betty only got a job to fill a token Mexican spot).

The Mindy Project is awesome; Mindy’s Indian heritage is a joke most of the time and has only been the subject of drama once when Mindy was scared that her son would only know of his Indian half based on a Indian food menu on Mindy’s fridge. Bonus points for Mindy being the subject to large amounts of slapstick humor during the show despite being a woman.

Fresh Off the Boat is a touchy subject; despite being based on the memoirs of Eddy Huang, Huang hates the show feeling they turned his emotional outlet of rap and hiphop and life struggles into one dumb asian joke for the other races to laugh at. Eddy Huang if you ever read this I am sorry, but it is a hilarious show, I have read your book and I understand your anger concerning the show. If it makes you feel better, it has given more exposure to asian actors and actresses.

A Wrinkle in Time movie adaption (this time it won’t be awful)

As many have heard Madeleine L’engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is getting a film adaption with an open cast. Meg Murry being played by Storm Reid and the rest of the Murry family (minus Chris Pine’s character) now black. To add to this Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which will be portrayed by Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey respectively (gotta read that book again and imagine Mrs. Who shrilling like Kaling now).

What can one do to add diversity to books and entertainment?

I’m not sure actually, but you can start by reading The Lunar Chronicles since it does have a racially diverse cast. And tell your favorite authors “hey, I would like some diversity in the fiction you are producing.” Support authors who do write about characters of different backgrounds. Write your own stories about these things fight to get them to be published, I know I am with my books.

 

Towers Falling Review

Towers Falling follows the first semester of eleven year old Deja as she begins a new school year at a new school in New York City. She becomes friends with classmates Sabeen and Ben and the three grow strong bonds despite being of different race, religion, and social class and have these bonds grow stronger while learning of the events of September Eleventh and how this tragedy strengthened their bond.

Spoilers from this point forward.

The book starts off with Deja narrating her life and her responsibilities in life despite being only eleven years old. Deja and her family recently moved into a homeless shelter with little to nothing to claim to their name with her mother working during the day and her father suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When Deja begins fifth grade she feels out of place because she is of lower income than the rest of her classmates.

She meets Sabeen whom she finds too friendly and befriends a classmate Ben. Over the course of the novel the three classmates become close friends. I actually like that Jewel Parker Rhodes chose to have Deja, Ben, and Sabeen be from different races and social classes and have the three characters bond despite these differences.

Sabeen comes from a higher income family and is very kindhearted and friendly to many people because of the American ideology of welcoming all people regardless of social class, race, or religion and because of her own Muslim faith. Ben is the more reserved of the three from Arizona who has a dad in the military who is divorcing his mother.

Because of a school assignment the three friends bond over the events of September Eleventh; Deja is out of the loop concerning September Eleventh due to her family choosing not to speak of the day with Sabeen feeling very sensitive about the subject due to her own religion. Ben on the other hand is very knowledgeable of the subject due to his father being a veteran from The War on Terror.

Choosing to have all three characters born post September Eleventh was an interesting choice by the author since it’s a clean slate for them to have no trauma from the events of the day. Ben is the only character to have seen footage of the actual day with Sabeen only knowing about the events of the day due to her family explaining to her about what happened and why she’s occasionally discriminated against because of it.

Deja’s world begins to turn around for both better and worse after seeing video footage of the day for the first time and asking her parents about the day and discovering the day is heavily connected to her father’s PTSD.

I very much enjoyed the book event though I didn’t realize the book was for a younger YA audience when I bought it, it treats it’s target audience with respect that isn’t seen too often in younger YA novels. I will admit there were times the writing style got on my nerves, but I had to remember it’s written from the perspective of Deja who even though is very intelligent, isn’t doing as well as she can in school due to lack of resources in her home life.

I’d say Sabeen was my favorite character who was genuinely kind for the sake of being kind rather than “I’ll just be friends with the new kids because they’re new”. I was a little disappointed Sabeen wasn’t present for the climax of the novel.

I felt the climax of the novel was very touching and glad to see that the actions taken by Deja and Ben were not met with anger and punishment from their parents, but with love and understanding and how these actions led to Deja’s father beginning the slow recovery from his PTSD.

There are strong themes of connection between people in general beyond family relations extending to friendships, social units, coworkers, classmates, and even just regularly seeing a person on a daily basis. A strong message of bringing and finding joy and beauty in life after a tragedy is present along with these themes.

I give Towers Falling by Jewel Parker Rhodes four out of five pretty scarves.

Wires and Nerve Review

Just when you thought you were done with The Lunar Chronicles, you were wrong. Granted I don’t think anyone thought things were done with The Lunar Chronicles, but things seemed to be fairly wrapped up. With the announcement of the graphic novel Wires and Nerve surrounding the character Iko I was under the impression it was a retelling through Iko’s perspective, I was slightly wrong.

Minor spoilers from this point onward.

Wires and Nerve functions as a continuation to The Lunar Chronicles showing the current lives of Cinder and her friends and aside from Cinder and company trying to tie up loose ends, things are more or less happy. We have Cress and Thorne travelling the world providing vaccinations for Letumosis and sight seeing, Scarlet and Wolfe living a happy quiet life in France, Winter acting as ambassador for Luna, Kai is working on convincing citizens to consider an operation to help resist the influences of The Lunar Gift, and Cinder is trying to convince the citizens of Luna that they do not need a monarchy to continue functioning.

The book’s main focus is Iko and her mission to hunt down the remaining Lunar soldiers on Earth to bring them to justice. However things are more complicated as they appear; with the army of Lunar soldiers on earth feeling Cinder is the same of Levana and would just have them return to their previous way of life.

The graphic novel is well paced and the story is very good, however the artwork of Doug Holgate did put me off at first. As I continued the story along I accepted this was the artstyle chosen for the graphic novel and decided to just go along with it since the story was really good anyways.

My only complaint is, it’s to be continued, like what the hell? I give Wires and Nerve four out of five fancy crowns.

Is Everyone Hanging Our Without Me (and other concerns) Review

Last October I had the opportunity to meet Mindy Kaling and get a book signed by her; sadly this opportunity was destroyed by my friend Sam and I not realizing that other people are huge fans of Mindy Kaling, that and I had some anxiety issues kick in and some other annoying complicated shit that kept me from meeting Mindy at Texas Teen Book Festival 2016 (don’t worry, this is the last time you’ll probably hear of Texas Teen Book Festival 2016 on this blog).

We got to hear a live conversation with Mindy, sadly I did not get to ask my question about how old Mindy was when she lost her Anne Rice virginity (I was 19 when that happened btw). I decided to buy her book anyways despite these two setbacks. I had discovered Mindy Kaling through the television (now Hulu exclusive) show The Mindy Project. It is one of my favorite tv shows and when I heard I might meet Mindy I was happy. For now I have to settle for seeing her in the distance and that I have probably breathed in air she farted in.

Upon realizing how big my list of books to read is I figured I should read ten of these books before purchasing more books, so I grabbed Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me and started reading.

Hey there are no spoilers, it’s kind of hard to spoil a story of real life considering Mindy Kaling has a really funny tv show. I just really like typing out these warnings in bold font to be honest.

I was partially convinced that this would be another piece dealing with race, gender, and family struggles because sadly that is what is expected with minorities. I was wrong! Within a few pages I was literally laughing out loud at what Mindy had to say to the individual who purchased her book.

The book is semi autobiographical, but it felt more like a conversation with Mindy; Mindy does touch upon authentic friendships and how some friendships in life die even though we don’t want them too. There is mention of assholes that will be present in life, struggling with post college life and “making it” as a writer for tv and as an actress, and other things present in life.

I thought it was kind of cool that Mindy is a little nutty in her book and that being plus sized isn’t a big deal to her. As predicted Mindy is someone very relocatable to (to a scary degree with me on everything except that I don’t think Will Ferrell movies are funny). My only complaint is that she did spend a lot of time talking about The Office and I’ve never watched The Office, so it’s more of a problem I have rather than the book has.

I give Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns) three and a half cupcakes out of five. btw who ate half my cupcake!

My Problem With “Coming Out” Stories

I’ve said many times that I am not fond of coming out stories. They aren’t bad stories, and when I was younger I read a few of them and enjoyed them. I understand why lgbt youth would like these stories because it gives them something to relate to. Having a secret that must be kept out of fear of alienation from loved ones and peers is a big deal and can end with family and loved ones accepting you as you are, learning to love your difference, or downright throwing you out of the house.

Good Golly, This Shit Again?

It makes sense to me that whenever the main protagonist in mainstream media is gay that this is the primary conflict of the story since it allows readers/watchers who aren’t part of the lgbt community to get an idea of what it is like to be in the shoes of someone who isn’t straight.

However this brings the problem that I have mentioned and danced around in many blog posts/essays. It becomes a gimmick; while lgbt fiction and culture can still have a coming out part of a story, it wouldn’t take up the whole story or series. It would be one portion the protagonists life, then the protagonist will move on and do other things. In mainstream media outside of the lgbt category this is not the case.

An example I will use is the movie Gay Best Friend; I watched it on Netflix, thought it was hilarious, and I was pleased that the movie went deeper than what I expected out of a teen comedy. There was still the main conflict of coming out of the closet and how that action had waves of chain reactions because the main protagonist was accidentally and unwillingly outed as gay. Although the main protagonist does claim get over the fact his peers know he is gay, it is the primary source of conflict between him and those responsible for his outing towards the end of the second act and even after is only fully resolved at the end of the film.

The Proper Way to Handle a Coming out Story (your mileage may vary)

I feel this type of story works out better on tv rather than movies or books; my two main examples will be the shows Ugly Betty and Glee. On Ugly Betty there were quite a few lgbt characters on the show; Marc St.James, Justin Suarez, Alexis Mead (behold a trans character no one made a big deal about in the year 2006!), and a few more. At the time of it’s premier only Marc and his love interests could officially be slated as gay since it was still a taboo for someone as young as Justin’s character to be officially stated as gay so the topic of his sexuality was danced around, but never confirmed until season 4. My guess is since Justin was in highschool things became more fair game for the character.

At first Justin states he isn’t gay with Marc (he’s kind of his mentor and a close friend despite being much older than Justin) understanding Justin’s situation and being patient with Justin as he talked about his feelings towards both genders and his friendships with characters that are barely ever mentioned. When it was announced Ugly Betty was cancelled it was pretty obvious the writers decided to stop giving shits about people in the audience getting offended and had Justin make out with a boy. Bonus points for everyone in Justin’s family knowing the whole time and very excitedly willingly to throw him a coming out party (even Marc is happy to see the Suarez family is so loving of Justin and proud of him despite being pissed off with them more or less wanting Justin to confirm his sexuality).

With Glee, we had Kurt, goodness he is gayer than Christmas. He was sarcastic, wore clothes that ranged from cool to ‘wha’ regularly and had an easier time “coming out” on television thanks to Ugly Betty. While Glee did premier during the last season of Ugly Betty, the later show did lay some groundwork that would make things Glee did easier to do on tv (do you REALLY think Glee would/could have had Kurt and Blaine’s intense makeout session had Justin and Austin not had theirs one year before?)

I admit there were times I found Kurt very annoying primarily because at the start of the show he was more or less the gay stereotype that viewers are supposed to see and say “oh, they’re gay! I didn’t have to think about it.” His coming out to his dad in the first season was very touching though. With Kurt’s dad behaving very loving unconditionally towards his son from that point onward to the end of the series even sticking up for Kurt when Kurt was doing something inappropriate (not cool pushing yourself on Finn when he has politely stated he is not gay and not interested countless times, thank goodness that gets addressed too.)

Like in Gay Best Friend there are waves of side affects that result in Kurt coming out of the closet that lead to bullying, harassment, and other characters growing and developing complete with Kurt more or less ditching the gay stereotype he started out as by the end of the series.

There’s also the character Santana’s own coming out story that started out as a throwaway gag of her having sex with her best friend. Not much detail is given concerning how her parents react outside of “yeah, they’re cool with it,” but she was outed by accident and things more or less go ok for her outside of her grandmother having very strict religious beliefs that “girls belong with boys, not other girls”.

I’d like to make special mention to the ABC Family show Greek; I didn’t see much of it (I just didn’t care to watch it) but there was a gay character with no gay traits who did have a very well handled coming out arc and developed past coming out from that point on. Feel free to correct me on this internet.

Other Media

My reasoning for saying television is the best way to have a coming out story is because it allows the character to stay in main focus and have the coming out arc then move past said arc and grow as a character without said conflict being the whole purpose of the character.

While this is possible in books, I have read few mainstream books where the main protagonist is gay, comes out, and does something other than come out as gay. Movies are even harder because more than likely you only have ninety to a hundred and twenty minutes of story to go through and having the protagonist “come out” can take up more time than expected with the possibility that said action can become the main conflict of a movie.

I’ve reviewed the books The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren and Will Grayson Will Grayson and I was very happy with how it was handled. In Will Grayson Will Grayson ‘coming out’ as an arc is treated like taking off a bandaid, quick. It allowed Will to move beyond that conflict and for other conflicts to be explored concerning love and relationships in terms of romance, friendship, and agape.

As I said in my review of The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren after the main character is outed as gay and goes to sanctuary prep and neat shenanigans happen from that point on. Although I dreaded the coming out portion it was there as the main plot point to set the story in motion and yes echos are felt from the protagonist coming out as gay.

 

If You’re so Knowledgeable then Why Don’t YOU do a Coming Out Story?

I have said previously that the book I am working on right now will not have a coming out plot. In the process of writing this blog post I have realized that really is an asshole thing of me to say I won’t do a coming out story. No I won’t add a coming out part to the story I am working on, but that doesn’t mean I will never do a coming out story.

Maybe later on I will find a way for myself to write a story where coming out is just one event in a protagonist’s tale and move on past it with the character able to grow beyond that event.

Once again please look up and purchase The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, it is a great story, I have met the author and have had fun facebook conversations with him.

Six of Crows Review

Things will be a little different for this review; for the first time I have listened to a story rather than reading it. In an effort to try to read all of Six of Crows before my friend and I could go to Texas Teen Book Festival I purchased the audiobook of Six of Crows. I must say it was an interesting experience.

At first I had thought I could listen to the book while doing schoolwork, but I realized that was not the case with how my mind works in terms of concentration and stories. I did find that listening to the book while cleaning, walking, and waiting was a more enjoyable experience rather than listening and doing work.

The act of listening to a story was a little hard to get use to, especially considering how thick the book is, I actually appreciated that multiple narrators were used for the story rather than relying on one narrator, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of them had background as voice actors in anime at some points. I will admit it was a little more difficult to retain what I listened to and felt things came along far more easily halfway through the story when I started reading the hardcopy book while listening to the story.

Now for the Actual Book Review

I wasn’t sure what to expect when my friend lent me her copy of Six of Crows, all I recall is that she asked me to take a photo of it alongside some lgbt books I had. At the time I took the photo my head was in a whirlwind of life concerns and a week later I wondered what was in the book that it had to have a photo taken alongside my lgbt books.

I was very pleased with the story; I had never really read a heist type of story, especially one like this with nearly all the protagonists ready to kill with only a few of them with actual heroic qualities (Matthias, Inej, Nina) and our primary protagonist Kaz being far from a hero. There’s also Jesper a gambling addict and Wylin who is the only protagonist not to get his own point of view chapter.

There are many moments of cross and doublecross between the protagonists as they are all hired to kidnap a scientist behind a powerful drug that can turn gifted people known as Grisha into nearly unstoppable forces and become addicted to the drug known as parem. The book is a nice relief of uniqueness in the YA I’ve read recently with many high points and my particular favorite character being Nina the Grisha.

My only regret is not being in the best mood when I met the author Leigh Bardugo at the Texas Teen Book Festival as I got her to autograph the copy I purchased for a friend of mine. Unfortunately waiting in lines constantly brought out the worst in me and if you ever read this Leigh Bardugo, I really am sorry for my attitude and please forgive me for not being happy that you took the time to speak with your fans about your book and what they loved about it. Sam I am sorry for bitching half the time while waiting in line.

I give Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Six knives named after saints out of Six.

Thank you Mom and Dad for Letting me Follow and Fail at my Dreams

Hopefully in a month I will have finally finished my bachelor’s in environmental science. It’s been a very odd ride and I’d be lying if I said it was amazing 100% the whole time, because there were some years that really sucked.

As I mentioned a few times a month ago I went to the Texas Teen Book Festival in Austin and I noticed that a main theme from the talks from the authors was following your dreams. Mindy Kaling actually gave advice in how to succeed via the academic rout of entertainment while YA author Laini Taylor mentioned that sometimes following your dreams involves living a harder life or possibly even keeping it as a part time thing in terms of income.

Today I’d like to thank my parents for doing something many parents are unsure about when raising their procreation statistic from birth to eighteen (or sooner). From friends that are parents I’ve been told that they do feel bad about telling their kids to a certain rout of academia for the sake of job security. My parents did something different than most other parents, they let me follow my dreams. Granted I didn’t really have goals as a teenager. I had other concerns in life that at the time made up most of my anxiety than most of my peers.

Dreams

I did have three dreams though; become an author or writer, become a YouTube celebrity, go into stand up comedy. During highschool I did go through the culinary arts program, and although I did love it very much and got accepted to Cordon Bleu, I had to be honest with myself and realize I couldn’t handle the stress of being a chef (ironically those skills have proved the most useful in my adult life). The dream of being a YouTube celebrity was also thrown out the window since I had no access to fancy recording equipment (I got my first digital camera at 18) and YouTube just wasn’t what it is now at the time. So that left being an author or writer.

I was never open about being a stand up comedian, essentially because I was quiet with everyone but my small group of friends. In Speech class when we were offered to do a presentation as our final exam, I asked if I could do five minutes of stand up. My teacher gave me the greenlight under the condition that I couldn’t swear, make any innuendos, insult or make fun of my classmates, no racial slurs (not even poking fun at hispanic heritage), and plagiarize any other stand up routines. I followed the guidelines, got my classmates to laugh, and got an A+. I followed my better judgment and set aside that dream.

When I expressed my dream of being an author many adults thought it applied to being a journalist (they may have been onto something since I do enjoy doing book and movie reviews). When I said I wanted to write stories other adults would pull the race card and think I wanted to write about my Hispanic heritage and whatever struggles I had in life based on it. And while I think those stories are great and I can relate to a few of them, it’s a gimmick and we all know how I feel about those.

What I wanted to write about was essentially my own stories of a variety of people joining forces and overcoming differences to fight evil, badass girls using magic to save the day, and to be honest I wanted to write lgbt stories from the start. I wanted to write lgbt characters doin things you didn’t see them doing at the time (and even now don’t see them doing so often), I wanted to write them as something beyond the stereotype of flashy clothes, being bitchy, etc. I wanted to show them as performing cool magic stuff, using swords, having layers in their personality beyond “token gay friend”.

The Reality of Following Dreams

First there is nothing wrong with following your dreams, but it requires work. Maybe it’s because the college I applied to last minute and got a scholarship for doesn’t really have a good English program (I will show no mercy to that English department and it’s apathetic professors), maybe it’s because I was better at free writing than actual scholarly essays, maybe it’s because I didn’t put the full effort in school that I was claiming to at the time that I just wasn’t enjoying “following my dream”.

My only experience for writing when I was a teenager were sucky essays that were written by hand (oh thank you Gay man who helped invent the computer) and typing out sucky blogs that I deleted a LONG time ago.

During my year of being eighteen I wrote two books. I have them hidden away on a USB and backed up in a Google Drive folder and I don’t want to look at them. But I had felt it was a great accomplishment to do at the time. I kind of still think it’s an accomplishment that I did such a thing at that age in such a small frame of time compared to how many unfinished projects I have now.

It took a lot to accept that my dream wasn’t working out. I had professors that would tell me there was something wrong with my writing and only one of them bothering to help me improve myself. After a close friend had died from suicide I sat down with another friend, handed a short story, and asked if I should continue pursuing this dream. He was honest and said that while the creativity and imagination was there, there was no talent. I accepted the answer and changed my degree the following morning.

I didn’t cry over my dead dream, I had told my parents that I was changing my major, they were happy I was going for a worthwhile degree in biology (which would later go to environmental science). I decided to stop writing and concentrate on other parts in life that needed fixing up at the time.

Post Dream Life

I did return to writing about two years ago because I felt a burst of creativity in terms of stories. I decided to revisit one of my two books written and felt that it deserved a second chance of being rewritten, and that’s what I’m doing right now.

I have decided to take the advice of Laini Taylor and set my dream as part time rather than full time.

Finally, thank you again mom and dad. You accepted a risk many parents are scared to let their children follow, you didn’t do a “I told you so” like some parents would when I failed at my dreams, and you supported any and all decisions I made.