Copying is Not a Bad Thing

On Neil Gaiman, Blogging and Influence.

Ever since I’ve seen Neil Gaiman’s commencement address for the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia two years back—an address that will become enormously influential in my life and one that I’ll revisit time and again—I cannot not constantly ruminate on the wisdom it delivers. And among these many enduring lessons in creativity and art, and in life, one that particularly and often pervaded my mind is: “The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people.”

I was in the early stages of the inception of my first blog and I didn’t know what I was doing—in fact if you ask me now, I still don’t know. And here was a guy. A guy who’s been prolific and successful for years and he’s telling me it’s okay to find my voice in the words of another. I can tell you that was and is a strong message.

Just last month, two friends asked me separately who I look up to when it comes to blogging. In both instances I wasn’t able to name names right away; I had to think it through. And while on the process, because blogging is essentially writing, I returned to Gaiman’s dictum.

Before I go further, I would like to establish my interpretation of to copy in the sense that it was used by the English author. Gaiman, I’m most certainly confident, does not advocate plagiarism. In this case, “to copy” is to feel the style of another artist by writing (or whatever verb that matches your field of artistic endeavor) as closely as possible to his voice.

If my work—that is, my blog—is any evidence, it is safe to say that I still struggle with finding my own voice. Originality is, after all, a steady process of constant borrowing and repurposing. For a while I toyed with the idea that I can be as fun and funny as Cait of Paper Fury or as carefree and articulate as Elena of the now defunct Novel Sounds. I wanted to have provocative, in depth discussions worthy of Joey’s of Thoughts and Afterthoughts and to incorporate my personal life into my writing just as easily as Jamie of The Perpetual Page-Turner does. But all of these don’t come naturally to me, which is not to say that these people don’t influence me all the same, because they do. And lately, the necessity to self-examine is more timely than ever, as I muse over what I thrive to accomplish with Bookish and Awesome.

I am nowhere near having my answer. But I feel like I’ve stumbled upon the beginning of a thread.

Jen of Pop! Goes The Reader and Shannon of Awash With Wonder are two ladies who write with eloquence and sensitivity I deeply admire. The ease with which they choose their words is something I aim for. And while both are equally thoughtful, each write disparately, in subject and in style, from the other. You can accuse my reviews of being stiff, but I exert effort into producing them as thoughtful and sensitive as best I can. So I guess Jen and Shannon are my main influences. They definitely make me aspire to write better.

Is it okay then that I grapple with my own voice? We all go through it; the process has been humbling thus far. Is it okay to copy and be influenced by other artists? Yes. Because as Austin Kleon affirmed, “you are a mashup of what you let into your life.”

Who are your influences?

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

Signature 02

For Girls Only

It was Thursday, February 26th. Shannon Hale, author of the Princess Academy series, Austenland and book 4 of the Spirit Animals series, among many other titles, wrote a piece about a certain problematic encounter during her tour for her latest book, Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters, on her Tumblr. And IT IS NOT OKAY.

Apparently Hale talked to a gathering of 3rd to 8th graders and halfway through her presentation she noticed that the back rows, which were populated by older students, were all girls. It was confirmed by a teacher that “the administration only gave permission to the middle school girls to leave class for [her] assembly.” What’s worse was—and, yes, it did get worse—that same teacher had a boy student who is “a huge fan of Spirit Animals” and “[she] got a special permission for him to come, but he was too embarrassed.”

It’s bad enough when a child feels that he/she must be ashamed of what he/she reads or likes. It escalates to another level of horror when adults reinforce this kind of ideology. Adults who easily dismiss and are like, “oh look. She’s a woman and her titles have the word princess on them and most feature girls on the cover, so maybe we should pigeonhole her as for-girls-only. Or no wait. We should definitelypigeonhole her as for-girls-only.” Not only do you impress—and AT AN EARLY AGE, mind you—upon these kids that boys CANNOT and SHOULD NOT like books about girls or princesses but also that the male experience is universal, which anyone can relate to, but not the female’s. This aggravates me. Because, clearly, this does not solely affect Shannon Hale—and a long list of other female authors with the same experience—but also the boys who were left out. As Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot said in the site’s recent podcast episode, “this kind of sexist behavior also robs boys of something.” That “it’s bad for everyone. This is how another generation of boys who become men get raised thinking that their stories are different from women’s stories or that they don’t need to pay attention to girl stories.” IT IS TERRIBLE.

So naturally this had me thinking: who are the female protagonists in literature that ARE NOT “For Girls Only.” Whose being female did not stop them from being read across readers of all genders.

Here is the result (in no particular order):

Click the image for the source.

Danaerys Targaryen   Scout Finch   Amy Dunne

Danaerys Targaryen (A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R. R. Martin)
Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee)
Amy Elliott Dunne (Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn)

Katniss Everdeen   Hermoine Granger   Alice\

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins)
Hermoine Granger (Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling)
Alice (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll)

Matilda Wormwood   Lyra Belacqua   Coraline

Matilda Wormwood (Matilda, Roald Dahl)
Coraline (Coraline, Neil Gaiman)
Lyra Belacqua (His Dark Materials trilogy, Phillip Pullman)

Elizabeth Bennet   Jane Eyre   Lisbeth Salander

Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)
Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë)
Lisbeth Salander (Millennium series, Stieg Larsson)

Who did I miss, fellow bloggers and booksworms? And what ridiculous explanation do you think the administration has for this? (Because they have to have an explanation, no matter how warped.) Do you agree that there are boy/girl books?* Sound off in the comments below!

*That is rhetorical. Really really.

Signature 02

My Love-Hate Relationship with Westeros

A Game of ThronesA Clash of KingsA Storm of SwordsA Feast for CrowsA Dance with Dragonsvia Goodreads

On Reading A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R. R. Martin.

For the longest time, I had been putting off watching HBO’s Game of Thrones. I’m not quite certain why, but I did. Then, one night, I tipped a toe to test the water and—violà—I’m plunging all the way in. For weeks (or months?), I sang songs the likes of which were sang throughout the Seven Kingdoms and the Free Cities. I binged watch and witnessed Isaac Hemsptead-Wright (the actor who plays Bran Stark) go from kid to teen, Sophie Turner (who plays Sansa Stark) from girl to young woman. It’s fair game to put it this way: I was mildly obsessed. And then Season 4 had its finale. But I wanted more. So, naturally, I turned to the books. And thus commenced my love-hate relationship with Westeros.

Dang, were the books long! A Game of Thrones, the first book, is an 835-page behemoth and A Clash of Kings, the second one, is bigger still with 1,009 pages, both of which I consumed successively. By the beginning of August last year, I started A Storm of Swords (book 3, 1,177 pages) and I’ve only returned to it last January. I can go on and blame new releases like, say, The Magician’s Land (which I’ve been waiting for forever) and The Blood of Olympus (much later but which, again, I couldn’t be more nuts to read) or make excuses in the forms of Fangirl and Proxy and We Were Liars and Guardian and Landline or… Or. Or I can just admit that it overwhelmed me. It still does, actually.

Sure, I think the story is splendid—the scheming and politics, all that family drama, the supernatural. But GRRM can dedicate several paragraphs—in some particularly excruciating cases even a whole page—to building a scenery. Oh how Khaleesi’s gowns were detailed or that of a certain not-even-minor-character knight’s destrier’s grooming. I’m not saying it’s wrong; this is epic fantasy, that is to be expected. I’m not cool with it, yes. But time and again, I find myself turning the pages with eager anticipation to find out what happens with the Stark children—especially Bran and Sansa—or to read Queen Cersei’s threats or Tyrion’s perpetual wisdom or Catelyn’s sensitive chapters.

It’s the genre, I guess. When I returned to A Storm of Swords, I finished it. Will I continue? Heck yeah. I love—and hate—this series.

What about you? What book(s)/series do you love and hate simultaneously? Tell me in the comments below!

Signature 02