C/O Charlotte Schwartz

Questions of literary expression and political tensions at the core of this alum’s debut novel  

Chinmayi Yathiraju, contributor

Amidst an enduring global pandemic and rising political tensions, one needs only scroll through social media to become uncomfortably aware of our precarious and shifting political climate. There are several difficult issues that arise in the face of this transition, including the effects of individual actions on our political atmosphere and the turning of blind eyes to social issues. These are the kinds of issues alumnus Luke Beirne explores in his debut novel, Foxhunt.  

Having grown up surrounded by books and a father who is a writer, literature has always been a constant in Beirne’s life. During his undergraduate studies, his passion for writing developed further when he took creative writing courses. Since then, Beirne has written in a freelance capacity and has been published in various magazines including the Hamilton Arts & Letters magazine. Foxhunt is his debut novel. 

Set in 1950s London, Foxhunt follows Canadian writer, Milne Lowell, who leaves Montreal to work for a literary magazine supporting free expression. However, with rising political tensions and the progression of the Cold War, suspicions about the magazine’s affiliations begin to rise, leading to disconcerting encounters and calling everything Lowell knows into question.  

The inspiration for Foxhunt came from Beirne’s undergraduate thesis project, when he first learned about the political affiliations of a major literary magazine and its role in perpetuating propaganda.  

The inspiration for Foxhunt came from Beirne’s undergraduate thesis project, when he first learned about the political affiliations of a major literary magazine and its role in perpetuating propaganda.

“I thought it was an interesting thing that one of the largest literary magazines in London at that time was being used for propaganda purposes. One of the things about that magazine was that people claim they didn't know . . . if they really didn't know that they were contributing to propaganda, how could their words be used for propaganda purposes?” said Beirne.  

During his years completing his master’s degree in cultural studies and critical theory at McMaster University, Beirne’s research led him to a similar story of another magazine from the United States. Fuelled by his interest in literary culture and his fascination with the history of the Cold War and political propaganda, Beirne began writing Foxhunt in the fall of 2018.  The novel took shape over the next three years, with much of his initial draft having been written at his home in New Brunswick.  

In researching the historical context relevant to his novel, Beirne was able to delve into the relationship between the Cold War and the professionalization of creative writing. He was intrigued to learn the University of Iowa’s writers’ workshop, which has inspired and offered the framework for creative writing programs and workshops across the world, had links to the Cold War.  

“I thought that it was very interesting, that the way that creative writing has been structured — and is still structured — has certain political implications,” said Beirne.  

While his previous works have centered around genre fiction, Beirne considers Foxhunt to be a distinctly character driven novel. Grappling with complex social phenomena and the development and spread of propaganda, this is a novel he hopes will stay with readers long after turning the last page.  

Beyond simply enjoying the story, Beirne hopes readers walk away with questions and can return to the story to find new insights and develop new interpretations.   

“People go along in their daily lives and don't think about the political implications of their actions . . . [This novel] is an exploration of themes that are relevant today in terms of passivity and ideology, political participation and how people get sucked into things,” said Beirne.  

“People go along in their daily lives and don't think about the political implications of their actions . . . [This novel] is an exploration of themes that are relevant today in terms of passivity and ideology, political participation and how people get sucked into things.”

Luke francis Beirne, author of foxhunt

Brimming with suspense, political drama and allusions to various literary works, Foxhunt is a rich and thought-provoking novel on the pursuit of creative expression as it is entangled with the surrounding political climate.  

Foxhunt will be released on April 1, 2022.  

In humour, the want to stay fresh and unique should always be present. If you steal jokes or concepts, you are deemed a plagiarist. If your topics lack originality, you are uninspired.

What separates a good comedian from a great comedian is how well they can make relatable events extraordinary and how they communicate its amusement and uniqueness without losing what the audience identifies with. Peter Unwin’s newest novel, Searching for Petronius Totem, finds this balance with Hamilton flair.

The basic premise is grounded and simple. The main character, Jack, retreats to a rooming house in Hamilton, then sets off across the country find his life-long colleague who has disappeared after his memoir was revealed to be filled with lies. There is also some understandable tension between Jack and his wife, who will likely shoot him on sight should he ever return home. Nothing is too out of the ordinary when it comes to a premise, and would make a decent novel with that base to work with.

However, the more substantial situation at hand is what will likely catch your attention. The world is being taken over by a multi-national Fibre-Optic Catering business that creates chicken-like food matter that flies. It is absurd.

“There’s a certain sort of repetitive quality to novel writing now. It tends to tell the same story with the same degree of earnestness, and I definitely did not want that. I wanted something that broke the mold,” said Unwin.

It works because of the attention to detail given to the basic premise. Even aspects as seemingly minor as the main characters being from Hamilton and a decent portion of the book taking place in the city have consistent influences throughout the novel. The dialect, how each character is perceived and the mannerisms of those characters are all affected.

“There’s a hierarchy of hipness or something about where we stand. Hamilton’s sort of gloriously outside of that hierarchy. Middle finger, we don’t care where we stand, we’re the Hammer, and this is us.”

As Jack travels across the country, this manages to come up time and time again. The reputation that Toronto and Ontario has plays into the book’s humour on top of these mannerisms.

Even though Hamilton is portrayed as being outside of that hierarchy, there remains resentment when people misinterpret where the characters are from or stereotype them as a result. It becomes a clever and realistic gag that comes up consistently in the middle of preposterous situations.

“People are proud of where they’re from regardless of how small the town is or how ugly. And that sort of pride in place, like when Jack goes to Vancouver, he just thinks Vancouver is a backwater. He’s from Hamilton. It could never be as good as Hamilton.”

This attention to detail remains present in its absurdity. This Hamilton influence continues to be a key factor in larger-than-life situations. It becomes a way of interpreting edible flying mechanical chickens as a metaphor, and most of the humour can hit home even when it does not initially feel like you can identify with it.

“To a large extent, the book is about things coming to an end, like a dystopia, end of the world type of book, getting there. And also, in a sense, the end of the novel or the death of the novel. You set this within Hamilton, it’s fair to say it has this reputation that’s passed now, is a city that’s suffered from this breakdown in industrialized industry.”

Honestly, it is unknown if someone outside of southern Ontario or Canada would find the novel funny. While you could relate through other points, this is a home-grown and tailor-made novel for its audience, and it is unapologetic about being locally focused.

It is not for everyone. However, considering you are reading an Arts & Culture article in a student newspaper that attempts to cater all of its content for the students of McMaster and the Hamilton community, it is likely that you will like it.

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By: Hess Sahlollbey

If my tickets were refundable, I would’ve left the theater after five minutes and asked for my money back. What should have been a simple grudge match between two orphans before they team up to face a greater evil is encumbered by a lengthy and superfluous political story and abstract metaphors.

While Man Of Steel was an effective introduction to Superman, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice can easily be surmised as Warner Bros. attempt to address the faults in Man of Steel. While technically a sequel, it rehashes the same themes, ideas and symbolism but with a much darker tone. This over-reliance on previously used material is what ultimately causes this movie to fumble out of the gate. The darker tone also adds a sense of hopelessness that creates an unattractive package.

Zack Synder is a man who’s not unfamiliar with adapting comics to the screen. His past credits on 300, Watchmen and on Man of Steel easily prove that. However a poorly measured ambition to pay homage to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Dan Jurgens’ The Death of Superman is what ultimately led to the direction losing its way. Snyder’s view is clearly on that depicts Superman as a poorly stitched together Christ­-figure, while Batman comes off as a billionaire fascist.

While Man of Steel gave hints to Superman being regarded as a messiah, the symbolism and metaphors in that film were subtle. In BvS however, the references are overly pleasant and forced. One element that allowed Man of Steel to succeed was the solid story-arc. Clark Kent/Kal-El struggled and grew with a culminating scene where he overcame severe odds, defeated the evil Kryptonians and ultimately found his place as Earth’s saviour. Batman V Superman, however, doesn’t have a plot that can be recounted in a few sentences because there simply isn’t one. It’s a string of beats that are poorly tied together to form an abstract narrative. Multiple convoluted plots in the story falter near the middle of this film because the acts also fail to smoothly transition from one to the next. Superman and Batman find themselves in a situation where they must fight each other and only stop when a CGI Doomsday shows up.

A poor plot could be forgiven by strong characterization, but BvS mostly comes up short in that aspect too. Superman is a character that’s simply there but has no presence. The bulk of his scenes see him engaging in self-loathing and are a regression from all the emotional development he had in Man Of Steel. He has the least amount of dialogue and spends the majority of the film transitioning from one place to the next, gathering what is often irrational advice. Henry Cavill gives a paper-thin performance with no depth. It’s a stark juxtaposition to his endearing performance in Man Of Steel.

When Ben Affleck was first announced as the new Batman, there was significant backlash online from fans. Even I was unsure whether or not he could pull it off, but his was one the stronger performances in the film. While Batman’s methods of crime fighting were questionably brutal in comparison to previous depictions of the Dark Knight, Ben Affleck easily blurs the line between himself and the character. Jeremy Irons is equally delightful as Batman’s trusty butler, Alfred. His portrayal of Alfred sees him as more of a hand’s on mechanic, while also delivering some of the wittiest lines of dialogue in the film.


Jesse Eisenberg who takes on the role of Lex Luthor, is a different story. While at first he appears as a Mark Zuckerberg-type billionaire with a sinister agenda, his ramblings make his character come off as more cuckoo. Historically the character has been portrayed as a super-genius obsessed with greed and besting Superman. In BvS however, his motivations aren’t just unclear, they’re non-existent. Eisenberg’s most captivating scenes are those where he operates silently because his conversations are filled with nonsensical biblical and theological ramblings. This dialogue again ties back into the movie’s overabundance of depthless symbolism.

The real star of this film however was Gal Gadot. She is an absolute show-stealer anytime she’s on screen. Gadot’s depiction of Wonder Woman is sexy, mysterious and most importantly sparse. She has few scenes in the movie but always leaves you wanting more. Gadot’s role in the film is the only place where Zack Snyder seems to be aware that less is more. It should also be noted that it’s the first depiction of Wonder Woman on the big screen and sets the bar very high for whatever comes next. The same can also be said of Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher who all appear as Barry Allen/Flash, Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Victor Stone/Cyborg respectively. We get brief peeks that leave us wanting more.

Despite months and anticipation and millions of dollars of marketing, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is ludicrous in its reasoning and plot. A film whose purpose is to launch an expanded cinematic universe, the film has slivers of brilliance, but does everything else in the most inefficient manner possible.

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At the recommendation of a friend, I started 2016 with a series called All For The Game. The first book was free on iBooks, and the other two books in the trilogy were less than a dollar each.

Although I was confused why they were so cheap, I didn’t pay much thought to it. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the second book in the trilogy that I found out it was self-published, and at that point the occasional typos and the unexpectedness of the character backgrounds started to make sense. A particular one was that the trilogy, in the barest of summaries, features a sport loosely based on lacrosse. In this case, however, the author took some liberties and applied her own changes. The most significant changes were that each team can be open to both male and female players, and that each team can contain a mix of both. In fact, one of the founders of the sport itself is a woman.

This was information I tucked away for further musing until earlier this month I stumbled upon another self-published book, The Posterchildren. It’s a superhero story with a POC main character and diverse sexualities throughout the board. A friend informed me, after I’d started telling them about the book, that the author had gained a substantial following in the fanfiction community, and that the book itself was largely influenced by already existing material from the DC Universe.

This got me wondering, then, if an author needed to self-publish to guarantee that their book, which features people of colour identifying as members of the LGBTQ community, will be published. I think the answer might be yes.

Some mainstream authors look down on what Forbes is now referring to as “indie publishing.”

Of course, there are non-self-published books out there featuring diverse characters. That’s not to say, however, that the world of fiction isn’t lacking at all in diversity. The LGBTQ genre of fiction mostly features gay men, and a significant share of the genre are stories with unnecessarily tragic endings to cater to a teenage audience ready to gobble it up and cry about their doomed OTP. There’s also always the well-written coming out stories, and while some of these stories are needed, it doesn’t make sense that the genre is, quite literally, defined by coming out and tragedy. It doesn’t make sense that, while the rest of the YA genre gets yet another girl-falls-in-love-with-bad-boy series, the LGBTQ genre continues to struggle with redefining itself with other aspects of fiction such as lesbian superheroes. As a consequence, some authors have to resort to self-publishing to incorporate some diversity into a genre that’s overshadowed by mainstream stories.

Some mainstream authors look down on what Forbes is now referring to as “indie publishing.” A lot of the publishing process can be credited to the editors and publishers themselves, but I highly doubt it’s fair to dismiss self-published authors for that reason. Yes, there might be typos and awkward parts due to lack of professional editors, and it might be hard to find these stories without it being through a recommendation. However, no matter how much more diverse the fiction world is beginning to get, it will still be difficult for some authors to find the grounding they need to provide the representation they can. Getting published is hard enough as it is, and harder still for authors trying to release protagonists identifying with the asexual spectrum and sports with strong female players playing alongside “the boys.”

We shouldn’t look down at these self-published authors and scoff at them. There might come a time where self-publishing is the new mainstream, but I hope that, if that time does come, diversity and representation of minorities will have been properly incorporated into mainstream fiction.

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Being in university, we’ve all grown accustomed to reading research papers and academic studies. Unless you’re taking English or literature courses, your novels are probably collecting dust or waiting to be read during a break. But when that time comes around, you’re so tired of reading that you’d much prefer an activity that doesn’t involve consuming long passages of text for hours on end. Last year, when I was drowning in scientific papers and textbook readings, picking up a novel felt less like a leisurely learning experience and more like a waste of time — something that would distract me from my other courses. Reading fiction is often associated with entertainment rather than learning, however — as I have discovered — it is probably the most eye-opening and true-to-life literary genre.

The amount of reading required in our academic careers can be overwhelming. It’s easy to see why some people would underestimate seemingly superfluous genres. We think of fiction as basic stories of monstrous creatures and magical Greek islands, when really these tales have a lot to teach us about the world we’re living in today. The Odyssey cannot be reduced solely to a king battling various mythical monsters on his journey home. What are the lengths someone will go to return to their family? When a great hero is on his knees begging to go home, one can’t help but be reminded of the importance of loved ones. Fiction does not solely provide entertainment; it teaches us lessons about our world and ourselves.

It is probably the most eye-opening and true-to-life literary genre to exist. 

Reading literary fiction can even improve our empathy. It asks us to step into a character’s life and understand his or her choices. In Frankenstein, the creature is presented as a monstrous being, undeserving of love from the perspective of his creator. The novel challenges us to consider the perspective of multiple characters, including the creature. We are asked to be active readers and assume different roles as the narration shifts from character to character. Despite subjective interpretations of the piece, every reader undoubtedly learns how to relate. If we can step into a fictional world and empathize with characters we come to know in the span of two hundred pages, we can apply that skill to our own lives. The way you form strong bonds with people and connect with others depends on your ability to see the world through their eyes.

So is fiction a waste of time? It doesn’t detract from your schoolwork. It enhances your perspectives and critical thinking by allowing you to see the world in a new light. You cannot come away from a few hours of reading unchanged. When you read fiction, consciously or not, you relate differently to your own life. Whether you have to escape to Ithaca, or pay a visit to Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory, you gain insight into humanity. Even if you may not recognize it, you are learning.

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Growing up, I always found it difficult to fully empathize with the leading characters in young adult novels. Often starring an ambiguously White female lead with a token Black or Latina BFF, the books of my childhood didn’t mirror my coming of age experiences. While most of these stories were set in some North American city or town, and I could often relate to that element, the plot lines were portrayed through White eyes and never touched upon the challenges I faced growing up, or the simple quirks and differences between my childhood and that of someone White growing up in a White home and a White world.

Now that I’m a grown adult who has constant access to the Internet, I’ve recently started to spend a considerable amount of my free time looking into books that feature lead characters that I can relate to. Below are four of my choices if you’re looking for a similarly diverse reading experience:


Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Set in 1970s small town Ohio, Everything I Never Told You tells the story of a mixed race Chinese-American family with three children. The story is centered on the family’s dynamics after the death of one of their children, alternating narrators between the parents and children. While I don’t come from a directly mixed race home, I did grow up in a family that has a long history of mixed race ancestry and what I’ve grown to refer to as decades of cross-cultural pollination. For this reason, the book did hit home. It touches on the intricacies of family and cultural burdens, and how the notion of acceptance changed across the family’s male, female, racialized and white characters.

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Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

This was the first book I ever read that was by and about a woman of colour. It is technically young adult fiction, and I did read it when I was 13, but that doesn’t make it any less well written and relatable. The novel follows the teenage journey of Dimple Lala, an Indian-American girl growing up in New Jersey in the early 2000s. It spends a lot of time addressing issues among social circles, especially those related to having friends from different backgrounds, and therefore being treated differently by peers. The book also spends a considerable amount of time reflecting on the choice to pursue a career in the arts when coming from an immigrant American family, and even touches on gender fluidity and cross-dressing. I recommend the book for all ages with an interest in intersectionality.

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The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson 

Only released this past spring, The Star Side of Bird Hill tells the story of two teenage sisters from Brooklyn. They are uprooted from their home and sent to live with their grandmother in Barbados when their mother can no longer care for them. The story is relatable for anyone who feels they have two homes — the one where they grew up and the one that answers the question, “where are you really from?” The two sisters learn about their family history when they move to Barbados and are able to learn about aspects of their grandmother and mother’s lives they could never have imagined. But at the end of the day, they are torn between choosing which country is truly their “home.”

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If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

I will admit, I have not actually read this book but it has been on my reading list for the last few months and I have read the pages in the Amazon free preview. If You Could Be Mine tells the story of two queer women living and falling in love in 20th century Iran. This book is different from the other three on the list because it does not directly touch upon North American culture and race relations.  It does however deal with the queer identity in third-world communities, and eventually touches upon the prospect of gender reassignment surgery as a method to bypass unjust laws against same-sex marriage. This is also considered a young adult novel, but it is still on my reading list.

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A Partial List of People to Bleach - Gary Lutz

Paperback: $15.77

Kindle: $4.10

Length: 109 pages

Enjoy a colourful collection of short stories – we know you’ll need it after the snow starts to settle in. One of Lutz’s more recent collections, A Partial List of People to Bleach, is an assortment of stories, ranging from time spent with ex-husbands to a nameless narrator’s analysis of their aunt’s relationship. This one will be best enjoyed with a cup of Earl Grey under a heavy blanket.






andy_books_between_the_worldBetween The World & Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Hardcover: $30.00

Kindle: $13.99

Length: 176 pages

If Toni Morrison says it’s required reading, then we’re inclined to say the same. Coates has made his name as a writer working for big publications like The Atlantic, but here he takes a more personal approach that will draw readers in. Writing to his son in a tone reminiscent of Jame Baldwin’s prophetic collection of essays, The Fire Next Time, Coates educates us all on the racial history of America.








Crush - Richard Siken

Paperback: $17.95

Not available on Kindle

Length: 80 pages

The themes of sex in these poems will help keep you toasty warm while you blush through Siken’s poems. This collection made it onto this list with ease, with his accessible style and relatable experiences. From love to ruin and back again, Siken’s poems are sure to fill the quiet moments at your parents’ place this holiday season. I’ve put my copy of this collection in my pockets often, since I find it nice to have a comfortable amount of poetry on me at all times.







Good Old Neon - David Foster Wallace

Paperback: $24.59

Kindle: $9.99

Length: 336 pages

Return to a hot, wet August with David Foster Wallace’s short story, “Good Old Neon”. It’s a rather short read, running about 41 pages online. It is available in DFW’s collection, Oblivion, but if you want to get around to reading the rest of the items on this list, I’d suggest with sticking with this one. It’s certainly better than struggling through Infinite Jest.








Solip - Ken Baumann

Paperback: $18.15

Kindle: $9.99

Length: 200 pages

Like the flickering of your fireplace (screensaver), Solip’s structure is a rapid fire ebbing and flowing from capital letters to punctuation marks. This highly textured anti-novel is sure to be rich enough to make you swap out your hot chocolate for water. Don’t be worried if the first time through leaves you nothing but cold and confused, some stories are best read twice.








The Castle - Franz Kafka

Paperback: $12.67

Kindle: $4.64

Length: 352 pages

You can empathize with the protagonist, K, as both must deal with an unfair amount of snow and cold. Nothing makes suffering easier than knowing that you’re not experiencing it alone. This sentiment is sort of ironic in relation to the protagonist’s hardships, given that he meditates on his loneliness throughout the 300-and-some-odd pages. Kafka died before he finished writing this novel ­— but hopefully you won’t die from the cold before you finish reading it.






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By: Sunanna Bhasin

Very recently, media outlets exploded with the news that Canadian serial killer and rapist, Paul Bernardo, had released a fictional violence-filled thriller and that Amazon Canada had categorized it as a #1 Best Seller. Bernardo was convicted of murder and sexual assault in 1993. He was sentenced to life in prison with a possibility of parole after 25 years. As the 25-year mark approaches, Bernardo has not only published his e-book A MAD World Order, he has also applied for day parole in Toronto three years early. The publishing of this novel — said to be filled with gory descriptions and violent crimes — is a double-edged sword: it will decrease his already near-zero chances at parole, but it has also reminded victims of his horrific crimes.

Bernardo is classified as a dangerous offender, meaning that he can be detained for an indefinite amount of time. This label was given to him after being convicted mainly for two first-degree murders and two aggravated sexual assaults of teenage girls, Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14. Ironically, Bernardo’s trial was subject to a publication ban in Canada to protect witnesses and victims, yet here Bernardo is today, more than 20 years later, able to freely publish work on the internet.

While Amazon Canada pulled the novel from the site a few days ago, it is astonishing that the book was published in the first place. It only took 80,000 signatures on a petition by NEWSTALK1010 calling for the removal of the book and Amazon customers threatening to take their services elsewhere for Amazon to act and stop selling the book. Someone like Bernardo, who has committed the most despicable, disgusting crimes, including raping young women outside their parents’ homes and murdering schoolgirls, does not deserve any sort of online presence. Yet, Amazon did not seem to care about the immorality attached to the book until their business was being threatened.

It is one thing for Bernardo to have needed a creative outlet to help him cope with his isolation, but it is another thing to give someone who has orchestrated unforgivable crimes publicity, without any sort of care for victims. Bernardo’s living victims who are witness to the publication of his book have every right to question Amazon’s much too flexible policy. Before being removed, A MAD World Order was selling for $7.77 according to the Globe and Mail, meaning that it earned 70 percent in royalties. If Amazon truly doesn’t “accept books that provide a poor customer experience” which the company states in its content guidelines, then where was the foresight when they decided it was okay to provide a platform for a convicted murderer and rapist to profit? The fact that Bernardo was given even a minute to profit off descriptions of killings, which he knows all too well, is horrifying. Amazon’s quick decision to pull Bernardo’s e-book from the site does not seem to be out of concern for his negative influence and the repercussions his online presence has already caused, but rather out of fear for losing the bulk of its dedicated customers.

The reality is that Paul Bernardo has hurt more than his chances of parole by publishing this book, but ultimately it is Amazon’s responsibility to screen what is being submitted. The book should never have been allowed on the site. Despite Amazon’s intentions being questionable, it was a smart move on their part to remove Bernardo’s book from their platform. At the end of the day, all that Bernardo’s online presence does is cause his horrific actions to be remembered, and because the nature of the publication does not represent any form of apology or regret, he should not be granted the right to sell his work.

Photo Credit: David Paul Morris

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By: Christine Chow/Lifestyle Writer

As a month, November sucks. It’s after Halloween, weeks away from the Christmas break, and usually filled to the brim with an army of midterms lining up to punch you in the gut. But for many aspiring writers, November, not December (although it comes a close second), is the most wonderful time of the year: it’s National Novel Writing Month.

National Novel Writing Month, more commonly known as NaNoWriMo, is a worldwide event that aims to promote pure, unfiltered writing in a 30-day, 50,000 word marathon. To put that in perspective, one month of 50,000 words equates to writing roughly 1,700 words or 3.5 single-spaced pages of words per day, every day.

Subjecting yourself to that kind of torture on top of midterms, academic essays and formal lab reports probably exceeds the ordinary scope of belief (and sanity), but I implore you to pledge yourself to the challenge anyway. All you have to do is sign up on their website (nanowrimo.org), which will grant you access to a profile for information about your work-in-progress, as well as a meter that can be updated regularly with the total number of words you’ve written so far.

Writers are perfectionists, and thus make the worst procrastinators. Memories of the English course I took as an elective last year all bring me back to the same nightmarish scenario. I would hunch over my laptop for hours in the early morning, squinting through the darkness at an awkwardly phrased sentence while my roommate continued to snore away happily in the background. When I finally finished, despite knowing I had done a relatively good job, I never once walked away feeling like it was my best.

The solution, then, seems obvious: just start writing earlier. But as a well-read writer, expectations we have for our own work are often unrealistically high. You care so much about what you write and how you write that often you end up writing nothing at all, if only because nothing, as a default, seems safer than attaching your name to whatever seemingly mediocre piece you’ll churn out. For academic writing, that equates to putting it off until the last possible minute, or writing at an unimpressive rate of one sentence per hour.

The beauty of NaNoWriMo is in its ability to force you to put aside that perfectionist mentality. You write mindlessly and terribly and everything you write is basically a load of crap, but the important thing is that your word vomit doesn’t ever have to see the light of day. Adopting this strategy gives you something to work with that might eventually become your chef-d’oeuvre somewhere down the road. Even if it doesn’t, the sheer demand of quantity from NaNoWriMo allows you to exercise writing as a skill, which is useful no matter what field of work you go into.

If you’re struggling to keep up with your daily word count, try incorporating writing into your regular routine by dedicating a particular time of your day just to write. Stock up on snacks, tell your housemates to leave you in peace and find some writing buddies whose word meters you can use to motivate yourself through a bit of friendly competition. As a fellow well-seasoned NaNoWriMo veteran, I say to you: on your marks, get set, write!

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By: Mitali Chaudhary

Recently, the market for the Young Adult literary genre has ballooned. Geared mostly towards the mid-teen to early adult demographic, their popularity is attested by the large number of movie adaptations, which become widely successful due to the huge fan base that the books amass.

Unfortunately, publishers know that any book labelled “YA” will sell well, regardless of the quality of the story. This has yielded a slew of cookie-cutter novels with the same paranormal/romantic/dystopian plots and one-dimensional characters facing the most overdone conflicts, all within the span of 350 pages.

The most disappointing aspect of these novels is the incredibly flat, teenage female lead. It’s as if authors flip a coin to pick which mould the character will be shaped from — either a dopey damsel who’s constantly in distress, or a hardened unsentimental woman who lives only to bring down the patriarchy.

I remember reading dialogue from Graceling by Kristen Cashore (which made it to Publisher Weekly’s “Best Books of the Year”) in which the main character, Katsa, states proudly that she hates dresses, and can’t imagine why others wear them. To provide further context, this came from an individual that spent the entire novel looking down on other women. These other ladies were always portrayed as dress wearing and meeker than Katsa; they worked menial jobs to make ends meet because they were meek and wore dresses and therefore were less than men.

Making that first statement in itself isn’t a crime (I can understand if dresses are just not for some people) but it does not immediately make one a feminist, as this novel would suggest. Another issue is how ‘tough’ some of these women are created —  after a while, it becomes borderline creepy when the character doesn’t react to a given situation as you would expect a human to react. Moreover, authors don’t seem to realize that it doesn’t make a woman automatically stronger if she is ultra independent, sullen, sulky and refuses to show emotion or rely on anyone else for help even in the most extreme of situations.

In fact, crafting these overly “tough” female characters does nothing to help the feminist cause, as it just sends the message that you need to act less feminine and show less emotion to deserve the same respect as men. That makes absolutely no sense, and sends a very negative message about what the spirit of feminism is. Why can’t you wear a floral skirt and still care about pay equality?

Even worse is the portrayal of the weak, helpless girl. Another very popular novel, The Elite by Kiera Cass, starred one such teen, America Singer, who cried at the end of every other chapter. This is not an exaggeration. Most of her tears, of course, involved the state of her cringe-worthy love triangle (another annoying trend in YA literature). Both of the boys she’s “in love with” break her heart (and she theirs), but she never grows enough of a spine to break it off with either of them, choose which one treats her best, or refuse both of them (how about working to develop your own personality, America?). Such characters also consistently mope, run away from mental or physical work and require the constant support of a man, without whom they are useless — I’m looking at you, Bella Swan.

It’s unfortunate that these books are only a tiny sample of what fills up shelves across the country. The worst part about this trend is that these novels get insanely publicized, and are read by thousands of young girls that are forming their identities in a society that already popularises unhealthy depictions of women. Why make it more confusing for them by creating these unrealistic characters, which reduce complex individuals to black and white cardboard cut-outs? They are difficult to identify with because they’re not real.

Women can be strong and shed tears and wear pretty dresses and be scared and need validation and be feminists and get angry and be shy. One woman can be all of these things. It’s time authors start creating characters in YA that are realistic and multifaceted.

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