Thursday, May 8, 2014

Saving Thanehaven, by Catherine Jinks

What starts out as a fairly traditional fantasy adventure in the first chapter quickly spirals into unbridled creativity in Saving Thanehaven. The protagonist is a knight called Noble, and he and his companion Spite are on a quest to save Princess Lorellina from her uncle, the evil Lord Harrowmage, and if it sounds like you've read this book a hundred times already, that's the point. Before the first chapter is even over, Noble (after getting himself out of a rather nasty jam caused by Spite, his magical shape-shifting weapon which never listens to anything he tells it) is visited by a "virus" called Rufus, who tells Noble that he is a character in a video game called Thanehaven Slayer, and that his actions are (and always have been) controlled by someone called "Mikey" using something called a "computer". He suggests asking the princess if she wants to be saved, which starts a chain reaction that threatens to destroy not only the world of Thanehaven, but every other world in the Land of Computer.

Probably the most unique and positive aspect of this novel is its reimagining of a computer's inner workings as a bureaucratic fantasy run amok. When the protagonists journey to Mikey's phone (it makes sense in context), they travel on electrical currents reimagined in the context of an airport, including going through security before departing and after landing. The "AV", which technologically savvy readers will recognize as the antivirus program, is depicted as a secret police type organization that sweeps in and replaces the "enlightened" characters with identical copies. The CPU is a room full of monitors moderated by a repair man. The "traveling between games" plot feels very much like Wreck-It Ralph, but only lasts for about the first act of the story. After that, the focus switches to the attempt to save the computer from crashing, and gets a little more dry and technical.

Essentially, the novel is asking the reader "How much free will is too much?" The personnel of the computer want total control and Rufus wants total anarchy, and Jinks demonstrates through the interactions of her characters with both each other and the environment that neither of those options are workable, much less ideal. When the novel begins, we see that the characters (unsurprisingly) don't like being forced to do things against their will, and a civil war breaks out when the management, personified here as a blue collar worker called the Colonel/Kernal, tries to restore the game to its original programming. On the other hand, when it's revealed later that Rufus wants nothing less than total anarchy, the reader sees (through Noble's eyes) the entire computer falling into disrepair. Many of it's denizens are killed or maimed, and those that aren't are simply milling around in a useless crowd, not accomplishing anything and just taking up space. Thanehaven prompts the reader to think about how much they can and should contribute to society while still maintaining independence, and the exploration of free will as a "virus" that is detrimental to society will feel like something of a retread for adult readers, but will give the book's target audience something to think about.

The fact that Thanehaven employs familiar character archetypes is both a strength and a weakness. On one hand, it's interesting seeing overused tropes confronted with the fact that they are, in fact, just that, but on the other, most of them are not afforded the chance to really grow as characters. The three central protagonists - Noble, Lorellina, and Yestin - are the most "developed", and I use that term somewhat charitably. Noble has a distinct character arc and is probably the most dynamic character available, but the other two don't expand beyond their archetypes. The supporting cast is composed of stereotypes, and some characters (most notably a unicorn named Lulu that Noble finds in the Recycling Bin who doesn't do or say anything) feel very tacked on and pointless.

Noble begins as a faithful servant of the computer, living out his in-game life because he doesn't know any other way, but once he is exposed to Rufus' way of thinking, it changes him. He becomes self-aware, and unlike the other characters, Noble is not completely consumed by Rufus' anarchistic views. He is the only one who finds the middle ground that allows for some free will within the structure of the computer's operating parameters.

Yestin's main purpose is to spout exposition at both the characters and the audience and he never really outgrows that. Yestin comes from a science fiction game where children are routinely mauled to death by aliens, and Rufus even remarks that the game practically requires the player to sacrifice some of the children. Yestin never seems to worry about this, or anything, throughout the story, and his expositional dialog makes him come across as more than a little creepy, as he is a child who speaks like an adult. He's the only major character with any real knowledge of computers, so he is Jinks' only avenue to convey exposition and technical information to the audience, but it's often done in very shallow ways.

Princess Lorellina seems to have been added as an afterthought by an editor who thought the book needed a stronger female presence. She begins the story as the Action Girl archetype, the "spunky princess", but never really outgrows that archetypal role either. She is not changed like Noble is by the massive existential revelation that she has no free will, but rather reacts to it as a spunky princess would: she haughtily demands that everyone "fix" the problem for her.

All in all, Saving Thanehaven is a net gain. The characterization problems and awkward descriptions don't take away much from the concepts, and it's a pretty solid middle grade fantasy/science fiction adventure that will intrigue it's target audience, though unlike some of the more popular titles like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, adult audiences will find it somewhat hollow.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Swipe by Evan Angler

Swipe is a dystopian young adult novel, and part of a series. The protagonist is almost-thirteen-year-old Logan Langley. Logan's world is populated by the Marked. A Mark is needed to do basic things like make purchases, register to vote, and pretty much anything you can think of. Those without the Mark can't do these things, so they require charity and donations, and almost always end up homeless. However, a terrorist known to the public only as Peck is kidnapping and even killing the Markless, and when Logan becomes his next target, he finds himself at the center of a mystery where his own fears, a governmental coverup, the new girl at school, and the unexplained death of his sister all collide. 

This book puts forth some interesting ideas, but ultimately, it's rather uninspired. It's pretty clear to me that Mr. Angler is not lacking in imagination, but rather experience. Much of the technology he comes up with is creative and interesting. Among his ideas are houses that have one room per floor which are stacked on top of each other like Legos, clear tape that's somehow wired for surveillance (because science; I'll suspend my disbelief for it), small micronanotechnology hidden in powder, and the gloves that make electronic music by swinging them in the air. This is intriguing, and give Swipe a distinct identity of it's own. It's one of the better things the book does, and it's distinct flavor was what kept me kept me interested in the narrative when the plot didn't sustain me. 

The story is told from third person limited, but the narrator changes dozens of times over the course of the story, and often within the same scene, once even within the same sentence. In many places, an omniscient voice comes from on high and tells us something that the characters failed to notice. This technique is particularly whiplash-inducing, and makes the narrative seem incredibly confusing, as well as removing any kind of emotional connection between the characters and their moods. While Logan is narrating, we get an intimate view of his fears, his thoughts. When the point of view switches without warning to Erin, the deuteragonist, without giving us time to think them over, they begin to lose their emotional impact. It is my belief that Angler simply lacks the maturity to handle the viewpoints of as many characters as Swipe believes it needs. Logan, Erin, her father, Blake, Hailey, Dane, and Meg are all characters in the book who narrate from their own point of view, and all of them are interupted by the omniscient narrator. It's messy and confusing, and weakens the book. 

The characters are a jumbled mess. There are times in the narration where characters pointedly tell us what they are NOT thinking about or saying, or what they are forgetting. I rather enjoyed this, partially because it's a favorite tactic of mine in my fiction, but this is mostly relegated to the first act of the story. The first act is, I feel, much stronger than the second or third. Once Logan takes matters into his own hands, the plot quickly begins to unravel. It seems as though Angler is writing a plot that's too complex for his experience. 

Throughout the narrative, many of the characters emotions are demonstrated by having the characters turn to the proverbial camera and say "That makes me feel angry!" This is another area where the first act is strongest: one of the first scenes we see of Logan is of him doing what he tells us is a nightly sweep of his house. He checks every single room-floor in his house every night, all eleven of them, to make sure that nothing is out of place and nothing has been disturbed. When he finds a picture of his sister (you know, the one who died mysteriously while getting her Mark?) overturned in his room, he briefly consults himself on whether or not he was the one who disturbed it. This is a tense and skillful way to demonstrate to us that Logan is paranoid about everything, and that he's very upset over his sister's unexpected death. However, later in the novel, Angler switches tactics and simply tells us that Logan is fighting with his best friend, Dane, over their mutual object of affection, Hailey. These characters tells us this at almost every opportunity they get, and the more Logan becomes mired in the conspiracy, the more this telling crops up. 

Aside from the main protagonists, Logan and Erin, the secondary cast gets little development beyond a single identifiable trait. Erin's father is an overworked, neglectful government business type, Hailey is Dane's ex-girlfriend and not much else, Jo is big and likes to affectionately punch her friends, and so on. This is especially irritating because of the way the narrative switches perspective so often, and because Angler wants to add Loads and Loads of characters. All of these problems could be remedied in the sequels, but on it's own, Swipe doesn't handle it's characters well. First installments of a series should stand alone a great deal more than Swipe does, as much of it feels like set up for a later novel, which is especially true of the characters. 

All in all, it's very much "been there, done that". Angler's book reflects a lot of the themes and plot points of 1984, right down to the last minute traitor twist. If you're a big fan of dystopian literature and have a long plane ride, you may want to check it out, but otherwise, I'd give it a pass. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

ALA Annual 2013

Got back from ALA a few days ago. It was exciting, overwhelming, incredible, helpful, stimulating, and above all, breath-taking and awesome. I mean awesome in it's original definition. It inspired awe within me.

Perhaps the most frightening thing I saw was a passionate sermon by author and blogger Cory Doctorow on the double-edged sword that is technology. In light of all the controversy of the XBox One having a camera that is watching you all the time, his comments about where we bring our technology - in the bathroom, in the bedroom, in the changing rooms - and how it could easily be watching us just as closely, struck a particularly sour chord for me.

I got to meet a ton of authors, got a few signed copies of books, and went to a panel on YA Dystopian Lit that I found extremely interesting and helpful. Doctorow was one of the speakers, as were multiple award winning author Lois Lowry, author baby Veronica Roth, and another guy I'd never heard of, Patrick Ness. The panel was enlightening and fascinating, and I learned a lot. I made a ton of new connections, and met a ton of interesting people. I was persuaded to join LITA, so I'll need to figure out how to do that, but I'm sure one of the connections I made will help. It gave me some takeaways, both tangible and intangible, to bring back to my library, and gave me a lot to think about. My feet hurt by the end of it, but it was worth it, one hundred percent.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why I'm Wearing a White Ribbon this Week

April 12th marked the beginning of of Vera House's 19th annual White Ribbon week. It ends on the 21st. I've always held Vera House in high regard, but I didn't know they did anything like this until I started my practicum work at Pine Grove, where a project is in the works to raise awareness. I thought I'd do my part and describe, in as much detail as I feel comfortable, a rambling account of what happened to me, and why I'll be proudly displaying my white ribbon all week long.

I remember the first time I realized that my relationship was in serious trouble.We were in a hotel room for New Years, and he started to insert his finger inside my anus. Like all of the other times, he had forgotten to cut his fingernails, so it hurt a great deal, and I bled. I didn't know it at the time, but this was to be the first time of many where a sexual encounter between the two of us would make me bleed. When I refused (not for the first time), he collapsed in a pile and was crestfallen. He told me that "real couples had sex" and if we didn't have sex (not mentioned: the way he wants it), then we aren't a real couple. I was perfectly happy sticking around third base and not having painful, unpleasant, sexual intercourse that I hated, mostly because it made me bleed every single time. He issued me an ultimatum: I could either fall in line and allow him to have sex the way he wanted it, or the relationship would end right there.

So I gave in. I let him do whatever he wanted, however many times he wanted, until he was finally done. I hear what you're all thinking loudly in your heads: "But TBW, why didn't you just tell him you hated it and stop it there? And if he wanted to end the relationship, then so be it. It sucks, but it's better for both of you." Well, yes, dear reader, you're right; I could have done that. I could have said that we were over and saved my own ass. Of course, there was a catch: he implied very heavily, and on at least one occasion out and out stated, that if I left him, he'd either be so depressed that he'd commit suicide, or he'd start having chest pains that would kill him. Either way, it would be my fault. That part of the message was unsaid, but was also crystal clear. "No one loved me like you do." "I don't know what I'd do without you. I don't think I could survive." etc.

All this got me thinking about all the ways in which my relationship with my ex-fiance had been failing. He had been manipulating me in a number of ways, from telling me how bad my dog is to reminding me about how everything would be better after I cut my family out of my life. He frequently got angry, confused, and hurt whenever I said I'd gone out with friends, and insisted on going everywhere with me. Whenever I said I didn't want to go someplace with him, he moped around the house and told me about how superfluous he felt. Whenever I went for a walk with my dog, he assumed he was invited and rushed out of the house to follow me. He'd always assume he had access to my things, particularly my laptop, and would be angry when I suggested he use his own. He was extremely angry and hurt by the fact that I had a friend over who made me dinner, he was hurt and confused when I went to play volleyball without him, even though he was several hours away and couldn't physically come. Any time I wanted to spend by myself was time I was being anti-social.

I couldn't be angry or sad or even mildly frustrated around him. Any emotion besides happiness was off limits, and caused him to mope and turn the topic to how I'm not thinking about his wants and needs. If I'm sad, it's clearly his fault, and I'm going to leave him. If I'm angry, I'm clearly angry at him and I'm going to hit him. Outside factors were NEVER taken into consideration. In his mind, there WAS nothing outside of our relationship. Because of that, he would discourage me from spending time with or talking to my other friends, especially about discussing our relationship. I couldn't suggest that we might not be together forever, because if I did, in his mind, that meant that I was thinking of leaving him. I didn't want to leave him, not for a long time, but I simply wanted the option. I wanted to be able to leave.

That's abuse. But, of course, as a victim, I couldn't see that at the time and thought it was all my fault. He would always tell me that I should take steps to be more like him. He hated the things I liked, and was outright offended by some of them. He was offended by my identification as a feminist, as the very word is discriminatory against men, and don't you know that the sexes are equal now and that discrimination is over? Any time I disagreed with him, I was clearly trying to silence him and suppress his opinions.

This was, of course, just the predecessor to the physical violence and sexual assault that permeated most of our relationship. His favorite games in bed were to hold me down by my wrists during intercourse, and if he could, he'd pin my head so I was looking straight at him. The only thing he hated more than my saying no was when he thought I might be thinking of someone else during intercourse. He liked to lie down on top of me and pin me so I couldn't move. I couldn't show fear or displeasure, couldn't let on that I didn't like his idea of sex. I couldn't even lie back and think of England, although that tended to be what I did, only I had to make it look like I was enjoying it. In fact, if I showed anything but ecstasy, I knew I needed to prepare for a long session where he would cry and mope and tell me how worried he is about our relationship. One of his other favorite games was to try to have me kiss him. He wanted me to attempt it knowing I would fail. That was the game. With my arms and legs pinned, the only way I could assume any kind of control in that situation was to not attempt to kiss him, which made him sad and angry, because if I wasn't playing his game, then our sex life was in trouble and I would have to leave him and he'd die. There are plenty of nights where I have to sleep on the futon in the next room over because I can't relax in the bed where I was assaulted so many times.

I didn't bleed from every session we had, but one is way more than enough. I couldn't tell him about the bleeding, because if I did, he would get sad and angry, and the discussion would shift from my being in pain to why I'm saying these things to hurt him and that I shouldn't leave. The litany continued until I finally couldn't take it anymore. I had had enough of trying to select each word with surgical precision and at lightning speed, because if I didn't, bad things would happen. I had had enough of shutting my friends out of my life, tailoring my hobbies and interests to someone else's desires and ideas, and constantly being told how childish and silly all of my fears are. And that's not even getting into how poorly he treated my dog, taking every opportunity to tell him (always when I was present, of course) what a bad dog he was, and how no one will ever love him because he's so bad, and how he's the worst dog in the world, and so on.

He'd always tell me it was my fault. He'd say things like "You know what happens when you breathe on my neck", and "I can't be held responsible for what I do when you wear a red button-down shirt". He'd say that he just couldn't control himself because I turn him on so much, that I had to agree to have sex whenever he wanted, otherwise, we weren't in a real relationship. This scared me, a lot, but of course, I couldn't let it show, because if I did, much worse things were in store.

So, I left him, and as expected, he ran around the house, throwing a temper tantrum as he packed. He kept asking what he did to make me not love him anymore, and when I responded that I did but we were better off apart, he said that if I loved him I would still be with him, and that I'm just wrong about everything else. The fact that we had disparate personalities didn't matter. The fact that we had two wildly different sets of interests didn't matter. The fact that I was in grad school and physically and psychologically couldn't spend all my time on him didn't matter. The fact that we wanted completely different things out of life didn't matter. The only thing that mattered to him was how much I had hurt him, and how I was doing it intentionally because I couldn't deal with his baggage. He and many of his friends decided that I was not in any pain because I didn't post about it on Facebook. Because I didn't tell everyone who would listen that I was hurting, I must not have cared at all. He threatened to take legal action against me if I didn't return his stuff, called me abusive on Facebook, and decided he would show up at my house whether I liked it or not. That was the last I've heard from him.

Now, in the aftermath, I've become hyper vigilant. I carry a knife when I do laundry. I carry a flattened fork, dubbed my 'rape fork', in the pocket of my peacoat to make me feel safer. I carry a hunting knife in the pocket of my summer coat for the same reasons. I walk around with my car key in between my pointer and middle fingers, and I automatically size up every room whenever I enter it. Yes, within fifteen seconds of entering your house, I will have mapped where your exits are, and where there is anything I can use as a weapon. I make sure to note street lights and park under them, I change my appearance and gait if I need to go back to my car because I forgot something so as not to be recognized, and I see him everywhere. Whenever someone smiles so big that their eyes close, I see him. Whenever someone sighs happily, I see him. Whenever someone bites their knuckle, I see him. Whenever someone jumps in the air and claps their hands, I see him. Whenever I see him, I can feel his hands on me, holding me down and forcing me to do what he wants. I'm constantly aftraid that I'll turn around and find him standing behind me, or that I'll flip the light switch on in my room and find him waiting there, waiting for the one last night he never got. Hell, as I write this, I'm terrified that he's going to find it and read it and try to contact me again.

I spent most of November, December, and January as drunk as I've ever been in my life. Imagine that you've just come to the realization that you've been repeatedly and violently raped for over a year when you thought you were making your own choices. Imagine discovering that the only serious relationship you've ever been in, the only one where the person loved you back, was in reality a disaster built on fear and manipulation. Imagine realizing that everything you thought was good about said relationship was an emotional abuse tactic in disguise, designed to wear down your defenses until you had no free will or personality. How long would it take you to come to terms with that? I drank two or three strong mixed drinks every night, I slept on my futon because I kept having violent flashbacks if I tried to sleep in my bed, I developed severe agoraphobia, and my social anxiety and OCD, which were already unpleasant, got noticeably worse.

On the bright side, losing my fiance has shown me who the people I can really count on are. They're the people who came out of the woodwork and said "He did WHAT!?" and didn't question me. They're the people who sat and listened to me while I begged them to let me call my ex and apologize for breaking his heart, while refusing to tell me where they hid my phone (at my prior request). They're the ones who showed up at 8PM with a bottle of wine and wouldn't take "No really, I'm okay" for an answer, the ones who stand in the back with silent support because they don't know how else to help, and the ones who keep reminding me that I don't have to consent to sex I don't want just because my partner says so.

If I haven't made it already, the point I want to hammer home should be abundantly clear: DV and sexual abuse can happen to anyone of any race, gender, social standing, location, family status, or anything. No one deserves it, it's not their fault, and the best way to prevent it is to talk with friends about your relationship. It doesn't necessarily have to be in a dark alleyway with a stranger, it doesn't have to include someone slipping you a drug or purposefully getting you drunk, though those happen frighteningly often. Rape and domestic violence occur for one reason and one reason only: these people believe that they are better than their victims, and that they are entitled to sex. Coercion and guilt tripping are popular abuse tactics, and saying "but s/he never hit me!" does not preclude DV or abuse. I'll be wearing white ribbon this week because I don't want what happened to me to happen to anyone else.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Advocating Your Library By Bringing In Others

Advocacy can't come from just once source  in order to be effective. In order to really be effective, advocacy must emanate from many different sources. If my graduate degree has taught me anything (and with the price tag it's got, I pray it has), it's that the key to getting a library to survive is collaboration. In the schools, it's collaborating with teachers to make lesson plans. In all libraries, it's figuring out what your community wants and then facilitate it for them.

Gaming in libraries is big right now. One of the biggest draws in the high school library where I did my secondary fieldwork was Game Day, where kids could bring in their YuGiOh cards, playing cards, board games, and what have you, and instead of using the library as a place for books, we had attendance skyrocket that day. We ran out of chess sets. I taught some kids how to play checkers - not that I'm very good, but I do know that the pieces can't move up and down, and there's no such thing as castling in that game - and the whole thing was a tremendous success. Loretta didn't even have to advertise it much, and she won't have to advertise much for the next one: the kids are doing it for her. I guess that would be the key to getting others to advocate for your library: tricking them into advocating for you.

How do you do that? You figure out what they like, and you give it to them. Finding out what they need is harder. Here are some tips.

  • Get ideas from your community. Who better to tell you how to draw people into the library than your customers? They know what they want, and if you ask them, they'll tell you. 
  • Try whatever comes to mind. If it doesn't work, you're one step closer to figuring out what does. 
  • Conscript others, because ideas are better when they're bounced around by several people. 
And here's a quick video I made to advocate my hypothetical library:

video

Monday, November 12, 2012

NYLA Writing - Playing Catch-Up

So while I was at NYLA, I didn't get much of a chance to update this blog, and that's okay. I had a lot of fun, and I outlined my experience in an earlier post. I didn't get much writing done, but here it is. Hopefully, I'll be able to finish on time with all the stuff that's going on in my life right now. 

***


“I don’t need any help dealing with guys,” Kristina said.
“That’s not what Mark tells us,” Harrison said with a condescending pat on the shoulder for Kristina. “He says you need some serious training.”
“You were never satisfying, Kristina,” Mark said. He began rubbing his sore knee. “I hope your skills with your lady friends are better.”
“Oh, you’re one of us!” Harrison squealed. He clapped his hands together and jumped up and down in front of Kristina, and she resisted the urge to kick his legs out from underneath him.
“You mean I’m a gay man?”
“No, you’re  one of us!” Harrison squealed again. “One of us queers!”
“I’m flattered, really,” Kristina said. “But I’d rather be one of me instead. I’m much better at that.”
“Of course, of course,” Harrison said as he swept his hands in front of him apologetically. “Being one of us is all about being who you really are.”
“That’s the most backwards thing I’ve ever heard of,” Kristina said. She turned to Mark. “Have fun flirting with an engaged guy.”
“Oh he’s not flirting with me,” Harrison hissed through his broad grin. “I’m flirting with him.” Harrison smacked Mark straight on his ass, and Mark laughed. Jack continued to play on his phone. Kristina rolled her eyes and left the boys in their corner near the bar. The cute bartender with no brain from before who had served her a drink smiled, handing her another.
“Your friends keep buying you drinks,” she said, and nodded over in the direction of Liz and Aiden’s table. “You’re a very lucky lady tonight.”
“Why do I not believe you?” Kristina said. She took the drink anyway and began to take a big gulp before someone in a red evening dress came out of door near the bar. She waved towards Kristina and smiled hopefully.
“How are you, Kristina?” Scarlett asked. “Are you looking into that thing we talked about?”
“I have been,” Kristina replied. “There’s nothing to look for.”
“Okay,” she said, confused. She sighed deeply and began ringing her hands. “I hope everything turns out for the best.”
“Hey, sug.” The voice came from one of the bartenders who looked like she square-danced straight out of the Bible Belt. Her half shirt was tied up just north of her belly button, and her Daisy Dukes were tasteful, or at least as tasteful as Daisy Dukes could be. She had long, rich blonde hair and a friendly smile, and despite the fact that she looked like a Shove the Dove conservative, Kristina couldn’t help but feel a warmness radiating from her.
“Hello, Brandy,” Scarlett said with a wave.
“Ready for your set, hon?”
“Almost,” Scarlett said. “Just came to the bar for a glass of water.” Brandy smiled and filled one up for her. While Brandy’s back was turned, Scarlett gave Kristina a significant look, as if to say ‘help me’. Kristina gave her a thumbs up, and Scarlett took her drink and sauntered to the back room of the Dingy Den. Kristina went to sit back with her friends.
The other bartender came over to her table with a tray full of drinks. Kristina smiled. “Great service here,” she replied.
“We’re lazy,” Clara said. “We wanted to get beers without getting up.”
“Plus, I like to take care of my customers,” the bartender said. “You’re good to me, so I’ll be good to you.” She passed a dark beer over to Clara and a much lighter one over to Quentin. Kristina smirked.
“What kind of beer did you get?” Kristina asked the married couple.
“I got myself a Guinness, and got him a Land Shark,” Clara replied. She shared her friend’s smirk, and Quentin noticed both of their faces.
“I like light beer,” he said defensively. “It’s delicious.”
“It’s water,” Clara said. “Dark beer is the best kind.”
“I know, honey.” Quentin planted a quick kiss on her right temple. “We also won’t bring up your fondness for hard lemonade, which is even less a real beer than Land Shark.” Clara glared at him playfully.
“You two are adorable,” the bartender said. “I’d like to take you home and cuddle your brains out.”
“We have a strict agreement wherein we only sleep with each other,” Quentin said, holding up his right hand so she could see his wedding band. “It’s called marriage.”
“That’s part of why I’m still single,” the bartender said. “Are any of you?”
“Technically no, but I wouldn’t kick you out of my bed,” Kristina said. “Everyone else here has a ring, so I might be your only option at this table.”
“Well, that’s very sweet of you,” the bartender
“Thanks,” Kristina said. “What’s your name?”
“Molly,” the bartender said with a grin. “It’s nice to meet you. Are you local?”
“Yeah, but I don’t get out much,” Kristina said. “I haven’t been here before. Kinda like it though. When do the pianos start dueling?”
“They’re getting ready,” Molly said defensively. She turned around and began to walk back to the bar. “Hold your horses.” Kristina sighed and took a sip from her beer.
A few minutes later, Kristina watched as Scarlet came out of the same door followed by a man dressed in a suit and a red tie. The two of them walked over to the pianos. Scarlett took the far one, on the other side of Liz and Aiden’s table. The other pianist flashed a winning smile at the crowd, though he didn’t seem to notice that it went unnoticed. Scarlett smiled weakly at the crowd and waved as well, and it went unnoticed as well. Everyone was animated and interested in their beers and their conversations.
Kristina watched as Scarlett’s nimble fingers flew over the piano keys, and the crowd immediately quieted down. Kristina recognized the piece; it was Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man. It took some serious fingers to play piano like he did. She clearly had some talent. Her accomplice began to pound out the bass line and a counter melody, and his eyes followed his fingers across the black and white ivory. He and Scarlett plunked out their parts on the piano and the chatter in the bar dropped away completely.
It wasn’t surprising that everyone had stopped paying attention to each other and more to the pianos, because Scarlett had finished putting her outfit together. She had finished her makeup, and her red dress was accentuated by her flashing lipstick. Her shortly cropped hair had been styled and pulled back into a small bun just above the nape of her neck. How she played piano that quickly in those gloves, Kristina had no idea. She must have the dexterity of an acrobat. As the music began to wind down, the second piano player cut own and only Scarlett was playing, softly and not nearly at the speed she was before, just plunking out a tuneless ditty while her partner talked.
“Welcome to the Dingy Den,” the second pianist said. He had a loud voice, and he knew damn well how to project. He filled the whole bar with his words, and Kristina almost didn’t notice his prominent bald spot. “It’s nice to see all of you folks out here, coming to see little ole me. We’re sure glad you chose to come out here tonight, and we’re sure glad to help you all have fun. Everybody make sure to order a drink from one of our sexy bartenders, cuz otherwise, you just won’t have as much fun.” He segued back into a song that Kristina didn’t recognize and continued to play. Mark sat down next to her, a crumpled piece of paper in his hand.
“Well, I beat you,” he said. “I got the digits.”
“They know you’re not gay, Mark, right?” Clara asked seriously. “You did tell them that you’re not gay, didn’t you?”
“Of course,” Mark said. “They know, they just gave me their number in case I decide to change my mind.”
“You’re unbelievable,” Kristina sighed, and decided not to push the issue any further. The pianists continued to play on the stage, and Kristina looked around at the four friends that she knew from high school. Clara was always smart, but now she would be a successful… something or other – Kristina didn’t catch whatever the hell it was Clara did nowadays, but she and her husband looked like a million bucks. Liz and Aiden had the same deal, just with two kids attached. Liz was a high-powered lawyer, judging from her pencil skirt, and she probably made millions every year, at least enough for Aiden to stay home with their boys. And Mark? Well, at least there was someone here to make Kristina feel good about herself.
How’d they do it? Where was Kristina’s life going? She was working at this shitty college in the middle of nowhere, her doctorate was going nowhere, she hated her parents, and so on. She had a great relationship with Nikki and Sarah, but it could be better. If only they got along.
“Hello, Kristina?” Mark was staring her in the face, tapping on her forehead. “You in there?”
“What do you want?”
“We’re going to dance,” Mark said. “Liz and Aiden are already there. So are Clara and Quentin. Do you want to feel left out?”
“I don’t mind,” Kristina said, irritated. “I like being left out.”
“Oh come on,” Mark said. “Have a little fun. You know you want to. Dancing is fun. I seem to remember you doing a lot of it while we were in school.”
“I am a very different person now.”
“Not that different,” Mark said. “Please? It’ll make me feel a lot better about myself.”
“And since when has that been a priority of mine?”
“It’s always been a priority of mine,” Mark said. He extended his hand in front of her. “I want to dance with you. Don’t you want to dance?” Kristina looked at the couples dancing on the floor in front of her while Mark kept his hand extended.
“Fine,” she relented. “Why the hell not?” She took his hand and he led her out onto the dance floor past another couple. She saw Jack and Harrison not far away, dancing cheek to cheek. It was quite adorable. She smiled a little. Mark put his hand on her waist, and she nearly slapped it away.
“You forget how to dance?”
“I forgot how to follow,” Kristina replied. “So if we do this, I have to be able to lead.”
“Can you do anything else?”
“Would you like me better if I followed? Cuz that’s not happening.”
“I wouldn’t have you any other way.” Mark snaked his arm around her back and Kristina pulled him into a spin. The music was no longer a poppy piano remix, but something classical, probably Vivaldi, but Kristina didn’t know enough about music to know which one. It could have been Pachabel’s Canon in D for all she knew. Whatever it was, it lent itself to a nice waltz, and Kristina felt herself becoming swept up in it. She led Mark over the dance floor, past Liz and Aiden, past Quentin and Clara, past the gay couple, and she even let Mark spin her around for good measure, just to let him hold on to a shred of his manliness. The music stopped abruptly, and Kristina came to rest. She looked frantically around for the rest of her group, but they were perfectly fine. The only person missing from the bar was Scarlett Powers.
“Why did the music stop?” The attractive young man who had sat down with Cadie Harris held onto the hand of a frail but attractive brunette. “Where’s the other pianist?”
“I’m not sure,” said the bartender. This time it was Brandy, the southern looking one, who spoke. “She seemed fine, but then she just up and ran off the stage like something was on fire underneath her.” Scarlett had run out of the place in a hurry. She must have had a reason to leave in the middle of her precious set like that, and a damn good one at that. Who, or what did she see? What had scared her into running off in the middle of her song? Kristina tramped over to the table and picked up her coat.
“Where are you going?” Mark asked. “The guy will probably start playing again soon enough.”
“It’s not working out for me,” she said. “Who waltzes in a bar, anyway?” She pushed past him and ran up onto the stage and back into the backstage area. She pushed past someone on her way out, multiple someones in fact, and as she came to the door, she saw that it was already propped open. Scarlett must be going for her car. Kristina ducked out the door and raced over to the parking lot on the other side. Scarlett was indeed getting into her car.
“Scarlett!” Kristina called out to her. Scarlett didn’t appear to hear her. “Scarlett, don’t turn the ignition!” Scarlett looked out the window of her car at Kristina. Her eyes widened, and from a distance, it looked like she jammed her key into the ignition and turned it. Kristina ran towards the car as quickly as she could.
The resulting explosion was something Kristina never thought she’d witness firsthand. It wasn’t like in the movies, not at all. The flames weren’t huge and towering, but they had consumed the entire car, as well as its passenger. Kristina heard the tortured screams of the piano player, smelled the sickening burnt flesh as Scarlett cooked inside that hunk of melting steel and glass, and it was only when she tried to reach out to the car that she realized she was lying face down on the pavement. She got up and ran over to the car, but two pairs of arms grabbed her from behind.
“Let me go!” Kristina screamed. “She’s dying in there.”
“No, sweetie,” Clara said gravely, and Kristina became aware that she was being held by Clara and her brother. “I don’t think she is.” Kristina looked back at the burning car. No movement. No one was moving inside. Kristina wrenched out of their grip and got as close to the car as she could, but it was pretty clear from a distance what was going on: Scarlett Powers was dead.

NYLA Conference! What I learned

So this weekend, for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I went to the New York Library Association conference. My Twitter following exploded, I met a whole lot of cool people, saw a lot of awesome stuff, and hopefully did some serious networking. Also, the food was amazing, and there was free coffee, and lots of free books. It was my kind of place. I took away quite a bit from the conference as well. Here's what I learned from the presenters, the booths, and the programs:
  • Know what your community needs. If they're not telling you, you have to ask them. 
  • Don't neglect the so-called "special interest" groups. 
  • Some people, for various reasons, may be afraid to go to the library. Find out what you can do to alleviate that fear. 
  • If you read from your Powerpoint, you've already lost your audience. Similarly, make sure your voice is clear, audible, and has varying tones. 
  • Apps are a powerful tool, but make sure the ones you're using teach what you're trying to teach. Don't get caught up in the novelty of... well, novelty, and assume that using apps alone will make you more relevant.
  • Improvisation is necessary for growth. Creative problem solving and thinking on your feet can mean the difference between project implementation and shelving.
  • Don't be afraid to fail. Failure isn't a bad thing, it's a learning tool. 
  • Print is not dead. Just... no, it isn't. There are ways to resuscitate it if you look. 
  • The hardware of tablets is not what we're about now. What we sell when we sell tablets is the services they offer. 
  • Prepare your examples ahead of time, or make a video tutorial to demonstrate it instead of using it live. Know for sure that your programs and examples will do what they're supposed to in order to avoid looking foolish. 
  • Unglueit is a fabulous idea and a wonderful way to get content out to the public. 
  • SLOs are important, especially for elementary-aged students.
  • You don't have to be an educator to make use of the AASL standards, CCLS, SLOs, IEPs, APPRs, BBQs, and all sorts of other acronyms. 
  • Mobile websites are difficult to design and implement, but will boost the usefulness of your current website. 
  • Mobile websites need to be tested and trouble-shot on a number of different devices before they can be implemented, because all tablets, iDevices, and smartphones are not created equal. 
Of course, these are all filtered through the lens of my brain. Take what you want, or don't, and 

Cool people to follow on Twitter who I met at NYLA: 
  • Rebecca Stead (@rebstead), author
  • Eric Hellman (@gluejar), entrepreneur 
  • Polly-Alida Farrington, (@pollyalida), technoshaman
  • Unglueit (@unglueit), the aforementioned Creative Commons making program
  • Jenica Rogers (@jenica26), Rockstar Librarian and tech geek
  • Sue Kowalski (@spkowalski), Middle School Librarian 
  • David Weinberger (@dweinberger), author of the Cluetrain Manifesto
  • Toph Lawton (@HieAnon), presenter, TA, and Rockstar Librarian in training
...and of course, me, @IllyriasAcolyte. I do use Twitter, I swear. Watch me tweet. Well, as soon as I finish NaNoWriMo.