Tag Archives: books

Gratitude: The Public Library

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Pima County Public Library, Martha Cooper branch (Garden District), rear view

Can you believe that there are otherwise sensible people who don’t “believe” in public libraries? Yeah, this seems crazy to me, too, but these people exist. They use arguments like, “I can get any book I want on the internet” and “Google is faster for research.” Never mind that fact that some people can’t get any book on the internet, because, just like the people for whom public libraries were originally constructed, they can’t afford that technology. Never mind the fact that search engines prize popularity over objectivity and readability over depth, delivering so many fast results that you could spend the rest of your life sifting through all 1.58 million of them, without necessarily finding the results you needed. Besides the primacy of facilities available to anyone who wants them, staffed by professionals trained to discover, curate, and deliver reliable content, libraries serve as public meeting spaces, classrooms, clubs for nerdy kids, safe spaces for those with terrible homes, and temples to knowledge. Many people couldn’t get jobs, or tax information, or any one of hundreds of things most of us take for granted, if they didn’t have access to library computers. As more and more common functions become more online (typically making them more difficult to access in meatspace) libraries allow those without computers to simply participate in their own culture.

My property taxes are somewhat itemized, so I can see that, last year, I paid $50 toward these services. That’s $50 for 1 year. I pay more than that for one month of internet service at my house. And you can have all the internet you want at the library. Even when it’s closed; in my town, library networks are strong enough that you can park your car in the street near the library and get online. That’s on top of all the other things you get inside the library when it’s open. And that $50 doesn’t just get my family and me through the door. It helps keep the doors open for everyone.

If you want to stand up and say that you don’t believe in libraries because you think a certain percentage of the population shouldn’t have access to information, good luck with that argument. Obviously, there are people who will wholeheartedly agree with you, but I assume these are the same people who don’t believe in public roads, or public police forces, or public fire departments. At this point in human history, access to information should be considered a human right, like clean air and fresh water, but, of course, there are people who don’t want you to have those things either. And if they can keep you out of the library, you might not even know that you have a right to those things.

So, all hail the public library. I am grateful that you continue to serve as a sacred hall of knowledge available to all who seek it.

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Sleepover (More or Less)

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Obviously, I took a couple liberties with this one, but I think I caught the gist of it.

Well, that’s a wrap. There were a few moments when I didn’t think I’d make it, but I did: 16 comics in 4 weeks and 1 day, 6 panels for every one of the 16 stories in Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell. And now I can tell you that these comics will all be available in print, an actual physical comic book that you may have the good fortune of possessing if you happen to check out Bonnie Jo’s upcoming book tour this fall, and maybe if you attend the Tucson Festival of Books this spring, and perhaps some other places as well. It’s pretty exciting.

So, yeah, it’s more about me than about “Sleepover,” but I think, if you parse this comic the way I parsed the rest of the stories, you’ll see the connections. From the very beginning of this project, while trying to figure out where and how to begin, I knew that I would have to tell this story, and so the first piece in the book would have to come last, because who wants to read about Monica? Besides the people who apparently read these blog posts, I guess. Actually, more people read any of my individual blog posts than have read all of my novels put together.

Really, I don’t think I totally understood “Sleepover,” or Stu’s advice entirely until reaching the last panel. Although, don’t you just understand everything on an increasingly deeper level the older you get? Maybe in another decade it will all carry even greater meaning.

It seemed imperative to get Stu’s actual words and handwriting into this comic, which necessitated spending nearly an hour going through papers for this one particular paper, and even though I was kind of freaking out about the time as it happened, looking over some of this stuff was delightful. I had forgotten what excellent feedback both Stu and Bonnie Jo gave, voluminous critique. Stu covered almost an entire page with comments about “Changing Planes,” a story of fewer than 250 words. He wrote almost as much about the story as there was story, and it wasn’t even for class. He gave me an extra critique just because I asked. And Bonnie Jo headed my thesis committee, even though she wasn’t even employed by the university at the time.

I miss grad school. But the future might be even more fun.

So Many Books, So Many Books

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I mean really, in the grand scheme of things, what’s one more unread novel?

Back in the wild days before the internet (and, not coincidentally, before I spent 5 consecutive years doing literally nothing but studying books and how to write them), reading a couple novels a weeks came very naturally. Now it’s a big deal if I read a couple a month. Even graphic novels start to pile up; there are 2 on my desk right now, that have been sitting there for 6 weeks. I read 2 graphic novel (digital format) yesterday and one hard copy the week before. Tonight I was trying to finish up this very weird Roger Zelazny book I’ve been pecking away at in my down time all month, but I just couldn’t push through to the end.

This week alone, I’ve been sent 2 digital copies of novels I know nothing about, by people whom I have every reason to believe are perfectly cromulent authors whose books are totally worthy of being read, along with 2 hard copies last week, sent by authors I know quite well, of books I’ve already read but need to read again for professional reasons.

A couple years back, I spent about 3 months organizing my existing library, which comprises maybe 3000 volumes. It’s very spiffy, mixing a few different systems to suit my needs (most Library of Congress) and incorporating spine labels so I always know where particular volumes are and can always reshelve them properly. But that work doesn’t do anything about the sheer volume of volumes that keep arriving, covering every horizontal surface. I’ve always been OK with being a person who only reads maybe 2/3 of the books she brings home, but lately that number is skewing even less impressively. Maybe if I stopped screwing around on the Internet and playing Pokemon Go, I could clear away some of this work. But that’s not what’s going to happen.

What I’m trying to say is that this isn’t a comic strip drawing, but rather an actual image of me in my office. Please come dig me out. Bring librarians.

Amethyst Mandala

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The crosspieces look like a Chinese finger trap. Today I learned that the Chinese finger trap has a medical application and can be used to straighten human fingers with traction.

Another weekend draws to a close, and I confess that I didn’t start crossing things off my “imperative to do today” list until one hour to midnight. In fact, this month is drawing to a close and I have barely scratched the list of “things I must accomplish before autumn to justify my existence and create even the slightest possibility of personal success.” Maybe I need a manager.

This weekend, in addition to the above face about Chinese finger traps, I learned that one of the things authors are apparently supposed to do upon uploading their books to the Kindle store is get 25 or 50 people to leave Amazon reviews. Maybe some part of me understood some element of that concept, but it literally didn’t occur to me that I was supposed to be asking random, non-writer friends and relatives to give me 5 stars. In a general sense, when it comes to Amazon reviews, it turns out that it doesn’t matter if half of them are written by your mother’s friends from folk dancing and the other half are by the people your Aunt Hattie played canasta with during the Nixon administration. According to my reading, it’s just a numbers game. So any time I spent thinking about how to ask successful writers for endorsement was wasted when I could have been demanding my relatives do the job for me. Although that might necessitate teaching my relatives to leave Amazon reviews, which wouldn’t save me any time in the long run.

What else…got to hang out with the SFWA crew on Saturday, for another thrilling and productive writing party at the Historic Y. It’s just as glamorous as it sounds.

Oh, August, give me strength. And determination. And concentration. And focus.

And, as always, the confidence of a mediocre white guy.

And if you can’t give me that, please consider buying my book, supporting my Patreon,  or ordering my merch.

The Hermit and the Coyote, a Cell Phone Case, and Marketing

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Keep your phone warm and fuzzy.

Some people fail. Some people fail spectacularly. Kaija failed mythically, and now she’s trapped in the part of the fairy tale when the monster appears.

When Kaija couldn’t find contentment in the human world, she checked out, turned in the key, and went off the grid. For fifteen years, she’s lived between worlds, hiding in the desert, holding herself apart from nature just as she has from civilization, but when disaster strikes, she finds that no woman is an island. She is dragged, kicking and screaming, to the realization that no woman is an island.

The Hermit is a novel for adults who still love fairy tales, people searching for transformation and magic, readers open to contemporary fantasies with elements of horror and romance, grown-ups who still wish they could talk to the animals.

Not that Kaija wants to talk to the animals–she’s a hermit, after all, and hermits don’t want to talk to anyone–but she can’t make them stop talking her. She can’t force them to quit sharing their fears about the legendary monster stalking the Sonoran Desert. She can’t run away anymore; she’s run as far as anyone can go. If she wants to maintain her sliver of solitude, she’ll have to shrug off the hermit’s mantle, gather allies from both worlds, and go on the offensive to defeat the true monster.

The paperback version of The Hermit will be available this Thanksgiving, but if you want to read it now, it’s already available in the Kindle store ($4.99 for 426 pages of delicious mythopoetic rampage) for your reading pleasure.

If you just love the cover, you can purchase the image of Kaija and her coyote companion on this cell phone case (and pretty much anything else on which you can emblazon images) in my RedBubble shop.

Confidential to all the people who, according to my stats page, woke up this morning, visited QvD in search of a new comic, and got nothing at all: better 15 hours late without a comic than no update, right? If people love my comics as much as they say they do, I hope they’ll consider laying out $4.99 for my book. It’s like reading my comics, but you create the pictures with your brain, so they’re much better drawn, and the word part lasts a lot longer.

 

 

Oppression

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Next thing you know they’ll be telling us we can’t ostracize and castigate those who are different!

Whenever I read about censorship attempts made against really intelligent books, my brain screams in terror. This comic is based on a challenge that came out recently in Michigan, regarding a book called Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress. As it turned out, I recently read this book to my group of 40-odd kinders, and I thought it was a great story for little kids.

To the best of my recollection, the story is as follows: Morris is a regular kid who likes drawing and playing with his friends. He also likes putting on an orange dress in his classroom’s dress-up center. He likes the dress because it is the color of “tigers, the sun, and his mother’s hair.” Some of the kids tell him that boys can’t wear dresses and also that if he wears that dress he can’t do boy things, like pretend to be an astronaut. Morris thinks about it for a while and then decides those other kids can suck it. He informs them that he is a boy regardless of what he is wearing, and that anyone can pretend to be an astronaut, and then he takes them on a great make-believe astronaut adventure while wearing the dress.

I’d like to add that, following my reading of this book to 2 classrooms of 5-year-olds, not a single child died, became a drag queen, or suddenly found themselves “confused” about their identity.

As the author points out in the article, there’s absolutely nothing in the story to indicate that Morris is queer or trans or questioning or anything other than a little boy who has fun putting on a costume. The book is about bullying, and about why it’s not OK to exclude people because they’re different. But someone managed to take offense at that premise and assert their right to torment and denigrate people who are different. Can’t have our kids tolerating, you know. Our beliefs don’t allow us to tolerate.

Here’s a hint: if schools, businesses, and public offices are closed for your religion’s major holiday, you are not in a minority, and your beliefs are not under attack. If you know that the majority of people you see on TV, in the movies, and in your daily life are familiar with your religious traditions, you are not in a minority, and your beliefs are not under attack. If anyone has ever felt justifiable outraged because a coffee chain did not print symbols of your religion on their cups, you are not in a minority, and your beliefs are not under attack.

If someone says something you disagree with, you are not under attack.

On the other hand, if anyone has ever suggested that your very existence is “wrong,” “against god,” or  “a scathing indictment of the breakdown of American morality…literally celebrating perversion,” then you are probably an oppressed minority marginalized by the dominant culture, and it’s probably in your best interest if public schools teach that it’s OK for you to be yourself and it’s not OK for people to attack you for it.

If someone forces you to DO something that goes against your morality, then you have a lawsuit. If someone TELLS your child something you disagree with, you can politely disagree. People imparting information that does not jibe with your beliefs is not a crime. If it were, guess what: all the Jewish and Muslim and Pagan and Shinto and Hindu and traditional Native American families in America would sue any school district where kids were expected to learn Christmas carols or even hear the word “Santa” spoken.

There are about 9 million Jews in America, most of whom grew up being forced to learn someone else’s traditions in public schools. (All of them were laughing their heads off when your kids talked about Santa, because they knew those kids were being duped. And we sang your terrible Christmas music anyway.) And allow me to point out that, historically, Christian beliefs are much more threatening to Jewish people than gender nonconformity is to Christian people. Historically, Christian people are much more threatening to gender nonconforming people than gender nonconforming people are to Christian people. Do you know what the murder rate for the average American is? About 1 in 6000. Do you know what the murder rate is for gender nonconforming people? About 1 in 12. Maybe, if you’re against murder, you can accept that it might be necessary to teach people not to hate those who are different?

Here’s another thing: if your beliefs are so fragile that they can be shattered by reading about someone who thinks differently, maybe your beliefs aren’t really that strong. I know plenty of Christians who are loving and accepting and full of tolerance and live by the words of their book, and reactionary nut jobs are making them look bad.

Respect

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In Tucson, the city sends registered voters a packet about ballot initiatives every year. This booklet includes the text of each initiative, a less formally worded explanation, and a collection of pro and con statements from members of the community. Anyone can write one. Often, these citizens’ arguments point out details that the city isn’t discussing. For example, a ballot initiative might say that the city wants to sell bonds to improve the roads, but what the initiative will really do is destroy wildlife habitat to pave a road that will only be used by 12 rich people living on top of the mountain.

However I’ve decided to vote on a particular issue, this guy, Jim Click, a rich local dude who owns a bunch of car dealerships, had ALWAYS published an argument in favor of the other side. So, after a while, instead of trying to wrap my head around some of the more complicated issues, doing hours of research, discussing the hidden intentions of each initiative with the politically savvy…well, sometimes I just look at how Jim Click is going to vote, and then I vote the other way.

Certain people just do not have your best interests in mind.

There’s this phenomenon regarding reviews of children’s literature. The phrase “promotes disrespect for adults” is code for a few things. First, it tells you that the writer believes that children cannot be trusted with anything like agency, that children are naturally wrong about everything and must be forced onto the proper path. They believe education involves telling people WHAT to think, rather than teaching them HOW to think. Second, it tells you that the kids in the book think for themselves, and break rules because they know better than the adults in the story. This charge was leveled at Harry Potter pretty often. Those kids are constantly breaking rules, and there are rarely any real negative consequences to rule breaking. In fact, by breaking rules, the kids prevent absolute tragedies, time and again.

Most good modern books for kids and teens involve young people living by their own rules with little regard to what adults think, even if they love and respect those adults. The point of children’s literature is to help kids grow up, and to grow up, you have to think for yourself. You have to go against authority when you think authority is wrong.

The book drawn in this comic is By the Side of the Road, written by Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist, Jules Feiffer. The story goes something like this: a kid is fooling around in the back seat of the car, and his dad flips out and tells him if he doesn’t get it together, he can just get out and wait by the side of the road. So the kid opts to get out and wait by the side of the road. And the side of the road is a blast. He has a better time by the side of the road than he ever does with his family. And when his dad comes back for him, he decides to stay by the side of the road. Permanently. And he does just fine. He leads a great life, by the side of the road, without his dad’s rage hanging over his head all the time.

I wanted to reread it, but they didn’t have it in my library system, so I’m waiting for the ILL, and while I was looking for a couple details to fill out the ILL request, I came across the 1 and 2 star Amazon reviews that used that phrase: “This book promotes disrespect for adults.”

This book is amazing. It’s hilarious. It’s smart. It’s a 5 star kids book. I’ve read it to many kids, and they all loved it. No child has ever read it and then ditched their family to live by the side of the road. Only starched shirt nut jobs read this book and think, “I can’t read this to a child. That child might get ideas.” Kids get the joke. Kids get that it’s the adult in this story who is being disrespectful to the child. The story returns power to children by allowing the kid to overcome unfairness.

But some people don’t seem to believe that children deserve respect.

Let me tell you something else about respect, and children.

You can’t get respect by demanding respect. You earn respect, by being fair and by treating people like human beings. If you make ridiculous rules and treat kids like livestock, you might teach them to fear you, or loathe you, but you won’t get their respect.

So, I’m actually pretty serious about this, because I deliberately read 1 star reviews of things all the time, and when it comes to books, the phrase “promotes disrespect for adults” is ALWAYS hung on the very best books, the ones that children love the most. So, if you want to earn the respect of a child, if you want to give them a book that they will enjoy reading, if you want to promote critical thinking skills in the young, it’s a tremendously useful metric.

Personally, I have never once tried to force a child respect me, and I have worked with literally thousands of kids in my life. And pretty much all of them treated me with respect.