On Reading: Look at All the Effs I Give

This will be one of those blog posts that I will not regret writing even though it is shades past 2 am and I most probably should not make any attempts at coherency past 2 am.

Also, there will be typos and grammatical errors but you know what? Let me just vent.

These past few days I have been feeling overwhelmed by the amount of toxicity spewed by people who sit snug behind their computer screens and spout utterly reprehensible shit because they have been given the green light by their prevailing Orange Cheeto Lord.

I usually seek solace in books because what other way to escape then by jumping into another narrative, another mind, another world. But being in the writing business (or trying to be anyway) and being an academic (of sorts), you can’t help but be aware of the subtext in the prose, be aware of how the narrative is informed by the author and what the author believes in.

So when you are reading a book written by a white author that has dominantly white characters and the chauffeur is a black man, your eyebrows climb up. Because you know what? Fuck you.

The Nafiza in early 2016 would have shrugged it off and read on but the Nafiza of early 2017 who is angry and hurt at the way the world continues to vilify people who don’t look like the dominant race, who don’t believe in the same things they do, that Nafiza says no.

I am  done with these little microaggressions that add up to one big wound. I am done excusing, accepting, tolerating, I am done with all of that. I just don’t care anymore.

And yes okay, I realize that me refusing to read books that have problematic subtexts or issues with representation is not that a big deal on its own but I don’t care about that. Those doing their best to maintain the status quo, to ensure diversity and the demand for it becomes a four letter word, these people don’t understand that at the heart of it, all we really want is to be accorded the respect that the hegemonic group seems to consider their due. Or maybe they do and they just don’t care. Because they get off on feeling superior because of whatever reasons.

But books you know. I used to be able to turn off the world and read but after that Tuesday revealed what people really think, how they really think of POC…Things changed.

Those who create consumable culture are, in some ways, the people who direct the mores of society. So the call for diversity means POC/people of different sexualities and orientations become become normalized at all levels of society, more accepted and what is wrong with that?

Going back to that example I mentioned (it’s not an example, it’s an actual book but let’s say it’s an example), had there been more POC characters around, would I have been as upset with the ethnicity of the chauffeur? No. The subtext, you guys. It couldn’t have been louder if it had a speaker and was up on a stage.

Yeah okay, I’m mostly done now. Still pissed off but done. For now anyway.

Discussion · writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing: This is YOUR book until it isn’t.

It feels remarkably self-indulgent to be still concerned with the lighter things considering everything that is happening politically across the border and around the world but here we are. Still concerned with art and the making of it. (Also the marketing of it but that is a different post for a different day.)

I am still working on my current project for which I wrote the back copy as:

“You are a child of flesh and blood and I am a being of fire and ink. Were I merciful, I would bid you run and end this tale here. But I am Ifrit and my stories are eternal even though I am not. So come here child, and in return for the kindness I have shown you, become the ink that writes my tale.”

Qirat is a country ruled by the humans who claim its forests and the Ifrit who claim all that is desert. The City of Noor, located on the border between the forests and the desert, is the seat of power for both the human and the Ifrit rulers. When Fatima, a human citizen of the city of Noor, delivers a letter to the Name Giver of the Ifrit that ends up fatally wounding him, she becomes the unwilling recipient of an ancient power not meant to be wielded by humans.

The days following the Name Giver’s murder are full of fire and smoke. Fatima is stalked through the city by the Djinni Guard which is led by an Ifrit called Zulfikar. The Name Giving power she received from the murdered Ifrit leads Fatima to discover a name and its associated Djinn fire that, inexplicably, belongs to her. She is captured by Zulfikar who finds himself drawn to Fatima for reasons he cannot understand or accept.  (This doesn’t happen because things are a bit more complicated than the above sentence implies.)

Old enemies resurface and chaos threatens to submerge Qirat into war once again. Fatima is thrown into a world where danger wears many faces and all roses have thorns. She learns that those who love often have the most to lose but that those who don’t love are often the most easily lost. With the war coming, Fatima has to decide which loss is more palatable to her.

Today I will talk about how your book is your book and no one else’s book and how you are writing it as the person you are and not the person you wish to be or the person you will be in a couple of years.

And obviously all these thoughts pertain to me because I am self-absorbed like that but perhaps these thoughts will help you reach some clarity in your own work so here goes nothing.

I spend a lot of time reading articles and posts on writing, taking in advice, talking to people about writing, and generally just learning the craft. So sometimes when I sit down to write I don’t know where to start because sometimes the advice I get is contradictory. I flail, I eat cookies hanging upside my bed, I have heart to heart conversations with my nephew whose entire lexicon is a variance of the word “goo.”

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that this is my first draft and I am going to make a lot of mistakes writing it. And that it is okay to make mistakes. This is YOUR book and you are allowed to write it the way you want to. Sometimes that will mean not taking the advice given to you and sometimes that will mean doing exactly what people told you not to. Because this is your book and it is the first draft.

So write it. Get it all out. Make all the mistakes. Flail. Cry out loudly. Scream. Get it done.

Because it is your book.

And then, once you’re done with the first draft, woman up. Because as soon as it goes to beta readers, editors, critique partners, it becomes their book too. Learn to take critiques, take all praise with a grain salt ESPECIALLY if it comes from your mother.

Then jump into rewrites. Buy lots of chocolate.

Good luck.

Discussion · lists

My Favourite Books of 2016, Part 2

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace
Atmospheric, sad, inevitable. There are many things I could say about this book but I reckon you should discover it for yourself.

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
This was the most adorable graphic novel I have read in ages. It tells a beautiful story filled with diverse characters and situations, full of humour and life.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories – Ken Liu
I’m still not over this one. I really am not.

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
This needs to be read in classrooms over North America.

The Wildings – Nilanjana Roy
For the longest time, I didn’t know if I liked this or was just weirded out by it but ultimately I spent so much time thinking about this book that it deserves a space on my best list because it’s the kind of book you will read, the kind that will entertain you and the kind you will think about for a long time after.

Dreaming Death by J. Kathleen Cheney
I will review this at when I reread it but suffice it to say that I really really liked it.

The Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Smarter people than me have spoken about how amazing this book is. Believe them.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
It blended fantasy and science in the best ways possible.

Booked by Kwame Alexander
I have read all of Alexander’s books so far and he keeps outdoing himself!

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet
Now this is the kind of Canadian Kidlit we need.

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers
It’s official. This is my favourite picturebook of the year and I have read quite a few.

Discussion · lists

My Favourite Books of 2016: Part 1

Note: To make things deliciously complicated, the books on this were not all released in 2016 but are those that I read this year. There are 21 books in this list. I will discuss the first 11 in this post and the rest in part 2.

Finnikin of the Rock – Melina Marchetta

I have read most of Melina Marchetta’s books to date(two in the Finnikin trilogy left) but for a long time, I resisted Finnikin because for some reason I thought it wouldn’t be good. Why I thought that, I don’t know. After Twitter friends gushed about its greatness, I finally took the plunge and boy, I kicked myself for waiting the time I did to read it because as with everything Marchetta writes, it is gold. Her characters are real flawed people and her stories are always grand in scope. This book made me feel all the feels which is the reason why it has a space on this list.

The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami

My love affair with Murakami is ongoing. I attempt to read two of his books/year but I only managed two in 2016. The Elephant Vanishes is such a perfect collection that even someone like me who doesn’t really like short stories fell for it. All stories are glimpses of worlds and lives and they don’t tell the entire story, they don’t even pretend to. They leave you wondering, thinking, wishing. I loved that.

Migritude by Shailja Patel

Migritude is perhaps my favourite book of the year. It made me cry and made me feel in the deepest of ways.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

I own many of Valente books and had not read any when I first read this one. I don’t know how I will fare with her adult offerings but this book was so amazing in so many ways. I know friends who dislike it intensely but for me, it captured the perfect blend of whimsy and tragedy.

Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington

Another book that surprised me in a very good way. I didn’t expect Sure Signs of Crazy to be as good as it turned out to be, as I am glad it turned out to be.

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho

This novella was just so perfect in the way it told a story, the voice of the heroine, the characters and the plot. I adore it.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

The Inconvenient Indian should be mandatory reading for kids in high school. There are so many things King talks about that I didn’t know or hadn’t even considered. What it means to be a member of one of the First Nations, what it means to live among people who murdered your ancestors and who continue murdering you. A sobering read.

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

The art in this one, you guys.

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Lai’s love for Vietnam is so obvious in this journey she takes us on. I was entranced and right there with her characters. A beautiful book.

Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan

One of those short books that unsettle you and make you think deeper about this world you live in.

Discussion · writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing: The Process and What it Does to the Writer

That is a very ambitious title for what I want to talk about and I have no confidence at all that I am going to be able to express myself with any clarity but…

what the heck… it is past midnight and clarity is optional on this side of the night.

Last autumn, I experienced autumn as if for the first time in a while. I crunched through the leaves and watched winter bloom and wane all as if I had skipped the previous year. Which was odd because I hadn’t gone anywhere.

Everything felt new to me. I felt more alert and more present in my own reality than I had been for a long time.

This made me realize what writing does to a person. Fiction writing specifically because it’s the only one I am familiar with. And okay, I am generalizing so this could totally be my experience alone. I’m sure other writers will pitch in if they read this.

I feel like to write somebody else’s story, you somehow have to thin yourself out so much that you exist as nothing but the pen which is doing the writing. Your you-ness is cast in shade and you become nothing but the reflecting lens for the characters whose stories you are writing.

And it’s bloody exhausting.

But in some ways this process of writing is deeply fascinating. I wonder if someone has compared the brains of writers with the brains of non-writers. What differences exist? How do our brains differ? Are the differences significant?

I should probably sleep. I always get into trouble when I think about things like these…like thinking about writing a book about writers writing books. Hah.

And you know, this also makes me understand how people married to writers suffer. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be married to someone who wrote if I wasn’t a writer myself because they’d always be selfish of their alone time which would differ from their thinking time and their writing time.

I should stop talking to myself now.


Nonfiction · review · Review Copy

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill


Hardcover, 307 pages
Published October 25th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: Publisher

Have you ever wished you could live in an earlier, more romantic era?

Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there’s arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn’t question.)

UNMENTIONABLE is your hilarious, illustrated, scandalously honest (yet never crass) guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood, giving you detailed advice on:

~ What to wear
~ Where to relieve yourself
~ How to conceal your loathsome addiction to menstruating
~ What to expect on your wedding night
~ How to be the perfect Victorian wife
~ Why masturbating will kill you
~ And more

Irresistibly charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and featuring nearly 200 images from Victorian publications, UNMENTIONABLE will inspire a whole new level of respect for Elizabeth Bennett, Scarlet O’Hara, Jane Eyre, and all of our great, great grandmothers.

(And it just might leave you feeling ecstatically grateful to live in an age of pants, super absorbency tampons, epidurals, anti-depressants, and not-dying-of-the-syphilis-your-husband-brought-home.)

Unmentionable brings to light all the things you may have wanted to know about the Victorian age but didn’t know who to ask or where to find your information from. I mean, Google is helpful but only to a certain extent.

As the back copy so explicitly points out, Unmentionable is a fount of information about things like keeping clean in a time when cleanliness is not really prized. A time when everyone stinks so you may as well too. I mean, I ‘m saying.

Frankly, it’s all horrifying and I am supremely happy I was born in the this time especially because imagine the discrimination I’d face in Victorian England….maybe a little more than I’d face now? Heh. Anyway, the book as wit and charm. The author obviously did her work and researched the heck out of the period as the works cited page will reveal.

One thing I do have to mention though is the use of the word “squaw” on page 132 of the ARC version of the book. I should think that all the research done for this novel would reveal that the term is derogatory and should not be used. I don’t know if the finished copy contains the word–I hope not.

As reference material, this book should be helpful–especially to those who are writing Victorian settings focusing on women.