NEW AT BEACON: Saved By a Kiss: Neil Gaiman’s “The Sleeper and the Spindle”

Illustrations by Chris Riddell.

Today’s piece at Beacon discusses a new book for young readers written by one of my faves, Neil Gaiman, called The Sleeper and the Spindle.


It’s the story of a woman saving another woman, teaching that we can and should help each other, rather than compete. It’s the story of a queen who is unsure of marriage having an adventure and hoping to do something bigger with her life than just stick to the prescribed path of marriage-babies-death. It’s the story of a woman who sees something that needs doing and is capable of solving the problem herself, rather than calling the nearest man to do it. In a fairy tale setting, that’s huge, because so often, girls are taught to wait for princes.

To read the full article and/or comment on the article, CLICK HERE! That’s right! Whether you subscribe to me at Beacon or not, you can now read all of my posts for FREE for seven days. So feel free to not only read and comment, but pass the link around! Hopefully, you’ll like what you read enough (both my work and the work of some of the other talented writers at Beacon) to subscribe to me for as little as $5/month and enjoy all that Beacon has to offer!

And if you like what you read, don’t forget to click the “Worth It” button at the bottom of the article! 🙂 Thanks!

ANNOUNCEMENT: I’m a Chick Who Digs Gaming!

Chicks Dig Gaming cover illustration by the squee-worthy Katy Shuttleworth.

Chicks Dig Gaming cover illustration by the squee-worthy Katy Shuttleworth.

So, you may have heard about this awesome new anthology being published by Mad Norwegian Press called Chicks Dig Gaming, which is coming out on November 11, 2014! Edited by Jennifer Brozek (Apocalypse Ink Productions), Robert Smith? (Who is the Doctor) and Lars Pearson (editor-in-chief, the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig series), this anthology brings together essays by nearly three dozen female writers to celebrate the gaming medium (both video and tabletop) and its creators, and to examine the characters and series that they love. Contributors include: Catherynne M. Valente (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…, Indistinguishable from Magic) examines Super Mario Bros. through the lens of Samsara, the Wheel of Birth and Rebirth; Seanan McGuire (the October Daye series) details how gaming taught her math; G. Willow Wilson (Alif the Unseen) revels in World of Warcraft; and Rosemary Jones (Forgotten Realms) celebrates world traveler Nellie Bly and the board game she inspired.

Other contributors include Emily Care Boss (Gaming as Women), Jen J. Dixon (The Walking Eye), Racheline Maltese (The Book of Harry Potter Triffles…), Mary Anne Mohanraj (Bodies in Motion), L.M. Myles (Chicks Unravel Time), Jody Lynn Nye (the MythAdventures series), and E. Lily Yu (“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”). Also featured: exclusive interviews with Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens and Dragonlance author Margaret Weis.

And do you know who else is a contributor? 

That’s right – ME! 🙂 This is my third contribution to a Mad Norwegian anthology, and I’m so thrilled to be among such illustrious company! Chicks Dig Gaming will feature my essay, Who In the Hell is Carmen Sandiego?, about everyone’s favorite Miss of Misdemeanor and why she’s such an important character.

Recently, I had the pleasure of participating at a reading held by DTLAB / Writ Large Press as part of their 90In90 series (90 literary events in 90 days – this one was, like, 54 or something! Yeesh!) at Traxx in Union Station, and I read my Carmen Sandiego essay to a very enthusiastic audience! I have a video of my reading, but as I was surprised by being asked to go first, and didn’t have a chance to explain how my camera worked to the friend I was with, she managed to figure it out and start recording well into my reading. Still, it’s a good three-minute-ish chunk that’ll give you a taste of what you can expect when you read it in full in Chicks Dig Gaming! 😉 (Pssst! It’s currently available for pre-order!)

The other thing I never pointed out to my friend? Where the zoom button was. 🙂 Luckily, I’m loud. Enjoy!

TERESA’S BOOKSHELF – “CHICK LIT” EDITION: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Book: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2004)

Author: Susanna Clarke

Chosen because: Female author; female illustrator – Portia Rosenberg

Finally, after almost three years of picking it up and putting it down again (and I know when I started reading it, because I was using my ticket stub from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway in 2011 as a bookmark), I finished it!

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke…I have BEATEN YOU.

It’s the story of two magicians in 19th Century England. Mr. Norrell is an old fogey who thinks that being a magician is an elite thing that requires decades of study, tons of books, and isolation. Jonathan Strange is a handsome, younger man who becomes one of Mr. Norrell’s best pupils, and thinks that magic should be more accessible to everyone and that Mr. Norrell is totally unfairly hoarding his knowledge (not to mention all the books in his kick-ass library!). Wackiness – including several people being stolen away to Faerie, travel and war, and one instance of a severed finger – ensues.

A large part of me enjoyed the hell out of this book. It was as if Jane Austen wrote a Tolkien novel. There’s tons of humor, well-rounded characters, and a seemingly huge knowledge of genre. Clarke clearly knows and loves English fantasy literature. Also, I’m a sucker for books for adults that have illustrations, and Portia Rosenberg’s illustrations do a great job of  evoking the magical environment of Clarke’s 19th Century England.

So, why did it take me three years to finish it?

Well, at 846 pages, it’s long, and not an easy “Harry Potter long.” It’s a dense book with even denser footnotes from alternate-history books that don’t even exist. The actual plot, though it involves a bunch of characters, is actually really simple and straightforward, but it often feels bogged down (and lost) in world-building. You could probably cut 200 pages from this book and have it be the same book, so that made it a bit of a slog. The parts I loved, I loved because they were more Austen than Tolkien, because of the commentary on humanity, manners, and our relationship to magic and stories. The parts that lost me – or rather, the parts during which I found myself distracted by other, shinier books – were the in-depth passages that dissected the faux history of magic in England.

I know, for many of you that’s probably exactly what you loved about the book. Fine. That’s why you’re you, and I’m me. 🙂

I have a thing about footnotes, too. If you’re going to build a world, you should be able to weave it seamlessly into the narrative. Footnotes, to me, scream The story doesn’t actually have anything to do with any of these details, but AREN’T THEY COOL? No, not really. I’d much rather get back to what the characters are doing, thanks.

Not that all the characters were great. There were entire swaths of characters – like the entire Greysteele family, for instance – who only seemed to exist to do this one thing, and I was all Couldn’t you just cut this whole stupid, boring family out and have one of the other characters do this one thing? Cause this family takes up a lot of prime real estate and they’re SO BORING.

The thing is, I kept coming back to the book, because much of it was well-written, and fun. Most of the characters also kept me coming back. It’s a testament to Clarke’s writing that I enjoyed getting to know these people, and I found myself wanting to get back to them. In addition to the titular magicians, the black servant, Stephen, was fascinating as he struggled between escaping from Faerie and going back to an England that looks down on people with his skin color. Strange’s wife, Arabella, was also interesting, and I found myself thinking that she could’ve done a lot better than Jonathan; and Norrell’s mysterious servant, Childermass has an intriguing journey from monosyllabic toughie to magic enthusiast.

This is Clarke’s first novel, and it’s a doozy. It’s really ambitious, and she’s clearly a talented writer. I just wish that she would’ve gotten out of her own way a bit, and trusted the fact that her story was good enough without all the superfluous footnotes and alternate history. The ending of the novel made it seem like we haven’t seen the last of these characters, and I feel like there must be a sequel in the works (there’s also a BBC mini-series in the works). I’m looking forward to it, and I hope that Clarke will go back to basics, keeping the magic, but losing the world-building for its own sake.

YOU ARE HERE: WriteGirl’s Latest Book Has Launched!

The new WriteGirl anthology has arrived!

The new WriteGirl anthology has arrived!

I continue to be awed and inspired through my involvement with WriteGirl. Every year, WriteGirl publishes an anthology of work written by both mentees and mentors in the program, and this weekend was the book launch of their latest publication. It’s called You Are Here: The WriteGirl Journey, and it’s a beautiful volume that contains some really affecting, emotional prose and poetry, as well as some wonderful writing exercises for the teenagers in your life.

The book launch was held at the Mark Taper Auditorium at the L.A. Public Library on 5th Street in DTLA, which is a beautiful building and a great space to work (support your local libraries, y’all!). I was there volunteering to help sell books at one of the book tables at the event, but I was also able to attend the actual reading…

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The Mark Taper Auditorium is such an awesome venue. It’s so great that they partnered with WriteGirl for this event!

I'd heard this girl read her work before at other WriteGirl events, and she's amazing. Such a lively reader!

I’d heard this girl read her work before at other WriteGirl events, and she’s amazing. Such a lively reader!

It was incredible. About fifteen girls read their original work from the anthology, and I was flummoxed by how good their work was. It reminded me of how much potential and fearlessness I had as a young writer, and I have to say I envied them. They wrote in a way that I used to, but seem to have forgotten. Putting everything on the page shamelessly – because when you’re a teenage girl, you don’t care how “melodramatic” you sound. You’re not guarded, or ashamed of your feelings. And even though many of the girls seemed nervous to be reading their work in front of people, some for the first time, they certainly weren’t nervous about committing their intense, unfettered emotion to the page, and it gave me a huge amount of respect for them. It also reminded me that that part of myself is still in here somewhere, and I have to remember that even though my craft as a writer has improved, it needs to be balanced out by the fearlessness that only disappears with your youth if you let it.

Another wonderful reader whom I met earlier while I was at the book table. We bonded over the importance of getting the right "vibe" from a journal before choosing it. :)

Another wonderful reader whom I met earlier while I was at the book table. We bonded over the importance of getting the right “vibe” from a journal before choosing it. 🙂

If you’d like to support and encourage that fearlessness, I strongly urge you to get a copy of You Are Here! It’s a great read for adults, and it can be an inspiring gift to give a teenage girl in your life, even if she might not otherwise be into reading or writing on her own. There’s something about reading the work of your peers that’s different and special, and if you can give that gift to a young woman you know, it can be an amazing thing.

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And lastly, there’s going to be one last volunteer training on February 1st, because there are still so many girls who need us. So, if you’re in the Los Angeles area and want to help, it’s not too late! Visit the WriteGirl website to find out more!

After all, if WriteGirl is good enough for Michelle Obama (she presented WriteGirl with the 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award), it should be good enough for you! :)

After all, if WriteGirl is good enough for Michelle Obama (she presented WriteGirl with the 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award), it should be good enough for you! 🙂

My Dad Was a Writer

So, you know that I’m a writer. What you might not know is that my father was also a writer. 🙂 Apples and trees or somesuch. Anyway, back when he was in the Air Force in the late 1950s, he wrote and published a slim volume of poetry called Pillars of My Strength, used copies of which are available on Amazon as my brother recently discovered!

I bought one that is apparently “inscribed and signed by the author.” 🙂

You see, we had one family copy, but in all of our moves, it got lost. So it’ll be nice to have a copy of in the family again. Feel free to snatch up the other available copies, though! My dad’s actually a really good poet. This is his early stuff from his 20s, so it’s all sorts of “trying too hard,” but still, good. And he only got better as he got older, as it should be. Sadly, he’s in no shape to write anymore, but I’ve invited him to read at readings I’ve put together, and he wrote plays and poems well into his late 60s…he had a lot of talent, and the world should know that.

I’m thinking about doing a video series where I do readings of his poems once I get the book, so stay tuned for that! 🙂 Sometimes I think I might produce one of his plays sometime, just to get it out into the world. We’ll see about that, too…

I guess what I’m trying to say is: I’m proud of my father. He was a really good writer, and I’m sorry he was never able to pursue it the way he wanted to. I guess, in this family, that’ll be my job. 🙂

A newspaper clipping from a local paper in Victorville, CA announcing the publication of Pillars of My Strength in 1959. My dad was 24.

A newspaper clipping from a local paper in Victorville, CA announcing the publication of Pillars of My Strength in 1959. My dad was 24. They spelled his name wrong, but whatevs. 🙂

SONG OF THE DAY: “LONDON CALLING” – THE CLASH (In Honor of Paul Cornell’s US Novel Release Day!)

So, I was lucky enough to get an advance review copy of Paul Cornell’s new urban fantasy novel, London Falling, the story of a group of cops who end up getting the power to see all the supernatural goings on in London. I’m about halfway through it, and will be reviewing it officially for NerdSpan, but my early review is…it’s awesome. Seriously. You all already know I’m huge fan of Cornell’s work, but this is the best thing of his I’ve ever read (and in case you doubt my objectivity, come find me and I’ll tell you what the not-so-great things are). If you’re curious about the novel and you live in the US, you are in luck! The UK has had the book since December (and if you’re in the UK and haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?!), but the book is released in the US TODAY! Hardback, e-book (DRM-free from Tor!), etc, etc. So pick up a copy this week! If you love urban fantasy, or just good stories that have fast-paced plots but are still very much character-driven and emotional, you won’t be disappointed. Promise.

And in honor of this book’s release, today’s Song of the Day is “London Calling” by The Clash. Enjoy!


“Not Into” It: Why No Relationship Is a Waste Of Time

Justin Long and Ginnifer Goodwin in “He’s Just Not That Into You”

So, I was chatting online with a friend last night, and we got on the topic of her current romantic situation. After giving her a bit of (what I think was some) sound advice (which is hilarious when you consider my own romantic history – it’s always easier to give advice than to take it), I finally came around to the big thing that was really bothering me, and I remembered that I’d written something for an old blog to that effect. So, I’m reprinting it below, because I still stand by every word. Please keep in mind that I wrote this in 2009 just before the film version of He’s Just Not That Into You came out. I’ve since seen the movie, and it’s pretty cute (and not nearly as annoying as the book). I’ve also since bought Kate Nash’s Made of Bricks, and I currently have a boyfriend, both of which are awesome.


Back in 2004, when Sex and the City was in its heyday and anything said to be like or inspired by it flew off the shelves, a book called He’s Just Not That Into You hit stores and became an instant smash.  (Not so coincidentally one of the book’s authors, Greg Behrendt, was a consultant on Sex and the City, and took inspiration from the episode “Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little”)  When the book came out, several of my friends told me about it, claiming that it was a book I had to read.  After much prodding, I finally picked it up at a bookstore and read the first chapter in the store’s cafe.

I hated it instantly.

Proponents of the book would probably say that it rubbed me the wrong way because it “touched a nerve”, “hit too close to home”, or “showed me a truth I didn’t want to acknowledge.”  But, um….no.  I didn’t have a problem with the advice not to continue pursuing or making excuses for a man who is not returning phone calls or asking you out when they’re clearly not interested.  That, I got.  Hell, I had given a lot of my guy friends the same advice!  I have male friends who have sent e-mails back and forth with a girl, the girl would continually find reasons not to go out, and they’d continue in pursuit convinced she was “playing hard to get”.  Eventually, I’d say “You know what?  If a girl is interested, she will go out with you.  I don’t care that she has work the next day.  I don’t care that her favorite TV show is on.  I don’t care that she has a paper to write.  She will make time.”

So, I agreed with the basic message.  It was something I knew without needing a book to teach it to me.  “Letting Someone Down Easy” with an excuse is something boys and girls learn in the beginning of their dating lives.  Yet there was something else about this book that upset me fundamentally.  There was something about this book that felt like nails on a chalkboard and made me want to punch cute kittens in the face.  When I heard that a movie version of the book was being released, all the old irrational anger resurfaced.  Why do I hate this book so much? I thought.  Why does the very thought of this movie being made make me want to start hitting things?

Now that the film release of He’s Just Not That Into You is upon us, I think I’ve put my finger on it:

I’m Just Not Into Marriage As the Be-All, End-All 

The underlying attitude of every piece of advice in this book is that if a relationship isn’t leading to marriage, it’s a waste of time.  And that’s what rubs me the wrong way.  Marriage has become the thing that women want almost at the expense of the person they’re marrying. So many women want the wedding so badly, they forget that there’s a person attached to the arm holding out the box with the ring in it.  Men become “marriage material.”  Think about it.  Marriage material – the stuff from which you can create a solid marriage.  Not a best friend, not an amazing lover, but material.  So not only does this book smack of faux-feminism – women should be chased and get the men they deserve because they’re worth it, but are still only as valuable as the men they can attract – but men are objectified, too.  People stop being people and start being commodities, and all the while women are told to stop spending time with men who “won’t commit,” (Commit to what?  To spending regular time together and having fun?) because they have to keep their eyes on the prize, and the prize is….marriage.


Behrendt would probably say it has to do with nature.  In response to women thinking about asking their crush out, he says “Some traditions are born of nature and last through time for a reason.”  I beg to differ.

Today’s norms and social mores having to do with courtship or marriage have nothing to do with nature and everything to do with economics.  Guys paying for dates to show they can provide for a woman?  Economics.  Men chasing women to assert that they are “hunters”?  Economics.  Women racing to get married by a certain time to ensure that they can have children?  Yes, even that has to do with economics.  Life will find a way, and the human race will reproduce one way or another…so, why is it so important that a woman be married to a child’s father?  Once human beings began creating villages, towns, cities, countries, civilizations, both an economic system and a patriarchal society developed. Having children became the way to ensure a family’s social and economic status.  Marrying a virgin of child-bearing age became a priority, because having a child with a virgin ensured that property would be passed down through a reliable lineage that no other man could lay claim to.  A woman getting married and having a child ensured that both she and her child would be well cared for.  Yet, feelings, desires, indeed anything that would constitute nature, weren’t serious considerations.  At best, love was icing on the economically-driven cake.

Now, let’s have a look at nature.  We always think of nature in terms of hunters and gatherers, and when we translate this to discuss human beings, we have the rigid view of men being the hunters and women being the gatherers.  What about lions?  Lionesses are the ones that go out and hunt and bring food back to the pride.  What about wolves?  Male and female wolves hunt side by side and either female or male subordinate wolves can stay behind to watch over cubs.  The same goes for primates, our closest relatives in the wild.  Then there’s the fact that in nature, it is the males who have colorful plumage and need to be attractive to the females as they wait for them to call.  (Explain to me why I need to put on make up and wear heels again?)

Marriage has nothing to do with nature.  Yet today, women kill themselves in pursuit of it and are made to feel like they are “wasting their time” if they don’t obtain it immediately.  Is a 10 year relationship in which the couple isn’t married, but lives together, sharing their lives (and possibly children), being there for each other day in and day out more of a waste of time than a two year marriage?  Is a solid, 2-year relationship that peters out naturally as the two people decide they don’t want to be together anymore a bigger waste of time than a 20-year marriage that was rushed into because a woman’s biological clock was ticking only for her to discover that she didn’t really want to share her life with this man at all?

Every relationship is valuable. Every relationship has something to offer and teach us, but we’ve come to spend so much time focusing on the end goal that we don’t see what’s right in front of us: an amazing friendship, companionship, wonderful sex, having someone to whom we are important, and vice-versa.  Whether it lasts a year, or fifty years; whether there’s a piece of paper saying that you are legally wed, or you spend those fifty years together simply because you never stopped wanting to, it’s a treasure.  Books like He’s Just Not That Into You have us goal-oriented to the point of our own detriment.

Books and films like this have also acted to sabotage women in pursuit of the very things they advocate.  Several guys I’ve begun relationships with end them, because they’re not in the “headspace” to date seriously and they don’t want to “waste my time.”  I call this “Pre-Emptive Commitment Phobia.”  They’re so afraid that a woman will be upset at them for not wanting to commit to a “serious” relationship, that they end it before it has a chance to begin.  Meanwhile, I don’t care about ending up together forever!  I was perfectly willing to just spend time together for a while, get to know each other, and have some fun.  And this isn’t just limited to heterosexual couples!  I have gay and lesbian friends who have had the same pre-emptive commitment phobia affect their relationships, and they can’t even legally marry everywhere!  Now, we’re deprived of companionship because a couple of stupid books and films have society convinced that everyone, deep-down, wants each relationship to be the relationship that leads to marriage, and that anything else is failure.  They don’t, and it isn’t.

I’m Just Not Into the Never-Ending Economic Cycle 

The ultimate proof that marriage has more to do with economics than nature is the fact that a book like He’s Just Not That Into You even exists.  I never feel as lonely, or as bad about being single as I do when I’m in a group of people talking about relationships.  As I go about my day to day life, I’m not agonizing over the boyfriend I don’t have, or the kids I’d better think about popping out soon.  I’m thinking about my life.  Now.

Then, I get together with a group of friends and we start spouting the very things found in these books or films, and suddenly I’m neurotic about what I should be wanting.  Is there something wrong with me?  Maybe I DO need to hurry up and find someone!  Maybe I SHOULDN’T be wasting my time.  Maybe I need to take this more SERIOUSLY.  Suddenly, there is unhappiness and agitation where there wasn’t any before.  Suddenly, I’m neurotic.  Not because I feel lonely or lacking, but because I’m freaked out by other people being so worried about me and my future.  Surely, there must be something to it. Otherwise people wouldn’t be saying all this!

Yet, all there is to it is books and films like these.  Books and films that showcase a single path toward happiness, make people feel inadequate if they aren’t on that path, and offer methods of “self-help” in order to help them get on it.  Methods one has to buy.


Not to mention the fact that the wedding industry is a huge racket even people on a modest budget feel compelled to take part in.  When women hear that a female friend of theirs has gotten engaged, we’re trained to ask “Let me see the ring!” first.  As if the ring’s size or stone were the true determinants of whether or not this guy and this wedding is a good idea.  Even the least expensive bridal gowns cost several hundred dollars.  Whether you rent a venue, or have your wedding in your backyard, there are still catering, flowers, photographs, and music to be considered.  That’s without factoring in a bridal party, for whom things need to be purchased.  The wedding business is a multi-billion dollar industry.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that society fights so hard to make weddings important.  A lot of people would be unemployed if they weren’t.  There would also be significantly fewer books sold.

Believe It Or Not, I AM Into Marriage

I think it might be time to reconsider exactly what marriage means.

I’ll save my feelings about gay marriage, polygyny, and polyandry for another time (though my thinking about and mentioning them at all should give you an indication of how I feel about them), but we have a 50% divorce rate these days for a reason.  I think a large part of it is that we live at a time when we’ve learned to be truer to our individual selves.  We’ve come to expect a certain level of personal happiness in addition to wanting to care for the greater good.  However, we bring that desire for personal happiness into a firmly-established institution that is primarily concerned with economics.  Is it any wonder, then, that money is the largest cause of discord in most marriages?  Fights over who paid for what, who is providing for whom?  People are taught to marry by a certain time and are taught to take finances into consideration, but they aren’t taught that it’s acceptable to wait until you find someone who truly makes you happy.  Marriage as it is now is about contributing to society, not about two people connecting to each other.  It’s about what you should want, and not about what you might actually want.  If people actually do connect, they’re lucky.

Despite all that, I would like to be married someday.  There are several couples in my life that make marriage look good and whose marriages, if I ever find someone I want to marry, I’d want to emulate. There is something beautiful to me about choosing someone forever, promising them that you will be there for them no matter what, and knowing that they offer you the same in return.  I understand the impulse not only to want to make that promise to each other, but share the power of that promise with your loved ones.  I’m not someone who is sour on the entire institution.  I just think that the institution should evolve as much as human beings have.

I want marriage, but I don’t need marriage.  There’s a difference.

So, I won’t be seeing He’s Just Not That Into You.  I never bought (or bought into) the book, and I don’t want to be disappointed by the sight of actresses I enjoy and respect enacting that tripe.  It’s a shame, then, that one of my favorite songs of the moment is Beyonce’s Single Ladies:

If you liked it, then you should’ve put a ring on it

If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it….

DAMMIT, that song is catchy!  Ah well.  I downloaded it illegally, so I didn’t pay money for it.  Sorry, Beyonce.  If you want to pay for a great song that has a truly positive message about relationships, check out Kate Nash’s Merry Happy:

Chatting on the phone

can’t take back those hours

but I won’t regret

’cause you can grow flowers

from where dirt used to be

And more importantly:

I can be alone, yeah

I can watch a sunset on my own

I can be alone, yeah

I can watch a sunset on my own

I can be alone…

Her album, I plan on buying.