Alexandra Duncan

Science Fiction. Fantasy. Feminism.

2016 HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY

Hey, folks! Whether you're celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule, or just the end of a phenomenally terrible year, it's time to spread a little cheer. If you've followed this blog for a while, you know that each year, I give away books and an honorary charitable donation in December. This year, in recognition of all the people endangered by the hate spread by our president-elect, I've picked out some of my favorite diverse books to give away (in addition to an ARC of my upcoming book Blight). Here's what's in this year's prize box. . .

A sweet and quirky F/F love story, with themes of faith and family intertwined.

A sweet and quirky F/F love story, with themes of faith and family intertwined.

An epic love story (with flesh-eating horses).

An epic love story (with flesh-eating horses).

A ballerina confronts the truth about her childhood friend's kidnapping. The author's new book, LITTLE & LION, comes out in 2017!

A ballerina confronts the truth about her childhood friend's kidnapping. The author's new book, LITTLE & LION, comes out in 2017!

Be the very first person to read an ARC of my new eco-thriller BLIGHT, coming August 2017.

Be the very first person to read an ARC of my new eco-thriller BLIGHT, coming August 2017.

A reluctant bruja embarks on an epic journey to rescue her family from evil.

A reluctant bruja embarks on an epic journey to rescue her family from evil.

That's not all! I will also donate $50 in the winner's honor to We Need Diverse Books. If we're going to fight racism and build a more caring, inclusive world, we need to build empathy and give everyone a chance to have their voice heard. The best way to do that is to fill the world with books that show everyone's point of view. We Need Diverse Books is committed to doing just that.

Enter below!

MITIGATING THE DAMAGE

Okay. Deep breath.

I'm sitting here on my lunch break at work, still trying to get myself to that acceptance part of the Kubler-Ross grief scale. I knew that last night's election results were going to be tight. I grew up in North Carolina, after all. I still live in a blue bubble within that red state. But I thought despite the gerrymandering and coordinated voter suppression, we might still squeak by and avoid electing a KKK-endorsed xenophobic misogynist. I was too optimistic.

It isn't just him coming to power that scares me, but what it means - emboldened racists, homophobes, and Islamophobes, more danger for my friends and neighbors, and even some members of my family. I want to protect them. I wish I could physically shield them from what I'm afraid is coming, but I can't.

I hardly slept last night. I went to bed late, after it became clear Trump was going to win, and then woke up periodically and lay there, trying to think of what I could possibly do to mitigate the damage. Maybe you're like me, and they only way to deal with your grief and anxiety is to turn it into action. If so, here's what I suggest we do.

Today

1) Watch out for each other. Emotions are going to be high today, and assholes are going to be emboldened. Whatever privilege you have, use it to help others more vulnerable than you. This illustration by artist Maeril is a good starting place:

2) Reach out. Let your friends and neighbors know you are there for them by asking what they need and how you can help. If you need help yourself, don't feel bad about asking.

3) Pick a social justice organization and donate to it. These organizations are going to be our bulwark in the coming months and years. I'm picking the NC NAACP, because of all the amazing work they've done combating voter suppression efforts in North Carolina, and because they are a wonderful ally to LGBT organizations like the Campaign for Southern Equality and Equality NC. You can find more suggestions on my "A Better World" page, and on this list of "Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth Anti-Bigotry Organizations that Need Your Help" from Jezebel.

4) Take care of yourself. Take a bath. Read a book. Don't forget to eat something. Hug the people you love.

The Coming Weeks and Months

1) Remember that organization you donated to? Volunteer for them. You can't volunteer everywhere, but you CAN pick one place where you can focus and make a difference.

2) Keep checking in with your friends and neighbors. The one thing that fights hate is community.

3) Expand your own education about both our country's history of discrimination and the current issues we're facing. Not just on national issues, but local ones, too. Know ahead of time what to look for in a candidate during the next election. 

4) Register to vote, if you haven't already. Urge your friends and family to register, too.

5) Advocate to reinstate the Voting Rights Act. Write to your congressional representatives. Talk to people you know. The fact that that this law was effectively not in practice this year led to a slew of abuses in my state of North Carolina and elsewhere. This article is a good starting place for understanding the importance of the VRA.

6) Keep taking care of yourself. 

Next Year - 2017

1) Vote in your local elections. Municipalities often pass laws and ordinances about issues such as minimum wage and equality protections that provide a framework and testing ground for state or national laws. Often, the people in power in your city or county go on to have greater power at a higher level of government. They also will have the most direct impact on your life in the short-term.

2) Gear up for the 2018 midterm elections. There will be different Congressional or gubernatorial races in different states, but chances are, there will be an importance race wherever you live. Start researching the candidates and volunteer for or donate to the one who is most in line with your principles. They may not be perfect, but in politics, that saying about the enemy of the good being the perfect really goes.

3) Keep taking care of yourself and your friends and neighbors. This is going to be a long, rough ride, but we can get through it together.

I'm probably forgetting something or don't yet know about other important things you can do, so feel free to add suggestions in the comments. I love you guys. Hold each other tight and keep each other safe.

 

LAST DAY OF THE BANNED BOOKS WEEK GIVEAWAY!

It's the last day of my Banned Books Week Giveaway. For more information about how this giveaway works and why I'm doing it, read this introductory post.

For this last entry, I’m going to switch things up and tell you why this book was challenged before I tell you what it is. Robert P. Doyle writes that it ran into trouble because of “. . . complaints that it is ‘soft-pornography,’ ‘glorifies drinking, cursing, and premarital sex,’ and ‘teaches principles contrary to the Bible.’” (Books Challenged or Banned 2011-2012. American Library Association.)

Are you ready to learn what this terrible, terrible book is? It’s none other than National Book Award finalist and Printz Honor book Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Part of what is so horrifying about the particular complaints leveled at this book is that it is about Melinda, a girl who faces social ostracization after trying to report her own rape at a high school party. The only “sex” depicted in the book is a description of rape. That someone would interpret that as “soft-pornography” or a glorification of premarital sex says more about the very disturbed worldview of the person who made the complaint than the contents of the book. Because rape isn’t sex. It isn’t even about sex. It’s about power and the abuse of it.

If sexual assault is something young women have to contend with (and as we discussed in the entry on Just Listen earlier this week, it unfortunately is), then we also need narratives about how to cope and find our voices again if it happens, like the narrator of Speak. This is another book that could be a lifeline to a reader. In fact, we know it is, because of the many people who have spoken to Anderson after reading it. Here is Anderson, in an interview from 2013:

Somebody calculated I’ve spoken to over a million teenagers in high schools in the last decade or so, and every time I’ve ever given a presentation, I’ve had somebody come up to me afterwards in tears because they really feel like for the first time it’s safe for them to talk about what happened to them.”

I encourage you to read the full interview here. Anderson talks about how harmful our social taboo against even talking about rape can be, and how we are not protecting kids by keeping them ignorant. She writes,

“. . . I say, when you have small children, you know that your job as a parent is to teach them to look both ways before they cross the road. When your kids enter adolescence, you job as a parent is to teach them the realities of sexual assault, especially teaching your boys, so we can finally stop things like Stubenville from happening.”

Like Melinda in Speak, we need to find our voices as a society when it comes to sexual assault. It’s only through talking about consent and respect that we will put an end to sexual assault. Books like Anderson’s are an important tool in that conversation.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault or abuse - or even if you're confused and want clarification about what constitutes abuse - check out RAINN.org, call 800-865-HOPE, or use RAINN.org's chat feature.

If you'd like to enter the giveaway for this book, you have until 11:59 p.m. today, Sunday, Oct 1st. You will get 1) a paperback copy of Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson 2) a copy of Robert P. Doyle's 2015-2016 Books Challenged or Banned, and 3) a paperback copy of my book, Sound, which is coming out this week. Enter below!

BANNED BOOKS WEEK GIVEAWAY DAY 6: THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST, BY EMILY DANFORTH

It's Day 6 of my Banned Books Week Giveaway! For more information about how this giveaway works and why I'm doing it, read this introductory post.

Today I’m looking at The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth. It’s a sweeping, gorgeously written coming-of-age story about an orphaned girl in Montana trying to understand herself and her sexuality, despite living with conservative religious relatives. When Cameron’s aunt discovers her relationship with another girl, she sends her away to a gay “conversion therapy” school. This nuanced look at teenage life, sexuality, identity, family, and religion was nominated for the Morris Award, among many other honors. 

The book was “removed from the Cape Henlopen school district’s summer reading list in Lewes, Del. (2014), due to language deemed inappropriate for entering high school freshmen,” Robert P. Doyle writes in Books Challenged or Banned 2014-2015.

This year during Banned Books Week, the ALA is attempting to bring special attention to the large number of books with diverse content that are banned or challenged across the country each year. You can read their list of Frequently Challenged Books with Diverse Content, including Cameron Post, here, and a further discussion of the topic here.

Source: ALA.org

Source: ALA.org

In yesterday’s post, I talked about the need for window and mirror books, and how important Eleanor & Park was for me as a mirror. Nowhere are windows and mirrors more needed than in the area of diverse books. Take a look at this infographic made using data from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center on representation in children’s books in 2015. . .

Illustration by David Huyck

Illustration by David Huyck

We are already lacking diversity in book publishing, but when we ban those books that do exist, we narrow the field even further and diminish the chances for people to see themselves even more. For more about the importance of diversity in literature and to learn how to support diverse authors and illustrators, visit We Need Diverse Books.

If you'd like to enter the giveaway for this book, you have until 11:59 p.m. today, Friday, Sept. 30th. You will get 1) a paperback copy of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, 2) a copy of Robert P. Doyle's 2015-2016 Books Challenged or Banned, and 3) a paperback copy of my book, Sound, which is coming out this week. Enter below!

BANNED BOOKS WEEK GIVEAWAY DAY 5: ELEANOR & PARK, BY RAINBOW ROWELL

It's Day 5 of my Banned Books Week Giveaway! For more information about how this giveaway works and why I'm doing it, read this introductory post.

Today I'm going to talk about Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. In Books Challenged or Banned 2013-2014.Robert P. Doyle writes that it was “retained, despite a challenge by the chairman of the Anoka-Hennepin, Minn. School Board (2013) because parents of a student objected to the book’s content, citing its use of profanity and its treatment of sexuality. The Anoka County Library had scheduled a visit by the author, but the event was cancelled due to the controversy.”

Pretty sure this is also the outfit I wore for most of middle school.

Pretty sure this is also the outfit I wore for most of middle school.

Some of you may be familiar with the "windows and mirrors" theory of literature. Basically, it states that people need both books that are windows, i.e. those that help them understand an experience or perspective different from their own, and mirrors, i.e. those that help them recognize their own experience and feel seen.

Eleanor & Park was a mirror book for me. It was the first book I read since Paula Danziger's The Cat Ate My Gymsuit that let me see myself as I was as a teenager - the frumpy-looking, unpopular girl with a bad home life who couldn't really talk about it all, except to the boy she was in love with. I cried when I read it - both out of sadness for Eleanor and myself as a teenager, but also from the sheer relief of seeing someone like me on the page. So often, the heroines of the books I read were - and still are - naturally beautiful upper-middle class girls who, while they have legitimate problems, don't have those problems overlaid with financial strain. They don't worry about not having a bra to wear to school or getting in trouble for eating an after-school snack.

My very unfortunate sixth-grade yearbook photo.

My very unfortunate sixth-grade yearbook photo.

When I was in middle school, my mother went back to college and got an advanced nursing degree. After she graduated, she was able to get a higher-paying job, and it changed our lives. I remember going to K-Mart with her in 8th grade and getting new clothes, how amazing it felt to wear something that was new and fit me. She took me to get my hair cut, too. And suddenly, everyone at school began to treat me differently. I was still kind of a socially awkward weirdo, but the intense harassment and disdain from everyone I went to school with dropped off. By 9th grade, I was your garden-variety middle-class nerd.

I write all of this so you'll know what a deeply personal experience reading Eleanor & Park was for me. I needed that book, and I know that if I needed it, there are other people out there who need it, too. When you ban a book, you never know if you're cutting off a person's lifeline.

If you'd like to enter the giveaway for this book, you have until 11:59 p.m. today, Thursday, Sept. 29th. You will get 1) a paperback copy of Eleanor & Park, 2) a copy of Robert P. Doyle's 2015-2016 Books Challenged or Banned, and 3) a paperback copy of my book, Sound, which is coming out this week. Enter below!

BANNED BOOKS WEEK GIVEAWAY DAY 4: FEED, BY M.T. ANDERSON

It's Day 4 of my Banned Books Week Giveaway! For more information about how this giveaway works and why I'm doing it, read this introductory post.

Today's book is Feed, by M.T. Anderson. Full disclosure, Anderson is one of my literary idols. He writes everything - historical fiction, middle grade adventure, horror, and in Feed, science fiction. More importantly, he does it well. I would love to be the kind of author who can conquer multiple genres the way Anderson can. Feed, like some of the best sci-fi, isn't just a story about the future, but a devastating commentary on consumer culture taken to its logical extreme. It's smart, it's darkly funny, and it doesn't pull any punches. Its bleak ending is unlike almost anything else in YA literature. It was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2002.

You see where this is going.

In 2012, the book was “challenged at the William Monroe High School in Greene County, Va." because of a complaint that it was "'trash' and 'covered with the F-word.'" (Doyle, Robert P. Books Challenged or Banned 2012-2013. American Library Association.)

We have a set of principles in the library field called Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science. One of them is "every book its reader," which basically means that not every book is going to resonate with every reader, but for some people, that book will be incredibly important. It's totally fine not to like a book. It's even fine to think it's "trash" or be bothered by profanity in it. What you don't get to do is tell other people they CAN'T read that book or try to take that book away from them. Because for them, that book might be THE book - the one that saves them or helps them understand something new about themselves or society. Maybe it wasn't an objectively bad book, maybe it just wasn't for you. So go find something else to read. There's a wealth of great stuff out there, and your book is waiting for you.

If you'd like to enter the giveaway for this book, you have until 11:59 p.m. today, Wednesay, Sept. 28th. You will get 1) a paperback copy of Feed, 2) a copy of Robert P. Doyle's 2015-2016 Books Challenged or Banned, and 3) a paperback copy of my book, Sound, which is coming out this week. Enter below!

BANNED BOOKS WEEK GIVEAWAY DAY 3: PERSEPOLIS, BY MARJANE SATRAPI

It's Day 3 of my Banned Books Week Giveaway! For more information about how this giveaway works and why I'm doing it, read this introductory post.

Today's book is Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, a graphic novel memoir about a girl growing up in Iran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It details both the history of Iran leading up to and following the revolution, as well as Satrapi's struggles to live like a normal girl - trying out lipstick and rock music - under an oppressive regime. It was made into a movie in 2007 and nominated for an Academy Award.

So, what's the problem with Persepolis? In Books Challenged or Banned 2014-2015, Robert P. Doyle writes that it was, "challenged, but retained on the Glenwood High School reading list in Chatham, Ill. (2014). A parent condemned the images of dismembered bodies and a guard using urine as a form of torture."

In yesterday's post about Just Listen, I talked about how denying teens information may seem like protecting them from harm, but in truth, it does the opposite. One of the hallmarks of your teenage years is learning about the world and how it works. That means addressing both the good and bad.  Some ugly things have happened in human history, and we all know what happens to those who don't know their own history. 

But why should we learn history in comic book format? Sure, memorize the dates, but why approach learning about history or other cultures from someone's memoirs?

I don't know if your brain works like mine, but I'm much more able to retain information and remember specifics about a historical event if I have a personal story to tie it to, especially one that particularly moves me. This was the case with Persepolis. My knowledge of recent Iranian history was spotty, at best. By the time I entered college, I knew about the Iran hostage crisis, but only because it tied into the Iran-Contra scandal, and I only knew about the Iran-Contra scandal because my parents were involved with Witness for Peace's efforts to protect Nicaraguan villagers from attack by the Contras. I picked up other pieces of the story over the years, but most of the events depicted in Persepolis happened before I was born, and neither my high school nor college classes covered Iranian history. Persepolis finally helped me put together those pieces in a coherent way and remember them, because I cared about the little girl in that comic book. I imagine I'm not the only person it affected in that way.

The other benefit of a book like Persepolis is that it can help us grow empathy. In a time of rampant Islamophobia in the United States, Persepolis is a reminder that not all Arab countries are the same and that people living under fundamentalist regimes are not the same as their government. It can help us remember that Iranian immigrants to the US are not enemies, but individuals, each with their own story.

If you'd like to enter the giveaway for this book, you have until 11:59 p.m. today, Tuesday, Sept. 27th. You will get 1) a paperback copy of Persepolis, 2) a copy of Robert P. Doyle's 2015-2016 Books Challenged or Banned, and 3) a paperback copy of my book, Sound, which is coming out this week. Enter below!

BANNED BOOKS WEEK GIVEAWAY DAY 2: JUST LISTEN, BY SARAH DESSEN

It's Day 2 my Banned Books Week Giveaway! For more information about how this giveaway works and why I'm doing it, read this introductory post. And a head's up to readers - today's book deals with the topic of rape, so we're going to be discussing that today. 

I have a deep love for Sarah Dessen's books. For the most part, she writes charming books about teen girls learning to understand themselves and their families. But beneath the cheery, pastel covers, Dessen often reaches down into topics real teen girls cope with every day - abusive boyfriends, broken families, and - in the case of Just Listen - an attempted rape at a party. The title refers both to the main character's attempts to cope with what happened to her through music and to her struggle to get people to believe her story.

Robert P. Doyle writes in Books Challenged or Banned 2007-2008 that Just Listen was "challenged in the Hillsborough County, Fla. school system (2007) because it was considered too intense for teens."

One of the things I've come to realize from working as a librarian is that most people who challenge books or want them banned aren't fundamentally bad or evil people. They want the same thing most caring adults do - to protect kids from things that might hurt them. But here's the other thing. Teens aren't kids. And denying them the kind of information and representation of difficult topics that books like Just Listen provide isn't protecting them.

RAINN tells us that 1 in 6 women will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes, and young women are the most at risk.

I wish sexual assault and its prevention weren't a part of young women's lives, but the truth is that it is. Even if a young woman is not a victim herself, one of her friends or family member is likely to be. And if young women have read a book like Just Listen, which shows its main character healing and learning to speak her truth for both herself and others, they might feel less silenced themselves or know to listen when others speak up. This book might bring its readers one step closer to seeing rape for what it is - a crime, and one that we need to discuss as a society, rather than sweep under the rug.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault or abuse - or even if you're confused and want clarification about what constitutes abuse - check out RAINN.org, call 800-865-HOPE, or use RAINN.org's chat feature.

If you'd like to enter the giveaway for this book, you have until 11:59 p.m. today, Monday, Sept. 26th. You will get 1) a paperback copy of Just Listen, 2) a copy of Robert P. Doyle's 2015-2016 Books Challenged or Banned, and 3) a paperback copy of my book, Sound, which is coming out this week. Enter below!

Check back tomorrow for more profiles of banned and challenged books!

BANNED BOOKS GIVEAWAY DAY 1: THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, BY SHERMAN ALEXIE

Welcome to day 1 of my Banned Books Week Giveaway! For more information about how this giveaway works and why I'm doing it, read this introductory post

Let's start out Banned Books Week by talking about a book that exemplifies many of the characteristics of a banned book, The Absolutely True Diary of a True Indian, by Sherman Alexie. The YA novel is a 2007 National Book Award Winner and frequently shows up on the ALA's yearly report on banned or challenged books. The fact that it depicts masturbation seems to be a common complaint among those who challenge the book. (Shocking! In a book about a teenage boy?!?) If you look at the ALA infographic below, you'll see that depictions of sexuality in YA books are a frequent flashpoint.

However, in 2015, a grandmother in North Carolina came up with a bizarre complaint I've never seen leveled at Alexie's book before. Robert P. Doyle writes in 2015-2016 Books Challenged or Banned, that the book was "challenged, but retained in the Brunswick County, N.C. schools (2015)" when "a grandmother complained that the book 'portrays bestiality and is pornographic.'"

I read this aloud to my husband, who is also a fan of the book, and we both scratched our heads. Bestiality? I mean, the book definitely portrays masturbation, so if you object to a realistic portrayal of a teenage boy's life, that's at least something that's really on the page. But neither of us could figure out what part of True Diary anyone could misinterpret as bestiality.

What I find frustrating about so many challenges to books is that the challengers seem fixated on picking out only pieces of the books and not looking at them as a whole, or in context. Obsessing about the mention of sexuality or teens using profanity (another common complaint) means missing the beauty of Alexie's language, the heartbreaking reality of life portrayed in its pages, or the skillful way Alexie shows his narrator, Junior, maturing as both an artist and a human being. The diary entries in Alexie's book are interspersed with Junior's drawings (done by Ellen Forney), and careful observers will notice Junior's artistic skill developing as he ages and varying in style based on his feelings about a subject.

Compare Junior's style when he's making fun of one of his teachers:

To him trying to capture his friends and family. . .

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a smart book, a moving book, a book that can help people of all ages (not just teens!) see themselves and understand themselves better.

If you'd like to enter the giveaway for this book, you have until 11:59 p.m. today, Sunday, Sept. 25th. You will get 1) a paperback copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, 2) a copy of Robert P. Doyle's 2015-2016 Books Challenged or Banned, and 3) a paperback copy of my book, Sound, which is coming out this week. Enter below!

Check back tomorrow for another giveaway!

ALA BANNED BOOKS WEEK GIVEAWAY

Hi friends! The paperback edition of my book Sound is coming out Sept. 27th, right in the middle of ALA Banned Books Week. If you've followed this blog, you know how my librarian heart feels about the freedom to read and the importance of Banned Books Week. So, I've decided to do a giveaway!

Each day of Banned Books Week (Sept. 25 - Oct. 1), I'll be featuring one of my favorite banned or challenged books and giving away a copy of that book, along with a paperback copy of Sound and a copy of the ALA's booklet 2015-2016 Books Challenged or Banned, by Robert P. Doyle, which highlights the titles challenged or banned during the previous year and explains the circumstances surrounding those challenges or bans.

Check in each day during Banned Book Week to read about the featured book and enter to win a copy. At the end of the week, Oct. 1st, I'll announce the winners. 

In the meantime, let me know what your favorite banned or challenged books are in the comments, and check out www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek for information about how you can participate in other cool Banned Books Week happenings.

ON INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES AND STRATEGIC BOYCOTTING

Last week, I was one of over 260 children's book writers and illustrators to sign this letter of support for LGBT+ readers in North Carolina, in the wake of the Republican-controlled legislature ramming through the so-called "bathroom bill," HB2, which discriminates horribly against trans people and others in the LGBT+ community. I live in North Carolina, and was horrified at the legislature's actions. I'm a cis straight woman, but many of my friends and loved ones are part of the LGBT+ community. My friends and family will tell you that I'm generally a pretty quiet, shy person, but the thought of anyone trying to endanger and humiliate the people I love makes me want to invest in hockey sticks and start kneecapping people.

That's not productive, though. What is productive is pressure on the North Carolina legislature from companies and regular citizens, both in and outside of North Carolina. This can come in the form of open letters, like the one above, donations to nonprofits that are fighting HB2 and similar measures in other states, like the Campaign for Southern Equality, and boycotting.

I want to talk about boycotting, about when and how it works, and the North Carolina context, because I see a lot of people online saying, "Those Southern bigots are getting exactly what they deserve for voting in Gov. McCrory and his bunch in the first place." The truth of our situation in North Carolina is more complex, and in order to understand how to boycott in a way that makes the most impact, you need to understand that situation.

As a North Carolinian and a librarian who watches people struggle to find work every day, it hurts to call for people to boycott our state. It's bittersweet to see large corporations standing up to our leaders by withdrawing economic development deals. Many people in my city string together two to three part-time, low-paying jobs to make ends meet, while wealthy people buy up property for investment and rent it back to us at exorbitant rates. We need jobs, and not just jobs, but industry. We need tourists, especially in hospitality industry-fueled cities like Asheville, where I live. But I still support the boycott, because boycotting can be effective. When it's done right, it accomplishes two things:

1) It sends a message to government leaders that they are out of step with modern values. It puts economic pressure on them. In short, it hits them where it hurts.

2) It sends a message to the people who will suffer under bills like HB2 that we are in solidarity with them, that we will make sacrifices to push for them to regain their liberties. 

Boycotting is a noble, non-violent tradition, and as much as it hurts, I applaud the people and companies choosing to take their business elsewhere. What sometimes gets lost in the boycotting conversation, though, is the fact that there are many LGBT+ people, allies, and organizations in North Carolina actively fighting against HB2, and those people need your support.

Earlier this week, Sherman Alexie cancelled an appearance at Malaprop's Bookstore and several local schools in Asheville, NC, causing the general manager of the independent bookstore to pen this letter, published on Shelf Awareness, "Malaprops to Authors: Please Don't Boycott Us." It reads, in part,

 For 34 years, we have promoted free speech, human rights and tolerance. We often suffer because of our stance: we've been the target of protests in front of our store, we've had our book choices challenged, and we've received threatening letters and phone calls from people who want us to cancel events because the views of the author are controversial. Not only do we hold these events, we protect the visiting author's right to free speech with our words and sometimes our bodies.
. . . We have hosted meetings in our store about HB2, and posted signs on our bathrooms to let everyone know they are safe to use whichever bathroom they wish. Our city council and mayor are currently considering an official statement and policy to act against state law, despite the consequences. We and our city will do what we can to repeal HB2. . .
. . . If more authors boycott NC because of HB2, we will be financially stricken. We sympathize with their stance, but we hope that authors will choose another way to protest. By protesting in this manner, targeting bookstores, they are directly hurting their fiercest allies. Please don't abandon us; we need your support now more than ever.

Malaprop's has been a part of my reading life since I moved to Asheville, NC for college in 2001, and they have supported me enthusiastically in my career as an author. For as long as I can remember, they've had an excellent LGBT+ section in their store and supported the vibrant LGBT+ community in the surrounding area. They stocked my YA novel featuring a lesbian space romance when Barnes & Noble quietly passed it over. They are an ally, a rallying point, one of the good guys.

So, if authors choose to boycott places like Malaprop's, we have to look back at those two criteria that boycotts are intended to accomplish. Is the outcome that it hits legislators where it hurts? And is it sending a message of support to the LGBT+ community?

The answer to the first question is complicated. What many people don't understand about North Carolina is that it is not the stereotypical monolithic South, and it is become less so every year. You might remember that in 2008, North Carolina went blue for Obama. This was shocking for the Republican establishment, and they set about gerrymandering and engaging in massive voter suppression efforts like the new voter I.D law to make sure they could maintain their gradually slipping control over the state. Take a look at this spectacularly gerrymandered congressional district map Republicans drew up in 2010, which allowed them to take over the NC legislature in 2012. 

Look in particular at that crazypants bullshit that is District 12. If you aren't familiar with North Carolina, you might not realize that District 12 is drawn the way it is so as to clump together several large and mid-size cities, which have a higher African-American population and are far more likely to vote Democrat, thereby decreasing their representation and ensuring Republican lawmakers a majority in the legislature. The same thing is happening on a less obvious scale in other districts. For example, District 10 has developed a suspicious growth which scoops Asheville, another liberal stronghold, out of Disctrict 11.

The upshot is that the current NC legislature does not truly represent the desires of the people of the state of North Carolina. Our congressional maps are in the process of being redrawn, following a federal ruling that their current configuration was unconstitutional. Groups such as the NAACP are currently fighting North Carolina's voter ID laws in federal court and in the arena of public opinion through their "Moral Mondays" protests against the legislature's discriminatory agenda. I, for one, am looking forward to helping vote Governor McCrory and his cronies out in November.

Despite (or maybe because of) the fact that the legislature has swung so hard to the right, individual cities and counties within North Carolina have been passing non-discrimination ordinances, and prior to the federal marriage equality ruling, putting domestic partner benefits protections on the books. Which cities? Which counties? The same ones that contain large to mid-size cities and are the targets of gerrymandering: Asheville (along with Buncombe County), Bessemer City, Boone, Carrboro and Chapel Hill (along with Orange County), Charlotte (along with Mecklenburg County), Durham (along with its county of the same name), Greensboro and High Point (along with Guilford County), Raleigh, and Winston-Salem. Here is a handy graphic courtesy of Wikipedia's page on LGBT rights in North Carolina:

Many of these same places have long been a haven for the LGBT+ community in North Carolina. Asheville, for example, has enjoyed a long reputation as a welcoming place to live. In 2011, we were branded a "cesspool of sin" for our support of the LGBT+ community. (We made t-shirts!) Legislators have long since stopped caring what Asheville does, but Charlotte's passage of a non-discrimination ordinance was the catalyst for the hurried passage of HB2, which was introduced and passed all in the same day, over the protest of NC Senate Democrats.

Unfortunately, North Carolina Republicans aren't going to feel any economic impact or receive criticism from their constituents if an author boycotts an LGBT-allied independent bookstore located in a county and city renowned for their support of the LGBT+ community, which those same Republicans have long since written off for that support. There is no larger corporation or entity backing the bookstore that has pull with the NC legislature. It will not change votes come November, because the people in that community so consistently vote for progressive, LGBT-friendly candidates that the legislature has tried to gerrymander them into another district to minimize the impact of their votes.

That leaves the second question. In my view, it might still be worth going through with a boycott that could potentially hurt LGBT-friendly small businesses or municipalities if doing so sent a larger message of support to the LGBT+ community. I haven't seen an official statement from Alexie on his reasons for boycotting Malaprop's, but I suspect this was part of the rationale. On a national level, his action absolutely sends that signal. But here on the ground in North Carolina, the signal is murkier. As Linda-Marie Barret, the Malaprop's general manager points out, 

. . . we have lost an opportunity to connect this charismatic, inspiring author with those young readers who were going to see him on school visits. We also lost the opportunity to host him at a large venue, which would have connected him with fans in a city that stands with him and could have used his support. Our event could have served as a platform to address an audience that would be empowered by his outrage. 

Of course, different individuals in North Carolina's LGBT+ community will have different feelings about what is more inspiring and supportive - Alexie coming to speak or staying away. But several things Barret says resonate with me. Fighting a pack of intractable, unscrupulous politicians is an exhausting game of constantly-moving goalposts, years-long court battles, and legislative whack-a-mole. The people engaged in that fight need support and encouragement. There are kids in our schools - straight, gay, trans, cis - who are not served by being cut off from the cultural ideas Alexie could have brought to them. Fighting discrimination of every kind calls for a broadening of the mind through exposure to a variety of viewpoints. Cultural isolation kills the opportunity for that mindset to take root and flourish.

I don't mean to pick on Alexie, here, only to use this particular situation as an example of how the boycotting issue is not black and white. No one should come to North Carolina if they feel unsafe or unwelcome. Full stop. No questions asked. Boycotting is a powerful and useful tool, but when we implement it, we should try to understand the context in which it is taking place and analyze where the chips are most likely to fall. We need to ask ourselves whether the people who need to feel the impact of the boycott will actually feel it, and balance support of the nationwide LGBT-community with potential collateral damage to the North Carolina LGBT+ community and its allies. 

If you do the math and decide boycotting is the right option, you have this North Carolinian's blessing. But don't forget to support the people fighting on the right side of history here in North Carolina. In addition to boycotting, consider throwing your support behind Equality NC,  the Campaign for Southern Equality, and the North Carolina NAACP, all of whom are fighting on different fronts of this battle. 

I have been wracking my brain for ways to contribute to the fight against HB2. I can and have voted and protested, but I can't participate in the boycott, since I still have to buy groceries and pay my heating bill here in North Carolina. I recently participated in a panel discussion on diversity in YA literature at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and was offered a $200 honorarium. I have decided that when I receive that money or any other payment for events in North Carolina this year, those funds will go to Equality NC. I hope other authors who live in or visit North Carolina during this difficult time will consider doing the same. 

Learning to Steer the Craft

One of my aspirations as a writer is to never stop improving, or at least trying to improve. Every writer develops their own style and gets into a space where they feel confident telling the stories they want to tell, but that's not the same thing as allowing your craft to stagnate or falling back on tired formulas. To paraphrase Dune, complacency is the mind-killer.

Publishing is known for its hurry-up-and-wait schedule, and right now, I'm in a holding pattern while I wait for my editor to read my current manuscript. I'm too anxious to make much progress on my next novel during this period of the process, so I decided to use the time to read Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft: a 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story and attempt the writing exercises she outlines there. (I have been a huge LeGuin devotee since I discovered The Left Hand of Darkness in high school and realized that women could write science fiction.)

I thought I would share the outcome of some of my exercises here. These will likely not be good. In fact, some them might be hot messes. But then again, I've found that when you take up a challenge, you sometimes pleasantly surprise yourself. 

So, here is what I wrote in response to one of the prompts in Ch. 1, where LeGuin challenges writers to try to match the rhythm of the action or emotion they're describing to the structure of the sentences and sounds of the words. 

She nudged her feet against the horse's flanks, and it surged forward into a gallop. She leaned down low, cutting the wind's resistance. The horse's black mane slapped at the air, and it snorted its hot breath in reply. Over the dirt they thundered, hooves beating the earth and raising it in clouds of dust to mix with the air.

Like I said, not perfect. What I was trying to do was gradually increase the length of the sentences to match the increasing speed of the horse, and looking back at it now, I can see that I wasn't entirely successful. I also have some common writing mistakes such as doubling up on and repeating words and sentence structures. Ah ha! But that's what editing is for. Let's take another crack at that same paragraph and see if I can improve it.

Marcella nudged her feet against the stallion's flanks. It reared and surged forward into a gallop. She leaned low, cutting the wind's resistance as they streaked through the desert. The horse's black mane slapped the air, and he snorted his hot breath in reply. Over the dirt they thundered, hooves beating the earth and raising it in clouds of dust to mix with the air. 

What did I do? Let's break it down.

  1. Giving my protagonist a name cut down on the repetition of "she" throughout the paragraph. Similarly, specifying the type of horse kept me from repeating "horse."
  2. "Leaned down low" doubles up on words that mean the same thing. "Leaned low" resolves that problem and brings out some nice consonance.
  3. I modulated the length of the sentences more than previously. I started with a short, simply constructed sentence, similar to the action contained in it, a nudge. The following sentences gradually increase in length (8 words, 13 words, 15 words), until the final sentence, which contains 20 words and three clauses.
  4. Modulating the lengths of these sentences also cut down on repetition in sentence structure. Too many of my sentences in the first attempt were made of two clauses of equal length, separated by a comma. I found it a helpful challenge to gradually increase the sentence lengths while varying the sentence construction.
  5. I used specific, evocative verbs, such as "surged," "streaked," "slapped," and "snorted."
  6. I tried to include two syllable verbs, to replicate the tha-thump beat of a heartbeat or a horse running. Ex. "leaned low," and "thundered."

A lot of times, what writers do is invisible to them. I didn't consciously recognize everything I describe doing above until I sat down to analyze why I had chosen the words and sentences structures I had chosen. Learning to write well is like learning a language. At first, you have to be careful in order to communicate what you want to say correctly, but over time, those lessons become second nature. (And even if you become fluent, you shouldn't become complacent.)

I'll post again as I do more exercises. In the meantime, I highly recommend Steering the Craft for writers and writing groups wanting to improve their prose. Ursula LeGuin is a smart and beautiful writer, and if you learn from her, you are learning from the best.

BALTICON & CONCAROLINAS

I don't know exactly what this new year holds for me. I've just turned in my manuscript for my third book, Blight, a dystopian sci-fi about a girl raised to be a border guard in a corporate state, and I've begun drafting a fourth about witches and wizards in Jazz-Age Charleston. It will probably be a few more months until I know how in-depth the editing process on Blight will be, and whether it will be coming out in late 2016 or early 2017.

However! I do know that I'll be appearing at two regional SFF conferences this spring, and I'm very excited about both of them.

First, Balticon 50, from May 27-30 in Baltimore, MD.

I'm going back this year to present the Compton Crook Award to this year's winner. This con stole my heart last year, with its excellent array of panels and activities, it's enthusiastic volunteers and inventive fans. Bonus: George R.R. Martin will be the guest of honor this year!  I'll post more information about which panels and events I'll be a part of as that information becomes available.

Then, ConCarolinas, from June 3-5 in Concord, NC.

This will be my first time at ConCarolinas, but part of why I'm so excited about it is that it's taking place in the town where I went to high school, just a few miles from where I grew up. I love that geekery is blossoming in my home state. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is the guest of honor, and you really owe to yourself to hear her speak. I had the honor of being on a panel she moderated at this past year's DragonCon. She's smart, experienced, and I would like her to be my no-nonsense fairy godmother. Again, more information to come!

WE HAVE A WINNER!

The Holiday Donation Giveaway has ended for this year, and the winner is Deborah E! Deborah chose the charity Autism Speaks as the recipient of the $50 donation. This was great timing, as a major donor is matching all donations through the end of the year.

Autism Speaks is a great charity. Not only do they advocate for children and adults with autism, their web site has great resources for parents, caregivers, and people living with autism, including education and employment tool kits, and a state-by-state interactive guide to programs, services, and support groups across all age groups. If you want to donate to Autism Speaks, now is a great time!

HOLIDAY DONATION GIVEAWAY!

Happy Holidays, everyone! Last year, I brought my family's tradition of giving charitable donations for holidays to you.  I thought we could bring the giveaway back this year. Here's how it works. . .

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below by leaving a comment telling me the name of your favorite charity, or by tweeting about the giveaway. I'm always looking for ideas for my A Better World page, so even if you don't win, your favorite charity might end up being featured there. The prize pack will include the following. . .

  • $50 donated in the winner's name to the 501 c3 charity of their choice
  • A signed copy of Salvage and Sound.
  • A copy of  The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin.
  • A copy of The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renée Ahdieh.

The giveaway ends Sunday, Dec. 13th. Enter now!

MOUNTAIN OF WORDS WRITE-A-THON

Hi, friends! If you know me, you know how much I care about opening up positive educational opportunities for kids and teens. That's why I'm once again participating in the Mountain of Words Write-A-thon. The Write-a-Thon supports the work of Asheville Writers in the Schools and Community. This non-profit organization changes lives with creativity and literacy by connecting writers with children, youth, and families through innovative programs. (Find out more by visiting ashevillewritersintheschools.org

Here's where you come in. I’ll be writing as much as I can for AWITSC between now and November 15. If you'd be willing to sponsor me with a donation to AWITSC, click the link below. All donations are tax-deductible, and no amount is too small. 

http://www.mountainofwords.org/alexandra-duncan.html

If you'd rather write a check, make it out to Asheville Writers in the Schools, mail to 347 Kenilworth Road, Asheville, NC 28805, and put my name in the memo line.

Thanks so much for supporting this awesome non-profit!

*DragonCon! DragonCon!

*Sung to the tune of "Spiderman."

DragonCon starts this Friday, and I will be there to revel in book and sci-fi nerd glory. (Did you guys know Nichelle Nichols is going to be there?!?! I LOVE YOU, UHURA!!!) If you'd like to see me, here are my scheduled panels and appearances. I'll be doing some giveaways during my reading on Saturday, so if you're hoping to score a copy of one of my books or some sweet stickers, this is the place to be. 

Science Fiction Rises from the Ashes
Time: Fri 11:30 am Location: Embassy D-F - Hyatt (Length: 1)
Description: Having lost a bit of shine, science fiction is on the rise again. Authors discuss the future of SF.

The Heroine's Journey
Time: Fri 01:00 pm Location: A707 - Marriott (Length: 1)
Description: A girl, a quest, an epic journey-women in YA fantasy & what makes their journeys different-or not.

LGBTQIA in YA
Time: Sat 11:30 am Location: A707 - Marriott (Length: 1)
Description: Our popular annual panel about LGBTQIA characters & themes in YA, including loads of book recommendations!

Reading: Alexandra Duncan
Time: Sat 05:30 pm Location: Roswell - Hyatt (Length: 1)

Autograph Session
Time: Sun 11:30 am Location: International Hall South - Marriott (Length: 1)

Influences in Today's SF/F/Horror Fiction
Time: Mon 10:00 am Location: Embassy D-F - Hyatt (Length: 1)
Description: Take influences from myth, daily news, memories, & dreams and develop them into plots.

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