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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press September 14, 2008
ISBN: 0439023483
 
In a post-apocalyptic world, sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen is the sole provider for her family after the untimely death of her father some years before. With a mentally ill mother and a preadolescent sister, Katniss has three mouths to feed in District 12, where food is strictly rationed by the Peacekeepers, a force that answers directly to the controlling capitol, Panem. The capitol controls all twelve Districts by means of food rationing, force, and a diabolical practice called The Hunger Games. Each year, one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen are randomly selected via name drawing to represent their district in a gladiator-like challenge between the other eleven districts and each other. Only one “tribute”, as they’re called, can win the games and return home alive. Viewing of the games by every citizen is mandatory. As a means of control, the capitol has landed on a very effective one.
 
Katniss eventually becomes the female tribute for her District, opposite a boy named Peeta Marak who has a special connection to her past. Now Katniss must fight for her life, and the lives of her mother and sister, while struggling with the strange mix of emotions she has for Peeta. The other 22 tributes aren’t anything to ignore, either. Luckily, Katniss has plenty of experience with surviving, thanks to several years’ worth of hunting and gathering food for her family when they couldn’t afford it any other way.
 
The plot for The Hunger Games is simplistic. You know the outcome after the first couple of chapters. But it’s the journey towards that ending that kept me reading. Katniss is not your typical sixteen year old YA heroine. She’s tough, untrusting, and capable. Her mind is like a steel trap, snatching up every bit of information available to her and never letting go, even though it might seem useless at the time. The skills she gained and added to from her father and her friend Gale serve her extremely well and you never get the impression that she’s waiting to be rescued by Peeta or anyone else. Although from a backwater District that is the lowest on the hierarchical scale of this civilization, she quickly grasps at least a basic understanding of the political landscape when she is thrust into the limelight at the capitol, indicating a high level of intelligence that goes beyond knowing outdoor survival skills.
 
When it comes to Peeta, she’s both calculating and confused, but she doesn’t let her confusion distract her from her goal of winning and returning home covered in enough riches to feed her family for the rest of their lives. In order to gain sponsorship from wealthy patrons on the outside who can send aid to her inside the arena, her story must be compelling, and if that means lying, acting, or killing, she’ll do it. Peeta himself is a fairly shallow character; we learn little about him other than that he carries strong feelings for Katniss and has since they were very young. He seems to have no other goals or dreams in life, which is disappointing. Katniss deserves a potential partner of equal complexity. Her friend and hunting partner from District 12, Gale, is much more interesting but has very little face time in this first book. Hopefully we’ll see more of him in Catching Fire, the second installment in the trilogy.
 
An interesting part of the story is the technological disparity between the capitol, Panem, and District 12. In District 12, Katniss hunts with a bow and arrows that she doesn’t even know how to successfully duplicate, the mining that is the District’s contribution to the capitol is still done by humans who eventually sicken and die from coal dust poisoning, and people are regularly seen starving in the streets. But in Panem, they have hovercraft, food replicators, and highly advanced medical technology, as well as the ability to control at least select areas of weather and climate. One shot is enough to cure a gangrenous infection, and they have rejuvenating drugs that can even erase scars and blemishes from your skin. It’s obvious that yet another form of control by Panem is the withholding of technology from the outer Districts, but not much is explained about why. We learn little about the government and why they’re in power in The Hunger Games, except a brief mention of a rebellion several generations ago, but I have a feeling more will be forthcoming in the next two books.
 
This passes the Bechdel Test, although it’s a close thing. Katniss has little contact with women after the games begin, and her main mentors and friends are generally men. There are some characters of color, but not prominent ones, and there are no LGBT characters or even mention of the possibility of being gay. Diversity overall is severely lacking, although the fact that as many girls as boys are entered into the games without favoritism is a point in the book’s favor. The book is frank about the deaths of the children during the games, but the descriptions are not overly graphic.
 
Class is also very important in the story, with Katniss’s low class upbringing being an asset to her at times, as she is able to withstand hunger, pain, and adverse weather conditions better than the tributes from wealthier families and Districts, who’ve always had enough to eat and shelter over their heads. Could this be considered glamorizing the poor? I don’t think so, as Katniss tells the story of almost starving to death after her father died, and it’s obvious that she’d much rather be wealthy and not hunt, then risk her life and her family’s lives every day out in a forbidden forest. The tributes from wealthier areas have advantages too, in that they have reached their full growth due to enough food, they’ve had training with multiple weapons, and their sponsors on the outside are wealthier and better able to help within the games. It’s also stated that lower class Districts like 12 rarely last long in the games, due mainly to their underfed and under trained state.
 
The Hunger Games is a good story, not overly original but with a compelling main character that I’ll definitely read more of. I’d like to see the politics develop more, and where the relationships between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale will go from this point. Some more diversity would also be very much appreciated, but considering this is a series that has already been finished, I’ll have to take what’s already been included. If you’re looking for a good easy read with an interesting female lead, this is a good book for that.

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Daughter of Hounds by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Roc Trade; paperback / softback edition (January 2, 2007)
ISBN-13: 978-0451461254

 Daughter of Hounds has the dark gritty feel of the popular Urban Fantasy genre, but most scenes take place in small quiet towns, dank cemeteries, and desert wastes. Set mostly in the New England area, Daughter of Hounds is a unique and paradoxical work, with bloody scenes of mayhem and quotes from The Chronicles of Narnia. An orphan woman simply named Soldier and a young girl with stark yellow eyes named Emmie Silvey are somehow tied inextricably together in this story. Soldier is a hit-woman for the mysterious beings known collectively as the Hounds of Cain, ghouls, or ghuls. Canine-like beings from another world, their savage features (and behavior) deny them access to the world of humans; they make their dens below cemeteries and abandoned houses.

Over the centuries, they’ve resorted to stealing away the babies and young children of the people who live above ground, in order to raise them as “changelings” or Children of the Cuckoo, human servants to carry out their business in the sun. The Hounds teach them loyalty, fear, and obedience, as well as contempt for other humans and a taste for meat of any kind.

Any kind at all.

Soldier is one such Child of the Cuckoo. Stolen as a baby, she has no recollection of her life before the Hounds, and is solely and wholly dedicated to them, even as they repeatedly put her life in danger and she sinks into the despair of alcoholism. Soldier is not a traditionally likable character. Her attitude is off the charts and her mouth is in the gutter. She is a foul-mouthed, tough-as-nails kind of woman, who prefers to shoot first, shoot some more, and forget about asking the corpse any questions later. But she does get things done, although usually in the messiest way possible.

She’s rude and vicious to her changeling partners, Saben White and Odd Willie Lothrop, and has no compunctions about shooting down innocent bystanders if they happen to catch a glimpse of something they shouldn’t. Her mentor, the Bailiff, is the only one that can control her, but she’s not so sure the Bailiff is trustworthy anymore, if he ever was. She also has the ability to rewind time, a trick that has saved her life more than once. But there are strange gaps in her memory, and when a job goes horribly wrong, she starts to get the feeling someone is trying to kill her and hide a big secret at the same time.

The confusion Kiernan writes for her is palpable, and half the time it felt as though I had as little idea of what was going on as Soldier did. Every friend is an enemy, and people who should be her enemies turn around to lend a hand at her most desperate moments, causing even more distress. Being a woman neither spares nor impairs her during dangerous moments, and she comes across as strictly asexual, a change from the standard Urban Fantasy shtick. As she tries to complete her assignment, reign in her rogue partner Saben, and figure who and why someone is trying to kill her, not to mention what Emmie Silvey has to do with the Hounds and her, I couldn’t help but pull for Soldier, even though I may disagree some of her methods. She was raised by alien, man-eating ghouls, after all.

Emmie Silvey is eight years old, and the color of her eyes isn’t the only strange thing about her. She’s a precocious and intelligent child, with a very literal mind and a general uncanny ability to make everyone around her uncomfortable, either with her yellow eyes or her blunt questions and answers. Emmie’s wish is for her eyes to be green, her dad Deacon to be sober, and her stepmother Sadie to come live at home with them again. When she meets a strange woman who tells her to beware of horses, Emmie brushes off the encounter. Afterwards, a girl named Pearl starts visiting Emmie in her dreams, and soon reveals secrets about Emmie’s past that shatter every foundation of her life.

The Hounds of Cain want something from Emmie, and they’ll do anything to get it. She is forced to flee in search of Soldier, with the help of Pearl and a woman trapped in a dream of the desert. Emmie doesn’t enjoy the magic she encounters, and some of the scenes she’s forced to see would scar a war veteran, let alone a child. But she powers through, and even amidst all the chaos, manages to find answers to her million-and-one questions about who she is and why everyone is so interested in her.

An eight year old character can be hard to write, but Kiernan manages to cover any defaults with the pre-requisite “precocious” label. If Emmie sounds old beyond her years in some scenes, well, she’s a special kid. There are times, however, when it’s obvious that Kiernan can portray a typical child just fine, as Emmie often comes off as whiney and hardheaded, usually at the most inappropriate times in the story. When she and Soldier finally meet, it’s like oil and water, or perhaps gas and a match. Emmie is an interesting character, and one I’d like to see again in future books. She’s also a bibliophile, frequently quoting lines from children’s and young adult books.

Most of the main characters and several minor ones are women, so this book easily passes the Bechdel Test, with conversations and encounters touching on every aspect of the story. The violence is graphic in some places, but not over-used, and there are implied rape scenes, but nothing explicit, and not exclusive to the female characters. Pearl is referred to as brown, and there’s a brief conversation where she mentions that her mother was a Native American princess. Another character is black, but the color is from an incident in her past, not by birth. Otherwise, the cast seems fairly whitewashed. There are several derogatory references to LGBT characters in the book, but it’s par for the course as far as the language the characters use. A main character likes boys, but it’s more about possible pedophilia then being gay. Not the most diverse, but I have to give props to the bad-assery of all the women involved.

The main problem I had with the book was the ending, which I obviously won’t give away, but after sleeping on it, I see that Kiernan faithfully sticks to her characters’ natures and personalities, even when it would have been easy to write a happy ending. I don’t necessarily agree with it or have to like it, but it feels right for the story. I would definitely recommend this book, although I hope for more diversity and a smidgen less profanity in future releases. There are apparently two previous books in the series, Low Red Moon and Threshold, but reading them wasn’t necessary to understand Daughter of the Hounds, which was written to be a stand-alone.

If you’re looking for Dark Fantasy or Urban Fantasy without the romance, Daughter of Hounds delivers. Strong, dangerous female characters, smart, serious kids, and an ambiguous but thought-provoking ending that will make you wish for more books by Caitlin R. Kiernan.
 

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Check out Caitlin R. Kiernan’s website or follow her on Twitter @auntbeast

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The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee
Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Spectra
ISBN-10: 0553581279
ISBN-13: 978-0553581270

One of the best things about older science fiction is its ability to stand the test of time. Although The Silver Metal Lover was originally published in 1981, the story, characters, and events are so universal that it could have been written only yesterday. Many of today’s authors have lost this knack, the talent of writing universal stories that will be as applicable in twenty or forty years as they are this year.

Jane is a living girl afraid to live. Having grown up as a pet project of her mother’s, she has no will or thoughts or opinions of her own, merely what those around her believe she should have. Her mother has even chosen what Jane will look like, ordering her prescriptions and hair treatments that leave her plump and plain. Her friends are not really her friends, and the course of her life has been set since the moment her mother chose to be artificially inseminated.

All of this monotony changes in a moment when Jane sets her eyes upon Silver for the first time. S.I.L.V.E.R. stands for Silver Ionized Locomotive Verisimulated Electronic Robot. Electronic Metals has released a new and innovative line of robots, designed to appear nearly human and with extraordinary creative skills. Silver is one of these robots, let out into Jane’s city to act as a walking advertisement for the new models. He sings and plays music like that of a master musician, and Jane is instantly drawn to and repelled by him.

As they run into each other over the next few days, Jane begins to realize that Silver is like no man or robot she has ever encountered before. Eventually, she falls in love with him, and gives up everything she knows to buy him and be with him. When the government forces Electronic Metals to recall their too-human robots after pressure from a discontented public, Jane and Silver must run from the corporation determined to melt him down into scrap.

Jane herself is represented well as an inexperienced, sheltered rich girl. She doesn’t lord her wealth over others, but does take it for granted in the usual privileged way. Her most telling sacrifice and the true start of the story is when she sells her possessions in order to pay for Silver. Jane has never exerted her will or her own desires on anyone, always letting others take the lead, especially her mother. It takes a dramatic upheaval in her emotions for her to begin realizing how very controlled she is, and for her to start breaking that control. Silver is a catalyst for asserting her own independence.

The relationship between Jane and Silver could so easily have become clichéd and sickly sweet, but instead the problems that arise between them are serious and taken seriously. Their relationship isn’t perfect, and neither are either of them, regardless of the fact that Silver was supposedly constructed perfectly. As Jane begins to live her own life, she in turn brings Silver to life through her own human emotions and reactions. They grow and change through each other, in a way that two human partners often don’t learn how to do.

The side characters in the story are themselves interesting people, each with their own neuroses and flaws. Clovis, possibly Jane’s closest friend, is unable to love or be loved. He frequently uses cheap parlor tricks to get his live-in lovers to vacate, including holding phony séances in which a spirit tells them to leave. He is also very casually and matter-of-factly gay. Egyptia is a self-absorbed drama queen, often putting herself at the center of attention in as loud a way as possible. Jane’s mother, Demeta, is a distant and calculating figure, manipulating Jane and her life in whatever manner she deems best. Each character we meet plays a vital part in the story, no matter how minor it may seem at the time.

I wouldn’t call this story realistic, because in reality I think life would have been much harder for them once they moved into a place of their own and tried supporting themselves. But again, it’s science fiction, and it’s difficult to imagine what the reality of this situation would be like. Tanith Lee has a very elegant touch with descriptive words and personal narratives. You never get tired of hearing Jane’s inner thoughts, and it’s fascinating to watch Jane grow from a mousy child into an independent woman. There are some corny parts in The Silver Metal Lover, but it is after all a love story, and they are kept to a minimum.

This book not only brings up questions of self awareness and personal freedom. Hinted at is the implication that even as humanity strives for perfection within themselves and their machines, a truly perfect copy of a human would never be accepted. The idea that a machine could be a better human than a real human is a concept that the general public could never tolerate. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for thought provoking science fiction on top of a good love story. I know I’ll be thinking about The Silver Metal Lover for days.

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Kaaron Warren is a Speculative Fiction author, focusing mainly on horror. She’s had quite a few short stories published, as well as three novels, including Slights. Her characters and settings are memorable and chilling. Kaaron is Australian born and currently lives in Fiji with her family.

Q1: What draws you to write Speculative Fiction?

KW: I like the fact I don’t have to stick to the truth! That anything is possible. If I want a ghost sitting at the breakfast table, I can have a ghost there eating Coco Pops!

Q2: What was the first piece you ever had published?

KW: White Bed, in Shrieks, from The Women’s Redress Press. This is how it started:

I saw my future. Squeezed my eyes tight and glimpsed; me, alone, cold and barren, reading a thick book and eating a large salad straight from the bowl, sucking my fingers before I turned each page.
I opened my eyes and the horror was still before me.

Q3: What did it feel like?

KW: I still remember the phone call. I’d moved from Sydney to Canberra, and not all of my mail followed me. The editors called me a week before the launch. I was stunned, speechless. I hadn’t actually believed I’d sell a story before that.

Q4: What was the defining moment that made you say “Yes I’m a writer”?

KW: I always believed I was a writer. I think the first time I really believed I was going to do it for real was when I was fourteen and wrote a real short story. I wrote it in a sitting, then edited and rewrote it. I also wrote a novel that year and that was hard work.

Q5: How long have you been writing? What keeps you writing?

KW: Written seriously since 14, sought publication from around 23, published from around 28. I keep writing because I am full of ideas and sentences. Also because people ask me for stories now and who am I to say no?

Q6: Who are some of your influences?

KW: Writers: Michael Marshall Smith, Christopher Fowler, Harlan Ellison, Lisa Tuttle, many, many others.

No teachers. I’m afraid I don’t look back with fond memories; I found very little encouragement of my writing through school.

Personal friends: Cat Sparks, Donna Hanson, Matt Farrer, Gillian Polack, Lauren Beukes. All great writers and great supporters. There are so many more. I’ve found the world of Speculative Fiction incredibly supportive and positive. Most people know that the stronger the community, the stronger the opportunities.

Q7: What’s your favorite speculative fiction work?

KW: I have a lot, but the one I’m thinking about now is “You Bright and Risen Angels” by William Vollman.

Q8: Slights would probably be considered horror rather than science fiction or fantasy. Why do you write horror?

KW: Even when I write science fiction or fantasy, there are elements of horror. I’m not sure why all my ‘what ifs?” are dark and nasty, but they seem to be. I think partly it’s because the world is such a messed up place in so many ways, so there is unlimited material and inspiration. My ideas notebooks are full of outrage and offence.

Q9: Where does the inspiration for a character like Stevie come from?

KW: She is every sad and lonely person I’ve seen in my life. Every tough chick, every angry girl. She is the old man I saw on Christmas Eve carrying a turkey roll for his solo lunch the next day. She was the kid who doesn’t get invited to the neighbour’s party.

She is all that plus more.

Q10: Stevie is a rare type of serial killer: a young woman. Did you do research on real female serial killers to build her character?

KW: Not specifically for the novel, but I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers, so my reading was done over many years. I have newspaper clippings, fiction and non-fictions books, magazine articles.

Q11: Why do you think women are less likely to become serial killers than men?

KW: I really hate to answer this one! I’m not good on gender questions. I had a boss who used to say “Women are made to bring people into this world, men are made to take them out.” I guess that’s a pretty standard belief.

Q12: Have you ever had any negative reactions to the characters you write?

KW: Negative in that people don’t like Stevie much, yes. Mostly very positive in that people understand her, want to know more about her.

Q13: What’s the best positive reaction you’ve received?

KW: It’s hard to choose one. Many of the reviews have brought tears to my eyes because they talk about Stevie as a real person. Every time she works for someone it is so satisfying.

However, receiving the starred review and book of the week from Publisher’s Weekly was pretty amazing! “With outstanding control, Warren manipulates Stevie’s voice to create a portrait of horror that in no way reads like a first novel.”

Q14: Do you believe in Stevie’s theory that each person we’ve slighted in life will be waiting for us upon our death? If so, has that changed your daily behavior?

KW: I do kind of believe it. I certainly believe in some variation of karma. I also believe that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be hurt by the unintended slight. That has helped me deal with the small things of life. The thoughtless comment from a usually kind person, that kind of thing. I think it’s important to move on from that and learn how to deal with it.

Q15: Do you think that being a woman author has made getting published harder or easier for you?

KW: I don’t really think it made a difference. I’ve never had the sense of discrimination either way. That said, “White Bed”, the story I mention above, was in a women’s only horror anthology, so that helped, I guess, though I’d like to think it would have been published anyway!

Q16: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive of diverse characters, or more exclusive?

KW: I see a very positive future. I think the stories being told are further-reaching and more accessible to the wider audience.

As far as diversity of character, I hope so. I think many writers are trying to move beyond stereotypes and include characters beyond their own small lives. Also, with more publication of those writing outside of the US and the UK, we’ll see far more diversity of character and story.

Q17: What are you working on right now? Any other series or stories in the works?

KW: No series, but am finalizing Walking the Tree and Mistification for Angry Robot Books. Working on a novel about last things and another about a very strange archive. Working on short stories inspired by Fiji and beyond. Always lots going on!

Q18: Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

KW: I think we’ve covered most things! The advice I give to people who say they wish they could write but don’t have time is; keep a notebook. Write down a good title if you think of it, or a character detail, or an odd idea. Have that ready for when you do have time. Lots of people will never get to it and I think that this process, this writing down of ideas, can be satisfying enough for many. For the rest of us, we end up with dozens of notebooks around the house with scribbled, barely remembered lines.

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For more information about Kaaron Warren and her writing visit her website or follow her on Twitter @KaaronWarren

You can purchase Slights through Amazon, Borders, and Powell’s Books, and directly through the publisher, Angry Robot Books.

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My guest review of Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson is up at Color Online. This book really blew me away. Monkey Beach follows Lisa, a young girl from the Haisla Native American Tribe living in Canada, with beautiful touches of magical realism and deep insights into what it means to grow up and be a family. I hope you’ll head over to read and leave some great comments.

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Tu Publishing is a new small press trying to raise enough money through donations to buy their first manuscripts. They are focused on promoting multi-cultural Science Fiction and Fantasy in Young Adult Literature, a goal that A Working Title fully supports. Stacy Whitman is the Editorial Director. They have 18 days left for their fundraiser at KickStarter and still have a lot of money to raise. I hope the readers of A Working Title will do what they can to help get this small press off the ground.

Q1: What drew you to create Tu Publishing?

TP: Several things, really. I’d been looking for the next step for a while, after freelancing for about six months after a layoff, and a friend actually suggested it one night—let’s start a small press. I thought she was joking, but in fact she was serious. We started putting together a business plan, and looking at niches we might be able to fill. I wanted to work on fantasy and science fiction because that’s what I love. I’ve always tried to seek multicultural characters and settings as an editor, and I’d become even more aware of the issue because of the RaceFail discussion. While RaceFail mostly addressed adult fantasy and science fiction, the discussion carried over into an awareness of how few multicultural settings and characters we really have in YA SFF, too. So it seemed quite natural to investigate how the small press I wanted to start might be able to fill at least a little of this gap.

Q2: What is the idea behind the Multicultural aspect? Do you feel that Young Adult fantasy and science fiction is currently lacking in diversity?

TP: Yes and no. A number of really great fantasies have come out lately with diverse characters—Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix, Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days, and Alison Goodman’s Eon: Dragoneye Reborn to name a few. Yet these books might not be as well-known to a general audience as some other middle grade and YA fantasy titles, and there are fewer of them. It’s hard to get solid numbers on fantasy, but if you look at the CCBC’s numbers from 2008, out of 3000 books that year, only about 3% of those books had significant African or African American content that wasn’t a geography book, and 2% were Latino.

It’s hard to say how many of those were fantasy, or if the CCBC counted fantasy separately from multicultural books, but another list that was recently put together by Elizabeth Bluemle, a bookseller (I’m looking for the link, but I believe it’s waaay back in my Twitter feed), of recent books featuring African American or other characters of color, and about 24 of over 600 books were fantasy. Even adding in the 50-some books we listed in separate book list blog posts, that’s not a large number.

We often have “diversity” in fantasy in the different kinds of fantasy species we run into—whether that be elves, dwarves, pixies, or dragons. But often the main human character is white, and the folklore upon which the story depends is Western European. There are so many cultures from around the world, and so many different kinds of foundations upon which a fantasy story can be built. I think it’s important for us in publishing to remember that. And we’ve got great examples of this kind of storytelling, but we need more of them.

Q3: What do you hope to accomplish through Tu Publishing?

TP: To publish great stories that entertain and inspire, and for those stories to reach a wide audience, including an audience that might not have seen themselves in fantasy before.

Q4: Why focus on YA and children’s books?

TP: Why not? Children’s and YA is the place to be! I love what a renaissance we’re going through in YA right now. Stories for young people tend to focus on the story more than in many adult genres: they’re more about characters and plot and less about showing the reader how artful the writer can be with a sentence. And I think this makes for better writing. Now, there are a number of adult books that I enjoy. But I love seeing individual child readers light up at finding a story they really connect with—stories that make them lifelong readers.

Q5: Why science fiction and fantasy?

TP: While realistic novels and picture books have plenty of publishers making sure that a wide variety of stories get told, with a wide variety of cultures and people represented in them, fantasy tends not to get this kind of attention. We still have a long way to go on many fronts, don’t get me wrong. But fantasy is a genre that, due to my experience and qualifications, I can do something about.

Q6: Who are some of your influences?

TP: There are so many, it’s hard to really pick! A major influence on getting started on this project in the first place would be my friend Charisa, who is the friend whose joke started the whole idea. She’s a huge anime fan and got me watching a lot of it this last year or so (I have liked it for years, but never knew where to start beyond Miyazaki and Avatar: The Last Airbender), and my awareness of anime and manga got me thinking about what I now know to be interculturalism (see below for more on that).

Robert Jordan was one of the first authors I read who created a world inspired by our whole world—not just European culture, but Asian culture, African culture, a wide range of mixing and matching of different influences. I loved picking out possible inspirations for all the different cultures he created, and I loved yelling at his characters and telling them to just talk to each other—as I kept devouring volume after volume. I’m actually in the middle of a reread of the books, because I haven’t read them for a few years and the newest volume is out now, and it takes me back to 1992 when I first picked up The Eye of the World as a freshman in college, wide-eyed, from a farm town in western Illinois where I could count on one hand the people of color I knew. As a kid, I’d always wondered why I wasn’t born Japanese, and in Jordan’s books I was able to explore a multitude of cultures.

But most of all, I blame my college roommates. 🙂 Over the course of a few years, I lived with two Laotians, two Brazilians, two Koreans, one black Englishwoman, three Canadians, one Puerto Rican, and one Mexican (the last with whom I plan on eating Thanksgiving dinner with on Thursday!). That doesn’t even count those who came in later years. These strong, intelligent, awesome women, and many other neighbors and friends over the years, taught me about their cultures and helped me to see beyond my own. I always joke that one day I’m going to go on a world tour and never stay in a hotel, but really, they gave me a world tour by being my friends. Why shouldn’t everyone get to have a similar experience through reading?

And, of course, I hope that our books, in some small way, also might influence people to find more of a reason to seek out friends of different backgrounds from themselves in real life.

Q7: What has it taken to get Tu Publishing started? Can you walk us through a little of the process?

TP: I’ve been working on the business plan since March of 2009, and registered the business that summer. I’ve been working with a Small Business Administration coach to help me navigate the parts of starting a business I’m not as familiar with (accounting, for example), and she’s been a huge help in the process. As I built my business plan, I also have been learning Illustrator, because though I have a designer friend who will help me, I’ll be implementing a lot of his art direction. I’ve been putting together a marketing and PR plan, putting together financials such as P&Ls for sample books, cash flow statements, and budgeted income statements, and basically doing the footwork for planning a business—and of course, being in publishing makes it that much more complicated. I’ve had to calculate royalties, plan for how I’ll handle advances, and explore accounting procedures. I had to decide whether the business should be an LLC, S-corp, or C-corp. I’ve been reading a LOT of business and marketing books to be sure that I’m well-grounded in the areas of the business I’m not as familiar with.

The biggest challenge has been funding, of course. It takes a lot of money to start a publishing company. We’ve been running a fundraising campaign at Kickstarter that has about 18 days left to go (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1586632165/tu-publishing-a-small-independent-multicultural) and to support that, several friends have started an online auction (http://community.livejournal.com/kickstart_tu/) to benefit the Kickstarter. I’ve applied for grants, and I have had a private investor approach me, as well. Between all these and a small business loan, we hope to be open for submissions come January 2010.

Q8: You are relying on donations to buy your first manuscripts. How much do you still need to reach your goal?

TP: Right now, our Kickstarter is 31% funded. So we need another $6900 to reach our goal by Dec. 14. The best part about this kind of fundraising is that, much like a PBS campaign, everyone who donates–whether it’s $5 or $50–gets a reward for their donation. Bookmarks, advance reader’s copies, books donated to their library, that kind of thing.

If we reach our goal, everyone wins. If we don’t reach our goal, no money exchanges hands. It seemed like a great way to get started and to get the word out about what we hope to accomplish at the same time. We’ll also be approaching banks for a small business loan, but we’ve all been hearing about how few loans are getting made in this economy, so we hope that between the Kickstarter and a few other resources (including, of course, money out of my own savings account and out of my pocket going forward–$10,000 is only the beginning of what a company like this will need) we’ll be able to show a few sales to the banks first.

Q9: Do you have any particular authors or future authors in mind for your first purchases?

TP: I have several authors in mind, and many more who I’ve been talking with, but I’m not at a point yet where I’m ready to talk about specifics. I’ve worked with a number of authors in the past who I’d love to continue working with, and hopefully some of those authors will have something that will work for us.

Q10: Who makes up the staff of Tu Publishing? Can you tell us about some of the backgrounds of your crew?

Stacy Whitman

TP: I am the editorial director, of course. In my day job, I’m the publication manager for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series, as well as a freelance editor working with Mirrorstone, Marshall Cavendish, and a number of other publishers. Prior to going freelance, I spent three years as an editor for Mirrorstone, the children’s and young adult imprint of Wizards of the Coast in Seattle. I hold a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. Before that, I edited elementary school textbooks at Houghton Mifflin, interned at the Horn Book Magazine and Guide, and spent a brief stint working as a bookseller.

I’ve worked with authors such as James Dashner and Tiffany Trent. Some of the titles I’ve edited include The New York Times best-selling picture book A Practical Guide to Monsters, the acclaimed YA series Hallowmere, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series that debuted with Red Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham.

My art director is Isaac Stewart, who designed the maps for the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson and draws the Rocket Road Trip webcomic (http://rocketroadtrip.com/). He’s a talented artist and designer—he designed our logo—and I’m excited to work with him.

I also have a number of talented freelancers I’ll be relying on for editorial and marketing/PR help. Mostly, though, as with most startups, I will be wearing a lot of hats while we get started, until I can hire full-time helpers. I’ll also be relying upon interns for manuscript reading, for example.

Q11: Do you have any available staff positions open right now? When will you start accepting manuscripts for consideration?

TP: Not at the moment. I already have a number of friends in the industry who have offered their assistance, and I have contacts at the local universities with whom I’m working to arrange intern help when it’ll become necessary. I hope that these freelance gigs will turn into full-time jobs for some people, but that will take time. We’re only going to publish two books our first year, so I’ll be the only full-time staff member—and I won’t be taking a salary.

Q11: Have you received support or negativity for this project?

TP: I’ve received a lot of support—overwhelming support. It’s been a good experience. My friends and friends of friends and people just out of the blue continuously encourage me and tell me that they think this is a great idea.

I have had one or two people tell me that they feel that “multicultural” to them means an attack on white people, but I honestly don’t know how to answer that. I’m white, and I don’t feel like exploring other cultures is any way an attack on my cultural heritage. I love that I’m Swedish/Irish/Scottish/English/German/Prussian—and I love exploring my heritage. Perhaps that’s why I love asking other people about theirs? I’m not sure. But I hope that the stories we publish will appeal to a broad range of people, including white people. I think that there are emotional experiences that resonate across cultures, and I think it’s entirely valid to say, “Where’s the Latino Harry Potter? Where’s the African American (or Ghanan, or Iranian) Twilight?”

On the flip side, some have suggested that the word “multicultural” might be past its prime, and that we should be able to publish a wide variety of characters and stories without having to label those stories into a ghetto of sorts. I agree that this is a niche that should appeal to everyone, and I intend to acquire books that have a wide appeal. Personally, I think fantasy and SF are a great place for expansion of the niche, because of their detachment from the real world—often, fantasy and SF can explore issues that have emotional baggage in the real world—and I hope that the stories we publish will bridge the niche to a wider readership. We don’t want to publish African American stories only for African American readers, and Asian stories for Asian readers, and so forth.

I love the term “interculturalism,” actually (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interculturalism), as a way of explaining the kind of reach we hope to have across cultures—as Wikipedia defines it, “an inherent openness to the culture of the ‘other.’” Aren’t we all “other” in some way to other people? And one way of bridging that divide is to explore stories from perspectives not our own. Check out Renee@Shen’s Multicultural Minute on the subject: http://www.shens.com/blog/2009/08/the-multicultural-minute-2-int.html.

Q12: What’s the best positive reaction you’ve received?

TP: I’m really not sure I could pin it down to just one. I think every time someone retweets what we’re talking about, every time I see that someone has linked to us and said they’re looking forward to seeing us succeed, it gives me confidence. We’re not the only people to think of this, and certainly not the first—we’re part of a huge team of people and hope to be one more force for good.

Q13: What are some ways besides donating that supporters can help get Tu Publishing off the ground?

TP: Right now, the best thing you can do is spread the word. Share links to our site with friends on Facebook, talk about it with real-life friends and on Twitter and wherever you’re having conversations. Read our blog (http://www.tupublishing.com) and comment, and point out to us people who we might want to interview for the blog. And as far as the reality of making sure we have enough money to get off the ground, the more people who know about us, the more a few people who might have an extra $20 might think, “Hey, I like this idea, and I can totally spare that much to get a coupon for a book.” Once we’re open for submissions, they can tell all their writer friends about us too (well, and that one doesn’t have to wait until we’re open, either!). We know how tough the economy has been on people—I myself made do without insurance while barely getting by as a freelancer for a year after getting laid off—and we know how much of a sacrifice even $20 can be, so we appreciate those who can spare even a little, and understand how few people might be able to do that much.

Q14: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive of diverse characters, or more exclusive?

TP: We’re at a point where a lot of people are thinking about race in children’s books—not only RaceFail but Justine Larbalestier’s Liar cover controversy has brought up the issue in the collective consciousness. So I think a number of people are thinking more consciously about the issue than they perhaps might have been in the past, and I hope that more people are paying attention to the books they buy.

But publishers publish what the “market” demands—they publish where book sales are greatest. Bookstores, of course, have a huge part in this, as do librarians, and I hope that the Liar issue helped us all in the book business to become more aware of it. What it comes down to is readers demanding books that reflect a wide variety of people by buying good books with diverse casts of characters, and publishers making sure that we pay attention to this issue.

All that is to say: Yes, I think speculative fiction is going to become more diverse. Or really, at least as far as science fiction goes—to become diverse again, because if you read Heinlein, he believed the future was a lot of shades of brown. I hope that the leaders in writing diverse fantasy will have many followers in their footsteps, too. But it will only happen if readers look for those books, and if publishers publish those books.

Q15: Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

TP: Thanks so much for the interview! Also, feel free to check out our blog at http://www.tupublishing.com, follow us on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/tupublishing), or fan us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tu-Publishing/112191230046). Keep an eye on any of those venues for announcements of submission guidelines, contests, and other news.

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The first five commenters will get 2 free and awesome Tu Publishing book marks, one for you and one to pass out and spread the word, which A Working Title will mail to you, anywhere in the world.

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Delilah and the Space-Rigger by Robert A. Heinlein
Part of the The Green Hills of Earth anthology
Mass Market Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Baen Books; Reprint edition (February 1, 2000)
ISBN-13: 978-0671578534

It’s a well known fact that women are a serious and often dangerous distraction on high risk jobs, such as constructing a space station. At least, that’s the attitude held by Tiny Larsen, the crew chief in charge of building Space Station One. He works with an all-male crew, trying to get this monumental task accomplished while maintaining order among the men. That all seems to be in jeopardy when G. Brooks McNye is sent up to the station to replace a man who was fired.

Gloria Brooks McNye is the first and currently only woman on a space station crewed entirely by men. Larsen fears for her safety and the respectfulness of his men, as loudly and obnoxiously as he possibly can. He goes completely out of his way to try and keep her sequestered from the rest of the crew while he hustles to get a male replacement sent up.

This is a humorous story poking fun at the sheer ridiculousness of judging competence and character based on gender. McNye sets out to prove from the beginning that she can do anything boys can do, and in some cases, better. It’s up to her and rest of the crew to convince Larsen that women have as much right to help build this huge undertaking for as men do. It’s a funny story, and I recommend it and the rest of The Green Hills of Earth for any Heinlein lovers and any newbies alike.

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The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Tiptree, Jr.
Part of The Hugo Winners: Volume 3 anthology
Hardcover: 603 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (January 1, 1977)

P. Burke is a social pariah, deformed in body and in possession of not much mind. The near-future society in which she lives is utterly devoted to the worship of beautiful people. They are seen as gods, striding above the rest of the population on a wave of adoration. Every holocam is pointed in their direction. Burke cannot even hope to be noticed by such people and in the end, her existence becomes too much to bear. She tries to kill herself. And is miraculously offered the chance of a lifetime while recovering in the hospital.

Become a Remote for a new god. No one will ever know that P. Burke is really the brain running the beautiful doll body of lovely little Delphi, the newest splash on the celebrity scene. Burke sits five hundred feet below ground, hooked up to wires and controls and circuits, her own body nearly lifeless, and lives the life of Delphi. But why would she be offered such a chance? What’s the catch?

A set of stringent laws called the Huckster Laws have banned nearly all forms of advertising. The only way you are allowed to advertise is either on or in your product, or during an in-store demonstration. No more billboards, no more TV commercials, no more painted buses. And that just doesn’t work for the corporate men. So they’ve found a way around it. Create celebrities beloved by all, and have them showcase select products in their “everyday” lives. The millions of people who watch their broadcasts won’t fail to notice what brand of toothpaste or what kind of shoes their living gods are wearing.

P. Burke and her alter-ego, Delphi, will be a living advertisement. But when Burke/Delphi falls in love and grows a conscience about breaking the ad laws, her life is irreparably changed.

Tiptree’s deft hand in this story is wonderful to read. The narrative style is great, and the descriptions of corporate life, evil machinations, and the desire to simply be loved for who and what you are, are absolutely captivating. This is a fantastic peek at where are own world could be headed, with our reality TV shows and the incessant consumer culture we live in. Read this story, and weep for Delphi. Then break your TV.

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