Ursula Bethell: Day One

I am fortunate enough to be spending the next six months as one of two University of Canterbury Ursula Bethell Writers in Residence, which is definitely the longest job title I have ever had.

PROOF:

This is due to the generosity of the university, of Creative New Zealand, and of my excellent dayjob employers, who gave me six months leave. My colleagues also gave me new post-its when I left, because they get me.

Today, I got my security card, key and parking permit, bought stationery, set up my computer, and plotted the first part of a novel on post-its. Then I wrote a thousandish words.

This is going to be good.

Progress: 1052 words.

Guardian of the Dead, and asexual representation in 2017.

In 2006 I wrote the first draft of a book that became Guardian of the Dead. In 2008 I sold the publishing rights to Little, Brown and Allen and Unwin. On April 1st, 2010, the book was published.

The novel features a side character named Kevin Waldgrave, a 17-year-old Maori boy who loves acting and science, who is fiercely protective of his friends, who is gunning for an important scholarship at his impressive boarding school.

He is asexual. He says he is asexual, on the page.

In 2010, he was one of very few explicitly asexual characters in any fictional media. In 2010, he was one of the first, maybe the first, explicitly asexual characters in young adult literature.

It’s 2017.

Every now and then, Guardian of the Dead appears on asexual representation recommendation lists. Over the last seven years, those lists have changed a lot. They used to look like “Sherlock, kind of!” “The Big Bang Theory, according to some people!” “In Guardian of the Dead, Kevin actually says he’s asexual!” Now they look like: “This explicitly asexual main character is great, and so is this one, and also this one, and then there’s Kevin from Guardian of the Dead, sidenote, not a main character.”

I think Guardian of the Dead is now on these lists because of a brief moment of historical significance, and I think it’s time to take it off.

I know Kevin has been really important to a lot of people. I’ve had email and conversations with people for whom he was the first representation of an important part of their identity. If Kevin, or the fact of his existence, is or was valuable to you, I’m so glad.

But in 2017, I don’t think he’s a good example of asexual representation. He’s not a main character – it’s Ellie’s story. Kevin’s coming out is too much like a confession, my terminology inaccurate and out of date, my explication of his sexuality too glib and misleading. He disappears from the narrative at the halfway point, which works fine for the plot, but is terrible for representation purposes.

And Kevin’s writer isn’t ace. I did the research and I talked to people, but this is not own voices work – this was me, an allosexual writer, awkwardly doing the best she could with the resources she had in 2006, revising in 2008, for a book published in 2010. In 2010, a lot of people were happy with this. (A lot weren’t, and I’m sorry.) I really hoped that this would help people. I didn’t want Kevin to be the only one; I wanted there to be more, and better.

That’s happening now. Many other writers have created other works with asexual and aromantic and demi-sexual characters. They are main characters, the focus of their own stories. More, many of these writers identify as ace or demi and/or aromantic, and create characters not at a distance, from research, but from experience, from within a community I was never part of. (I don’t want to create my own recs list here, because I’m not an ace-spectrum reader either, but I am especially fond of the excellent and demisexual Seanan McGuire’s post-portal fantasy, Every Heart A Doorway, which stars asexual magical mystery solver Nancy.)

I can’t stop you from doing anything, and I have no right to instruct you. You are absolutely free to recommend Guardian of the Dead to anyone, for any reason.

But, insofar as the author is alive in 2017, she thinks it would be a good idea to omit Guardian of the Dead from future asexual representation lists.

Trifecta

There aren’t many foods I won’t eat. Marmite, sure, but everyone hates Marmite. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to make your mouth as miserable as theirs. This was more difficult to work around when I was a kid, and my brother would stuff a whole piece of Marmite toast into his mouth, put his face right up to mine, and chew open-mouthed, exhaling the rancid yeasty stench, until I either screamed and ran away, or hit him and got in trouble. As an adult, Marmite is easy enough to avoid, and I think I’m safe from discovering it in my food bag.

Although I am dubious about many popular adult foods, especially anything unfamiliar, I will eat them. Beets! Kale! I gave grapefruit another go the other day! (Still too sour.) However, there are three things that I absolutely refuse to put in my mouth: pineapple; celery; olives.

Here is a picture from this Sunday’s delivery:

horrifying trifecta

Nadia, why would you do this to me? I thought we were friends.

I didn’t even check which recipes the celery and olives were for (the pineapple was in the gourmet fruit box again). I just stuck them in a bag to take into work tomorrow. Someone in the staffroom will love these very things I despise. That is a fun thing about life!

Do you ever think that maybe your actual favourite food is something you’ll never eat because you’ll never know that it exists? There are a lot of things you haven’t eaten, and there’s no way to eat all of them before you die.

Also, even if you stopped everything else you do immediately, you will never read all of the good books that exist presently, much less all those yet to be written. Have some fruit:

fruit box

That melon is (discounting pineapple) as gourmet as the fruit box gets this week, but there was a nice recipe for apple tarte tartin, of which I might take advantage.

Meats and such

There are three meat things, because the fourth meal this week is vege based. I approve. I’ve been thinking that I might alternate my Own food bag with the Vege one, because I’m not used to so many meals built around meat. I’ll let you know.

veges and wee packets

Lots of spice packets and fresh herbs this week! This bodes well. Let’s see.

Lamb for burnt offering

Yep. I set dinner ON FIRE.

Wednesday Night: Crusted Lamb and Couscous Salad (and FLAMES).

Here were the ingredients. Looks easy, right? Looks safe?

lamb and couscous ingredients

The beetroot is hanging out over to the side because I don’t trust it. To be honest, I thought that was going to be the story of this meal: woman heroically overcomes distrust of beetroot! Eats it; declares, “fine, I guess”.

Oh, those pure moments of innocence. If I could only foretell the real menace lurking in my future was a much more primal fear than a weird root that just looooves staining everything pink because it’s a total show-off and doesn’t even taste good.

I diced up the beetroot (“1cm,” Nadia said, and this time I meekly obeyed), stuck it in to roast, prepared the couscous and cut up the salad.

chopped salad

Then I put the crust on the lamb. The instructions wanted me to “spread over” pesto and mustard before sprinkling the breadcrumbs on. I tried “spreading over” with a knife, but like many things in the kitchen, it turned out best done with my fingers and a variety of disgusted faces at the squishiness.

lamb crust

Nadia told me to add the lamb to the beetroot for a few minutes, then take the beetroot away, raise the tray to grill, and watch carefully to make sure “the crust doesn’t burn.”

PAPER STILL ON TRAY IN PICTURE

PLEASE NOTE that in this picture the BAKING PAPER IS STILL ON THE TRAY under the grilling lamb.

I followed these directions, written and pictorial.

Lamb on fire

The crust did not burn.

The paper under the lamb turned brown, then black, then burned. I watched it happen with that peculiar dazed clarity of the disaster in progress, with simultaneous disbelief and accelerated thought:

is this happening?

yes.

what do I do? do I take it out?

no. the paper will burn out, and it’s all metal in there. it can’t harm anything but the lamb and the tray. just let it go.

oh. should I take a photo?

yeah, definitely!

burnty lamb

The burnty lamb was fine, with only the faintest en flambe flavour.

gondawanaland

The paper too wet to burn had a continental look.

completed lamb and couscous

And pretty much anything tastes great with enough pesto.

Even, anticlimactically, beets.

Soujourning

My To-Do List for today includes “write blog post”.

Oh, how foolish I am. Many things happened from the moment I wrote that item, and internets, I am awash with things I simply must tell you. One blog post will not suffice! But this is the first.

My circumstances are not nearly so dire as those of many many others, but it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the collection of disasters in places I have lived and love, deadline pressures, and a legal matter of which I am not at liberty to speak all took their toll. To whit, my brain resembled a hamster on speed running around and around its wheel, nose twitching ceaselessly at a treat held just out of reach.

A holiday was called for.

And so it was that on Friday I traveled to the foreign land of Sydney, to take grateful refuge in the summer abode* of Dr Larbalestier and Mr Westerfeld.

I did not touch a computer for four days, and it was AWESOME. Instead, I was given guided tours to the wonders, scandals and crimes of Sydney past and present, a topic on which Justine is unsurprisingly well-versed. I was given good wines and absolutely incredible food. I was given a beautiful view of the city skyline from the balcony garden, as the flying foxes zipped past and the city hummed. I was given lovely company and interesting conversation and delicious tea.

I was given rest and respite, which I have rarely needed so badly, nor valued so much.

Also, I am really not kidding about the food. I haven’t eaten that well in ever.

Then I came back, to aforementioned deadlines, and began working on the To-Do List. But lo, things had begun to happen in my absence…

* Yes, all right, both of their abodes are summer ones.

Nice, no, awesome, yes.

I am a very pale person, and I live in Australia.

Granted, I don’t live in one of the places in Australia where people actually live underground because the surface is so ridiculously hot, but in summer I layer sunscreen over my moisturiser-with-sunscreen-in-it, and try to avoid going outside between 11 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. Because if I don’t, I very swiftly look like crispy bacon.

Crispy bacon skin hurts, y’all. Also, I have plans for my life that melanoma might delay or halt.

The other day, my delightful friend Mary had a delightful birthday party picnic, and I attended, suitably sunscreened up. But we were outside for some time, and sunscreen sweats off, and despite my best efforts, my arms still got crispy fried.

This picture represents my last, desperate move, which was to steal Mary’s parasol and twirl it becomingly.

[Image transcript below]

The friend who took the picture sent it to me, and then, operating on the principle that if I were in pain, others should suffer also, I may or may not have emailed it to some North American friends currently trudging through Snowmageddon 2011.

BFF ROBYN: You’re such a nice girl.
ME: I know, right?

I am fondly reminded of the time I sent another friend an email that contained only the chorus of Willow Smith’s greatest hit. That time was ten seconds ago.

GOOD MORNING, [personal profile] miggy!

[Image transcript: A white girl with freckles (your humble author) wearing a black top, black and white skirt and white sunglasses sits barefoot and cross legged on a picnic rug, the world’s most adorable red parasol with ruffles poised on her shoulder, under a blue, cloud-spotted sky.]

Cover Reveal: The Shattering!

Internets, this afternoon I went to the gym and pushed too hard – damned endorphins – and am currently suffering a NAP ATTACK. I am going to have to fall on my face for an hour, or I will never get anything done tonight.

But! In the interests of your delight, and my crossing something off my To-Do list, would you like to see the Australian/New Zealand The Shattering cover?

You know, I thought you might.

[Image transcript at bottom of post.]

Lovely Editor S. emailed the draft to me from the House of Onion a couple of weeks ago and I stared at it in frozen awe for a second. Then I picked up the phone.

Normally I email my editors, but I have Editor S’s cellphone number, in case of emergency, such as thinking it would be a great idea for us to have a cocktail.

Editor S: *wary concern* Helloooo?
Me: I. LOVE. IT.

Oh, I love it so much. I love the fonts. I love the way the setting evokes both the brightness and menace of the book in the dying grass, and that sun, whose rays are breaking up the pictures solidity – and after all, is it setting or rising? I love the fantastic illusion of the sky, which is actually the ocean. Things are not what they seem!

And I love, love, LOVE the body language of the three protagonists. It’s wonderful. There’s Sione, cautious and loyal, following the girls and ready to support them. There’s Janna, floating in long, lovely strides, taking up all the space in the world, demanding that you look at her. And there’s Keri, racing out in front to meet the danger, athletic and determined and fast.

Oh, Designer B. You are a scholar and a gentleman and an artiste of stunning delight.

I wish to also convey my thanks to the Australia Council for the Arts, who awarded Allen and Unwin a grant for the purposes of developing and promoting me as a mid-career writer (hurrah!) which I am told is going to include some sort of fancy detailing for the cover (double hurrah!). Embossing, perhaps! I do adore a good emboss.

A young adult supernatural adventure, THE SHATTERING will be available in July 2011 from Allen and Unwin (Australia/New Zealand) and September 2011 from Little, Brown (USA).

[Image transcript: Three teenagers, a boy with black hair and medium-brown skin, a girl with blonde hair and pale skin, and a girl with light-brown skin and dark-brown hair, all dressed in jeans and casual tops, are running over a field of dying grass, their faces turned slightly away from the camera. They are partially silhouetted against the sun on the horizon, either rising or setting. What looks at first glance like a dark blue sky with clouds in the top third of the composition is actually an ocean with white wave patterns.]

Oooh, Shiny!

Look, Internets, I won a pretty!

This is my William C. Morris Award finalist plaque for Guardian of the Dead!

You see it below in the hands of my American editor, the supersmart Alvina Ling (who is rocking that bob!) and my fabulous editor Barry Goldblatt.

Big congratulations to the other finalists, Barbara Stuber, Lish McBride and Eishes Chayil, and HUGE congratulations to Blythe Woolston, whose book The Freak Observer is the 2011 William C. Morris award winner!

I am currently writing something about which I shall tell you NOTHING as yet. But it has been brought home to me that people might want snippets of my next book, The Shattering. Teasers, as they say! Or in the book world, cookies.

Internets, would you like some cookies?