Upcoming interview with Anna Frost on Monday July 8th

Anna Frost is a Teen Fiction (YA) author of novels set in ancient Japan. This Monday July 8th, check out our interview and discussion about writing Japanese culture as a French Canadian, why fantasy authors so often favour a Western Medieval world context for their novels, cultural awareness and the dangers of writing about a culture that is not one’s own, myth, writing queer/ LGBTQ characters, and exploring trans characters.

Here are a few teasers for our upcoming interview:

Anna Frost: “It takes effort to use a different culture as the base and even more efforts to spin out a story that is respectful of the model culture. People may also be afraid they’ll make offensive mistakes.”

Anna Frost: “LGBTQ books currently represent less than 1% of new YA books coming out every year. I’m sure this number will grow as society continues to shift in favor of equal rights. “

Anna Frost: “That’s a tough question because it would never occur to me NOT to have LGBTQ characters in my work. It’s simply part of my worldview.”

Anna Frost: “My favorite fantasy books are the ones where being gay is roughly as strange as preferring white chocolate over milk/dark chocolate.”

Check out our upcoming interview to see some of Anna Frost’s tips on how to avoid cultural and sexual stereotypes and create strong, realistic, deep characters. If you are not familiar with her work, you can explore my review of Anna Frost’s The Fox’s Mask at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/transformations/ , and you can explore her novels at http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=180 .

Hard Knocks School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

A review of Lesley Livingston’s Trippingly Off The Tongue (in Misspelled Ed. Julie Czerneda, Daw 2008)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Competition at magic school can be killer… and I mean killer… Michaela faces her final exam with a lab partner who vastly outpowers her and has a playful sense of what is appropriate when handling dangerous spells. Vinx has a devlish side… being, of course, a demon.

In the school Livingston creates, spelling bees are deadly and involve actual spells, but Vinx treats them as something no more dangerous than baking cookies. He knows the nature of spell-casting and it isn’t something he needs to focus on or worry about as Michaela does.

Lesley Livingston’s short story Trippingly Off The Tongue explores the over-competitive nature of schools and the roots of competition in the educational system. She magnifies these by having a curriculum in which one of the goals is to rid yourself of your lab partner.  Although Michaela is unconfident with her spell-casting and has been known for her occasional errors, and Vinx is supposed to be something evil and ugly, the two develop an intercultural friendship, working cooperatively in opposition to the school-enforced competitive framework. They face stereotypes about each other, playing and teasing each other for their difference and for the assumptions society has imposed on them. This attitude of play overrides the deadly competition of the educational system, pushing them into attitudes of antagonism that they struggle to resist.

To find out more about Lesley Livingston’s work, visit her website at http://www.lesleylivingston.com/ . To find out more about Misspelled, visit http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781440633508,00.html

The Secret Guide to Keeping Supernatural Secrets

A review of Sierra Dean’s The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters (Samhain Publishing Ltd., 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Named “Secret” and a person at the crossroads of many secrets, Secret McQueen is a bounty hunter you will enjoy.  Secret is a hybridised half vampire, half werewolf and treated as a second class citizen by the vampires she works for due to only sharing half of her identity with them. She would be treated even worse if they knew that the other half was not human, but the creature that vampires view as totally loathsome – the werewolf. In a world where vampires and werewolves are hidden from the public, Secret stands at the bridge between two hidden groups, blanketed in human disbelief for the supernatural. In order to keep the existence of the supernatural from humanity, Secret has become a bounty hunter for the vampires, suppressing any risks of exposure. She is a guardian and gatekeeper of whispered supernatural truths.

Secret’s human friend Mercedes has been able to find out about her werewolf side, but has an intense hatred for vampires, whose existence she has discovered. Her intolerance forced Secret to repress and suppress her vampiric side around one of her few friends.

In The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters, Sierra Dean deals with issues of being an inter-racial person, abstracting the social pressures encountered by inter-racial people onto the inter-monstrous figure of Secret McQueen. Like many inter-racial people, she is trapped between her identities, suspended in a place of intolerance by both sides where she is forced to find her own identity, and often hide aspects of herself. If the racist vampire council knew about her werewolf side, she would experience further workplace discrimination (which she is already experiencing for being only half vampire). She is constantly forced to “pass”, to pretend to be fully something that she is not  – whether it be human, werewolf, or vampire. She is trapped in a constant need to pretend, to act, and to only express parts of her dual heritage.

Secret finds she has difficulty finding dates since she can never be totally honest with a lover, always having to hide some part of her identity from groups intolerant toward inter-racial people. She even notes at the start of the narrative “As a general rule, people don’t like to date monsters”, opening the story to the challenges involved in having to play something one is not.

The theme of playing identity, and performing identity is further expressed by the person Secret is sent to hunt, an actor who plays vampire roles in Hollywood movies… who happens to actually BE a vampire. Here is a character who is playing an actor playing himself, a lie trapped inside a truth. The actions of this vampire, abusing his power to control women and using his vampiric gaze to take away the decision-making abilities of the women he tries to seduce, he risks exposing the secrets of the vampiric world in addition to taking away the identity and selfhood of his victims. Secret has to suppress the risk of exposure posed by this vampire, but she takes a secret pleasure in doing so because slaying this vampire would do society as a whole a favour.

You can explore Sierra Dean’s work on her website at http://www.sierradean.com/ . You can purchase The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters in ebook format from Amazon, iTunes, or Kobo or by visiting the Samhain Publishing website at http://store.samhainpublishing.com/sierra-dean-pa-1639.html