Warning: The linked article opens with a photograph once featured on the cover of Time magazine, which many people will find disturbing. That doesn't mean you shouldn't look at it (you should), but it does mean you should be prepared.

Ever since I first read this article I've been wanting to link to it, but couldn't do so conveniently until now. The whole thing is well worth reading, but here's a relevant excerpt:

I was teaching my senior [high school] Philosophy class. We had just finished a unit on Metaphysics and were about to get into Ethics, the philosophy of how we make moral judgments. The school had also just had several social-justice-type assemblies -- multiculturalism, women’s rights, anti-violence and gay acceptance. So there was no shortage of reference points from which to begin.

I decided to open by simply displaying, without comment, the photo of Bibi Aisha. Aisha was the Afghani teenager who was forced into an abusive marriage with a Taliban fighter, who abused her and kept her with his animals. When she attempted to flee, her family caught her, hacked off her nose and ears, and left her for dead in the mountains. After crawling to her grandfather’s house, she was saved by a nearby American hospital. I felt quite sure that my students, seeing the suffering of this poor girl of their own age, would have a clear ethical reaction, from which we could build toward more difficult cases.

The picture is horrific. Aisha’s beautiful eyes stare hauntingly back at you above the mangled hole that was once her nose. Some of my students could not even raise their eyes to look at it. I could see that many were experiencing deep emotions.

But I was not prepared for their reaction.

I had expected strong aversion; but that’s not what I got. Instead, they became confused. They seemed not to know what to think. They spoke timorously, afraid to make any moral judgment at all. They were unwilling to criticize any situation originating in a different culture.

They said, “Well, we might not like it, but maybe over there it’s okay.” One student said, “I don’t feel anything at all; I see lots of this kind of stuff.”

Another said (with no consciousness of self-contradiction), “It’s just wrong to judge other cultures.”


My brother (yes, it is my brother who wrote the article, and I couldn't be more proud of him) goes on to make a number of important points about the failure of "character-based" education programs in a school system (and a society) that insists moral judgments are relative. Particularly here:

How can we claim to be forming character in our students when we refuse to commit to any moral position ourselves? If character education is to have any substantive value, it ought also to specify with what or whom we should empathize (or conversely, not empathize) and to explain why or why not. That said, there are areas in which we have been quite directive. In anti-bullying campaigns, homosexual rights assemblies, multicultural fairs, social justice drives and women’s rights initiatives, we do not hesitate to preach, admonish or dictate because we feel so fervently committed to our ground. But it is clear that the message of women’s rights had been, in the case of Bibi Aisha, outshouted by the metamessage too often embedded in these programs -- that there are no real standards, no certain moral truths, and no final ground to stand on; and that anyone who thinks there is, is simply naïve or a bigot. In this case, even the strong rhetoric of women’s rights could not survive the acid bath of universal tolerance.


G.K. Chesterton famously stated that "Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions," and certainly the kind of tolerance expressed by the high school students in my brother's Philosophy class falls into that category. But what else can we expect from young people when they (and we) are told over and over, in the classes they attend and the TV shows they watch and the books they read, that making moral judgments about other people's behaviour is the worst kind of arrogance and self-righteousness, and that any views they might have about right and wrong ought to be kept strictly to themselves for fear of offending someone?
It is sad to me that every time I mention Avatar I have to specify that I mean the cartoon series subtitled The Last Airbender only and not the stupid movie (or that other Avatar with the blue people either). I'll be glad when Legend of Korra starts and we can get away from all that for a bit.

But anyway, I just discovered something last night which made me very happy. Possibly I am the last person to know about this because I've never been involved in AtLA fandom, but there have to be other fans like me out there, so I'm going to share it anyway:

If you've watched all the episodes, there are 450 pages of post-finale comic beautifully drawn and written in the same style as the series (no, I am not kidding) by one of the storyboard artists for the show (no, I am not kidding about that either). It is not your typical pretty-good or even surprisingly-good fanwork. It is brilliant.

"Zhao of the Water Tribe" is the story of Admiral Zhao, whose apparent fate in the series I very much did not lament, and who in the comic is very much still an enormous jerk in many ways (which is to say, believably in character), but by the time I was finished this story I actually a) cared about him; b) wanted to know more about what happened to him; and c) was prepared to declare the whole thing canon.

Besides Zhao there are a number of familiar characters from the series (including a couple whose appearance will make [livejournal.com profile] lizbee very happy), but there are also some wonderful new ones invented by the author/artist which are absolutely strong enough to stand beside them. I have so much love for Nauja, I can't tell you.

And now I must go and make scones.
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BOOKISH SHINY

If you like your secondary-world fantasy with a healthy dollop of intrigue, wit, danger, and understated but powerful romance, you should all go read Leah Cypess's Mistwood (HarperTeen, April 2010), which I just finished and enjoyed enormously. Steph Su has a very good review of the book here, though I'd disagree with Steph's comment about the secondary characters -- I had no trouble telling them apart, myself.

And Leah tells me she is working on revisions to the companion novel as we speak! Yay, companion novel!

***

TV SHINY

In the DO WANT category: J.J. Abrams' new show Undercover, about a married couple who are spies. From the guy who wrote Jack and Irina? This HAS to be good. Seriously, look at this picture. I am gleeful and optimistic.

Also, check out this lovely, exuberant, heart-warming Doctor Who S5 vid from [livejournal.com profile] humansrsuperior: Brand New Day. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] infiniteviking for the tip.

***

WRITING SHINY

I'm mostly preaching to the choir here, I'm sure, but still -- [livejournal.com profile] taraljc has reposted a terrific essay about the effort that goes into writing quality fan fiction, and how it isn't always easy -- or even desirable -- to just file off the serial numbers.

***

And that will be all, because I'm feeling curiously dizzy all of a sudden. *blinks*

Some Knife-related news and other lovely things that have cropped up in the past few weeks:

First, the end of February brought me a new LJ friend, who drew this lovely piece of fan art and captured the Knife in my head so perfectly that when I first saw it I cried with happiness. It also came with a beautiful review of the book -- thank you, [livejournal.com profile] cirtholien!

***

Early in March I learned that Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter has been shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association’s Children’s Book of the Year award. It also made the Ontario Library Association’s Best Bets For Children, which is a list of ten books selected on the basis of their literary/artistic merit, as well as their appeal for children. I'm thrilled and honoured to be on both these lists!

***

Then, from March 23-25, Spell Hunter was the first-ever mass market title to be featured on the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour. When I signed up for the tour I wasn't sure how well Knife's story would be received or how many would be interested even in reading it -- but I have to say I was blown away by the number and quality of the reviews and the depth and insight that many of the reviewers brought to the book. Even though a couple of participants had misgivings about the content or felt the story was less meaningful than they'd hoped, they always expressed themselves graciously and there were some terrific discussions in comments. Here are some highlights:

Rebecca LuElla Miller's opening post on why books like Spell Hunter are worthwhile and also her excellent review;

My fellow Blue Boarder Sally Apokedak talking about Weaving in Worldview and how to handle spiritual truth without preaching;

Fred Warren's shrewd, humorous series of posts.

Thanks to all the CSFF bloggers who read Spell Hunter and took the time to post about it!

***

And lastly, look at what showed up in my mailbox today! It's the complete and unabridged audio book version of Knife, as read by Emma Parish, from Oakhill Audio in the UK! I can't wait to sit down and give it a proper listen...

***

And tomorrow, I look forward to telling you all how much I adored and enjoyed "The Eleventh Hour", also known as the first episode of the new season of Doctor Who. Though I suppose I've just told you what I thought of it already... but rest assured, I have much more rabbiting on to do about the new Doctor, the new companion, and the story than that!
So I followed some links from a post on Bookshelves of Doom about Time Lord Rock (yes, it's like Wizard Rock, only for Doctor Who) to a charming piece inspired by "Blink", and I quite enjoyed it.

But then I poked around a bit more and found this non-Who related piece by the same young artist, in which he answered a friend's challenge to write and perform a song using only household objects for accompaniment:



Not only is it completely adorable and also witty and clever, it has Unexpected Stephen Fry voiceover* at the end. FTW.

P.S. He's a Nerdfighter! I KNEW IT! The influence of John Green is unmistakeable.

--
* Which I guess will not be Unexpected any more now that I've told you about it, but oh well.

Winter Snow
Originally uploaded by rj-anderson
An utterly inconsequential video really, but it is proof that I have discovered how to shoot videos with my camera and upload them to the Internet, which may mean very bad good things later on.

And speaking of multimedia, I discovered today that the complete and unabridged audiobook of Knife as read by British actor Emma Parish is now available for sale. There's a 5-minute sample from the first chapter on that page if you're interested -- the accent she's given Wink is rather adorable, IMO!

And finally, I have decided that SWIFT (book #4 in my faery series) will be set in Cornwall, land of my maternal ancestors, and that I ought to go there as soon as possible in the interests of eating pasties and saffron buns until I asplode research. Whether this will actually happen is anyone's guess, but I like to think about it, you know?
It is possible that there is something more entertaining on the Internet today than the Muppets performing their own skewed take on "Bohemian Rhapsody", but somehow I doubt it.



I am going to be grinning idiotically about this all day. Thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet for the tip. And for more Muppety video goodness, check out [livejournal.com profile] shoebox2's recent post.
I'm featured on Cynsations today (which is a really fantastic newsletter/roundup for those interested in YA lit -- if you're not subscribed to it yet, you should be), talking about the technical aspects of writing Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter.

If you'd like to know why I chose third rather than first-person point of view, or find out more about the research and the worldbuilding that went into the book, check it out!

Faery Things

Sep. 6th, 2009 01:26 pm
rj_anderson: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] jadetrekeast just sent me this link to a friend's craft blog, and I was utterly charmed:

Summer Dreams and Faery Wings

A jar of faery wings (and eggs!) with a fanciful label makes me think of something my fellow small faery author Laini Taylor would have in her house. I am completely non-crafty and no good at decorating, but I love seeing and enjoying the creativity of others!

I feel Blue

Jun. 17th, 2009 09:58 am
rj_anderson: (Tintin - "What?")
[livejournal.com profile] watchmebe a.k.a. Jackson Pearce (author of the forthcoming As You Wish, which I am dying to read) has posted a hilarious video from her recent trip to Savannah with the Gothic Girls, in which they all retell their stories using zombies.

But although this post was inspired by watching that video, it is not zombies I wish to speak of, dear readers. Rather, I was moved by the closing music of the video to talk about the Smurfs.

As a cynical child, I totally hated the Smurfs. All these smarmy little blue people being cute and singing their little la-la-la song, and the only hint of conflict or danger was that evil wizard Gargamel (whose motivations for persecuting the Smurfs were obscure to me, to say the least). When I sat down to watch Saturday morning cartoons, I resented the Smurfs for taking up time that could otherwise be spent watching shows that were really awesome, like Drak Pack and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.

But then one day I was browsing through my local bookstore, feeling frustrated that I already owned every Tintin comic in existence and that there weren't any new Asterix to be had, and I came upon -- what's this? -- an actual comic book of the Smurfs, as created by their original author, and translated into English by the same clever folk (Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge) who did Tintin and Asterix?

Hmmm.

I picked it up. I flipped through it. I laughed in surprise.

And then I bought it.

You see, Peyo's Smurfs were not the nauseatingly perfect little darlings of the cartoon. They were not reduced to a convenient set of stereotypes endowed with different costumes so you could tell them apart (well, apart from the obvious differences of Papa Smurf and Smurfette, that is). They had actual attitude and personality, and what amused me most was that they used the word "smurf" in totally different ways than the cartoon did.

On TV, "smurf" was a cute little substitute for random nouns and verbs -- "Oh, that's absolutely smurfly! What a smurfy day for a picnic!" Whereas in the comic, "smurf" frequently ended up being a euphemism for things that could not be said in print. "I'll smurf you in the smurf, you smurfing smurf!" *cue tornado with flailing blue fists here*

And then of course Papa Smurf had to come break it up, but even he wasn't nearly so smug and condescending as in the TV series. He could be cranky and impatient and, well, more like a real person would be if they were saddled with being the father figure to a village full of little blue savages.

Okay, maybe I am exaggerating the Smurf aggression factor a little. But there was definitely enough wit (including sarcasm) and conflict that the Smurfs could actually have plots all their own, instead of having to rely on some outside baddie (i.e. Gargamel) to come and persecute them. In fact, Gargamel was hardly in the Smurf comics I read at all.

In short: TV Smurfs = meh. Comic Smurfs = kind of awesome.

You would think I would turn this into some deep authorial musing on the importance of writing three-dimensional characters with flaws as well as virtues, wouldn't you? Nah, you can probably figure that part out yourself.

However, I fear I have sad news. The Smurfs did not fade gently away when their TV show was cancelled, nor enjoy an eternally cozy existence between the pages of Peyo's comics.

No, I am afraid that with the full approval of their creator, they were bombed to death by UNICEF.

You think I'm kidding, don't you?



Which just goes to show, sometimes you can take that whole conflict thing a bit too far.
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I could go on raving at tedious length about how much I love [livejournal.com profile] di_br's vids but I think I've already done that before in this journal, so instead I'll just point you in the direction of her latest:

"When I Ruled The World"

Yes, it's set to "Viva La Vida", but don't let that stop you because it so happens it's the perfect song for this exploration of the differences between the Ninth Doctor and the Tenth Doctor, and it's also got some amazing visual parallels I'd never thought about before, and it's just... just... *waves hands incoherently*

Yeah. Go watch it.
I'm all about the videos lately, aren't I? But this one is really relevant! Because it's all about ME. Or, well, my book anyway:



Thanks so much to [livejournal.com profile] watchmebe for the hilarious and original review!
Yes, it's a commercial. But it's a brilliant one. Thanks to Fuse #8 for the link.


Find more videos like this on AdGabber
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I cannot even find words to describe its greatness. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] cleolinda for tweeting a link to this video of surpassing love and win:



Endangered schmendangered, I want my own slow loris to tickle RIGHT NOW. The look of bewildered disappointment on his face when they stop is the best part.
I'm still alive! I'm feeling quite happy! I think I'll take a walk!

Seriously, though, I am still working hard on revisions, but you can find me as today's guest blogger over at Booklover Carol:

R.J. Anderson on "Writers as Readers"

Feel free to drop by and leave your thoughts about books that have influenced you in the comments!
Did you know that Easter was not in fact a borrowed pagan holiday? I did not know this -- I myself had swallowed the line that Christianity took it over from some pagan spring festival. Hat tip to Jeff Overstreet for this one.

Also in the spirit of the season, [livejournal.com profile] tree_and_leaf pointed me to this fine article by John Polkinghorne on Motivated Belief and the Stringent Search for Truth. Which in turn reminded me of this poem, "Guard at the Sepulcher" by Edwin Markham:

I was a Roman soldier in my prime;
Now age is on me, and the yoke of time.
I saw your Risen Christ, for I am he
Who reached the hyssop to Him on the tree,
And I am one of two who watched beside
The sepulcher of Him we crucified.

All that last night I watched with sleepless eyes;
Great stars arose and crept across the skies.
The world was all too still for mortal rest,
For pitiless thoughts were busy in the breast.
The night was long, so long it seemed at last
I had grown old and a long life had passed.
Far off, the hills of Moab, touched with light,
Were swimming in the hallow of the night.
I saw Jerusalem all wrapped in cloud,
Stretched like a dead thing folded in a shroud.

Once in the pauses of our whispered talk
I heard a something on the garden walk.
Perhaps it was a crisp leaf lightly stirred --
Perhaps the dream-note of a waking bird.
Then suddenly an angel, burning white,
Came down with earthquake in the breaking light,
And rolled the great stone from the sepulcher,
Mixing the morning with a scent of myrrh.
And lo, the Dead had risen with the day:
The Man of Mystery had gone His way!

Years have I wandered, carrying my shame;
Now let the tooth of time eat out my name.
For we, who all the wonder might have told,
Kept silence, for our mouths were stopt with gold.

Just... wow.

Apr. 3rd, 2009 07:23 pm
rj_anderson: (Knife - Paul McCormick)
Agent Kristin of Pub Rants fame posted this video on her blog today, and it was so beautiful I just had to share. "No limitations," indeed.

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In a recent post [livejournal.com profile] carrie_ryan commented on an article suggesting that several newly purchased copies of Stephanie Meyer's Breaking Dawn had been withheld from shelving at a junior high library in Utah because of one parent's complaint about the book's content. The objectionable content: "a honeymoon scene in which sex is implied".

This led to a discussion on the tendency of conservative religious parents to challenge books which contain sexual references and content (even, in this case, when the sex occurs within the bounds of marriage), while rarely or never objecting publicly to books which contain violence and gore. Many of the commenters felt that this was a bizarre and worrying double standard. As [livejournal.com profile] anywherebeyond remarked:

I think it's time we quit acting like hysterical ninnies about teen sex and start taking a hard look at teen violence. I don't think a book should be challenged for EITHER reason, but it makes me crazy that people think nothing of the 1500 people who die at the end of Titanic, but hesitate because Leo and Kate might get hazily busy before the ship sinks. It's absurd.

And if that's what's really going on here -- that conservative parents are so blindly focused on keeping any sexual content away from their children that they are giving violence and other serious issues a free pass -- then I agree, that's not right. On reflection, however, I had some different thoughts.

I believe that what's really at stake here is not the kind of behaviour the conservative parents involved approve or disapprove, but the behaviour they are most concerned their children will emulate -- and particularly, the way in which the books being challenged seem (to them) to encourage or feed into that behaviour. As I remarked in comments:

...The reason conservative parents tend to challenge books for sex more than for violence is that by and large, they don't see teen violence as being nearly so widespread a problem and nearly such a threat to their children as teen sex is. Especially where girls -- girls who may become pregnant and be left with a baby to care for, or else choose abortion and thus (in the eyes of many conservative parents) be guilty of murder -- are concerned.

I don't think that many conservative mothers of teen girls are worried about their daughters being mauled from the inside out by their own half-vampire babies [i.e. as in Breaking Dawn], however distasteful they might find the concept in fictional form. Ditto for most other fictional violence, which they don't expect their teens are going to want to emulate, or even be able to (to borrow Saundra's example, how do you reenact the sinking of the Titanic?).

But anything too sensuous, that might get their sons and daughters sexually worked up and tempt them to become sexually active before they're ready for it -- that is a serious concern.

It may seem ridiculous for a parent to object to the off-stage sexual content in Breaking Dawn when that activity is taking place within the bonds of marriage -- after all, aren't conservative parents hoping for that very thing, that their children will wait to get married before having sex? But while I'm not in a position to read the mind of the parent making the complaint, I can imagine where she (I'm pretty sure it's a she) is coming from. The point is not that sex within marriage is morally objectionable, or even that it should never be mentioned or implied in any books whatsoever -- but that to put into the hands of a junior high reader a book where sexual activity is being presented in an enticing way is, to the mind of this parent, potentially dangerous to their child's sexual self-control.

I've used this example before, but I think it's a good one -- if you have a friend who is trying to lose weight, and you believe that she really needs to lose that weight for the good of her health, you're not going to give her a copy of 101 Gloriously Decadent Chocolate Desserts (lavishly illustrated with full-color photos) for her next birthday. It's not that you think chocolate is bad, or even that she won't be able to eat chocolate and enjoy it in moderation one day, but that at this point in her life it would be a bad idea to expose her to something that's going to make her want to make a chocolate cake and eat it immediately. And that kind of concern, I think, is really what's in the minds of many conservative parents when they challenge books that would otherwise be freely available to their children.

Nevertheless, having said that, I don't believe that banning books is the answer. Obviously if you're going to have a school library aimed at a certain age group, you're going to have to pick and choose what books you feel are appropriate for that library, and community standards are going to be part of making that decision. But for a parent to rise up and insist that all copies of a certain book be removed from the shelves, because it contains something that you personally see as problematic (even though few if any people agree with you) -- then you're stepping beyond your authority as a parent and as a member of the community.

The sane and measured response to a book you are concerned about your teen or pre-teen reading is to be aware of what's really out there, and prepared to discuss it with your child in the context of your own family and in accordance with your own convictions. In some cases that may amount to "Yes, you may read Book X, but I'd like to talk to you about some of the content afterward," and in others it may go as far as "I feel that Book X is not appropriate for you at this point, so I'm asking you to respect my wishes that you not read it." But I do not believe it should ever amount to, "I'm going to insist that nobody in my community be allowed to read Book X, regardless of whether they share my religious beliefs and moral convictions or not."

I believe in right and wrong -- in the absolute sense. I do believe that certain descriptive content in books, certain philosophies which those books may express, are objectively morally wrong and may damage the minds of those who read them. Nevertheless, I don't believe there's any merit in forcing people to do what you believe is right by taking away their ability to choose otherwise. If God Himself respects free will, so should we.

And that's why, even as a conservative evangelical Christian, I don't believe in this kind of censorship.
@stephenfry (yes, that Stephen Fry) posted this link on Twitter and now I am speechless with horror, so you must share my pain:

This is Why You're Fat.

No kidding. And I thought the bacon cheese roll recipe my brother e-mailed me a couple of days ago was scary.

(Although the Mega Stuffed Oreo is, admittedly, pretty awesome.)
I am a bit insanely excited about this, from Laini Taylor's blog:

Silksinger cover -- revealed!

This would be the second book in the Dreamdark series. I loved the first book, Blackbringer (read it twice in six months, in fact) and can't wait to meet Hirik and Whisper and explore more of the fantastic faery world that Ms. Taylor's created.

And yet, the author writes about the same book in a previous post:

I was on a really different track when I started writing [Silksinger] and it wasn't working out. It took FORTITUDE to keep going and find the right story. In fact, I think if that book had not been under contract as part of a two-book deal, I may not have written it. It was hard. (Imagine that said in a pitiful whine.) I'd have given up; I'm sure of it. But I didn't, and the book exists, and I love it. So: hurray!!!

I found this really encouraging. I know a lot of authors are afraid to talk about the difficulties of writing a particular book for fear of sounding whiny, or not appreciating what a privilege it is just to get published, or giving people a bad impression of the book's quality. Nobody wants to be the kind of author who turns off fans and potential readers by being negative all the time, and it's all too easy to tip that balance.

But on the other hand, it can be a tremendous encouragement to other writers who are struggling if they can see that we've struggled too. And I think it's possible to talk about these things in a way that is honest but doesn't wallow in self-pity or make the books we're working on sound like junk -- I think Laini Taylor has done an excellent job of that very thing. I'm actually more excited now to read Silksinger, knowing what a challenge it was for her and how hard she worked to make it the best book it could be.

What do you think about this -- fellow writers, readers, editors, agents? Do you get turned off when authors talk about difficulties with their writing process? Is there a right and a wrong way to do this kind of thing, or do you think it's better just not to do it at all?

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