Month: April 2016

Staying Awesome Interview Series: Alice Fanchiang

It’s time for another post in my Staying Awesome Interview Series! Today I’m thrilled to feature someone I’ve long admired for her many, many talents, as well as for being one of the most passionate geeks I’ve ever known. I met her via Twitter a few years ago, and since then, we’ve been geeking out over tons of things like whoa.

Give it up for the wonderful Alice Fanchiang!

 

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What makes Alice awesome?

  • She’s a self-described “scribbler of thoughts, plots, and sometimes stories.”

  • She’s a poet! (and a damn good one). You can check out her poem, “Actaeon,” over at Strange Horizons!

  • Over at her Instagram accounts (@akangaru & @girlontheroam), she posts gorgeous photos of her favorite reads, the places she visits on her many travels, and to-die-for clothes.

  • She’s a Ravenclaw. (!!!)

  • Her history crush is Alexander Hamilton, y’all. Come on. Automatic cool points.

 

Now let’s get to know Alice better, shall we??

 

1) Let’s talk writing. Not only are you a writer of novels, you’re also a poet! Your poem “Actaeon” has been published in Strange Horizons (I must confess that I want to scribble verses from that poem and plaster them all over my house). How would you describe your writing process for novels vs. your writing process for poetry?

That is so ridiculously flattering. I don’t even know what to say! Thank you!

Confession, I’m terrible at writing novels. I have a hard time finishing anything, and that is both a mixture of procrastination and perfectionism. I am an unreformed edit-as-you-go person, which makes finishing novels very difficult because they’re long-form story-telling. So with regards to process, I will only say that I’m a pants-er (who is working on outlining) and am someone who tries very hard to keep the story moving forward because otherwise, I will be revising forever.

My poetry process, on the other hand, meshes better with my natural inclinations. Because it’s a much shorter form (at least the poems I write are), I can spend more time agonizing over individual words and lines. I can revise verses to my heart’s content and still make it to the end. The other thing is, when I write poems, I’m not usually focusing on a plot, per se. My intent is always to evoke a mood or a feeling, and I kind of let that guide the rest of the poem. Most of the time, I can’t tell you how a poem is going to end until I get there. I know, it sounds like a vague hand-wavey explanation, but it is what it is. They usually start because I have a distinct image and/or feeling in my head that I want to put on paper or a line or two come to me that I can’t stop thinking about, and it goes from there. For example, a semi-successful attempt to catch a meteor shower late one summer inspired a few lines about star-gazing and the slow tempo of summer nights, which eventually became a poem.

Sometimes, the poems are written very quickly, almost all at once. Other times, it happens over the course of a few days or weeks. Actaeon, for example, took 1.5 weeks to finish. I wrote 2 verses very quickly and continued working a few lines at a time over the next few days until I found the thread of the story and then got to the end. Then I had to give it space, revisit it, and then send it to someone else to look at.

So novel writing versus poetry writing for me is essentially discipline versus indulgence, haha. I feel like I need to exercise so much more control, thought, and planning for novel-writing, but for poetry, I kind of let myself just put lines on the page, be flowery and meandering and sometimes experimental, and see what happens.

2) Like me, you’re an unapologetic geek. You even state that your blog, Girl On The Roam, is about “embracing your geekery and having a sense of adventure.” What do you think is the most rewarding part about being a geek nowadays? On the flip side, what’s the most challenging?

I think it’s an *incredible* time to be a geek these days, partly because being a geek is kind of cool now. As such, there’s so much more being catered to our tastes – we get movies, books, clothes, toys, and the list goes on and on. Like it still kind of weirds me out that there is actual licensed Supernatural merch that you can buy in a physical store, but I remember when I got obsessed with it (I think the 2nd season had just concluded), there was nothing except fan-made stuff (and not much of that). The fandom was always there, but this was before the real rise of Tumblr and the sort of geek renaissance that is happening in the main stream. But I think really the most rewarding part about being a geek right now is the social media aspect of the internet – see, the rise of Tumblr – because it makes it so easy to find people who share your interests. It’s easier now than ever to find other geeks who aren’t afraid to say they’re geeks! For me, personally, Twitter has made it so easy to connect with fellow writers, book nerds, and geeks. I mean, we “met” through Twitter!

But the challenging aspect of being a geek now I think also has to do with its current popularity and the internet. The popularity of geek culture can make it easier to be dismissive of it, and more people want to sell you things. It’s kind of like drowning in riches. I’m not complaining, but I *am* saying that it can be easy to get burned out on something that you love or to fall out of love with it because of the burn out. The challenge when it comes to the internet is that the accessibility that makes it possible to connect with your people also opens you up to more of the uglier stuff that happens online – trolls and haters. I feel like the popularity of geek culture right now also brings out the people who will question how “true” a fan you are and who will want to make you feel unwelcome or inferior.

3) Speaking of adventure, you’re participating in an incredible series of blog posts about “nerd travel.” You’ve even Instagrammed amazing pics of you out and about sporting some spectacular clothes! Confession: I often daydream about going to places that only exist in the pages of a book. If you could road trip to any fictional location, which one would it be and why?

Hogwarts! I feel this is my immediate answer because it is magical and wonderful but generally without the really intense danger of other fictional worlds (as long as you’re not Harry Potter) and it has modern amenities that I’m unwilling to give up – like indoor plumbing and modern medicine, lol. I’m sorry to say, I’m kind of boringly practical about this stuff!

Though speaking of magical worlds within our world, I would love to visit the island of Thisby from Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races (so I can eat November cakes) or the magical forest Cabeswater from her Raven Cycle books. Maggie knows how to write such vivid settings; they feel so real.

Oh my god, and can we talk about V.E. Schwab’s parallel-universe Londons??? Specifically, I’d like to visit Red London because it’s so glamorous and vibrant. Plus magic. The others are scary and I don’t feel I need to visit Grey London, which is our 18th century London.

Also, though this isn’t a book-world, I feel like I’d be down to visit Star Wars’ galaxy far, far away – so long as the planet I’m visiting is not Tattooine or Jakku. Let’s go somewhere more habitable like Naboo or Coruscant maybe?

**Bonus question: which fictional character would you take along for the trip??

I can’t choose! Who would actually be useful/ look out for me on a road trip is probably the best answer to this question. I need to not pick my fictional crushes and pick like actually good trip-people. So let’s say Hermione Granger because Hermione will always know what to do and she’s a good friend. I’m also taking R2-D2 because the galaxy would’ve been doomed without R2’s consistent badassery and BB-8 because cuteness. Magic + tech, what could go wrong?

4) Could you please enlighten me on how your epic crush on Alexander Hamilton came to be??? Because yes.

I…don’t know really what to say. It began in high school AP U.S. History class, and I have kept him close to my heart since then. Obviously, the great love for him renewed itself last year when I saw Hamilton – which basically reaffirmed all the reasons I found him so compelling.

I think he caught my attention because I didn’t realize he had been *so* involved in the founding of the United States. Like most people, everything I knew about him revolved around the $10 and that one “Got Milk?” commercial about how he was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. But when we covered the Revolution up through the Critical Period of the U.S.’s early history, he kept popping up – and everywhere he was there was drama. He fought with practically every major player in the nation’s early history and had something to say about everything. My friends and I joked that Washington was like a long-suffering father trying to keep the children (Jefferson and Hamilton) from fighting all the time.

I think my friends and I joked too much about him (we had long-running inside jokes about his insistence on having a national bank), and I got attached and overly fond of this guy who I imagined to be high-strung and a little harried but who did not ever back down. (His nickname as a soldier was ‘The Little Lion.’)

Alexander Hamilton was so fascinating and endlessly amusing to me because he was kind of larger-than-life but also so very human – ridiculously talented and ambitious but also so flawed and full of contradictions. But I probably didn’t really fall for him until the summer of 2005, and I have this date because I bought the Ron Chernow Hamilton biography and started reading it while I was at a midnight release party at Borders (RIP!) for Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince. (And yes, I embarrassingly blurted this story to Lin-Manuel Miranda when I saw Hamilton at the Public. Luckily, he too is a Harry Potter fan and Sorted the Hamilton gang without prompting because he is ONE OF US! *happy tears*)

My friend and I each bought a copy of the biography, and in the weeks that followed – after we’d binge-read HP6, of course – we would call each other and giggle about the even *more* amazing facts we were learning about our favorite Founder – like how his contemporaries described him as having sparkling violet eyes and shapely legs and how he was more fluent in French than even Francophile Thomas Jefferson and that fluency made him fast and close friends with Lafayette. He was a firebrand, a flirt, a writer, an immigrant, a statesman, a soldier – so many things, and people either loved him or hated him. He was able to write in near-perfect paragraphs (give me this super power!), and he spoke for 6 hours at the Constitutional Convention and sort of misspelled “Pennsylvania” on the actual Constitution. He wrote the states names next to the signers’ signatures, and I say “sort of” because the argument is that spelling was more fluid back then, so maybe Pennsylvania was fine with just one ‘n,’ but I digress.

He and his story are just so compelling, and everyone is seeing that now thanks to LMM’s masterful musical. Obviously, so many other things make the musical the transcendent thing and cultural phenomenon that it is now, but its skeleton is Alexander Hamilton’s life story.

And let’s be real, if you look at American currency, he is definitely the hottest Founder to grace our bills – and the news just came in that the Treasury is officially keeping him on the $10. So huzzah!

I could go on because there’s a whole saga about me trying to visit his house (this sounds creepier than it should), but I think I’ll save the details of that for a blog post. 🙂

 

A ginormous thank you to Alice for letting me interview her!! Make sure you check her out online at the following links:

Blog / Twitter / Tumblr / Instagram / Snapchat: akangaru

On Peeta Mellark & Good Boys In Y.A.

Back in 2010, I wrote many blog posts. One of them was an open letter to good boys in Y.A. I remembered that post after buying and re-watching Mockingjay Pt. 2 , which features this dude:

 

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peeta mellark, good guy extraordinaire

 

I think Peeta Mellark is the epitome of a good guy. He’s kindhearted, loyal, and self-sacrificing. He’s in love with a girl who doesn’t know what she feels for him. Sometimes she pretends to like him because cameras are watching. Even though Peeta isn’t pleased with this, he doesn’t disrespect Katniss at all. He calls her out on what she’s doing, but he never treats her like he’s superior to her. Like he’s the one who should be rescuing her and dictating how their relationship should develop, both on and off-screen.

Peeta is a caretaker. He nurtures. He creates when everyone else destroys. He offers hope in a hopeless world.

There are lots of good, hopeful boys in Y.A. that make my heart sing with their goodness.

I’m always on the lookout for more.

Bring on those good boys, Y.A. authors. I’m ready to get to know (and learn from) them.

 

Staying Awesome Interview Series: Laura Montalvo

Welcome to another edition of the Staying Awesome Interview Series! Today is quite special because I’m featuring a friend. This lady and I have known each other for six years. (!!!)  We met in grad school as English majors, and since then, we’ve been gushing about our favorite books, movies, and T.V. shows.

Today I’d like to give a warm welcome to the awesome Laura Montalvo!

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What makes Laura awesome?

  • She’s an English teacher.

  • She’s also a Cast Member at the Disney Store.

  • Her vlog, Literally Booked, focuses on Y.A. and M.G. book reviews (but mostly Shadowhunters gushing at the moment) (especially Malec gushing) (my favorite kind of gushing).

  • She’s a cosplayer. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I get to find out which character she’s cosplaying as for our annual visits to PR Comic-Con.

 

Without further ado, here’s my interview with Laura!

 

1) You recently launched a book review vlog called Literally Booked. Tell me about the decision to start your vlog and what viewers can expect from your reviews.

Long ago, during the Twilight days, I used to have an entire channel dedicated to Twilight. The books, the movies, everything. It was quite popular and I enjoyed making videos, but unfortunately I made one too many fanvideos and my channel got shut down. It lives on only in infamy. Now that I’m teaching, I feel the need to spread the joy of reading once more, and what’s easier than a YouTube channel? Plus, filming is a lot of fun. That’s why I decided to get back on the Tube.

2) I remember meeting you inside a college classroom (oh, the old days…). We were both English grad students about to embark on a Shakespearean journey, but our friendship was born out of a shared love for young adult lit. When did you first discover your passion for Y.A.?

AH yes, ye old Shakespeare class. I’ve been reading Y.A. for as long as I can remember. Back in the day, they were just “children’s novels” and I would order them through those Scholastic catalogues we got at school. I think the first more mature book I read was Harry Potter in the 6th grade, and from then on, I was hooked on Y.A. I think because I read Y.A. as I was growing up, I felt more connected with the characters that experienced what I experienced, and now dealing with teens a teacher, I still feel connected to those characters.

3) Like me, your day job involves teaching English. Your students are in middle school and high school, though, which puts you in direct contact with teens. In your experience, what’s the most rewarding aspect of discussing literature with teens? Has there been a favorite book/short story among your students?

Being an ESL teacher is quite challenging because, though many of my students share my passion for reading, their difficulty with the language makes it harder for them to explore reading. However, there have been some joyful moments. For example, my rowdy eighth graders enjoyed The Diary of Anne Frank so much they watched the entire 3 hour movie in complete silence. Another joyous moment occurred when I brought in some Y.A. novels to give away to my students and they were gone in less than 5 minutes. There were more than 15 novels! That proves that they truly enjoy reading and I hope further on we can get into discussing more novels and stories in depth.

4) Besides working as an English teacher, you’re also a Disney Store Cast Member! What’s the best thing about being a CM? On the flip side, what’s the most challenging?

Being a CM is the most rewarding job. When I have bad days, I go into the store and feel immediately better. There’s always a joyful atmosphere among the CMs that is contagious and that’s what I love most about it. The flip side? I have none, really. This is my dream job and I’ve made so many wonderful connections, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

5) As if you weren’t cool enough, you cosplay at local fan conventions! You even gave a presentation on fandom at a pop culture conference we both participated in last year. I’m curious: what does fandom mean to you personally? How would you define it?

Fandom is a huge part of my life and I’m truly grateful for it. I can honestly say I’ve made all my close friends through fandom, whatever type it may be, because we’ve all connected because of interests and things we enjoy. I’m a single adult with a full-time job, so sometimes life can get kind of boring and lonely. But every night I get home to discuss the latest episode of Shadowhunters with friends, or RP online, or even just chat, and that makes it so much better. I know some people think fandoms are weird, but come on. Have you ever loved something so much you couldn’t stop talking about it? That’s fandom.

**Bonus question: which Hogwarts House have you been Sorted into??

I’m a Ravenclaw for sure! I’m not brave enough for Gryffindor!

 

Thanks so much to Laura for letting me interview her! You can find her online at the following spots:

TwitterVlog

Staying Awesome Interview Series: Kelly Jensen

Welcome to another entry in the Staying Awesome Interview Series! Today I’m super pumped to feature a woman I’ve admired for quite some time now, Kelly Jensen!

 

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What makes Kelly awesome?

Kelly Jensen is a former teen librarian who worked in several public libraries before pursuing a full-time career in writing and editing. Her current position is with Book Riot, the largest independent book website in North America, where she focuses on talking about young adult literature in all of its manifestations. Before becoming a fully-fledge adult-like person, she worked in the swanky Texas Legislative Library entering data into a computer while surrounded by important politicians, scooped gelato for hungry college students, and spent hours reading, annotating, and scanning small-town Texas newspapers into a giant searchable database.

Kelly lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three needy-but-awesome cats. In her free time, she does yoga, writes for her personal blog STACKED (stackedbooks.org), drinks a lot of tea, and enjoys disappearing for days reading good books. Her writing has been featured on The Huffington Post, at Rookie Magazine, The Horn Book, BlogHer, School Library Journal. She contributed an essay and a guide to teen sexuality in pop culture for Amber J. Keyser’s The V-Word: True Stories of First-Time Sex and is the author of the book It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader from VOYA Press.

Kelly was kind enough to let me pick her (amazing) brain. Check out her brilliance below!

 

1) Many young girls and women identify as feminists, including myself, but I find that others are hesitant when it comes to proclaiming themselves feminists. Some don’t even believe we need feminism and argue that equality has already been achieved. How do you define feminism for yourself? In what ways do you think a greater understanding and acceptance of feminism can be achieved?

You’ve pretty much nailed why I wanted to create a feminism anthology for teenagers in your question! I’m a big believer in the idea feminism is a movement full of facets and that every individual comes to it in their own way and uses feminism in a way that makes sense to them. Your feminism can and does evolve as you do; the more you learn, the more you accept some elements of feminism and the more you reject other notions of “feminism.”

My own definition of feminism is the same one Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so clearly states in “We Should All Be Feminists” — feminism is the social, political, and economic equality of all people. How we achieve that, though, I believe is entirely personal and individual and it’s through following our own paths through feminism we’re able to help the greater good achieve that equality. I reject the idea that there are right ways to be a feminist; some people perform feminism in quiet ways and others do it loudly. I believe that online social justice is as important and powerful as work done on the streets. Everyone comes where they’re comfortable and it makes a difference.

It’s through accepting other people’s ways of feminism I think we can better achieve acceptance of it. We also need to keep talking about feminism and what it looks like. One of my biggest hindrances to calling myself a feminist when I was younger came because I felt like an impostor; this is what I wrote about in my own piece for Feminism for the Real World. When we only ever see a movement as one thing — in feminism’s case, a loud, on-the-streets, vocal-in-all-spaces, marching-for-peace movement that’s popular in the media and in textbooks (if they mention feminism at all!) — we don’t show the spaces where people work behind the scenes or where they’re learning or listening and working to be better in quieter, but equally important, ways. A person marching in a reproductive rights rally on a college campus is as valid a feminist as an individual who stops using gendered slurs or transphobic language in their day-to-day communication and urges others to do the same. All of these things matter. They’re all facets.


 

2) Before you became an associate editor at Book Riot, you were already sharing your awesomeness with the world over at Stacked, a blog dedicated to book reviews, guest posts, and epic link roundups. Your book reviews have always fascinated me for their in-depth analysis on character development, particularly when it comes to books featuring girl narrators and stories of girlhood. What’s the most unapologetically feminist Y.A. book you’ve ever read and why?

Thank you! It’s such a nice compliment to hear this.

Funny story: if you go back into the early posts at STACKED, there are a series of pieces about a program I attended about the importance of getting guys to read. It moved me a lot — so much I did guy-focused programming for an entire summer at my library which was wildly successful and which earned me a little recognition from the local Rotary group.

The thing is, after I finished that program and began seeing more and more “guys only” kinds of programs and professional education movements in libraries, the angrier I got. Why were we not talking about girls? How come it was assumed girls were doing alright and didn’t need any special consideration? Not to mention, all of this falls into a gender binary and I don’t know about you, but my life has granted me a lot of wonderful genderqueer, trans, and questioning individuals who ALSO deserve to be considered as part of a community. The angrier I got, the more I wrote and the more I read. And the more I read and wrote, the more I discovered people who thought about this too. It led me to realizing this was incredibly important to me and I needed to keep talking about it. So I have and I will.

It would be impossible to name a single unapologetically feminist YA book. I’ve read so many, and I’ve been impressed and blown away not just by the stories themselves, but the reactions to them. People dislike feminism, or rather, they dislike female characters who step outside the box. Who aren’t willing to bend. Who don’t submit or fit within a neat label. In other words: readers dislike female characters that refuse to be one-dimensional.

A few of the most feminist YA titles I’ve read and would heartily recommend include: Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann, All The Rage by Courtney Summers, Bumped and Thumped by Megan McCafferty (criminally underrated science fiction dystopian satire), Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian, all of Sarah McCarry’s Metamorphosis trilogy (especially About A Girl, my favorite of the series), Pointe by Brandy Colbert. This is such a white list and part of that is purposeful — we have a real hole in intersectional feminism in YA. A big reason isn’t that the books aren’t being written but that the books about girls of color that sell so rarely look beyond their race as key to the story. That’s a weakness in publishing, not the books. Have you tried to find YA light reads featuring girls of color? Sit on that for a bit. The answer is that it’ll take you a long time to think of some. I keep meaning to read Love is the Drug and The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, which I keep being told are radically and amazingly feminist.


 

3) I can’t begin to tell you how desperate I am to read Feminism for the Real World, the anthology you edited that’s coming out in 2017! Tell me about your decision to make this anthology happen. Was there a specific aha! moment that led you to the anthology’s creation? Or have you always wanted to work on a project like this?

I don’t remember learning anything about feminism growing up. There weren’t any lessons in class, there weren’t any real books out there for teenagers, and the internet age wasn’t then what it is now.

When I got to college and met these incredibly outspoken feminists, I found myself turned off to the movement, in part because I didn’t understand it. But as I went through college and found myself writing and exploring very feminist issues in all of my work, I realized that feminism is wide, dynamic, and accommodating.

With the growth of feminist talk in the mainstream — from TIME Magazine’s attempt to “ban” the word in 2014 to the popular question “are you a feminist?” journalists ask of famous women — it felt like the right time to bring together a variety of voices, perspectives, and insights into what feminism means, what it looks like, and why it’s a movement that teenagers want to know and be involved in because it truly impacts their lives now and will impact it throughout their futures.

This is very much the book I would have wanted as a teenager to help me make sense of the idea and make me feel like my own feminism was not wrong.

I remember growing up and grappling with a lot of really big issues and finding my place in books. There was a nice guide to figuring out your religious beliefs or how you could mix and match them. There was a guide for how to handle your changing body. There were all kinds of useful books for teens on topics that mattered; this, I like to think, will fit into that realm — and hopefully it’ll reach teens in ways that I can’t even anticipate.

 

4) You mention in your Twitter bio that you’re a “reformed librarian.” What was the best part about working as a librarian? What was the worst?

I worked with teenagers, who are the BEST. I love teenagers, their energy, their enthusiasm, their attitudes. Deep down inside, even the most annoying teen who walks into the library wants to be accepted for who they are, right where they are. I always felt like it was a privilege to be a trusted adult in their lives and accept them right where they are. I had teens who’d come to book club so they could play with LEGOs and teens who’d come to those same book clubs to talk books. I let them do both, and both were so happy to be able to do that. I loved being an advocate and voice for those who are so rarely seen as worthy of that. Especially in a public space. We limit teens everywhere; my goal was — and still is through so many other ways — to give them space to grow and learn and have fun. They have the whole rest of their lives to be adults.

The worst part of librarianship was bureaucracy. Getting things done takes a long time in libraries, if it happens at all. Actually, the thing I disliked most was being a young woman in a public space where many felt they were able to comment on me to me. I had a man make a really inappropriate sex joke at me, had men inappropriately touch me without my permission, and men who would literally comment on my appearance to tell me if I looked better or worse one way or the other. It was always awkward and uncomfortable and I learned a lot about myself. I know some people would respond and react quickly, but as someone who feels like I always have to be a good kid, I never said what I wanted to, and I rarely reported their behavior. I wish, of course, I had. But I didn’t know. I just wanted to do well at my job, and part of that was dealing with that.


5) Do you see yourself writing fiction for teen girls down the line? (I personally think this needs to happen, Kelly. It just does).

Yep — I’m actually in the midst of working on a novel right now that I’m revising for my agent. I’ve been working on various novels for many years, but nothing quite stuck because I didn’t invest seriously in myself as a person with a career in writing and publishing for teens. But now I’m seeing it and wanting it. I’m lucky to have both critique partners, friends, and an agent who are encouraging it in ways that make me want to bring an A game.

If you’re curious, my work in progress is a novel about small towns, two girls who love one another madly, ghosts, and how we judge ourselves and others.

 

A huge thank you to Kelly for participating in this series!! Make sure to pick up Feminism for the Real World when it hits bookshelves in Spring 2017, and while you wait, go get It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader. You can find Kelly online over at the following links:

Twitter / Tumblr / Pinterest / Instagram / Goodreads