National Emergency Library

*Inhales deeply*

So… the Internet Archive, which has a history of controversy relating to disseminating scanned books without licensing through publishers or compensating authors, has just released millions of titles under the guise of a “National Emergency Library.”

There are two sides to this.

Side 1: “It’s piracy. That’s bad.” Authors & real librarians are overwhelmingly against it, but NOT against free access to books (they’re vocally urging readers to access the exact same books—still for free—through their local library).

Side 2: “Information should be free.” Many commenters have argued that publishers and authors who oppose the IA are “ideas landlords” and that maintaining Intellectual Property is “class warfare.” I feel the need to address this.

This argument, I’m sure, comes from a well-intentioned place. If it resonates with you, PLEASE read on. I get it. You’re Robin Hood—except you’re NOT stealing from the rich to give to the poor, you’re stealing from the poor to give to yourself (that which you could acquire WITHOUT theft).

The public has a view of authors as wealthy celebrities. This comes, in part, from Hollywood and from a handful of megastar authors, but also from a time when the only ones who could AFFORD to write were the ultra wealthy who had a classical education, benefactors, and loads of leisure time.

If it makes you mad that only the wealthy elite had the opportunity to create literature, GOOD. That SHOULD make you mad. But you should know that the imbalance of power is MAINTAINED by pirating books, because doing so ensures that only the wealthy elite will be able to KEEP writing.

Authors often play into the stereotype by pouring money into swag and launch parties because LOOKING successful sells books. The truth: as an established author, I can BARELY afford to keep writing thanks to the revenue my books generates. If that ceased, I absolutely could NOT.

Writers who write FOR PROFIT are not any more greedy than garbage collectors who pick up trash FOR A PAYCHECK, or teachers who educate students FOR A LIVING. It’s a job. That’s how jobs work.

And the thing is, there IS a real class warfare going on that you SHOULD care about… it’s about who can AFFORD to be an author. Who has the opportunity to create books… and who does not. Pirating books hurts the most at-risk authors and booksellers THE MOST.

Amazon won’t shutter over this, but the indie bookseller will. Disney will not go bankrupt, but the niche publisher will.

JK Rowling & Stephen King are NOT gonna suffer if their books get stolen. But the mid-list struggling author, the poor author, the minority author, the LGBTQ author—they will.

If you ACTUALLY care about class warfare & fighting for the literary downtrodden—you will STOP willfully fighting to steal work from struggling workers.

Here’s an idea you CAN have for free:

Support bookstores and use REAL LIBRARIES for your free e-books.

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Fractured Fairy Tales

It’s an odd time right now, when I should be teaching and instead I am—like many people around the world—isolating at home with my family.

The good news is, this is a great opportunity to write. I’m catching up on my goals for my next book deadline and taking more time than usual to think about my process. It seems on paper to be an ideal situation as a writer—lots of time, a concrete excuse not to go out—but the pandemic in the background definitely makes it hard to focus. The fog sets in.

For anybody out there looking for a way to climb out of your quarantine fog and get back to being creative—or for any parents or teachers looking for fun, easy lessons to send digitally to your kids—here are a few writing exercises that I have used myself and assigned to Creative Writing classes in the past. Feel free to share or distribute if you find them helpful. PDF of 4 free writing exercises. I’ve created a video for the first lesson, Fractured Fairy Tales, which I hope will make it fun & accessible.

As isolation wears on, I also encourage you to check out Kate Messner’s great collection of read-alouds and mini-lessons from stellar authors, HERE.

Stay safe! Happy writing!

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Excelsior

For the past few years, I have taught a work by by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I chose it both because it is exemplary of the elements of poetry that I teach, and because it is a poem that inspired one of the most influential creative minds of this century, and a personal hero of mine. The poem is EXCELSIOR.

It is a poem about striving for something higher, loftier, greater—and never settling for average, even when it is tempting. In it, the protagonist of the narrative gives up his entire life in the pursuit of something higher, still proclaiming “Excelsior!” to the very end. Rather than regret what he might have missed along the way, his voice continues to ring out after death, chanting his refrain from the heavens.

Stan Lee is dead. And from the sky, serene and far, a voice fell like a falling star. Excelsior!

EXCELSIOR
BY HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,
Excelsior!

His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,
Excelsior!

In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,
Excelsior!

“Try not the Pass!” the old man said;
“Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
The roaring torrent is deep and wide!”
And loud that clarion voice replied,
Excelsior!

“Oh stay,” the maiden said, “and rest
Thy weary head upon this breast! ”
A tear stood in his bright blue eye,
But still he answered, with a sigh,
Excelsior!

“Beware the pine-tree’s withered branch!
Beware the awful avalanche!”
This was the peasant’s last Good-night,
A voice replied, far up the height,
Excelsior!

At break of day, as heavenward
The pious monks of Saint Bernard
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,
A voice cried through the startled air,
Excelsior!

A traveller, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,
Excelsior!

There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell like a falling star,
Excelsior!

Excelsior

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A real female

LydiaLee

It has been a long time since I posted last. In light of recent policies of exclusion regarding transgender Americans, I think it’s time I publish a response I drafted recently about my third book.

Dear _______, 

I will reply openly rather than sharing your original post, because I do not wish any backlash to befall you, and because I feel your concerns were both earnestly heartfelt and important to address.

Yours was a very kind note and I am so happy you enjoyed my books and even more happy that you read them with your grandson in a book club. I admire and applaud you for being involved in your grandson’s life. Modeling engaged, enthusiastic literacy is beautiful.

Your note came to a point when you expressed disappointment that I had chosen to include a small role for a woman of color who happened to be transgender. You expressed concern that seeing a trans character would cause gender dysphoria in young readers. The character was one of many that my main characters took under their protection while defending the city from monsters. Her monsters happened to be human.

“The hate/fear attack would be just as realistic and actually a more likely occurrence if Lydia Lee was simply a real female…” you wrote.

What you mean, of course, is that a lesson about not hating and fearing people would be more realistic if Lydia Lee were “cisgender.” (The word “real” implies that trans women don’t exist). And you are right in that there ARE more cisgender women than transgender woman by far. It IS statistically far more likely to come across a cis woman than a trans woman. You’re right that lessons about abused cis women would strike a real chord, as would lessons about abused women of color. You’re right that children ARE ready and able to learn that women of color are sometimes victims of terrible bigotry, and you seem to agree with me that it is appropriate to teach young minds to stand up for them. You seem to agree that that inclusion has value. What we include in literature affects students.

But your letter expressed the clear wish that she had not been transgender, too. What that tells me is that you are concerned about a society that stigmatizes women and people of color—but not about a society that stigmatizes transgendered people. What we avoid in literature affects students, too.

82% of transgender youth report feeling unsafe at school. They are real. Yes, there are more cis women than transgender women—but that’s just the point. Minorities are marginalized. Trans kids are subjected to horrible abuse on a daily basis, and that abuse is legitimized by authories who stigmatize their identity. When TV shows or novels include a trans character—simply acknowledging that they exist—those writers are often accused of pushing a political agenda. The very existence of this minority offends. So what do those students internalize? What do their bullies internalize?

As a teacher of young adults, I have had several transgender students in my classes. In my first year, I witnessed firsthand as a pair of bullies walked past one of my students and, to their face, vomited a litany of transphobic slurs. I was shaking. It was awful and ugly and dehumanizing. I caught up with the bullies and laid into them with absolute certainty that their hate speech was not welcome, and if I ever saw it again I would personally pursue their expulsion.

Then I caught up with my trans student and asked if they were okay.

“Yeah. I’m okay. That was nothing. I went through a lot worse at my old school.”

The response bespoke enormous fortitude, but also turned over a rock and revealed to me an infestation of ugliness that I had not realized was part of my community. That student later shared with me that at their old school, school staff had never done anything to protect them. A few teachers had even suggested that they brought it on themselves, provoking bullies by dressing that way.

That is reality for many trans young adults. It may be why I have had trans readers tell me that they were reduced to tears upon reading that same scene you wish I had not included, because it was the first time they had ever seen a cis character defend a trans character in popular lit.

Society as a whole rejects misogyny. It rejects racism. As my trans students know, however, society as a whole does not reject hatred toward LGBTQ individuals, least of all transphobia. Society often hates them just for existing. But they exist. They are real.

That may be why LGBTQ students—unsupported, undefended, and hated by much of their own society—are eight times more likely to attempt suicide. Sadly, I have firsthand experience with that, as well. One of my amazing, vivacious trans students made an attempt a couple years ago. Thankfully they survived. When they returned, their friends flooded them with love and support, and I personally hugged them and told them how happy I was that they were back. They graduated this year. I am so proud of them and of my community for showing them they matter—even if it was almost too late. I will never stop worrying about the world I send them off into next.

That’s why I am proud to include Lydia Lee in my cast of characters. She is strong and proud and brave, and she is an excellent female role model for my leading lady. She is fictional, but what she represents is very real.

Reading teaches empathy. Your grandson will be a better person thanks to all the books you have shared with him, and thanks to your own caring example. I am so happy that you selected my books among the many that will shape his outlook on the world, and I am all the happier with my decision to include Miss Lee. 

I am confident that having a trans character in the same universe as your grandson has not caused him great emotional distress. I hope that, in some small way, reading about Miss Lee helped him feel more confident being himself and more comfortable respecting the diversity he will encounter in the world he is inheriting from us.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for writing. Keep raising a thoughtful, literate, empathetic young man. The world he is entering will need him at his very best.

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Badgers do care.

hogwarts

I’ve been reading Deathly Hallows with the boys, and thinking a lot about the Professors. Voldemort had risen. The ministry had fallen. Power had shifted in Hogwarts, yet the professors remained at their posts… for the students. When it is safest to run and boldest to fight, sometimes the strongest people are called to do something much harder. They are called—for the sake of others—to hold the ruins on their backs so that those beneath them are not crushed by the wreckage. They are called to endure and lift up. It calls for a sacrifice of one’s pride and prestige, the hardest thing for a Slytherin. It calls for one to knowingly enter into a situation any intelligent mind must realize will not end well, counterintuitive to a Ravenclaw. It calls for one to suppress one’s passions and instincts to act rashly, the Achilles heel of any Gryffindor. It is a time to be the strongest and kindest of all the houses. When conditions are at their worst, when the Battle of Hogwarts is on the horizon, it is a time to be Hufflepuffs. Together.

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What I DESERVE.

A video surfaced recently denouncing inclusive literature. It was a very entitled and deeply offensive diatribe against diversity in publishing. I will not link to it in the interest of not adding fuel to a garbage fire. Instead, here’s a link to the awesome WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS website. The good news is, that video sparked conversations—lots of them—that I believe will do more good than the video did damage. Keep talking.

I’m a white male author. I work my butt off. I write good stories. I have EARNED the success I’ve seen, but that does not mean that I DESERVE it, and that’s a key distinction. I don’t DESERVE sh*t. I’m not ENTITLED to a single book contract or royalty check. I work hard, but there are people who work harder and don’t get published. I am talented, but there are people who are more talented who don’t get published. I’m nice and easy to work with, but there are nicer people out there who don’t get published. The fact is, no matter how good I am, I’m also LUCKY, and a big part of my luck is my inherited identity.

Fellow white authors, we are running a race. I’m tired and sweaty and exhausted, just like you, and so when I look over and see the crowd cheering on a black runner and offering her water, it’s easy for me to say “Hey—no fair! Cheer for ME, not her!” It’s easy because I don’t see the fact that that she is running on a rougher track, or that she has cheap, broken shoes, or that she’s carrying with her heavy baggage containing essential supplies to help an underprivileged community waiting for her at the finish line. I don’t have those problems, so I don’t see them. All I see is that the race is hard for me, and if nobody is making it easier for ME, then they shouldn’t make it easier for ANYONE.

tired-runner
Photo Credit: ostill / 123RF Stock Photo

That line of thinking is bullsh*t, and my privilege means it’s easier for me to say that that’s bullsh*t because it’s not piled on top of me. I’m not a woman, so I won’t be accused of just being a feminazi. I’m not black, so I won’t be accused of being an angry black man. I’m not LGBTQ, so I won’t be accused of having a gay agenda. I won’t be as easily dismissed—and that’s one of the many results of my privilege. It also means that as a privileged man, it falls more heavily on me to use that privilege ethically.

I benefit from my privilege. I’m not ashamed of who I am. I’m not at fault for having privilege… but I’m also not so afraid of my privilege that I feel the need to deny it or play the victim just because I’m NOT a minority. I have power by virtue of my birth. Power is not fault, but power IS responsibility. I have power, so I try to use it responsibly. I try to deserve it.

If I write a character that resonates as offensive to readers in spite of my best efforts—does that mean they’re just oversensitive social justice warriors? NO IT DOES NOT. Mark Twain was a noble abolitionist fighting for African Americans to be respected in the South. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t also sometimes straight up racist. CALL THAT SH*T OUT. It’s okay. Mark Twain would understand. So will I.

Twain

If my flawed efforts at making the world better through my books sparks a heated conversation that I didn’t anticipate, GOOD! Have that conversation! Let the critical conversation do the good that my book failed to do! Critical thinkers make the world better one disagreement at a time.

The world needs diverse books by diverse authors. Unique perspectives and cultures are lost every time a publisher buys another white male protagonist while turning down a brilliant manuscript by a minority purely because they’re not looking for an “ethnic” book this season. I’ll get published or I won’t. The minority author querying at the same time won’t change that.

Those books are not my competitors. Those authors are not the enemy. They are simply the ones that will reach readers in ways that I don’t. We’re in it together, growing readers and making the world a better place. Together.

So, fellow white writers—you’re exhausted, I get it. Me too. Don’t jeer at the other runners—that’s petty and ugly—try to cheer them on, instead. See one of them struggling in broken sneakers? Offer them your spare set. See one who has fallen? Help them up. You might find that when we support each other the whole race becomes a much more pleasant experience.

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Media quickie

GHOSTLY ECHOES officially released this week, which has come with loads of new pieces out there in the media that I keep not getting around to sharing, so here is a quick stack of them all together!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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