Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Feminine Between: Fanfiction as a Gendered Space

Post a comment

Fanfiction is not only a proponent for creative culture, but could also be the outlet that young women need.  ♦ 
The rise of the internet as an entertainment platform has enabled content creators of all kinds to profit from their works in ways that were unprecedented only a few decades ago. For example, the rise of streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, has catapulted our favorite TV shows and movies from a commercial-heavy DVR to the zero-commercial, zero-hassle bliss of binge-watching on almost any screen. As more of this type of easy-access content appears, fans of this content will multiply. But, inevitably, those fans will reach a point when they can simply binge no more. And where does one go to consume his or her favorite content when the canon runs out?
   The fandom, of course.
  Where else, besides within a fandom, could you find fanart of your favorite characters from The Walking Dead opening a bakery together? Where else could you engage in lengthy discourse about what exactly happened in Season 4, Episode 1 of Supernatural? Where else could you read a 300,000-word story entirely based on that one scene that would have been so much better if it had gone just a little bit differently? Fandoms are where you go when you don’t want the content to end, or you wish it ended differently, or you think you could’ve done it better yourself. Therefore, the people who are attracted most to fandoms are those who feel as if their voices are not represented within modern media: namely, young women.
   Within online fandom spaces, young women can find an escape from a reality in which their voices are not valued. Indeed, many creators within fandoms rejoice in the fact that their audience is limited to other women who have common interests to theirs. According to Beth Weeks, a fanfiction author with an online following more than 25,000 strong, this is part of the appeal: “I’m not interested in men reading my work or men’s perspective of my work. I’m always writing for my 16-year-old self.” Writing in this milieu has since helped her within more professional contexts. “I can say that one of the strengths I had when I came to the MFA was that I was acutely aware of writing for an audience.”
   That being said, the limits of a fandom’s audience can also be detrimental to an aspiring author because of one key factor: “Fanfic is so much of a community thing. We’re writing to contribute to a greater lexicon, and the whole purpose of it is to showcase our genre. Original work is kind of in a vacuum. You inevitably derive your work from other people, but you can’t admit that,” confessed Weeks. And, indeed, one of the most challenging facets of being in an MFA program for Weeks was “Writing what I wanted to write, not what other people wanted to read.”
   Furthermore, writing within a fandom can be challenging for reasons one might not expect. While the audience and community are one of the best parts about the genre, they can also be incredibly overwhelming. According to Weeks, “The place of a fanfic writer is a completely unique circumstance. The place of a popular fanfic writer is the strangest place to be, because we’re not allowed to talk about our popularity, we’re not allowed to acknowledge any kind of fame, and we’re not allowed to complain about it.” This is because, according to fandom logic, receiving attention and acclaim from an overwhelming audience is better than not receiving any at all. However, this is not a struggle felt by authors of original texts.
   Weeks elaborated on this point, “If you’re a popular author of an original text, you don’t have to reply to your Amazon reviews. You don’t have to keep an open Ask Box, you don’t have to reply to your Twitter mentions. But fanfic authors have to constantly engage. In some cases, fanfic authors have larger followings than original authors, and, in many cases, they do. And yet, we are tasked with the unpaid labor of constant engagement because we are reader-writers of the same lexicon. And so, we have to engage as fans of a greater text, even though we’re in this between space of also being creators, but we have to do all of the work of being a consumer in addition to a creator.”
  And yet it is within that “between space” that aspiring female authors are able to dramatically influence culture at a micro-level that can become macro. One example of this occurred when Supernatural paid tribute to its fans with its 200th episode entitled “Fan Fiction.” Filmed in the form of a musical and performed by a young female cast, the television show celebrated the fanbase that insured its popularity. On a more individual level, writing fanfiction is what put best-selling authors E.L. James and Anna Todd on the map. However, while there still are inherent issues with catering to a large audience without a PR team to support and guide an aspiring author, by contributing to fandom content, a young woman can feel empowered and learn skills that can positively impact her future writing. Regardless of how this space is interpreted in the public eye, fandoms represent massive online platforms in which young women have the power to reshape mainstream content into any form they desire.
  And even though in today’s culture fanfiction is still not taken nearly as seriously as canonical writing, the canon can only go so far. But the fandom? Well, that goes on forever.
  • About the Author
    Mary Seaman is a Creative Writing and History double major who has been a fanfiction connoisseur since 2012. She is currently attending Miami University as a third-year senior.

    Sexes, Hexes, and the Rise of Witchcraft in Popular Media

    Post a comment

    What was once a feared practice is now one of the largest rising obsessions in today's culture.  ♦ 
    Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble…”
       These words are familiar to many in the millennial generation, having Shakespeare parroted back to them during their time spent in school. The ideas of witchcraft, magick, and peering beyond the veil have been following the millennial generation around for most of their lives. Popular books, movies, and television shows all include some aspect of witchcraft, and the magickal genre has only grown with the generation. Early childhood experiences from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Roald Dahl’s Witches to more mature shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and American Horror Story: Coven have only served to cultivate the consumer. Even recent movies like Suspiria and The Love Witch have helped pique the interest of watchers, turning Muggles ever-towards more witchy-themed endeavors.
       In the past few decades, themes of witchcraft have grown to permeate media, fashion, pop culture, and most definitely literature. But what does this mean for book culture? With the sudden rise of paganism and Wicca in the millennial generation, it means demand. Constant demand for more literature, more style, more stuff! In a way, witchcraft has become less of an eclectic practice and more of a stylized genre. Some may even argue that witchcraft is becoming a brand. Clothing stores, large makeup brands, and places frequented by alternatively-dressed kids are now selling easy start-up kits for spellcraft, alchemy, and other forms of popular witchery. The days of having to use secret websites or shipping items from out-of-state are over. No longer does the word “witch” refer to a girl wearing all black. Anyone can start on their magickal journey, as long as they have a spell book.
      The rise of witchcraft in media has led to the complete explosion of the modern spell book, (via physical copies, digital, or online resources), helping to grow the magickal generation. While paganism has been around since the dawn of time and the term “Wicca” was coined in the 1950’s, the acceptance of witchcraft did not truly take off until the 2010’s. Some of the most popular spell books have been published by the author Arin Murphy-Hiscock. She has been publishing magickal guides since the early 2000’s, but became a formally recognized top author in 2017 when her book, The Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More, became both an Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller. Similar guides and other “how-to” spell books have also become an increasingly common part of the millennial athenaeum.
       Another large component for an increased demand in spell books is the stereotypical millennial mindset. Societal values such as feminism, acceptance, queer visibility, money issues, environmental concerns, self-care, racial equality, rebellion, and opposition to the status quo all drive the millennial need to find solutions outside of themselves. One event in particular that calls to the popularity of witchcraft in this current age is the prevalence of “social hexing.” For example, hexes, curses, and otherwise negative forms of magick are cautioned against in the Wiccan tradition in the form of The Wiccan Rede and The Three-Fold Law, also known as “The Law of Return.” The Wiccan Rede is summarized by most traditional practitioners as, “These Eight words the Rede fulfill: "An’ Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will.” The Three-Fold Law states whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it positive or negative, will be returned to that person three times. Magick, as according to traditional media, is meant to be used for good and the lessening of “bad.” For example, the foundations of the magickal laws were explored in the film called The Craft, as well as appearing in most traditional texts of paganism. However, the casual practitioners or “magickal trenders” don’t necessarily take these foundational forms of occultism/paganism/Wicca to heart, which could partially explain the implementation of these public hex events. Supporters of these movements believe that these events show support and visibility for people who feel like they have been marginalized by various sections of society.
       Described as Brooklyn’s “premiere occult bookshop and spiritual community space,” Catland Books is the supposed originator of the art of the “public” or “community hex” as a form of magickal activism. In June of 2017, Catland Books hosted a premier event to hex Donald Trump. After the immense popularity of the first event, Catland Books has hosted many more, hexing or binding politician Brett Kavanaugh and the entirety of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Each occurrence is marketed as a community event and is meant to bring people together and foster a sense of visibility and community for groups who feel as though they remain unheard.
       From socially taboo to comfortably mainstream, witchcraft has inundated the media in ways that have brought people together. With its continual popularity, it’s clear that magick isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As long as these industries continue to capitalize on the human desire for escape, there will always be the need for the color black and for some form of commercially available magick.
  • About the Author
    Tess Bellamy is a senior Professional Writing major with a penchant for horror stories. She enjoys reading books in Spanish, Elvish, and Runic variants. She spends most of her time with her partner, Sebastian, and their pets, Pudgy (dog), Artemis (cat), Lady Emberine (spider), and Fyre (snake). She dreams of one day writing spooky cookbooks that anyone could enjoy.

    Betwixt and Between: An Interview with Dr. Jeb Card

    Post a comment

    In a new book, a professor of anthropology takes on weird history and our cultural, conspiratorial fascination with it.  ♦ 
    Be honest: when you think of archaeology—more specifically, the search for lost civilizations, or the unveiling of hidden histories—you probably don’t think of an academic study first. More likely, you think of Indiana Jones raiding a temple for supernatural artifacts, or a History channel special on ancient aliens, or any number of YouTube channels you might’ve come across from pseudo-archaeologists who claim to unveil the “truth” about history “they” don’t want you to know. But why is it that archaeology, as a field of study, seems to particularly attract interest in the weird? And what does the attraction tell us not only about archaeology but about ourselves?
       These are the questions Dr. Jeb Card, an anthropology professor at Miami University of Ohio and self-described “weird-shit-ologist,” explores in his book Spooky Archaeology: Myth and the Science of the Past (University of New Mexico Press, 2018), which “guides the reader through haunted museums, mysterious hieroglyphic inscriptions, [and] fragments of a lost continent that never existed” while also examining the question of “how and why archaeology continues to mystify.” Dr. Card has taught at Miami University since 2011 and, before that, at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and Tulane University, where he earned his PhD in anthropology in 2007. While being an effective instructor, scientist, and mentor for numerous students in research, Dr. Card has also succeeded as an author (his previous book, Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices, was published in 2016), has been both co-host and guest on numerous podcasts on weird archaeology, and has done extensive research and study of Central America and other areas.

    Who were some of your biggest inspirations while writing your book Spooky Archaeology?

    Spooky is about archaeology but is not a [textbook]; it is more of a history. From the academy, [professor of political science Michael Barkun] wrote a book called A Culture of Conspiracy, which is really a major light for me in how to approach what I sometimes call “weird-shit-ology.” He argues that rejected or stigmatized knowledge—once it is stigmatized—is kind of put in the same bin, trash bin, or gutter and is all mixed together, which makes sense if you look at everything from conspiracy theory to paranormal thought to radical political extremism [and] how they all overlap. Adrian Mayer, who is a historian who looks at the ancient world from sort of a scientific perspective, is also an influence. A weird one is actually Leonard Nimoy because of In Search Of…, which sort of inspired me as a kid, but I also critique things like it in the book.

    What were some of the challenges you faced along the way when writing a book in such a distinct genre?

    Everything I have ever done, academically speaking, has felt betwixt and between. I wanted to do Maya archaeology, and from the beginning I kind of screwed it up. You would think it would involve inscriptions and texts and whatnot, but the person who pokes around in the dirt is often not the person reading and interpreting these [ . . . ]. I gave up on this approach in grad school, so I then [did] historical archaeology in early Spanish colonial Central America.
       This stuff, in Spooky, is betwixt and between squared.
      There is no professorship of “weird-shit-ology.” It is important, and in the last three years people are beginning to understand . . . but there is still a lot of fumbling around, and that’s actually been one of the biggest fights I’ve been increasingly dealing with.
       I’ve been in this for a long time, and for much of that time when I talk about [why people believe in conspiracy and pseudoscience], the sometimes-literally-said, often-implied response from many of my colleagues would be, “Why are you studying that? That only happens to people in trailers in Arkansas.” There is a huge class element, and that is why it has been ignored. Then the last three years all these sociology, anthropology, and especially psychology papers have come out [but] these don’t really have anything to do with the field. However, because they are coming from other theoretical bases, they are more likely to get listened to. 

    You have appeared on several podcasts and have written a number of articles and scientific papers; do you prefer speaking in ways like a podcast or presentation to spread knowledge or do you prefer using your writing? Do you feel that one of these methods is superior for spreading knowledge?

    I am decent at performing, so I enjoy speaking. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best way. There are multiple approaches, and I think there is a value to the big blast and some value to getting out there on social media and trying to get people to see things. I think this is the least important, though, because I don’t think that we can win that fight. If you are trying to make your voice heard where everyone else is doing the same but doesn’t care about citation or something being true six months from now, but you do, you are inherently handicapped. I think there is a limited value here.
       I think public speaking, including podcasts, very much [has] a value. I also think putting what we have out there on the record is really important. The absolute least useful thing you can do, and often is frankly negative, is getting into real-time fights or debates with people. It never goes well, because you are handicapping everything that scholarly work is good at: looking into hundreds of resources, doing the research, actually knowing the answers rather than having a small set of stock answers that you go back to because they work well on a crowd.
       I strongly disagree with arguing over Twitter or something like that because it isn’t for the audience which many people think; I care more about convincing people [ . . . ]. We need to tell our own stories, and sometimes that needs to be in long form or sometimes it needs to be in speaking. What we can’t do is react. We can’t sit back, think people will listen to us, and then be shocked and answer in reaction.

    What challenges did you face in the writing and publication processes of your book?

    The actual writing and publishing process went fairly easily. Copyediting was fine, and there were fights of course—whether to use Maya or Mayan, which I lost. It’s supposed to be Maya, but if you read my book it is not. The bigger problems have been that there are issues in print publishing, in no small part due to the Amazon effect and things like that. I published with an academic press tied to a state university system which has had its funding cut, [and] which is symptomatic of the larger funding cuts to the state university systems throughout the US. Spooky was available in hardcover for $75, which is a ridiculous price but by no means the most expensive book I’ve worked on. It is now available in paperback for $39.95, and I would rather it be $29, but I can live with $39. Part of that is because the press has lost state support, not because they are bad or good but because we have decided as a society not to do these kinds of things [ . . . ]. The people there are overworked and understaffed, which have been the largest problems.
       The reason I didn’t go the CreateSpace route is because this book was peer reviewed and people liked it; some of them even put their names on it, which I’ve never had before. The problem there was not peer review or creation, but that the publishing industry is being hammered.
       People have read and reviewed this book, and if there was a giant red flag, they would have pointed it out. Maybe that isn’t the future, but I am glad I went with an academic press and I am glad with my publishing choices.

    From a young age you have been exposed to history in numerous ways; have you always known what you wanted to do in life? Did you have any interest in writing when you were younger?

    I haven’t been back to Gettysburg since the late 1990s, but I did the math once and between 1976 and the mid ‘90s I figured out that I had spent approximately sixty days there, and my father had spent about 700 days there, but now it is probably closer to 1000. Archaeology had emerged on my radar in high school, but I always wanted to be a “scientist” of sorts. Writing seems to inherently be a part of that. I don’t know if I wanted to write for a larger audience, which wasn’t on my agenda for most of college. When I began to study the Celtic Milieu [the range of Celtic archaeologies and influence] as a topic of anthropological science, I probably began to want to spread my ideas to a larger audience. Writing a book like Spooky probably started around 2006 when I started blogging, which I did up until I got this job in 2011 [and] it began to enter my mind that if I already am writing this stuff in a blog, I might as well be putting it into an article or a book.
       That said, the history of Spooky is pretty important here. It emerges from two blog posts in October 2011; one was about what I am now calling the Paranormal Unified Field Theory—Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist, made it clear to me that many of my thoughts and ideas [about fringe conspiracy and weird archaeology] cohered together; that post is a major part of what I’ve been up to. The other post was why is archaeology seen as spooky and haunted. There are several reasons which you can find in the book, like museums being seen as haunted and whatnot.
       I went to the 2012 American Anthropological Society meetings, and I decided since it was 2012 and the Maya calendar [doomsday prediction] and all that . . . what would be a better time to put in a paper like this in a professional setting? So I put in "Spooky Archaeology: Understanding the Past," which is a version of the blog post. An acquisitions editor told me he saw a book in this paper, but I didn’t jump on it right away. By the end of 2013, I had emailed him and he informed me that he was still interested.
       The book eventually becomes something else but starts off with some of the ideas in that paper that I end up building on.
       Scholarship requires looking at hundreds of objects and resources, not just a few blog posts. There is this hunger for content, but there has to be something backing it up, and many projects in the public face lack these. There is a temptation to work off the minimum you know and just wing the rest, and that way lies problems.
       I had a professor, Dan Heelin, who when [he] would do oral examinations he would say, “Jeb, are you sure about that?” when you would give answers, to politely say you are wrong. His whole point, however, was that you are going to be presenting your information in front of an audience and you damn well better know what you are talking about, because if you don’t people are going to catch you out. Know what you are talking about; don’t make things up.
       Over time, what being a writer meant became clearer to me. It is a lot of work, a lot of editing, and a lot of getting this right. If you realize that, you say “Yes please, yes I want to go to the library for six months and know all the things” and have 175,000 words that you then have to carve up to 110,000 and you judicially throw things out and rework it, and rework it, and rework it until my audience actually gets it and it’s not just in my head. I’m not just saying what I want on the page; I am actually communicating with the audience. Once you realize that is writing and you still want to do it, then you are writing. But that takes time to get to, and if you are constantly doing it on a deadline, it is hard. When I was finally starting to get things together in the last chapters of my dissertation, I knew I wanted to do it again. When people actually [said] things like “That’s good” and “I get what you’re going for,” that’s when I realized I wanted to write again.

  • About the Author
    Tom Becker is a senior Zoology major at Miami University. In his free time, he enjoys watching movies as well as the NBA, playing video games, and hiking and resting in his hammock with his two dogs Buddy and Zeus. Currently, he is reading the series A Song of Ice and Fire and hopes to read Dune next.

    Thursday, April 11, 2019

    The YA Heroine: Why Empowered Women Empower Women

    Post a comment

    Lately, female characters in YA fantasy have been making their impact on modern culture . . . but are their steps worth following in?  ♦ 
    It’s an ordinary day when you enter a bookstore and pick up a novel with a female protagonist. The genre is YA fantasy, occasionally science fiction. As you begin reading the inside of the jacket cover, you reflect on your recent cravings for these heroine-driven plots. They’re appealing, dynamic, and you’ve noticed a rising interest invested in strong female characters, both in film and in literature. And while discrimination against any book is not in your nature, the one in your hand is extremely attractive, so you go ahead and give the book a chance.
      The first three chapters are great. The author obviously seems to know what they’re doing...and then it happens again. Your wonderful female protagonist changes before your very eyes: she becomes a man. Without any warning, she starts dressing like one, acting like one, stomping on male hearts with her stiletto boots, and crushing any telltale signs that might depict her as weak. You realize that none of this would be a problem for you if this transformation was only a small part of who she was, one dimension of many. Instead, it envelopes the entirety of who she is as a character, and it just doesn’t sit right.
       This example reflects a glaring issue concerning the development of female characters in YA fantasy. The stereotypes between highly feminine and completely masculinized heroines have made little progress in dissolving. On one side of the spectrum, the character may render the portrait of romanticized grace and beauty and swoon at the very notion of conflict, and thus she’ll be seen as a soft, useless character. On the other hand, she might be a complete carbon-copy of a man: all swagger and violence, unable (or unwilling) to have a love interest because it would chip away at her façade, and thus is often seen as a real heroine for her “strength.” These are just simple depictions of the stereotypes, but they portray the common prejudices against vulnerable female characters. In the end, making her strong (via masculinity) just won’t cut it, because despite that strength, she’s underdeveloped, unrelatable, and ultimately disempowered.
       To better understand how to dismantle this stereotype, it’s important to understand first the difference between having a “strong” heroine and an “empowered” one. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "strong" is defined as “having or marked by great physical power,” “not mild or weak,” and “not easily injured or disturbed,” all definitions, you’ll note, that seem to be coded not just along traditional gender lines but stereotypically-male ones. This male-centric conception of “strength” is clearly seen in the “strong heroine,” the one who stomps on hearts and is successful by denying (or hiding) her femininity, and the one who is most represented in YA fantasy. In multiple YA novels, this type of heroine easily gets caught up in the physicality of her character but lacks the ability to truly feel or empathize. For example, 18-year-old Eona, the protagonist in Alison Goodman’s novel, Eon, cultivates her ability to use Dragon Magic to become a Dragoneye, but she parades as a boy for many years to do it. Under the guise of a male name and a male appearance, Eona’s true identity, when revealed, forces her to walk the bridge between man and woman. Replicating her as more of a man is the simplest formula for coding her as “strong”—but it’s the most dangerous for her dimensionality as a female character.
       The "empowered" heroine, however, could be the remedy for this. The term “empowered” refers to “[giving] someone the authority or power to do something; to make someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.” Heroines are meant to represent real females, whether in fiction or not. Therefore, they shouldn’t just be physically represented, but psychologically “real” as well. They shouldn’t simply surpass the hardships in their story with ease but instead should reserve the ability to perceive, struggle, and learn from these hardships as well.
       So, why won’t “strong” cut it?

    “Strong” heroines appear as one-dimensional archetypes, often of physical strength, but just because she has a sword in hand doesn’t mean she is more progressive.
    “Strong” heroines lack multiple dynamics, particularly in terms of what it would mean to be a woman (and not just a hero) within the fictional world.
    “Strong” heroines are granted no sense of vulnerability and often portray women who do not struggle, which is an unrealistic characteristic.

       Empowered heroines are much more realistic. They give young women the chance to explore their own strengths and weaknesses in real life. These heroines appear empowered because they own their sexuality and use it to their advantage, rather than being sexualized by those surrounding them. The “empowered” female can still be tough and stern yet show vulnerability and emotion without worry of losing her “macho” persona. She embodies both the strength of a young woman while also coping with real difficulties. She alone mends the gap between the extreme expectations of her character.
       One prime example of this type of character is Celaena Sardothien, the popular heroine of the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. An 18-year-old assassin, Celaena is sassy, kick-ass, and uses her wit and talents to put men down. However, despite dangerous aspects, she has an obsession for clothes and books and maintains two love interests without batting an eyelash. Celaena’s existence is a representation of a deeply multidimensional character. Even with a sword in hand, she still experiences moments of vulnerability and does not shy away from them.
       Katniss Everdeen, a fan favorite from The Hunger Games series, retains many similar aspects. Despite her deadly skill with a bow and arrow, Katniss experiences many emotions throughout her trials: fear, anger, revulsion, and love. She does not conform; she does not bend. With a fierce desire to protect her family and survive, she faces many desires and consequences and faces them alone. Despite being a physically powerful heroine, she embraces her weaknesses and uses them to defeat her enemies by the end. She claims the rights to her life and becomes a role model for other characters to do the same.
       In the bookstore, locating fantasy books with empowered heroines can be a tricky business. Nevertheless, they’re there – hidden nuggets of gold to find, if you know how to get past the bedrock. And when you do, you’ll notice your heroine’s strengths and her weaknesses. You’ll be able to explore her triggers and her curiosities, her deepest desires and her more obvious ones. You’ll cheer her on when she has a sword in hand and when she fights for what she wants with fierce wit, but only because she is developing into her own story, discarding the remnants of the masculine shell she’d once been cowering in.

  • About the Author
    Grace Nehls is a junior at Miami University in Ohio, majoring in Creative Writing and double-minoring in Anthropology and Management. In addition to her studies, Grace is an active member on Miami University’s Happy Captive Magazine, and a content contributor to Spoon University. In her free time, she can be found reading YA fantasy and enjoying great food. After graduation she would like to move to Florida and dive head-first into a professional writing career.

    Writes of Passage: How Children’s Classics Risk Getting Lost in the Cloud

    Post a comment

    Can classic children’s literature survive as just another digital file on a machine?  ♦ 
    When I took a nannying position last summer, fresh out of my spring semester Children’s Literature class, I felt invincible; I had an arsenal of renewed whimsy, and I was ready to connect with the next generation, as books so often enable. I knew, too, that you “write up” for children, not down, and that children’s books served as mirrors and windows–a means of reflection and exploration all at once. Most importantly, or so I thought, I had my own childhood interactions with books to go off of, with beloveds such as Tuck Everlasting, Charlotte’s Web, The Little Prince just to name a few. A little dated, I knew, but all of these had proven to withstand the test of time, as they’d already weathered a generation (or two or three) before making their way to me. At twenty years old, I thought that my own childhood reading experiences were still more than relevant.
       I was mistaken.
      What I didn’t account for, perhaps naively, was that the 6- and 9-year-olds staring up at me in wonder on my first morning there had been born into a technological world that I hadn’t encountered until I was a teenager. Their parents, bless them, still mandated reading time, which was a required thirty minutes, but on their list of activities, reading was in competition with a limited screen time of an hour. Furthermore, this screen time didn’t include television, the list informed me; it was in regards to the iPad only.
       I was flabbergasted.
       An iPad? At six years old?
      The parents were in no way at fault; when the kids had playdates while I watched them, every single friend they had over had the same interests—those interests being, of course, apps. When I could wrangle the kids for story time, they loved what I picked for them, but they had never heard of Charlotte’s Web before my introducing it to them. The reason for this, I soon realized, was a symptom of the digitalization of books, which has changed not just children’s reading habits but their relationship to these and other books: in this new age of technology, access, and instant gratification, the classics of children’s literature are not only in competition with the newer books on the market but with every Fruit-Ninja-Angry-Bird phenomena app creators can crank out. A well-loved, dog-eared, physical children’s book has a certain presence on a shelf and in the imagination, but when the classics go digital, they’re just data. They become invisible. (What, then, will become of Wilbur? Of Madame Zeroni? There are lives at stake, people!)
       As for the home I’d come to think of as my sample for this small investigation, I didn’t see a single one of the books from my Children’s Lit reading list in the house, and the children confirmed that maybe one or two of the titles I mentioned to them graced the shelves of their reading corners at school. Towards the heavens, I lamented; what’s a reading corner without The Giving Tree and the guarantee of contracting head lice or a respiratory infection?
      When their parents found out what I was reading to them, they were delighted, and each immediately offered several anecdotes relating to their own experiences surrounding E. B. White’s masterful telling of the unlikely friendship between a spider and a pig, but they’d never thought to pass the book on to their children, not in physical form, and as a result their children had never come in contact with the book at all. It supported the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that I fear is beginning to consume such long-beloved titles, which risks flinging these books into oblivion. Recent studies analyzing the significance of having actual, tangible books in the home on children’s literacy and development have only solidified my suspicions that print in the home has a worth that digital can’t match.
       This is not a condemnation of modern youth, nor is it a rallying cry for those who are anti-progress to unite; there is nothing wrong with adding in the new, so long as we don’t lose the old. The call to action then is this: preserve print! Because if we fall prey to the convenience of The Cloud, we might lose entirely the romanticism of turning a page with a child on your lap (preferably your own). Shiny things are new and fun; moving colors on a screen are mesmerizing; these truths I grant you, and perhaps some stories have grown too dated for the future generations to relate to. (Cue: “Mommy, what’s a drive-in theater?”) But for many of us, it would be no small loss for “Stay Gold, Ponyboy,” “Some Pig,” and “Let the wild rumpus start!” to die off with us after our time has passed.
       But all hope is not lost: according to EducationWeek.Org, 65 percent of children in 2015 said they will always prefer reading print books as opposed to e-readers, while 60 percent of children still like to read for fun. However, in a study conducted by Scholastic, it was also proven that there is indeed a direct correlation between how many books a child has in their home and a love of reading. Meaning, if we want to save the classics (and the soon-to-be classics) that we felt we were a part of, it’s on us as future parents and teachers to make them accessible by lining the shelves of our future homes with these time capsules of pages.
       And if you’re unsure of where to even start your library of the classics, you might begin with this List of Children’s Books to Save the (Literary) World!

    The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
    Every child should experience the joy of Silverstein's whimsical illustrations as they were meant to be seen: on pages between their fingers. Additionally, every child should experience the sheer terror of encountering a disconcertingly close-up of Shel Silverstein on the back cover. I had to bury those books in my shelves at night to make sure I didn’t accidentally make eye contact with the author in the wee hours, and I am a better, stronger woman for it.

    Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
    The little light-blue book that has been enjoyed for literal generations demands shelf-space; to simply download it would be an injustice. To not encounter it at all, a crime. The last few chapters should bear the wrinkled pages that come from dried tears. Small creases from dog-ears counting the nights you had to stop because you or your audience was falling asleep are merit badges of readership. The nostalgia of this classic is a romantic experience on its own, and anything less than complete immersion deprives you of the achingly innocent friendship Charlotte teaches us at any age.

    Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
    While I grant that there is probably not a child alive who isn’t at least somewhat familiar with Harry Potter, these are books with heirloom potential. I know my own beloved collector’s trunk, with the seven books bearing their original cover art and many scuffs from my destination reading endeavors, is the only way I want my children to experience the Wizarding World when it comes their time, and these large volumes are an experience in themselves that an e-book simply cannot replicate.

    The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
    In my experience, this book lends itself to one or more re-readings, as the classic tale of friendship, classism, and sacrifice has something new to offer for every age. I myself have read it nearly ten times now, as all it takes is a boring afternoon to nudge me into its familiar pages. The satisfaction of having that one copy that shows the loving wear from such afternoons is a must-have on any childhood shelf.

    The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
    I didn’t encounter this book until much later in life than its intended audience, but I fell in love immediately. I discovered it when a friend lent me his copy from childhood, so I at least got to experience it with a dose of secondhand nostalgia. This one, being as old as it is published in 1943, has many editions and iconic illustrations. It is a fun find in an old bookstore, and it is a beautiful new endeavor hot off the press.

    These are just a start, of course. Whatever titles would be on your list of classics, don't doom them to a download folder hidden away on your tablet. Try to imagine them as part of your home, in some tucked-away book corner in all their full-color, cracked-spine glory, and then see if a little of that childhood excitement doesn't come rushing right back.

  • About the Author
    Madysen George is an English Literature major who's honestly just hoping for the best. When she isn't spouting off crotchety things about how the times are changing, she is probably reading, writing, or spending an absurd amount of time with her friends who never fail to make her laugh.

    Exploring the Possibilities of Multimedia in Publishing

    Post a comment

    How much could literary publishing actually learn from a shooter video game with no narrative? Well, it turns out, a lot more than you would think.  ♦ 

    Overwatch and the Use of Multimedia

    With the rising trend of book-to-movie adaptations becoming more prevalent, it’s easy to wonder how this might affect book sales. There is evidence that suggests these big features increase book sales; however, there are also many instances where the movie can take the place of the book. Comic book sales still continue their decline despite the plethora of superhero movies hitting our screens. I have asked friends whether they actually read books such as The Hunger Games before or after they saw the movie, and many say they hadn’t read it at all, thus there is truly a larger audience these movies aren’t providing their novel counterpart. So, the question becomes: How can publishers use other forms of media such as feature films to draw people to their novels instead of replacing them? Rather than making movies as replicates of the books, perhaps they should try coming up with narratives that complement the story in the novel, bringing purpose back to the book itself.
       That’s what Overwatch did in promoting their video game. When Overwatch was first announced, Blizzard Entertainment staggered the release of animated shorts showing their heroes in action. By the time the game was released, people were already fans of the characters they would soon play as. They transformed their simple hero-shooter video game into a multimedia platform catering to the interests of several demographics. By telling unique and integrated stories in the form of animated shorts, comics, art, and professional eSports, Overwatch was able to attract attention from those who might not have otherwise been interested in a competitive shooter. It’s impossible to consume just one form of the media without losing out on the whole mythos and world-building created by the Overwatch team across every form. If you’re going to read the comics, you’re bound to get sucked into both the animated shorts and the game itself to see more action and stories from your favorite heroes.

         This strategy also allowed for a platform saturated with representation. Our heroes are from all over the globe with different races, creeds, sexualities, and religions. The very face of the Overwatch brand, Tracer, is canonically lesbian. Everyone is able to find a character that they identify with; whether it be a gay Brit, a Japanese cyborg, or an Egyptian pararescue soldier. The sense of community born from the representation in all these different forms has allowed the foundation of the Overwatch platform to reach its current strength. The wide breadth and sheer quantity of media that Overwatch supplies its fan base allows each member of its diverse cast to receive the attention they are due -- each fan who identifies with any particular character is able to enjoy a satisfying amount of content surrounding them. There isn’t some African side character or bisexual friend-of-a-friend attempting to satisfy a diverse fan base, but rather a crowd of characters, each with their own spotlight. Because this diversity crosses many forms of media, everything feels new. By engaging with the audience in a variety of ways, the community can get excited about each character individually rather than getting bogged down in the vast world-building and character development within any singular platform.

    Exploring Multimedia with The Hunger Games

    How can this multifaceted media platform strategy be applied to literary publishing? How might novels benefit from a similar model of animated shorts or comic books that incorporate the mythos of their story without stepping on the toes of the already established narrative? How can this allow for a greater sense of community and for greater representation in the worlds that these authors create? Perhaps a hypothetical situation using The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins can help. We all know and love the story of Katniss Everdeen, whether we read the books, saw the movies, or both. But what would happen if the movies didn’t follow Katniss’s story at all?
        In my fantasy marketing extravaganza, I would re-create the feature film of The Hunger Games to focus on the experience of Haymitch, Katniss’s mentor, in the Games. Viewers would still be able to experience the post-apocalyptic Capitol and understand the dynamics of the society, but they would also be granted access to a whole new perspective on the world. Perhaps there could be a cameo of Katniss’s parents at a young age, which fans could get excited about. Through an end credit scene at the end of the movie, there would be an advertisement to see more of the world of The Hunger Games through the books. This way, those who didn’t know about the books may be intrigued to learn more about the world, and those who have read them are able to get a deeper backstory on Haymitch and enjoy the expansion of their beloved universe.
         I would also make a comic book series following Finnick and Annie’s love story, who become friends of Katniss later on in the book series. This would allow for the exploration of their relationship and could dive into Annie’s descent into insanity. At the back of each issue, there would be an advertisement for the book, leading those who enjoy the comic medium to explore the world they’ve come to love in the form of the novel.
        Finally, I would make an animated short series, allowing brand-new characters to take the spotlight. These would be set in the era between Haymitch’s and Katniss’s Hunger Games, and focus on the stories of other children who experienced the Games. Each volume of animated shorts, which would last about 7-10 episodes, would follow characters from several different districts with unique relationships. This would allow for a better understanding of the different districts and their distinct social identities. The volumes would also reference beloved characters from the novel, comics, and feature film to bring a cohesiveness to the multimedia platform. The end of each short would include shout-outs to these other forms to draw attention to the various ways in which fans can explore the universe.

    What Does It Mean?

    After this exploration, we can ask what this strategy does for the world of The Hunger Games. This comprehensive multimedia marketing strategy gives people who enjoy a variety of media an inroad into the world and entices greater exploration through other forms that fans may not be as accustomed to. The references to other forms and their direct advertisements help persuade followers to explore these other mediums and bring in more foot traffic to bookstores as they pursue more stories within the world they have come to know and love.
        This strategy has the potential to be a fix for the way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe failed to fully prevent the decline of the comic book industry. If there were shout-outs at the end of the films referencing specific comic books that fans should explore, this could draw more people into comic stores, searching for more exploration into the Universe. Books and comics can find their purpose once again in this multimedia-centered world if other forms are able to complement their narratives rather than copy them.
        I understand that this strategy is a difficult task to undertake without an entire company supporting you financially and creatively, but it is something to be considered as a way to draw more people towards the novel itself. The greater diversity in both form and characters allows for an increased sense of community to be built around the universe, enticing fans to entrench themselves in the world the author has built. We already see this strategy forming in the world of literature, and I’m excited to see how it will evolve in the community as publishers rethink their marketing to reach a greater number of people and get fans back into bookstores.
  • About the Author
    Hannah Robertson is a senior at Miami University, double majoring in Biology and Creative Writing. She will be attending North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in the fall. Hannah spends her time volunteering with Alpha Phi Omega and writing short stories. She enjoys all things media, though Marvel superheroes hold a special place in her heart.

    The Great Outdoors, Room for All?

    Post a comment

    The path for outdoorswomen isn't always clear-cut to navigate. Is a lack of media representation to blame?  ♦ 
    YETI brand coolers are tough. The outdoors company sells hard-shelled coolers under names like the “Tundra Haul” and “Roadie” and measures the volume of its products by how many cans of beer can fit inside (up to 259 cans, should your hiking trip need to be that boozed). Created in 2006 by brothers Roy and Ryan Seiders, the company initially only sold these coolers but has since built its brand to include merchandise like hats, clothing, and travel mugs with the YETI logo. The merchandise, not the sale of actual coolers, makes up the bulk of YETI’s growing profits that tripled between 2014 and 2015 alone. Why has the image and appeal of YETI begun to overshadow their products?
       YETI grew its brand recognition by seeking influencers on social media and in the outdoors world to make brand representatives out of them. These “YETI Ambassadors” include world-class hunters, pro-outdoor sports athletes, and adventurers who embody the tough, free-wheeling spirit their coolers supposedly invoke. It also built up a loyal base by producing gorgeous short films, which are distributed through its social channels, particularly YouTube.
       The YETI Presents series shows badass ambassadors skiing down pristine snow-capped mountains or wrangling massive boars to throw on the barbecue. While the scenery of each video is captivating and the characters in them wild, eventually a pattern begins to emerge. These outdoors people are sinewy, have wiry overgrown beards and are each dedicated to their unique passion in the wilderness. Almost every YETI video has one thing in common: they overwhelmingly feature men.
       Masculinity and the “wilderness” have had a long history together in the U.S., from the ambitious writings of Whitman, the explorations of Lewis and Clarke, and from John Ford’s westerns to the westward expansion. The messages in the media have been clear: little boys go outside and get dirty while little girls stay indoors and play house. A study by the Girl Scout Research Institute found that preschool-aged girls are 16 percent less likely to be taken outside by their parents to play than boys their age. What you’re exposed to as a child shapes your relationship to it, and girls who do not have the chance to connect to nature as children may very well not seek out the outdoors as adults.
       The outdoors continues to be a realm where women do not seem to venture with the same frequency as men. In 2016, an online women’s rock climbing community put out a survey of 1,500 responses that found many women experienced sexism both in climbing gyms and in the outdoors, with 65 percent of women reported experiencing microaggressions from men while climbing, and 64 percent of women reported that they felt uncomfortable in certain areas of the gym, largely due to unwanted staring (39 percent) and unsolicited climbing advice (32 percent) from men.
       The lack of representation of women in the outdoors seems to transfer to the media that had arisen around the outdoors lifestyle. SURFER Magazine, for example, calls itself the “bible of the sport.” While the June 2018 “Surfing: Through Her Eyes” special issue featured a woman on the cover, no other cover of the past years’ worth of issues featured a woman (seven men were featured and five issues didn’t include people on the cover).
       Mickey, a whitewater rafting guide who has worked four seasons on the Arkansas River (the most heavily rafted river in the U.S.) gave an inside look at what it’s like to be a professional outdoorswoman, behind the statistics and the magazines.
       “It feels like you have to do more,” she said. “It’s possible to be recognized but you have to give a hundred percent every day to be recognized at the same level as the male raft guides.”
       The company she rafts for is one of the good ones—she estimated the gender divide among guides is about 50/50 (which isn’t bad compared to other companies which only have one or zero female guides) but the male spirit of the sport permeates even her oasis. Given the male-dominated culture at some rafting companies, female raft guides are often the punchline of lewd and inappropriate jokes.
       She outlined how many rafting companies are hierarchal; the longer you’ve been there the more respect you have, and the most respected also tend to be men.
       “We have this old rafting dude named Kurt [name changed], and he gives women these long hugs we call ‘Kurto hugs’ where he puts his crotch in right on top of yours before even going in for the hug, then he holds you for way too long.”
       Mickey said she receives these Kurto hugs because she was one of the few women who Kurt decided he liked and would always compliment her on her job on the river, whether she had actually done well or not. Her friend “Hotdog” was not one of the chosen women.
       “I had the opposite experience of Hotdog. Kurt always complained about being put on a raft trip with her and would yell at her regardless of how well she rafted. He once threw his helmet at her,” Mickey recalled.
       Once, Mickey and Hotdog were on a five-boat trip with Kurt with three female guides and two males, and they overheard Kurt say to the other man, “There’s too many bitches on this trip” in exasperation. Regardless of these interactions, Kurt’s position in the company is clear. “He is the most experienced and therefore respected guide at the company,” Mickey said.
       Whitewater rafting is a bit of a niche outdoor sport. Leading trips means Mickey has to command customers to paddle on cue and lean a certain way; they have to trust her judgment for the safety of the entire crew. Unfortunately, the sexism doesn’t stem only from other guides.
       “Every single Boy Scout dad tries to mansplain the river to the female raft guides, telling them where the rocks are,” Mickey said. “It’s so common, it’s basically a trope. Sometimes it’s bad enough that they will do different paddle strokes than what you’re telling them to do. I use a deeper voice when talking to a boatload of men so they can take me more seriously and we can all make it safely down the river.”
       Given all the challenges, it’s easy to wonder what makes Mickey continue to return to the Arkansas River season after season. “There’s a certain camaraderie between female raft guides that shouldn’t go unnoticed. I basically know all the women on the river, and we all know what it’s like to constantly prove yourself. We definitely have each other’s back, and there’s also something special about being a female raft guide because there are so few.”
       It’s entirely possible that the obstacles that women like Mickey face in outdoor sports are not directly related to the lack of media representation of outdoorswomen. But even if it’s not part of the problem, increasing the amount of representation could be part of the solution. In the meantime, it’s clear that plenty of progress still needs to be made.
      YETI Presents has a video detailing whitewater boating, titled “In Current,” which features raft guide Amber Shannon. At first glance, the video seems like progress, as Amber’s voiceover details how she always longed to be near rivers as a child. However, about a minute in, the voiceover switches to the bedraggled man sitting behind Amber as she rows, identified as John Shocklee.
       “Rowing the Grand Canyon is the most coveted job in the world. The kids that want this job, they understand that,” he said. “They have to prove it to me that they can do it. You gotta get through me first.” Is it the kids who have to get through the gatekeepers of the outdoors, or is it the women? Shocklee seems to be optimistic about Amber’s future, ending the video by saying, “Yeah, she’ll prove herself.”
  • About the Author
    Phoebe Myers once debated the merits of the Harry Potter series with a monk in Thailand. Her nonfiction has been published on the blog for Tricycle, the national Buddhist magazine, and her poems and essays have appeared in the journals Inklings and East End Elements, with a video essay forthcoming in The Florida Review's online counterpart Aquifer. Her nonfiction essay won second place in the 2016 Creative Writing Awards for College Writers sponsored by the SCCC Creative Writing Festival. She is a senior at Miami University in Ohio, and is currently choosing a Creative Writing MFA program to attend this upcoming school year.

    Thursday, April 4, 2019

    Representation: Bringing Realism to Fantasy

    Post a comment

    When creating a fantasy world, it's easy to get lost dreaming up new cultures, dangerous terrain, and cute (or terrifying) creatures. But are you forgetting anyone?  ♦ 
    Minority representation has become a hot button topic in the writing world, especially within the last few years. Young adult fiction saw the publication of several successful novels with minority main characters like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, both of which were adapted for the big screen last year. In both novels, the protagonist’s identity takes center stage as part of the conflict—something they must accept, redefine, or share with others as part of their journey.
      Narratives where the main character’s identity drives the plot are a great way to start conversations about marginalized identities. Reading allows us to explore different lives, and the more unique perspectives we get to read the more comfortable we’ll be around different people. Telling the stories of LGBT characters, characters of color, disabled characters, and more shows readers with those same identities that they’re valued and normalizes diversity to readers who are used to being well-represented.
       But genres like fantasy don’t usually address YA issues like coming of age or discovering one’s “true self” in the face of adversity. So where do diverse characters fit in when the story isn’t about their identity? Do we really need diverse characters in a made-up world?
        In short, yes. Here’s why I think so.

    Reason #1: A realistic background makes for a believable and immersive story.

    The paradox of fantasy is that the more realistic the world, the more immersive and believable it becomes. I don’t mean every fantasy novel has to take place on Earth, in this time period, or even include humans. But fantasy that accurately mimics the richness and depth of reality is easy to read, believe, and imagine.
       Variation is a natural part of our existence. Chances are, your circles of friends, coworkers, or classmates include people that are different from you. People in your community may have different values, identities, and life experiences. A fantasy world with only blonde, blue-eyed, white people who are all cisgender, straight, able-bodied, a-bit-taller-than-average, and wildly attractive can feel so unlike real life that their magical quest might as well not exist. If a reader cannot connect with any of your characters for lack of realism, there isn’t much point in reading about them. A world without variety is not a relatable world, and thus not an ineffective fantasy realm.

    #2: Diversity makes fantasy world-building memorable.

    World-building is a wonderful opportunity to let your creative mind run wild; you can make anything you want. What if people lived among dragons, worshipped hundreds of different saints, and were still healing from war? That’s the premise for Rachel Hartman’s country, Goredd, in her novel Seraphina. What if there were four Londons across four different dimensions that only specially gifted magic users could travel between? That’s the premise for V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic series. But these basic premises aren’t what make these worlds memorable.
       In V.E. Schwab’s series, she introduces the Faroans—sleek, elegant people who set jewels into their dark skin in culturally significant patterns. Her main characters include a cheeky bisexual prince and a bold genderfluid thief. In Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, she writes about several distinct cultures across one continent, a polyamorous relationship, and one character uses a pun in Hartman’s constructed language to come out as a trans woman.
      These details make the stories what they are and bring it to life. Even if you haven’t read these stories, you can see that diverse characters work just fine in vastly different worlds than our own. Not only can world-building be incredibly fun, but it can also help you think about ways to integrate characters from many walks of life.

    #3: Your readers will thank you.

    Think of your own reading experience. Are you used to reading about characters like yourself going on adventures, and do you normally feel included or invited when you read fantasy novels? If your answer is yes, then minority representation is a great way to ensure your readers feel equally invited. If your answer is no, then minority representation could give your readers what you missed out on. My favorite books were always the ones that described how I felt when I didn’t know how to do so myself. They gave me comfort and showed me that I’m not alone.
       If anyone of any race, gender identity, sexuality, level of ability, or socioeconomic class can see a part of themselves in your imagined world, then your work shows them they are worth writing stories about. Approaching your own fantasy realm with the curiosity and hopefulness of a potential reader can help you seek out ways to show diverse characters in your work. Writing with respect and the intent to take your reader on a memorable journey will show through your writing.
      The fantasy genre only benefits from the inclusion of diverse characters if they are written well and given the respect they deserve. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when creating your own fantasy work.

      DO: Make diverse characters more than their identity.
      DON'T: Ignore what makes them different.

    A character’s identity isn’t a personality trait—it affects how they move through society and how they are interpreted by others. It’s important to remember the ways a character’s identity affects them and how others may view them because of it, but it is not all that they are. At the same time, pretending the identity isn’t there or that it doesn’t influence the character at all is unrealistic and defeats the point of having diverse characters in the first place. When J. K. Rowling announced that her Harry Potter character, Albus Dumbledore, was gay, many readers in the LGBT community were upset and confused. Where was the evidence for that in the books? It’s a disservice to your readers not to write your characters honestly and acknowledge their differences.
       When you create your fantasy world, you might want to ask yourself: What racial groups exist in this society? What religion do most people practice? What religion do some people practice? How are disabled people treated in this society? Is there access to healthcare? Is this society a democracy, a monarchy, or something else? What is this culture’s attitude towards sexuality, gender, marriage, and dating? Questions like these can help you decide how identities and society operate in your work.

      DO: Acknowledge differences, prejudice, and conflict.
      DON'T: Reduce your characters to targets.

    What would Harry Potter be without muggles, magical laws, or the Ministry of Magic? What does it say about this fantasy culture that a wizard born to muggle parents is called a “mudblood” by a privileged few? What if Harry had gone to an all-boys school, the Weasleys were rich, or Harry was treated like a king by his aunt and uncle? It would be a completely different story. Being aware of the complex politics, prejudices, and differences in your fantasy world makes it more realistic and speaks to the experiences of minority groups.
      However, things get sticky when you start writing about an experience you aren’t familiar with. You can use issues like discrimination in your story skillfully to portray a message, but if it doesn’t serve your plot or your minority characters are only objects of prejudice, consider scaling it back. Representation is about respecting your characters as complex people, and people are not defined by their persecution.

      DO: Research the communities you portray.
      DON'T: Assume you know what it’s like.

    Nothing is more valuable than honest feedback when it comes to representation. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to work with you to ensure you do your job right. If you have questions, consider finding an expert on the subject, someone who lived through a similar event, or an outspoken advocate and reach out politely for their perspective. One of the greatest things about the internet is how accessible information has become. If you’re reading this right now, you have an incredible machine at your fingertips, ready to answer your questions in a matter of seconds. Utilize your resources, ask questions, and find the answers. Assuming you know what it’s like to be, feel, and live like someone else could set you up for disaster if you write a character based on old stereotypes. Always try to check your work thoroughly.
      Diversity has an important place in fantasy. Even when your plot doesn’t focus on identity, writing characters in minority groups makes your work immersive, memorable, and open to all.

  • About the Author
    Aislyn Gilbert is a junior Creative Writing major at Miami University and loves her job tutoring writers through the Howe Center for Writing Excellence. When she’s not working or studying, you can find her snowboarding, writing poetry, or reading in her local library.

    On Plath’s “New” Piece and the Ethics of Posthumous Publishing

    Post a comment

    Is the publication of "Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom" a cause for celebration or for concern over the late author's privacy?  ♦ 
    When the archivist delivered the dark green folio box to my desk and placed a document stand in front of me, my year-long literary research project transformed from theory into tangible reality. As I moved the first composition book to the desk and slowly lifted the cover, I caught my breath as I realized I was opening the notebook in which Sylvia Plath had once written. Sitting in the Reading Room of Indiana University’s Lilly Library, holding manuscripts for texts I had spent much of the previous year studying, I was humbly reminded that Plath is not just a literary icon of suicide, mental health, and female “madness” to be scrutinized and dissected, but a real young woman, and one of many whose voice was so often suppressed, discredited, and disqualified. Holding her original writing reminded me that studying narratives such as Plath’s contributes to a cause much larger than that of literature alone.
       Little did I know that six months later, in January 2019, both the US and the UK would print a previously unpublished short story that had been archived in one of the very folio boxes I had held that day at Lilly. “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom” was first published by Faber & Faber as part of their Faber Stories series that will commemorate the company’s 90th anniversary all throughout 2019, and then subsequently by HarperCollins in the US. Plath first wrote the story for a class assignment during her junior year at Smith College in 1952. The story is told by first-person narrator Mary Ventura throughout her journey to board and ride a train to an unknown destination. She is befriended by a mysterious woman who hints at Mary’s pending fate and gives her instructions to escape, which Mary ultimately chooses to follow. Plath submitted the piece to, and was rejected by, Mademoiselle magazine, where she had previously won its writing prize and completed an internship, as described in her only novel, The Bell Jar.
       Since the publication of “Mary Ventura,” the internet has been buzzing with reviews, debates, critique, and overall renewed interest in Plath’s life and writing. Perhaps the largest and most heated discussion has been around stories printed by The New Yorker (and others) that use language implying that “Mary Ventura” was lost or undiscovered and that it had only recently been unearthed. New Yorker staff writer Katy Waldman claimed that “not even the author’s estate had known the story existed until the critic and academic Judith Glazer-Raymo stumbled over it while doing research in Plath’s archives.” In response to Waldman, Indiana University Lilly librarians took to Twitter to clarify that they’ve housed a copy of the story since the ’70s and that it was clearly listed on their website and available for anyone to request to see.
       While reading through the influx of attention Lilly has received as of late (at least in the English/literature communities I follow), I am reminded of the moment I felt as I was turning through files in the Reading Room, coming across Plath’s composition books from high school and her hand-drawn paper dolls, and wondering, Is this what she would have wanted? To have so much of her personal life available in public archives for anyone to see? I am reminded of this question now, in the wake of the publication of “Mary Ventura,” as a critical point of discussion for any posthumously published work. Similar questions were asked of posthumous works like Vladimir Nabokov’s The Original of Laura and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird sequel, Go Set A Watchman. In the case of “Mary Ventura,” I think it’s safe to assume that Plath would be all right with its publication, given that she submitted it to Mademoiselle for publication. But I have to believe that this wouldn’t necessarily be the case for the hundreds of letters and journal entries that her family released for publication.
       Beyond the question of “discovery,” Plath scholars and superfans alike are still working to piece together the path to publication of “Mary Ventura.” Most of Plath’s writing has been published posthumously and only with the permission of her estate under the control of her ex-husband Ted Hughes, mother Aurelia Plath, and children Nicholas and Frieda. As I attempted to conduct the research project that brought me to the Plath archive in the first place, I found myself frustrated with her estate for not releasing all of her journals, particularly the ones immediately before her death. I felt that her mother and ex-husband had attempted to silence Plath from the grave and prevent her story from being told, and many scholars and journalists seem to agree. Parul Sehgal warns of similar dangers in her New York Times review of “Mary Ventura” and writes that readers’ interpretation of Plath “has proven wrong for the most elemental reasons. Our notion of Plath has grown, and will continue to, as more of her writing appears in print—as 'the silent woman' speaks in the restored version of 'Ariel,' her final poems first edited by Hughes, in her unexpurgated journals and two volumes of collected letters.” By selectively limiting what can and cannot be published, her estate filters and customizes the impression with which the world is left to remember her.
       With “Mary Ventura” as the most recent impetus for discussion, I am left wondering how to reconcile these two forms of justice: freeing her voice to literally and metaphorically give silenced women a platform from which to be heard, or protecting what her wishes for privacy may or may not have been. Without the ability to consult Plath herself, do we publish and read more of her private writing in the interest of bringing back her voice and painting the most complete possible picture of her life? Or do we respect her intimate documents as private and cease to seek out and publish more of these artifacts? I don’t have an answer, but as information both old and new becomes easier to find and collect, these are the questions that academic and casual readers alike will need to consider.
  • About the Author
    Ellen Stenstrom is a senior double major in English Literature and Creative Writing with minors in education and rhetoric/writing. She has completed research projects on mental illness in literature and narrative theory, and is particularly interested in experimental fiction and postmodernism, which she plans to pursue in graduate school this fall.