karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
When We Wake has been getting some awfully nice reviews. Particularly, it is getting nice reviews from sci-fi venues, which pleases me very much, since this is my first sci-fi story.

Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, calling it: "a fast-moving and carefully built science-fiction story… accessible, thoughtful and compelling".

Publisher's Weekly says that I managed a: "very persuasive future world… The diversity of the cast is authentic and natural"

Liz Bourke at Tor.com says that When We Wake is: "an excellent YA novel. It’s also really excellent science fiction. … Healey really nails voice."

Sarah Frost at Strange Horizons says the book is: "exciting and powerful. … [Tegan] is both a believable teenager and an admirable person."

So that's all pretty excellent, huzzah!
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Internets, y'all know John Scalzi's Big Idea feature at the Whatever, right? This is the feature where authors will tell you the Big Idea behind their latest release, also known as The Place Not To Go When You Are Poor And Have Instituted A Book-Buying Ban, Yes, On Everything, Even That Really Cool One, Oh Wait, Maybe Just One Or Two Or Five.

It's a great feature. Directly responsible for me spending a lot of money on very good books.

Anyway, the point is, I wrote my Big Idea for When We Wake, talking about (naturally) Sleeping Beauties, and why I wanted an action hero with verve to be my leading lady. Go! Read!
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I valiantly slew a whitetail spider last night, but as it lay in agony, legs twitching, it laid upon me its death curse. Now I have the plague.

Guess who has two thumbs and won't be teaching tomorrow and feels super sorry for herself?

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Time to talk about me!

No, wait, time to talk about MY NEW BOOK.

Internets, When We Wake has been released in North America. I was lucky enough to do a blog tour on five awesome young adult fiction blogs to coincide with this release.

BUT. I didn't really want to do a blog tour when people ask me questions and then I answer, because I already had lots of that kind of interview lined up. Even though I could happily talk about my process and inspirations forever (which reminds me, I owe you a Sleeping Beauty essay on Captain America) I didn't want to go around repeating myself.

SO. My awesome publicist was like, why don't they interview When We Wake CHARACTERS? And I said, yes! Faye, you are brilliant! They can interview characters on topics relevant to the book!

So that's what we did. Massive thanks to Faye and Little, Brown for organising everything, and even more massive thanks to the bloggers, who really put the extra effort in to come up with compelling, relevant, interesting questions! I am super happy with the WAKE UP tour, which you can read by clicking on the links below.

If you are in the US, you can also enter giveaways for the book!

The WAKE UP tour:

Bethari talks about media and communications at Novel Novice.

Abdi talks about immigration at The Book Smugglers.

Dr Marie Carmen talks about science and medicine at 365 Days of Reading.

Tegan talks about music at Forever Young Adult.

Joph talks about the environment at The Readadventurer.
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
Things I get to teach in my teacher intern placement:

* Character, setting and theme in the Hunger Games
* Short story analysis for theme
* Love poetry, with particular focus on the sonnet
* Research methods, particularly online
* The conventions of graphic novels: connection between word and image; placement of panels; composition within the panel.
* Diary comics as genre.
* Creative writing: descriptive setting.

PLUS I get to help out with the Debating club and host (while I'm there) the Creative Writing group.

karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
Internets! Oh my gosh, it's been FOREVER.

Or nearly two weeks, much the same thing in internet time.

What have I been up to? Teacher training! Story of this year, Internets. If ever you find yourself thinking, "That Karen creature, what is she up to, why does she not post as regularly as she did of old?", you may then think, "Ah, teacher training," and nod wisely to yourself at your perspicuity. One should take advantage of every opportunity to nod wisely at oneself.

I also did some other stuff! Internets stuff!

1: Here is an interview I did with delightful Australian SF blog Spec on Spec Fic. A sample:

How did you go about creating the Australia, and Melbourne, of the future for your book? What kinds of research did you have to do?

Living in Melbourne for five years was good research! It’s such a multi-cultural place, something I tried really hard to get across – that excellent blend of style, culture and voice. I wanted to get across the way the lanes and broad roads feel, that combination of wide spaces and squished, secretive alleys. I did a lot of research on the likely effects of climate change on Melbourne and Australia, none of it particularly cheerful. And, as always, since I know nothing about trees, I spent some time on horticulture sites. Trees are hard!

Trees are so hard, Internets.

2: I went to Oamaru and launched When We Wake from the familiar comforts of the Oamaru Library, a place that has been a wonder and a sanctuary to me since I was nine years old.

When We Wake Launch in Oamaru Library

When We Wake Launch in Oamaru Library


Fabulous turn out, great eats (thank you, Allen and Unwin! The cheese was magnificent!) and even the tech behaved! I did a sped up and truncated presentation of the Sleeping Beauty essays I've been doing for you, Internets, and it was very well received.

3: The trailer for When We Wake was released.

Oh, Internets.

Oh, Internets, I can't even tell you how much I love this trailer. Everyone loves this trailer. ALL BLACK TAMATI ELLISON LOVES THIS TRAILER, TRUE STORY*.

Those who have read the book may have noticed that Tegan has an American accent in the trailer. Also, hair. But I cannot even bring myself to be mildly perturbed by these details, because I LOVE THIS TRAILER SO MUCH I WANT TO BAKE IT IN A PIE.

* He was at my mother's school for an assembly and she played the trailer to the assembled students and afterwards he came and told her how much he liked it.

So, omg, and also, MUM. WHAT? OKAY.
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
Internets! Some housekeeping/update notes for you.

While I settled into my first week of teacher training, When We Wake came out in Australia and New Zealand!

When We Wake Australasian cover

In all good bookshops and on all good bookshelves now.

People have been very kindly tweeting me (@kehealey) about how the book is making them cry. EXCELLENT. Please continue. Your tears give me strength.

My website needed revamping for this momentous occasion. The excellent Melanie Reese adapted an Elegant Themes design for KarenHealey.com, so now everything looks very clean and futuristic, which is just right for this book! I threw up some bonus content - you can find it at the When We Wake page.

In OTHER exciting news, When We Wake has garnered some great reviews from trade publications, including something I have coveted for a while now, which is a STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus Reviews.

Some extracts:

STARRED REVIEW:“Accessible, thoughtful and compelling — science fiction done right.” – Kirkus Reviews

“[A] taut drama set in an unnervingly realistic future world. Tegan is a compelling and believable narrator, and her story is full of moral complexities that are as suspenseful and dramatic as they are topical and relevant.” – Bookseller + Publisher

“[A] very persuasive future world … smartly extrapolated from contemporary society. The story’s injustices unfold in a way that’s stark and unvarnished.” – Publishers Weekly

Thank you, reviewers, you make me very happy. I know that's not your goal, nor should it be your purpose, but I find it an excellent byproduct.

I wrote a guest post for Behind A Million And One Pages on the cryonics of When We Wake and my most unscientific thought processes as I worked on the idea. My brand new copy of Briar Rose has arrived, so I can crack on to my next Sleeping Beauty essay, hopefully this weekend. Oh, Sunday, how you are rapidly filling up your to-do list already.

And, finally, I saw the first cut of the When We Wake US book trailer today. It is stunning; creepy and beautiful and made me want to sit down and read the book again. After writing and revising and reading and rereading my books umpteen times, this is not a reaction I usually have. I think we can safely say the trailer is effective. I will let you know where to find it as soon as I can!
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Internets! It is time for the January Sleeping Beauties essay!

In the first essay, I discussed the European origins of the fairy tale. In the second essay I made some inflammatory statements about the Grimm brothers and told the sad story of Tchaikovsky yearning for critical approval. In the third, I talked about the Disneyfication of the story with the very pretty movie.

And now, Internets, it's time to get political, with Sheri S. Tepper's award-winning novel, Beauty.

I quite like a didactic book, a book that tells me to think about things, a book that makes a clear argument for a proposition. I am also pretty obviously happy to include didactic elements in my own work. I mean, the messages in my books are not particularly subtle: The narratives that you are exposed to shape your life, so think about them! Don't slut-shame people! Please don't kill yourself!

Sheri S. Tepper is a writer of didactic books, and how. Her messages are also not super subtle: Patriarchy is really bad for everyone, but especially women. If humans keep treating this planet like our personal rubbish dump the species will regret it. And so on!

Tepper’s characterisation doesn’t usually appeal to me, but her ideas and world building certainly do. She'll come up with a what if, and explore it. What would a gender separatist society look like and how would it function? (The Gate To Women's Country) What if humans were missing a racial memory, and that caused our frequent bouts of cruelty and sadism? (The Margarets). Interesting questions! Interesting worlds!

Often kind of weirdly formulated arguments.

Because while Tepper is doing all these interesting things, I cannot help having questions about so many of the things that are just assumed to be true as she explores her worlds and makes her points. Such as, what's with the genetically transmitted personality traits? Where are the queer people? Are you honestly equating people who create porn and cut down trees to actual rapists and murderers? Are you serious about this gender essentialism? For reals? Like… really?


In Beauty, Tepper's what-ifs go like this: what if the original Sleeping Beauty were born in 14th century England, the daughter to a duke? What if she had an illegitimate half-sister, born the same day, who looked so like her that the two girls regularly swapped clothes and played tricks? What if the curse of the fairy Carabosse was that the Duke’s daughter would prick her finger and sleep on the day she turned sixteen?

And what if it wasn't Beauty who fulfilled the curse, but her sister Beloved?

While everyone else sleeps in the enchanted castle, Beauty is left to go her own way. She is promptly accidentally kidnapped to the late 21st century by a time travelling film crew, who have come back to film the 14th century; the death of magic.

The 21st is depicted as a horrible place, ruled by the notion of Fidipur (feed the poor), where the billions of people in the world are equally housed in horrific 100 square foot apartment hives and are dispensed tasteless food made from sea algae.

tiny apartment

The apartments presumably don't look much like this adorable converted attic apartment, which is actually even smaller.

In this Fidipur future, all the forests are gone, all mammals except for humans are gone, all things of beauty and art are gone. People caught trying to get more are sent down the chutes to die. Beauty manages to go back far enough to hit the 20th century, where she can already see signs of Fidipur beginning and learns from other time travellers that after Fidipur, there is nothing – eventually, by about 2114, humanity ends in everyone going down the tubes, because they cannot cope with the grim horror of their lives. So many try to go down that the machines clog and break and the bodies rot.

This is only the beginning of a complicated and involving plot, which includes angels, the Devil, fairies, magical realist adventures in a created world, a trip to Hell, and the revelation that Beauty is personally responsible for a lot of fairy tale figures - she is not only herself, but the mother of Cinderella, the grandmother of Snow White, and the great-great grandmother of the Frog Prince.

But Beauty’s real mission is to make sure that the future she saw never takes places – or that if it does, humanity will survive afterwards. Eventually giving up on her ability to defeat the “gobble-god” of greed and ugliness, Beauty instead manages to create in Westfaire castle a kind of Ark of beauty and art. This place is designed to exist outside time until Fidipur’s time has gone, and the human race can be revived. With, I guess, a feudal political system, because reasons.

I always imagine Westfaire looking like Neuschwanstein

The big problem I have with Beauty (well, one of two – a brief follow-up on that tomorrow) is that I think the Fidipur scenario is both too good and too bad to be true.

It’s too good to be true, because the Fidipur future Beauty describes involves everyone getting the same tiny living space and the same bland food substitutes and having to live by the same austerity rules. This assumes that people in power will decide to actually feed the poor and to allocate resources equally. That doesn't gel with what I've seen of human nature. I don't accept that all the people with enough power to enforce these rules would be satisfied with their own stark little cell and tasteless pap. I just don't think most relatively rich and powerful people would be overly concerned with feeding the poor. They sure aren't now.

(And yet, in an environment where this kind of equal austerity is practiced and brutally enforced, the people in charge (who we never hear anything about) do not take measures designed to reduce overpopulation and free up resources, other than killing people who break the rules. They just maintain the austere status quo. I don’t get it.)

This future is also too bad to be true, because I don’t think the mass suicide of the enormous population and the complete destruction of any kind of beauty is a viable projection. Beauty’s idea of the worst possible future is one where everyone has a place to sleep and enough to eat. It’s a grim, squashed-down kind of existence, but people are, right now, surviving in much worse conditions. They shouldn’t have to for a second, but they are. And while suicide and depression are indeed rife among people actually living in grindingly horrible circumstances, they are not universal.

When We Wake is, like Beauty, a Sleeping Beauty story that pays a lot of attention to what the future might bring. In the future of When We Wake, there are dwindling resources. There is overpopulation and due to rising sea levels, less living space than ever before.

Funafuti atoll by mrlins @flickr

Funafuti atoll of Tuvalu, by marlins @flickr. Sorry about writing that you disappeared, Tuvalu.

These limited resources result, not in equality, but in an even greater disparity between the powerful and the powerless, those with all the advantages and those with very few.

Some reviewers are calling When We Wake a dystopia. I don’t think it is, but bear in mind I’m the same person who wrote about people getting torn in half and someone eating someone else’s brains in Guardian of the Dead, and was then legit surprised when people told me it was a horror novel. When We Wake is just how I think humans might act, extrapolated forward.

I think they will be both better and worse than Beauty tells us. In my 22nd century, art and beauty and music don’t disappear. People can still be wise and honest and brave. But they can also be selfish and cruel.

In When We Wake, one of the questions Tegan has to face is why she's been brought back to life, at incredible expense, to be another mouth to feed in a world with billions of them. Who is being hurt by her revival? Who stands to profit? Why does she get to live again when thousands of refugees are treated as automatic criminals and kept in huge camps? What are the implications of her revival - what happens if it can be repeated, with the very many relatively wealthy people who have been cryogenically preserved in the century since her own death?

And does she, like Beauty, want to change the future?

The answers to the first questions are yet to be seen!

The answer to the last one is yes.

When We Wake cover final

When We Wake will be available from Little, Brown and Allen and Unwin in March/February 2013. Pre-order through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, or IndieBound.
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
Internets, the next Sleeping Beauty essay was going to be on the theme of politics in Sleeping Beauty stories, and it was going to be about Jane Yolen's Briar Rose and Sheri S. Tepper's Beauty.

However, having given my last copy of Briar Rose away the last time I moved countries, I could not find a replacement anywhere. I didn't expect it to be on bookshop shelves, but I hunted on ebook stores, and through the catalogues of two different library districts, and on NZ online stores that sell paperbacks and nothing. Nothing! Not a single copy of Briar Rose for easy access.

I was almost relieved, because Briar Rose is a beautiful, brilliant book that punches you repeatedly in the heart. It is devastating. When you read it, you cry, and not in a delicate single crystalline tear way, but in the way where you make horrible hurting noises and your stomach aches from the air you're gulping in, and not only is your nose running uncontrollably, but the snot is dribbling right into your mouth and you can't even pull it together enough to wipe your nose because you are crying too hard.

And THEN. You read the afterword.

When I say you, I mean me. I don't know how the actual you would respond, but I wouldn't recommend reading it on public transport.

Anyway, as much as I enjoy emotional destruction through vicarious agony at both the cruelty and beauty of what people did during the Holocaust (I do not enjoy it) I decided I was not going to give up on including this book in the essay series. It is too important to Sleeping Beauty stories, and it is too important to me.

So I bought a copy on the book depository, and it is on its way! Ah, the future. I am super spoilt.

I will write a mini essay on Beauty and Briar Rose each, and while that will look a little unbalanced, because I think one book is brilliant and persuasive and the other is brilliant in parts but poorly argued and odd, it'll be fine. All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

But boy. It's going to take some tears.
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
Internets, yesterday I finished revising While We Run, the sequel to When We Wake.

Then I slept for TWELVE HOURS, and it was beautiful. At one point Roomie Matt came home from the place he has been housesitting and I was like, hey, noises, maybe I should interact with another person! So I did that, and then I went back to bed.

I am actually not positive if I dreamed him. I'm pretty sure I didn't. No! I didn't! There was laundry on the balcony!

It is so GLORIOUS not having anything to do. I think this is how people are supposed to feel about weekends, but I haven't really had weekends for most of my adult life, and neither have many of my friends. Creative types tend to have to fit the creativity around a job or activity that earns them enough money to pay rent and eat, so two whole days of free time that you have every week is this amazing yet mythical tale of which I have heard tell.

But I am on holiday until Monday! Although I do have to write my January Sleeping Beauty essay and also start a short story. Which is practically NOTHING. ACRES of free time!

SO today I woke up at 2pm. I did some laundry, I baked some scones, I played some WoW, I watched some Vampire Diaries and Parks and Recreation and I read some Avengers fic. And I was like, what else do people do?

They update their blogs!

karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
I wrote a book, and it's about to be launched in my hometown! (6pm, Friday Feb 15th, Oamaru Library).

This is mildly hilarious to me, because When We Wake is my first book not to be set in New Zealand, and also my first that will be launched there.

Anyway, I have to get to Oamaru from Christchurch, and I don't drive, so it's the bus for me! In a fit of organisation, I pulled up the bus company website to book a ticket.

Self: Oh good, $21 ticket, yay, shame about the $3 web booking fee but oh well
Self: Time to get my wallet, do do dooo
Self: *glances out window while coming back to computer*
Self: *sees the booking office*
Self: *which is literally right next door*

Internets, may I present REVISION BRAIN?

karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
I thought I'd give you a glimpse into the revision process of While We Run, where I am currently smushing chapters together, grouping characters in different alliances, and inventing new locations.

(Why do I do this to myself?)

(… oh yeah because I think this will be a better book when I'm done)

When writing revised scenes, I tend to plan out a scene before I write it, first briefly while I outline the chapter, and then in more depth, so that the actual writing doesn't involve too much, "And then what happens?" No, that's an attitude for the first draft!

However, when I say "in depth", I don't mean "formal". For example, to conclude an argument between characters about what they should do next:

[Tegan says that she’s been praying, and she thinks this is the way to go. Bethari nods.]
[Abdi and Joph are like, atheist eyeroll, unite!]

And that's how we make literature!


Jan. 2nd, 2013 09:42 pm
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
So, what are my resolutions this year?

1) Read the Four Great Classical Novels (and maybe the fifth).

Reading resolutions went well last year, so let's continue the trend! Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber are fundamental literary works, and also reputedly great fun, huzzah!

I'll be reading in English translation, my Classical Chinese not really being up to scratch. Good translation recommendations highly welcome! Good annotated translations for someone almost completely unaware of most of the necessary cultural grounding super duper highly welcome.

2) Read the works mentioned in Pamela Dean's Tam Lin.

HOO BOY. To those of you who are not familiar with this book a) go read it now and b) it features a preternaturally well-read young woman and her almost all equally well-read friends, who quote Hamlet and The Revengers Tragedy at each other in much the same way I drop Community and Princess Bride quotes on the initiated. It's an immensely fun book, and it references a vast number of literary works, and I am going to attack them with a will.

One caveat: I'm not resolving to read the entirety of all the works mentioned, because Janet is an English major for the four years the book covers and she burns through a lot of pages. But I'll read, for example, some of the more exciting bits of Paradise Lost, or a couple of Donne's most notable works as representative of what she's doing. Another caveat: I was an English major myself, and have read a ton of the relevant works already; those I may or may not re-read, depending. Ugh, the Romantics.

3) The computer goes off by midnight.

It's going to be a really really busy year, Internets. I'm going to be regularly getting up much earlier than my internal clock prefers to do workshops and teacher intern placement, and next year I intend to be teaching. This means I have to get into the habit of signalling to myself that work is done for the day so that I can get enough sleep, and that means switching off the computer.

This isn't a hard and fast rule - doubtless there will be a few nights where I have to finish assessments and lesson plans at 1am, or the odd weekend night where I just want to run my hunter around Pandaria until I pass out. But it's a general resolution I'm going to be doing my best to keep.

And that's it! How about you, internets? Any changes you're making or ambitions you're undertaking for the new year?

Day One

Jan. 1st, 2013 11:43 pm
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
It is probably emblematic of how this year is going to go that in order to finish this post in a timely fashion I had to deliberately stop working on something else. With an intense teaching course that has to be my main priority, plus a book to launch, plus another one to revise, plus various Secret Projects, this promises to be a very busy year for me. Fair warning, internets, you may not see so much of my blogging as hitherto.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before I look forward, I want to look back.

I lived with my parents last year, mostly because I couldn't afford not to. This was humbling at first, but not nearly as frustrating as I had expected, and I outgrew the (futile, unnecessary) shame fairly quickly. After all, I got to live rent free in a beautiful house with views that included adorable lambs, beautiful mountains, and the sun rising over the ocean. There are much worse positions to be in.

I became, by necessity and inclination, much tidier, because my mother is one of those mothers. That's something I'm planning to bring into this year, and those following. Living in tidy, comfortable surroundings is much better for my peace of mind! Who knew?

I worked retail, for the first time in six years, and it was much better than my previous experiences - because I've grown up, and because I was working with a genuinely awesome group of people. Honestly, if the company had paid us anything close to what we were worth, I might have chosen to stay another six months.

Writing-wise, it was a prolific year for me, although the results are naturally delayed, publishing being what it is. My short story, "Mrs Beeton's Book of Magical Management" was released in the excellent YA anthology Wilful Impropriety This was my first short story sale, and I was very proud to have it be under the aegis of the excellent Ekaterina Sedia.

I made my first foray into self-publishing, with the essay collection Teen Movie Times. Available at Smashwords, the iTunes store and Kobo.com! Very cheap, especially at Kobo! I'm really satisfied with the work I did on that book. So far there have been sufficient sales to pay for the cover art and make a small profit, which is even more satisfying.

In the fading days of the old year, I packed up my every belonging (I had more of them than I expected) and moved them back to Christchurch, city of my heart. I will reside and study here for the next 12 months, and then we will see what happens next. Won't that be interesting?

It was a good year, Internets, and it put me in a good place to move on to the next stage in my life of adventure.

Karen, you say, enough of this chatter, how did you do on your New Year's Resolutions? And do you have any for this year?

WELL, let's see!

I made three resolutions last year:

1) To read the Brontes.

Success, internets, most excellent success! I read every novel by those ladies, and on the whole enjoyed the experience. I hated Wuthering Heights, and despised The Professor, but liked Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey, and adored Shirley and Villette. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, perhaps surprisingly, did not press all my buttons - I really liked it, but not as much as I'd been expecting, given its reputation for fierce feminism.

I therefore rank my Brontes with Charlotte first and Emily last, with Anne hanging out in the middle, making faces about the Demon Drink. The resolution also had an unexpected but not unwelcome effect; while avoiding Wuthering Heights, I read a lot of other old English (and one American) books in strange procrastination. Entertaining and useful!

2) To read all of Shakespeare's plays that I hadn't already read.

Failure, internets, most abject failure! I got part way through A Comedy of Errors and gave up, and that was some time in November. King John, you will have to wait a little longer to inflict your notorious awfulness upon me.

3) To blog every day.

Failure? Sort of? This didn't happen, but I do feel that my blogging this year was of generally good quality, and that was really what I was aiming for. So I will declare the resolution a success in spirit.

So, one and a half out of three! Not bad at all.

And do I have New Years resolutions for this year, internets? I do! Three of them! But since one of them refers to my sleeping habits, I must stop typing soon.

Instead, I resolve to tell you my resolutions tomorrow. See you then!
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
Hearken, ye internets, and list to this tale.

Long months had bold Karen of the Healeys desired a stand mixer, for bountiful were her baked goods. Valiant her hand mixer was, and well-used, but even the sharpest blade must dull and the strongest motor fail. Many minutes had bright Karen gazed upon the eggs that would not stiffen, and the butter and sugar that would not cream, and said, "I totally wish I could afford a stand mixer. Preferably red."

But though brilliant Karen's funds were low, her spirits were high, and this was well, for she labored in the mines of Retail Job. Most adept was she at the fitting of bras and the considering of hemlines, and she was beloved of customers, known to all as "that nice girl, the writer, the smiley one." At Retail Job was a stand mixer available for purchase, at the sum of $400, and though a very reasonable price, especially with a two year guarantee and a 4.2 litre bowl with three hook attachments, cautious Karen could not brook such a sum.

On occasion, Retail Job would enter a time of sale, and on such days, oft did the stand mixer become half price, or $200. But not even for this bargain price could mighty Karen be moved.

"You'd get staff discount too," offered her comrades. "$180, come on, you love it, you visit it all the time."

Brave Karen shook her head and sighed and stood firm.

Now it came to be the day of Christ's Mass, and noble Karen's noble mother and father gifted her a food processor. High pitched were her squeals and tight her hugs, for she had expected little and been granted much. "And this," said her wise mother, and gifted her $60.

"Oh," said happy Karen, and thought, "I'd only have to come up with $120 now!"

But though her heart yearned, her wallet stayed shut.

On the day of Boxing, Karen returned to Retail Job, for her final day of toil. Swift passed the hours, and as lunch drew to a close, sweaty Karen was called to the office.

Then said her boss, "This is for you!"

It was a gift card for $95.

"We did a whip round," explained her boss. "Thanks so much for all your hard work."

"Oh," breathed grateful Karen, and her hopes raised high. "Um, I'm just going to check something…"

Half-price was the stand mixer. Staff discount could be further applied. $60 from her parents. $95 from her co-workers.

That, sweet listeners, is the tale of how thrifty Karen paid $25 of her own money for a brand new stand mixer.

And it was red.

karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
ME: I am currently wearing PJs that say "given enough coffee, I could rule the world". Which I think could be true. Like, if I controlled all the coffee harvesting and distribution channels, I would have some pretty serious economic clout.
BFF ROBYN: That was my first thought.
ME: We are nerds.
BFF ROBYN: Very true.

Internets, I was invited to take part in the Book Smugglers' annual end of year holiday celebration, Smugglivus. My post is on the Top Five Old Books I read this year, with BONUS When We Wake Giveaway draw. So get over there and enter!

Ooof, Internets, yesterday I had Retail Job from 4pm to just after midnight, and it was 50% off women's clothes, and I was like to die about two hours in. But alas! I had to come home and write a speech for my mum's school's final assembly. That went well, and then I went home and had a nap, so I pretty much threw away a day on smiling at kids and sleeping. I have no regrets.
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
Hi Internets!

I will stop yammering about this every ten minutes real soon now, but I wanted to let you know that Teen Movie Times now has a spiffy professionally designed cover put together by Melanie Reese:

Teen Movie Times cover

I want it on the record that I am not a Monet. When you get closer to me, I just look better!

Although not right now, because I am wearing pajamas spattered with spicy tomato sauce. Mmm, homemade shakshuka.

If you've already purchased the old version (and thank you very much!) you can go back to Smashwords and download the one with the new cover (and the hopefully working Table of Contents) or keep the old version, whichever you desire. No charge, of course!

Smashwords is really cool. I am definitely doing this again.
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
Internets, Teen Movie Times (which, for those of you joining us now, is an ebook edition collecting my Teen Movie Times essays, plus bonus content!) has sold eighteen copies! Thank you very much; that is certainly handy.

Teen Movie Times cover

Now with shiny new cover!

Here, then, is the promised essay on Easy A, one of two essays written especially for the book. The other, on The Craft, is an ebook exclusive, so if you'd like to have a peek at that, hit up the good people at Smashwords! At 1.99 USD, it's cheap!

I love Easy A. It's not perfect. It's very far from perfect. But it hits so many of my sweet spots that it instantly became one of my favourite teen movies ever.

easy a poster

What Happens?

Olive Penderghast is a nobody, but a fairly cheerful one, who loves 80s teen movies, classic literature, and being witty. She has one real friend, an awesome family, and a crush on the school mascot. One Friday, to get out of a camping trip with friend Rhiannon's weird hippie parents, she claims she has a date. She does! With a musical birthday card, while she makes shampoo mohawks in the shower.

shower mohawk

She's very busy

But when asked to account for her date, a slip of the tongue leads Rhiannon to believe that Olive lost her virginity to the imaginary "George", and Olive decides to take the misunderstanding and run with it for a little while.

It would be a relatively harmful lie, except that she's overheard by Marianne, prissy and intolerant leader of the school's Christian group. The rumour spreads at the speed of cellphone, and Olive is suddenly a somebody. A supposedly trampy somebody that everyone notices!

olive is a wit

Olive kind of enjoys having some attention, but while discussing The Scarlet Letter in English, one of Marianne's horrifying cohorts declares that Hester Prynne brought the various horrors with which she was afflicted upon herself, since she was such a skank.

And then she turns to Olive:

Nina: Maybe youshould embroider a red A on your wardrobe, you abominable tramp.
Olive: Maybe you should get a wardrobe, you abominable twat.

Olive gets sent to the principal's office, where he sentences her to clean-up detention, and tells her that if she uses a word like that again in his school he will expel her. This reaction to a fairly low-grade insult makes more sense when you learn that the movie script was originally rated R because of all the swearing and was edited down to a PG-13. The scene is much more comprehensible if you imagine that Olive did not say "twat".

(What happens to Nina, if anything, we never discover, but for the record, anyone insulting someone else in those terms in my classrooms will not do so with impunity.)

Further confronted with how information travels around the school ("I heard you got suspended for calling Nina Howell a dick and punching her in the tit!") Olive tries to confess to Rhiannon that she didn't have sex. But Rhiannon refuses to believe it: "Yeah, right. Your secret is safe with me, ya little sexy monkey."

Olive, properly ashamed of what she said, cleans with a will, and reconnects with old friend Brandon, who is also doing detention detail - for him, it's because he got punched in the face for being gay (though closeted), and in the ensuing discussion, called the homophobic principal a fascist.

Olive confesses that she made up the sex, and Brandon decides that if she's willing to lie about sex, she might be willing to beard up and lie about having sex with him. Olive refuses, then sympathises with his very real torment, and agrees. But she's not doing any of this half-assed just telling people! They stage a (brilliant, ridiculous) raunchy performance at a massive party. Brandon gets admiration and respect!

Olive gets scorn and amused contempt. And a gift card from a grateful Brandon, who is no longer the target of every homophobic bully in school.

And lo, how things escalate.

Rhiannon, who formerly celebrated Olive's apparent promiscuity, becomes nasty and holier-than-thou about Olive being a "dirty skank", joining Marianne's throng of Christian Olive-haters. In retaliation, Olive acquires a new wardrobe of awesome corsets and stitches a red letter A to every one.

Emma Stone as "Olive Penderghast" in Screen Gems' EASY A.

Bring it.

It seems as if every miserable male virgin in the school, tormented for his lack of manly sexual athleticism (how the double standards roll), wants Olive to lie for him the same way she did for Brandon. And because she is kind-hearted, she agrees - though giftcards had better be a-coming. (The way in which the value of those giftcards decreases is one of the movie's most pointed commentaries on how female sexual expression is societally [and grossly] devalued through frequent use. It's very funny, and very uncomfortable.)

And the guidance counsellor, Mrs Griffith, who is married to Olive's favourite English teacher, reveals that she's been having an affair with an (of age) student. When the student, Micah, is diagnosed with chlamydia, he tells his raging parents that he contracted it from Olive Penderghast.

Olive, aghast at the thought of the marriage breakup, tells Mrs Griffith that she'll confirm Micah's lie. And Mrs Griffith lets her.

Unfortunately, Micah is Marianne's boyfriend, and she steps up her harassment campaign to the point of picketing the school, demanding Olive's expulsion. And a guy that Olive thinks is inviting her for a date hands her a giftcard... then gropes her. Olive explains that she doesn't actually do anything, she just says she does - and he tries again. "I paid you!" he yells at her when she shoves him off and oh my god, it's awful. So awful.

Fortunately! Adorable mascot Woodchuck Todd, upon whom Olive has the big crush, offers to drive her home. He doesn't believe the rumours, and he remembers that she was once a nice little girl who lied about kissing a scared little boy to protect his reputation. He asks her out, and she demurs, for the moment. Because she has to set the story straight!

So Olive approaches the people for whom she lied, wanting them to help her out.

She lied for them; will they not tell the truth for her? No! Because they are being gross dickbags. Brandon, upon whom Olive thinks she could rely, has run off with a big hulking black guy, leaving behind a note for his parents reading, "I'm gay, bitches!" and is therefore unreachable. And Mrs Griffith has decided it would be better to play a game called "Who would you believe?" rather than come clean.

Olive goes straight to Mr Griffith.

Olive: "Your wife has chlamydia! And she's been sleeping with a student and she gave it to him and she's trying to blame it on me."
Mr Griffith: "...what?"
Olive: [backing away] "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

And then Olive runs home, the place where she is always safe and accepted.

Best family ever

Best family

Her mother, who is awesome, gives her a pep talk and actively claims a past identity as a slut: "I slept with a whole bunch of people - a slew, a heap, a peck!" (And, which I note with approval, while she didn't enjoy people saying awful things about her, and credits incredibly low self-esteem as the reason for "getting around", she doesn't evince any regret for the actual promiscuity.)

Olive: Stop! Stop! Can you not see that I'm a mess?
Mom: No, you're not, Olive. You're wonderful.

With this encouragement, Olive decides that rather than relying on others to clear her name, she will tell her own truth.

To kick things off, with the assistance of Woodchuck Todd, she performs an awesome musical number before the basketball game - just like an 80s teen movie! - wearing her most skin-baring outfit, emblazoned with red ribbons and black lace.

And no scarlet letter A.

"Tune in to FreeOlive.com!" she yells, and heads home to tell her story.

Which is what she's been doing, all through this movie.

At the very end, Todd turns up to to stand on a ride-on lawnmower and play "Don't Forget About Me" through his ipod speakers, like an updated 80s movie hero, and it's all very cute.

The Message: A genre-savvy heroine is a joy forever

Oh my god. Olive Penderghast. I am in love with her.

olive penderghast I love you

Olive Pendergast is literate, in exactly the way I like best. She's familiar with classical literature (The Scarlet Letter), teen literature ("Judy Blume should have prepared me for that") and pop culture (John Hughes movies). She's intellectually curious, and she relates her lived experience to the created experiences she's watched or read about. She's intelligent (shown, not told!), linguistically sharp, and confident in her assessment of cultural works.

She's also a fake redhead happy to spend a weekend at home painting her nails and singing in the shower.

I was basically that girl at seventeen. I'm pretty much that girl now; only with more experience and independence, always a plus.

The thing is, as Olive points out, cultural products really do reflect and affect our lives. Sometimes mean gossip really does take over and you become the talk of the school and it's total lies. Man, the crap I used to gullibly believe about my fellow students. No one was giving their boyfriend blowjobs in the bushes by the senior common room, 14 year old Karen! That would have been beyond stupid, and also you attended an all girls' school.

Olive is aware of the genres she inhabits (teen movie, romantic comedy, literary retelling), and thank goodness. We can understand that Cady Heron is too culturally ignorant to know that her life is a teen movie staple, and it's entirely believable that Cher Horowitz is so self-absorbed that she totally fails to realise she's living out one of the greatest works in the English language. But we couldn't forgive the intelligent, perceptive Olive for not being clear-eyed enough to recognise that her experience bears a close relationship to that of Hester Prynne.

Luckily, we don't have to. Not only does Olive realise that The Scarlet Letter is directly applicable to her situation, she makes explicit reference to it by pinning a scarlet letter A to every piece in her new scandalously sexy wardrobe. Take that, everyone who didn't read the book! (Which includes me - I have the feeling Hawthorne is only really canonical to American institutions. Any Hawthorne fans reading? Make your case!)

The Scarlet Letter

This cultural literacy doesn't mean Olive can't be surprised or hurt or make mistakes in response to just how horrifying the (apparently school sanctioned!) slut-shaming of her becomes, but it does add an excellent meta-awareness to her struggles. And it means she has the sense of humour and spectacle to put together an awesome musical number, "for no apparent reason", with the very apparent reason of attracting eyeballs to her webcast.

The other thing I love about Olive is her strong moral compass. She makes a lot of mistakes, but the majority of them are out of simple self interest, or a desire to make life better for others, not malice. Her only two truly spiteful actions are calling Nina a twat and telling Mr Griffith about his wife's infidelity, and in both cases she was more than provoked.

Of course, she is not entirely altruistic. Olive's initial lie to Rhiannon that she had a date was because she didn't want the drama of camping with her friend, and the movie does an excellent job of showing how easily lies multiple and oppress the sense of self.

Olive consequently feels complicit in what has been done to her - she has been lying, and partially in pursuit of the notoriety that her fictional sexual exploits has given her. But, perhaps because she underestimates the prurient source of that notoriety, claiming the reputation of a slut ends in others making her miserable. There's a sense of bafflement in Olive's distaste at how quickly the situation has got out of hand.

Why should being a slut - or having the reputation of one - result in this emotional disaster? There's nothing inherently immoral or malicious in being sexually promiscuous, something the movie underlines in the person of Olive's mother, who has not had youthful promiscuity mar her ability to be an excellent parent and warm, witty woman. Why should it matter how sexually promiscuous Olive is or isn't? Why should anyone care?

The problem is that even in these ostensibly non-Puritan times, people make it their business to police the sexuality of teenagers - especially that of teenage girls - and it is entirely and inexcusably disgusting. From picketing outside the school (seriously, where was the principal?) to lying nonconsentually about your activities with someone else (you SUCK, Micah) to comments in class, it is all gross, because unless what's happening is illegal or consensually dubious, it is the sole interest of the parties involved.

Olive, by telling her story, by expressing the meta implication of her story, by making the act of telling her story the narrative structure of her movie, is actively claiming ownership over both the story and her sexuality. This is her final message: what she does with her virginity and her body is nobody's goddamn business.

Olive cannot alter the minds of others, nor stop what they say about her - but she can stand witness to what she did and what was done to her, and make it clear that whatever they think or say, she knows what is right. That is an excellent thing for a young woman to realise, and a wonderful message to impart to others.

I especially love that the audience, as much as her classmates, don't get to see what happens next. We have, like them, been invited to this account of her fictitious sex life, but when Olive Penderghast says her actual sexuality is nobody's business, she means us too. We don't get to know when and if she ever loses her virginity. We don't get to make judgements; we don't get to care. She and her new boyfriend kiss and ride off on the lawnmower, and that's all she privileges us to know.

Lawnmower riding

Other Things

- This movie is set in California and is, despite this, kinda super white, with the sole notable exception being Olive's brother, Chip. He is a delightful notable exception but it is... California. So. Yeah.

- Fat shaming a-plenty in the person of Evan, who is always eating junk because, you guys, this is hilarious, fat people are so fat because they eat crap all the time! In the Easy A javascript game you can find on the website, the message from Evan's character includes an apology for his giftcard being covered in mustard. HAW HAW.

- Let us consider Mrs Griffith. She: 1) Slept with a student 2) Refused to listen to Olive telling her she wasn't sexually active, instead pushing condoms on her 3) Allowed Olive to lie and say that she had contracted and transmitted an STD in order to protect her job and crumbling marriage and 4) Would not confess even when Olive's life became terrible and she was facing potential expulsion. Worst guidance counsellor ever or WORST GUIDANCE COUNSELLOR EVER?

- On a POSITIVE NOTE, Olive's family, best family ever, y/y? Her parents are wise, supportive, funny. They're willing to let Olive do her thing, but there for her whenever she wants them to be. It's a non-nuclear family - Olive is her mother's biological daughter, but unrelated by blood to either her stepfather or her adopted brother. I want Stanley Tucci to be my stepdad, as well as my heroic inspiration as super serum races through my body, my civil servant husband as I learn how to cook French food, and my genial yet evil interviewer at the Hunger Games.

stanley and cher

Also be my stalwart support as my burlesque club is threatened by outstanding mortgage payments

- - -

Did you like this essay? Would you like to read more, on Clueless, Bring It On, Empire Records, The Craft, and more? Then pick up a DRM-free ebook edition of Teen Movie Times for 1.99 USD! It's good, I promise.
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
Hi, Internets! How have you been?

I have been working on a Secret Project!

You see, I am going to train to be an English teacher in Christchurch next year. This is awesome! I also have to pay for it, and live on something while I train, which is less awesome.

The course fees, and some of the living costs are covered by a government student loan (sigh), but it turns out living in a city that is reconstructing after a massive earthquake is pretty damn expensive. My rent is fortunately relatively low, but my food, power, and transport costs promise to be somewhat horrendous. I do have savings, and a credit card, and an eventual advance eventually coming at some point unknown (oh, publishing). I will certainly survive, but circumstances may be a little grim for a while.

Hence, Secret Project!

Internets, remember my Teen Movie Times essays from earlier in the year? I have put them in an ebook!

Teen Movie Times cover

The essays in Teen Movie Times have been revised and updated, with introductions, and the elimination of irritating typos, and all that kind of thing. Also, I have written new content, including a full essay on everyone's favorite "Wiccan" movie, The Craft! This essay is exclusive to ebook readers.

The Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 - Clueless
Chapter 2 - Bring It On
The Five Most Obvious Things The Movies Get Wrong About American Teen Life
Chapter 3 - Saved!
Chapter 4 - But I'm a Cheerleader
The Five Best Teen Movies That Take Place Somewhere Other Than the USA
Chapter 5 - Empire Records
Chapter 6 - The Craft
Chapter 7 - Mean Girls
The Five Best Movies Featuring Amanda Bynes (I Love Her Face)
Chapter 8 - Easy A
Chapter 9 - Romancing the Sro

Internets, you can have this sterling piece of pop culture criticism for the low low price of 1.99 USD, in almost any format your heart could desire, from the excellent people at Smashwords.

I know this is a time when many worthy causes appeal for help, and many people are watching their budgets like horrified hawks. But if you can spare the cash, and you like my writing, I would really appreciate it if you would buy this book. It's good, I promise.

Signal boosting for the book is also much appreciated!

In preemptive gratitude, Internets, and also as a holiday treat for those who cannot afford the book, but shouldn't miss out on all the new material either, I will shortly be publishing my other new full essay, on my favorite teen movie of the decade, Easy A.

Enjoy the book, internets! If you have half as much fun reading it as I did working on it, your experience should be value for money.
karenhealey: Rainbow Dash overcome with excitement (My Little Pony) (Default)
I have spent all day putting together content for the When We Wake section of my soon-to-be-revamped website, and I am not nearly done yet.

But I did just finish the soundtrack, which is awesome. Here! Enjoy! Or not, according to taste.

Metric: "Gimme Sympathy" (When We Wake Theme)

Gimme sympathy
After all of this is gone
Who would you rather be
The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
Oh, seriously, you're gonna make mistakes,
You're young
Come on baby play me something like
"Here Comes The Sun"

Ringo Starr and the Roundheads (Live 2005): "With A Little Help From My Friends"

Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song,
And I'll try not to sing out of key.
Oh I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I get high with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, I'm gonna try with a little help from my friends.

Fiona Apple: "Extraordinary Machine" (Tegan's Theme)

I seem to you to seek a new disaster every day
You deem me due to clean my view and be at peace and lay
I mean to prove I mean to move in my own way, and say,
I've been getting along for long before you came into the play

The Mynabirds: "Generals"

Calling on my generals, my daughters
My revolutionaires
We got strength in numbers,
And they're going to pay for it

Arabian Knightz Feat. Lauryn Hill: "Rebel" (Abdi's Song)

Pay attention
These politicians are all slaves for the opposition
And the truth is my ammunition
Let it bang

Dessa: "Poor Atlas" (Marie's Song)

I'm building a body
From basalm and ash
I'm building a body with
No god attached

The Mynabirds: "Body of Work" (Bethari's Theme)

You are a body of work - Edit it
You are electric - So sing it
"Freedom is what you do with what
With what's been done to you"

PUFFY: "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" (Joph's Song)

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain,
Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies.
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers,
That grow so incredibly high.

Skylar Grey: "Dance Without You"

How can I make history, with your choreography?
Take your hands off me, take your hands off me
Before I suffocate

Ani DiFranco: "Which Side Are You On?"

Too many stories written
Out in black and white
C'mon people of privilege
It's time to join the fight

Nina Simone: "Here Comes The Sun"

Little darling
I see the ice is slowly melting
Little darling
It seems like years since it's been clear

I feel as if Tegan and Abdi have spent HOURS trying to explain to Joph why that "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" version is TERRIBLE, the WORST cover EVER and she's just like, "But I like this tinkly music!" JOPH DUN CARE ABOUT YOUR ELITISM.
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