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A couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to participate in one of the most exciting and memorable things I’ve ever done: the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. Dubbed a “space camp for writers,” it brings together established writers, editors, and creators for an intensive, week-long crash course in astronomy: basically a semester’s worth of Astronomy 101 classes in seven days. It was breathtaking (literally—it takes place in Laramie, Wyoming, about 7,100 feet above sea level), mind-blowing, and, most of all, inspiring.
We were in class almost every day from 10 a.m. until well after 5 p.m., with some lab sessions and outings thrown in. So what sort of things did we learn? Just as an example, our Monday lectures included the Scales of the Universe, Units, the Solar System, Seasons and Lunar Phases, and Misconceptions about Astronomy. By Friday and Saturday we were discussing galaxies, quasars, and cosmology (including dark matter and dark energy). That’s quite the learning curve! Most of us felt like our heads were full by the end, yet we were always eager to hear more.
Yup. That is totally an exoplanet.
I know I must have learned some of this stuff in elementary school (and forgotten most of it), but there have also been so many breakthroughs in astronomy since I was a kid (sorry, Pluto!), I was learning much of this for the first time — and I also had a new appreciation for the topic. Every class was a revelation. What made it even better was having the opportunity to see the science we were learning at work: analyzing the emission spectrum of different elements in the lab, searching for exoplanets at planethunters.org (warning — that site is addictive!), learning how those famous images of space are put together for the public, and visiting the University of Wyoming Infrared Observatory to photograph stars with a giant telescope. It was there, at the top of Jelm Mt., that I experienced the highlight of my week: viewing the Milky Way with the naked eye in a clear night sky. (It also looks very impressive in expensive night vision binoculars.) Returning home and looking up at night was depressing; the city lights blot out all but the brightest stars, and I can imagine that some people go their whole lives without seeing a sight like that.
People always ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” Look up. Look around you. Ideas are all around us! As a science fiction author who doesn’t have a background in science, all too often I get distracted by fun concepts like time travel and parallel universes and faster-than-light space travel. It’s so easy to forget just how fascinating and exciting actual science is and skimp on it in stories. Why make everything up when we have a whole galaxy to play with, and an even bigger universe full of weird and mind-boggling things?
I’ve always enjoyed doing research for stories, but from now on I’m going to pay more attention to what’s happening in astronomy and physics and the world and universe we live in — and hopefully the things I learn will inspire new stories, instead of the other way around. (Added bonus of the workshop: Now I actually understand those astronomy articles in Scientific American!)
We also stopped by the Geological Museum at the University of Wyoming. I love dinosaurs. Meet Dracorex hogwartsia, “Dragon King of Hogwarts”!
I want to continue learning about astronomy, and work real science into more of my fiction. It’s important to keep “refilling your creative well,” and Launch Pad was a great way to do that. If you’re a science fiction writer, I encourage you to apply to next year’s workshop, and I also encourage you to donate to keep the program going. It’s a wonderful resource that is helping to get more people interested in science, and helping we writers to make our stories as scientifically plausible and accurate as we can.
For other perspectives on this year’s Launch Pad experience, read accounts from my awesome classmates and instructor:
How about you? Would you go to Launch Pad? How do you refill your creative well?
E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of the Andre Norton Award–winning young adult novel FAIR COIN and its sequel, QUANTUM COIN; his next YA novel, THE SILENCE OF SIX, will be published by Adaptive in November 2014. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at his blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
There are a few scenes that I love to draw again and again, like this one. I love the idea of peace between beasts. I think it embodies my hope for the future - not just peace between beasts, but peace between people and countries too. CLICK HERE for more coloring pages! And be sure to share your creations in my gallery so I can put them in my upcoming newsletters! (Cards, kids art, and crafts are welcome!) Sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially... my debut novel, A BIRD ON WATER STREET, coming out next week! Click the cover to learn more! When the birds return to Water Street, will anyone be left to hear them sing? A miner's strike allows green and growing things to return to the Red Hills, but that same strike may force residents to seek new homes and livelihoods elsewhere. Follow the story of Jack Hicks as he struggles to hold onto everything he loves most. AWARDS **A SIBA OKRA Pick!** **A GOLD Mom's Choice Award Winner!** **The 2014 National Book Festival Featured Title for Georgia!**
I am pleased to have Mila A. Ballentine as the guest author today at Write What Inspires You! Mila and I nada the wonderful opportunity to meet in-person at the 2014 Beach Book Festival Awards Ceremony in NYC. It was an exhilarating evening and I'm delighted to say Mila and are not only fellow authors, but friends. Welcome Mila!
Story Time on a Mystic Isle
by MilaA. Ballentine
The art of storytelling, a mother’s love, and the places I have yet to explore, inspire me. I have always had an appreciation for improvisational storytelling. So much so, that I would sit on the patio floor when I was a child, with my arms wrapped around my mother’s shin, and my head resting against her fleshy knee, listening as she told my sisters and I unconventional stories about the things she had witnessed or heard about during her time on the British Isles. I remember staying there for a while, thinking about the story she had shared with us and then I looked at her.
“Did those things really happen?” I remember asking, when I could not stand the suspense anymore.
Our eyes met, as she glanced at me with a straight face. “Yes, it really happened.”
I was grateful that she ended my suspense, and yet I no longer saw her solely as a mother. In my eyes, she was a magical being who gave birth to me. Her influence is one of the reasons why my paranormal stories have a lasting impression on readers.I write to honor her memory, creativity, and respect for the mysterious aspects of our world. She is the life force behind every word that I put into print. She lives on through my writing.
Bio: Mila A. Ballentine is a mystery writer who enjoys writing Historical, Crime, Paranormal, and Science Fiction mysteries for a general audience. When she is not writing, Mila enjoys learning about other cultures, traveling, and doing anything that allows her to put her creative energy to use. Her paranormal novel Thin Skin Soul Pinned received an award at the 2014 New York Book Festival in the Science Fiction category.
Mila, thank you for visiting today, it was a pleasure to host you! Best wishes for your continued success!
Best wishes, Donna M. McDine Multi Award-winning Children's Author
Connect with Donna McDine on Google+ A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Reader's Farvorite Five Star Review
The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist
Chuck Klosterman, ethicist for the New York Times, ponders whether it's OK to sketch strangers on the subway. His basic point is that:
"If you’re in public, people are allowed to look at you. This can be creepy and annoying, but it’s not unethical. If the individual scrutinizing you starts sketching your face, you can say, “Don’t do that,” and the person should stop (out of normal human courtesy). But the act is not inherently unethical."
Here are a few excerpts from the many comments after the piece:
"I am amused in this day of pervasive smart phone cameras that someone is concerned with the "invasiveness" of a hand drawn sketch."
"It's always best to ask permission if the activity is obvious or intrusive."
"I am a stealth sketcher. The way I do it, although they know I am drawing, they can't tell who I am drawing. I draw them when they are distracted, sleeping, reading or on the telephone so they don't notice."
I believe it's helpful to consider what might going on in the mind of of the person being sketched:
Why is the artist interested in drawing me?
Should I hold still?
Will he make me look good?
How long will it take?
Will I get to see the sketch afterward?
If I like it, can I put it on Facebook?
Are they going to try to sell it to me?
How are they going to use it?
(Young woman's perspective might be) Is he hitting on me?
If the person being sketched is preoccupied with their phone or their book and doesn't notice the artist, the artist is under no obligation to tell them they're being sketched, and doing so could make the person self-conscious. But once the subject and the artist lock eyes, all the questions start playing in the subject's head.
The artist can alleviate all the anxieties by addressing the questions in a friendly opener, such as:
"Hi, I'm just getting some practice sketching people, hope you don't mind. Keep doing what you're doing. I'll be done in five more minutes and I'll show you when I finish."
If they look annoyed after that, I'd probably try someone else, but nine times out of ten, you will have erased their worries and perhaps made a friend.
Sometimes you're sitting too far away to make such a friendly request, or you're dealing with a language barrier and in that case, I have held up the sketchbook to face them, smiled, and raised my eyebrows, and pointed from the sketch to them, which helps clear the air a bit. That gives them the opportunity to decline politely nonverbally, by waving a finger or frowning.
If you're in a waiting room where you might wish to do a portrait with a lot more commitment, rather than stealth sketching, it's best to get permission and set the terms at the outset. Then you can say something like, "Hey, are you going to be around here a while? I'm an artist traveling around here, and I'd love to sketch your portrait while we talk." Asking permission up front from parents is also a good idea if you're a man sketching children in public places.
Many times people line up, wanting to be drawn or painted. In this case, I was painting a street scene on a rainy day, and a father and daughter came up to look at the painting and chat for a bit. Before they walked on, I asked them, "After you cross the street and get to the blue sign, would you mind holding a walking pose for a minute or so?" They did so, very willingly, and then turned around afterward to give me a happy wave goodbye.
Anna Sullivan stopped by the virtual offices this morning to share five things Holden would never have in his bedroom. Check out the list, and then enter the giveaway.
Top 5 Things You Will Never Find in Holden’s Bedroom
1. A television. Why would any room with a bed also need a television?
2. Unisex anything-like cologne. A man is a man and a woman is a woman, in Hold’s book, and enjoying the differences is the whole point.
3. Another woman. Hold is a one-woman man, and Jessi is the One.
4. Crackers—not that any woman would kick him out of bed for that.
5. Hold, because he’s on Windfall Island with Jessi and Benji, creating the family all of them have always wanted.
HIDEAWAY COVE by Anna Sullivan (July 29, 2014; Forever Mass Market; $8.00)
SOME PASSIONS CAN’T BE DENIED . . .
Jessi Randal walked away from her last relationship with a baby and a broken heart. Now, years later, the last thing this single mom wants is to give Windfall Island-and all its nosy residents-anything more to gossip about. But the moment she lays eyes on the tall, sexy stranger with the slow Southern drawl, she knows she’s in delicious trouble . . .
Holden Abbot is on the island to find the missing heir to the Stanhope family fortune. It’s his job to charm as many secrets out of the town as possible. And if he can charm Jessi into his bed, even better. When all evidence points to her as the heir, a dangerous enemy sets his sights on Jessi and her son. Now Holden will have to risk everything to protect the family he’s come to love.
Anna Sullivan was born and raised in southeastern Michigan, the seventh of nine children, whose claim to fame was reading five books a week in grade school. Needless to say, her obsession with the written word only grew from there-despite a short, and misguided, foray into the world of computer science (the “sensible” job path). She still lives in Michigan, with her husband, three children and two dogs whose life of leisure she envies but would never be able to pull off.
Jessi breathed out, then in, slow, deliberate breaths. Hold’s argument sounded so logical, so simple and effortless. Just take it a day at a time, enjoy what they had for the time they had it. What could be easier?
But how did she shut off her own doubts and fears? After nearly a decade of putting Benji first, how did she ignore his feelings?
She trusted Hold, but— No, no more buts, no more what ifs or tomorrows. She trusted Hold. Period. He’d never do anything to hurt either her or Benji on purpose.
“You’re right, Hold. Let’s just enjoy today and let tomorrow take care of itself.
He studied her for a minute. She kept her eyes on his, let him make what he would of her acceptance. He put his arms around her, pulled her in for a hug. “We’ll take our time Jessica, get to know one another, and see where it takes us.”
She leaned back, looked into his face. “Hold . . .”
He put a finger over her lips, then his mouth, one of his sweet, simple kisses. He couldn’t know how that kiss, the kind one lover gave another where there was more than sex between them, got to her.
“You think you know me—”
She put her fingers over his mouth. “I do know you.”
“You can never really know another person, Jessica. Not everyone is as honest—” He broke off, dropped another light kiss on her lips. “It’s not important. I’m starving. Let’s eat.”
He stepped away, flashing her a grin before he went into the kitchen, a grin that didn’t hide the shadows in his eyes.
So, he’d been hurt before, Jessi realized, and by a woman if she didn’t miss her guess. It was so clear in that moment. A man as irresistible as Hold Abbot would have been involved before, and deeply, she thought. He might be naturally flirtatious, but she’d discovered that he wasn’t casual about acting on those flirtations.
No, someone, some woman, had broken his heart. And his trust.
He held back, Jessi understood now, because he was waiting for her to hurt him, and in holding back, he guaranteed they’d hurt one another.
But she was already too far gone to be careful now.
China Dolls. Lisa See. 2014. Random House. 376 pages. [Source: Library]
China Dolls is historical fiction. The novel follows three women through the latter days of the 1930s through the 1940s. Three very different women I might add. The friendship between these three women is not quite pure or ideal. Grace, one of the heroines, is running away from an abusive father. Her dream is to sing and dance and to go into show business. Ruby, another heroine, is also a dancer and performer. Helen is the third heroine. Before a chance meeting with Ruby and Grace, Helen had no big dreams of show business. In fact, Helen could not even dance! Yet, a chance meeting one day led all three women to audition for an Oriental nightclub. (For the record, Oriental is the term used throughout China Dolls.) Talent is only half of what is required, they learn. Appearance is super important. It is more important to be beautiful and amazing and be somewhat teachable than to be incredibly talented. Helen and Grace are hired to be essentially part of a chorus. (They're called Ponies.) But Ruby remains a part of their lives. For better or worse.
While each woman is given a back story and/or a sob story, I had a hard time liking any of the characters. Helen, Grace, and Ruby may spend time together, but, that doesn't mean they like each other and want each other to succeed. Helen, Ruby, and Grace could be quite mean and awful to each other.
The history is interesting. The story is certainly full of drama. The characters are incredibly flawed and remain consistently selfish.
I liked it fine, but, I definitely did not love it.
I am wondering how long is appropriate to follow up on a full request. I saw one of your posts that said to absolutely follow up, but you did not specify the appropriate amount of time. I'm hearing 8 weeks, 12 weeks, six months.
Also, when following up with said agent, should I mention that the MS has been requested by other agents in the interim? I have not received offers, but requests.
The industry standard here is ironclad: 1. Follow up in the time frame suggested by the agent's website or submission guidelines.
2. If there are no guidelines, you follow up in 30 days on a query, and 90 days on a full. NO sooner.
I actually have a list of what to do if I don't respond to your query in 30 days. It's here at Query Letter Diagnostics. You can apply that to most other agents as well since most of us do these same things.
As to the second part of your question, no you don't mention how many requests you have. You DO mention if you get an offer. In fact, if you get an offer you email everyone who requested a full and tell them. You also mention your time frame: you have a week to reply to the offer; you have ten days to reply to the offer; you have 7 minutes to reply, get out your rocket propelled eyeballs for a quick skim.
I stole upstairs with Clockhousein hand and read the conversation between my friend Rahna and the ever-interesting M.T. Anderson (Octavian Nothing, Feed, etc.). It's the sort of interview the whole world should read—two very smart people talking, unexpected tangents and revelations, deep questions, unvarnished (which is to say actively honest) responses.
I share just a snippet here, but oh my. The whole is New York Times quality stuff.
RRR: What is the biggest risk you ever took as a person and as a writer?
MTA: Every big work is a risk. One thing I found is easy enough to tell my students, but now I am having to tell myself is: every time you write a new book, you should try to write something that is impossible for you. You should try to write something at which you think you are going to fail. Because it's only then that you actually realize that you've succeeded in new ways you've never dreamed of before. Now that obviously a nice adage to tell students when they are facing trouble, to say, look, you just need to lean into this, and trust that you can do it and seek solutions because if you don't feel like it's impossible for you then you aren't re-envisioning yourself as much as you need to be. On the other hand, it's very difficult to do that for yourself....
The photo above is of too long ago—my husband, my son, Reiko's Ming and her boys, then Reiko herself at Hawk Mountain. Reiko sees things others don't. This interview (and her books) are proof of that.
I have a feeling this is one of those books that you either adore to hyperbolic proportions or is completely off your radar.
I’m in the hyperbolic proportions camp, but it’s still a book I forget about. And then when I remember, I wonder how I forgot?!
So this is an origin story, one that starts in Cementland and ends in gritty beauty.
The first spread is so perfect. A wide shot of Cementland, described as a dull, gray, endless place. A boy, arms open and striped in red, stands at your attention in the midst of all that gray. All of the lines and the stress and the mess lead you right to him.
This red-striped fellow believes treasure hides among the heaps of junk in Cementland, and in a triumphant moment finds a box bursting with color. Bright colored packages, but filled only with tiny gray specks.Hundreds of them. Not wondrous riches.
He plants anyway. And after two or three minutes, nothing happens.
While he’s gone, thieves root and loot the plot. So this boy–this treasure hunter, gathers smelly socks, scraggly wires, and of course, a crown, and dubs his creation Frog Belly Rat Bone, the monster who will protect the specks.
They are a duo with a mission and a patched together friendship that pays big rewards.
That’s why Timothy Basil Ering’s use of texture is the only possibility for this type of storytelling. The art is the story. It’s stitched up. It’s not slick. It’s piled up and layered and cobbled together just like Frog Belly Rat Bone himself.There’s warmth in the mess and intention in the scatter. It’s as beautiful as that treasure that the red-striped boy finds. And creates.
“…[W]hen I first made the dummy book for Frog Belly Rat Bone, naturally, I beat up some wood and sewed it all together. It gave it that nostalgic, cobbled-together look that’s just plain interesting to me. I wanted it to look like it was made the same way the little boy in the story makes Frog Belly, with just raw hand-stitching and splashes of paint.”
It’s definitely one I want to share early in the year with our fourth graders who are the school’s expert gardeners. It would pair well with The Curious Garden (for obvious reasons) but also classic unlikely friendship stories. Isn’t a trash-made monster-thing with picky underwear a pretty unlikely friend? I’m thinking about Amos and Boris and Leonardo the Terrible Monster.
Giveaway Update: Thanks for playing! I’ve picked the winners, but I’m going to wait until my order comes in from the bookstore to share the spoils. We had to special order a few titles. Did you know your local indie will do that for you?! And then you get to go back. Stay tuned!
This morning special guest Derek Chandler answers a few questions, and after, you can enter to win Rodeo Queen by TJ Kline!
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Good morning, Derek! Describe yourself in five words or less.
[Derek Chandler] Adorably charming, Yeah, I think that about sums it up. *wink* Unless you have anything you’d like to add?
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you share a typical day in your life?
[Derek Chandler] That would depend on whether we’re at a rodeo or not. At a rodeo, I oversee the entire operation from meeting with the rodeo committee to making sure the judges and vets show up on time. Most of the time, I’m on horseback, running from one end of the arena to the other. On the ranch, there are animals to feed, horses to work, fences to mend, machinery to repair, bills to pay, cattle to doctor. It’s never-ending but I love being there.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words come to mind when you think of Angela?
[Derek Chandler] Hmmm, Angel is a lot of things but I’d say the first three words that come to mind would be dangerous, determined and oh, so tempting.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s her most appealing quality?
[Derek Chandler] To me, her determination to do whatever it takes to help her father, even at her own expense. She’s given up a lot for him her entire life. As much as I hate to think about all she’s had to go through, I know it’s made her the incredible woman she is today.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What just drives you nuts about her?
[Derek Chandler] Assuming you mean a character trait, her stubborn independence. Damn but that woman wants to fight me at every turn. She thinks she knows best and still thinks she has to do everything alone. She won’t trust that there are people in her life willing to help shoulder some of the burden. We’re still working on that lesson.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you could change one thing you’ve done in your life, what would it be?
[Derek Chandler] I’m sure some people need to think about that but I don’t. I never would have gotten involved with Liz or her schemes. I was selfish and too many people were hurt by what happened. It could have been far worse than it was but it was bad enough. Knowing I was partially responsible for that will haunt me forever, even though Sydney and Scott have forgiven me.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] What’s one thing you won’t leave home without?
[Derek Chandler] My sense of humor. Life throws me enough I need to be serious about – sick animals, traveling long distances in bad weather, two thousand pound bulls that can be unpredictable. Hell, then there’s women like Angel who knock me off my high-horse. Without a sense of humor, I’d be…well, I’d probably be my brother. That guy takes everything too seriously.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you share your dreams for the future in five words or less.
[Derek Chandler] Family, together at the ranch.
[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!
[Derek Chandler] Anytime! I’m thrilled to take you out riding if you want to come by the ranch.
The Cowboy and The Angel
By: T.J. Kline
Releasing August 5th, 2014
From our NaNoWriMo author T. J. Kline comes the stunning follow up to RODEO QUEEN. When a sexy cowboy falls for a not-so-angelic reporter, secrets and sparks abound.
Reporter Angela McCallister needs the scoop of her career in order to save her father from his bad decisions that have depleted their savings. When the chance to spend a week at the Findley Brothers ranch arises, she sees a chance to get a behind-the-scenes scoop on rodeo. That certainly doesn’t include kissing the devastatingly handsome and charming cowboy, Derek Chandler, who insists on calling her angel.
Derek has a rodeo to run and a chip on his shoulder. He has no time for the fiery woman who is clearly hiding something. But for some reason he can’t keep his hands off of her. Their connection is instant and explosive but Angela’s secrets could threaten his family and Derek needs to prove that he’s not the irresponsible kid brother anymore.
When the rodeo dust has settled, will the Cowboy and his Angel allow themselves to give in to the attraction that threatens to consume them both?
T. J. Kline was raised competing in rodeos and Rodeo Queen competitions since the age of 14 and has thorough knowledge of the sport as well as the culture involved. She has written several articles about rodeo for small periodicals, as well as a more recent how-to article for RevWriter, and has published a nonfiction health book and two inspirational fiction titles under the name Tina Klinesmith. She is also an avid reader and book reviewer for both Tyndale and Multnomah. In her spare time, she can be found laughing hysterically with her husband, children, and their menagerie of pets in Northern California.
Summer blockbuster season is in full swing. For many moviegoers, that means escaping to a galaxy far, far away—or perhaps just a different version of our own planet Earth—through science fiction and fantasy movies. As fans clamor for the latest cinematic thrills, we decided to focus our next Diversity Gap study on the level of racial and gender representation in these ever-popular genres that consistently rake in the big bucks for movie studios. We reviewed the top 100 domestic grossing sci-fi and fantasy films as reported by Box Office Mojo. The results were staggeringly disappointing, if not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, US politics, and the Academy Awards, where we analyzed multi-year samplings and found a disturbingly consistent lack of diversity.
The Diversity Gap in Sci-Fi & Fantasy Films infographic (click for larger image)
Among the top 100 domestic grossing films through 2014:
• only 8% of films star a protagonist of color • of the 8 protagonists of color, all are men; 6 are played by Will Smith and 1 is a cartoon character (Aladdin) • 0% of protagonists are women of color • 0% of protagonists are LGBTQ • 1% of protagonists are people with a disability
The following interviews with two prominent entertainment equality advocacy groups shed more light on the subject.
Marissa Lee is co-founder of Racebending.com, an international grassroots organization of media consumers who support entertainment equality. Racebending.com advocates for underrepresented groups in entertainment media and is dedicated to furthering equal opportunities in Hollywood and beyond.
Imran Siddiquee is Director of Communications at the Representation Project, which is a movement that uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people’s consciousness toward change. The Representation project was the follow-up to the critically acclaimed documentary Miss Representation.
Jason Low: Do these statistics surprise you? Why or why not?
Marissa Lee: The statistics are certainly striking, especially since sci-fi and fantasy belong to a genre that prides itself on creativity and imagination. These statistics aren’t necessarily surprising, since lack of diversity in Hollywood films is a well-known problem. There have been enough studies and articles, and any moviegoer can pause to notice there is a disparity. . . . Hollywood can’t go on pretending that this isn’t a problem.
JL: Do you think the American movie-going audience would support a big, blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy movie with a diverse protagonist if a studio made it?
Imran Siddiquee: Yes, definitely. But I think an important thing to understand about Hollywood blockbusters is that they are almost never flukes; they are preordained. Sure, we have the occasional surprise indie hit, but you need a lot of money and marketing behind you to become a blockbuster. Just look at the top ten films in each of the last five years: nearly every single one had a budget of more than $100 million (a lot of them were also sci-fi/fantasy films).
Meanwhile, there hasn’t been a single film released this year starring a person of color with a budget of more than $50 million, let alone a sci-fi film, which is naturally going to be more expensive. The same goes for most of the last decade. So for anyone who might say “people just don’t watch sci-fi movies starring people of color,” or “there’s no evidence that this would work,” the truth is that we have no evidence that it wouldn’t work.
Studios take a couple of massively expensive chances every year on mostly unknown actors or directors—aka giving the Spider-Man franchise to Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield in 2012—but they just don’t take those kinds of chances on people of color. In other words, if Hollywood wanted to make a blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy film starring a woman of color, they definitely could.
ML: I think American audiences would support a film with a diverse protagonist, because we already have. One pullout statistic from your infographic is that Will Smith leads six of the top 100 big sci-fi/fantasy films. His race wasn’t a huge impediment to box office success and may have, in fact, been part of what made him all-American and relatable. That was back in the late 1990s, but since then, Hollywood hasn’t tried to find a new Will Smith. This is kind of ironic, given that Hollywood likes to stick to formulas and sequels! They could push forward another actor—or actress—of color with Smith’s charisma. They haven’t.
The American movie audience supports any movie that Hollywood successfully markets well, especially—but not always—if the film is well produced. Hollywood has managed to market some weird stuff, like a tentpole movie about talking teenage turtle martial artists, or cars that change into space robots, and so on. I don’t buy that when it comes to marketing diverse leads, suddenly this giant industry can’t do it.
I’d be interested in seeing how many of these top 100 grossing sci-fi and fantasy films star non-human leads. I wonder if there are more films with non-human leads than minority human leads on the list!
(Side note: Does the infographic count Keanu Reeves as white or as a person of color? I think he has more than one movie on this list given The Matrix trilogy…)
Editorial note: Yes, Keanu Reeves is counted as a PoC and did make the list for The Matrix. The second Matrix film, The Matrix Reloaded was the only installment of the trilogy to make the top 100 list.
JL: What challenges have you faced or seen peers facing as a woman/person of color, etc.?
ML: There are films with built-in audiences that Hollywood still insists on whitewashing, which has a very adverse effect on actors of color. Let’s be honest, audiences would have still flocked to see The Hunger Games or Twilight if characters like Katniss or Jacob had been cast with people of color as they were written in the books. An actor with a disability could have played the protagonist in Avatar—if we have the technology and imagination to animate a fanciful world populated by blue cat people, we could have cast an actor with a disability similar to the lead character’s in that role. As a result of these casting decisions, up and coming actors from underrepresented groups were deprived of career exposure from being a part of these established franchises, making it harder for Hollywood ever to try and launch a new franchise with an actor from an underrepresented group.
Every single Marvel Studios movie has centered around a presumably straight, white, male protagonist, even if white women (mostly love interests) and men of color (support roles) have played roles in the film. The franchise is a box office juggernaut and has a ton of movies on this list, but we’ve gotten two to three movies about each of the men on the Avengers and there’s yet to be a film about Black Widow. Both of Marvel’s ensemble films—The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy—trimmed down the superhero teams for their film adaptations, and the women characters, save for one, were the first to be cut. Most moviegoers will never know that women of color and LGBTQ characters were cut from Guardians of the Galaxy, but audiences will get to relate to the talking raccoon and the talking tree.
More recently, the Divergent franchise cast Naomi Watts to play a character who was a woman of color in the books. It’s a supporting role for an already established franchise, and for whatever reason the production still couldn’t bring themselves to cast an actor of color.
Trends that fans have noted in the media include that in big blockbuster sci-fi and fantasy films, the presence of a straight, white, able-bodied, cis male in some central role in the story is almost guaranteed, while the presence of characters with “minority” identities (e.g. LGBTQ folks, people of color, people with disabilities, women, etc.) is not. Even when a character who isn’t a straight, white cis male is centered in a story, there’s probably a straight, white, cis male character playing second, if not lead, billing. For example, while we can reasonably assume that the next few Star Trek and Star Wars movies will have some diverse characters, we can guarantee that at least one of the leads will be a straight, white man. If The Hunger Games or Twilight had cast actors of color for Katniss or Jacob, there would still have been plenty of lead roles filled by white actors. DC is including Wonder Woman in an upcoming movie, but the film will also feature Batman and Superman.
This means that someone with a lot of intersecting privileged identities (especially straight, white men) will always be able to walk into a multiplex and find a sci-fi/fantasy movie starring someone who shares those identities. If you have a lot of marginalized identities, then representation is a sometimes thing, never a solid guarantee. There is a very small but vocal minority of people who want to maintain this status quo, and Hollywood seems to cater toward them due to institutionalized racism, fear, and habits. But there are just as many, if not more, people who are willing to support, vociferously, films with diverse leads. I wish our money was as good as theirs.
JL: How can consumers encourage more diversity in movies?
IS: Avoid buying tickets to films which clearly rely on stereotypes or demeaning portrayals of people based on gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, ability, or circumstance. And anytime you do watch a film, give it The Representation Test afterward. The test grades films on their inclusiveness pertaining to all those above categories. When a movie scores really low on the test, use #NotBuyingIt on Twitter to let the filmmakers and all your friends know how you feel. Since so much of this industry is based on money, this is one way we can express our discontent and get the attention of the studios.
ML: Media literacy is a huge start. As media consumers, we should feel empowered to critique the media we consume, and to decide what media we choose to consume. Beyond helpful steps like going to see movies that feature diverse leads, it’s just as important to start conversations in our own communities and with our friends and family (the people we consume media with!) to raise awareness about diversity and representation. Even if we don’t go to see movies that whitewash or exclude or present discriminatory content, people we know will. One way we can help change things is by continuing to start conversations. We need to create an environment where it is safe to criticize popular franchises for lacking diversity. We also need to keep drowning out the malcontents who cannot even handle actors of diverse backgrounds in supporting roles. Social media has really knocked down barriers when it comes to communicating our opinions with Hollywood brass. It’s also given us several spaces where we can discuss the media we consume with our friends and family. In addition, the internet has really changed how we access and consume media. There are Kickstarters and indie channels and online comics and other outlets so we don’t have to be reliant on big production studios or publishers as our only sources of entertainment.
JL: How close or far do you think we are from getting these statistics to change?
IS: When you’re talking about representation that is this low, it’s hard to go anywhere but up. For instance, 0% for women of color in top sci-fi films means I’m being honest when I say things will certainly improve soon, but that’s not saying much. I think we are pretty far away from true equality, or a cinema that reflects and includes the broad diversity of human experiences in the real world.
Too many wealthy, white men still run Hollywood, and their decisions still have too much power. As I mentioned earlier, these kinds of movies are very expensive, and so it’s hard for independent or upstart filmmakers to break through or compete.
That being said, the slight increase in success for white women in blockbuster sci-fi movies, such as Gravity, The Hunger Games, and Divergent, means change is possible. And it’s hard to overstate the importance of the Oscar wins for 12 Years a Slave last year, because while it wasn’t a blockbuster, it is a film that everyone in the industry now knows about and has probably seen. And the whole reason we’re even talking about representation in movies right now is because we know how much seeing different experiences on screen can impact people’s real world thoughts and attitudes. So films like 12 Years a Slave are part of the gradual shifting of consciousness that has to happen in Hollywood to get to a point where studios are consistently greenlighting big-budget films starring people of color.
ML: As budgets for tentpole science fiction and fantasy movies have soared, studios have been more reluctant to take a chance on actors or characters that they perceive as risks. Because people of color and women are also already more likely to consume movies than white people and men, maybe they don’t feel an incentive to change what they are doing because, from their perspective, minorities are perfectly willing to watch films starring white guys. Hollywood is pretty stubborn, especially when it comes to tentpole movies. We are seeing more diversity in television, particularly in children’s television, as well as in online content. The establishment will change when someone influential in Hollywood decides to take the risk and make an effort to diversify their film offerings. The stats in this infographic are focused on profit, not art. For things to change, Hollywood needs to believe that diversity can be profitable.
This is not an isolated incident, but a wide reaching societal problem.
Read more Diversity Gap studies on:
In honor of the 100th anniversary of World War I, we’re sharing an excerpt of Sir Hew Strachan’s The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War. Get a sense of what it was like to live through this historic event and how its global effects still impact the world today.
The Great War haunted the last century; it haunts us still. It continues to inspire imaginative endeavour of the highest order. It invites pilgrimage and commemoration surrounded by palpable sadness. Almost a hundred years after the war, ‘The Last Post’, intoned every evening at the Menin Gate in Ypres, still summons tears. We wish it all had not happened.
We associate the war with the loss of youth, of innocence, of ideals. We are inclined to think that the world was a better and happier place before 1914. If the last century has been one of disjunction and endless surprise rather than of the mounting predictability many expected at the next-to-last fin-de-siècle, the Great War was the greatest surprise of all. The war stands, by most historical accounts, as the portal of entry to a century of doubt and agony, to our dissatisfaction.
Its extremes of emotion, both the initial jubilation and subsequent despair, are seen as a preface to the politics of extremism that took hold in Europe in the aftermath; its mechanized killing is regarded as a necessary prelude to the even greater ferocity of the Second World War and to the Holocaust; its assault on the values of the Enlightenment is seen as a nexus between indeterminacy in the sciences and the aesthetics of irony. Monty Python might never have lived had it not been for the Great War. The war unleashed a floodtide of forces that we have been unable ever since to stem. ‘Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget—lest we forget!’ How in the world, Mr Kipling, are we to forget?
Figure 11.1 from the Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War. Used with permissions from Oxford University Press.
The enthusiasm surrounding the outbreak of war many described as a social and spiritual experience beyond compare. Engagement was the hallmark of the day. ‘We have,’ wrote Rupert Brooke, ‘come into our heritage.’ The literate classes, and by then they were the literate masses—teachers, students, artists, writers, poets, historians, and indeed workers, of the mind as well as the fist—volunteered en masse. School benches and church pews emptied. Those past the age of military service enrolled in the effort on the home front.
Words, literary words, visible on the page, flowed as they had never flowed before, in the trenches, at home, and across the seven seas. The Berlin critic Julius Bab estimated that in August 1914 50,000 German poems were being penned a day. Thomas Mann conjured up a vision of his nation’s poetic soul bursting into flame. Before the wireless, before the television, this was the great literary war. Everyone wrote about it, and for it.
Not surprisingly, the Great War turned immediately into a war of cultures. To Britain and France, Germany represented the assault, by definition barbaric, on history and law. Brutality was Germany’s essence. To Germany, Britain represented a commercial spirit, and France an emphasis on outward form, that were loathsome to a nation of heroes. Treachery was Albion’s name. Hypocrisy was Marianne’s fame.
But the war was also an expression of social values. The intense involvement of the educated classes led to a form of warfare, certainly on the western front, characterized by the determination and ideals of those classes. Trench warfare was not merely a military necessity; it was a social manifestation. It was to be, in a sense, the great moral achievement of the European middle classes. It represented their resolve, commitment, perseverance, responsibility, grit—those features and values the middle classes cherished most.
And here for dear dead brothers we are weeping.
Mourning the withered rose of chivalry,
Yet, their work done, the dead are sleeping, sleeping
Unconscious of the long lean years to be.
Those lines from the Wykehamist, the journal of Winchester College, of July 1917 evoked both the passing of an age and the crisis of a culture.
‘The bourgeoisie is essentially an effort,’ insisted the French bourgeois René Johannet. The Great War was essentially an effort too. The American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald would call the war on the western front ‘a love battle—there was a century of middle-class love spent here. All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high-explosive love.’ Fitzgerald’s ‘lovely safe world’ was one of empire, imperial ideas, and imperial dreams. It was a world of confidence, of religion, and of history. It was a world of connections. History was a synonym for progress.
Sir Hew Strachan is a professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford, Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner, and a Trustee of the Imperial War Museum. He also serves on the British, Scottish, and French national committees advising on the centenary of the First World War. He is the editor of The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War.
Clara Bow, whose birthday falls on 29 July, was the “it” girl of her time, making fifty-two films between 1922 and 1930. “Of all the lovely young ladies I’ve met in Hollywood, Clara Bow has ‘It,’” noted novelist Elinor Glyn. According to her entry in American National Biography, “With Cupid’s bow lips, a hoydenish red bob, and nervous, speedy movement, Bow became a national rage, America’s flapper. At the end of 1927 she was making $250,000 a year.”
In recognition of the numerous leading ladies of the early days of Hollywood, the American National Biography team has put together a quiz to test your knowledge of early Hollywood and its stars. Film buff or not, the experiences of these iconic actresses may surprise you.
Whether or not you're able to attend the sold-out SCBWI Summer Conference that starts this Friday, you can be part of the online river of information and inspiration by visiting The Official SCBWI Conference Blog and following our conference hashtag, #la14scbwi, on twitter. Oh, and by watching videos like the one above!
I now have just three Hollins days left before I fly home to real life on Friday.
How happy these six weeks have been. The daily early morning walks, two or three times around the 1.75 mile perimeter of this beautiful, pastoral campus with fellow writers Candice and Elizabeth and whoever else cares to join us. Stimulating classes with my seven creative writing graduate students, each one doing her best to meet my challenge of drafting an entire 15,000-word chapter book in a month: two have turned theirs in to me already. Weekly one-on-one meetings with most of them, sometimes in my office, sometimes curled up on the couch in the third floor lounge in Swanannoa, sometimes over a meal, sometimes while eating ice cream. Evening talks several times a week by the greats of our profession - Candace Fleming, Han Nolan, fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes - as well as emerging new voices. Reconnecting with so many dear friends from my past.
During this six week span, I wrote the entire draft of my spelling bee book, received probing editorial comments on it, leaped into revision mode, and emailed it off to my editor this morning, with a somewhat feeble "Ta-dah!" but a "Ta-dah" nonetheless. I worked through the copy-edited manuscript of my Nora ant farm book. I sent the fifteen copy-edited chapters of my Ethics and Children's Literature collection to the contributors for their final approval. A slacker, I have not been!
Yet, despite many, many hours spent writing, teaching, and talking to students, it's been an enormously restorative, even restful, six weeks for me. I eat my easy-peasy meals in the Hollins cafeteria or cut up a farmers' market peach topped with Greek yogurt, a handful of blueberries, and a drizzle of honey. I have only the clothes I brought with me in my carry-on luggage. I am far away from so many cares.
Come Friday, I'll have to deal with the leak that ruined the downstairs bathroom ceiling at home while I was away. I'll have to figure out if I can really live on the amount of money I can earn with my pen. There are people there who need me. I may even have to cook a meal or two!
My dear wise friend Billie pointed out to me that if I stayed at Hollins longer, it would become real life, and then it would become messy, too. Real life is messy. There's no getting around that. In real life, real people need us, and real leaks cause real damage leading to real repairs followed by real (and really expensive!) mold mitigation (as I know too well from how I spent the first half of June before departing for Hollins).
But that's okay. Real life also has a grandbaby to hold, who turned five months old while I was away, and who can now laugh and roll over from back to tummy. Real life has my summer women's book group at church, and hikes with my friend Rowan. Real life has lots more writing in it, and I do love to write. Real life is messy, yes, but there is sweetness in the glorious mess of it, too.
Having all daughters, I don’t get to pass on sage advice on how to be a man very often. I do have a bunch of nephews. All of their lives, I have mostly been Uncle Clown – the guy that comes in, stirs them up into a frenzy and leaves without any responsibility for the cleanup or calm down phases. I do get to thump them sometimes. Every young man needs a thumping from time to time.
My youngest local nephew is off to college soon. He’s a fine young man who is very devoted to a sweet girlfriend. If you analyze that sentence, you can find the potential problem. It isn’t in the devoted or girlfriend – it lies solely in the young man. We are a stupid breed. Recently I asked him who a young lady in a photograph was and he responded by saying, “the hot one,” with his girlfriend in range… a classic rookie mistake.
Being a visual gender, we tend to over-notice things, especially in the female realm. So I thought I would throw out a few pointers that just might help the young man keep his relationship from going south with his eyes.
1. She has eyes – two of them. In the early days of your relationship, they are mostly trained on you and she is very interested in where yours go. So if you are at the frozen yogurt store and a bikini model walks in, she sees her too. She saw you see her. You now have a choice. Do you want to satisfy that urge to look one more time and wear your desert or would you rather keep your head down and eat it?
2. A pithy comment once you’ve been caught won’t save you. Saying, “I don’t think that skirt would pass dress code at my school,” sounds really funny – but only points out that you’ve sized up what she is wearing along with the legs sticking out of it.
3. Any talk wondering about or complimenting a surgeon is as fake and plastic as what you are encountering. This is a minefield – walk in and there is no safe way out.
4. You aren’t an owl, look ahead when passing females and keep your head from rotating 180 degrees.
5. If you can’t control yourself, sunglasses are acceptable. But only outside, gentleman. Unless you are in the Secret Service, you can’t wear them inside the mall.
6. I think there is a verse in Proverbs that says, It is better to walk around wearing horse blinders than let your eyes wander when you are on a date. That might be a new, obscure translation, but the advice is sound.
I can’t see nothing & I’m happy
Most women are forgiving and understanding. If they weren’t, there would be no relationships and humanity would have died out long ago. Women understand we are stupid and can’t help ourselves. Heck, Victoria has built an empire out of our visual demands. What the young man often fails to understand is that it takes time to build up enough trust that one can say the stupidest thing ever and maintain his relationship. Twenty + years after I said it, I’m still married.
What was it?
To be continued…
Photo credit: Orso della campagna e Papera dello stagno