Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Paranormal Romance: Celebrating the Beauty of the Common

I like the different. I like the weird. I like things that don’t quite fit, that look a bit too large or taste a smidge too bitter. I celebrate ugly and find inspiration in dissonance. If I wanted to be like everyone else, I would have become an accountant. Instead, I write paranormal romance.

Like many readers of paranormal romance, I like characters who don’t fit the archetypes. My heroes aren’t all alpha males, my sheroes are sometimes fat and happy about it, my female villains (gasp) don’t always sexually smolder to prove they’re powerful.

I wrote my very first published piece of paranormal fiction, Hunted, after pondering, “What would a world look like if women were the warriors and men the healers and thinkers?” My second novel, Hunted Past, grapples with definitions of beauty: Can people with scars – inside and out – be beautiful? Is beauty a noun, an adjective, or a verb? In my third, not-yet-published, novel, Hunted Dreams, my main couple is interracial, interspecies, and intersize.

Paranormal fiction, romance and not, seems the perfect place for wrestling with reality: its multiple pasts, its infinite present, and our hopes and fears for its futures. What an opportunity we have to explore the borders between beautiful and plain, ideal and corrupt, real and fantastic. As for me, I want more discordance, more ambivalence, more category-defying prose and more characters whose commonness and plainness charm us with reminders of our own complexity. 

We Westerners are bombarded every day with representations of unachievable ideals. I think we’re right to expect more from paranormal fiction. In mixing reality with fantasy, we have a unique opportunity to reexamine our relationship with our worlds.

How exciting to begin to explore the beauty of the mundane and the weird. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Let's Not Make Nativism an American Tradition

You, like me, may have stumbled several times across the op-ed entitled “Christmas 2011 – Birth of a New Tradition.” Its chief message?: “Buy American,” a sentiment many of us can support. It’s the writers’ reasoning, as well as their repeated, and disdainful, waving of the phrase “the Chinese” like a nativist, pro-American flag, that knots my granny panties.

Below is a response I posted to a listserv of which I’m a member. Enjoy.

Hey, all.

Thanks for sharing this call to action. I, for one, am a huge fan of not buying people more stuff, since that's the last thing most of us need. My own personal philosophy is to either eschew presents or else buy people experiences, especially dinner with an amazing person like, well, me. :-D  Also, I'm deeply annoyed by our consumerist culture, which thrives on making people feel the answers to all of life's questions can be found in the aisle of a store. It also actively promotes sizeism, looksism, and other inequalities in hopes of "inspiring" hatred of self, only assuageable by purchasing products. I feel good when I don't participate in the economy of body hatred.

I also think buying local and national is a fantastic project, especially since U.S. corporations outsource to countries like China, Honduras, and the Philippines, because many of those countries don't have unions and don't have to pay their employees a living wage or provide safe and humane working conditions. Also, we have huge unemployment rates in the U.S. and could use the work, but corporations consistently use outsourced labor in order to keep prices low. I don’t like supporting companies that exploit these desperate workers. Given all this, I think it's amazing to support American workers, many of whom are experiencing pay stagnation and mandatory furloughs, instead of buying cheap stuff from mega-stores. 

However, I would also love to see us respect the workers and citizens of China and other nations who have responded to the call of Western corporations and Western greed for useless products. The U.S. has a history of exploiting Chinese, Mexican, and others' labor and then blaming them for taking American workers' jobs and "ruining" the American economy. You can see throughout American history how we've begged these folks for help and, when we're done with them, framed their efforts as attempts to take over our country. Rather than hating on Chinese, Mexican, Filipino, Taiwanese, and other international workers, maybe we should shine the light of our disapproval on Western corporations for outsourcing in the first place, flooding our country with these cheap products, and then trying to brainwash us into believing we need them. 

In sum, I support buying stuff as infrequently as possible. When I do buy, I support buying local. I also support buying fair-trade. I do this because I'm grumpy about what corporations have done to the American worker and our economy. I would also like to see us honor our local and international sisters and brothers who continue to labor in terrible conditions so most of us can "enjoy" buying lots of stuff very cheaply. 

Happy holidays to all of you. May your Tofurky Day rock your socks. 


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Voices! The Voices!

I’m sure some wise person somewhere at sometime said something to the effect of, “When authors create characters, they are in fact merely articulating pieces of themselves.” The fact is, we write what we know, and, if we’ve been doing things right, we tend to know ourselves pretty well; in this way, at least some aspects of each of our characters end up mirroring our own.

That acknowledged, I want to learn to make my characters speak with extremely distinct voices. I just finished writing a book featuring a young, well-educated White woman and a mixed-raced, ex-Army vet. They have distinct personalities and have lived enormously different lives; as such, I don’t want them to sound anything like the other. I found this my single biggest challenge when penning the book. I ended up differentiating them in large and obvious ways: Katana, my shero, refuses to swear and, as a college student, has a pretty decent vocabulary, while Reed, my hero, swears a lot more and uses some slang, as I figured an ex-military man would tend to do. I also kept a certain television character in mind when writing Reed’s lines, which ended up being hugely helpful (and, given that the character is portrayed by Shemar Moore, also kind of, ahem, inspirational).

Did I succeed in making these two characters, who have very different pasts but are also mutually kind, generous, and lonely people, speak in ways unique to them? I hope so. I can’t pretend I have a secret recipe for working this magic and am, in fact, curious to hear if others have ideas on how to use dialogue to illustrate the unique personalities of their characters.

I love making my characters walk, breathe, and talk. The challenge is making their walks move differently, their breaths sigh distinctly, and their words paint unique pictures of themselves as they have been, are now, and will be.

Note: Originally posted here at the Soul Mate Publishing author blog.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November is National Adopt-a-Senior-Pet Month!

The cutest things in the world are kittens and puppies, right? Those disproportionately-large heads, those enormous eyes, that boundless energy and clumsiness, the amoral gleam in their eyes: Nothing in the world is cuter. Right? 

In spite of the obscene, cuddly cuteness of baby kittens and puplets, I admit I find something else even more adorable: An adult animal, especially a senior, that doesn't pee all over my carpet and expend enough energy to make a meth addict crave a nap. 

I LOVE SENIOR ANIMALS. They're awesome. Like me, they're low-key, snuggly, and already know what truly matters in life: snuggles, warmth, and boundless love. 

In case I haven't yet totally harshed your kitten/puppy buzz, below are some reasons from Petfinder and me listing why senior animals are a family's best friend:

1. Baby animals, especially puppies, pee a lot. Seniors have already been potty trained.
2. You're in the mood for a nap and some bad TV? Guess what? So is a senior pet. Even better, they'll probably snuggle with you throughout the whole thing.
3. I know it sounds like I'm making this up, but I swear I'm not: Senior animals somehow have the emotional maturity to understand you offered them a reprieve. They will adore you. You know how everyone says animals offer unconditional love? Imagine that plus pure, continuous worship. Yeah, it's pretty freakin' awesome.
4. According to Petfinder, senior animals are easier to teach. I've always said intelligence is part intellectual and part emotional; senior animals just seem to have the maturity to concentrate harder and succeed more.
5. I have a few cats and have found the older a cat, the likelier s/he is to concentrate more on me and less on other cats. To put it a bit more nerdily: my importance to my kitties is positively correlated with their age. Not to be narcissistic or anything, but who doesn't love being number one?
6. If you have ever wanted to be a superhero like the ones you read about, the fastest and most effective way to do that is to save those whom most others have abandoned and forgotten: senior animals.

If there is any part of you that wants to make a difference in an animal's life and give yourself the best gift imaginable, I urge you to adopt a senior pet right now. If you're unsure how, try Petfinder or message me. 

Thanks, superhero. 

This is me with Velly, a beloved companion and soul mate
who has since passed. I wouldn't trade a single day.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Introducing the Rainbow Fatniks

My BFF and I winning third place
in the talent contest
At its 2011 National Convention, NAAFA was foolish enough to host a talent contest. And tell my partner-in-crime and me about it. After conferring with another friend and raiding the shelves of our friend, Paula's, awesome size-friendly costume shop, we were ready to go.

On August 7, 2011, the Rainbow Fatniks were born. Two fat, black-clad, round-spectacled, beret-wearing drama qu-- uh, I mean poets emerged on the scene and, bongos in hand, proudly performed two fat-pride beatnik poems. For those who can't understand the words, I included them below. 

And to answer your question, no, I don't know why my particular rendition of a fat beatnik channeled an evangelical Black woman. 

Elle's Fatnik Beat Poem

Fat, fat, fat
Does my open mouth scare you?
Does my weight make you feel
Like half a person?
Does the thunder from my thighs
Send you scurrying under the covers at night?
Does the wind from my wings
Blow you away?

Or maybe you think
The smile of my belly
Laughs at you behind your back
Or the sway of my hips
Could might will
knock you to your knees.

I can see your point.

This fat cat knows where it’s at
Ain’t no one’s doormat,
Makes the haters go splat.
She’s bringin’ sexy back.
Fat, fat, faT
A terrible, tasty, temptingly
Tactile treat.
A buffet of sights, sounds,
Smells, and sighs…
But who said you
Could have a taste?

I accept your apology.
This groovy gordita
Is vast
Like a mountain
Like an ocean with room enough
For all the whales and manatees,
With patience, forgiveness
And downright crazy cool
For everyone.

Jules' Fatnik Beat Poem

F – A – T
Little word
For big bodies
Big ideas
Big differences
Big strengths

I am fat.
A superfat fatshionista,
Knockout in my home-sewn works of art.
This look is not available in stores.

I am fat.
Fat man with a thin paycheck,
A Virgo with a thirst for revolution.

I am fat.
A retired marcher
Whose ample bottom spent years
Warming back seats of buses.

I am fat.
Young genderqueer White warrior.
What ze wants, ze gets.

I am fat.
A darker shade of brown
Than “flesh”-colored bandaids.
(Guess they think
I’m too tough to get hurt.)

I am fat.
Scooter-zooming, hot mama
Whose tire tracks are featured
On the backs of bigots’ heads.

Diminutive word
For All. Of. This.
Not obscuring the alluring
Of our salty-sweet differences,
But being the platter
On which our varieties are served.
Come and get it!
Small word,
But, like us,
Vast enough to swallow the world.

(Poems written by the inestimable Elle Hill)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Response to Torrid's Mass Email Entitled "What's the Skinny?"

Dear Torrid:

Me wearing my anti-bully
t-shirt from Torrid
I have a burning love for your store and so appreciate your willingness to accommodate the awesome girth of women of average size and above (average American woman is a size 14, as I'm sure you know). Given all that, why would you write an email entitled "What's the skinny?" I know what the slang term means and understand you're trying to maintain an image of a hip, youthful company. But since visiting your shop is one of the few pleasurable and non-sizeist experiences we fat girls have, I would really appreciate you not mocking us by employing a term that, as a symbol of all we're not but are told we "should be," has been used in the past to degrade and marginalize us. 

In the future, please rethink the thoughtless use of such terms, no matter how hip and cool they make you sound.

Oh and while we're talking, expanding your size ranges to include larger ones would be amazing. Fat women of all sizes have too few stylish options; we'd appreciate all the help we can get. 

Elle Hill, PhD*

* Note: This is the real reason I toiled through 16 years of college: so I could add weight to my letters of praise and complaint to various companies and politicians.