Thursday, June 1, 2023

LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

"Hail royal June, sun-bright with poppies crowned" said John Cowper Powys, the English philosopher, lecturer, novelist, critic and poet. But I echo that hail today for another reason in addition to joyous Summer. It is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, and with it let me continue to offer my undying support for the LGBTQIA+ community and reiterate the role Fantasy literature plays in supporting them by, to start, inviting people to read my LGBTQIA+ in Fantasy page, and listen to what happened to me today. As I state on the just mentioned page, I personally am not LGBTQIA+. However, I have students who are and today I told them – quite truthfully, by the way – that I am writing a Fantasy book in which one of the key characters is lesbian. Their eyes lit and they were on their feet in less time than it takes to say it. But it is the moment when I told them that the character is a Queen that I shall forever remember, for the glow on their faces out-shown the lights on the ceiling by a leap and a bound. They began questioning me about the character, wanting to know her name, what she looked like, all about the land she ruled and, most importantly, when the book was coming out. To this last I gave them a disappointing answer, for an unfinished rough draft of a 500+ page book is naturally years away from publication, and they asked me how they were supposed to wait that long for a book with a gay Queen. They want to see the rough draft as it stands and one who has some artistic skill began drawing this Queen based on my description. The moral of the story? Representation matters, people. Seeing yourself in literature matters in a huge way. Indeed, when I found these students they were eagerly pursuing the school library's LGBTQIA+ Pride Month book display.

Moving on, permit me to quote in full this article from The Hill titled In an era of book bans, sci-fi and fantasy offer an LGBTQ refuge for young readers:

Science fiction and fantasy are providing an oasis for young readers craving LGBTQ characters they can relate to as activists and wary parents increasingly clamp down on material they find offensive. Books featuring LGBTQ content are disproportionately targeted for bans in U.S. schools and libraries, with the most challenged titles regularly including “Gender Queer,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” But while those memoirs and realistic coming-of-age stories take the hits, superheroes, space travel and dragons often escape mainstream notice — and the heat that comes with it. Author TJ Klune told The Hill he knows some schools have at least a few of his magical, queer-themed works, including “The House in the Cerulean Sea,” “Under the Whispering Door” and the young adult “Extraordinaries” trilogy. Klune said the “Extraordinaries” series, which centers on a gay high schooler in a world where superheroes are real, has been mentioned in book-banning conversations before, but he hasn’t seen the full onslaught faced by other writers.

“It’s strange: Those young adult books are very sex-positive, in that it has discussions on consent and boundaries and protection and best practices for younger queer people. Why those have slipped under the radar, I have no idea,” he said. “I believe, at least in part, that it has to do with privilege. I am a cis, white, queer man. Many of the book challenges are from queer/trans authors of color. If you don’t think the color of my skin is playing a role in this, you’d be mistaken.”

The American Library Association says last year saw the highest number of books banned since it started keeping track of the issue 20 years ago. There were 2,571 unique titles censored in 2022, compared to 1,858 the year before. There is no clear formula for certain books getting banned over others, but reasons behind challenges can include genre, prior media attention and even the directness of a title, said Kathy M. Newman, a professor of English literary and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon University who pointed to Maia Kobabe’s memoir “Gender Queer.” 

“It’s very explicitly about nonbinary identity in a way that some of these fantasy young adult novels are about a lot of different issues,” Newman said. Fantasy works can require significantly more effort to sift for LGBTQ content. “The House in the Cerulean Sea” could be about nearly anything based on its title; it just so happens to be about a found family of magical creatures with a gay romance at its center. Newman said activists go through public records and news articles to get ideas for what books they should target, regularly hitting ones they’ve seen censored elsewhere. She also pointed out that sci-fi and fantasy books for younger readers are often not “taught explicitly in the classroom.” “It might be under the radar,” she said. Lisa Jenn Bigelow, an award-winning author who writes children’s books with queer themes, hasn’t heard of her works — which include “Hazel’s Theory of Evolution” and “This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us” — specifically getting banned but said it is important to note the concept of “soft censorship” in the library world.

“That’s when gatekeepers might decline to purchase or include a book in classrooms and libraries because, sometimes, they disagree with the content themselves, but more often, even they’re worried that the content could provoke a book challenge from the community. And so rather than take that risk, they just say, ‘Well, we’re not even gonna bother. We’re not gonna go there,’” said Bigelow, who also works as a librarian. David Geiger, a gay middle school English teacher in Virginia, said too many people treat anything queer-themed as inherently sexual in nature.

“Some parents think that because a book has LGBTQ characters or is by an LGBTQ author, they’re automatically inappropriate. I disagree with that,” he said. Geiger said his school has LGBTQ offerings in its book club, and he offers some in his classroom reading, specifically praising, among others, Bigelow’s “Drum Roll, Please.” He said he gives parents a list of books students are allowed to read in his class, and if they object to any, he gives the student an alternate reading assignment.

“I know not to pick books that get into sexually explicit content,” he said. Geiger said he hasn’t had any problems with angry parents, emphasizing that LGBTQ representation is particularly important for young readers. “I try and make sure that as many students can see themselves in the literature as possible,” he said.

While authors and schools have been forced to the frontlines of the book ban issue, some are not concerned about the pushback they could receive. Bigelow said she expects her titles will come under the microscope sooner or later, “especially since the book-banning movement is getting more aggressive and is targeting more and more books.”

On that note, let me also reiterate that I utterly condemn such book banners, and they feel the full force of my contempt so hard it ought to frost their windows. So if you are anti-LGBTQIA+ and are reading this, do not even THINK of commenting on this or any other Stars Uncounted page or post spouting your intolerant drivel, because I will take one look and delete it. It will never appear, and I will lose no sleep over it. Rather, I will be laughing at how you are so insecure that you feel the need to rant on a Fantasy blog while reflecting on the truth of another Mercedes Lackey quote: "Make someone a devout, fanatical anything, and his brain turns to mulch." Then I will stop laughing and forget all about you, because I categorically deem anti-LGBTQIA+ people as a class of idiot so utterly unworthy of respect that I will not waste any more minutes thinking about you. You are a mosquito whose comment was a bite on this blog, and I will flick your comment away with as little thought or care as I would an actual mosquito misguided enough to try to get at my blood. Less care, actually, since, unlike true mosquito bites, deleted comments do not itch after the fact.

"The young must grow old,
Whilst old ones grow older,
And cowards will shrink,
As the bold grow bolder.
Courage may blossom in quiet hearts,
For who can tell where bravery starts?
Truth is a song, oft lying unsung,
Some mother bird, protecting her young,
Those who lay down their lives for friends,
The echo rolls onward, it seldom ends.
Who never turned and ran, but stayed?
This is a warrior born, not made!
Living in peace, aye many a season,
Calm in life and sound in reason,
'Til evil arrives, a wicked horde,
Driving a warrior to pick up his sword,
The challenger rings then, straight and fair,
Justice is with us, beware. Beware!"

Friday, May 26, 2023

My father and I just finished The Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, the second book of the Winterhouse trilogy

My father and I just finished The Secrets of Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, the second book of the Winterhouse trilogy.

Again Elizabeth comes for the New Year, but also again something is queer. A seal on the floor and rumors of doors, strange guests not come for a rest along with new rules as she and Freddy search for clues. For Granger's game is not done, more secrets await, a map a words to a choice either to love or hate. For what is not dead may in eternal lie, and even seeing the body Winters did not die. So the hunt went on, Elizabeth is brave, and once more Winterhouse did she save. But a rumble below, a barely felt echo, tells that the tale did not end under rock, ice, and snow.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

I have started The Shadow Roads, Book Three of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell

I have started The Shadow Roads, Book Three of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell.

What are the wars between the Renné or Wills over a crown or the deathless enmity of the children of Wyrr when Death himself now threatens the land between the mountains? For dark bargains have been made as two wars, the open and ancient, now overlap with a third that is older still and far more than thrice as dangerous. Now fell roads must be taken through lands hidden and mapped to find the sleeping sons of the swan, for only they can hold the line between life and Death. What hope is there of victory? All sides bear the swan banner, and only together, I think, can Death be stopped and peace restored to the One Kingdom of Ayr.

Friday, May 19, 2023

I have just finished The Isle of Battle, Book Two of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell

I have just finished The Isle of Battle, Book Two of The Swan's War Trilogy by Sean Russell.

Thus do the children of Wyrr and the Knights of the Vow walk the earth once more, and the land between the mountains trembles with the force of battles fought and yet to come. For though the Isle of Battle stands, treachery lurks like a snake; and while both friends and foes have escaped the Stillwater, the key is missing. Yet beneath it all the true sons of the swan stir from ancient slumber, their movements rousing even Death to action.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

A song of and for Fantasy

Here is a song that I feel is a lovely tribute to the spirit of adventure that is the beating heart of the Fantastic; a sentiment most of the Youtube commenters firmly agree with.

Monday, May 8, 2023

My father and I just finished Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, the first of the Winterhouse trilogy

My father and I just finished Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, the first of the Winterhouse trilogy.

Riddles and puzzles, magic and lore, together make a book that is never a bore; and for Elizabeth and Freddy words are the key to unraveling a generational mystery. But enemies abound, and a hatred that is a curse, which along with a blessing is wrapped in cipher and verse. So they searched for clues and made a few mistakes, plus a feeling that causes objects to shake. But the Falls family did not fall but has stood, for in the end Elizabeth did choose the good. Yet though she did in this adventure prevail, we are far from done with the Winterhouse tale.

Monday, May 1, 2023

The Principles of Riddle Mastery

Having taught 3rd-6th graders riddles for years to long past the point of having developed a whole system of Riddle Mastery, here are the collected Principles of Riddle Mastery which, as the name implies, describe the semi-culture – for lack of a better phrase – and knowledge the activity imparts on those of my students who throw themselves into riddles.

  1. Knowing the four basic types of riddles: Logic, Wordplay, Scenario, and Combination. (Plus the semi-fifth Knowledge-type)
  2. Knowing the ranks of difficulty: Easy, Lower through Upper Middle-ranking, Hard, Master, and Sovereign-class.
  3. Knowing that simply knowing the answer to a riddle means nothing. It is solving them that make the Riddle Master.
  4. If you solve a riddle, give no hints and tell no one the answer so others get a long chance to solve it.
  5. Knowing that everyone's minds works differently, some riddles are easy to some but not for others; that even Master Solvers struggle on some Easy-ranked ones.
  6. Knowing that no one solves every riddle.
  7. Knowing that Mastery in Solving and Making takes a lot of practice and that very few are naturally gifted.
  8. Knowing that there are two kinds of Riddle Masters: the Riddle Solver and the Riddle Maker, the latter of whom creates riddles. It is the Makers' task to train the Solvers' in answering, and the Solvers' task to challenge the Makers' in creating as well as test new riddles. Neither can truly flourish without the other.
  9. Knowing that how fast one solves a riddles means little. It is the solving that matters, not the speed.
  10. Knowing that riddles are supposed to be fun, the overall purpose being to stretch minds.
  11. Knowing that riddles are not a competition and that who solves the most riddles is not the point.
  12. Knowing that poor Solvers can make great Makers and great Solvers poor Makers, that some are naturally better at Solving or Making Wordplay over Logic and vice versa.
  13. Knowing that 95% of all riddles are Middle-ranking and that one must test a riddle on many people to determine its rank.
  14. Knowing that a good riddle has only one perfect answer and that a Maker who finds a flaw in a riddle must fix it, because Solvers will point out the flaw by coming up with the other possible answers and then explain why their other answer works when you say it is not correct. Even deeply experienced Riddle Masters Makers do not think of everything and can make mistakes.
  15. Knowing that the riddle reflects the Maker's mind.
  16. Knowing that the riddles with the most obvious answers are often the hardest to solve.
  17. Knowing that the overall point of riddles is for people to solve them. If you create mostly/only Hard through Master and above riddles, how many do you think will solve them? The answer: very few. What happens when very few people solve your riddles? The answer: very few will want to hear them.
  18. Knowing that everyone is better at riddles than they think they are at first.
  19. Knowing that one must never lie about whether or not one has solved a riddle.
  20. Knowing that Riddle Mastery is voluntary, and that there is no shame in one or others losing interest or taking a break.
  21. Knowing that there is always more to learn. That, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "all is a riddle, and the key to a another riddle."
  22. Above all, knowing that Riddle Mastery is about respecting the riddle, the answer, and the effort, dedication, and skill it takes to make, solve, and achieve Mastery. This is why Riddle Masters respect each other, for they all abide by the Principles of Riddle Mastery (and get angry at those who break them).