Banned Books: A Study in Shame on my old school district

Last month the Albemarle County school district, which sits all around Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, made international news for banning a book. What could have been a bit of local headshaking (though I missed any local coverage) was picked up in news articles from DC to LA to the UK. Everyone was bewildered and offended on behalf of the beloved series.

What salacious novel did they strike down?

Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Yes. Sherlock Holmes.

This lurid tale of murder, mystery, and machinations is no longer suitable for 6th graders.

Why was it banned? It presents Mormons in a negative light, and provides an incomplete view of their religion. I wonder if school districts could ban all books that present topics with a negative bias. I wonder what would be left to read.

Disclaimer that I found in the comments of the UK article: poster claims the tale of the book's banning has been blown slightly out of proportion, as it was not banned exactly, just stricken from the reading list due to an offended/concerned parent. Students can still find this book, as well as other Holmes tales in the library. So there's some hope for the avid reader.


The Vanished Villains by Necessity

So once upon a time, I scheduled this blog to be posted, and blogspot said nope. Or maybe lulz, you think I'm in your timezone?

Wednesday-Wednesday Weekly Wordcount: 5,500 added to Gloaming, of 26,000 total.
This Week's Reads: Marathon Man, some Embassytown.

Happy Banned Book week! I have an embarrassing banned book story that I'll tell you Friday. But today I'm going to cry about a book that was not banned. 

But it is gone. 

And its untimely absence leaves me sobbing into my pillow on dark lonely nights. 

I wish I had gotten a copy of Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward, when I had the chance.

Out of print on Amazon, vanished from my library, new copies running at over a hundred bucks a pop--it's out of reach. And it isn't on Kindle or Nook, which is pretty criminal if you ask me.

Back in middle school, this was my favorite book ever. It was new, it was different, it was a revelation that not all sf&f was confined to the transposed plots of The Black Cauldron and Lord of the Rings remixed a little and thrown on the page. It was a revelation that there could be fantasy outside of the hundred farmboys prophesied to save the world, the weak females, and the sickeningly lawful knights.

No, this was a tale of the villains, and they were much more fun. It combined humor and darkness. It quite possibly began my obsession with assassin-characters. It subverted cliches, without giving way to the chasm of postmodernism. It was filled with action and adventure. It did not regurgitate the narrow range of morals and divine right of kings everything else pushed.

It was, along with Vlad Taltos, the strongest influence on Shadowing.

It was the best book.

Of all time.

...or at least that's how I remember it, and that's how it'll stay in my mind, because it is quite firmly out of print. And it doesn't seem any amount of clicking Amazon's "I'd like to read this book on Kindle" has changed that.


Moonblind Monday and Fever Dreams!

As I get deeper into Moonblind book 2 (sequel to Shadowing), I am doing an art push. Expect dragons, Knights, Overlords, and almost demotivational style character sketches.

Art of the week: What is a Moon Dragon?

I would have posted this at some reasonable hour, but have a terrible cold with fever and chills, and I may or may not have woken up just before two o clock today from a vivid dream.

The dream was of a team-style version of The Hunger Games. I think it was freelancing army types with guns that were trying to kill us for the audience's entertainment. Rather than strangers, we were a close-knit team of seven kids that had been raised up in a cultish and hard-labor situation. I'm not sure if the games were going to change and go all Hunger on us to determine a winner. Probably would.

Comma was there, but she was a cute little robot-cat full of little robotic beads like huge nanoparticles. The sponsors briefly drained out her robot beads and left her as a 2d puppet until I complained enough that they refilled her back fully functioning. She continued to be ornery, but I dragged her along so she would not get blown up. Oh dreams. Always crazy.

...And without further tangent: Moonblind Art of the week!

Possible Omnibus Cover!
Get excited for next Moonblind Monday!


Art Update

Fig 1. Look to Moonblind Mondays for moar
dragons! Probably with more body mass.
You have have noticed some changes to the blog. Slick new..teal? Turquoise? Blue? (With three faces, two sheep, one dragon/squid - find them all!) Because clearly I need to clash with all the artwork I'm going to be posting. And I am going to be posting artwork. I'm officially making a commitment to...a thing a week. Moonblind Mondays for fantasy art!

Yep. Fall remodeling. As much as I loved staring at that cup-o-joe, it was a stock picture, and really, we can't have that. Dormant-artist-Kat has awoken from a long sleep, and she won't stand for any generic background. I finished two art commissions this week. Now I can fill my car with gas over nine times times! And more importantly, I am back to the hopeless addiction of creating art.

Back to the blog, and the background. I knew I needed a new one. I lazily thought "hey, I'll stick a boring gray rock up! I have one I photographed from the Henchman cover."

! Little did I know that blogspot only took 300k files. And that an 1800x1600 file saved to be 300k is impressively blocky. But this was all learned quickly enough. Thus I turned to tiling as my sole hope of regaining detail.

! Little did I know that I would lose about six hours staring at it, putting puzzle pieces together (amid flashbacks to tessellations in seventh grade geometry), slowly making the tile bigger and bigger, then drawing creepy faces out of the shapes (all in the name of of apophenia!)

By monday I'll have some Moonblind art.

Fig 1. This is my favorite bookmark that I made in the bad old days of my artistic strivings. And yet, like most people who read books, I end up using random scraps of paper instead. A metro card. A movie stub. A tag for some piece of clothing marked down to $9.

I was considering making some artistic new bookmarks. But then, for the moment I've only got an ebook. Does you ever use real paper bookmarks?


Allusions and Associations? You're boned.

New weekly feature: Wordcount & #Writetip Wednesday. Everything is alliterative.

Wednesday-Wednesday Weekly Wordcount: 6,300 added to Gloaming, of 20,456 total.
This Week's Reads: Hunger Games, Gamble of the Godless (review soon!), and three chapters of Embassytown.

Weekly Words: Allusions and Associations 

Biblical allusions are especially popular because the biblical stories are well-known among English-speaking readers. But there are other many-millions-selling stories you could make use of (note that LoTR and The Hobbit take second and third top selling; fantasy authors everywhere have already experienced the joy of alluding/plot-stealing from them). And yet, biblical allusions remain by far the most popular to jaw about. Whether you see these as anchors to the canon of western literature, a vise squeezing the view of literature, or just plain glorified fanfiction, they can make, break, and problematize everything you write. Allusions are a tool at your disposal to link a character or situation into an existing framework.

Eve of the snake.
Get it? Get it? Ugh....
According to DeviantArt, I
painted that 6 years ago. I've improved.
Love them or hate them, you can't get through high school English without writing an essay on some Christ-figure character (Simon, from Lord of the Flies?! Your teacher will be deeply impressed that you did your SparkNotes homework). Pause. About all those reaching high-school and college essays. Is this what the canonized writers wanted? Did they  all mean to lay a biblical read-down on their text?

Well, some probably did. But not all. Allusions can be nothing more than similar features or offhand comments that get blown out of proportion in the reader's mind. Even if you don't intend to allude to anything at all, apophenia being what it is (some people call it patternicity (and is apparently also a TED talk, and reminds me that most of psychology is renaming the same concepts over and over again). In any case, people will find the patterns they are encouraged to find, or want to find in whatever they're reading.  This can make symbols pop with undue significance and characters fall into two-dimensional stand-ins for someone else in another story.

Allusions, even if you mean to use them, can bite you two ways. If you allude to stories without researching the connotations, you may convey nuance you don't mean. And if you rely too much on the nuance, 90% of your readers will miss it. (I remember one creative writing workshop I was in had a new allusion-dependent story each week, and it was maddening. The author would always get so offended when people didn't get it.) Writing tip: don't assume that just because you loved The Waste Land, that people will take the time to read the myth of Philomel as referenced in your story (unless Bettermyths blogs about it). And if your fiction can only be explained by a hypertext interface (or two), you might want to consider adding at least a comprehensive superficial plot on which to hang your allusive genius.

In conclusion, 'ware the allusion. Associations will slip into your story one way or another, though they may not be the right ones. Chances are it will be reminiscent of other stories. (If it is utterly unique, it is most likely incomprehensible.) Associations are sneaky. Sneaky like a snake, and just as treacherous (or does that depend on point of view?). Do your research before you reference, because you don't want to make a huge deal then get it wrong.

Really, whatever you do, your readers will get a random selection of their own associations.
#Writetip: Don't stress it. Just don't make your story hinge on one absolute allusion. 


Hunger Games with Squirrels

Everyone has a different relationship with nature. I very much enjoyed The Hunger Games, which I picked up around 2AM yesterday and finished around 4PM today. It was a surprisingly addictive book, but it reminded me that I would be very bad at a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. 

Katniss shoots squirrels and trades them for bread. I give squirrels bread. I worry that this is backfiring, though. I was sitting around drinking coffee when I happened to look up and see this: 


This is what I get for sitting in front of windows. They know the food is inside, and they're starting to mobilize. I have seen single scouts scaling the door before, but this is the first time I've seen coordinated motion. In fact, I have never seen squirrels so close together without one chasing the other off. 

If there's going to be an invasion, I suppose I can take a few lessons on survival from The Hunger Games. Let's see, what did I learn from this book? 

  • Survival is easiest when nomming the flesh of cute things. 
  • Dying of thirst would suck. So would starving.
  • It would be stressful to play The Most Dangerous Game with high schoolers. 
  • I am incapable of reading the character with the accent the author uses for Katniss's narration.
  • I devoured the book in two days, but it didn't leave me hungry enough to get the sequel. 

  • Hm. 
    Conclusion: if it comes down to a battle royale of me vs. the squirrels, I'll throw my cat at them and run. 


    The cat, Comma.

    The last few weeks have been trying. Between a death in the neighborhood, experiencing that earthquake (not far from the epicenter) all alone in my house, and days of hurricane rain, the silver lining has been the new old cat, the eight pound Comma.

    It isn't a good day without a few condescending glares from the cat. 
    But truth be told, we've been friends for a long time. About ten years ago she walked up to my neighbor's house and got their attention. She and about five kittens had been abandoned somewhere. Carrying the kittens, one by one, she brought them through the woods, across the fields, hiding them under shrubs to keep them safe. When she determined the neighbors could be trusted, she trotted out the kittens. The neighbors called her Mom, and kept her, though the kittens ended up elsewhere.

    For years, she was a terror to rabbits and birds in the big field, but to me she was sweet and neighborly. Whenever I went for walks and found myself before the neighbor's house, this cat would trot down the driveway, and demand a pet. After much purring, she would start rolling around in the gravel, and I could make an escape to finish the walk.

    A few weeks ago, the neighbor passed away tragically and unexpectedly from apparent heart attack. The cat didn't really seem to notice, but all of a sudden her options were us or the ASPCA. So we adopted this Mom-cat, and she's taken the changes in stride. It turned out to be too confusing to call her Mom, because we already call the raccoon Mom. Thus, Comma is a near-anagram for mom-cat. And besides, a comma is also a little pause. She has four little paws. The connection should be evident. In further support of the name, a comma is the exact shape of a sleeping cat.

    Her hobbies include purring like a jackhammer and circling me while I'm sleeping, then headbutting my hands until I wake up and pay attention. If she hasn't ruined my sleep three times, then the night isn't over. In general, she is very interested in the feeding of squirrels, and was not in the least impressed by the earthquake.

    I know you may not care about cats. You may even be a dog person. I mention dear Comma merely because cats are vital to a writer's cred. The two are always paired; this is proven, definitively, by the esteemed blog, Writers and Kitties.