Saturday, November 4, 2017

Greasers and Socs

There are two kinds of people in this world: Greasers and Socs. Which one are you?

The terms come from S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders. It's a classic of young adult fiction and if you haven't read it, shame on you! There's a movie, too, which I have fondness for in spite of the fact that Tom Cruise is in it.

It's a story of two gangs: The Greasers and the Socs.

Socs take their name from "socials." They are children of privilege with letterman jackets, nice cars, and an overinflated sense of self importance. They are definitely the bad guys. Hinton's sympathies (and the readers') are solidly with the Greasers.

Greasers have it rough. They don't have "good" parents or even any parents at all. Their lives are impacted by need, violence, neglect, and substance abuse. They meet with societal censure for their clothing and homes. They are from the wrong side of the tracks.

It might be a very simple world view, but I think all of us are either Greasers or Socs. Once we are adults, it's more about your life attitude than your socio-economic-status, but the designations hold. Let's talk for just a few minutes and I'll tell if you are one of us or one of them.

Socs have money. They have always had money. They don't know what it's like not to have money, and they don't have sympathy for money problems. If you grew up poor, it's less likely that you will ever be a soc. Because they don't know what it's like not to have something you need, Socs don't appreciate what they have. The worst of them don't even know what it's like not to have something you merely want. Having all the things they want doesn't make them generous. In fact, it makes them hoard what they have, trying to collect more and more and not caring that they have more than they need while others struggle to meet their basic needs. As adults, they drive BMWs too fast and cut off other drivers. They shove in line. They think the rules don't apply to them. They worry about me and mine first at all times.

I'm a Greaser. Compared to some of my childhood friends, I grew up privileged. But I still know what it's like to have to wait for things I need and not be able to get things I want. I've seen ebb and flow in income and know that sometimes you have to look at the long game. You have to sacrifice in one area to do what is needed in another. Because I couldn't and can't have whatever I want when I want it, I have learned to prioritize needs and wants and to appreciate the things I have. I try to help others. Us Greasers are in this together. We support one another.

“That's why people don't ever think to blame the Socs and are always ready to jump on us. We look hoody and they look decent. It could be just the other way around - half of the hoods I know are pretty decent guys underneath all that grease, and from what I've heard, a lot of Socs are just cold-blooded mean - but people usually go by looks.”
― S.E. HintonThe Outsiders 

For this reason, parents, I argue against raising Socs. Even if you have the income to do it, you don't do your children any favors by raising them with a sense of entitlement and self-importance. It's a dangerous road, slick with oils and without enough guardrails. It's easy to veer off the path into questionable morality and then into outright illegal and immoral acts. Socs can go a long time without getting caught, the cost to the soul notwithstanding, but when the consequences catch up to them, it's spectacular. There are washed out mug shots and corpses littering the ground.

We all want our children to do well, but there's a difference between handing your children everything and giving them the life skills they need. Greaser children have empathy. They know that it's important to work hard and do well for themselves, but they also know that their needs might not be the most important needs in the room at any given moment. They understand that resources are limited and that they should go to those in deepest need first. They try to solve problems themselves, and are patient about waiting for help when it is needed.

I'd rather teach a room full of Greasers than a room full of Socs. Soc children will constantly call for my attention over things it is entirely possible to solve for oneself. They want the validation of my attention, even when they are snatching it from another child who needs it more. Greaser children will try to help each other first. Only after they've exhausted their options will they ask for help. When they get help, they remember to say thank you for it.

In fact, I prefer Greasers to the point that I have to watch my bias in my interactions with others, keep myself from assuming you're a Soc on the inside based on the appearance of your outside. I have a basic mistrust of people who are too pretty, especially pretty in a polished, practiced way. It makes me wonder about your priorities. If your surface is too smooth, I doubt you have depth.

“It seemed funny that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”
― S.E. HintonThe Outsiders

One of the themes in the novel was the idea that we all watch the same sunset. It's another version of the old saw about all living under the same sky.  It's a nice idea. But I wonder about its truth. Maybe I'm just getting cynical as I get old, but I truly wonder if the Socs of this world really do see the same sunset I do. If we view it and interpret it so differently, is it really still the same sunset?

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Post by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Why I Love Fan Conventions

Me with Angela Pritchett at the Southern Voices Book Launch Party. Picture by Leona Wisoker of The Scribbling Lion.
So, I went to Con-Gregate for the second time this summer, a small sci-fi/fantasy convention in High Point, North Carolina, where I was a guest author. I knew I was going to have fun, and my expectations were exceeded. There's nothing like spending time with people who love the same things you are passionate about. And--hey, bonus! I sold some books, too.

I was thinking about what makes time at a con so great. After all, there's a lot about a con experience that is hard on me. There's seldom enough quiet recharge time for an introvert like me. Or at least you have to choose whether you'll take the time for personal recharge or the opportunity to connect with like-minded folk (never an easy choice).

It costs money and I'm a schoolteacher in North Carolina, so I don't really have any of that. (As a guest author, usually my con fees are waived, but I will still need to get myself there, pay for a place to sleep and buy food and drinks).

If I'm to attend, then I have to rely on others (my husband and sister, usually) to take over the things I would normally have been doing--giving my kids rides, walking the dog, feeding people, etc. When you're a "giver" sort of person, it can be hard to be the one receiving help. I have to fight the guilt over being a little selfish and taking this time for me and my writing career.

But, still, even with all the cons of cons (ha! I amuse me) I *love* going to cons.

I was sitting in a session given by AJ Hartley, a Special Writer Guest of the con, called "What Can Genre Authors Learn from Shakespeare?" when I realized what it is. It's the level of discourse.

In my ordinary day to day life, I teach middle school. Some of my colleagues and students are brilliant shining minds that dazzle and challenge me, but a lot of them aren't. Not all of them are there because they want to be or because they love what we've come together to do. In fact, how few of them want to be there is a little depressing when you consider that I got into teaching, in part, to share my passion for learning and books.

But, as I sat in that session, I realized with a kind of rush that I was in a room of 30 some odd people (and some of us are really odd people) who love both speculative fiction AND Shakespeare. People with passionate opinions about things like whether the ghosts are really there in Macbeth and Hamlet or are just in the minds of the haunted.



Over the course of my weekend, I was part of conversations about moral boundaries in superhero stories, what white straight people writing more diverse characters need to consider, what constitutes cultural appropriation, why representation matters, what tropes serve stories well and which ones are offensive, advantages and disadvantages of different paths to publishing, why gender and race are more than check-box categories, and the difference between true (nonfiction) and heart-true.

My TBR list which is already longer than the time I will probably be on this earth grew by leaps and bounds, as did my list of shows to watch, music to explore, clothing to buy, places to go, and stories to write. It reminds me of the best moments of college.

It's worth the introvert coma that follows just to talk this deeply for a few days. It really is. Do any of you have any favorite fan conventions in your necks of the woods? If not, how do you get your geek on?
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Post by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Friday, September 1, 2017

Back to Hogwarts: The Hogwarts Tag


I was not a fan of school, but you better believe that if I got my Hogwarts letter I'd march right back to the education system for seven years of magical learning.

To celebrate the 1st of September, the official day that Hogwarts students take the Hogwarts Express back to school, I'll be doing the Hogwarts Tag. I'm not sure who the original creator is, but I saw it done by Dawlyn and Krista at Little Blind Book Finds. Be sure to check out their post and see the different answers they each have.

Am I Pure-blood, Half-blood, or Muggle Born?


I saw it explained somewhere once that a Pure-blood is a person who has read all of the books and seen all of the movies. Going by this statement, I'd surely be a Pure-blood Wizard (though not like the Malfoys! Much nicer.). ;)

Which wand chose me?


My wand, according to Pottermore, would be made of Elm with a Unicorn hair core, 10 3/4" with hard flexibility.

Did I take an owl, cat, rat, or toad with me?


An owl I can borrow from school if I need to, but I couldn't get through months of work like this without a cat by my side. 

Where did the Sorting Hat put me?


I would have been surprised to go anywhere else! Ravenclaw is home for me.

What house did I want to be in?


I don't suppose Hufflepuff would've been too bad and I do get it as a secondary house sometimes on quizzes. To be fair, though, my hybrid house is Slytherin, so I may well have found myself in green at Hogwarts.

What lessons are my favorite and least favorite?

Favorite: Charms. 


Least Favorite: History of Magic. I wouldn't mind reading Hogwarts, A History on my own time, but Professor Binns sounds downright dreadful. 



The form my Patronus takes.


How perfect that my Patronus is a cat. I wonder if I'd ever learn how to make three at once like McGonagall?

What does a Boggart look like to me?


Since I don't think a Boggart could accurately portray my fear of heights, I'll say Umbridge. This emotionally abusive, manipulative witch is something I couldn't deal with.

Do I partake in any magical sports or school activities?


According to the Harry Potter Wikia page, there was a knitting club at Hogwarts. It sounds like something I would've joined as, while I love Quidditch, I don't think I'd actually be a good flyer. In this club, I bet we'd learn how to make the images on our more involved projects move like wizarding photographs. Neat!

Where would I find myself hanging in my spare time?


While the library would probably get a lot of attention, I think I'd also sit under a tree next to the Black Lake as well. I do want to see this enormous squid!

What would I most likely get detention for?


Staying too late in the library, whether due to schoolwork or personal interest.

What career do I want after leaving Hogwarts?


I took a quiz and got Professor. The librarian at Hogwarts could be considered a professor, right? *lol* I'm not sold on the idea of teaching, but as Hagrid and a few others have shown us, it can be fun. I'd probably be the person in the gif, dancing around with the books after all the students have gone. :D



I tag anyone that would like to do this tag! A new year at Hogwarts has begun and we have until May, when inevitably some sort of trouble will occur. Maybe we can get through our exams this year. ^^;







All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Blood Moon by John David Bethel

Review by E.J. Hammon
 
Based on the actual kidnapping and torture of Marc Schiller in Miami, Florida, Blood Moon is a fictionalized retelling of his story. The action begins shortly after several body parts are found in a fountain by a dog walker. We are then propelled directly into the brutal abduction and attempted murder of Miami resident, Recidio Suarez. Having built his wholesale food company into a multi-million dollar enterprise, he attracts the notice of local thugs. Their leader, Blaine Nesbit, turns Suarez’s business partner against him and a plan is set in motion to kidnap him. Blaine and Dario intend to steal all of his money in the guise of what will seem like legitimate business transactions. Despite attempts to hide their identities, Recidio immediately recognizes Blaine from past interactions and his business partner, Dario Pedrajo. Suarez is held in a warehouse and forced to sleep in a cardboard box over a thirty day period. During that time, his kidnappers make him sign legal documents and write out checks to them, so that he is left with nothing. They regularly beat him and chop off three fingers from his left hand in an attempt to keep him under control. Their plan goes awry when, after pushing him off a ledge, Recidio survives. His attorney makes it well known that Recidio will get his money back and put them in prison. Eventually, Recidio’s demure and soft-spoken wife, Carolina, reaches out to a local cartel to put her husband’s kidnappers in their place. The ending of the book is bloody and much more fiction that reality.
 
I found the book itself well-written and definitely not for the faint of heart. Bethel writes with intelligence and can paint a picture with words. I felt like I could see the interior of the warehouse and experience the crushing blows raining down on our protagonist during his kidnapping. The writing was so visual that it became very hard to read, not for how it was written, but for the subject matter. Though I frequently read a great many true crime books, imagining the torture of this man was highly uncomfortable. The drama after Recidio is sent to his death was fast-paced and enjoyable. Some of the decisions the characters made were questionable. I had a problem with Recidio’s wife, Carolina, becoming a mercenary to avenge her husband. I realize this book was a fictional account of an actual crime, but bringing a one-dimensional character to the forefront out of nowhere was hard to follow. If Carolina had been described earlier in the book a bit more, I would have found her later introduction more palatable. Also, when Recidio’s attorney confronted his tormenters, it felt forced. What victim wants to make their attackers aware of their intentions before being given the chance to strike out against them? Overall, the book was a fast read and kept me on my seat. Though the ending was satisfying, it could have been made more realistic and followed the actual story closer. That being said, I would read more of Bethel’s work, if only for the intense and colorful language he pens with ease.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: Ross Poldark


Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Poldark has made quite a splash in the latest televised version. It's a big hit with many of my friends, with old fashioned eye candy in the Colin Firth and "the shirt" sort of way, coupled with sweeping vistas and fast moving dramatic relationship driven plot lines. I'm a big believer in "read the book first" when it comes to adaptations of literature, so when one of my book clubs chose Ross Poldark, I was excited to find out what all the fuss was about.

I did enjoy the book, in a light, escapist popcorn sort of way. For me to be able to love it more deeply, it would have to be a deeper book.

In some ways, this read like an outline for a book. Obviously, I'm supposed to feel for Ross Poldark and be cheering for him. And I do, at a certain level. If I list for you the circumstances of his life, there's a lot to elicit interest and sympathy. War veteran returns home to find his father dead and his family home basically in ruins and has to rebuild his fortune while dealing with a broken heart.

Yet, even though the book centers around this man, he's strangely passive in his own life. Things happen around him, and he seems to make choices that earn him praise among the common folk (rare for someone of his more aristocratic birth), but I never feel as though he did anything particularly on purpose, or thought further ahead than the moment in front of him. He doesn't have an interior life or strong opinions. So, instead of the main character, he feels like a guy I hear vague rumors about.

I was put off by the romance with Demelza, even though I did like where it went once they were together. The fact that she comes into his life as a child and basically grows up in his care, then awkwardly seduces him because she doesn't want to go back to her father…well, so MUCH of that gave me the wiggins. I like Demelza a great deal as a character, but the yuck factor in how this romance came about takes the enjoyment out of it for me.

As a writer myself, I was confused by some of Graham's choices as to what to show and what to leave "off screen" to tell us about later. Several times, there was a big, dramatic moment with no conclusion, and the next chapter picked up with something mundane and threw in how that drama ended up as a sort of throwaway: "by the way, folks, she didn't die after all" or "oh yeah--he married her." Huh?

So, it was a nice, light read. And I will probably watch the TV adaptation now. I hear the Demelza is closer to Ross's age on screen and more his equal in a lot of ways. That modernization might help a great deal.

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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Unpopular Opinions: Gilmore Girls is Not that Great

I'm sure you've all heard that Netflix did a new Gilmore Girls show. It's old news, but I don't have that much time for TV, so I'm just getting to it.

I didn't watch the old one when it was on, but thought I should now that people are talking about it again. It's one of those shows that I've heard a lot about. Lots of intelligent women I like and admire enjoy it and I always intended to watch it someday.

So, I've been giving it a go. I'm in Season 2 right now.

I don't quite hate it enough to walk away. I'll still watch more. But I definitely don't love it.

Dialogue: 
People who told me I'd like the show praised the dialogue.

And, yes, there are some cute bits. I tend to like Luke's rants better than Lorelei's. I snorted during a recently-watched episode when Luke went on about how unprepared he was to become the sudden parent figure for his nephew. "I have no patience for jam hands!"

But these bits feel like staged monologues to me, or maybe dialogues when Lorelei and Rory do one together. Kind of like bits by Abbott and Costello, but with less real emotion and more elbowing you to make sure you've noticed how clever they are.

In short, the dialogue is fun, in a plastic, surface-y, insincere way. But it doesn't move me.

Quirk overload:

So, this town is on quirk overload.

I enjoy some good quirky characters. As a younger woman, I was half in love with Chris in the Morning on Northern Exposure, another show set in an imaginary town full of odd people.

But there's too much quirk for me in Stars Hollow. When everyone is bizarre, the bizarre gets boring. You need a straight man for the comedian to play off of. But here, everyone is Groucho Marx and there's no Margaret Dumont.

When I lived in Nome, Alaska, I used to joke that instead of a town drunk, they had me: the town sober. Stars Hollow doesn't have one! Even the curmudgeons are just a different brand of quirky. Thank goodness for the outsider perspective of characters like Dean and Max who can at least see that this place is a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Lorelei:

And Lorelei is here to out-quirk them all. She's the manic pixie dream girl sent to torture Luke and we're supposed to cheer for them to get together. I'm like, "Luke, Dude, back away from the manic pixie. Those things will eat you alive!"

Lorelei is beloved among the quirk-tastic denizens of this town above all others. I'm waiting to see why. So far, she seems just irresponsible and self-centered, only interested in other people to the degree that they are foils for herself. The way she treats Sookie, for example, grates on my nerves. Friendship, dear Lorelei is a two-way street, and you are a terrible friend.

Which leads me to my biggest complaint:

Suspension of Disbelief:

I don't believe this story. I have no trouble watching shows that are patently untrue and feature characters doing things that are physically impossible like flying or running at the speed of light or reading minds or any number of crazy things. But, I have to be able to lose myself in the story, accepting the world around me as real, believe that the characters can do the things they do. And I just don't do that on this show.

The backstory, as I understand it so far is:

Lorelei was a poor little rich girl who didn't want her debutante life. She got pregnant at sixteen, ran away from home, and settled in this tiny town not too far from where her parents lived. She convinced a woman who owned an inn to employ her and give her a place to live with her infant and, over the next sixteen years, worked her way up until she is now running the inn. The child she raised alone while doing all of this is a Mary Sue of a girl with no serious bad habits or scars from her poorly supervised childhood.

I don't buy it.

I don't buy that Lorelei had the gumption to build a life for herself whens she'd been raised a pampered rich girl.

And even if I could buy that, I don't buy that this sixteen year old child had the patience to raise a baby with such care and love, even while working full time to keep them in food and shelter, that they are now so close it's of interest to Freud.

I don't buy that the kid came through unscathed: kindhearted, generous, bookish, ambitious, and of chaste habits.

I've been a single mother. It was only for two years, thank G-d. I was thirty-two. I had the support and help of my parents. I was lucky. And it was still freaking hard! I was exhausted all the time.

Lorelei, as portrayed so far, isn't woman enough to have done all she is supposed to have done.

And if she were, why would she give up so quickly on funding her daughter's education without mommy and daddy's checkbook? Surely Stars Hollow could have funded her with a giant quirky festival that raised the tuition dollars if her independence was that important to her.

Conclusions: 
Gilmore Girls is glib. I value sincerity and deep emotions (in life and in fiction). This show has a pretty surface, but it admires itself too much. While there are some things about it that are refreshing and interesting, after watching 1.5 seasons, I'm afraid I still don't get it.

So what do you think, people of the Internet? Want to help me understand what's so great about this show? Tell me I'm wrong? Agree with me? Please comment below. I'd love to know what you think, too.

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Post by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson



Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I have such mixed feelings about this book. There was a lot I enjoyed. The setting, the steampunk gears-and-machines geekery, the main character's gumption (sometimes--she completely lacked gumption in some parts), the fairy tale strange path to your dreams feel. I even liked the Dickensian "orphan is more than she seems" fun. I was definitely pulled into the story and wanted to see Petra make her engineering dreams come true and find true love and change the world. I was cheering for our heroes, so that's a win.

But there was also a lot that disappointed. An unnecessary plot thread involving a rejected suitor turned potential rapist. It seems like we could have come up with a more natural sort of peril rather than giving a character who was presented as innocuous such a vicious turn.

The amount of the book spent on mooning over chocolate hair and copper eyes. I have limited stomach for swooning romance and at times the romance overwhelmed the elements that interested me more.

Interesting small characters that completely disappeared never to be thought of even for a moment when they weren't actively participating in the scene (Solomon? Matron? Mr. Stricket?) Other small characters that seemed to have gone to the Snidely Whiplash school of villainy.

Emmerich, our stalwart hero, was one-note in the way he protected Petra by seeming to betray her. Twice in such a short piece is at least once too often.

In the end, I can say I enjoyed it, but I wanted it to be more than it ended up being, to push a little deeper, reach a little higher. There was unreached potential in this book.

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Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at http://samanthabryant.com