Friday, April 26, 2013

Double Dose of Literary Delights

So the whole world now knows about Hunted Dreams' publication. I mean, the whole world. Everyone. Well, at least all my friends on Facebook. 

Sigh. I suck at promoting myself.

But anyway, to celebrate the release of my second full-length novel, my esteemed publisher, Soulmate Publishing, is offering my novella, Hunted, for free. If your Kindle is crying out for literary genius, head on over here within the next couple of days to grab a free copy of Hunted, the novella that started the Hunted Series. And please tell everyone else with a pulse to grab it, too. Oh, and snag an e-copy of  Hunted Dreams for $4.99 while you're at it. 

               
















Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hunted Past is OUT!


What’s surreal, paranormal, romantical, and FINALLY AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE? Yeah, that’s right: Hunted Dreams! Booyah! My third fiction piece and second full-length novel was released today solely to the clutches of Amazon (sorry, Kobo and other peeps, but my Soulmate editor tells me this may change after the contract is up with Amazon in three months) in e-book form.

Buy it! Read it! Laugh! Cry! Fall in love! Ignore your RL chores! If you’re into spooky scenes, fat sheroes, interracial and intersize love, and an adorable Pit Bull mix named Mina, you’re going to luv eet!

And if you like it, please write an Amazon review and feel free to buy your BFF, mother, son, and ex a copy.

Now get thee to Amazon to purchase some entertainment! 

Thanks, and happy readings!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Poetry Corner: Blue


I could try to sound all nonchalant, but that’s just so not my nature. So, without further ado: I WON! I WON! Yaaaaaaaaaay! :-D   :-D   :-D

A few weeks ago, one of my students told me about a local poetry contest. I sifted through dozens of poems, found one that seemed designed to dazzle judges, and submitted it. Last Friday, I attended the poetry reading and listened for 100 or so amazing minutes as poets sang their literary songs. Finally, at the end of the night, the judges revealed the third, second, and first place winners.

I won first place! I barely managed not to squee like a schoolchild while accepting my certificate and small-but-precious monetary prize.

Should any of my three faithful readers desire to read it, below is the winning poem. I penned it in the autumn of 2011 after a brief, tumultuous romance and shortly before moving from California to South Dakota.

Hope you enjoy.

Blue

Beautiful, bountiful, bright blue
blossom.

In the salty nighttime,
Jupiter smirks a
path through the sunroof
while Van Gogh comets
swirl
in chunks of blue.

I remember the night,
stuffed with cottony fog,
when the moon
exploded from behind
indigo mountains,
a UFO intent on domination
and anal probes. We
laughed and
wondered when we could kiss.


And then we did and awakened in
a train station with
hot, blue-gray steam,
padded seats,
and destinations
beautiful in their fairy tale
familiarity.

I wanted.
I wanted to give you
the least carnationy
flower in the world.
I wanted to polish others’ eyes
into gleaming
mirrors that reflect the rolling roundness
of your wavy ocean belly.
I wanted to sip your azure thoughts
and
eat each fragrant breath.

The moon stains my arm –
blue, with hints of magenta.
The ocean is a sea
of bright blue tears
and I
learned to swim with fat mermaids.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

In Defense of Emoticons


There I was, cruising along in my car on a mild autumn afternoon, listening to my beloved “All Things Considered” on NPR, when all of a sudden, the conversation turned to a topic I find deeply significant and highly understudied. I speak, of course, of emoticons. Driving to work to teach a Sociology of Mass Media class (oh, serendipity), I listened with increasing annoyance as two commentators (“social media gurus”) discussed emoticons as, among other things, tools for lazily and inadequately representing our emotional states. One commentator even advised listeners to “maybe look for some verbiage that is more attuned to what you're trying to say.

My first reaction? “Did these people really say we’re not adept at verbally expressing our emotions on the interwebs? Have they spent more than 17 seconds on Facebook or Twitter? Expressing emotions is what we do best and most often!”

In addition to worrying about the ignorant masses “relying too much on the tools to do the work for us,” they posit emoticons as passive-aggressive symbols that are supposed to suck the venom out of a verbal strike. (Something like: “WTF? Did you just fall off the turnip truck? ;) LOL!”)

All in all, they weren’t down with the emoticons.

This story aggravated the heck out of me, but I let it slide for six months. Then, yesterday, I read an online discussion by some guy who wrote something to the effect of “You may like emoticons. Personally, I find they get in the way. Yeah, I’m no fun.” (No, I can’t find the exact story – sorry!) Anyway, I got grumpy all over again. Of course the writer doesn’t have to love emoticons; he can revel in his sad, bleak, smiley-less existence all he darn well pleases. But the dismissive tone of “they get in the way,” meaning they impede the real message contained in the words, harkened back to the NPR program and its emoticon naysayers. I got riled up all over again.

Given the proliferation of smileys and frownies on the Internet, I feel pretty confident saying I think these folks are in the minority -- or perhaps a frowny-silenced majority. Whatever the case, I don’t run across this discussion often, so I realize it’s not a social topic of great urgency. However, given how these arguments rest, in my opinion, on larger social issues, I find it useful to address and exorcise them, at least from my own noggin.

First of all, there is some serious intellectual elitism going on in calling out emoticons as silly pictorial representations utilized by peeps without the verbal skills to adequately express themselves. Really, social media gurus? We modern Internet users may not have an MA in journalism, but in this media-saturated world, we’ve all gained the vocabulary to express, even wallow, in our emotional states. Oprah made sure of that.

I admit it: I’m a rampant emoticon user. I pepper them throughout my emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. From casual to work-related emails, I toss in smileys as if I owned stock in Emoticons, Inc. If left unchecked, just about every non-authorly paragraph ends with a smiley. I love ‘em. This has nothing whatsoever to do with lack of, you know, words and stuff, – I think I have mad emotional literacy – nor am I employing emoticons to tone down my active verbal aggressive to a more passive version. I use emoticons for multiple reasons, the most important of which is to fill in some of the gaps left by language.

Starting with speech class in high school, we’ve all heard numerous times that nonverbal communication makes up a lot, probably the majority, of messages. All that’s gone in written communication. No wise nod, ironic eyebrow raise, embarrassed head drop. We’re left with lines, loops, spaces, and dots that are supposed to represent the complexity of human thought and emotion. Emoticons give people a clue as to the writer’s tone. A winky face means playfulness, a happy face is fun… you get it. Rather than obscure, emoticons are attempts to clarify. Might that mean using them to be passive-aggressive? Sure, but that’s one of a million functions served by those cute little symbols.

Furthermore, I can’t help but see this as a gendered issue. Whether we like it or not, emotionality has become inextricably linked with femininity* and as such isn’t valued as much as rationality. I see the use of emoticons as a gendered phenomenon, a feminine way to express and attempt to manage the emotional reactions of readers. It’s no wonder, then, that it’s trivialized as a less important mode of communication than the pristine, crystalline linearity of words. Emoticons represent emotionality while the words denote the message. Smileys are visual while words are verbal, each processed in different parts of the brain, which requires a bit of mental dexterity. Such mental gymnastics are also, I must add, typically associated (unfairly or not, realistically or not) with femininity. Emoticons are not frivolous, not just about “fun,” as the second person I mention claims. They’re shouldering the rather heavy cultural burden of elevating emotions to the same level as facts.

This phenomenon is also about age. Younger folks have grown up with the Internet, have learned to interact with their RT friends as well as the ones they’ve never met via this verbal and visual medium. Emoticons are a part of their vocabulary, a way to convey and touch base with their feelings while expressing themselves to 400 people, many all-but-strangers. It’s an emerging language and as such deserves respect and study rather than knee-jerk dismissal.

Emoticons may not be traditional modes of expression, especially for older folks and those who have been thoroughly literarized** by a liberal arts education. That said, they bundle a lot of cultural and interpersonal symbolism into their tiny packages. So let’s cut their cute, cheerful selves a little slack, all right?

Oh, and you know you’ve been waiting for it:   :)  


* It’s important to note that femininity can be something that women, men, and everyone else in between can access. It’s not inherently linked to femaleness.

** I claim my right as a sociologist and writer to make up words. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Universal "He" Just Isn't

An example of a recent Facebook post.
Yes, squees are an acceptable response.

Picture this: An overworked, vastly underpaid college instructor unwinds by using Facebook to do what it does best: feature pictures of cute animals. Up go pictures of her cats, of frolicking puppies, of pink, besnouted piggy wiggies (squeeeeee!). All is happiness and wet noses in her life… until. Until. Until someone calls an animal “he” without knowing its sex.

Contrary to people’s beliefs, approximately half of sexually dimorphic animalkind* isn’t male. Crazy but true. If all the animals called “he” were actually male, much of animalkind, including humans, would die out because there simply aren't enough females to reproduce the species.

“Oh, Elle, you wacky but lovable feminazi,” you say, “don’t you know ‘he’ is a gender-neutral pronoun? We learned in the fourth grade that ‘he’ is just as acceptable a gender placeholder as ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ are for ‘human.’ It has no bearing on gender or sex, you eccentric cutie pie.”

Dear captioner: Are you an ornithologist? No? Then you might
consider ixnaying on the ehaying. Sincerely, Cranky Elle
Yeah, except… it does have bearing on gender and sex. Studies prove that when people hear “he” and “mankind,” they think of… wait for it… MEN! Shocking, I know. Furthermore, and not to cast any stones or anything, but some studies also link sexist attitudes to resistance to gender-neutral language. Ya sure that's the company you wanna be keepin'?

Don’t take my word for it. Well, actually you kinda should, since, in all modesty, I’m kinda what people call an “expert” in gender stuff. I have a fancy-shmance degree and everything. But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s a fantastic article that discusses the problems – and some solutions – for sexist language.

If you’re not sure about this “he” thing, let me present the same sentence I do in my Intro to Sociology course when we discuss the politics of language: “After giving birth to his young through his vagina, mankind then suckles his newborn with milk from his breasts.” If that sentence in any way makes you uncomfortable (well, other than seeing vaginas discussed on an author blog), you, like everyone else, probably don’t actually associate “he” and “man” with humans in general.

“But, Elle, you wacky but lovable feminazi,” my partner just finished saying after listening to me discuss this blog post, “you’re right about the ridiculousness of pretending ‘he’ means all sexes. But it’s still a rule of grammar, right? Aren’t people, even those who know it’s gender-exclusive, just trying to be grammatically correct?”

“No, my cuddly, curly-headed beloved,” said I. “It’s no longer taught in most schools and is, in fact, becoming increasingly passé. Regardless, I have two main responses to that argument. Number one, I think it’s faulty to assume most peeps are aware of their tendency to assume anything not obviously sexed is male. Given the nature of cultural privileges, we regard ‘male’ and ‘masculine’ as sex and gender defaults; in other words, we assume maleness unless proven otherwise. Number two, why would we resort to an obviously exclusive pronoun or word when we have so many others? For example, I use words like ‘frosh’ for first-year students, ‘chair’ instead of ‘chairman,’ and ‘y’all’ in lieu of ‘you guys.’ Why not use these when they’re just as easy to choose? How could anyone balk at being inclusive?”

But it doesn’t really matter, right? This is just about pictures of cute little chimps and hippos adorning some Crazy Cat Lady’s Facebook wall, right? In fact, it matters a lot. Given the relatively recent expansion of our worlds into more virtual realms, language has become even more important. We live in the Informational Age, and most of that information comes in the form of writing. When language becomes the main, sometimes the only, medium through which others knows us, it obviously matters. A LOT. The symbolic annihilation of 50% of animalkind (including humankind) from our main mode of communication is kind of a big deal.

So I ask you to take a minute and consider scrubbing “mankind” and the universal “he” from your vocabulary. "Mankind" and the universal "he" don’t mean gender neutrality to me, to others who hear it, or, I strongly suspect, even to you. Luckily for all of us, countless alternatives exist. People’s refusal to use them isn’t a neutral choice.

Let’s please stop erasing femaleness and femininity from the world.


* Given the social construction of sex, as well as the prevalence of transgender (~.5% of the population) and intersex folks (~1% of the population), I would argue even humankind isn't actually sexually dimorphic. But, ya know, that's a topic for another time.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Some Literary Politics... of Hair

Celebrate divers-- Oh, wait.

Our crowning glory is all tied all up in knots with issues of power, privilege, history, and tradition. You think I exaggerate? Ask a Pentecostal woman why she doesn’t cut her hair, an Orthodox Jewish man why he wears his peyot, a Black woman about the politics of straightening, a woman media star how long she’s sported hair extensions. You think it’s a coincidence that 18% of Americans have blond hair and 2% of the world’s population sports blond hair and yet you can't shake a rice cake in Hollywood without touching a towhead?*

"My feisty redhead does feminism right."
Even books, an arguably more cerebral popular cultural medium, aren't immune. Novels may not contribute directly to visual culture, but they do verbally represent and reproduce it. I mean, for not even being visual media, most books get all (representationally) dressed up in a host of visual tropes. In my genre, paranormal romance, for example, ever notice how many sheroes’ tresses tumble down their back like May Day ribbons? How come no, or very few, characters have receding hairlines, limp and lifeless locks, cowlicks that leave their hair in perpetual disarray? For that matter, where are the cornrows, the fauxhawks, the feminine brush cuts, the masculine ponytails, the springy natural hair? Why are historical romances exploding like cover models out of their bodices with thin, feisty, redheaded sheroes who sorta-defy oppressive gender conventions?

See what I mean? Politics. Hair is all wrapped up in ‘em.

Jew 'fros are fine --
as long as they're on a comedian!
I get it: romances aren’t about accuracy; they’re about fantasy. Escapism. No straight woman, the story goes, wants to imagine herself falling in love with some 40-something middle manager with a receding hairline and a paunch, right? And what feminine reader wants to identify with a stick-thin woman whose brown ‘fro punches through literary conventions and reminds us of our own sources of marginalization? We’re here to forget and enjoy, right?

Yeah, but… I like baldness. I dig dreadlocks. I call gray hair “tinsel” and celebrate its festiveness. I think Jew ‘fros are hot. And I can’t be the only person who has a special fondness for un-mane-like brown and black hair and who is sick to her bones of sheroes’ blonde locks that flow like tatters of yellow silk in… blah, blah, blah.

Imagine this hottie with a blond cutie on her arm.
I would argue it’s not all a matter of taste, though. I mean, shouldn’t writers be mindful about the visual and representational culture to which we contribute? Perhaps readers are expecting the usual, European-featured, feminine-but-spunky-and-independent blonde shero™ and the alphalicious,-violent-but-tamable earl, brigand, or CEO with raven black hair and flashing indigo eyes™? Does that mean we’re obligated to package it up and present it to them with a shiny purple bow? Wouldn’t it be fun- -- and maybe, sorta, kinda socially responsible -- to occasionally defy, or perhaps even toy with, some of those tired and exclusive expectations?  Imagine a shero with kickass dreadlocks and a hero with dark blond, wavy hair. Kinda cool, right? Or what about a redheaded hero? A shero with a short, punky ‘do and some face jewelry? A shiny-pated hero? (Speaking of which, did you know testosterone causes baldness and baldness is correlated with lower rates of prostate cancer? You want your hero to remain healthy and virile, right?) These images might not meet expectations, but they sure as heck might help change them.

I like a little bit of reality mixed into my fantasy. Goodness knows I’m not going to start centering my plots around folding laundry and cleaning up cat vomit, so perhaps it’s best to start with the characterizations of the people who inhabit my literary worlds. I like thinking I may be encouraging my readers – and myself – to expand our mental palette and challenge our hierarchies of beauty.

Be the change I wish to see, Gandhi? Howzabout I represent it and give my readers a brief opportunity to join me in inhabiting it?



* Sorry, but I couldn’t find stats on how many actors are blond, naturally or not. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Hunted Dreams: The Back Blurb

One of my least favorite parts of writing involves penning the book's back cover blurb. (You know what that is, right? Imagine picking up a paperback and turning it over to read its brief summary. Yep, that's it.) Condensing my complex characters and multi-layered plot into something that sounds like an ad for TV's latest Amazing New Series(tm)? Almost as fun as delivering lengthy speeches. To a crowded, un-air-conditioned room filled with sweating bodies. While wearing polyester. 

Better yet, remember the horror of writing conclusions to essays and research papers? Yeah, it's like that.

Nonetheless, editors require us to do this awful, awful thing, and like good like nerdy introverts, we do it without complaining (on the outside, anyway). 

I'm never comfortable with back blurbs, since I feel like a cheesy salesperson hawking my wares in an oversaturated market. That, plus I don't think I'm very adept at writing summaries of my own work. But nonetheless, and all whining aside, below is the back blurb for the forthcoming Hunted Dreams, due to be published sometime this spring (i.e., vewwy, vewwy soon!). 

Enjoy. Or at least don't grade me on it.

************

Her history, her whereabouts, her name: She knows nothing. Nothing but her current reality: a constant stream of horrific, surrealistic scenarios in which she fights not only monsters and unseen attackers but her own pain and despair.

Reed Jayvyn is an ex-Army vet, penniless and living in his truck. After saving a young man from attackers, he finds himself embroiled in a superhuman drama between the Broschi and the Clan, two groups engaged in a centuries-long war. Worse, he finds he is one of them -- a Broschi, a psychic vampire that feeds off the pain of humans. But Reed’s greatest surprise comes each night, when he finds himself dreaming of a fierce, nameless woman.

She is dreaming. So says the handsome man who uses his heretofore-latent psychic ability to flicker in and out of her dreamscape. With Reed’s help, she slowly learns more about who she is, why she is here, what trauma in her past keeps her locked inside her mind. Meanwhile, Reed explores his own heritage, discovering enemies and allies in unexpected places.

But most important to Reed is freeing this woman caught in an endless loop of nightmares, someone he considers in every way to be the woman of his dreams.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Explaining the "Elle": A Guide to Pronunciation


It’s time we cleared the air. See, it has recently come to my attention that my name stumps peeps. The “Hill” part isn't a hurdle, but the palindromic nature of my first name appears to confuse many would-be pronouncers.

Because I’m me and think everything deserves a story, let me first provide some background. “Elle Hill” is a nom de plume, a moniker I plucked from the ether a few years ago when deciding to honor my greatest passion and publish my fiction. The first name on my birth certificate, like 83% of the rest of my family’s, begins with an “L”; as a result, I named my writerly self “Elle,” pronounced like the letter. In this way, my literary identity constantly honors 83% of my beloved family of origin (sorry, Kris).

My last name, “Hill,” derives from my father’s middle name, an honorable name with a boatload of history. I proudly wear my father’s surname, Owen, in my everyday life, but I also wanted to honor him as a writer; hence, “Hill.”

(This last name is important to keep in mind should you ever want to buy books with my poetry in them, since I publish those under my given name. I figured it would look kinda cool, or at least acceptable, to future employers, far too many of whom seem to think Googling their future employees is kosher, to find my name connected to poetry. OTOH, and as a once-underemployed sociologist on the job market, I admit to a slight concern with associating my professional name with paranormal bodice rippers, especially given our unfortunate cultural devaluation of feminized genres. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s all about giving in to the dark side of marketing and making oneself a commodity.)

So, in short, my nom de plume is pronounced EL (think “L”) HILL.

And, Kris, I have decided Elle Hill has a middle initial. It’s K.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Poetry Corner: "Mandatory Health Assessment"


Eyebrows tweezed,
Elle does a little turn on the catwalk.
Lips pouting pinkly,
Fat feet grinding plush carpet underfoot,
Legs almost-shaved:
I made my entrance.

I came. I saw. I was fabulous.
“Do you have an appointment?”
My nose stud sizzled.
“Who’s your insurance carrier?”
My cleavage daunted.
“Have a seat over there.”
My derriere swayed a charmed-snake dance.

Well, yes,
Small line of foldable
Black plastic,
One of you may have the honor
Of touching this,
Of holding all that.
I hear your ecstatic groan
And raise you
A papery sigh of relief.

“Hill! Ellen- Elle- Ellie Hill!”
The partition trembles
At my advance.
No rush, sweet thang –
I’m coming.

My goodness!
What big tools you have!
The better to—Ow!
My finger slobbers blood,
My arm seethes
Hot red streaks.
I was born in June.
They say the temperature that day—
No, a six. Of seventy-four.

I'm like a human hammer to the scale.
A bathroom scale –
As cheap and plastic as smiles –
Creaks, pops… and stops.
I knew it! I’m immeasurable!
But…
“The forms,” she says, “the forms.
Can you estimate?”
No need – I know!
Three ninety-two.
You heard right:
Three. Nine. Two.
Nigh on twenty score,
My good woman.


Numbers, numbers,
Small and round.

Waist circumference?
You gonna make me a skirt?
I like them long and billowy
And bright enough to
Stare down the sun...
No, I didn’t know
I’m only ten inches
Less around than tall.

I exercise a lot,
Provided my partner is in town,
Know what I…
No, I don’t smoke.
But I like butter.
I don’t…
Well, I’m diabetic.
I would, but…
Yes.
No.
No.
No.

The computer hums out
A report card
With an “overall health grade”
And everything.
Not so immeasurable, 
As it turns out.
Blood pressure: B.
Cholesterol: C.
Weight: Double-decker,
Criss-cross applesauce
F-and-a-half.

And my impeccable driving record?
No grade.
My love life?
No grade.
My ecstatic, terrible, bright purple passion
For teaching?
No grade.
My compassion, activism,
Sparkling wit and toenail polish artistry?
Zip, zero, zilch.

Questions without an answer,
Photos without a subject,
Numbers without a name,
Words without
A voice.

And my health grade?
It was a D.
A D.
I got a D grade.
D grade.
I got d-graded.

I see this equation.
I know this math.
Three-hundred ninety-two
Times zero
Is still nothing.



Performing my poem