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Rachel Manija Brown

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I sold my novel! [Sep. 18th, 2012|09:14 am]
I am delighted to announce that Stranger, the post-apocalyptic YA novel that I co-wrote with Sherwood Smith, will be published by Viking (Penguin Group) in Winter 2014.

The acquiring editor is Sharyn November. I have wanted to work with her ever since we met twelve years ago, at World Fantasy Con in Corpus Christi, Texas. She said that she was reprinting classic children's fantasies. I grabbed her by the shoulder and said, no doubt with a mad gleam in my eye, "Lloyd Alexander's Westmark! Elizabeth Wein's The Winter Prince! Patricia McKillip's The Changeling Sea" She smiled and said, "We're doing all three. Got any other suggestions?" Sharyn, thank you so much for championing our book.

Yes, it's the Yes Gay YA book. Here's a little more about it:

Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, "the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. "Las Anclas" now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

There are five main characters. One is Ross, who knows all about prospecting, fighting, and desert survival, but hasn't had to interact with other human beings on a regular basis since he was twelve. The others are teenagers from Las Anclas: Mia Lee, introverted genius and town oddball, who can design six different weapons before breakfast; Yuki Nakamura, an aspiring prospector who is dying to get out of his small town and explore the rest of the world; Jennie Riley, Changed telekinetic and over-achiever, who must choose between becoming the teacher of the one-room schoolhouse or joining the elite military Rangers; and Felicite Wolfe, the Mayor's narcissistic daughter, who likes to spy on people with the help of her pet mutant rat.

And yes. Yuki is still gay. So is his boyfriend, Paco Diaz, the drummer in the town band. And Brisa Preciado, who has the power to make rocks explode, is still dating shy Becky Callahan, who works after school waiting tables at the saloon. As you can see, this isn't so much a "gay book" or a "straight book" as an ensemble book.

Sherwood and I wanted to write something fun and exciting, with adventure and romance and mutant powers and martial arts and a vivid sense of place. And we wanted it to be about the people who are so often left out of those sorts of books: Latinos and African-Americans, Jews and Asian-Americans, gay boys and lesbian girls, multiracial teenagers and teenagers with physical and mental disabilities. We didn't do this to fulfill some imaginary quota, but because we wanted to write about teenagers like the real ones we know, the real ones in Los Angeles, the real ones we were.

We hope that, however flawed it may be, our novel will make even a few of those teenagers happy.

Stranger is a post-apocalyptic adventure, not an issue novel. But all stories have their genesis somewhere, and for me, it was my wish to say, "It's okay. You're okay. You'll get better. You'll make friends. You'll fall in love. You can be a hero." I hope it finds its way to the people to whom it will speak.

If you would like to be notified when the book actually comes out, please comment to this post to say so. I will reply to your comment when the book is published, and you should get an email notification. Or you can leave your email address in a comment. (I can copy the address, then delete or screen the comment.) If you're not on LJ/DW, you can comment anonymously (or email me) with an email address where I can reach you.

Incidentally, I am putting out an e-book anthology of my short stories and poetry in a couple months. If you'd like to be notified when that's available, please comment to say so.

I would be happy to answer any questions you might have, about the novel or anything else.

Finally, please feel free to link to this post. Lots of people mentioned during Yes Gay YA that they would like to know what happened to this book, but the vast majority probably don't read my blog.
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Complete List of YA fantasy and sf novels with major or main LGBTQ Characters [Jun. 25th, 2012|10:09 pm]
Note: This is a list of all novels which fit the criteria listed in the second paragraph. It does not express opinions on the quality, authenticity, or positivity of the portrayals of the characters in the books. Please use your own judgment in deciding which books you wish to support.

The compilers of the list have not read all the books on it. Commentary is by Rachel Manija Brown and reflects her opinions on the books as literature. Title links go to Amazon.

These were the criteria used to compile the list: 1) The book must be science fiction or fantasy or otherwise not realism, and must have been published, either originally in reprint, as YA (Vanyel was never published as YA), 2) It must contain at least one major LGBTQ character who is clearly identified as such within the book itself. (Dumbledore doesn’t count; neither do Tom and Carl), 3) Major is defined as having a POV and/or a storyline of their own and/or lots of page-time. 4) In most cases, it must be published by a mainstream or small-press publisher in the USA.

Books in which the protagonist is LGBTQ are marked with a star.

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Japan photos (Miyajima) [Apr. 20th, 2012|05:35 pm]
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Take a walk with me. And a ferry ride. And eat an innovative gourmet dinner...



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Take a Walk With Me... [Apr. 20th, 2012|05:33 pm]
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...into Fushimi Inari, a shrine for the God/Goddess of rice (and so material success) and fertility. And foxes.

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Kater Murr vs. Music: A fictional course of narrative therapy [Apr. 3rd, 2012|03:09 pm]
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For my final paper in my class on Queer Counseling and Narrative Therapy, the assignment was to write out a course of narrative therapy with a fictional LGBTQ character. We were to include dialogue and explanations of the theoretical basis for what we were doing.

I initially meant to choose Maud, one of the two Victorian lesbian heroines in Sarah Waters' dark, twisty Gothic thriller Fingersmith. But the Japan trip cut my time short, and I realized that the historical nature and the lack of a recent re-read meant I wouldn't be able to do it justice.

Instead, I went for a character in a contemporary novel which I knew very well, Robertson Davies' The Lyre of Orpheus. (It's the last book in The Cornish Trilogy, but can be read alone. The character in therapy only appears in the final book.) I counseled Schnak, the inarticulate, eccentric, teenage genius composer.

Cut for being very long (7 pages double-spaced) and for containing spoilers. Though it's not really the sort of book where plot spoilers matter that much.

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Manuscript critique services and individualized writing workshops OFFERED [Feb. 17th, 2012|11:18 am]
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Do you have a manuscript that needs a critique? Have you been quietly longing for an individualized writing workshop with me? If so, you are in luck!

This post will deal with manuscript critique. The post on individualized writing workshops conducted via email will come later. (Please comment if you’re interested in the latter, with a mention of what genre and media you’re interested in.)

My manuscript critique services include detailed emailed notes, plus handwritten notes in the manuscript itself. (You mail it to me, I read it and mail it back.) It also includes an hour-long consultation via telephone (you call me), or in person if you happen to live in Los Angeles. If you like, I will give you advice on business issues (like getting an agent) in addition to critique. I am extremely honest, but not mean.

I can’t guarantee that your book will be published or your script will be produced, but some people I’ve worked with have gone on to publish their manuscripts. I was the main person who critiqued the two manuscripts linked below before they acquired agents. I also advised both authors on how to get an agent and write a query letter.

A Bad Day's Work: A Novel is a lighthearted mystery a la Stephanie Plum, forthcoming in trade paperback. This manuscript underwent major changes as a result of my suggestions, and ended up with a new love interest.

"Ready for the People": My Most Chilling Cases as a Prosecutor is nonfiction by a Los Angeles prosecutor. I edited this for clarity, readability, and manuscript format.

The woman who won my critique services in a Sweet Charity auction a while back rewrote her spec script for Supernatural according to my notes and submitted it to a TV writing contest, where it came in as a quarter-finalist.

I am willing to read fiction, non-fiction, and any kind of script, including comic book scripts. I have no content restrictions, and I will read partial manuscripts. I don't think I'm the best person to consult about poetry or sitcoms.

Rates: $2/page for manuscripts of 200 pages or under. For manuscripts of 200 + pages, the rate for the subsequent pages drops to $1.

ie, if you have a 50-page TV script, I will critique it for $100. If you have a 300-page book, the total cost (200 pages at $2/page and 100 pages at $1/page) is $500.

If you have a very short piece, like a query letter or college admission essay, the minimum rate is $50.

Turn-around: One month.

Comments to this post are screened. Comment if you’re interested or have questions, or email me at Rphoenix2 at gmail dot com.

I’ve sold nonfiction, fiction, TV scripts, poetry, and comic books, and taught writing privately, at writing workshops, a high school, and a university (UC Riverside.) For more details, I will email you my writing and teaching resumes upon request.
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Read-a-thon for Mindfulness [Jan. 5th, 2012|10:58 am]
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The Cause: I am holding a two-day read-a-thon to raise $2700 to attend "Japanese Approaches to Mindfulness," a 10-day study abroad in March staying at Shunkoin, a Zen temple in Kyoto, to study Zen, mindfulness, and Japanese concepts of psychology and mental illness. The abbott is active in the local LGBTQ community, and we will be meeting with LGBTQ activists as well as with practicing psychologists. I think this will benefit me professionally, and will also be helpful to my future clients. (I am studying to become a psychotherapist with a focus on survivors of trauma.) I will blog and take photos, for your enjoyment.

How to Participate: Please comment with an offer of an amount of money per book read and blogged. You may put a cap on the amount. ("I offer $15/book, with a cap of $150.") In two days, I can read 6-10 books. If you sponsor me, you may propose a book for me to read. You may also make a general proposal, like, "Something by Robert Heinlein/an Old West memoir/one of your childhood favorites."

If a book is too hard to obtain or if I've already reviewed it somewhere, I will ask for an alternate. Please don't propose anything extremely long or dense.

FYI: I happen to have obtained a copy of the sequel to Sexteen, which I have been saving for a special occasion.

Please consider linking this post, to pull in more participants. If I have more sponsors than books I can read, I will give special consideration to larger donors and/or and/or prior participants whose books didn't get read and/or especially interesting nominations and/or hold a poll.
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Witch Eyes, by Scott Tracey [Jan. 4th, 2012|09:32 pm]
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Braden is a teenager with extremely powerful “witch eyes” that constantly change colors and can see visions, reveal truth, and break and create magic spells. They also give him migraines and psychic nosebleeds. He has little control over their powers, so he always wears sunglasses to prevent their magic from activating. (Not spelled or ruby quartz sunglasses. Regular sunglasses.) Due to his magic abilities, he lives with his uncle, who has home-schooled him.

One day Braden has a vision which tells him that evil magic from a town called Belle Dam is going to come after him and kill his uncle to get to him. Braden, who is well-meaning but not the sharpest knife in the drawer, decides to protect his uncle by… going to Belle Dam.

As soon as Braden arrives, he is flirted with by a hot guy from the bus. Then he is unexpectedly welcomed by a lawyer who puts him up in a hotel and introduces him to his hitherto-unknown father, Jason, who is a town VIP and a powerful witch. On Braden’s first day of high school, he is instantly befriended by two girls and flirted with by a different hot guy. All of these people, who begin relationships with Braden without him having to do anything, exposit at some length to him about how the town is run by Jason and his arch-rival, Catherine Lansing. Catherine Lansing is also the mother of Jade, Braden’s new best friend, and Trey, Braden’s love interest. Oops.

I wanted to like this novel more than I actually did. It has some funny lines and some good moments when it breaks out of its teen paranormal formula to deliver some real emotion. I liked the realistic way that Braden’s sexual orientation was handled – not without angst, but without angsty melodrama. But the prose is often clunky, too much is handed to Braden without him having to work for it, he has unconvincingly good social skills despite having had almost no previous interaction with other teenagers, and the characters, their relationships, and the plot frequently don’t make a whole lot of sense.

I never did figure out whether or not the general population of Belle Dam was aware of magic, exactly how magic worked in this world, why it took Braden to point out to everyone that perhaps it was a tad suspicious that the lawyer hadn’t aged since 1940, and why Braden’s pal Riley thought male witches didn’t exist when most of the witches we meet are male. Many conversations and character interactions were similarly puzzling, with characters taking action for no clear purpose and having reactions with no clear cause.

While Braden’s narration is sometimes nicely snarky, a lot of the prose could have used another pass. There are many sentences with unclear syntax or noticeablely awkward phrasing. For instance, The nausea in my stomach was getting worse, threatening to unleash contents in my stomach that weren’t even there.

I’ve read much worse recent YA novels. But I’ve also read much better ones. While having a gay protagonist in a mainstream YA paranormal is genuinely groundbreaking, nothing else in the novel is. If Braden had been straight, I would have complained that the novel had nothing to distinguish itself from hundreds of similar novels.

But books with minority protagonists shouldn’t have to be staggering works of heartbreaking genius to justify their existence. We don’t demand that every YA with a straight protagonist be wonderful; we accept that some will be, but some will be terrible, and most will be mediocre or average. I can’t wait till the day that I can say that Witch Eyes has nothing to distinguish itself from hundreds of similar YA paranormals with gay protagonists.

As a work of art, Witch Eyes is mediocre-average. But there are readers out there who will love and treasure it, and I wish it stunning success.

Witch Eyes
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The One-Note Dystopia [Jul. 5th, 2011|09:21 pm]
While recovering from food poisoning a while back, I downloaded a lot of the first few chapters of YA dystopias on to my Kindle. I selected the genre partly because there’s lots of dystopian YA out there now, and partly because it cheered me to contemplate places more awful than my bathroom floor at 3:00 AM.

I did not deliberately select my sample reading for simplistic high concepts, but wow, did I get a lot.

A high concept is a plot which can be easily and representatively summarized in a short sentence. If doing so would misrepresent the actual experience of reading the book, then the book does not have a high concept. “Snakes on a plane” gives you a good idea of Snakes on a Plane; “A bus is wired to explode if it drops below 50 mph” gives you a good idea of Speed. Those are high-concept movies. If you like the concept, you’ll probably like the movie. “Nine people go on a quest to drop a ring into a volcano,” though technically correct, does not give you a good idea of the experience of reading Lord of the Rings.

The majority of the opening chapters of YA dystopias I’ve read have been so monomaniacally focused on their high concepts that they reminded me of the panel of the “Life in Hell” comic strip about the nine types of college professors which depicted the “One Theory Explains Everything Maniac” as a rabbit shaking his cane and shouting, “The nation that controls magnesium controls the universe!”

Individually, some of them show promise. Collectively, they are tedious and one-dimensional. I was not especially impressed with the worldbuilding in The Hunger Games, but the first few chapters did show a world in which people had problems apart from the Hunger Games, committed small crimes and often got away with them, and had personalities and relationships dictated by personal concerns rather than bizarre socially mandated rules.

In most of the books I’ve sampled, the first chapters are about little but the one-note concept, the characters think about little but the concept and speak about little but the concept, and the government is absurdly fixated on peculiar things, like the food individuals eat and the colors they’re allowed to wear, and, except for the obligatory Resistance, completely effective in controlling every moment of every person’s day. The heroines are naïve but spunky girls, unconvincingly ruminating at great length about how their societies came to be and how they function. It’s a paper world, sketched on the back of a sermon.

Of the ones which I went on to read in full, Ally Condie's Matched was a sweet and well-observed tale of first love in a society in which the government controls absolutely everything. (Dystopia is the government arranging marriages.) Julia Karr's XVI, in which the government controls absolutely everything and sixteen-year-old girls, or "sexteens," are tattooed to advertise their sexual availability, was every bit as trashy and ridiculous as it sounds. (Dystopia is teenage girls having sex.)

I didn't get farther than the first few chapters of The Water Wars (dystopia is drought), Across the Universe (dystopia is a generation ship), Wither (dystopia is everyone dropping dead by age 25), Delirium (dystopia is the government banning love), Divergent (dystopia is the government sorting society by means of a personality quiz), Birthmarked (dystopia is the government confiscating babies), or Bumped (dystopia is the government encouraging teen pregnancy.)

I'm not really appreciating the high-concept, the government regulates the color of your shoelaces, everything in society is geared toward a single theme, heavy-handed dystopia. There's something inherently boring about them. I am particularly done with the "[blank] has been banned" and "the government controls [blank]" dystopias. They're starting to seem like they were created by online dystopia generators. Here, have a few ideas, make a mint:

Go: Travel has been banned and the government controls pets.

Ouch: Sickness has been banned and the government controls pain.

Sweat: Sports have been banned and the government controls water.

Vibrate: Sex has been banned and the government controls masturbation.
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Matched, by Ally Condie [Jun. 20th, 2011|09:39 pm]
A YA dystopia in which a computer arranges marriages for everyone. Since I spent much of my childhood in India and my own culture invented the yenta, the concept of the arranged marriage, despite being obviously horrible if non-consensual, does not exactly spell out “terrifying dystopia” to me.

Cassia Reyes is an ordinary girl living in the most over-controlled post-apocalyptic society ever, who is happy to be Matched with Xander, her childhood friend. But the computer briefly flashes an image of Ky, the neighborhood oddball, who is forever forbidden to marry because his father committed an Infraction. Cassia is told that it was a prank or mistake, but she begins to wonder.

I expected this to be amusingly awful, but to my surprise, I liked it. Despite the anvillicious premise, it’s a sweet, well-observed romance and coming of age story, detailing all the fleeting emotions of teenage love and personal growth with earnest, heartfelt delicacy. Cassia, Ky, and Xander are all well-meaning and likable, which made the inevitable love triangle less annoying than usual.

Janni has mused that dystopias tend to be either extremely ordered or extremely chaotic. This is the most orderly dystopia I’ve ever encountered.

Things in this world which are chosen for people by the Society:

- The food they each individually eat at every single meal. They are not allowed a single bite of someone else’s food.

- The clothes you wear. You can only select the color on very special occasions.

- The day you die. Everyone who survives so long is euthanized on their 80th birthday.

- The total art of the society. All art has been destroyed except for the 100 Best Poems, 100 Best Paintings, 100 Best Songs. Etc. No new creation is allowed.

- Love letters, farewell letters, etc, are clipped and pasted from official templates. Handwriting and pens are banned – only typing is allowed, presumably so they can track everything you write.

- Your job, your entertainment options, your schooling, the mysterious pills you must carry at all times, where you live, what you can know, what you can own, how many kids you can have and when, and of course, who you marry.

Given the total lack of conclusiveness, I’m guessing this will have a sequel.


Matched (Matched Trilogy)
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