I’m moving!

Sick of seeing ads? Wish you could remember my url? Want to read good words somewhere new and different? Me too! That is why this blog has been moved to a new, better place.

I beg you, follow me this way to http://www.once-and-future.com. Don’t forget to update your links, too!

See you there!

Test test!

This is a test post – please disregard!

In which I change place, talk about place

With ChiZine.com refocussing to feature their own publications, the folks at Apex Magazine have been good enough to host my short story review column, Clavis Aurea. The first installment is out today – check it out! Every second Thursday from now on.

Clavis Aurea – February 20, 2014

My short story reviews are up at ChiZine.com! Check ’em out.

Representing Daddy

Because my children are very small, they do not, at this stage, look for themselves in books. Their brains don’t work like that yet – they take themselves for granted, since they are the centre of the universe, and they look instead for the people they see around them. Oonagh, who is two, likes to find Maggie, who is five. They point out when characters look like Mommy. And they get very special delight out of finding Daddy.

Not that it happens very often. Daddy doesn’t turn up in books very often, and when he does, he’s not the guy you want to root for. Among the characters my kids have identified as “daddy”:

Jafar, from Aladdin

Scar, from The Lion King

Mommy wishes, kid.

My children are generally perplexed by the daddies they see in books, who, at best, they identify as being their Uncle Gordon. They tend to be pudgy, pale, balding fellows who look like this:

I am a big believer that representation in media matters, especially to children. Kids learn from books. That’s why we read to them so willingly. I am constantly on the lookout not just for books that represent the kids in diverse ways, but the families as well. Kids can learn to be ashamed of or embarrassed by their family situation at a shockingly young age, and I’m keen to head that off at the pass. Your daddy isn’t a bad guy, girls, no matter what Disney likes to say.

I have recommended Jill Thompson’s Magic Trixie here before, but it has recently re-emerged as a favourite in this house. Maggie recommended it for Keep Toronto Reading two years ago.

I have a lot of reasons for loving Magic Trixie, as a geeky parent. It’s a graphic novel, a form intrinsic to my childrens’ nerd heritage. It features cool, quirky children depicted in age-appropriate ways, unlike the similar-but-actually-completely-reprehensible Monster High brand. It’s funny, readable and beautiful. It shows a variety of (admittedly heteronormative) families of many colours and, best of all, the daddy looks like Daddy.

Though, real Daddy does not, sadly, ride a bitchin’ broom.

Fighting the tide of crummy media representation is a huge chore, made harder if you have specific characters you are looking for in your stories. Kids don’t need to see their family everywhere, but when they see families depicted in only one way over and over – they get the message. We’ve tried to balance things in our house.

Pop over to Jim C. Hines’s blog and read his ongoing series of guest-posts about representation. There are some heartbreaking stories, but also some fantastic recommendations. However you or your family identify, there is great fiction to identify with. The trick is just finding it.

See? Not at all evil. Maybe a little evil. In a fun way.

Want to be a Bookseller for a Day?

There is some excellent discussion over at E. Catherine Tobler’s blog about reading women, something we should all be doing more. There is nothing new under the sun: this issue comes up all the time (as it should), and in particular I remember the furor that followed this article in the Guardian three years ago. We all swore up and down to read more women, and some excellent people swore to read only women to make up for it.

Do we? Well. A cursory look at my most recent reads on Goodreads reveals I’m sitting at about 50%, which is good, but I still feel disconnected. I force myself to read a lot of women when I am reading “good for me” books. Capital-L Literature. I need to read George Eliot just as badly as I need to read Thomas Hardy. But when people ask me who I love best? Those writers I will reach for each and every time I can? All men. Eco, Dumas, Stephenson, Chabon, Murakami. My favourite books are all written by men. Tolstoy, Peake, Herbert, Heller. I am a terrible cheerleader for women’s writing.

But this wasn’t always the case. When I was deep into reading fantasy and mythic fiction in the late 90s and early ’00s, every single book I loved was by a woman.

Every. Single. One.

What happened? How did I fail to keep up? Now, ten, fifteen years later, I don’t know who else came up to join the women whose writing I once loved. A lot of the women I used to read have retired, vanished, or died. The new generation seems to be writing YA. I am tired of reading about teenagers.

So I put this to the crowd. I have made a list below of the books I loved as a young woman. Can you recommend anything to me that I might love now? I hardly remember the books, aside from that I loved them – and it is possible that my tastes have matured and changed. That might explain why, for example, I feel such a strong attraction to alt historical novels, and yet I hated Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon. Maybe I have moved on? Or maybe not. Try me.

The Mabinogion Tetralogy by Evangeline Walton
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Wood Wife by Terri Windling
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson
The Innamorati by Midori Snyder
The Stars Dispose by Michaela Roessner
The Moon and the Sun by Vonda McIntyre
The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells
The Shadow of Albion by Andre Norton & Rosemary Edghill

Under Construction!

After nearly a year on hiatus  I am almost ready to relaunch the blog! What have I been up to? Writing, mostly. While I’m rebuilding, I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter @CharlotteAshley! You can also read my short story review column, Clavis Aurea, at ChiZine.com.

See you soon!

That Little Something Extra

Yours humbly.

It was a random act. Last spring I contributed to an Indigeogo campaign to help Irish cartoonist Dale O’Flaherty get to TCAF. I had no idea who Dale was, nor was I familiar with his work, but his Tumblr was cute and it was cheap to pitch in. Shouldn’t everyone have the chance to hit the awesomeness that is TCAF? So I kicked in a bit.

Cartoonists? I love them. What is it about the ability to draw thrifty, expressive little people that makes a creator so darn likable? Not only did Dale draw for me the sketch on the left (a portrait I now use as my Twitter avatar), but this week he mailed me both of his mini-comics and, once again, there was that personal touch:

I have long held that this is part of what makes collecting comics or graphic novels so fun. Most writers will sign your book. If you’re lucky, they will “personalize” the signature with a vapid little “Hope you enjoy the book, Charlotte!”. It is often uninspiring, whereas there is something really special about a personalized drawing.

A lot of it is that most of us can’t draw ourselves, and so those little sketches are a bit of magic. It’s something to treasure that nobody else could have done, and nobody else can have.  Can words hold the same magic? Short of writing a limerick in the flap of every book you sign, can a writer offer the same fan service?

I want to say yes, because I do believe that writing is as much a skill as drawing, dancing, coding or welding. A good writer has a power the average person does not have. So is there a way to personalize and to share that skill? To reduce writing to tiny parcels that can be created on the fly for any anxious fan?

Tweets? Bitty poems? Or are those little notes that I heartlessly labelled “vapid” above valued and treasured by the fan? What can a writer give only you that will make you treasure their work always?

Canada Reads 2013 Review #2 – The Age of Hope

David Bergen preempted this review in the last chapter of The Age of Hope with a scene in which Hope’s middle daughter, Penny, divulges her intention to write a novel that sounds like it’s likely to be a biography of her mother.

“It will be too episodic. You’ll need some backbone to the story. A plot. My life was plotless.” Hope tells her daughter. Later she thinks her friend Emily’s life might make a better book. “What was so important about Hope Koop? Emily, in every way, had lived a more interesting life.”

Emily isn’t the only one. Hope is surrounded by people whose lives sound as if they would make good novels: her Olympian daughter, her strange, tumultuous, declining son, her cousin caged in marriage, a hitch-hiking indigenous man, even her house-cleaning Communist co-worker. These colourful supporting characters might have livened up the book but for Hope’s solipsism  She is so “mystified” by herself, the world, and the people in it that the other people who appear in her life are pushed away, appearing only in glimpses seen at a distance.  It is as if Bergen’s project was to pluck a character from the margins, the most ordinary background character he could think of, and do them some kind of justice by giving them centre stage.

While I appreciate Bergen’s desire to give a voice to a demographic that is not given enough credit, good intentions on behalf of the author do not make a good story. Hope’s story is boring. Bergen mirrors the simple mediocrity of Hope’s life with equally simple, mediocre language and leaves the reader very little to hold on to.

Hope has brushes with plot – episodes – which threaten, occasionally, to turn into interesting stories. She has a nervous breakdown and spends time in an institution having electroshock therapy. She has to rebuild her life after a bankruptcy.  In late life she meets a man and embarks, abortively, on a new, adult relationship. But none of these episodes are given much page space or gravitas, and Hope’s relentless ignorance and obstinacy prevent her from really taking these events into herself, letting them change her or put her on a new path. No, they are blips, potholes, on the road through her dull, mediocre life.

What was perhaps the most baffling thing about Age of Hope was how other characters would occasionally suggest that what we were reading was somehow extraordinary. Hope’s friends comment about how different she is. Her different way of looking at things. She reads books, we’re told, though she doesn’t often seem to like or understand them. If this was meant to suggest that the people of Hope’s community were on the whole even more self-centred, ignorant and little-minded than she was, I am terrified for the people of Manitoba.  The few moments of free-thinking and charity she afforded others hardly warrant more than a golf clap. Stayed friends with your friend the divorcee? Yah, okay. Drove your daughter’s friend out for an abortion? Want a medal?

Perhaps this was a very bad reader/book pairing, but I found very little to like in this book. At least when Dostoevsky wrote The Adolescent he was purposely painting a portrait of a headstrong, self-absorbed, painful stage of human development. Hope, on the other hand, never grows up. If anything, she becomes more adolescent as she ages.

Perhaps I missed the joke, though. Perhaps “Age of Hope” was meant to be ironic, and this was a cynical tirade against the generation that squandered the wealth of a civilization. That might help me justify why Bergen, a perfectly competent writer, bothered “tackling” this story. Alas, that might be too much to Hope for.

My money is still on Indian Horse. And I Hope you’ll join us on Twitter Thursday, January 10th 2013 at 2pm EST to discuss Age of Hope under the #Canadareads hashtag! You can read a roundup of the reviews at Bookgaga’s blog here.

Read 2013

The books I have read in 2013, and links to the reviews (where I bothered):

The Age of Hope by David Bergen
Away by Jane Urquhart
February by Lisa Moore
Dark Matter: Reading the Bones ed. Sheree R. Thomas
The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge
Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge

See my 2012, 2011, 2010 & 2009 reading lists too!