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T A Knox-Collins

I love books, especially Science Fiction. I write for children, am a graduate of Hamline University's MFAC program. I am committed to seeing diversity in kidlit and I can't help myself when it comes to rescuing dogs.

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Writing Life

Future Food, Reading Dogs, and Library Books

Yes, that title is a little odd. Today’s post covers things that are seemingly unrelated. And yet, they are related! Read on.

We begin with another review for Homestead: A New Life on Mars (Book 1 of the Redworld Series). Keep sending them! I love getting reviews from kids, and as promised, I’m posting without edits. 🙂

Nathan (5th grade) says of Homestead:
I liked this book even better than my comic book. I like it better because I like the characters, the setting and the alien animals. For example, the humped horse. It is the description of a camel and a horse. It can go long without water, and it is hooked on with a wagon. Except it is more Sci-fi, like hover pads and stuff like that. My favorite part in visualization for the story is when Myra told them about the useful things the mealworms can be. They can be grounded to flour, and then they can be fried and baked. Very useful. They don’t give pollution.
Thanks, Nathan! I’m glad you enjoyed that. (I love comic books too, so that was a lovely compliment). The great thing about science fiction, is that sometimes, it’s based on fact and taken to the next level with a little imagination. I did some research on the future of food, and mealworms came up as a great source of protein. People already eat it some parts of the world today. I just pictured the possibility of it becoming the most common food of the future – easy to ‘grow’ and they don’t take up a lot of space or resources. What do you think they’d taste like, especially ground up as flour and baked into a cake?

Next, Good News! Redworld will soon be available at King County Libraries here in WA. And hopefully in libraries everywhere.

KCLS Homestead

This is exciting. I love libraries. They make for great refuges when the world gets too much — why? Because they’re filled with books, of course! Also, my dog, Lady Rose and I volunteer at several libraries in King County with Reading with Rover. (RWR is a therapy dog organization. Teams go to schools, libraries, bookstores and community centers so that kids can read to dogs. Dogs are not judgmental, and they make great listeners. RWR also goes to colleges for de-stressing therapy, assisted living homes, and hospitals. It’s a great program, and we’re so proud to be a part of it. See? I told you I could fit reading dogs into the post. I can fit dogs into almost any subject.)

At the libraries, Rose and I are surrounded by kids who love to read, and librarians who are friendly and helpful. We always leave feeling happier and more relaxed at the end of a session. Here’s Rose getting ready to hear some kids read:

So, go visit your local library, and maybe you’ll get to read a book to a dog. And if you happen to find Redworld, let me know. Or better yet, get a kid to write a review!

 

 

 

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A Young Artist Tackles Hunger: A Graphic Novel

Working part time at a bookstore, I get to meet a lot of interesting people. Best of all is when kids and teens come in to the store. I love to hear about what they’re reading, what they’re interested in, and discovering their talents.

Jing Jing is 16 years old. They come into the bookstore quite often. They have a bubbly personality and is a great conversationalist. They’re also an artist. They say they practice their drawings a lot and I can believe that. When they showed me their portfolio, I was envious. Drawing people is definitely not something I can do. I can draw stick figures. What Jing Jing does is a whole different universe.

I told Jing Jing I’m working on a graphic novel called Hunger. Jing Jing was interested. They asked me what it was about, and really listened as I gave them the long synopsis. Bless that teenager!

Hunger is about a Cassia, who lives in the International District in Seattle. Her parents died in an accident when she was a toddler, so she lives with her Aunt Maggie. Maggie runs a Chinese funeral supply store, and has been hoping to make the Hungry Ghost Festival popular in the Pacific Northwest. Business was never great, but her husband’s fortune telling business kept them afloat in the lean times. Now that Harry is gone, Maggie leans on Cassia to keep the store going. Cassia has the ability to see and communicate with the spirits of the departed, particularly during the Hungry Ghost month (7th month of the Lunar Calendar). All Cassia wants is to find her parents’ ghosts, but for some reason, they’ve never visited her. Her ghost friends have been helping her search for them for years, especially Wing – a twenty-something man who died before Cassia was born.

This year, at last, as Cassia gets ready to enter her junior year in high school, news arrives from Wing that her parents have been found. In exchange for his effort, Wing begs Cassia to reach out to his family. He needs them to make him an offering, so he can be freed of his eternal wandering. Cassia may be good with ghosts, but with the living, she’s a complete introvert. To go to Wing’s family and ask them to make an offering to the husband and dad who abandoned them long before he died? That’s a lot to ask. Especially when Cassia finds out that Wing’s son is the most popular boy in her school!

With a whole cast of ghosts and living, Cassia goes on an adventure she’s never dreamed of having. She finds herself making friends with the most unusual people. She discovers how, in being biracial, she’s caught between two cultures whose beliefs about the afterlife could prevent her from ever reuniting with her parents. Most of all, she finds out that family is more than the biological connection between people.

Jing Jing’s reaction? They were excited! Bless them, again. They asked to see some of my script, and then surprised me a few days later, with sketches of some of the characters. I simply have to share them here. Aren’t they great?

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A King County organization called 4Culture very generously gave me a grant to work on HUNGER, to help me hire a graphic novel artist to do the first couple of chapters. With that, I hope to market this graphic novel soon. In return, I’ll be giving free writing workshops to kids who are interested in writing or graphic novels.

Lots of things are happening. But for today, I’m excited to introduce you to this up and coming artist. Great things will come from her someday.

Edited to add:

Jing Jing goes by the pronouns they/them. I apologize for not clarifying that before the original post.

 

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Two More Kids Review Redworld

I’ve been so lucky, over the years, to have been in the classroom with some really great kids. As a Montessori teacher, I often had the same kids in my class for three years. You really get to know each other in that time. That’s the part of teaching that I miss the most. Watching my students grow to become kind, compassionate, and bright kids who love to learn, has been the best part of being a teacher.

Some of my students desire to be writers some day. And I can see them becoming prolific at it. I’m fortunate to still be a part of their writing journeys. I love working with them on their stories. We talk about plot, structure, character, conflict, — everything I think about in my own writing life, and learned about in my MFA program. How amazing to see them grasp these concepts and apply them to their own writing.

These kids are voracious readers too. That they’ve agreed to read my books, and to share their thoughts, has been a joy and an honor. And as usual, I promised not to edit their thoughts.  So, here you are.

Three more reviews of the Redworld Series.

Book One: Homestead – A New Life on Mars

Molly, 5th grader, says:

stars

I rate this book five stars. Belle leaves Earth – all her friends, activities, school and personal items – and moves to a new planet. Even though she is moving to Mars, Belle’s reluctant feelings on moving are very understandable. When she gets to Mars, it isn’t easy to get used to the new farm, neighbors and school friends. But, it looks like a fun adventure and the alien nature of everything makes me think of Star Wars! I would strongly recommend this book to sci-fi lovers and those who are moving.

Another 5th grader, Theo, adds his thoughts:

I like this book because it is science fiction and, my favorite genre is science fiction. I also like it because it has cool pictures of what could be Mars in the future. The scene that I like is when the Sulux people show the Songs how to make their house recognize them and uncover the real house that is hidden invisibly and that the little shack in the front of the real invisible house is actually the front porch.

Theo also read Book Two: Raiders — Water Thieves of Mars

I like this book because there is a lot of action going on in the book the scene that I like is when the neighbors’ kids group together to make some weapons for defenses. Belle makes some very cool petripuffs that paralyze the person that got hit by the puffs. Belle’s friend made something called a disrupter. It immediately disables a person’s body once the person hears the high pitch sound.

 

I want to thank all the kids who’ve reviewed the Redworld Series. If you’ve liked what they’ve said, and are intrigued by the stories, ask your local and school libraries to stock the series. They’re published by Capstone. A paperback version will be out in stores in February 2018.

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Redworld is Here!

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post. It’s been two weeks since these books were released. And yes, it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about it.

I wrote a series of Science Fiction stories for Capstone publishing, called Redworld. Here’s the link to an interview on their website.

The books are aimed at kids in the Middle Grade level (8 to 12). They’re short and full of action, in the hope that reluctant readers, especially, would be interested in picking them up, and give reading a go.

Books 1 to 4 of the Redworld series came out recently in library binding. Titles are

  • Homestead
  • Raiders
  • Tharsis City
  • Legacy

Redworld is the story of 12 year old Belle Song and her family who move to a terraformed Mars, to start a new life. She and her android Melody, along with lots of other characters, get into more trouble than you think a kid could find. There are hybrid animals, several alien species, and strange android creatures. Yet, with all the tech available, there’s still an element of the old world, especially among the struggling farming community that Belle finds herself in. Yes, there are elements of Star Trek, Star Wars and Firefly in them.

The art work is beautiful and exciting.  The artist is Tomislav Tikulin, who has done quite a bit of scifi illustrating. He did a great job bringing Belle’s Mars adventures to life. His art makes me want to move there.

I was thrilled to hold the library bound copies in my hands when they arrived in a box two weeks ago. The paperback version, which is the compilation of all 4 stories in one book, will come out in February 2018.

I kept a set for myself and sent the rest to former students of mine (and some kids of friends). They’re around the age of the targeted readership. I asked them to read a book each and give me their honest opinions. I promised to put it on this blog, WITHOUT editing their reviews. As they come in, I’ll post them here. Yes it’s a risk, but why not?

So, here goes the first:

Angus, in 5th grade (he read Book 2) said:

“After reading “Raiders, Water Thieves of Mars” all I can say is the book was simply captivating. There are multiple elements that are very creative and new, such as all kinds of animals and human hybrid races. Another thing is there are some things that could happen in real life like various school related problems. There are a few confusing chapters but they are easily overlooked. This is irrefutably a must for just about anyone.”

Well, thank you Angus for your honest review. I’m glad you thought the story was captivating. I would love to know more about the ‘confusing chapters’, since it isn’t my aim to confuse any of my readers. I hope to do better next time.

And so the adventure continues…

We Need Biracial Books -What I Didn’t Say

There were some things left unsaid. Important things.

This week I gave a presentation on the extended critical essay I wrote that is required to complete my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. (One more semester to go). I had twenty five minutes in which to explain the one underlying message that has been a part of me ever since I can remember.

But anyone who knows me knows that 25 minutes isn’t enough time to even scratch the surface of what I want to say. Plus there were nerves and jitters, etc…

I came away feeling unfinished, like I’d left the most important part out. I haven’t been able to stop the feeling that I let myself (and possibly others) down.

So I’ll put those thoughts here. Mainly so I know I’ve put these ideas out into the universe and maybe it’ll make sense to someone.

I talked about why we need children’s books that feature biracial characters. Statistically speaking, biracial and multiracial people are the fastest growing population in the US. More importantly, biracial children should be given the gift of seeing themselves reflected in stories. And reflected authentically.

I talked about how some books will have the biracial child’s identity issue as the main theme, and the story is about the character working out where they belong. (The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods,  and Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, for example) On the other side of my story continuum, I see books that have universal themes, but seen through the eyes of the biracial child — remembering that who a character is, influences how she sees and tackles the world, and these universal issues. (Examples include The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W Durrow, We Were Here by Matt de la Pena, and Living Violet by Jaime Reed)

I believe that at the heart of every biracial/multiracial person is this push pull question of ‘what am I?’ Growing up belonging to more than one race, yet most often resembling one side or neither side of the family, creates a feeling of being ‘not quite enough’. Other people also tend to try to categorize us, sometimes telling us (and not always in words) what we are by how they think we look. (See the Twitter discussion #BiracialLooksLike)

From my experience, most white people can’t look at a biracial person and see their white side. They only see the Asian, African, Latino, Native American side. I can’t tell you the number of times people think my ‘white’ surname is from my spouse. At the same time, our ‘other side’ people will see that we’re not quite all there. So the ‘where do I belong’ question is always there at the back of a biracial person’s mind. That is the contention I make in my paper.

But what I needed to finish saying is this, when we choose to write a biracial character into our stories, there are questions we must ask:

  1. why does he or she or they need to be biracial? What does their ‘biracialness’ bring to the story that is unique compared to a single race character? Because remember, the identity issue is always going to play a role in their life, even if it isn’t the main or even sub plot of the book.
  2. Why am I the right person to write this story? Be careful not to use a biracial character because it’s killing two birds with one stone. A mixed race (with white) character isn’t a white character who conveniently looks like a Person of Color. She isn’t any easier to write about simply because she is half white and often tends to appear culturally white on the outside. In her innermost circles, her heritage plays a HUGE role.

A writer who isn’t biracial who wants to include a biracial character needs to understand that there are just as many, if not more, cultural (for want of a better word) issues faced by a biracial person than a single race person. She will often face all the racism, all the prejudice that comes with being a Person of Color, and still not quite fit in with either side of her heritages. This may appear, on the outside, to be less true when a character has other privileges such as wealth and education. But, it’s there.

So, the biracial character is not the ‘simple’ solution to adding diversity to a story. There isn’t a simple solution. And as I said in my presentation, our concern for bringing diversity to children’s literature isn’t about peppering our fictional worlds with color. It’s about authenticity.  Sometimes, it’s about decolonizing our stories — stepping aside for the right person to tell the story (consider the OwnVoices stand). I’m not saying you can’t write a biracial character if you aren’t biracial yourself. I’m saying that if you do, tread carefully, with great respect, lots and lots of research, and intentionality. (The same goes for any character different from ourselves). Consider hiring sensitivity readers for your manuscript.

But Always, it’s about understanding your characters inside and out, so that your telling of their story is authentic. Because the kids reading it will know when something smells off. They will chuck the book across the room before finishing it. Or worse, they will think there’s something wrong with themselves if they’re essentially told that what they feel deeply isn’t important enough to talk about.

So there’s my soapbox. You might not like it, and that’s okay. I just needed to say it.

 

Dream-Like Autumn Forests

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Fall is here. Halloween is just around the bend. Time for some arboreal inspiration from artist Janek Sedlář, and the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

Janek Sedlar is a young self-taught photographer from the Czech Republic whose speciality is landscape photography with a surreal twist. He became a “serious” photographer only in 2011, and most of his captivating images were captured in his home region of Moravia and around the White Carpathians nature reserve.

“Inspiration I find in daily life, in NATURE, in my feelings and thoughts,” said for an interview with Interesting Photographers. “Being in these woods and meadows is a return to childhood, it regains my life energy and I am trying to share these moments with my camera, the process itself is like a meditation for me.”

Call of wandering

Kingdom of silence

Lane of elders

Fog in the red forest

Dream inside a dream

Autumn prayers

View original post 48 more words

Change is Our Evolution

Do you watch the TV series Extant? I do. I watch most any sci-fi on TV. Plus Halle Berry stars in it. So, I’m a fan.

Extant_TV_Series-708050912-large

Without giving away too much, Halle Berry’s character, Molly Woods is an astronaut who ends up giving birth to a hybrid baby — half alien and half human. This hybrid runs off and impregnates more human women, creating more hybrids. These aliens can read minds and control humans with their bright yellow eyes. They can make us do what they want.

Molly discovers that the reason they’re here on Earth.Their planet is dead and they need a new place to live. As they evolve, they learn not to kill people (that’s nice) and seek to live peacefully with us. When the government guy who wants to kill all the aliens with a virus asks Molly what the aliens really want, she says, “To coexist.” What do you think the government guy did? (Spoilers – he kills them).

I recently wrote a story that implies (kind of like Extant) that in order for humanity to survive, we need to evolve. (And not necessarily in the biological sense of the word). We need to let go of the status quo and accept change.

But change is scary. Hellishly scary. People will fight change with their lives. And their words.

Lately, I’ve been involved (and also watched on the sidelines) in a conversation about privilege and how it feels to be on the other end of it. Here’s what I hear –

  • Political correctness is tiring. It takes too much effort. My quick reply is this picture. Thank you, Mr. Gaiman —Neil gaiman quote
A long time ago, a professor in law school introduced the Law of Torts using the following analogy. He said, and I paraphrase because it was a long, long time ago, that when I walk down the street, I have the right to swing my arms as high as I want, but once my hands hit the nose of the person walking across from me, that’s where my right ends. This may not be the most accurate memory of his talk but the picture stayed with me.
This is how I see freedom. Freedom must be tempered with compassion (or respect or consideration, whichever word works best). As a human, I don’t live in the world all by myself, so to be human is to consider the person beside me. My personal freedom ends when I stop caring about my fellow human. Being ‘politically correct’ has become a nasty phrase. I like what Neil Gaiman says, that it’s about treating others with respect. And yes it takes effort, but if we think about it, we do it every day anyway, to people we care about. Now we just need to extend it a little farther. It’s not as hard as it sounds. And it’s worth the energy spent.
To me, that’s what being human is. So why are there so many non-humans occupying our planet?
  • Next, I came across this –This is the title of an actual book – “End of Discussion: How the Left’s Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).” The authors are Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson. You can read a discussion of their take on free speech in this article. Yes, because freedom is about you having fun. That’s intelligent. Won’t be reading this book.
  • And this article, which made me think. The real reason Americans fight about identity politics 

    I quote from the article —  “Law professor Nancy Leong studies what she calls “identity capitalism” — the ways in which particular identities like one’s race, gender, or sexual orientation have traditionally constituted positive or negative social “capital,” and how the value of that capital is changing. She believes much of the backlash against so-called identity politics is really about a sense that the status quo is under attack, and fear that something worse might replace it.

    She explained to me that it’s really easy for people from dominant groups to assume that the status quo isn’t biased, because they’ve never had to confront that bias themselves. And so when they see that an existing system is being changed to include minority groups or accommodate other interests, there’s a tendency to assume that the natural order of things is being disrupted in some illegitimate way.”

    And that creates fear.

So back to my story and Extant – Okay, barring the fact that we really don’t want to be invaded by a superior alien species, the message underneath still stands. It’s scary to let go of the status quo, to let others rise and share the space that’s been held for so long by one group. But just because one group rises, doesn’t mean the other must step down. This isn’t a pyramid. If anything, it’s a plateau. There’s plenty of space for us all.

And here’s the application of this in my context — Putting someone else down doesn’t raise another up. It just causes conflict. And these beliefs we carry as adults bring nothing but misery to our children who then go on to face the horror of bullying or become bullies themselves. This is why I write for children. I want to be a part of the movement that shows every child that they are special, important, valued. We are all equal, accepted, loved, and deserve to be heard. There is room here for everyone. Look! It says so in all our books. (that’s the dream).

Changing the status quo is our evolution, at this moment in time. It can only make our species better, smarter, more peaceful. Yes, the alien storyline is a limited analogy, but I choose to see this message. It’s why I love sci-fi.

What a book should do

This week, I started looking up books for a topic I’m researching and I came across this book. It’s called Part Asian 100% Hapa by Kip Fulbeck. I turned to the first page and found myself sitting down to read through the entire book.

10_kip-fulbeck

What the writer wrote in the introduction could have been about me. I was sucked in as soon as I read the first line — “You don’t look Chinese.” Further down on the page, he says, “What are you? I answer the question every day of my life.”

Hey! Me too. (well, I used to).

I’ve blogged about this before — that growing up, I was asked this question a lot. “What are you?” To the Chinese, I wasn’t Chinese enough. To the English, I definitely wasn’t one of them. To others, I was a curiosity. But I am, really, both – although the English side probably has some Irish and some other European additions.

After all this time, though, I’ve grown to be okay with the question, mostly. I understand now that people are curious. I get curious about others too. In fact I recently asked a friend of mine that question, just maybe not quite that bluntly. I hope he was okay with it. I think I ask the question to find common ground with others, to find a point of connection. To know that I’m not the only mixed race person on the scene.

I understand that the older I get, the more I look like my mom and she’s Chinese. In fact over the years, it just became easier to allow others to assume I am Chinese (or some version of ‘Asian’). Except for my name – that’s the most English thing about me (and yes, it’s mine, not my husband’s. He’s Chinese. You’d be surprised how often I get asked if I’m married to a white man).

But as an aside, I also feel compelled to say, not Chinese from China. From South East Asia. Today, I read an article that mentions how Asia is far too big a continent to lump us all together in the all encompassing word “Asian”. Specifically, the article in Education Week said this —

“The diversity of nearly 50 ethnic subgroups speaking more than 300 languages cannot be accurately captured in the use of the broad and single panethnic label “Asian.” ”

Precisely.

Yay, to Peter T Keo (the article’s writer) for saying so.

So please don’t feel like you have to tell me you’ve been to China. While interesting as a general topic of conversation, it doesn’t connect me to you. I’ve never been.

But, what is new to me, is the word “Hapa”. I’d never heard it before. It’s kind of nice to know there’s a word that describes what I am. I think it’s a word borrowed from Pacific Islanders, so thank you for sharing it. It’s certainly better than some of the names I’ve been called in the past.

This book, Part Asian 100% Hapa, is a photographic book. The writer brought together a lot of Hapa people and photographed them, portrait style. Next to their pictures, each person wrote a short note answering the question “What are you?” It was a lovely read. The people were from every age and walk of life, and every one was beautiful.  It made me feel happy, and reminded me that I wasn’t alone in the world.

And that’s what a book should do.

It’s Been a While But I’m Back

The writing journey has taken a turn for me. So I thought I should update and get going on this blog. I’m still learning how to do this better, so it may take a while.

The best thing that has happened to me as a writer was beginning the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Hamline University.

WP_20150719_002. WP_20150719_001

I’m in my second semester now. In this low-residency program I have met and been taught by amazing faculty. I have learned so much, but more than that, I have been treated with respect and care. I never really thought of myself as a writer, till I met Mary Rockcastle and her terrific faculty.

My first semester went by so fast, and I should have written about it then. But I want to go back and reiterate my thanks for the scholarship I was awarded back in January. It really gave me the confidence I needed to keep going with my writing.

Lerner Scholarship tweet

I tell my non-writing friends, I feel like I’m being taught by celebrities, because I am such fans of all the faculty’s work.

The students at Hamline’s MFAC are lovely too. So talented. So inspiring. Laura Hanson, a member of my class, won this semester’s scholarship for her picture book. Back Row Ninjas, we rock!

So, as I continue this learning journey, I hope to be better at blogging about it.

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