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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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By: Hess Sahlollbey
Whether you’re a Trekkie, an aspiring cosplayer or simply hoping to meet others who share your interests, this weekend belonged to the fans as they took over the downtown Toronto core. Punisher, Batman and Superman all have big releases this month and made their presence known from the moment I got off the subway and headed to Toronto ComicCon. An annual convention, Toronto ComicCon takes over the city center for a three-day affair full of comics, cosplay and everything in between.
What some fans may not realize though is that attending these conventions could result in your passions and hobbies one day becoming a career. That’s how it went for Michael Walsh, one of Marvel Comics’ biggest rising stars whom I had the pleasure of interviewing at the convention. We talked about his career, what he’s working on next and what knowledge he’d most want to impart on those who want to create comics for a living too.
While Batman’s home may be Gotham City, one of the biggest rising stars in comics actually calls the Hammer home. “I almost went to McMaster,” Walsh first tells me when I introduce myself to him having noticed my press badge and white McMaster T-shirt. As an alumni of OCAD, he’s familiar with touring the whole portfolio circuit when he was first trying to get published.
With a heavy, murky use of black ink, his art is difficult to describe. His substantial use of blacks is interlaced with cartoony elements. While the style may look simple, on a deeper analysis one can quickly surmise that it’s a stark juxtaposition to the emotional weight that his art carries.
While others on the Toronto ComicCon floor had booths rammed with books, art-prints, merchandise and T-shirts, Michael Walsh sat behind his desk with his portfolio of black and white art in front of him. He quipped that he doesn’t like travelling with his books, referring to all his illustration work that fans are always eager to buy straight from the creators at conventions. “They’re too heavy and I don’t want to lug them around, I’d rather put my art on full display.”
It’s that same art that has made him so prolific in all of Hamilton’s comic book shops. Whether it was Comic Connection, Big B Comics or Conspiracy Comics, the staff at all the stores held Walsh in the highest regard, eagerly describing his art style with all manner of positive superlatives. Walsh is also equally famous among his peers for his down to earth personality and eagerness to meet fans and talk shop. Even the staff at Mixed Media, an art store on James St North, pitched paintbrushes and inks to me by saying they’re the same ones Michael Walsh uses, long before I had the chance to make his acquaintance.
Walsh first work was Comeback, a comic that he looks back on fondly. Written by Ed Brisson with art by Walsh, Comeback told the story of two criminal agents, who could undo the untimely demise of a loved one, for a large nominal fee of course. “Comeback was my first professional work, it always gets compared to Looper, because of the timing of the release, but they couldn’t be any more different. Yeah they both had time-travel but Comeback was more sci-fi street-level crime. It was bad timing, but I’m always happy when it makes a Comeback [editor’s note: pun is Walsh’s own] and a fan brings it for to me to sign,” said Walsh.
These days however he’s one of Marvel Comic’s most prolific artists. His first job at Marvel was Hank Johnson: Agent of Hydra — a one shot that came out late summer. “Right now, I’m doing this X-men series, its called X-Men: Worst X-man Ever and it’s a five issue mini-series.”
Walsh’s next project will be a collaboration on The Vision with another rising star at Marvel, Tom King. King is a former CIA counter-terrorism agent and has been writing an ongoing based on the eponymous member of the Avengers. Filling in for art duties, he praises his collaborator, saying, “If you haven’t read Tom King’s work its so good. You need to check out his other work because I’m so happy to be working with him.”
His charisma and passion for talking about comics is easily contagious. Before he could get any work in comics however, Walsh was creating posters for concerts. Now he’s happily looking forward to what the future holds.
“I’m in such a good place right now, if I went back and I did something differently back then who knows where I’d be. I went through some really hard times with being unhappy with my output and thinking that my work was just not of a high quality,” he said.
“If I could impart one thing of advice on those that are coming up it’s that you won’t always be happy with what you’re doing. But to be at peace that you’re not always going to be happy with the stuff you’re doing but know that you can get better so keep striving and working for greatness in your own work.”
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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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.