Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Make My Own News... Literally

Because my three faithful readers deserve to suffer as much as my students through my attempts at humor, below is a goofy, fake news story I wrote to fill a PowerPoint slide for my Sociology of Mass Media course. We're discussing newspapers and news this week. 

Enjoy, or at least try not to hurt yourself rolling your eyes.


Rapid City, SD      Local authorities are on the hunt for Elle Hill, a local sociology instructor, for her participation in questioning media ethics.
Hill, who teaches a course entitled “Sociology of Mass Media,” was quoted by one of her students as saying, “We've turned our mass media, major sources of knowing and understanding, into money-making machines, and this makes news and information into commodities. Should news be something purchasable, something shaped by market forces rather than human decency?”
“I was like, ‘whoa,’” one student, who asked to be called “Moe,” commented. “Maybe we should call the authorities. I mean, this is one rabble-rousing schoolteacher.”
University students report Hill has a history of questioning media and other institutions.
“It’s like she’s asking us to be critical all the time,” “Nancey,” a longtime student, complained. “Hasn’t she ever heard ‘if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all’?”
Hill, on the lam, could not be reached for comments.  
Citizens who encounter Hill are urged to cover their ears and sing, "La la la" while dialing 9-1-1.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Making My Subliminal Messages, Well, Liminal

You know those YouTube videos everyone watches about the hidden sexual messages in Disney movies? I’m like that. Seriously. Just like those smirking Disney animators, I’m all sneaky and smug, giggling into my clenched fist as I tuck subliminal messages into my novels.

Subliminal message #1: Race doesn’t exist. No, really, it doesn’t. I don’t mean this in a whack-job, White-supremacist, or even Colbertesque way. I mean, scientifically speaking, race has no biological basis. It’s a totally made-up concept. That doesn’t, of course, mean, race has no meaning; of course it does. It just means we made it up. So, knowing this, it’s hugely important for me to, at the very least, include a lot of racial and ethnic diversity and, if possible, maybe even challenge notions of race.

Subliminal message #2: Looksism is so 1980s. Judging beauty based solely on physical features is, well, partial. To reinforce this, I build characters that don’t embody cultural beauty ideals and that see one another as beautiful and holistic beings only after getting to know one another.

Celebrate body diversity! And, apparently, pugs.
Subliminal message #3: Fat and disabled people exist, too. Crazy, right? I sprinkle people of size and people with disabilities throughout my literary landscapes. Heck, I love body difference; in my world, this is where beauty resides. For example, in Hunted Past, Serena comes to adore the scarred half of her lover’s face. In my third novel, Hunted Dreams, the shero is fat and tough, while in the novel I’m writing now, the shero has a disability called Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease and the hero is blind. How wonderful is it to honor the variety of bodies and abilities that exist?  

Subliminal message #4: Gender is fun – let’s play with it! Since, as my younger sister has pointed out, I tend to base my sheroes on aspects of myself, it’s only logical that they, like me, are altogether pretty darn feminine. Aha! But I also make them strong. Strong and feminine? You ask. But how can this be? Aren’t badass, kick-butt urban fantasy sheroes tough, emotionally unavailable women whose deeply-buried, tender hearts only occasionally manage to poke through the prickliness? This is a trope I’m working with in my current novel, but for the most part, my sheroes are strong and feminine; they show the world the resilience of gentleness and the tenderness of strength.  As for my heroes’ gender identities, well, I’ve written about them in another post.

Subliminal message #5: Sexualities beyond straight occur in the world. Sure, I currently peddle in straight romance, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t and don’t acknowledge the amazing array of sexualities that exist. As a button I recently designed proudly proclaims, “I am one color in the rainbow of body diversity.” Oh, wait – maybe that’s a fat thing. Ah heck, it's all good, right?

Subliminal message #6: I really like dark, curly hair. What? Not all of my messages have to change the world. And I really do think dark, curly hair is just about the sexiest thing on the planet.

Okay, now that I’ve trumpeted my own, progressive horn, I have to acknowledge I’m not the Karl Marx, bell hooks, or Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick of fiction. My first draft of Hunted included a long diatribe about how Leeches are naturally the richer folks, since they have the power to reduce others’ life opportunities and inflict misery, which they consume like good ol’ milk and honey, on the common people. Bourgeoisie scum! However, after reading a how-to blog from an editor, I chose to erase most of the overt politics from my writing, especially including that paragraph or two. Now, I rely on my sneaky, subliminal messages. Is there more I could do to quietly address stereotypes and archetypes? Sure. For now, I'll keep sprinkling in my oh-so-subtle messages of diversity and inclusion. Perhaps in future novels I'll address ever more areas of identity and lifestyle diversity.

Or maybe I already have and I’m just not admitting it. Mwa ha ha! 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fantastic Reality, or Realistic Fantasy?

I love Disney. Lifetime movies make me blubber like a baby. Heck, if they’re gooshy enough, Hallmark cards turn my eyes all shiny and moist. I’m a romance author, which means I have to be a hopeless romantic, right? Yeah, but, but...

But in my day job, I teach sociology. Not just any sociology: social inequalities. You want to know statistics about gender income equalities? Interested in discussing looksism? Dying to hear all about racial microaggressions? I’m your woman.

Given my two very different vocations, it’s inevitable that I experience some workplace confusion and ambivalence. For example, in the classroom, I have been known to say, “Jews report the highest rates of hate crimes perpetratedagainst them.” Silence. “Hey, you want to look at pictures of puppies?” Is it any wonder, then, that I constantly grapple with how much reality to stick in my romances? I’m a huge fan of escapism, of romantic conventions, of the predictability and simplicity of happily-ever-afters. Fan? I rely on them; they’re my old faithful, my constant comforts and joys (along with pictures of small, fuzzy things, of course). Yet, I’ve also devoted my life to stripping away cultural myths and encouraging my students to kick complacency to the curb and effect some kind of difference in their communities and worlds. How can I shave the real world from my literary one? Should I?
These are questions I ponder every day while clacking away on my latest novel. I want, I need the romance, the love that defies all studies and statistics. At the same time, the social scientist in me demands a measure of reality, of accountability for the crazy things we humans do to one another and to the planet. I know some reality is necessary, of course; a total fantasy that doesn’t map onto realistic human interactions would be neither relatable nor interesting. And who can disagree that a little bit of grittiness makes the fantasies feel slightly more attainable?

Escapism and gritty reality: how to balance these? What does a mashup look like, or, at the least, how much of one to include versus the other? I imagine this is a question we all face, particularly those of us who write about romance, one of the most fantastic and earthy human emotions.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

National Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week

Yes, I know this is an author’s blog. Yes, I’m aware I’m an author. Yes, I have some idea that I should probably, like, write: 1. More often (my three readers should never be taken for granted!), and 2. About, well, writing and stuff. But, come on – everyone knows I’m a Crazy Animal Lady™, right? Right!

That said, I would like to once again point out the annual Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week. Let’s say you’re in the market for a new friend. Natch, your first stop is this blog, in hopes that I have words of wisdom for you in adopting a new BFF/soul mate.

What a coinkydink!

Me with Biscuit, an older,
purebred, rescued pug.
1. Do not buy from a breeder. Ever. I don’t care if you think English Bulldogs are the cutest things in the multiverse. I don’t care if you once had a bad experience with an animal shelter. There is no excuse for helping perpetuate the pet overpopulation/euthanization problem. And don’t let the nice people working at pet stores fool ya into believing they don’t buy their babies from puppy mills. Their souls are full of garlic, they’ve got termites in their smiles! Stay away!

2. Adopt an animal from an animal shelter or a local rescue. You can even find purebreds there, although keep in mind purebreds tend to have more medical problems overall.

Tell me you don't want a piece of this.
3. Do not get a young animal. They aren’t potty-trained, they may well require some obedience school, they will most definitely run or slither across your face while you sleep, and most of all, there are far too many adult animals that don’t get adopted. You want to be a s/hero? Adopt an adult. Heck, if you adopt a senior, I shall personally kiss you on the lips the next time we meet. Seniors are my favorite: mellow, low-key, sleepy, snuggly… need I go on? One of the loves of my life, a kitty named Velveeta (don’t ask), came to me from a hoarding situation when he was around seventeen or eighteen. I had two beautiful years with my angel before he flew away.

4. Less adoptable animals rock. I’m talking black furbabies, Pit Bulls, animals with physical and mental disabilities, sick animals, FIV kitties (don’t believe the myths; these little suckers can lead long and healthy lives), older babies, animals castoff after the holidays (think bunnies, chicks, and gift puppies), super shy or less effusive animals or breeds, and so on. I used to be owned by the coolest cat in the world: Loki, a one-eyed, polydactyl, mentally special kitty cat with aniridia and cerebellar hypoplasia. I freakin’ love that little monster and still cry over losing him in the divorce.

5. If you need help finding a less adoptable animal in your area or aren’t sure how to introduce your new angel to your current one(s), I can help you. For you and only YOU, I will dust off my animal rescuing skills and help you save the life of an animal that really needs it.

The animals need you. I promise not to get offended if you click out of here and go save a life or two.