Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Literary Obama

I'm guest-blogging over at Literary Obama. I reviewed Amazing Spider-Man #583 (also known as the Obama comic). Check out the review and check out the blog, which chronicles literary works by and about our 44th president.

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Independent Publisher: Verb Noire

I came across this today, a new start-up hoping to make a difference in sf/fantasy. There mission:

To celebrate the works of talented, underrepresented authors and deliver them to a readership that demands more.

What does that mean? That if you're a talented writer with an awesome, original story about a POC girl/guy/transgendered character, there is a place for you. And that if you're a sci-fi/fantasy fan who has grown tired of the constant whitewashing of these genres, there is a place for you, too.

Now that isn't to say that we will accept ANY ol' manuscript as long as it features a POC protagonist, because we will NOT. What we're looking for is quality, soul and PASSION, something that will resonate with readers for years to come.

"Everyone has a story." These words are the driving force behind this project, because we believe that EVERYONE has at least one good story in them, and that story demands to be shared with the world.

Today they made an addition to their call for submissions:

In other Verb Noire news we've decided that we need your best young adult and independent reader submissions. This decision is in no way motivated by the complaints of my 9 year old son about Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings knockoffs or my teenage nieces griping about Gossip Girl knockoffs. Well it is, but don't tell them that or I'll never hear the end of it. Don't be afraid to be different. It doesn't have to be vampires, werewolves, witches, wizards, or about rich spoiled teens. In fact I'd prefer it if you avoid those tropes unless you're doing something totally new with them. Don't be afraid to create new tropes or utilize ones that have no European connections. We're doing something totally new here, so don't be afraid to branch out and do something totally new in your writing.

As Brian and I complain all the time about the lack of books with little brown girls as protagonists (books that are *not* about slavery or Harriet Tubman or jazz), we are excited about the possibility of Verb Noire.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Film Review: I'm Through With White Girls

Conseula: I first read about this film about a year ago. It's an independent film directed by a black woman, produced by another black woman, about an afrogeek guy who dates white women. I figured there was no way I'd ever get to see this film, living as I do in Charleston. Imagine my surprise then when I happened upon the DVD in the video store the other day. I knew immediately Brian and I would be watching this on date night.

Brief plot synopsis: Jay Brooks decides that the problems in his relationships stem from the fact that he only dates white girls. He embarks on Operation Brown Sugar to find his black soul mate. And then he meets Catherine.

Brian: I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The afrogeek part of me identified with the character of Jay -- his being a comic book, er, graphic novel artist, and his quirkiness, but I wasn't exactly a fan of his fear of commitment, and his lack of concern for the women that he dumped. Like most male characters in romantic comedies, he had to go through the fire in order to become the self-actualized person who could commit to a relationship with a woman who could truly be his soulmate.

As for Catherine, I immediately fell in love with her. Like my wife, she was pretty, smart, artistic and quirky. What was there not to like?

Conseula: Aside from the fact that some of the black supporting characters played like caricatures (to me at least) and the special features behind-the-scenes footage suggested the filmmakers took themselves a little too seriously (this film won't really make you re-think anything about race), this movie was still adorably sweet and funny and honest. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Octavia Butler Graphic Novel

When Brian and I heard Watchmen would be made into a movie (a movie we haevn't seen yet and won't see until Tuesday, so keep your spoilers to yourself, people), we were an equal mix of giddy joy and dread. I'm having the same reaction to this news (courtesy of Rich over at Glyphs) that Beacon is planning to adapt Octavia Butler's novel Kindred as a graphic novel. My first reaction is "woohoo!" Any new Octavia Butler material is always a good thing and the news that the executor of her estate wants to adapt all her work means their could be new work for years to come. My second thought, though, is that of all her work, Kindred is the least likely to yield an interesting graphic novel. Maybe I'm biased because it's my least favorite of her books. But an adaptation needs to be more than a simple transcription and that means the story needs some depth and complexity. There needs to be more story to tell. I'm not sure that's the case with Kindred. The Parable series and the Xenogenesis series seem to me better candidates for this kind of adaptation.

Friday, March 06, 2009

More Happiest Toddler on the Block

I realize that I didn't fully explain the fast-food rule. I don't have the book sitting in front of me, but I'll give it try anyway.

Basically Karp argues that you talk to an upset toddler (or any upset person, of whatever age) as if it were a fast-food exchange. When you are the the drive-thru and order a #3 with extra pickles, the guy inside repeats your order back to make sure he's got it right before telling you what the total is. He doesn't speak until he's sure you're done speaking and that he's heard you correctly.

So, in the case of your toddler (or mine), when the kid is upset, instead of saying "It's okay, it's okay" while they are hysterical, repeat back to them what they are saying (in toddler-ese). They get to speak first because they are upset. You should also hit their "sweet spot," mirroring back their emotions, maybe ratcheted down a notch or two. So be sad when your little one is sad, be angry or scared when they are. Your little one, if this works right, recognizes that you hear them and empathize and then they calm down enough to hear what you have to say. When it's your turn to speak, you can remind them of the rule they just broke or distract or give them an alternative or whatever else you need to do diffuse the situtation. In Cate's case, sometimes just calming down is enough to diffuse the situation. Karp reminds us that these are the kind of interactions we have with our toddlers when they are excited. He gives the example of a kid who climbs to the top of the slide by herself for the first time. We let her express her enthusiasm first and we mirror that enthusiasm, in toddler-ese ("You climbed up! All the way! Yay!") before we then take our turn ("I'm so proud of you.")

A typical exchange here goes something like this:

Cate (hysterically crying because Frances won't let her stand in front of the sink to brush her teeth): I want to brush my teeth! I want to brush my teeth! Frances is breaking my feelings!

Me (getting down to her level): What's wrong Cate?

Cate: I was brushing and Frances won't let me. I want to brush my teeth. Frances is mean. She broke my feelings.

Me (with a sad voice): You want to brush your teeth?

Cate: Yes.

Me: Catie sad? Sad sad Catie?

Cate: Hmm hmm.

Me: Why don't we wait to for Frances to finish and then we can take our turn.

Cate: Okay.

On other mornings, there would be hysterical tears and yelling the whole time we're getting ready as I try to explain to Cate that she can just wait her turn or get her to brush her teeth in the other bathroom. Now, it's brief exchange in which I get her to calm down and we move on.

We're about a week into our campaign to get Cate to act like human child and not wild animal and it's going well. We are now adding in some of Karp's time-in suggestions and those are going well to.

Again, in my pre-Cate life I the very idea of reading a book to figure out how to raise your kid was just plain silly and wrong-headed. And, again, I'm not sure these tricks would have worked with Frances (Frances *hated* baby talk and responded, still does, best when you talked to her reasonably and truthfully), but this book is really helping with Cate.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Afrogeek Mom Recommends: Happiest Toddler on the Block

Our three year old has the nickname "Barbarian." She is like some rare exotic forest creature come to live with us, one who has some curiosity about our human customs, but really no intention at all of adopting our ways. We are at a complete loss about what to do to civilize this creature, which is how we wound up spending our last date night in a bookstore looking through advice books about child-rearing.

Let me back up a bit and tell you a little something about kid #1. She certainly had her share barbarian tendencies. (I remember distinctly deciding when she was three and in the seemingly constant throes of temper tantrums that I was never having another kid.) But, all things considered, she was infinitely easier. We did a modified version of attachment parenting with her: we fed on demand, we had a family bed for three years, we held her has much as possible, we gave her as much skin-to-skin contact as possible. All of that seemed really natural to us and, frankly, worked brilliantly. When she started to walk and crawl we removed all breakable and dangerous objects from the low shelves and replaced them with her toys and books. She had (mostly) free reign of our apartment because we felt that it was her space as much as ours. We believed very strongly that little people, like big people, want to be treated with respect and dignity. So we explained rules to her instead of just handing down edicts. We set reasonable boundaries with reasonable consequences for stepping outside of them. Again, this all worked brilliantly. Our first kid is naturally a thinker and a rule follower--she likes things explained to her, in detail; she needs to know the whole plan before you execute it; she hates baby talk. We think she's turned out great. We felt we were great parents.

Then the universe sent us kid #2. None of our parenting tricks worked. As an infant, she was most content when left alone. She didn't want to be held or cuddled. She didn't want us to sing or coo. She wanted us to meet her needs and go away. When she learned how to walk she started trying to meet her needs herself, often going to the refrigerator or pantry to try to get her own juice or snack. She doesn't seem to care at all about rules. She is a big drama queen (one of her first phrases was "That's so tragic.") and an even bigger bully (she, at 3, thinks nothing of kicking or throwing something at her 8 year old sister). In short, we have a kid we don't know how to parent. So we went looking to a book.

Harvey Karp's assertion that toddlers (1-4 year olds) are like cavemen is exactly the kind of thing that would have had me rolling my eyes with my first kid. But, wow, is it an accurate description of kid #2.

We've been trying two of his techniques, the Fast-Food Rule and Toddler-ese. Again, if I had read this book 5 years ago, I would have scoffed. The idea of talking in "toddler-ese" and hitting my kid's emotional "sweet spot" when she's having tantrum would have read to me like complete pseudo-psychological nonsense. (We always refused to participate in the first kid's tantrums. We waited for her to return to a state of reasonable calm.) Truthfully, it read kind of like that now. Until I tried it.

Cate, since she's been potty-trained, wakes up once or twice a night to go to the bathroom. Only, she's so sleepy she doesn't quite realize she needs to go and gets really angry when you try to make her go. It's been a nightly fight for about a month now. Out of frustration I tried the fast-food rule and toddler-ese. Instead of saying, "Cate, you need to go to the bathroom. Let's go to the bathroom so you can go back to bed," in a sleepy voice that imitated her sleepy state, I said, "Sleepy? Sleepy? Catie sleepy?" She gave her little eyes a rub and shook her head. I said, again, in a sleepy voice, "So tired. I know. Let's potty and snuggle back in bed." Another nod. She went to the bathroom with no problem and went right back to sleep. No tears. No tantrums. No yelling. Amazing.

I was really skeptical of this book (And self-help books generally) and I'm not convinced it would have worked for the first kid, but I have to say, it seems to be doing the trick. She isn't civilized yet, but there seems to be hope.