To The Ladies of the Discworld (In Celebration, In Memoriam)

It’s International Women’s Day today, and with this Sunday being the second anniversary of Sir Terry Pratchett’s death, I decided it was time for a long-overdue thank you. When I think of the women who’ve most influenced me, it doesn’t take long for my mind to wander to fiction – as it often does – and the many strong female characters I was blessed to encounter throughout my life, especially as a child.

The Discworld has been a part of my life since I was ten, first introduced to me through the subseries following young witch Tiffany Aching, and to this day the series remains the greatest influence on me, both creatively and on a personal level. Unlike many successful male authors, Pratchett understands the relevance of and what makes a realistic, strong female character, and this is evident throughout the many women we see in the Tiffany series – all unique, all three-dimensional.

 

So, this is a tribute not only to the tragic death of a wonderful author, but the lives of each of the female characters who deserve to be celebrated on International Women’s Day, if only for the impact they’ve had on my life. Each of them taught a young, impressionable girl something different about what a woman can be, and to them I am eternally grateful.

Granny Weatherwax taught me the value of respect, the power in the way people think: about you, about the world, about themselves. That doing good doesn’t always mean being nice: it’s about doing what needs done, because you can, and you must, and that nothing should ever stand in your way.

Nanny Ogg taught me the power of people – you can have as much power, magical or otherwise, as you want, but it is never more valuable than knowing how people work, and how to make them feel, and feel at home. There is nothing less fulfilling about a domestic life, and it is never a limit, or a symbol of weakness.

Miss Perspicacia Tick taught me that there’s nothing wrong with being a smart-arse, even if people might not always like you for it – you never know what you need to know. She taught me that there is no substitute for hard work, and no amount of wishing on stars will take you anywhere if you don’t put in the time.

Jeannie, Kelda of the Chalk Hill Clan, taught me that wives and mothers and leaders and wise women are not mutually exclusive categories. Even surrounded by men, even surrounded by and living up to gender roles and expectations, there is no reason you cannot still be the most powerful person in the room.

Granny Aching taught me that quiet does not always mean shy, or weak, or stupid – sometimes, it simply means that silence is preferable to idle chatter, and that you can never be certain of anyone’s skill from one look. There is no such thing as a small life: even those who don’t leave their mark on the whole world can still be a legend in the eyes of those they touched.

Miss Level taught me that there is always more to people than you first understand – there will always be secrets, and surprises, and things that you might never guess they would be capable of based on a first glance. There is nothing wrong, nothing weak, about being nice and helping others, even when receiving nothing in return – helping those in need is a responsibility, not necessarily a burden.

Annagramma taught me that arrogance always comes from something – maybe insecurity, maybe the way they’ve been taught. Not everyone can always understand, or do things the right way, but there is nothing wrong with trying to move on from your mistakes and make the best of it anyway, even when ill-prepared.

Petulia Gristle taught me that there’s nothing wrong with being plain. What you want to do doesn’t have to be flashy, or exciting to other people – if it’s what you’re good at, and if it fulfills you, there is nothing that should make you ashamed of it, or bother you from achieving your goals.

Miss Treason taught me that there’s nothing wrong with being dramatic. Reputation isn’t always a bad thing: even when it isn’t positive, even when it’s a blatant lie, you can wield it as a weapon, manipulate it, make yourself a figure known to everybody and nobody. A reputation is never all there is to a person – there are always truths behind it you would never guess.

Letitia Keepsake taught me that traditional femininity is not weakness. Being shy or naive or gentle doesn’t make you any less strong, or smart, or capable – the most unlikely people can have the most unlikely talents, if you will only get to know them, rather than tearing them down or ridiculing them.

Mrs Proust taught me that there’s always value in the ability to laugh at yourself. What others might tear you down for, you shouldn’t hide: you should own them, be proud of them as you would everything else. Your appearance is never something to be ashamed of, and even if you laugh at yourself, you’re always more than just the butt of your own jokes, whether people see it or not.

Eskarina Smith taught me that even if it has never been done before, you can always be the first. She taught me that being a woman should never be a restriction – not on your education, or your capabilities, or your position in the world. There is nothing wrong with making up your own rules and living outside of everyone else’s restrictions.

Amber Petty taught me that abuse survivors deserve support and respect, that they should be helped, not shunned. She taught me that a person’s experiences and background are never the only thing that defines them, their futures, or their abilities to recover and find happiness.

Nightshade taught me that there are reasons why people act the way they do – perhaps insecurity, or the way they’ve been taught – and people deserve a chance to redeem themselves. Learning to grow and apologize is both possible and admirable, and people should be forgiven the previous mistakes they’ve learned from.

But out of all of them, Tiffany Aching has taught me the most: she has taught me the value of choice, of agency in my own life, of facing your demons head-on and forcing them to fear you. She has taught me the value of questioning norms, questioning how people treat others and why, questioning things that people would otherwise have you blindly accept. She has taught me the value of curiosity, of learning, of refusing to let people underestimate what you know, or what you are capable of. She taught me that anger is an energy: your motivations don’t have to be noble, they just have to do good, and righteous anger is not an evil to be suppressed – when what is yours is threatened, you must fight back. When you get yourself into messes, you get yourself out. Those who can’t speak need a voice, those who can’t fight need someone who can, those who can’t take care of themselves need help – you can be all of those things, not because it’s the noble thing to do, but because it’s necessary, and it’s right. You can be more than what the stories tell you you must – you can change the stories, the myths, the legends that will one day be told about you. She taught me the value of being an unstoppable force, an example I hope I can one day live up to half as well as her.

Tiffany and the women in her life are some of many fictional heroines setting an example we see in all of the wonderful women from our own world, the ones we celebrate today, the ones who show the values we must teach the women and girls still to come, still to leave their mark.

These women certainly taught me.

And one day, if I can live up to their example, then there will be a reckoning.

Fifty Shades of Red Flags (Fifty Shades Darker Book Review 1/2)

(CW: abuse, specifically abusive relationships, suicide mention, rape mention)

Many things are synonymous with Valentine’s Day. Rom-coms, roses, cards and chocolates, stereotypical sentimental evenings… all the staples of the holiday for those who celebrate it. Last year, though, introduced a new player to the field, which so wholeheartedly resents the idea of ideal, fairy-tale love that the holiday hypes up so well.

Fifty Shades of Grey, at this point, is more of a phenomenon than a franchise, infamous for its overwhelming positive AND negative responses, and, of course, its trademark inclusion of BDSM. However, the central relationship is questionable at best, something that’s fairly widely recognised, but also frequently dismissed under the premise of not being accepting of or understanding the BDSM lifestyle. A year and a bit on, with Valentine’s Day well over and with  the sequel in cinemas, I decided that Fifty Shades Darker was the perfect opportunity to do this. Set almost immediately after the first book, where the main couple had split, the story follows Anastasia Steele, as Christian Grey, trying and succeeding to win her back, agrees to forego his BDSM-centric lifestyle to be with her. 

I’ll set aside complaints on the appalling writing, unlikable characters, repetitive sex scenes, and rampant sexism (for now – that’s another post in itself), since those are aspects the film most likely won’t cover or will change. The relationship between Ana and Christian, however, is the driving point of the already shambolic story, and was by far the most painful aspect of the novel, and can’t be overlooked.

Continue reading “Fifty Shades of Red Flags (Fifty Shades Darker Book Review 1/2)”

Don’t Call My Daughter Princess. Call Her Madam President.

Don’t Call My Daughter Princess. Call Her Madam President.

Longreads

Sarah Stankorb | Longreads | February, 2017 | 12 minutes (2,917 words)

My daughter Zoe was about 11 months old. Other strange men with silvered brows had referred to her as princess before. I’d read Cinderella Ate My Daughter during my third trimester, and while I deeply feared how the world would subtly limit her options, I usually bit my tongue over the princess thing. But we were on a trip to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and maybe it was thoughts of presidents, or the emotional toll of slipping between the fancy house and its slave quarters, or maybe I was just tired. But I looked at the man who’d just called my daughter princess and said, “Not a princess. She’s going to be president.”

He looked at me like I was talking gibberish—he’d just been trying to be nice to a baby—and walked away. I got used to that…

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beautiful books 2016 (introducing The Phoenix Initiative)

beautifulbooksbutton

So I’ve been meaning to start posting a lot more frequently now I have a better idea of what I want to do, and I wanted to do something fun, since the only posts I’ve done have been pretty serious. Luckily, earlier today I discovered the Beautiful Books meme by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further, and since I’m ridiculously excited for NaNo, I decided to give it a go!

1) What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?
I’ve wanted to write something set in a sky city forever, but I’ve never actually planned anything for it until The Phoenix Initiative. Aside from that, everything about it is fairly recent – I’ve only had the idea for the last few months, and it all came together ridiculously quickly (and that never happens, trust me). I don’t even know where the majority of it came from, only that I wanted to try writing something dystopian/post-apocalyptic for a change, but I suspect Mad Max Fury Road had a lot to do with it…

2) Describe what your novel is about!
Oh wow, I’m bad at summarising novels (I mean, where do you start? Where do you stop?) So I’ll go ahead and use the synopsis I used for the NaNo website:

Fifteen years ago, the sky city High Salvation took flight, its predecessor on the ground left in ruins after a mysterious disaster that forced a lucky portion of its citizens to evacuate. Safe in the sky, those lucky few never had cause to question the origins of the disaster, nor the fact that, according to the city authority, it has left life on the ‘Underside’ impossible.

Hena Hazari has lived in the sky almost all of her life, but as a new initiate of the Phoenix Initiative, she finally has the chance to explore new lands on the ground, and achieve her dream of becoming one of their top pilots. Until, that is, her plane crashes on her first mission and, in the ruins of the old city, she discovers two sisters living in the wreckage, completely unharmed.

Upon bringing them back to High Salvation with her, Hena is forced to question why the authority would lie about the nature of the disaster that forced them into the sky, and, with the hunt for the two Undersiders and their harbourers already underway, how deep their secrets are buried, and how far they are willing to go to keep them that way.

I mean, I don’t tend to like blurbs because you have to cut out SO much crucial stuff, and so many crucial characters -all of whom are my children, by the way – but there it is.

3) What is your book’s aesthetic?
I LOVE questions like this. But honestly, I think my Pinterest aesthetic board for TPI sums it up…

4) Introduce us to each of your characters!

Hena Hazari: Grew up in an orphanage after being abandoned as a toddler, and has no memory of her parents or life before the city’s ascension. Outgoing and optimistic at 18, she’s always dreamed of becoming one of the top Phoenix Initiative pilots.
Sage: Tough and independent after spending most of her life on the barren ground, Sage has taken care of her little sister since their parents’ death without complaint – when she meets Hena, however, she sees an opportunity for a better life for her and Danny.
Danny: Sage’s excitable 10-yr-old sister, Danny has never known anything but wasteland, and the mysterious floating city intrigues her. Nonetheless, she loves her life, her ‘treasure’ (an object she found in the wreckage), and more than anything, her big sister.
Ray Rosario: Hena’s best friend and fellow pilot, Ray comes from one of High Salvation’s affluent families, but seized the opportunity for adventure when he joined the Phoenix Initiative.
Maria Rosario: Ray’s socialite sister Maria has always had complete faith in the Authority, but is dragged into the mess due to her brother’s pleas, and with hope of information on the deceased old friend and crush she’s been mourning since her teen years.
Li Shen: (special characters won’t bring up the right sort of ‘e’ for his surname, how annoying) Left disillusioned and bitter after being orphaned, Li now lives with the rest of High Salvation’s homeless population, seeking justice and hoping to expose the Authority for alleged involvement in his rich parents’ death.
Iris Anastos: Antagonist 1/3 – The ever-graceful mayor of High Salvation, she inherited her position from her father – she is one of the only people who knows the full truth behind the ‘disaster’, and will go to any lengths to keep order in her city.
Kimiko Arai: Antagonist 2/3 – Kimiko is the least troubled by the news of Undersiders in High Salvation, but as chief of city security and as a friend to the other two Authority leaders, she is obligated to hunt them down.
Mahari Rufai: Antagonist 3/3 – Simultaneously in charge of communications, keeping the city’s systems running, and hosting the one and only radio broadcast in the city, Mahari was much more personally connected to the disaster than the other two, and is more determined than anyone to keep all information surrounding it a secret.

(That got really long, oh my god.)

5) How do you prepare to write?
I’m awful at sitting down to write, so I try to make everything as perfect as possible. Ideal conditions: scented candle lit (I try to guilt trip myself into being productive for as long as I let it burn), natural light everywhere, cup of tea ready, relevant playlist on, and a FULLY COMPLETED PLAN ON HAND I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH

6) What are you most looking forward to about this novel?
The characters! I love them all, and I really want to explore their relationships with each other. And also, setting up and hinting at the big reveal at the end. (And getting to the end, so I can write the sequel, which has one of my favourite characters in it!)

7) List three things about your novel’s setting
i. I have no idea what half of it looks like or where anything is in relation to other places.
ii. It’s not the Underside (for the vast majority of the book) and that makes me sad. It’s definitely cooler than it sounds.
iii. I don’t have a clue how anything in it works. We’ll… see how that goes.

8) What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?
Hena’s aiming to find out the truth behind how the old city was destroyed, and find out what the City Authority’s hiding (and why) – the three antagonists I mentioned (I lovingly refer to them as Authority Squad) are trying to hunt her and the others down to stop them, each with their own reason, some more spoiler-y than others.

9) How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?
Hena’s definitely more aware and less innocent and blindly trusting – she’s been through a lot. Still, though, she remains optimistic, bless her.

10) What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?
There’s no way to say it without sounding pretentious, but, humanity. I like playing with morality and how it affects my characters, and their relationships. As for how I want readers to feel at the end… hopefully they’ll want to read on, since it ends on a cliffhanger. Also emotional, and a bit (maybe quite a bit) scared for what’s coming.
(I am.)

“Diversity” Is A Problem

Bitter Gertrude

In theatre and in academia, my two worlds, we talk a lot about “diversity.” In theatre, we talk about diversity in casting, we talk about diversity in programming, we talk about diversity in audiences. In academia, we talk about “attracting and retaining diverse students” and “the diversity of our faculty.” But there’s a massive elephant in the room that we continue to ignore.

Diversity is not enough.

Do not confuse “diversity” with “equity.” I have been in far too many situations where an organization hires a handful of people of color, plunks them into the lowest rung (either by title or by treatment) and then never thinks about them again. I have been in far too many situations where faculty believe they are “working to retain” students of color by designing classes with titles like “Keepin’ It Real: African American Performance,” taught by a fussy middle-aged musical theatre professor, instead…

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Going Under: Part 1

L. Davidson

The first time she summoned me, neither of us realised she had. It was only long after the fact that even I understood how she had called me to her side, and longer still for her to believe it. We did not recognise one another for who or what we were that first time, which was more my mistake than hers. I am as old as time itself; older even. My domain is the dark depths of the ocean, my power as strong as the currents and my strength implacable as the tides. She was only a child of six, living in the human world.

There is a storm ravaged and remote beach along the south coast of England, a place where I had visited a few times in my existence, the small patch of sand only visible for a few hours each day before being swallowed up by the…

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