Monday, June 6, 2011

Censorship in the Y.A Genre

Ahh censorship. A delicious topic that has enthralled me since my film studies from yesteryore. I remember waxing lyrical about the evil Australian censorship laws which cited violent movies as the cause of violent events, such as the Port Arthur massacre, as the prime reason that censorship laws were (and probably still are) totally insane. (A mildly amusing aside is that I discovered in my research about the Port Arthur Massacre that the police search of the gunman's house revealed a shocking total of ten copies of The Sound of Music but no violent movies. Ban The Sound of Music? hmm)

So all the cool kids today are talking about this article "Darkness too Visible" By Meghan Cox Gurdon that appeared in the Wall Street Journal about how the Young Adult book Genre is far too violent and dark for the youth. The sub-header reads “Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?”

Well thanks very much for your question Meghan. I'm sure my pals and I can help clarify a few points for you.

Firstly, for those who are unfamiliar with the genre these days, it's a bit arbitrary that she has tarred a whole genre with the same brush. Not every YA novel is as dark as the one she discusses in brief in her article.
However dark YA has its place too. Perhaps these novels can give validation to the experiences of teenagers who might otherwise feel totally freakish. Perhaps it allows teenagers to build up a world picture which is inclusive of some of the darker things in life that they never have and hopefully never will experience. Perhaps it is just fun for teenagers to delve into a different world. I mean I read heaps of serial killer books in my teen years and I've not yet turned into a serial killer. 

If you're a parent open to your Y.A reading teenagers perhaps such a book can open a dialogue for discussion.

This here is the crux of the situation. It's not the books that make people afraid. It's the inability to talk to their teens about uncomfortable issues that make them afraid. Even if their children are brought up in a world violence free, drug free, carefree, they know that their children will at some point or another be in contact with other people who haven't had such fortune. Parents know that they should somehow talk to their teen about this stuff but have no clue how to do this. So where does this leave them? Trying to censor the world for their teen and sugar coating it to death? I guess a dinner table conversation about self-mutilation or drug abuse is out of the question, but gee the weather was nice today.

I really feel this type of literature can open a myriad of doors. It opens the mind to the realities that other people face. This cultivates empathy for other people, a very valuable and not easily earned skilled. Surely this can't be harmful especially for an age group that is notorious for the pre-occupation with the self?

It can open communication between parents and children. And who knows maybe that leads to greater understanding between them, maybe parents learn their kids aren't so naive and silly and learn to trust them. Maybe kids learn that their parents aren't all up-tight money machines good for a hot meal and a roof over the head but are real people who might not be such bad people to know after all.

And even if you disagree entirely and think "No way is my kid EVER going to read a book that has sexual abuse in it" what about other Y.A books just as hard? Isn't the Diary of Anne Frank practically mandatory reading? Isn't that a horrible book if you get down to it?  Does it make it any better just because few to none of us will be exposed to the political climate she was exposed to? That's great we can have empathy for her but how any teens know anyone from such a background of persecution? Some? A few? But how many teens know someone who has been exposed to violence, drugs, sexual abuse? A lot more I'd say.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Got a cold? Stay away from the babies!

I'm about to have my first child which is a very exciting event for anyone. While at a routine Doctor's check up recently my doctor asked "Are you and your husband vaccinated against the whopping cough?"
I was all O.o "I don't know"
My doctor advised that there is an epidemic of whooping cough going about and this is dangerous for newborn babies.

I'm a very well vaccinated person. I've travelled all over the place and I got every jab and drank every potion possible in order not to contract some terrible disease on my journeys. This conscientiousness came from my experience working with a medical assistance company for travellers overseas. So many times had I received a phone call from some guy in the middle of No Where Africa or South America or Asia to hear they had been infected with a entirely preventable disease but didn't take precautions because "Hey that can't happen to me amirightorwhat?"

So upon returning home I looked in my very well filled in travel vaccination book and found that I do indeed have an updated whopping cough booster. My husband doesn't. He will. Most people don't realise that their whooping cough vaccination needs to be updated every ten years. It's true!

For you, me and Joe Blow down the road whooping cough can be a royal pain in the butt however it isn't deadly for us. For infants it is deadly. Here in Belgium the first vaccination against whopping cough occurs at the age of 2 months. Before that the child is at risk of contracting the disease from anyone in the open community who is ill from it. You might not have a clue that you are ill from whooping cough and are unwittingly infecting others.  In fact the following scene is entirely plausible;

Enter sniffing, red nose relative clutching a balled up kleenex in one hand, stinking of vicks vapor rub

"Congratulations on your new born baby. Oh me? Just a cold. Let me hold little Gary."
*cough splutter into baby's face*
"Oh how cute he scrunched up his face hhihihihi"

Whether or not you are for or against vaccination please keep away from newborns if you're at all sick. I really don't care if you think you're been rude by staying away and I really, really don't care if you just can't help yourself because you're irresistibly drawn to tiny people. I really really really care if my child gets sick and I think all parents, for or against vaccination, would agree with me on that point.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Protesting against everything

I was watching the nightly depresso-fest on the TV a few days ago (AKA the news) and there was a small piece about some protesters who stormed their way into a field of genetically modified potatoes (I believe some sort of research centre was doing some experiments with them, perhaps growing a mutant army from the eyes of the potatoes) and proceeded to stamp the plants into the ground in the name of the environment and human kind.

Now, I'm all for the environment and human kind and so forth, but sometimes I think such behaviour is odd. From what I can work out these plant-stomping parties are going on because no one knows the long-term effects GM foods has on humans. Nor does anyone know the effects GM foods may have on the environment. But is not knowing the effects enough to stamp experimental plants into the ground? If we stomped on every scientific experiment and discovery that was ever dreamed up we wouldn't be getting very far.I'm not saying I'm crazy about having GM foods in my diet when the side-effects are unknown, perhaps tighter government controls are necessary until their safety can be proven, but stopping such research strikes me as being premature.

If we're going to go about protesting technology why not protest something like mobile phones which have been proven to destroy bee populations (thus leading to their untimely demise after millions of years of existence but also doing great damage to the environment) and which the World Health Organisation has just recently declared as being "possibly carcinogenic to humans" I'd like to see these protesters running along the streets, ripping mobile phones out of peoples hands and throwing them to the ground screaming "NO MORE POSSIBLE BRAIN CANCER" and "SAVE THE BEES" while stomping some 15 year olds iphone into a billion nano bits. But that would probably inconvenience them. I mean if they are all about protesting stuff they need their mobile phones in order to assemble in the correct locations. Can you imagine trying to organise a plant-stomping protest in the middle of farmer-ville and everyone ends up in the wrong field and some poor farmer with NON GM crops is getting his rose bushes stamped while the evil GM potato farmer on the other side is enjoying a nice cup of tea and laughing his butt off. I don't think so!

So save the mobile phones, and stomp the potatoes!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

On Creativity

"Where do you get your ideas?" is one of the questions all writers and most artists hear at one point or another.

I was listening to an interesting podcast from ABC National Radio the other day called "Creativity and the mind" where writer Sue Woolfe and Professor Russell Meares delve into the mystical world of creative thinking. It's worth a listen if you have the time and the interest. Sue Woolfe starts her talk with an anecdote with her tax accountant. The accountant is helping her fill in her tax return, he notes she has made some money selling her book so is thus a writer. He asks her about how one goes about writing a novel. To which she replies (in short), very typically of anyone who is writing, it all comes in dribs and drabs and you don't really write it yourself the characters do that for you, you're just the person taking all of this down for them. Later she overhears the accountant having a good old laugh with his colleagues about this answer. His reaction is not so surprising because I imagine most accountants live their lives in the world of linear non-creative left-brain thinking and have all but forgotten what it's like to view the world differently.

Which brings up the other point, creative thinking and how this differs from the favoured thinking of the every day. Every day thinking is the logical conclusions one draws to go about their day to day business, such as getting to work, doing laundry etc etc. It's very functional and linear. People who are habitually creative recognise the "other way of thinking" it makes abstract connections, it's non-linear, almost unconscious and certainly meditative. I know once I get into a writing mind set I end up in a trance-like state not really thinking about what I am writing, just typing it all out then at the end of it re-reading it back and thinking "Where on earth did all of this come from?" It's the ability to tune into some sort of subconscious process. The minute the inner-critic or the inner-planner come into play your work is done for the day. If I try to go into my writing, or anything I am working on, with a plan or any idea at all it almost always ends up sounding totally forced, contrived, wooden and not at all authentic. If I go into what I am doing with a free mind and let the world around me recede I end up with something I never expected but totally authentic and often interesting. That's not to say I don't write a lot of crap sometimes. That's when the other way of thinking is useful, to filter out the bad from the good.

What is your experience On Creativity?

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Anyone who knows me knows that in my spare time I write. Or I am reading. I'm a big fan of words. I hope to publish a book one day, maybe even the one I am working on currently. On the web I read a lot of other writer's blogs, from the "small time" writer who has published through smaller presses (or are dreaming to publish with any publisher at all) to the big-shots, like Neil Gaiman who has somehow managed to end up writing a Dr Who episode which is very cool I think.

On the matter of publication one question has arisen time and again amongst the not-yet-published set. Should one self-publish? Now if you're into the scene you'll know what I mean. For the less informed self-publishing isn't vanity press, wherein some dreamer of a writer pays a "publisher" lots of their own hard earn dollars in order for the "publisher" to print a few thousand copies of said writer's book. Writer is then surprised that no marketing will be done and in fact the book refuses to sell itself. On top of that the poor writer finds out that no one takes this vanity press style publishing seriously at all. Writer then falls into a despair and never writes again.

Self-publishing, on the other hand, requires no out-lay on the writers behalf. With such tools as Kindle and Lulu writers need only upload their polished and ready manuscripts to their servers. Interested buyers purchase the book, or e-book with one click of their mouse. A book is not printed unless sold. No marketing is done beyond what the writer does.

Amanda Hocking has notoriously done well out of the self-publishing business making squillions of dollars by selling her e-books for a mere 0.99 until finally a publisher sat up and took notice and now she's getting real books in real stories and even talk of film adaptations and all. Impressive yeah? 

One problem with self-publishing that I can directly see is that you have to be able to market your own work. In fact I can imagine that most of your time will be spent dedicated to the art of marketing your e-book. If you're like most writers you write because you want to be a writer, not a publisher, not a marketeer.

Another problem is the loss-of-prestige. Self-publishing can cop a lot of flak because any man and his dog can do it. No editors are there to spare the reader terrible prose, wooden characters, lacklustre plots and spelling mistakes. Therein lies the problem, self-publishers need not only what they think is a polished manuscript but a good editor to go through it and shake it up a bit until it falls neatly into place.

I think every writer, when honest with themselves, would prefer the traditional means of publishing. But if we all wait for that magic day when an offer comes through will we wait forever? Why not self-publish, do the hard yards now, get a small audience going, get the attention of a publisher this way?

Don't bands do that same? We've all got mates who have a band, who've cut themselves an EP, spending thousands of their own hard earned cash on a producer and studio time, then spent countless hours sending out their demo to radio stations, managers, doing as many gigs as possible just to get a name for themselves and say "Hey we're here! Sign us to your magical record label!" My mate Luke has been doing this for years his band Brokencube has just released a "self-published" album on Amazon for all and sundry to download.

If bands also use the route of "self-publishing" and self promotion then why not writers? Why not try to get a publisher's attention this way? Why do we have to write query after query and sit on our hands hoping beyond miraculous hope that an agent will pull our dusty manuscript out of the slush pile and actually be wow-ed by it? Why not give your book the chance to see the light of day? Instead of hanging on one person's opinion about what is good writing, and what is marketable in two years time, give it directly to the audience. Then keep querying and writing your letters but you may be able to add in "I have an established fan base and make great sales on kindle" you'll get their attention, because at the end of the day publishing isn't about the art, it's about the sales. Yes?

What do you guys think?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

More human than human

One of my all time favourite movies is Blade Runner. In the movie the Nexus-6 series Replicant is an android designed by Tyrell corporation specifically for off-Earth work and slave labour. In order to curb the development of an individual emotional life they have a limited lifespan of about 4 years.  This of course backfires and a rebellion occurs with some replicants escaping and trying to hunt down their creator. Their mission: "I want more life fucker." as one replicant eloquently said.

Two things that strike me, the idea that our technology can out strip us and the suggestion, although not played out in this film, that the post-human could perhaps be created by humans.

Stay with me I'm going somewhere with this. Humans tend to look at time in a very linear short-term fashion. Even the most horrifying doomsday theories place the apocalypse sometime in the next thousands years or so which completely negates deep time. Put it this way our sun is only 4.5 billion years old and has enough fuel to burn for another 6 billion. Now we're starting to talk time.

Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, said at his acceptance of the 2011 Templeton Prize “It won’t be humans who witness the sun’s demise: It will be entities as different from us as we are from a bug.”

What on earth could these entities be? And do we have anything to do with it?
Two scenarios I can think of; one is that humans will become extinct because of some cock up or another on our behalf due to the fact our technology far outstrips our intellectual or emotional capabilities (really whose brilliant idea was it to create weapons that could destroy all life on earth and place it in the hands of emotionally volatile creatures?) and these new entities evolve from some other life form.

or we get all Darwinist and start evolving at a speed that perhaps compliments our technology thus creating the post-human that might see the sun's demise. Not that I think seeing the sun's demise would be some sort of an accomplishment or anything, although the party will be bigger than in 1999. At any rate humans are by nature fragile creatures. Even our intellect, our biggest weapon against all and sundry, is often marred by our emotional responses. Our bodies are designed to decay and eventually perish despite or best efforts otherwise (and unlike the Nexus-6 replicants we can't meet our creator and demand more life). If we can overcome these trifles than perhaps we have a chance at long-term survival. Although not in a form that we would recognise.

So say that we found a way to upload our consciousness to the computer. I think I saw an X-Files episode about that once, but the idea is pretty interesting. we would then exist in a space where physical demise is no longer a threat. machines can be repaired; we could back up our minds a million times over, we could live forever in a virtual reality. Some people are attempting such a feat now by throwing their "real" lives away to focus on such pass times as Secondlife, although they have not been able to find a way around the fact a flesh and blood human needs to sit behind the screen in order for this life to have life.

But then what? Will our all-too-human emotional responses see our demise anyway? Will some virtual government develop a virtual nuclear bomb to virtually wipe out all virtual life? And if we do away with such things as "emotion" and all that come with it including art and entertainment and creativity will we cease to be human? Because aside from these flesh and bone bodies we haul ourselves around in it is our ability to reason, to create, to feel that make us the creatures we are.

Is the evolution away from what makes us us worth seeing the sun die?

Take it easy!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Awesome Things must be made (or I fall into a depression and die)

I'm one of those people who need to know that Awesome Things are still happening in the world or I fall into a pit of despair. I need to discover new and interesting bands, edgy authors, spectacular art or a great TV series to keep my faith in the human race alive and well.

 It's not that I crave novelty 24/7. I can be quite happy spinning my old cds and re-reading my favourite books. But I need to know that we're not over yet. That the days of being creative and daring weren't for that Golden Era located in the distant past and one of which I am not a part of. I need evidence that our world hasn't fallen prey to hands of cynical marketers who study us like we are interesting insects, then go about tailoring music/books/fashion/computer games based off their findings.

There are artists who in my eyes can never do wrong. Nick Cave being one of them. Even when he and his fellow band mates from Grinderman are dancing about in Gladiator suits and shooting laser beams out of their eyes he still, somehow, gets it all right. (according to me)

I have to say so far a small trickle of awesome usually comes my way and keeps me happy. This can come from just about anywhere, from the tried and true big shots with the big record deals/publishers/word spinners/wheelers/dealers or they can be a solitary artist or a small band of artists forging out a space for their work like a small voice singing in the darkness not knowing if anyone is listening.

I also derive great pleasure in discovering art in between worlds. The work  that falls between the cracks and can't be defined so it never really makes it to a mainstream audience. There is actually a movement of artists who identify their art as being Interstitial, or falling in the cracks between genres.

"What is interstitial art? It is art made in the interstices between genres and categories. It is art that flourishes in the borderlands between different disciplines, mediums, and cultures. It is art that crosses borders, made by artists who refuse to be constrained by category labels" 

 I find this movement freeing. Genre can be such a restrictive mistress as can the market forces that demands each work of art produced be labeled and placed on the shelf in their correct place accordingly.

Here are a few of my favourite recent finds. Please comment if you also have some great finds.


"Lolly Jane Blue - Worms". When I saw this video I just about fell off my seat in rapture.

Amanda Fucking Palmer. One of my prized "finds" in recent years I adore this woman! As one commenter said on youtube "this bitch is epic"


Catherynne M. Valente. She writes books that can only be described as ornamental jewels. Novel length poetry. This is an author who loves words and loves to push them to their limit.

"My body is bound with guitar strings, nipples like fawn's hooves strumming E minor chords and finger-picking a Path through resonant briars, redolent of the desert bellies of blue lizards. By now my feet are worn through, holes like mouths gaping and smacking in cathedral soles, pounding, thrusting on the Path like a drum-skin stretched into incandescence, finding that old comfortable rhythm that by now I know so well, that I invented out of dust and the sweat beading prettily on my own calves."

Caitlin R Kiernan - Edging to the dark side of novel writing she maintains she is not an horror author.

Strange Online Games

Samorost- A strange web-based game with very cool graphics

Sleep is Death - a two player interactive game. One player is the game-master creating the game as they go the other is playing the game. I'm still looking for someone who wants to team up with me!


Yang Fudong - I saw his work "Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest" at the Venice Biennale and was totally blown away. This was created for Prada however it still retains his haunting delicacy.