Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Most Interesting Nerd In The World

L to R: Lesley Livingston, Joanna Blackman, Jonathan Llyr, Meghan Campbell, Adrienne Kress 

"He can speak Elvish, in Klingon . . ."

So keeping on the video kick . . .

I'm a founding member of a geek website called (as is Ms. Lesley Livingston from yesterday's post - I told you, we do everything together it would seem).  I'm the film reviewer, I also post news articles, I even have a weekly column called "Manly Monday".  It's good times, my friends, good times.

A couple years ago, we decided to make a video advertising the site for an awards show that our fearless leader, Mr. Jonathan Llyr, was presenting at.  It's based on those awesome The Most Interesting Man In The World ads, and I think it is truly hilarious.  Once more you'll catch a glimpse of me here and there in the background, but it is mostly focused on Jon himself (a former host on the Space network here in Canada), who is, I can assure you, definitely The Most Interesting Nerd In The World (btw, all the photographs of Jon used in this video are real, not photoshopped, he really has met all those people and been on those sets):

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Once Every Never - Lesley Livingston

So regulars to my blog will have read about my friendship with fellow author and actress Lesley Livingston.  She is the author of the award winning faerie series, Wondrous Strange, and also the author of the award winning YA time travel book Once Every Never (which is the first in its own series as well). 

Needless to say, I rather adore this lady.  We have made many a trip to New York together, acted in several shows together.  We have been reviewed together.  We have been at conventions on panels together.  We have even been in books together (Corsets & Clockwork - Steampunk YA anthology).  And if I don't see her once a week at least, it feels like we haven't seen each other in years (take the last several weeks, where our lives were such that I think 3 weeks passed - until we finally got to go for lunch yesterday).  

Another thing we do together is book trailers, and I happen to be in many of hers.  'Cause you know, I also have helped in the past produce them and they are rather fun to be a part of. 

So here we go again, this time it's not quite a book trailer as more like an author interview with Lesley talking about Once Every Never, with shots intercut that represent scenes from the book.  In all, I think it looks pretty darn sweet.  If I do say so myself.  Which I do.  Also in the scenes from the book with me are the fantastic Casey Hudecki, Patrick Whalen and Mike Dufays.

But first, a little bit about Once Every Never:

Clarinet Reid is a pretty typical teenager. On the surface. She’s smart, but a bit of slacker; outgoing, but just a little insecure; not exactly a mischief-maker … but trouble tends to find her wherever she goes. Also? She unwittingly carries a centuries-old Druid Blood Curse running through her veins.

Now, with a single thoughtless act, what started off as the Summer Vacation in Dullsville suddenly spirals into a deadly race to find a stolen artifact, avert an explosive catastrophe, save a Celtic warrior princess, right a dreadful wrong that happened centuries before Clare was even born, and if there’s still time— literally—maybe even get a date.

This is the kind of adventure that happens to a girl once every … never. 

And now, the video!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Steampunk Tuesday - a response to Gawker's post about Bieber's Steampunk music video

This is a response to Gawker, yes, but also a response to a general sentiment expressed on Twitter etc.


First, this is what Gawker said, when posting Justin Bieber's latest Christmas music video - a Steampunk version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town":

"Musical haircut Justin Bieber has a new Christmas song, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and the video is inexplicably steampunk-themed. Sorry, steampunks: time to get a new quirky aesthetic pastime before it blows up among 14-year-old Beliebers."

There are many things that frustrate me about this statement.  So I think I'll share what they are.

First of all there's the "inexplicably" part of the post.  And many over the internets have been saying Bieber is just jumping on board the up and coming trend (it's still not there yet, I still have to explain to most people what Steampunk is, I'll let you know when the balance shifts).  Maybe he is.  He's a very savvy guy.  But I don't think the video inexplicably uses Steampunk.  Whether or not you like Bieber or his using Steampunk, the fact is, I think the video makes a lot of sense. 

What I see in this video is Santa's workshop steampunked out in preparation for Santa coming to town.  We tend to think of Santa's workshop as having an oldy-timey feel to it anyway, so why wouldn't it have some amazing magical steampunk fabulousness to make it work?

One could say that they could have been slightly more inventive with the props and set, and that it isn't exactly the most original looking version of Steampunk we've seen.  But I think the context of the video works.  

Next.  "Sorry, steampunks: time to get a new quirky aesthetic pastime before it blows up among 14-year-old Beliebers."

This I find truly condescending, the notion that people who like Steampunk are only doing it to be different, not because they are actually passionate about it.  That what's more important to people who like Steampunk is that they are quirky and different, not the Steampunk itself. 

From my experience with fellow Steampunkers, it seems to me most of us came to it because there was something special about it that struck a chord with us.  In the future I plan on blogging about what that something was for me.  But I choose Steampunk for a specific reason, just as I don't choose to be a skater (and why skaters choose to be such and not goths, and why goths choose to be goths etc etc). This means that when something becomes popular I don't suddenly decide I don't like it.  I like something because I like it.  Not because other people like it.

It's kind of like the whole Harry Potter mass obsession thing.  I knew so many people who refused to even read one of the books because they hated anything that was so popular like that.  I would always say, "Look, you are free to like and dislike whatever you want.  But not liking something because everyone else likes it, is just the same as liking something because everyone else does.  You aren't making up your own mind on the subject.  You're letting the mob dictate your response."

So I'm the kind of person who loves Harry Potter, but maybe not certain other popular books.  I adore the Lord of the Rings movies, but maybe not AVATAR.  I like what I like, regardless of what other people think.

So yeah, Justin Bieber made a Steampunk music video, thus making the genre explode for 14 yearolds etc, well, what do I care?  I didn't like Steampunk because no one else did.  I like Steampunk because I like Steampunk.

Lastly, I take this post to be hinting at the fact that Gawker isn't a fan of the Biebs (if someone that Gawker thought was cool was doing it, I doubt it would have had the headline of Justin Bieber Ruins Entire Nerd Subculture).  Personally I don't see what's wrong with Bieber.  Sure his music isn't my kind of thing, but it's hardly aimed at someone like me.  He seems nice enough and talented enough.  I dunno.  But let's run with the notion that you, Gawker, don't like Bieber.  Well why on earth would you then give him the power to ruin something that gives people so much pleasure?  Why make him meaningful to you?  On the one hand, you're attempting to diss him by saying when he makes a video he ruins something special, but on the other hand you're uplifting him and giving him the power to destroy.  Make him meaningless, that's how you deal with things you don't like.

There's a bigger message though, behind all this.  Something I touched upon a few Tuesdays ago where I talked about "The Next Big Thing?".  I made a plea to Steampunkers to please not do that snobbish exclusionary thing where the second something gets popular those who were there from the beginning turn their noses up at those just getting involved with Steampunk because it's cool.  This is what I said:

But until we do, and if/when we do, I ask all Steampunkers the following favour:  let's not judge.  Let's not be like the hipsters who pride themselves in getting there first with, you know, everything.  Where something becomes uncool the second the layman knows about it.  That's not what Steampunk is about.  Steampunk is about Steampunk, not about an image.  It is the ultimate Rorschach test and can be interpreted to be whatever the individual wants it to be.

So let's not judge, but be welcoming and open.  And let's not judge if Steampunk becomes a trend: "Oh that person is only dressing like that because they bought that skirt at Top Shop."  Let's be happy to see others having fun with Steampunk, even if for them it is a fleeting thing.  Steampunk, ultimately, is about having fun.  Playing.  Let's not lose sight of that.

And I stand by this sentiment.  It clearly is going to become more important in 2012 as Steampunk really makes its way into popular culture.  But I stand by this sentiment in general as well, with everything in life:  Pursue your dreams because they are your dreams, not someone else's imposed on you.  Love things/people you love because you do, not because someone else loved them first (or even more tricky, not because others have told you NOT to). 

Be true to yourself. 

Because trends come and go, but passion is forever.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Temping Poetry

Not to be confused with tempting poetry.

So today I had another temp job.  This one was in an office tower where my job was to man the phones while everyone else in the office was out of town.  I spent the day completely alone, but there was a computer.  So I got quite a bit of writing done, and read a little too.

I also wrote some poetry.  Now usually my poetry is of the rhyming variety but for some reason today I was inspired to be a little different than usual.  There was something so very peculiar being all alone in such a big space with nothing to do . . . and being paid to be there. 

So for your reading pleasure.  Some Temp Poetry (if anyone can think of any titles, I welcome your input!).

Today I was paid to sit by the phones in an empty office.
Just in case.
There was one call.
I forwarded the message on. 
With gratitude: I’ll get back to them on Monday.

The light in here reflects not the time of day
Nor the season.
Only myself in the dark tinted windows.

I never know the truth:
At 11am, it snowed.

Some find their voice on silent mountain tops,
Or hidden in the chaos of a language they don't understand.
They see it in the beauty of a temple,
Or in the aftermath of tragic events.
I find it sitting in a chair,
In an empty office,
Listening to the white noise of a fan.
Once again inspiration found by a stranger in a strange land.

I tend to write poetry that rhymes.
Today not so much.
The absurdity of my situation puts me in a high school frame of mind.
Rhymes are for babies, and I’m deep when I
Fragment my

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Some Painters from the Past

I'm not sure how many of you know this, but I almost doubled majored in Art History in University.  I actually was taking courses to achieve that end, but the schedule in doing a drama degree became overwhelming and I had to give up on the double major dream.  This meant I graduated with far more credits than I needed, and that I still have this insane love of visual art and architecture. 

I think this for two reasons:

1. While I can sketch and draw okay (I did study it when I was a kid going to art schools), it was never something I was particularly brilliant at and I am aware just how difficult it is to do, and I thoroughly admire people who ARE good at it.

2. There is a tangible quality to Art History as opposed to Theatre History.  With the history of theatre you can only read about what happened once, you can't see the plays as they were put on.  You can read them, you can see pictures of them, even filmed versions of them.  But you don't get to experience them the way audiences at the time got to.  It's what makes theatre so unique, it's here and then gone.  It's a moment in time.  With Art History you get to experience the work as it was experienced by people of the period it was made in.  Certainly with architecture it will have degraded over time, ditto I guess paintings and sculpture, but still, you get to see history right in front of you.  Understand a culture instantly.  With architecture, walk through the same halls as some of your heroes.  It's . . . crazy man. 

Also some of it is just plain gorgeous.

Anyway today I just thought I'd share three artists I really like.  Why?  Because I feel like it.  Maybe I'll share three more in the future.  Why?  Because I'll feel like it then too.

So . . .

I'm a huge fan of Toulouse-Lautrec, especially his poster art:

"The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge"

 I think we all go through an existential absurdist phase at some point in our lives, but I was always more a Magritte fan than a Dali fan - I find his work odder because that which is represented seems at first less odd.  It's the stuff of dreams.  And nightmares. 

"Not to be Reproduced"

"The Lovers"

"The Dominion of Light"

And finally (for today) like many people, I enjoy me a good Da Vinci.  Here are two of my favourites:

cartoon of The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist

"The Virgin of the Rocks" (the one in the National Gallery in London, UK)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Steampunk Tuesday - Cool Steampunk Lego Creations!

Just a quick one for today, as it's been a rather full one and right now I feel like anything I want to say about Steampunk will require a fair bit of time to write.  Yup, I gots some deep stuff to say.  Or at least, you know, longwinded stuff.

I saw this post at Flavorwire and thought, well golly, ain't that neat.

Also I thought . . . "You can do that??"

Which tends to be my most common response to Steampunk anythings and also tends to be why I adore it so much.  Every time you think you've seen it all . . .

"You can do that???"

Check out Matt Armstrong's ridonkulous Lego Steampunk inventions, they are just fantastic (okay, so the dude does crazy non-Steampunk Lego stuff too . . . this is a man with serious talent my friends)!  (view more here):

Monday, December 05, 2011

From the Archives - THE NEW YA

Over the last week I've been involved in many discussions online about what can and can't be in YA, what the expected next trend is going to be etc etc.  And the question always comes about, when did YA first come to be - and how it's actually a very young genre (young as in hasn't been around long, not young as in who it's aimed for).  So invariably I wind up linking people to this blog post I wrote in 2009 on the subject of what I called "The New YA".  

I then thought, "Hmm . . . maybe it's time to just re-post this blog entry for those not interested in going through the archives."  

And . . . here it is:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The New YA

YA stands for Young Adult. It is a literary category. It is tricky to quantify, it encompasses many different genres from fantasy to gritty reality. It encompasses many ages.

YA is not MG.

This is the most important thing that people need to realise when buying books for kids/teenagers.

YA is not MG.

MG is middle grade. Middle Grade is typically 8 -12. My books are Middle Grade. The first three Harry Potters are MG. Again, it encompasses many different genres, and while the age range is more specific, there are divisions within it as well. Within Middle Grade you can also have Upper Middle Grade which can be read too by 13 and 14 year olds (that awkward tween stage of literature).

So what is YA then? YA I suppose is anything above that in theory. And yet a YA will rarely have a protagonist younger than 14. Kids like to read up you see.

So what is YA then?

YA is a very new genre. People might argue that, they point to fiction for kids that has been around for forever. They point even to Judy Blume, who remains quite popular. But the new YA isn't that. I'd argue that these days those books you think of when you think of your childhood as being YA are actually Middle Grade. Even if they involved teenagers, these books were primarily read by kids in the tween age range. Once a kid got to high school, if they indeed even kept up with reading, they moved on to adult books. Teenagers don't much want to feel like kids.

I know. I remember that feeling.

I'd argue that the new YA, the YA of the last decade, is the first time YA is being written for YAs.

So what is YA then?

If we suppose that in the past teenagers moved on from what was at the time considered YA to adult books, and that now teenagers are reading actual YA books as actual teenagers, then how can we assume YA ought to remain in some category belonging primarily to middle grade fiction? If they can handle the adult stuff, why then can't YA have adult themes?

The question is asked all the time, "What is acceptable for YA?", "Am I allowed to do this in YA?"

The answer is very straightforward. Anything. Yes.

But remember these two important details. Your main character has to be a teenager. And the plot must have something to do with coming of age.

I'll also add that a faster pace than some adult literature is quite desirable. But then again in adult literature, there are times, dude, when it could also be quite desirable.

Other than that: Anything. Yes.

The new YA respects that teenagers get that the world isn't perfect. That there is sex, drugs, violence and bad language. That bad things happen. But the new YA still for the most part remains a genre of hope. It is rare you will find a YA book ending on a desperate note.

Granted I think this might frighten some adults/parents. Because we look back to our YA reading experiences, back when YA wasn't really YA but MG. We forget the texts we studied in highschool, the adult books we had to analyse, the adult content we were faced with. In our minds, YA still is innocent, because our YA was much more innocent.

There were authors pushing the boundaries, Ms. Blume of course, and the odd YA actually meant for YAs, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (you could consider both of them the inspiration and forebears of the new YA), but for the most part the books were much safer than they are now. However. They also weren't truly meant for teenagers. Because teenagers, again may I repeat, were reading adult books.

Because YA is also a very new genre we have to understand that books that in the past were categorised as adult, could quite conceivably have been categorised as YA had the genre existed at the time.

All very complicated, I know.

Why am I saying all this? I guess because I see articles like these and I just shake my head. The article is about a "children's book" called Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, and asks whether publishers should not take more responsibility for content. Aside from the absurd notion that it is up to publishers to censor what comes out onto the market to preserve one group's idea of morality, what the author of this article neglects to mention is that the book is not MG, is not a "children's book", but is YA. And the author of this article clearly has no concept as to what YA is. Nor do many of those interviewed. This false premise alone is the greatest frustration I have with this article. It means every argument postulated for or against, is discussing the wrong subject. It's like saying, "I read this slice of life book and was shocked to find dragons in it!" when the book you are talking about is clearly a fantasy.

Look, I write MG, I understand that there are certain topics I can't write about, or at least must handle very delicately. This is simply not the same with YA.

I will not pretend that YA with very mature themes are not a harder sell, and much harder for a publisher to market. I also will not pretend that even adult works dealing with certain themes do not get the public's ire raised as well. It is much easier to sell a work about chaste vampires, than one that deals in gritty real world issues. It is naive to say what I have said: Anything. Yes. I really should have added, "But you'd better do it darn well."

But we also have to stop pretending that the literary market is anything like it was when we were kids (and I wasn't a kid that long ago compared to some, and even since then, it has changed considerably).

JK Rowling made kids' books profitable. The MG market exploded with the advent of Harry Potter. She actually changed the face of publishing. This seeped into the YA market, which was already experimenting, and now with Twilight, it is not just a force to be reckoned with, but one of the few genres where sales have gone up in this economic climate.

Go into a bookstore and look at the YA section. It is an incredible thing. So many different styles and genres all shelved side by side. The opportunity to try new things is right there at your fingertips, not isolated from each other like over in the adult section. There is lovely PG rated work to be found, it isn't like it has disappeared, but there is the tougher stuff out there too.

And it's okay. It's good to have choice. I know parents are complaining that they need age banding on books so they understand what it is their kids are reading. But I just don't think that's the answer. A child is not universally ready for something at 12, and then ready for something else at 14. It depends on their upbringing, their reading level, their likes and dislikes. Gasp! On being an individual human being. I could not, and still can't, read/watch horror. Doesn't mean there weren't kids back when I was little reading the Goosebumps series. If we age banded based on my example, no one would be allowed to read horror ever at any age.

The answer, in my mind, is understanding the new YA. And the answer to understanding what it is kids are reading is to read what the kids are reading. To understand that YA for YAs is meant to be read by intelligent discerning minds, by teenagers who are far smarter than a lot of adults give them credit for. Let's not forget that many teenagers are heading off to university by the time they are 17.

You don't want your 12 year old reading YA? There is still MG. There is some amazing MG out there (if I do say so myself). But you need to understand that difference between MG and YA. Because it didn't exist before recently. It's new. YA used to be MG. It isn't anymore.

And again, that's okay.

One final thought: Shakespeare is taught in, I'd venture to guess, almost every highschool in the English speaking world. Shakespeare was a genius. He can express thoughts and feelings in a way that is beyond perfect, you just want to roll his words around in your mouth they are so glorious. However. Shakespeare was also a naughty boy, and his plays are rife with blatant sexual jokes and innuendo. He was also a violent boy, writing about eye gouging, suicide, fights to the death. . .

Your teenagers are reading Shakespeare.

Is all I'm saying . . .