Banned Books Week

I’m back from a long summer hiatus and ready to blog again. I thought I’d jump right in by commemorating a fabulous yet controversial event. Sept. 22 – 28, 2013 is Banned Books Week. This event puts the spotlight on banned and challenged books.

After checking out a few lists of banned and challenged books, I was amazed to see how many books I’ve enjoyed were banned. I was inspired to create the following gif for my Tumblr, Literary Gifs.

Banned Books Week

Some of the reasons these books were banned defies logic. For example, I cannot imagine anyone reading “Speak” would think the novel was soft porn or that the author was promoting promiscuity.  It’s the story of a rape victim who loses the ability to speak. I can only think that whoever accused “Speak” of these things either didn’t read the book or is all about victim blaming.

Other books are more problematic. “Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler is a commonly banned and challenged book. Obviously, his worldview is repugnant and his crimes against humanity are the very worst. I haven’t read the book nor do I want to. However, I cannot in good conscious tell anyone else not to read it. It is an historical document that can give the reader insight into the mind of a madman who came to power and was responsible for the murder of millions of people. We prevent the next Hitler by knowing all we can about the original one.

The lists of banned and challenged books have perennial favorites that have remained on the lists into the 21st century. These include “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, and “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. What do these books have in common? To my mind, they speak truth to power and sometimes power cannot stand the truth.

Looking for some banned books to read? Check out these lists:

A number of classic books have been banned. The following books are available free online. You may be surprised by what you see below.

Stories for Girls

During lunch yesterday, my husband and I happened to get on the subject of female protagonists in literature. He had recently listened to a repeat of a Fresh Air interview with Meryl Streep. She spoke of how, growing up, she identified more with male protagonists than female ones because she hadn’t read books with strong female protagonists other than Nancy Drew.

This intrigued me, so I looked up the interview online.  Here are her remarks in context:

GROSS: So I want to quote something else you said, and this was in the Barnard speech that you gave in 2010, that “The hardest thing in the world is to persuade a straight male audience to identify with a woman character. It’s easier for women because we were brought up identifying with male characters in literature. It’s hard for straight boys to identify with Juliet or Wendy in “Peter Pan,” whereas girls identify with Romeo and with Peter Pan.” What led you to that conclusion?

STREEP: Well, it seems like true.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I will accept that as evidence.

STREEP: All right. All right. What led me to that? What led me to that was I have never – I mean I watch movies and I don’t care who is the protagonist, I feel what that guy is feeling. You know, if it’s Tom Cruise leaping over a building I, I want to make it, you know? And I’m going to, yes, I made it. And yeah, so I get that.

And I’ve grown up, well, partly because there weren’t great girls’ literature. Nancy Drew maybe. But there weren’t things. So there was Huck Finn and Spin and Marty. The boys’ characters were interesting and you lived through them when you’re watching it. You know, you’re not aware of it but you’re following the action of the film through the body of the protagonist.

This is pretty loaded stuff. Girls identify with boy protagonists because they are the action characters, particularly in the literature available when she grew up.

First, I have to say that as a girl, I never identified with Juliet, Romeo Wendy or Peter Pan. My favorite Shakespeare heroine was (and is) Beatrice from “Much Ado About Nothing.” As for Peter Pan, never read the book, but my favorite character in the play and the Disney movie was Tinker Bell. I can’t tell another person who they identified with, but did Ms. Streep really identify with Darcy rather than Lizzie when reading and/or watching “Pride and Prejudice”?

I wondered when Meryl Streep was born, so I Googled her and found her birthday, June 22, 1949. This means Ms. Streep had her formative reading years in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Were there really no books available at that time with strong girl protagonists aside from Nancy Drew? The answer is there were a number of book in print, probably available at the local library. These include:

  • “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell
  • “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith
  • “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
  • “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
  • “The Secret Garden” and “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • “Beezus and Ramona” by Beverly Cleary

I don’t fault Ms. Streep if she didn’t read these books. It’s possible she was unaware of them. This points to our responsibility as adults. If we want to grow girls into strong, independent, adventurous women, then we need to provide role models, both real life and fictional characters. Books with these characters have been and continue to be written. We need to help the girls in our lives become aware of female heroes and provide them with the books of their stories and lives. If we want boys to see girls and women as heroic and protagonist-worthy, we need to provide them with these books as well.

Looking for children and young adult books with strong female protagonists? Check out this WordPress blog, Amelia Bloomer Project. From their About page:

Welcome to the Amelia Bloomer Project blog! We create an annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers, ages birth through 18. We are part of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association!

The chosen books by year are listed here.

You can also check out this Goodreads list: Popular Strong Girl Characters Books.

The following books mentioned above are now in the public domain and can be downloaded for free. You can find them in a variety of formats on Manybooks.net

Cover image for   “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
This popular novel concerns the lives and loves of four sisters growing up during the American Civil War, and was based on Alcott’s own experiences as a child in Concord, Massachusetts.

Cover image for   “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery
A skinny, red-haired, and freckled orphan girl is mistakenly sent to live with a shy, elderly bachelor and his spinster sister on the north shore of Canada’s Prince Edward Island; The elderly siblings had asked to adopt a young boy who could work on the family farm, but the imaginitive and rambunctious Anne Shirley arrives instead, and becomes the center of a series of entertaining adventures.

Cover image for   “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
When spoiled child Mary Lennox loses her family to a cholera outbreak, she moves to her uncle’s manor surrounded by a massive garden. Within, Mary discovers a whole new outlook on life thanks to a supportive household and the garden’s power of healing. (Description from Amazon.com)

Cover image for   “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Sara Crewe, a pupil at Miss Minchin’s London school, is left in poverty when her father dies, but is later rescued by a mysterious benefactor.

Harper Voyager Update for May

Hello, I’m back! Eurovision ended with a grand final competition on Saturday in Malmö, Sweden. Emmelie de Forest of Denmark won the top prize with her song “Only Teardrops.” Well done, Europe. This is a beautiful and haunting song, and Emmelie de Forest has a strong, impassioned voice. Take a look at her winning performance.

While I was busy (obsessed?) with Eurovision and my 12 Points To… blog, other things happened in the world. In particular, Harper Voyager came out with a new update. For those not in the know, back in October 2012 Harper Voyager opened a two week submission slot for unsolicited manuscripts. Those accepted would be published as part of a new digital imprint. If you are a speculative fiction author, this was a big deal.

Of course, they received thousands of submissions. They’ve been very good about keeping those authors updated via their website. Here is a quote from their latest update.

Another update on the digital submissions! As per the previous update post, we received 4500+ entries, and by early March we had responded to 2905 entries.

We have now reviewed all the submissions in our inbox and responded to 3595 submissions that were not right for our list. The remaining 948 are marked for further reading and consideration.

You can read the full update here.

I haven’t heard back yet, which means my novel “Fake” is one of those 948. This is very exciting and even flattering. Regardless of the outcome, I’m happy to be part of this group.

Submitting your manuscript is a nail chomping experience, but it is necessary if you want to be a professional writer. Even if you plan to go the indie route, it doesn’t hurt to submit a short story here and there. It gives you the experience of pulling together a professional manuscript. Rejections aren’t pleasant, but occasionally editors will include a nugget of invaluable critique.

If you are ready to submit a novel or short story, or even a piece of creative nonfiction, you really should subscribe to Cindi Myers’ Market News blog. It’s a (mostly) weekly blog that contains news on markets open to manuscript submission. Cindi has been doing this for years and she is a fabulous, generous person. While visiting her blog, you can check out her novels as well.

Hey readers, I haven’t forgotten about you. A tasty freebie by Neil Gaiman has been made available by HarperCollins. It can be downloaded for numerous eBook formats.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties By Neil Gaiman How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman
A short story from New York Times bestselling author, Neil Gaiman. Plus an excerpt from his new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Another Neil Gaiman freebie you can find online is his Sherlock Holmes/H.P. Lovecraft mash-up, A Study in Emerald. It is available in PDF format and is a short, fun read. Enjoy!

Graphic Novels

A graphic novel is a book length story or anthology told primarily with illustrations. The genre includes a number of different formats. A graphic novel can be a compilation of previously published comic books that contain a story arc. It can also be an anthology of complete or continuing stories. These stories can be original to the anthology or previously published in comic book or magazine form. A graphic novel can also be an original novel or series of novels that may or may not have been previously published in another form.

Some people believe graphic novels are glorified comic books and, in certain cases, they’re right. However, many graphic novels contain rich stories greatly enhanced by the use of illustration. Graphic novels aren’t just for people who want something easy to read with lots of pictures. The genre has gained respect over the years and graphic novels have won prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.

In terms of story, graphic novels tend toward speculative fiction. A fair number could be considered literary fiction. “Maus” by Art Spiegelman is a memoir of his parents, both Holocaust survivors, and his own youth as he struggles to understand them. In a whimsical yet controversial touch, Spiegelman portrayed Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs and Americans as dogs. “Maus” was first published in serial form in the underground comic magazine, “Raw.” It won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

Other graphic novels have been praised and awarded for literary as well as artistic achievements. “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi tells the author’s coming of age tale in revolutionary Iran. “American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang uses myth and stereotypes to tell an outsider’s story. “Ghost World” by Daniel Clowes portrays the confusion and alienation of post-high school teens trying to find their way in the world.

Super hero-style comics are a popular genre for graphic novels. Go into any good comic bookstore and you’ll see multiple shelves of these books, which are often purchased by readers more interested in the story and the characters than in collecting individual comic books.  Well-known authors include Alan Moore (“Watchmen,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “Batman: The Killing Joke”), Neil Gaiman (“The Sandman”) and Frank Miller (“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,” “300” and “Sin City”).

Like regular novels, graphic novels have well-established publishing houses such as DC and Marvel. There is also a strong tradition of independent publishing known as underground comics. Edgy and unrestrained, these comics can occasionally gain wide audiences. Bryan Lee O’Malley published his “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novels with Portland, Oregon-based Oni Press. The series gained a cult following, sold millions of copies and was adapted into a movie and a video game.

A growing number of graphic novels are being adapted into electronic format. In my opinion, these are better viewed on a tablet or computer screen rather than a conventional eReader such as the Kindle. Below, I’ve listed several free-for-now graphic novels available in the Kindle store.

  Twilight Lady #1 by Blake JK Chen
Introducing a unique new heroine to the world of illustrated fiction! Paranormal journalist and truthseeker Rona Eden has a close encounter with a mysterious hooded lady who appears to have killed several people in Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood.

  Photo Booth by Lewis Helfand
He wanted to change the past, but first he would have to alter the future…A new deadly drug is about to flood the streets of New York City. The police have no leads on who is producing the drug, or where it is coming from. As far as Praveer Rajani, a wreckless Interpol agent, is concerned – the only way to prevent countless deaths lies in a handful of mysterious photographs.Within the photographs, Praveer can see images of places he has never known, and people he has long forgotten. But what are the photographs leading him to?

  Dead of Winter: A Comic Anthology
Horror Stories With The Setting of Winter.

  P.I. Jane; Volume One: Missions: Totally Do-Able by Lauren Burke
MEET JANE DAY. She’s a twenty-something temp-by-day, detective-by-night… and sometimes also by-day. Jane lives inside her head as much as outside of it. To fight the mundane (and even not so mundane), she retreats to a fantasy world in her mind wehre the pop-culture references are plentiful and comforting. Follow Jane in her private detective salad days surveilling Lindelof & Lindelof heir, Chad Lindelof, Jr. She’ll learn the ropes working undercover to bust the shady, bootlegging Li’l Susie Bees, and solving the mystery at the roller derby. Then she takes a breather and reads about her favorite comic strip, PIE V. CAKE.

Descriptions provided by Amazon

Disclaimers and Disclosures

I found these books via Amazon’s Kindle eBooks store. Resources for free Kindle and other format eBooks are listed in my sidebar.

These freebies are limited time offers, so there is no guarantee any of these books will still be free when you click on the links. Grab them sooner rather than later.

Inspiration and Original Ideas

While I was researching my posts on fan fiction and derivative fiction, I came across two schools of thought.

  1. People writing fan and derivative fiction do so because they have no original ideas.
  2. People might as well write fan and derivative fiction because there are no original ideas.

The first thought is on the sour side. And does anyone really want to tell Neil Gaiman that his Doyle/Lovecraft pastiche, “A Study in Emerald” is the work of an uninspired mind?

Didn’t think so.

I prefer to concentrate on that second school of thought because it reminds of a certain trope: there are only seven basic plots in literature. If you’ve taken a creative writing class, you’ve probably heard some variation of this. I learned these seven, which are attributed to Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch.

  1. Man against man
  2. Man against nature
  3. Man against himself
  4. Man against God
  5. Man against society
  6. Man caught in the middle
  7. Man and woman

However, there’s a new magnificent seven in town, according to Christopher Booker and his writing manual, “The Seven Basic Plots.”

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Rebirth
  6. Comedy
  7. Tragedy

If you’re feeling worried and/or smug that your plot doesn’t fit into either of these groups of seven, keep in mind that most stories use combinations of these plot elements. Here are some articles with more in-depth explanations.

So, do we throw away the idea there are any original ideas? Of course not. Every person has their own take on a given situation and their own stories to tell. You may have heard another trope: it’s impossible to create in a vacuum. In order to be creative, you need inspiration. What inspire us are our world and the stories we hear. We take what captures our imaginations and turn them into original stories.

For example, George R.R. Martin’s wildly successful series, “A Song of Fire and Ice” was inspired by the English civil war know as the War of the Roses. Lannister and Stark  = Lancaster and York. Students of history will see the similarities, yet the world Martin created is very different than that of medieval England.

The wacky, ultraviolent Japanese movie, “Sukiyaki Western Django” was also partly inspired by the War of the Roses, and in particular, Shakespeare’s “Henry the Fifth.” The world in the movie is also vastly different than medieval England, and nothing like “A Song of Fire and Ice.”

My novel, “Fake” was inspired by wuxia, the literature and cinema of Chinese martial arts. I incorporated some common elements of this genre, such as the Beggar Clan, and created some of my own. My love of Irish music led me to discover the world of Irish Travelers, a nomadic people who are not related to the Romany. I created my own nomadic people, Strowlers. While based on Travelers, there are also key differences. Putting the two worlds together makes for a unique combination that is all my own.

Neil Gaiman took Sherlock Holmes and put him in H.P. Lovecraft’s London. The movie, “The Banquet” took Hamlet and placed him in imperial China. As an exercise, think of a character or real person who captures your imagination and place her in another world. Be inspired, creative and make it your own.

“A Study in Emerald” is available online for free, formatted and illustrated in the style of an early 20th century newspaper.

Speculative fiction author David Drake took a familiar archetype, the grumpy old wizard, and placed him in post-Revolutionary War America. You can pick up the free-for-now eBook from Amazon.

  Old Nathan by David Drake
The forces of evil are poised to prey on the folk of the hamlets and hollows: witches, demons, and red-handed men—but first they’ll have to overcome Old Nathan the Wizard. He doesn’t claim much for his magical powers, but they’re real enough for what they are—and besides, he hasn’t forgotten how to use his long flintlock rifle… Enter the gritty, realistic world of Old Nathan, a backwoodsman who talks to animals and says he’ll face The Devil himself-and who in the end will have to face The Devil in very fact.

Lucinda Brant penned a Georgian romance novel inspired by the arranged marriage of the 2nd Duke and Duchess of Richmond. You can pick up the free-for-now eBook from Amazon.

  Midnight Marriage by Lucinda Brant
Set in the opulent world of the 18th century aristocracy and inspired by real events, Midnight Marriage is the standalone second book in the acclaimed Roxton family saga. Two noble teenagers are married against their will. Drugged, Deb has no recollection of events. Disgraced, Julian is banished to the Continent. Nine years later, Deb falls in love with a wounded duelist, only to later discover it is her husband returned incognito! Can Deb forgive his cruel deception? Can their marriage survive beyond seduction? Meanwhile, Julian’s nemesis plots to destroy them both…

Descriptions provided by Amazon

Disclaimers and Disclosures

I found these books via Amazon’s Kindle eBooks store. Resources for free Kindle and other format eBooks are listed in my sidebar.

These freebies are limited time offers, so there is no guarantee any of these books will still be free when you click on the links. Grab them sooner rather than later.

Derivative Fiction and Media Tie-ins

I wrote an earlier post about how fan fiction can’t get respect. However, this is only true of so-called amateur fiction written by unpublished writers. Once the work is professionally published, it gains instant respect. These works are considered either derivative fiction or media tie-ins.

For example, “The Green Blade” is a 15-chapter novel that resides in a fan fiction archive. “The House of Silk” is a novel published by Mulholland Books. Both are well-regarded stories about Sherlock Holmes, but only one is considered legitimate.

So, am I saying the only difference between fan fiction and derivative fiction is a publishing contract? Not exactly. Authors of derivative fiction and media tie-ins are usually skilled writers well enough established in their craft to be offered contracts by publishers. With the contract comes a professional editor to help polish their prose. Fan fiction writers may have a couple of beta readers, but those are usually fellow fans who aren’t real picky about incorrect comma usage.

You may wonder what the difference is between derivative fiction and media tie-ins, so let’s discuss that.

Derivative fiction is based on another piece of fiction. There’s a lot of it out there, some of it famous and critically acclaimed. Much of it comes from works that have passed into the public domain. For example, Jane Austen has become the darling of Chick Lit, as well as horror and mysteries. Novels based on her works include “Austenland,” “The Phantom of Pemberley,” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”

Dracula is another good example of a derivative fiction subgenre. Bram Stoker’s version of the Count, who was actually a prince, has inspired numerous spin-offs, including “Dracula, My Love,” “The Historian,” and “Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula.”

Other authors whose work has become the subject of derivative fiction include L. Frank Baum, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, J. M. Barrie, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare.

Media tie-ins are novels and stories based on TV shows, movies and video games. This can be a novel based on a movie, as opposed to the other way around. Often, this is a shared world scenario, where authors spin-off from the original show. The original creators have tight control over this form of derived fiction and there is usually a bible and guidelines for a selected author to work from.

Media tie-ins have been created for “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Doctor Who,” “CSI,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “World of Warcraft,” and “Dungeons & Dragons.” It is a very successful and profitable genre, yet the authors don’t get a lot of respect, perhaps because they are writing what amounts to sanctioned fan fiction. For more information about the genre and the work it takes to write these novels, check out The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

In the end, the author of a serious literary novel based on “Hamlet” does not have the high ground over the author of a novel tied in to the TV series, “Supernatural.” Both are derivative and it’s possible the “Supernatural” novel is the better story. Neither should look down on fan fiction writers since they are often beginners learning their craft. We’ve all been there. Even if your first efforts weren’t fan fiction, chances are these were based on something you’d previously seen or read.

Interested in reading the original classics? Many are available in a variety of eBook formats for free on the Project Gutenberg website. Below, I have listed several Jane Austen spin-offs, free-for-now for the Kindle on Amazon.

  Charlotte ~ Pride and Prejudice Continues by Karen Aminadra
When Charlotte Lucas married Mr Collins, she did not love him but had at least secured her future. However, what price must she pay for that future? She once said she was not romantic, but how true is that now after almost one year of marriage? Mr Collins is submissive in the extreme to his patroness, and his constant simpering, fawning and deference to the overbearing and manipulative Lady Catherine de Bourgh is sure to try the patience of a saint, or at least of Charlotte.

  Georgiana Darcy’s Diary by Anna Elliott
Shy Georgiana Darcy has been content to remain unmarried, living with her brother and his new bride. But Elizabeth and Darcy’s fairy-tale love reminds Georgiana daily that she has found no true love of her own. And perhaps never will, for she is convinced the one man she secretly cares for will never love her in return. Georgiana’s domineering aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, has determined that Georgiana shall marry, and has a list of eligible bachelors in mind. But which of the suitors are sincere, and which are merely interested in Georgiana’s fortune? Georgiana must learn to trust her heart–and rely on her courage, for she also faces the return of the man who could ruin her reputation and spoil a happy ending, just when it finally lies within her grasp.

  So Into You (The Jane Austen Academy Series) by Cecilia Gray
Sweet and sensible Ellie hasn’t met a problem her mom’s yoga mantras can’t fix. But when Ellie’s parents threaten to pull her from the Academy just as her flirtation with the cutest boy in school heats up, will Ellie be able to keep her cool?

Descriptions provided by Amazon

Disclaimers and Disclosures

I found these books via Amazon’s Kindle eBooks store. Resources for free Kindle and other format eBooks are listed in my sidebar.

These freebies are limited time offers, so there is no guarantee any of these books will still be free when you click on the links. Grab them sooner rather than later.

Sherlockian

Sherlockian, also known as Sherlockiana and Doyle Pastiche, is a genre of derivative fiction based on the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is a wildly popular character, capturing the imagination of readers like few others. Dracula may be the only rival to Sherlock’s claim as king of derivative fiction.

The Sherlockian genre has spawned numerous books, short stories, graphic novels, movies, TV series, and even musicals. Currently, the genre enjoys immense popularity as a movie franchise starring Robert Downey, Jr. and two TV series, BBC’s “Sherlock” and CBS’s “Elementary.”

Whether published professionally or uploaded to an amateur archive, Sherlockian is fan fiction. It is derived from another author’s work and written for an established fan base. Before you decide to jump in, keep in mind not all of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are public domain and his heirs are asserting their rights when applicable. This Economist article explains the situation in more detail.

What is it about Sherlock Holmes that is so appealing? Is it his cold, analytical personality balanced with an enjoyment of disguises and a Bohemian lifestyle that includes an unfortunate addiction to cocaine? Holmes is deeply brilliant, heroic and flawed, making him a larger-than-life character that can be hard for readers to relate to.

John Watson may be Doyle’s true stroke of genius. Watson’s ordinary intellect and heroic inclinations, combined with a loyal personality, allow the reader to place herself in the good doctor’s shoes, being alternately astonished and aggravated by the unconventional Holmes. Sherlock is the amazing friend who sweeps you off to an exciting adventure.

While much of the genre puts this winning combination to good use, there are many other novels and stories that do not. For example, in Laurie King’s Mary Russell series, Watson is mostly out of the picture as Holmes takes on a young female apprentice who later becomes his wife.

Other stories and novels put the focus on secondary, minor and fictional characters. These include:

The two links below will give you access to extensive lists of professional Sherlockian fiction.

If all this puts you in the mood for the real deal, you’re in luck. Many of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and stories are available to download for free, in a variety of formats, on the Project Gutenberg website. Click here to go to the Sherlock Holmes archive.

A special note of thanks goes to my good friend and Sherlock Holmes fan, Teacher Jennifer, who provided me with lots of helpful links and information.