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Tell them stories, twenty years on October 17, 2017

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, fandom, fangirl, memories.
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5 comments

Twenty years ago (or nineteen years, nine months, and about twenty days ago, if you want to get really technical), I was a restless thirteen-year-old, stuck inside during a rainy week on holiday down the south coast of New South Wales. It was the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, which meant that I was carting around a massive haul of books, given to me for both my birthday and Christmas. I had read all my new books — all except one, whose cover put me off. My younger sister, fed up with me moping around the house complaining of ‘nothing to read,’ made the very sensible point that I hadn’t read that book. ‘I don’t like books about animals,’ I objected. She insisted. I am forever grateful that she did. Feeling resentful, I sat down to read Northern Lights (or, as my edition was called, The Golden Compass), the first in Philip Pullman’s sweeping, expansive children’s trilogy, His Dark Materials. I was hooked from the first page, inhaled the book in one sitting, and, once I’d finished it, opened it up at the beginning and reread it without pause. I reread the book four times over the course of that one-week holiday.

It’s hard to describe what it felt like, to read that story as a thirteen-year-old. I was already a voracious reader, and I had already encountered many beloved stories, books I would reread incessantly, or borrow repeatedly from the local library. There were already books I felt fannish about, and whose characters I identified with and drew courage from. But this was different. It was like being seen for the first time. It was as if ideas, beliefs and fears I had long felt but was not yet able to articulate had been given voice and shape on the page. As a teenager, my many rereads of Northern Lights (and, after impatient waits of one year and three years, respectively, for its follow-ups The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) helped guide both my reading tastes, and my burgeoning sense of political awareness. My love of the series got me a paid newspaper reviewing gig at the age of sixteen, and I continued to freelance as a reviewer for various Australian broadsheets for ten years after that.

Ten years ago (or, if you want to get technical, ten years, nine months, and a couple of days ago), I was in a bad place. I had returned to my hometown after graduating university, and although I had a good job and a lot of family support, I was desperately unhappy, and felt isolated and directionless. All my friends seemed to have adjusted to adult life in a way that I was incapable of, and I felt left behind. In a fit of desperation I — who mistrusted the internet and who barely went online except to check email — typed ‘His Dark Materials fansite’ into Google. I found something that saved me. 2007 was not a good year, but it was made infinitely more bearable by the incredible collection of people — most of whom lived on the other side of the world — who hung out in the forums of that site. Most of them had been there for years, and were all talked out about His Dark Materials, so instead they analysed other books, shared music tips, or just vented about their daily lives. Although by their standards I was a latecomer, they welcomed me with open arms. For a long time, the only thing that got me through the day was the prospect of hanging out in the IRC chat room they’d set up — the international composition of this group of fans (plus the fact that most of them were students or otherwise kept odd hours) meant that someone was always around at all hours. This was my first foray into online fandom, and I made friends for life. Meeting the sraffies — as we called ourselves — was like coming home. Being with them was, like reading the books that had brought us all together, like being seen for the first time. I was able to relax and be myself and feel safe in a way that I hadn’t really anywhere since becoming an adult. Ten years have passed since then, and the group of us have gone through so many things together. We’ve graduated from university, changed jobs and careers, had books and academic articles published, moved cities, emigrated, fallen in and out of love (in some cases, with each other), mourned deaths, and supported each other through whatever life threw at us. We travel specifically to meet up with each other, and if work, study, or holidays bring us by chance to each others’ cities, we make a point to hang out. One of the friends I met through His Dark Materials was even a bridesmaid at my wedding.

I recently did a reread of the trilogy, wanting to refresh my memory before reading Pullman’s much anticipated foray back into the world of His Dark Materials. I was anxious that it wouldn’t affect me as it had when I was younger, that I would pick up on flaws, that its emotional notes would leave me unmoved. I shouldn’t have worried. Reading Pullman’s words again, returning to that world, was like falling into water. Like the best and most meaningful of stories, it gave me something different, as it had done with each reread, and reading it as a thirty-two-year-old woman was different to reading it as a thirteen-year-old girl, or when I was in my twenties. But, like Lyra relearning to read the alethiometer as an adult after losing the unconscious ease with which she read it as a child, it was a deeper, richer experience — not better, not worse, just different. In the years since I first opened Northern Lights and read those resonant first words, Lyra and her dæmon, I’ve finished high school. I’ve graduated three times from two different universities, with an Honours degree, MPhil, and doctorate. I’ve changed careers three times. I’ve emigrated, lived in two new countries, acquired a new citizenship, learnt two new languages (as well as many dead languages), presented at conferences, been published academically in two very different fields, fallen in love, had my heart broken, and fallen in love again. In those years, I found my home, and I found myself again. In other words, I’ve done exactly what His Dark Materials urges: live, as much as I can, feel, as much as I can bear, and learn, as much as I am able. On Thursday, I will collect my preordered copy of La Belle Sauvage, the first of Pullman’s prequel trilogy that will return readers to the world of His Dark Materials. I will sit down and read it in a desperate, yearning rush. I wonder what the twenty years that follow will bring. I know that having read this new book — and those that follow — will help me cope with whatever those next years throw at me.

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Stop, collaborate and listen! Blogging goals for 2015 January 25, 2015

Posted by dolorosa12 in announcements, blogging, internet.
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1 comment so far

One of my goals for this year is to post a lot more on this blog, and to do so with a bit more coherence in terms of content and aims. Last year was my year of speaking up. I made a conscious choice to talk more, to join conversations online, and to ignore the little voice saying, ‘but why would they want to speak to you?’ and just see what happened. The result was a whole bunch of new friends, some really interesting conversations, and the courage to raise my voice in situations where previously I would have kept quiet. So I want to build on this and approach blogging — and the entire online conversation about books, media, writing, reviewing and stories — with my intentions laid out clearly from the start.

These intentions can be summed up rather handily with the phrase ‘stop, collaborate and listen’ (with apologies to Vanilla Ice and good taste, I guess). It’s not as silly as it sounds.

Stop
This is probably going to be the hardest element of the three. The current culture of the internet communities in which I hang out is primarily one of passivity: passively reblogging and retweeting other people’s words without engaging or reflecting to any great degree. This is something that is very hard to unlearn. This is not to say that reblogging or retweeting are terrible things in and of themselves: it’s crucial to get other people’s words and perspectives out there, and there are many occasions in which spreading news and information quickly is of critical importance. But I sometimes worry that we’ve sacrificed context and reflection for ease of dissemination.

So when I’m talking about stopping, what I really mean is taking the time to stop, think, and evaluate the wider context in which particular tweets and posts appear. Can I guarantee that the information being spread is correct? Do I have the time to investigate the truth of any given post? Do I have the time to investigate the context in which it appears? Is the poster or source someone whose voice I want to amplify? If not, is there someone else saying the same thing who is more deserving of what little amplification I may provide? Are there multiple people saying the same or similar things, and would the information benefit from adding their voices to the mix? Would a post benefit from additional commentary by me, and do I have the time and ability to provide such commentary? These are all things I’m trying to stop and consider before hitting the reblog button or firing off those 140 characters.

Essentially what I’m saying here is that if I don’t have time to stop and investigate the wider context of something, I don’t have time to hit retweet, reblog or share.

Collaborate
One of the things I love the most about the internet is that it has opened my eyes to myriad, diverse perspectives. I can talk and listen to people from all over the world, people whose life experiences are different to my own, and who carry these experiences with them when telling their own stories or reacting to the stories of others. I am only one person, and no matter how much I listen to and empathise with people whose backgrounds and experiences are different to my own, I can only bring my own perspective to any given piece of media or any given situation. And I think our understanding is enriched and deepened by seeking out a broad range of people and listening to what they have to say.

It is with this in mind that I want to work harder at finding opportunities for collaboration in writing and reviewing. In some situations, co-reviewing might be the way to go, although it remains to be seen whether my blog (read on a good day by about fifty people) is an appropriate venue for such reviews. I also feel very strongly that I should be hosting guest reviews or interviews, but again, my limited reach might be unhelpful in this regard. However, I wanted to at least raise the possibility and say that yes, I am very interested in opportunities for co-reviewing and hosting guest bloggers, and please do get in touch if you want to participate.

There is one other form of collaboration which is a bit more passive, but certainly more achievable by me at the moment. I’m talking about linking to and sharing the words of others. I want to make regular link posts a feature of this blog (probably with a mirror at Dreamwidth). One of the features I admire most in my favourite review blogs is the provision of multiple links to other reviews of the same work so that readers can get a wide range of perspectives and thus a bigger picture of the conversation going on around any given text. That is definitely something I will be incorporating into this blog.

Listen
This is probably the most important goal of all, and it is ultimately all about context. I want to stop and think before sharing the words of others or adding my voice to the conversation, and I want to work with others so that the conversation is enriched by a multiplicity of perspectives, and this involves listening and investigating the wider context. This means finding a balance between the source and the words or actions themselves. I will continue to give more weight to praise and criticism by reviewers praising and criticising depictions of things they themselves have experienced. But I will give even more weight to the words of writers and reviewers who work hard to amplify marginalised voices, who act as mentors, who offer kindness and support, who take abuse and harassment seriously, no matter the target, and who welcome conversation, collaboration and the space for dissent and a diversity of opinion.

That’s why listening is so important. Whereas last year I was trying to find the confidence to speak, now I want to find the patience to listen. My impulse has always been to leap right in, as I feared missing out on important conversations if I didn’t react in real time. But the words will all still be there, and I will still have my spaces in which to respond to them. Listening will allow for a more thoughtful response.

Conclusion
I want to reiterate that these are goals and guidelines for me, and for me alone. If others find them helpful and want to make use of them, feel free, but I intend no prescription here. But I talk so much about judging people by how well their actions match their stated intentions that I thought laying my own intentions out here would give me a bit of accountability. We’ll see if I live up to these lofty intentions of my own at the end of 2015, at which point I will pause for reflection and, if necessary, adjust or rework my goals. For now, however, they seem like a good place to start.

Liebster Award November 26, 2012

Posted by dolorosa12 in blogging, books, childhood, life, memories.
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2 comments

I was nominated for a Liebster Award. Says Catie, who nominated me, the Liebster Award is a meme for small blogs (with under 200 followers) where you answer 7 questions and then ask a new set of 7 questions to 7 people. I’m not going to tag other people, but I will answer the questions provided by Catie. And they are:

1. Have you ever read a book that changed your life, or your reading habits?
A book, or rather series of books, did both of those things – at the same time. Most of you probably know that I’m going to say the His Dark Materials trilogy, and you’ll probably know why. But to recap:

When I first read HDM, it pushed my reading habits in a much more fantasy-oriented direction than previously. This led, firstly, towards me developing an interest in medieval literature, which ultimately led to me becoming a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, meeting an amazing group of friends, and my current boyfriend, and deciding to, if at all possible, live in Europe for the remainder of my life.

Secondly, HDM got me a career as a newspaper book-reviewer! When I was 16, I read what I considered to be a very poor review of the third book in the series, The Amber Spyglass. I wrote the reviewer – the children’s books editor at The Sydney Morning Herald – a very snotty letter accusing her of not reading the book before she reviewed it. Rather than throwing my letter in the bin, she offerred me the opportunity to write my own review. This led to a ten-year career writing reviews and interviewing authors for various Australian newspapers.

Finally, HDM saved me, because it introduced me to the people at bridgetothestars.net at a very low point in my life. Those people were there for me when no one else was, and I’ve met so many people I love through that site. btts introduced me to the best friend I will ever have, a woman I consider to be my fourth sister. More broadly, btts was my introduction to online fandom and online friendships and community more broadly, and it remains my gold standard in all such matters, a model of how to do fandom and do friendship right.

I will never stop being thankful to His Dark Materials. It changed my life in such profound ways.

2. If you could recommend one book to the world, what would it be?
To be honest, I’d like to recommend the entire corpus of Victor Kelleher novels, but if I had to select just one, I’d say The Beast of Heaven, which is a deeply unsettling, remorseless and transcendentally beautiful exploration of what it means to be conscious and human. I doubt I will ever read another book more perfect than that. It encapsulates my views on human nature, morality, history and the future completely.

3. Do you read when you’re out and about or just at home?
Obviously I read a lot for my PhD, so by definition I read while I’m out and about – in libraries. I also read for pleasure when I’m out and about. I tend to carry novels with me everywhere, and my favourite thing to do is sit alone in cafes and read.

4. Is there any genre that you don’t read, and why? Or do you only read one particular type of book?
I pretty much read everything, although I tend to steer clear of epic or heroic fantasy written by men. Modernist literature isn’t my cup of tea either, although I’ve enjoyed books by Faulkner and some poetry written during this time period.

5. What is the first book that you remember reading?
The first novel I remember reading was Rainstones by Jackie French. It’s not actually a novel, but rather a book of short stories, but I was immensely proud of myself at the time for being able to read a ‘chapter book’. I’d obviously read picture books before then, and had lots of books read to me by my mother, but I don’t remember the first.

6. What is the last book that you read that was outside your comfort zone?
I read a book of crime stories in German over the (northern) summer, and that was out of my comfort zone because I’m still not completely fluent at reading in German. But it was good to push myself.

7. If you had to memorise a novel or book of poetry to preserve it à la Fahrenheit 451, which would it be and why?
This question makes me so uncomfortable and upset! It reminds me of this neo-Victorian novel I read a few years ago, which has a scene where one character asks the (bookish) protagonist to imagine a scenario where every copy of the great works of the literary canon are being drawn along a conveyor belt into a furnace. The protagonist has a gun. If she shoots and kills a human being, the conveyor belt stops. Reading it, I started to hyperventilate. Is one human life worth more than the Western literary canon? It is unbearable to be forced to confront that question.

In light of that anecdote, I think I’d have to say the complete works of William Shakespeare should be saved. I’m uncomfortable with the notion of canon – any canon besides a personal canon, that is – and yet I love the plays of Shakespeare and can see how they have influenced so much writing in English and say such interesting things about humanity. And on a more political level, I love how the foundation of the English literary canon is a collaborative effort of people who stood somewhat outside the boundaries of ordinary society, and its prime mover was an aspirational, lower middle-class man who somehow managed to educate himself and say such clever things. It appeals to my socialism and belief in the power of education.

I’m not going to tag anyone, but if you’d like to join in, consider yourselves tagged. These are my seven questions:

1. How have your reading tastes changed in the past ten years? In the past five?
2. Do you read book reviews? Do you think they influence your reading habits?
3. What is your opinion of sites such as Goodreads and reviews on Amazon?
4. Do you note down quotes from books or poetry? What is a quote that means a lot to you?
5. Which fictional character did you identify with as a child or teenager? Looking back, do you think that identification was accurate?
6. What is the most important thing you learnt from a work of fiction?
7. And I’d also like an answer to the same question I was asked: in a Fahrenheit 451 scenario, which book would you save?

Negative capability March 4, 2011

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, internet.
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4 comments

Typically, it was the whole YA Mafia kerfuffle that tempted me out of my hermit hole. I’ve been kind of absent from most of my online haunts recently, and wondering if I would ever get back into blogging. And then this happened.  For the best summary of events thus far, you should probably check out this roundup on YA Highway. As you can imagine, I have Opinions about the stuff that’s bouncing around.

Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way first. I’m obviously a book blogger. I maintain this blog, a fanblog for Sophia McDougall’s Romanitas series, and a Livejournal. I’m also on Twitter and participate in the discussion on various authors’ and publishers’ blogs. I am also an ‘old media’ reviewer. I’ve written reviews for an Australian newspaper (mainly on YA literature) for the past nine years. Although there’s very little overlap between my online and newspaper work (and it’s not exactly a secret in either sphere that I’m reviewing in the other), my online reviews tend to be more about books I like, although I may write from time to time about a ‘phenomenon’ in literary trends with which I’m uneasy or displeased. My newspaper reviews range more widely in tone, since by definition, I have less control over what books I review there, and so I’m likely to come into contact with books I dislike.

My reviewing both online and for the paper has occasionally brought me into contact with authors. There are several with whom I have some sort of relationship (which mainly consists of discussing books and ideas either online or in real life). In both spheres, however, I’m small enough fry that, to be honest, nothing I say is going to have a huge amount of impact or be noticed by that many people.

I am a reader of The Sparkle Project, and I agree with its general point that there is an unsettling trend of misogyny, if not downright romanticising of domestic violence and abuse in some popular YA literature today.*

This is where I’m standing, then, and what follows is the perspective of a person ‘quietly observing standing in my space’, so to speak.

There is a bit of fail on both sides of this debate, but as far as I’m concerned, the biggest fail by far is the problems both sides seem to be having in understanding one another’s grievances. However, most of the failure in this regard is emanating from the authors’ and publishers’ corner, although I accept that Ceilidh_ann on the Sparkle Project was probably not strong enough in shutting down some rather nasty comments on her blog.

Ceilidh_ann herself puts it better than I can in relation to authors Just Not Getting It.

The Mafia thing wasn’t just about that; it was about watching authors tell reviewers and future authors to “be nice” or else they’d risk bad karma and people like Becca Fitzpatrick would take any opportunity to mock you about it and having her author friends congratulate her for supposedly taking the high road (the original entry has since been Flocked on LJ but is available to read on GoodReads.) It was about watching author friends give each other cover quotes when to me it felt like “doing your friends a favour” instead of judging the work based on its merits (hell, I can’t even review the book of an author who I’m friends with on LJ and twitter, it just feels too close for me.) It was about seeing authors brag about their good connections and how they helped them get publishing deals, as was the case with Aprilynne Pike and her friend Stephenie Meyer, who passed her book onto her agent Jodi Reamer. It was about hearing from other bloggers who has also been on the receiving end of bad author behaviour (said people do not want to be named so I hope you respect that, even if you don’t believe me). It was about watching bloggers be accused of something akin to censorship for discussing what they saw as extremely problematic, then twisting their words around to fit their argument better (The Book Smugglers’ review of “Sisters Red” being the prime example here, especially in the wake of the Bitch media mess). It was about watching author after author fawn over a mediocre writer with a documented history of fandom plagiarism solely because she sold well.

In other words, we, as book reviewers, are saying one thing, and authors are hearing another. And what we are saying, over and over again, is, ‘If you in the YA publishing world are not going to be negative about any other YA book (which is totally okay) then we are going to be negative if we think there are grounds for negativity‘. Earth-shattering, I know.

What on earth are book-reviewers for if not to inform the world at large – and potential readers in particular – of their opinions of a particular book? We are not here to provide blurbs so that authors can sell more books (although if we do so – and some of my quotes have been used as blurbs on authors’ books – well, yay for us). We are here to tell people what we thought of a particular book, and why. We are here to help people decide if a particular book is something they’ll enjoy, or something they should flee to the hills in order to avoid. Sometimes, unfortunately, this requires us to be critical. An experienced reviewer is able to be critical without being cruel, to be honest without being rude and to explain his or her problems with a book clearly in a way that makes it obvious that such problems may not be problems for every person.** And if authors ask us to ‘be nice’ (with just a hint of a threat), as Becca Fitzpatrick has done, it is preventing us from doing our job.

As a reviewer, I feel very strongly that if I’m not able to express my dislike of a book, I have failed in my duty to readers.*** I have seen what happens when reviewers fail to express an opinion. The reviews become bland, neutral plot summaries. On the surface, that may appear to be sensible, since it ostensibly allows readers to make up their own minds based on plot alone, but in fact it’s a bit intellectually dishonest. Book reviews need to set the book in a broader context of trends in the field, thematic concerns, why particular elements of the plot failed, how it compares to the author’s other work – and that’s only the bare minimum. Think of the plot of a book you read and dislike, and imagine reading just that bare outline. Would that inform you whether or not you’d enjoy the book? I think not.

Being a reviewer is a balancing act. Rather than affecting neutrality and pretending that your own tastes and preferences are non-existent, embrace them. Think about them, categorise them, work out your own quirky likes and dislikes. Let them shine through in your reviews while at the same time owning and acknowledging them, and recognising that other people’s tastes might be different. All of this needs to come across in a review. And this means that sometimes, you are going to have to be negative.

A bad review is not going to make or break an author’s career. Neither is a single good review going to make an author a success. With all due respect, the single greatest thing that will aid an author’s success is that author writing an absolutely fantastic book.

_____________________________
*’It was about never seeing authors or people in the YA industry discuss some of the anti-feminist attitudes prevailing in an increasingly popular trend, where a character is simply a sexy bad boy for holding a girl down on a bed against her will and saying he wants to kill her. I understand being professional, I really do, but I didn’t think then, and I still don’t, that professionalism included putting your fingers in your ears and ignoring the obvious.’

** I, like all readers, have various idiosyncratic preferences and turn-offs, and sometimes a book will trigger these. If I’m doing my job properly, I’m able to communicate that while such and such a thing doesn’t appeal to me personally, other readers may enjoy it.

*** This is sometimes heartbreaking, especially when it requires me to be critical of an author whose works I adored as a child. But I still do it.

Updated links May 17, 2010

Posted by dolorosa12 in internet.
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2 comments

You may have noticed that I’ve added some new links to the blogroll and a new category of links. You can see them to the right of this post, but I thought I’d explain what they all are.

First up, Catie’s blog, which is a mixed bag of real-life updates, book reviews and quirky commentary. Then there’s Penny Red, a blog by writer and activist Laura Penny about feminism and UK politics, from a geeky perspective.

On the 90s nostalgia front, we’ve got Tales of a former walking highlighter, which focuses on the 90s in all their trashy, neon glory. The final new blog is Nef’s Enid Blyton blog, The Blytonly Obvious. She’s rereading all the Blyton books she read as a child, and snarkily blogging about the experience.

I, myself, am blogging at a couple of new places. The first is the blog for ABC Radio National’s The Book Show. There are five of us blogging about all things literary (I seem to have turned into the resident ‘books, meet the internet’ commentator, which pleases me immensely) and you should definitely check it out.

Secondly, it’s high time I mentioned the blog of my department at Cambridge, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (no, it’s not a white supremacist group, but rather, as the blog explains, a group of people who ‘study the history, languages, literatures and material culture of medieval Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia’). I’ve blogged for this blog a couple of times.

Finally, I’ve got a Tumblr. It’s the first time that the ‘dolorosa’ username hasn’t been taken, and that is reason enough to check it out!

Honour among ‘thieves’ May 4, 2010

Posted by dolorosa12 in fandom, internet.
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6 comments

Please note, the word ‘thieves’ is in quotation marks for a reason: it’s ironic. I certainly don’t view fanfic as theft – quite the opposite. Also note that this post contains spoilers for Gillian Rubinstein’s novel Terra-Farma.

Some of you may have noticed author Diana Gabaldon’s rant against fanfiction. As well as this highly condescending post, she goes on in her comments to compare fanfic writers to paedophiles, spouse-stealers, flower-thieves and lynch mobs. (Surely a Nazi comparison isn’t too far away.) I am not intending here to address her ‘points against fanfiction’; her commenters, many of whom are producers and consumers of fanworks themselves, have been doing so with great eloquence for a while now. What I intend to do here is comment more broadly on the kind of mindset that provokes opinions like Gabaldon’s.

Fanfic can seem alarming when you first discover it. I remember the first time I heard of fanfic. I was about 16, it was the early 2000s, and one of my school friends told me in hushed, horrified whispers that ‘people wrote stories about Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. As a couple. ON THE INTERNET!‘ I was shocked and disturbed. I didn’t really understand why anyone would want to do such a thing, or how such people could see such a relationship in Rowling’s fiction. But I wasn’t involved in online fandom at all then (in fact, I detested the internet), and I promptly forgot about Harry/Draco slash.

When I got involved with online fandom (in 2007), fanfiction came back on my radar, and I was more equipped to think about it in a less sensationalist manner. What suddenly occurred to me was that, in my own way, I’d been writing fanfic my entire life.

As a small child, I’d been obsessed with a short story called ‘The Deep One’, where a prisoner named Sam is thrown into the eponymous dungeon, only to realise that he’s already dead and is haunting the gaol. I promptly began playing a game (which I would pick up on and off for years) where I was a female prisoner called Sam(antha) who lived in a modern-day gaol with the entrance to The Deep One being a trapdoor under her cell. A modern-day AU, with added gender-bending!

My sister and I spent ages writing picture books about dinosaurs who went to boarding school. We were writing crossover fic based on the boarding school novels we read, and a series of books where dinosaurs go to school in a modern USian setting!

As a teenager, I wrote a dreadful, novel-length story where Pagan Kidrouk from the Pagan Chronicles married a medieval Irish woman called Amber (Amber spelt R-O-N-N-I) and they had twins named Lyra and Pantalaimon. A crossover fic! With a self-insert Mary-Sue!

I also rewrote the ending of Gillian Rubinstein’s Terra-Farma book so that Allyman and Presh escaped, lived for a while in Coogee and then started working at Cirque du Soleil Alegría, being chased by Project Genesis Five the entire time. A fix-it fic!

What I was doing was a crude, less intelligent version of what most fanficcers do when they create a fanwork: engaging with elements of my favourite stories as a way of expressing my deep love of said stories. This is what Gabaldon, in her condemnation of ficcers as thieves and rapists, profoundly fails to grasp.

Some ficcers might be writing in order to get writing practice, or to reach an inbuilt audience, or to garner praise, or because they’re unable to create original characters of their own, but ultimately, what they are doing is expressing their love for a particular story, their love of writing, and their love of communicating with a group of like-minded people. The difference between the Naruto slashficcer on Fanfiction.net and my self-insert Pagan/His Dark Materials crossover, between the writer of that Merlin high school AU and the Emma high school AU that is Clueless is one of quality and degree, not in kind.

One thing I’ve discovered in the years I’ve been online is that most fans have a highly developed sense of morals about the works with which they’re engaging, and the creators of those works. No ficcer would dream of claiming ownership of their source material; most fics begin with disclaimers. Authors who are opposed to fanfic are generally well-known (I, for example, know that Anne Rice, Anne Bishop, Robin McKinley and Anne McCaffrey have requested that people do not create fic based on their stories) and their wishes are respected. None of the commenters on Gabaldon’s journal were suggesting that she was wrong to ask them not to write fic, and I daresay most of them will comply with her wishes. What they were objecting to was being told that they were an immoral bunch of thieves.

The whole debate reminds me of a spat I got involved with on Livejournal a while back. I followed the blog of Karen Miller, an Australian fantasy author who also writes Star Wars tie-in novels. She posted an angry rant about fans who perceived a gay subtext in her latest Star Wars book, and seemed unable to grasp that the fact that the fans were reading a gay subtext into the book did not take away her own interpretation of the book.

What I see happening is partly generational and partly related to the extent to which such authors engage with online fandom (since there is some overlap between age and lack-of-online-participation). I see a profound incomprehension of postmodern, remix culture. For authors such as Gabaldon, there is a book, and its meaning is limited to what the author intends it to mean, and readers interact with it passively.

But we live in a world where Danger Mouse makes a mashup of The White Album by The Beatles and The Black Album by Jay-Z and calls it The Grey Album. A world where people paste satirical subtitles on the bunker scene in Downfall and stick the heads of Batman and The Joker onto the figures in ‘Caramelldansen’. A world where Emma and The Taming of the Shrew can be transplanted to 90s American high schools and a bunch of university students in the US can make a musical of Harry Potter. And a world where, yes, I can imagine what would’ve happened if Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale or Castiel had been a demon instead of an angel or the vampires from Twilight had found themselves transported to ninth-century Ireland or, Goddammit, where Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter were doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel over the course of seven books – and write stories about all these ‘what ifs’ and share them with other people.

What Gabaldon doesn’t seem to understand is that none of this has any effect on the words that she has put on the page. Her book is still there. I’m reminded of what Philip Pullman said, when asked what he thought of the film adaptation of Northern Lights (called The Golden Compass) ruining his book. He went to the bookshelf, pulled a copy of Northern Lights from it and said, ‘Look. Here is my book. It’s not ruined. It’s right here, and that film, whatever its quality, doesn’t change that.’

Gabaldon is completely within her rights to request that no fanfic be written about her works, and I suspect if she’d done so, the reaction would’ve been very different. Where she falls down is where she suggests that fanfic writers are somehow lesser, bad fans. They are not. They are engaging with the objects of their fannish devotion in a way that is natural to them. They are participating in a multilayered, ongoing discussion of the source material among like-minded fans. They are not claiming to own the source material. What they own is their reaction to it, and calling them thieves and rapists does not take away the ownership of that reaction.

To conclude, I’d like to restate what I said in relation to the Karen Miller Star Wars debacle:

‘Your book is not my book. I may not see what you want me to see, but I’ll defend to the death your right to see it.’ And I’ll defend to the death the value of fanfic as a form of fannish engagement.

Names, names, names February 5, 2010

Posted by dolorosa12 in blogging, internet, meta.
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This is essentially a housekeeping post which has become necessary because of the high number of links to this blog (yay!). In the light of some of these links, I thought I’d take the time to mention that I have preferred ways of being referred to.

(This probably sounds a little bit fussy, but as someone who has written not one, not two, but four essays about the significance of names in various literary texts, and who spends way too much time looking up the meanings of various names, I care quite a lot about names – in particular my own.)

I’m not one of those people who hides behind pseudonyms online. Most of my readers and other online friends know that my name is Ronni and address me as such. I have a couple of variations on a username theme that I use online, but what I’m about to say is not particularly difficult.

When referring to me
I’m happy to be called any of the following:
Ronni
Dolorosa
RonniDolorosa or Ronni Dolorosa
(or, if you must, in the context of The Republic of Heaven, Aletheia Dolorosa, although I tend to think of that as a very site-specific username)

When referring to this blog
I’d like it to be called any of the following:
Geata Póeg na Déanainn
The Geata
Ronni’s blog/Ronni’s wordpress blog
Dolorosa’s blog/Dolorosa’s wordpress blog

When referring to any of my other blogs, Twitter etc
Longvision
Ronni’s Romanitas fanblog/blog
Dolorosa’s Romanitas fanblog/blog
(and the equivalents of these for Twitter, Livejournal etc)

What I do not like being referred to as
Dolorosa12 (the 12 is a necessary addition as someone else already has the dolorosa.wordpress.com url, but it’s not something I associate with my username in any way)
Dolour Inviolate – in relation to any of my blogs (I know it’s on my Twitter, but it is also not a username that I associate with blogging at all)
Aletheia on its own without the ‘Dolorosa’
Or, worst of all, Aletheia misspelled as ‘Alethia’

I hasten to add that this was not prompted by any heinous misnaming in particular, but it’s something that I thought I should put out there.

As you were!

Link me up, link me in November 26, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in blogging, internet.
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Many of the posts on Geata Póeg na Déanainn are inspired by debates, stories and essays I’ve read elsewhere online. As you probably know, I’m an avid reader of blogs; you can see most of my favourites listed in the blogroll to the right of this post. My favourite thing about the internet is the way it’s made it much easier for like-minded people to come together and discuss the things that fascinate them. The internet, for me, has become like several overlapping circles of cafe chairs where people who think about the things I think about can gather together, sip their virtual coffees and share their collective wisdom, anecdotes and enthusiasm.

I thought I’d walk you through my favourite corners of the internet. It will be ‘a day in the virtual life of Ronni’, as it were.

My first port of call on the internet is always Livejournal. I started off using Livejournal as a way to stay in contact with high school friends who lived in different towns during university, but I soon spread my wings into Livejournal’s numerous communities. I follow everything from Fantasy With Bite, a community devoted to discussion of left-field fantasy novels, to What Was That Book, where people can post half-remembered details of books in the hopes that other members of the community will recognise and name the forgotten book.

Several of the authors’ blogs I read are on Livejournal: Kate Elliott and Jo Walton have particularly fine blogs there, full of details about the writing process, the publishing world and the science fiction/fantasy community.

But my favourite place on Livejournal is probably Metafandom, which, as the name suggests, is a community devoted to gathering links to all the interesting meta posts that are setting the fandom agenda on any given day. I appreciate Metafandom in particular because it links to off-Livejournal blogs that LJers otherwise may not stumble upon.

I like Livejournal’s friends-page feature. It’s one of the most useful elements of the site, in that it gathers all the new posts in blogs one reads in the one place. I suspect that I would read even more blogs more avidly if they were also on Livejournal.

However, I do step outside my LJ comfort zone for quite a few outstanding blogs.

Abigail Nussbaum’s blog ‘Asking the Wrong Questions’ is one of the best review and commentary blogs out there. I might not agree with all of her opinions, but I greatly appreciate the detail that goes into every post, and the depth of knowledge from which she is writing. I’ve always tried to model Geata Póeg na Déanainn on Nussbaum’s blog, and I hope that sometimes I come close!

Hal Duncan’s blog, Notes From The Geek Show is another fantastic one. Duncan’s posts are witty and knowledgeable. They’re often very long, but are well worth reading.

John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, should be the first port of call for anyone wanting to know what’s going on in SF/F, publishing, or the places where writers meet online. Scalzi blogs on a wide range of topics, and can always be relied on (as can his commenters) to provide erudite entertainment.

After you’ve checked out Whatever, you’d do well to visit Boing Boing. If something is happening on the internet, it’s happening at Boing Boing. The site, a ‘directory of wonderful things’, is geek Mecca. Posts range from the quirky to the disturbing, from the nostalgic to the political. There’s a strong focus on reforming copyright law, which is the pet cause of all the Boing Boing bloggers.

I find it hard to explain why my two favourite authors’ blogs are those of Neil Gaiman and Justine Larbalestier. They couldn’t be more different. Larbalestier’s is much more the typical author blog, with a focus on the writing process and the broader concerns of young-adult and ‘genre’ literature. Gaiman’s is much more like a stream of consciousness, and posts tend to be on whatever the hell Gaiman wants. What they have in common is a genuineness and warmth, and a real sense of carrying out a conversation with their readers. I’m a reviewer, and I sometimes have real trouble navigating authors’ dysfunctional websites. If all were as wonderful as Gaiman’s and Larbalestier’s, the world would be a much better place.

The next two blogs focus on a particular interest of mine: feminism in pop culture. Tiger Beatdown is a fabulously intelligent look at that subject. The blogger, Sady Doyle, writes irregularly on a wide range of texts, looking at them in relation to feminism. I particularly enjoy her INTELLIGENT USE OF CAPSLOCK. The Hathor Legacy is also a blog focused on feminism in pop culture, but its concern is reviewing texts to see if they pass the Bechdel Test (that is, do they have two women who have a conversation about something other than a man). It’s been useful to me as a place to get recommendations for books, TV shows or films.

The final blog I will link to here is The Intern. It’s written by a woman who worked as an intern in a publishing house over the summer, and it’s a really good (if often depressing) look at the publishing world from the inside.

I could mention more places, but the blogs I’ve linked to above are my main ports of call (aside from friends’ blogs, which I also read at the same frequency, but aren’t really the subject of this post). They’re only a tiny fraction of the myriad fascinating conversations that are going on all over the internet, but they’re my fraction, and they’re quite enough to be going on with!

The limits of fandom; or, I just wanted a poncy-sounding title for this post August 23, 2008

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, fangirl, sraffies.
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This post is inspired by a few things, although it’s about stuff I’ve been thinking about for quite a while.

My last post, about fangirlishness, and the books, TV series and music that makes my life worth living, was about the more personal, individual side of fandom. But as any internet-addict knows, half the fun of fandom is finding a community of like-minded social misfits with whom you can obsess, pontificate, squee, rant and argue about your chosen literary, televisual and cinematic loves. Online it’s easy. You gravitate towards sites, communities and groups that like similar stuff, whether it be Harry Potter, Star Wars, Jane Austen, Veronica Mars or ’90s memorabilia.

Often, your online friends and communities act like vast, libraries of recommendations. Clearly, if people have the good taste to like Joss Whedon’s TV series, they’re bound to know what they’re talking about when they recommend books. And if they like Anne Rice, they’re likely to have read other vampire novels and be able to compare and contrast pretty well. Essentially, we’re all geeks here, and although we won’t see eye to eye on every book, movie, TV show or band, we’ll see eye to eye enough that we can trust each others’ recommendations to be mostly decent and to each others’ taste.

But what about in real life? What about when you try to convince the people at your work that their life will not be complete without having read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods? What happens when you’d give anything to watch Buffy with your beloved younger sister, but she’s more of a Sex And The City girl? What about the embarrassment and indignation you feel when your Milton lecturer has never heard of His Dark Materials?

There’s a long thread on Obernet about attempts to introduce friends to the books, films, TV series, music etc that we passionately love, and the mixed results that have ensued.

I’ve become much more wary (or perhaps selective) of recommending stuff to my friends because I’ve been burnt so many times. My best friend and I used to swap books all the time in high school. She was a fan of sweeping historical sagas, a la Leon Uris and Sebastian Faulks. I was the same nerdy fantasy girl that I am today. HDM was (as it is still) my favourite series of books. I lent her the trilogy. She liked it, but it wasn’t life-changing for her. She just got on with life.

One of my housemates last year (whom I’ve known since Year 7) and I share very similar taste in the trashier end of fantasy novels. It was excellent because I was getting a pretty good supply of unwanted review books from work, which we’d pass around. We both discovered the Tide Lords books at the same time. She introduced me to Sharon Shinn’s Samaria books. Good times.

Raphael and I have probably had the most success at recommending stuff to each other which has since become great favourites. I take credit for turning him into a card-carrying Whedonista, while he introduced me to the joy that is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I’m grateful that he told me to start with Guards! Guards!, since Samuel Vimes is certainly the finest guide you could have to Pratchett’s wonderful universe.

Mimi is the one I’ve most struggled with. I know for a fact that she would adore Stephen Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series. It’s a detective series, set in Rome at the end of the Republic and beginnings of the Empire, and it presents the era as one of debauchery, political machinations and soap operatic melodrama. She’s an ancient history nut, and she loves detective stories, but she absolutely refuses to read them.

I’ll never forget the day she decided that she liked Massive Attack after all. I’d been raving about Massive for years, since Year 11, I think. She always professed disdain. Then, one day, I got more obsessive about their song lyrics than I usually do, and raved for about an hour about their brilliance. Her ears pricked up. ‘You say that Teardrop’s opening lines are ‘Love, love, is a verb/Love is a doing word’?’ she asked. ‘That’s insanely cool.’ The next thing I know, she’s imported all of Mezzanine onto her iPod and telling me how ‘you really have to be an adult to appreciate Massive Attack, I think.’

But why is it that we try so hard to get our friends to like the things we like? And why does it hurt so badly when they don’t?

I thought about it, and the answer, at least for me, is that I’m the sum of my fandoms. I’m not a 23-year-old book-reviewer/patisserie worker/childcare worker/about-to-be-Cambridge-postgrad-student. No, I’m a Whedonista. I’m a sraffie. I’m a vampire fangirl. I love house music, trip-hop, ’90s Europop, Calexico. I have a love of Robin Hood: Men In Tights that borders on the pathological. I think the most wonderful character ever created is a foul-mouthed, sarcastic, arrogant yet self-doubting illegitimate 12th-century Christian Arab Templar squire/novice monk/Archdeacon of Carcassone. I gravitate towards dark fantasy and stories of unlikely lovers saving the world. These things are my identity, more than who my friends are, more than the way I present myself to the world, and more, definitely, than my job/s. So when I’m recommending this stuff to people I love, it is like offering a piece of me to them. So when they dislike things, it’s like they’re rejecting something essential to me. They’re part of the Ronni package, and, irrational though it is (why should the people I like love the things I love?), it feels like they’re saying, ‘this part of you, this part of Ronni, I dislike/think ridiculous/despise.’ Which kind of hurts, when you think about it.

My friends are not my friends because they share all of my literary tastes. My friends are my friends because we have shared experiences both wonderful and horrendous. Because they are part of my history. But that is exactly why I love my favourite books, films, TV series and music. Because they’ve been with me when I’ve been my best, and when I’ve been my worst. They are part of my history. They’ve made me who I am as surely as my friends and family have. Can you blame me for wanting to share their awesomeness?

Something for the sraffies May 29, 2008

Posted by dolorosa12 in sraffies.
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So, for some weird reason, I found myself last night re-reading lots of my old reviews. I was searching for one on Peeps and The Last Days by Scott Westerfeld, but I ended up reading them all. It was like peering back through the pages of an old diary, laughing at the clunkiness of my old prose and, every so often, shocked, thinking, ‘I believed that?’ My review of Eragon is absolutely painful to read. I described the book as ‘richly imagined’? That pile of dross recycled from The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and The Earthsea Quartet? What was I thinking?

What I really wanted to post here, was, however, my article about literary internet fansites. I think it will be amusing for all the sraffies. I certainly laughed when I read it (and not only at the clunky writing). The illustrations show a very early image of the BttS homepage, with news stories by Merlyn (that’s how old this article is, sraffies) and Blighty (is that Will?).

So, for your reading pleasure and amusement, I present ‘It’s Booklovers Anonymous in cyberspace’.

One of the delicious thrills of joining a literary Internet chat room is the possibility that you may actually be talking to a friend. Hidden behind the many adopted noms de plume may be someone you know – a casual acquaintance or even someone you passed in the street that day. While in the library at uni a few weeks ago, I noticed something unexpected as I waited in line to check my email.

Another student, already on the computer, was browsing the forums of an unofficial literary Internet fan site with which I was perhaps too familiar. I did not know this girl – indeed, I know none of the other members of the fan site. All go by pseudonyms, preferring to cloak their almost fanatical love of books in obscurity. It is strange and slightly unsettling when the anonymity of the Internet is threatened in this way – when its artificial world comes too close to the real world.

This girl and I did not know each other, and yet we may have been sharing thoughts on our favourite books for months. A literary fan site provides anonymous possibilities similar to the pleasures of a masked ball.

While many have claimed that the wonder of the Internet is email – instant communication in real time – for those with a passion for particular authors or genres of literature, the unofficial fan site would have to run a close second. For booklovers who perhaps had scorned the Internet as yet another small-screen diversion from life’s real purpose, of reading more books, the development of literary fan sites has proved as much of a diversion as the Australian Idol website has been for those with a different kind of passion.

Literary fan sites – on authors from Sir Thomas Malory to George Orwell to the generic writers of The Saddle Club – are generally run by fans, places where groups of like-minded people can discuss their favourite books, trade gossip on book-related topics, and essentially indulge their obsession with a particular series of books. (argh! three ‘books’ in the one sentence. *winces*)

Indeed, one of the chief delights of literary websites lies in sharing the obsessive pedantry of the fan with like-minded souls around the world. While some of the sites are little more than chatrooms providing a front for selling merchandise, others include transcripts of interviews, heated discussion about the significance of particular events (on the fan site for His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, the discussion about whether two characters slept together goes on for 36 pages and counting!) and speculation about where a particular series of books is heading. (hmm, only 36 pages? It must be close to 200 by now…)

Many fan sites, particularly those related to fantasy writing, are really clusters of sites. The main site for Isobel Carmody fans is obernewtyn.net, which has a sister site, Obernewtyn Theories. The main site has transcripts of interviews, fan fiction, fan art, news and gossip. The second site is an endless forum for discussion of the meaning of texts, plot development and cross-text references.

The Philip Pullman site, which is at bridgetothestars.net, includes a series of forums dedicated to not only the His Dark Materials trilogy itself but all other books by the author, as well as separate forums for discussing other books, movies, music and interests. As well as the inevitable fan fiction (stories using the original novels as a starting point), bridgetothstars.net also has a section where fans can publish their essays.

Fantasy sites seem to attract mainly young people, who enjoy writing themselves into the story. However, these fantasy sites are not simply filled with lost children escaping the real world. The existence of an essay section in bridgetothestars.net actually encourages readers to research and write essays about aspects of their favourite texts. (No, really?)

Children and teenagers are writing essays on topics as diverse as the scientific basis of the multi-universes of Pullman’s world, to his use of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, in in work, for the sheer love of it.

[…]
Just as the line between fantasy and reality can be thin on the Internet, so it it too for these avid fans. One of the more recent issues discussed on the Pullman site was the possibility of dedicating a park bench – which plays a significant role in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – in the Oxford Botanical Gardens to the chief characters in his books. Later, English fans returned to the site to report that the characters’ names had already been carved into the bench by more switched-on fans. They also reported that the bench had been formally dedicated to a couple of women already, and a search began to find out information about these women and the possible reasons behind this dedication.

The obernewtyn.net site hosts monthly “moonfairs”, complete with competitions and prizes, in an attempt to emulate similar moonfairs in the series. The moderators of the sites use a number of creative methods to contribute to the intellectual life and discussion of the site. For example, members of obernewtyn.net belong to “guilds”, similar to the guilds created by Carmody’s heroic characters; each guild member attracts points by contributing to the site.

On bridgetothestars.net members are rewarded for posting on the numerous forums by being moved up on the invented hierarchy of characters from Pullman’s trilogy. For example, a member who has posted 25 times or less is known as a “grazer” – a bovine-type character with no consciousness – whereas 25 to 50 posts puts the member in the category of the “mulefa” – a creature similar in appearance to the grazer but with the bonus of human-like consciousness. (hmm, someone didn’t understand the conventions of php-based forums, clearly. Someone also appeared to think that post-count related ranks were there to reward post-whorage. *shame*)

All of these things combine to create a friendly, if obsessive, atmosphere, full of like-minded people. As for collectors of memorabilia and the other groups of passionate oddballs, the sense of community, of shared experience, in literary Internet fan sites, is strong. They provide an outlet for such people to enjoy literature away from the academic world, and without its pressures.

With the freedom of anonymity, users are able to cultivate individuality and enhance any quirkiness they are able to express. While the rise of the Internet was seen as a threat to the future of the book, just as television was supposed to signal an end to reading, literary fan sites encourage an appreciation of literature and should be applauded.

Fantasy web sites, in particular, created for the most part by young people, have encouraged the close reading of texts and the self-expression dear to the heart of any English teacher. They are also lots of fun!

~ This originally appeared in the CT on Saturday, January 31, 2004.

I feel shame that I ever wrote this badly, but the comments about teh sraffies crack me up now. Anonymity? *falls over laughing* I also love that I hadn’t quite been bitten by the Internet bug yet – and still believed in a false dichotomy between the ‘online’ and ‘real’ worlds.