Olivia de Havilland

44736835f44cd49c81dde8a6565dd3ce-1 I am a great admirer of Olivia de Havilland. My brother and I were talking about her and he mentioned that she was 97 years old. I looked her up and discovered she is actually 100! Her advanced age threw me into some sort of panic and I decided that I wanted to watch a few of her movies and review them here to show my appreciation for her.

If you have had the bad luck to go through your life without knowing who Olivia de Havilland is, all that will change now as you discover that she is a legendary film actor who attained great fame during the golden age of Hollywood movies. She is versatile and beautiful. When I was a young teenager I didn’t recognize that she was the same actor from movie to movie, because she was so different in each one. But I guess there’s a certain lit-from-within quality to all her roles.

I was sitting in my friends Jen and Damian’s kitchen/living room, telling Jen about my Olivia de Havilland project. Suddenly the door to the next room opened and two bright eyes peeked out through the crack. “Did you say Olivia de Havilland? I love her!” It was their roommate Anna, who revealed herself to be a foaming fan. She spoke so charmingly and enthusiastically about her screen idol that I knew I had to video her for this blog post. (Plus, I know people don’t really like reading things but they do like watching videos.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoTUBHZEpRg&w=560&h=315]

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In the interview, Anna mentioned her time-consuming recreations of Olivia de Havilland/Myrna Loy hairstyles, and I begged her for a photo.

Now I will tell you about the movies I watched.

The Male Animal (1942)

Henry Fonda is a professor with his head in the clouds who unwittingly steps into a battle with university authorities who threaten and censor him. He also tries to give his lovely, long-suffering wife Olivia de Havilland away to another man she seems to like better.

This movie is very relevant for our current political climate, except the right wing buffoons in this movie are just loveable guys like Eugene Pallette, who like to take their pants off and wrestle. (Pallette and de Havilland are reunited here from Robin Hood, in which he plays Friar Tuck.) I’ve been curious about Pallette since I saw him in The Lady Eve; he’s such a wonderful character actor. Trivia fact: he was a racist right-wing buffoon in real life too and he built an enormous bunker/compound in which to hide from atomic warfare. But after only two years of waiting for the Russian bombs to fall, he returned to Hollywood where he did not do any more work in pictures and died of throat cancer when he was only 65.

De Havilland is marvelous as the voice of sanity in this movie. The Henry Fonda character is just like me; when he thinks he’s going to break up with his wife, the first thing he worries about is who is going to get what book from the bookshelves. The marital problems they endure are funny and realistic and basically seem like they can’t be solved because it’s 1942.

This is at least the third movie I’ve seen where Hattie McDaniel plays Olivia de Havilland’s servant. McDaniel brings so much dignity and humor to these crummy parts.

In This Our Life (1942)

I had seen this once before but forgotten all about it until I watched it again. Then I had a false memory I’d seen it in the theater, but apparently it was with my mother and brother in the same room as this time. Anyway, Olivia de Havilland (playing Roy) and Bette Davis (playing Stanley) are two sisters, one good and one bad. Stanley runs off with Roy’s husband and then drives him to suicide, oops! My wife watched the first few minutes of this with me, and when she heard later that the husband committed suicide, she commented, “I would too. Ugh, that Bette Davis!” (In real life, though, I don’t think you can drive someone to suicide just because you like to listen to records and buy nice things.) One edgy thing about this movie is the flirtatious relationship between Stanley and her uncle William (played by Charles Coburn, another great character actor from The Lady Eve. Apparently Charles Coburn was also a right-wing extreme racist bigot but he lived to a ripe old age.)

When Stanley kills a little girl in a drunk driving hit-and-run, she pins the crime on an African-American law clerk (Ernest Anderson) who is the son of their servant (Hattie McDaniel.) The police are quick to believe Stanley’s story and pay no heed to the words of the clerk and his mother. (Hattie McDaniel’s character: “He tried to tell them, but they don’t listen to no colored boy.”) This is presented very matter-of-factly because it wasn’t necessary to convince the audience that prejudice existed, only that prejudice was wrong. Today we all superficially believe that prejudice is wrong, but now deny that is exists. I won’t spoil what happens at the very end, but do you really think Stanley can get away with such wickedness without paying the ultimate price? Obviously Bette Davis’ role is more fun, but Olivia de Havilland is the absolute best at playing a good sister.

Dark Mirror (1946)

I saw this movie once before, around 2000 or even earlier, in my brother’s bedroom with my brother and mother. His bedroom and my bedroom were later transformed back into a living room via a process of bookshelf removal. So when my brother and I watched this movie again, we were actually watching it in the same room as the first time, even though everything has changed.

In an acting tour de force, Olivia plays identical twin sisters, one good one bad. The police know one of the twins is a murderer, but they don’t know which. So psychologist Lew Ayers steps in to analyze them. As soon as he gives them some ink blot tests and word association games, he sees that Terri is a lunatic! But he falls in love with Ruth and asks her out. (Bad idea!) There’s some fun identity switching and gaslighting in this movie. In the end, Ruth is strangely unmoved by the fact that her twin will be sent to the electric chair.

Devotion (1946)

A weird biopic of the Bronte sisters. It’s very harsh toward Anne Bronte—the opening says something like, “Four talented siblings... two of them had genius.” Anne also barely appears in the second half of the movie, but that’s because in real life she was actually dead by the time these events took place. I guess Hollywood felt her death would be too much of a downer so they left it out. (Anne was played by Nancy Coleman, who I’ve never seen before as far as I know.) I was also a bit surprised by the incestuous vibe between Branwell and Anne.

In this reworking of reality, Charlotte and Emily both fall in love with the same man. It’s a hackneyed way to solve the age-old question of how the Brontes could have written these torrid romantic novels when they lived such quiet lives walled up in a Yorkshire parsonage; were their books based on real experiences or did they make them up? (Duh, a little of both! Hasn’t anyone who’s examined this question ever written a novel, or been in love? Why can’t people ever let the answer to anything be “both”?)

Of course one of the sisters has to be saintly (Emily) and the other selfish and conniving (Charlotte.) Olivia de Havilland is usually cast as the good sister, so I enjoyed her being bad Charlotte, even though I don’t think it’s an accurate portrayal. De Havilland’s role is bigger, so I was puzzled that Ida Lupino got top billing as Emily. Later I learned that this was when de Havilland had sued Warner Brothers to be released from her contract, so as revenge they demoted her in the credits of this movie. Paul Heinreid plays Arthur Nicholls, with some kind of weak explanation for why this Irish curate has a Viennese accent. In this film, M. Heger (Victor Francen) has no charm at all and it’s impossible to understand why Charlotte would go for him.

I watched this one with my friend Rebecca, who is a poet. When the aunt tells Emily and Charlotte, “You’ll never get married writing poetry all the time,” Rebecca commented without rancor, “It’s true.” There was a juicy small part for Dame May Whitty, and Sidney Greenstreet plays Thackeray. Charlotte Bronte really did meet Thackeray when she went to London, but she was a shy wallflower rather than confident and socially brilliant as in the movie.

Branwell and Emily both die of “movie disease,” very swiftly and beautifully. In the final scene, Charlotte is on top of a promontory and promises to Emily’s spirit that she will have a heart, and then the camera pulls back and you see she is on a grassy tuft only about four feet off the ground, with Niccolls waiting at the bottom—what is she doing there?

The Snake Pit (1948)

One of De Havilland’s most highly regarded pictures. Her portrayal of a woman with mental illness getting electroshock treatments in a mental institution is sensitive and good-natured. Celeste Holm has a nice supporting role as her friend in the bin. This was the only one of these movies that my wife was willing to watch, and she liked it. She found the part at the end where the patients are singing to be very moving. I felt this movie was everything I was promised it would be.

The Heiress (1949)

This is one story that I feel extremely familiar with. I’ve read the Henry James novella Washington Square, seen this movie before, seen the remake, seen the revival of the stage play, and also the best version of all, Carol Burnett’s spoof “The Lady Heir.” (Which has been taken off YouTube, sorry. I also can't use any of the screen shots I took from these movies because they turned into checkerboard squares on account of copyright infringement. I'm so sorry about everything.)

Catherine Sloper (Olivia) is a shy, awkward, cringing young woman whose father doesn’t like or appreciate her. She can make witty jokes to her aunt at home, but in company Catherine is frozen and monosyllabic. Morris (Montgomery Clift) is the handsome penniless young man who’s after her fortune. Part of the delicious tension in the movie is that the viewer knows Catherine’s father is right in thinking that Montgomery Clift is an unscrupulous bounder. It’s right for Dr. Sloper to protect his daughter from him. But the father is so mean, you can’t root for him. And Montgomery Clift is so handsome and captivating, you want him and Catherine to get married even though he doesn’t really love her, only her money. Maybe he will be nicer to her than her father is. I think Morris is trying too hard when he tells Dr. Sloper that he is an “attractive father” and that offers to share his scent with him. Dr. Sloper is played by Sir Ralph Richardson (O Lucky Man!, Time Bandits, Dr. Zhivago, The Fallen Idol, Greystoke, etc.) (Spoilers ahead!)

I hadn’t seen this movie in quite a few years, and because I’ve changed, my attitude toward the film has changed. I still think it’s one of the G.O.A.T. movies, but I see it differently now. Catherine never forgives her father for his treatment of her and she refuses to see him on his deathbed. Before, I basically felt that he got what he had coming to him. Now I see this non-scene as the tragic touchstone of the story. I told my brother I had been tossing and turning all night after we watched The Heiress, and he said so had he. Catherine and her father had one chance to make up and be at peace with each other and they totally blew it. (Also, I don’t think even a century ago you could make a self-diagnosis of imminent death using a stethoscope alone.) (Also, it is very moving how they lay straw out on the street so that the noises of the carriages won’t disturb the dying man. But I don’t think they lay down enough straw; I think he could still hear the noise. When I die in post-apocalyptic horse-drawn carriage New York, I want them to absolutely blanket my intersection plus a few blocks in every direction.)

The one big difference between the novella and the movie is that in the novella, Catherine’s father disinherits because she is too proud to tell him that Morris has dumped her. But in the movie, he talks about writing her out of his will and she eggs him on, but in the end he doesn’t do it. So when Morris comes crawling back, years later, he’s not after a diminished fortune but the same thing he was after the first time. I wonder if this change was meant to make Morris look better or Dr. Sloper. I had forgotten that Catherine gives Morris some ruby cuff links when he returns, so he actually doesn’t make out that badly. When I was younger, it seemed like Catherine served Morris up the ultimate humiliation! But now I feel like, while cinematic and very exciting, what happens to him probably doesn’t feel that bad to a hardened louse like him. Who knows, maybe he’ll be back the next day? Also, Catherine had no option just to light into Morris and tell him exactly what she thinks of him, and then maybe punch him right in the snotbox. A perfect lady has to take her revenge in a passive-aggressive, mendacious way.

Finally, the last time I saw this movie I was overcome with sadness at how Catherine is condemned to live out her days broken-hearted and alone in that sumptuous house without even needlepoint to console her. But now it strikes me that she is still young, and very rich, and she has more poise and life experience than she did before. What is to stop her from going out and meeting people and perhaps falling in love again, this time with someone who actually likes her back? Or at least doing needlepoint or taking up some other hobby or interests if she feels like it? In fact, everyone is rejected and humiliated and unloved at some point in life, and her story is actually not that unique, although grippingly portrayed by a consummate actor.

My brother told me (unsolicited; I did not bring this up) that he felt the same way about The Heiress. Then when I discussed it with Anna, we had a very comical moment that didn’t make it into the video. (This segment of the interview failed to record—twice—so it really was not meant to be.) She was taken aback and wholly unconvinced by the idea that Catherine Sloper has her whole life ahead of her and all is not doomed. It also became apparent that I think Catherine Sloper is about 25 and Anna thinks she’s much older.

So I guess age actually makes a person more optimistic about certain things? Or at least makes it hard to take a certain kind of youthful misery very seriously? But there’s another way to look at it. Anna put it down to “trust”—and this part really did make it into the video, about ten minutes in. Anna believes that Catherine Sloper will never be able to trust again after the way she’s been betrayed. I realize that I’m actually still, even now, a very trusting person—I think I can usually tell who is trustworthy, and I go around trusting people all over the place. They can trust me, so why shouldn’t I trust them? So either that’s just very nice for me, aren’t I lucky? Or my rude awakening is still to come! And then finally I’ll be truly sophisticated/blasé/inconsolable/doomed. Time will tell.

Hold Back the Dawn (1941)

The first time I saw this movie was with my mother at the Watergate Hotel, just because it was on TV. The only part I really remembered, aside from how handsome Charles Boyer is, was when one of the characters goes to give birth in the US Embassy so her child will be a US citizen. This film is also extremely timely, as it covers the struggle immigrants face at the Mexican border. However, none of the aspiring immigrant characters are Mexican. They all hail from war-torn Europe. (Victor Francen, who played such an unappealing M. Heger in Devotion, appears here as an intellectual refugee.)

Charles Boyer is an enchanting Romanian bounder who makes his living sponging off of rich women, a serially kept man. Now he wants to enter the US, so he sets his sight on marrying a US citizen. He quickly meets adorably naive school teacher Olivia de Havilland, and they marry within 24 hours. I would marry Charles Boyer instantaneously too if that was the only way I could get my hands on him, so this seemed believable to me. His irresistibility is stark realism. In a way the plot is very similar to The Heiress. The tale is told from Boyer’s point of view, and the audience is rooting the whole time for him to get away with it and charm his way over the border. If a movie like this were made today, the character would have to be tiresomely hard-working and noble before the viewers would be allowed to sympathize with him. A movie like this really highlights how prejudice against immigrants has increased.

Charles Boyer’s character isn’t all bad, so naturally he doesn’t want to actually deflower his bride. But Olivia de Havilland is just so nice and pretty that what can he do? It’s the “Convenient Marriage” trope. Of course American sweetness conquers jaded European cynicism, but just as Charles Boyer is falling in love with her, Olivia de Havilland discovers she’s being used and takes off. Fortunately, it is incredibly easy to break through the border (all you have to do is not stop when they ask you to stop) and there’s a very kind immigration agent (played by Walter Abel whom you will recognize from Mr. Skeffington) who helps the star-crossed couple reunite in the USA.

 My Cousin Rachel (1952)

Olivia was nominated for a Golden Globe but not an Oscar for this picture. I don’t think this is one of her best known movies but I was gagging to see it because Daphne du Maurier, who wrote the book the film was based on, is one of my favorite writers. The beautiful but sinister and scheming “older” woman (“she must be 35,” says her jealous rival) is an absolutely fabulous part, and Olivia de Havilland was perfect for it. The whole way through the film it is unclear if the title character Rachel is an evil murderess or if she’s simply somewhat manipulative and grasping in a perfectly reasonable way. “My beautiful torment,” the main character (Richard Burton) calls her. In one terrific sequence, Rachel seduces and then repudiates this young main character.

My wife Áine wandered in just in time for the climactic final scene, but when I asked her who she thought wrote the story, she knew it was du Maurier because it’s SO HER. As with The Heiress, I thought, this main character is only 25 years old. I think he will be able to get over Rachel and meet someone else if he wants to. Apparently to really capture my sympathies now, the protagonist has to be middle-aged. I think basically at this point in my life I am more interested in the problems of middle-aged people than I am in the love stories of very young people. (That’s probably a very damning thing to admit in my YA writer blog, but no one’s going to read this far anyway so it’s okay.) I read there is a new film version of My Cousin Rachel in the offing, which I look forward to.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

I initially had no interest in watching Robin Hood, but I was swayed by Anna’s rapturous description of it, and I’m so glad I changed my mind. This movie is a whale of a good time. The acting, accents, swordfighting, costumes, archery, vine-climbing, music, and even the laughing are ridiculously over the top and delightful. There’s an all-star supporting cast including Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone. This was my first introduction to the pulchritude that is Errol Flynn. De Havilland’s part is negligible, as all she has to do is look fetching in different headgear, but she more than makes the most of it.

After I watched Robin Hood, I realized that I had to make my “round up” of de Havilland’s movies a two-parter so that I could watch more of the Olivia-Errol movies, and just in general not do a rush job like I always do. I’m a little worried that Olivia de Havilland will die on me before I get to the second part. But, you know, I’m always thinking, “I have to do xyz before so-and-so dies.” I think it’s time for me to begin just observing that I am having that thought rather than actually acting on it. It’s not up to me who dies when, and no amount of magical thinking is going to give me control in this area. So I am looking forward to watching the Errol Flynn movies as well as To Each His Own, Lady in the Cage, It’s Love I’m After, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, Light in the Piazza, and a made-for-TV Agatha Christie movie Murder Is Easy.

Books and people that are 100

My local newspaper, the Highlands Current, asked to interview me, really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Unless there's some late breaking arts and culture news in Beacon, Cold Spring, Garrison or environs, I think it will come out on Friday. The writer, Alison Rooney, was very nice and asked me a lot of thought-provoking questions. In particular, she asked me what I was working on lately, and when I said I had been reviewing the books of 1916, she wanted to know where these reviews could be found. I realized then that I had been too furtive to ever mention this project here on my website. But I'm coming clean about it now: I like to review the books of a hundred years ago, here. Alison also thoughtfully came up with an idea for a novel for me to write: a person who reviews the books of a hundred years ago makes disparaging remarks about a long-dead writer and then is haunted by the ghost of that writer. (I know just what writer it would be, too: Stella Benson.)

We also talked a little bit about Olivia de Havilland and how amazing she is. Because she is 100 years old and her time left on this earth may be somewhat limited, I would like to appreciate Olivia de Havilland while she is still alive, so my next blog post will be a round-up of some of her movies. I'm going to try to watch two per week for the next seven weeks. I've picked out my favorites plus a few I've never seen. We'll see if I can keep up with this grueling schedule, but whatever the results are, I'll share them with you. I think I'm going to watch them in reverse chronological order, beginning with Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte and ending with A Midsummer Night's Dream, but there might be some logistical reason for me to deviate from that course. I guess I could go alphabetically instead. I also plan to interview an Olivia de Havilland superfan. So although I don't want to oversell it, I do anticipate this will be my greatest blog post of all time.

Moon Dust Will Cover You

tumblr_m63xh9vuWY1qffnzto1_500 About two years ago I was walking home when I suddenly realized that David Bowie would die someday. I started crying. What I took away from this incident was the resolution that I should start taking testosterone because I believed that men and other people on T don’t often burst into tears in the middle of the street. I never did anything about taking testosterone though because it’s seemed too hard, and I didn’t do anything to try to reconcile myself to David Bowie’s impending death. We still had plenty of time, I thought.

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So you see, I hadn’t even realized what I thought I had realized. A week ago when I found out about David Bowie’s death, I was as shocked and horrified as everyone else. Impossible! Someday, maybe, but not now, when he was still so young, and just had a new album out, and still had a child at home, and no one was ready for this. I have to keep learning over and over that everyone I love can be taken away from me at any moment. No matter how deeply this lesson sears itself into my soul each time, I can’t seem to generalize it. It’s the most important thing there is to know and yet somehow it keeps slipping away from me.

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As Noel Gallagher said last year, “No Bowie, no point getting up in the morning.” Bowie was one of my spiritual fathers. I never got the impression that he was a nice guy or that I would want to meet him, but his music means the world to me. Most of his songs are essentially science fiction, rather than boring love songs. And his voice! He had such a big range. I have a lot of auditory sensory problems, which is mostly unhelpful, but one of the good things is what I call “David Bowie synesthesia”—when I hear his voice, I hear a sparkly textured color that is hard to describe and apparently other people don’t have this experience.

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His creative process inspired me.

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I love how he created different personas, and used artifice to say the truest things.

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He is actually a work of art.

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On days when I can’t get out of bed, Ziggy Stardust is the way forward.

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On days when everything is marvelous, David Bowie’s music makes it more marvelous.

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The way that Bill Clinton was called the first black president before white people could conceive of an actual black president, David Bowie stood in as the first transgender pop star even though he wasn’t really.

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He occupied a special place in the pantheon for me and so many other people as a role model of being a relaxed bisexual/pansexual person.

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He was like an alien messenger from a place with no limits.

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And what an unparalleled sense of style! I could look at photos of him all day. He was gorgeous, from first to last. How could an emaciated snaggle-toothed Englishman become so glamorous?

I was thinking a lot about how many people must be devastated. There are all these ardent fans on Tumblr, who I judge to be about fifteen years old, whose lives must be torn apart into tiny shreds and whose parents can’t possibly comprehend what they’re going through. There are the musicians, most obviously Morrissey, who were inspired by Bowie and who are his musical heirs. I can’t imagine how they feel, but there’s no way it’s good. And then of course the people who are really hurting are his widow, Iman, and his two children, one grown and one still a kid, and the other people who were close to him. My heart really goes out to them.

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As soon as I learned about David Bowie’s death, I started a “media holiday” which lasted eight days. No Facebook, no Tumblr, no news sites. I didn’t want to read what other people had to say about him. Death and loss are so hard to talk about; people say all kinds of dumb things. (This is me taking my turn.) I really really didn’t want to read it. However, one day when I was talking with my brother, he showed me an article that a friend of his had written about Project Runway. That seemed harmless, so I read it. On the side of the screen as a I scrolled down was a link to another article: “Remembering Bowie: The Man, The Legend, The Sexual Abuser.”

I've known dozens of people who have been sexually abused, and many of them have been silenced, dismissed, or told they were lying. I know zero people who have made false accusations. The data backs up my anecdotal evidence: false accusations are grossly outnumbered by actual sexual abuse. For personal and feminist reasons, I always believe the accuser (with one exception so far in this lifetime where I’m doubtful.) Therefore I didn’t even have to read the article before I mentally judged David Bowie and found him guilty, and everything changed.

About eight hours later I knuckled under and read the article, which was well-written and nuanced and by a Bowie fan. The actual facts were 1) in 1987 a woman charged David Bowie with rape but the case was dismissed by a grand jury and did not go forward 2) statutory rape of a girl in the 13-15 years old range, very early in his career.

In the past, I have always completely written off any sexual abuser. I believe that sexual abusers need sympathy and understanding just like everyone else, but it doesn’t have to come from me. I live in a culture that treats sexual abuse like it’s trivial and makes excuses for predators, and I am not going to jump on that bandwagon.

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This was the first time that I felt the dilemma that I have always heard others express and never understood. I didn’t want to write off David Bowie, and in fact, I could not. I couldn’t say, “I love his music but hate him as a person,” because it’s not true. If I only loved his music, I wouldn’t have felt completely gutted that he died, because his music hasn’t gone anywhere.

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I acknowledge I am extremely lucky that this is the first time someone I have taken into my heart and given unconditional love to has turned out to be a sexual abuser. Most commonly it is an actual relative instead of “my spiritual father” who I didn’t even know. I talked to my wife about this, and she said this situation is not something you can solve in a minute by either dismissing and saying it doesn’t matter or by turning against David Bowie and throwing all the pictures and DVDs and buttons in the fire. It’s something you have to sit with, and just acknowledge that this awful thing exists. It strikes a very tender place in me. There’s the me who is so guarded against attack from predatory men, a danger that is very real. And then there’s the me who is just full of love and feels trusting and open, and somehow I ended up in the wrong place. Being a fangirl is a huge part of my character and I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t just be my own fangirl and stop bestowing my admiration on others, if they’re going to be such fucking pigs.

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It really changes the way I see David Bowie. What if instead of being a happy bisexual icon who loved freedom he was a tortured sex addict who felt compelled to shag anything that moved?

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My wife and some friends and I are going to learn some Bowie songs so we can play not so much a show as a protest against his death, just for our friends in a rehearsal space. I had this idea before I read about the sexual abuse history and then I wasn’t so sure, but it turns out I still really want to do this. Maybe it will feel like righting a wrong; maybe we will be our own fangirls; maybe it will soothe my heart.

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Flash sale of Maxine Wore Black

Just a quick note to let you know that my publisher Bold Strokes Books is having a flash sale this weekend on my most recent novel Maxine Wore Black, in honor of the fact that it won a Gold Medal from the Moonbeam Children's Book Awards in the Young Adult - Mature Themes category. (Yes, "mature themes" makes me smile.) Bold Strokes Books entered my novel into the contest, so the whole thing was a complete surprise to me. If you would like to buy the paperback for $9.99 instead of $13.99 (or the ebook for $3.99 instead of $7.99), today is your day! Buying directly from the publisher is a great way to support LGBTQ small presses and, cough, me. Maxine Wore Black is my YA retelling of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca with a transgender lesbian main character. So it's a gothic story of murder, jealousy, and deceit that's not completely inappropriate for Halloween.

Bragging

  1. Maxine Wore Black 300 DPIMy most recent novel, Maxine Wore Black, was published in October 2014 by Bold Strokes Books/Soliloquy. It is a YA retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca starring transgender and lesbian protagonists.
  1. My previous novel, Frenemy of The People, won the Bisexual Book Award in the YA category. I can’t believe I won a literary award!11377172_10206780356889041_3016150573907273381_n
  2. Maxine Wore Black received an American Library Association review that said it was “recommended for public libraries.”
  1. I was one of the readers at a really awesome Bold Strokes Books reading at Bureau of General Services-Queer Division (NYC’s most magnificent and only queer bookstore.) Only one person fainted.bsb bgs-qd 2
  2. Frenemy of The People is also a finalist for the Goldie (Golden Crown Literary Society Award) in the YA category.

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I could say more, but I think you get the general idea!

Much love,

Nora

Taking a hack at a great classic, what was I thinking?

Maxine Wore Black 300 DPI I’ve been too shy to mention it much, but I have a new book coming out on October 14. It’s called MAXINE WORE BLACK and it is my YA homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, with a lesbian and transgender cast. You don’t have to have read Rebecca in order to enjoy my book, but really, why wouldn’t you want to read Rebecca?

rebecca

It should go without saying that I love Rebecca (as well as some of Daphne du Maurier’s other books which are less well-known, such as My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat, I’ll Never Be Young Again, and her short story collection The Blue Lenses.) But it’s always a curiosity why people decide to write a “retelling” of a story, so I thought I’d explain what my thinking was. First of all, the term retelling is usually applied to mythic folk tales where most people don’t know who came up with the story in the first place (like Sleeping Beauty.) But I think Rebecca has such a legendary status that it is fair to place it in this category along with fairy tales. It’s always fun to “queer” a classic tale, especially in a case like this where the original storyteller was either in the closet or offering up coded gay content, because then it feels like you’re righting a historical wrong. Doing a retelling was fun because almost every character and situation and element I chose has an analogue in Rebecca.

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Brilliant lesbian YA writer Malinda Lo shared on her blog a very entertaining answer to a letter she received from a college student asking why she changed Cinderella “into a story involving homosexuality” when Cinderella is such an iconic heterosexual story. Lo said, “Ash is a retelling of Cinderella. The purpose of a retelling is to change the story, to reimagine it with a different angle. If I hadn’t changed the story in some way, it wouldn’t be a retelling. It would be the same.” So what I want to tell you about is me changing the story of Rebecca.

I hadn’t read Rebecca in years when my girlfriend and I decided to read it out loud to each other. The two things that struck me about that experience were 1) how much time du Maurier spends describing flowers, which isn’t that noticeable until you have to read it all aloud and 2) how awful Maxim is!

(Some spoilers of both Rebecca and MAXINE WORE BLACK ahead!)

As a child, I was extremely taken with Maxim and how witty and debonair he was. As an adult, I can’t help noticing that he’s verbally abusive and creepy and threatening to the narrator. And essentially he killed his first wife for being unpleasant and unfaithful to him. Is that any kind of way to behave? Why am I rooting for this perpetrator to get away with it? Doesn’t the narrator deserve better? How can a favorite book have this poisonous role model of an unhealthy reationship being sold as romantic? How is a feminist supposed to reconcile all this?

Then my brother told he had read a biography of Daphne du Maurier which said she knew very well how unpleasant and abusive Maxim was. Well, of course she did! She wrote the character and she was a genius! I should have known. In fact, du Maurier was very surprised by how the public latched onto Maxim as a romantic hero. They uncritically swallowed the point of view of her narrator, who was madly in love with Maxim. Du Maurier does my favorite thing, having her characters express one viewpoint while she as author tries to show another point of view through the story alone. (By the way I am also fully aware that this story shows how lazy I am. I simply listened to what my brother said and never read the biography myself.)

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I decided I would do a retelling where the Maxim character’s true nature is made transparent, and the main character gets an actual happy ending. The next question is why did I decide to make my main character transgender. My initial thinking was very simple, even naive: I wanted to promote diversity in YA novels. There are very few YA novels with transgender characters, and these novels almost always revolve around the character’s transition and coming out journey. I wanted to write a novel where the character’s transition was in the past and her identity as transgender was an integral part of who she was but not the focus of the story. I had a slight interest in educating cisgender teens about transgender issues and combating stereotypes, but I mainly wanted to create a fun and affirming story that a transgender teen could pick up that would validate their reality. So they could say, wow, here is a book about a person like me. I can be the hero of the story. That was the reader I was writing to.

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I also gave myself a difficult task because I wanted to describe an abusive relationship without having my transgender protagonist getting roughed up. Most YA novels with transgender characters have a part where that character gets beaten up. That’s partly because unfortunately that is a thing that happens in the real world but I think also because YA is in an Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe kind of place.

To unpack this a little: Harriet Beecher Stowe was a white person writing about African-American characters at a time when this was groundbreaking; most writers of transgender-themed YA novels are cisgender and it’s seen as groundbreaking for them to write about transgender characters. Harriet Beecher Stowe created very tragic storylines for her African-American characters to rouse sympathy for the abolitionist cause in a white reading public. Maybe some YA writers have a similar idea; I don’t know because I’m not a mind-reader. I do not mean that YA novels with transgender characters are bigoted, condescending, or stereotypical the way Uncle Tom’s Cabin is. It’s just that I often see this pattern of a minority group being portrayed first as a joke, then as a tragedy, then as a wisecracking sidekick or “very special episode” and finally as a full-fledged hero with a rich and complex backstory. I believe for transgender YA fiction we are mostly in the “tragic” phase now. I can’t wait to move on. I cannot wait for the day there are tons of YA novels about transgender characters and 90% of them are written by transgender authors and they’re all amazing and everyone is laughing at me and how passé and superfluous MAXINE WORE BLACK is. That is my dream, and the sooner the better. And just to be clear, I have great respect for these other YA writers with transgender-themed novels. It’s not a contest, yet I know all of them are better writers than I am. I just personally find the beat-up scenes a bit of a downer and I wanted to do something different. I tried to go for a breezy gothic thriller feel, just like the original Rebecca. It’s a little serious, but not too serious.

There is another reason why I think Rebecca is a superb choice for a transgender and lesbian retelling. This is back to righting a historical wrong and the coded queer subtext. Daphne du Maurier had a husband and three children, a non-sexual romantic relationship with Ellen Doubleday, and a sexual and romantic relationship with Gertrude Lawrence, leading contemporary biographers to characterize her as bisexual. (Or as a lesbian. Because bisexuality and pansexuality get erased.) But in her lifetime Daphne du Maurier was very firm in saying that she was not a lesbian. In a letter to Ellen Doubleday she said, "By God and by Christ, if anyone should call [our] love by that unattractive word that begins with 'L', I'd tear their guts out."

The most obvious way to interpret this is as very sad internalized homophobia on du Maurier’s part. Her father was extremely homophobic and so was the society she lived in; is it any wonder she would feel that way? But I also believe it should be up to people themselves to define their sexual orientation, and not to have labels slapped on them by other people. And I think there’s another reason in addition to internalized homophobia why du Maurier did not see herself as a lesbian. She saw herself as partly a man, or as neither male nor female. In another letter to Ellen Doubleday she wrote,

“Imagine D. du M. as a little girl… and growing up with a boy’s mind and a boy’s heart…. And then the boy realised he had to grow up and not be a boy any longer, so he turned into a girl, and not an unattractive one at that, and the boy was locked in a box forever….. But when she found Menabilly and lived in it alone, she opened the box sometimes and let the phantom, who was neither girl nor boy but disembodied spirit, dance in the evening when there was no one to see.”

This is more label-slapping, but today we would describe this identification and these feelings as transgender (or gender non-conforming or gender fluid), terms that du Maurier didn’t have. So I hope to honor this part of Daphne du Maurier with my book.

I’m now joining a club that’s larger than you’d think, the club of people who have written homages/retellings/sequels to Rebecca. There’s Rebecca’s Tale by Sally Beauman and Mrs. De Winter by Susan Hill. In the last few years there have been several YA retellings: Thorn Abbey by Nancy Ohlin, New Girl by Paige Harbison, and my personal favorite, Timothy by Greg Herren, which is a gay YA Rebecca retelling published by my very same publisher, Bold Strokes Books’ Soliloquy imprint. (If you like my book, I think you would like Timothy, and vice versa.)13587110

Many people know about Rebecca principally from the 1940 Hitchcock movie. I told my brother I was going to write a blog post about writing MAXINE WORE BLACK, and he said I should be sure to mention that Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick’s big concern was the title, which he thought would make it sound like it was “about a Jewess.” So that is just a little hint of the zeitgeist of 1940 for you.

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I like to end my blog posts by praising a living writer. I asked my brother who I should pick, and he said Lois Duncan because she is our contemporary Daphne du Maurier. He is totally right. I love Lois Duncan, and her chilling, suspenseful YA tales have a lot in common with du Maurier. Next time I will go into more details about Lois Duncan and how great she is, but for now I will let you get back to whatever you were doing before.

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You only need to know three things. queer teen lit posterFirst thing is, I will be reading at Bluestockings Bookstore in New York's Lower East Side on Tuesday May 20 at 7pm. I will be reading alongside two talented young writers whom I admire very much: Jeremy Jordan King, a fellow Bold Strokes Books author who has a really killer gay YA paranormal romance series, and Elliott DeLine, the author of two luminous and powerful transgender coming of age novels. When these two writers are really old and there are lots of posters up in community centers with their quotations on them and kids always have to read their books for the summer reading program and their faces are on the Barnes & Noble bag*, all the intellectuals will be saying, "Yes, yes, I followed their careers since the early days, since 2014." So this is your chance to make it true when you say that years from now.

*okay, that's not gonna happen; Barnes & Noble will be out of business before you can say jack robinson and I find it hard to feel sorry for them.

This reading at Bluestockings is also the launch event for Frenemy of the People. Frenemy is now available for sale wherever fine books are sold on the internet (like here for example), but the reading will be your first chance to buy it in a store and get it signed. So it should be very festive, and I guarantee a high level of literary awesomeness, if not from me then definitely from those other two. Bluestockings is a really terrific store and it will always have a place right in the center of my heart because it brought me and my girlfriend Aine together, many many years ago. My apologies to folks who can't make it to NYC. It's gonna suck to be you on May 20 at 7pm.

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Second thing you need to know is, my lesbian science fiction YA novel Swans & Klons is available as an audiobook from audible.com. I can't believe I didn't tell you that before! I am really pleased about this. You know how I always said that my target audience was all sighted people who can read English? Well, now my target audience is anyone who can read or understand English. I am really happy that Swans & Klons is now accessible to people who are blind, visually impaired, and dyslexic, as well as folks who need something to listen to during their long commute or who just plain like audio books. I think the actor, Rachel Butera, who read it did a really terrific job and she has a cool voice. You can listen to a free sample if you follow the link above.

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Third thing, you need to know about Jeannette Eyerly. My plan was to end every blog post praising a living writer instead of saving all the appreciation for after their death. But I have to deviate from this a little to talk about Eyerly, who died in 2008 at the age of 100. If, like me, you grew up in the '70s and '80s, you probably have vivid memories of her YA novels such as Radigan Cares; The Phaedra Complex; He's My Baby, Now; and See Dave Run. They were gritty, even lurid, "problem novels." See Dave Run for example is just a list of TRIGGER WARNINGS, as it covers parental abuse, running away from home, STDs, "sleeping with"/being molested by an older woman, and suicide. (And it's a smidge homophobic too, so don't read it when you're feeling fragile.) Why am I singing the praises of this writer? Because she's amazing! When I first read these books I was a pre-teen and I thought, "Wow! This is the real deal!" Then I read them as a sulky teen and I thought, "Oh, COME on!" (But I kept reading them.) Then just recently I re-read See Dave Run, and I was totally blown away by her narrative ability. (The story is told by all these different people who knew Dave, not by Dave himself. Guess why?) And you know how old Jeannette Eyerly was when she wrote this novel? SEVENTY years old! So I give her a free pass for being a little hyperbolic about the perils of the teen years. Anyway, her papers are archived at the University of Iowa, where she went to college, so if I'm ever in the area I will check them out.

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New Book And More

When you don't write a blog post for nine months, you have a lot to say. This post is therefore as big as a baby.

I'm really excited to show you the cover of my next book, coming out in May from Bold Strokes Books' Soliloquy imprint.Frenemy of the People 300 DPIIt's about two high school girls who hate each other with the passion of ten thousand suns--until they fall in love. You can enter a giveaway here.

Now here's a photo of a bunch of handsome guys.

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This is from a speculative fiction reading at Odradreks Coffeehouse in Queens, organized by Andy Peters and the REZ Reading Series. I got to read with these talented writers: Dan W. Kelly, Tim Fredrick, Charlie Vazquez and Andy. It was really fun and the audience was very nice.

120227_PL_TheSlateBookReviewNext, I am delighted to be underrated! Swans & Klons was listed in the Slate Book Review as one of the most underrated books of 2013, by that same discerning book reviewer Noah Berlatsky who touted me in the Atlantic.

My brother is very brainy, so when he read this, he immediately compared me to Barbara Pym, since both Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil considered her the most underrated writer of the 20th century (in a Times Literary Supplement article in 1977 that revitalized Barbara Pym's career). After that my head got so big I could no longer fit through the door. Then he (my brother, not Lord David Cecil) asked me an interesting question: who did I consider to be the most underrrated writer?

As I lay awake night after night, I gave this a lot of thought. I decided only to look within my own genre (QUILTBAG YA), just to narrow it down a little. I finally concluded that the most underrrated writer is Stacey Donovan, who wrote Dive.

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Dive is a beautiful YA novel of the highest quality about coping with a parent's terminal illness and falling for a girl. That covers why she's awesome, now let's talk about why she is underrated. Dive received great reviews when it came out in 1994 from periodicals I would never even dream about, like the New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, School Library Journal and so forth. Most writers don't get that much buzz. But then the book went out of print. The author put it back in print and then it went out of print again. At the time that I mentally crowned Stacey Donovan as the most underrated QUILTBAG YA writer, she had no online presence whatsoever and it seemed that the book was out of print. From a google search it was unclear if she had ever written any other books or was even still alive. So I picked her because even though I know of other YA writers who are equally talented and have gotten less acclaim, they are still starting out on their careers so it would be premature to choose them, while it appeared to me that Stacey Donovan's career was over. Well, I'm not ashamed to tell you how incredibly wrong I was, because Dive is back in print with a lovely, very contemporary-looking new cover and Stacey Donovan now has a very nice website (or maybe she had it all along but I couldn't find it even though I was looking.) Still, I'm not changing my pick, because Dive really is that great (I highly recommend it) and I never hear anyone talking about it and they should. There were just seven YA novels with LGBTQ themes or characters published in 1994, and I want to give props where they are deserved to the writers who were on the vanguard. Historical value combined with enduring literary merit is a pretty awesome combination.

I actually have some exciting news, but I am going to keep it behind my back for now and save it for another post very soon.

SWANS & KLONS Review Round-Up

Now that Swans & Klons has been out for a month, here is a review round-up! First of all, Swans & Klons was mentioned in a major (online) publication, TheAtlantic.com!

“. . . I'll be sitting here contemplating Nora Olsen's Swans & Klons, a YA lesbian sci-fi novel that's one of the best piece of new fiction I've read in a long time, but which no mainstream publication will pay me to write about because it doesn't have a massive marketing budget and everybody else hasn't already written about it.”

-Noah Berlatsky, The Atlantic

George R.R. Martin is sad because The Atlantic article said his books are no good, whereas Swans & Klons is great.

Swans & Klons was also listed in a USA Today (online) compilation of paranormal romances. Pretty cool, especially since Swans & Klons isn’t paranormal!

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Writers always hope to make it into Kirkus Reviews, and I was that lucky.

"In an idyllic all-female future, Rubric and Salmon Jo’s luxurious life is disrupted by their Utopia’s dark side."

-Kirkus Reviews

Now let’s see what the blogosphere has to say about Swans & Klons.

That same discerning writer from The Atlantic wrote in his blog/online magazine:

Perhaps because her queer themes are more acknowledged and controlled, she’s able to tell a YA story that isn’t about growing up to know the truth of difference (“Vampires are real!”  Magic is real!”) Instead, Swans & Klons urges its readers to define humanity as broadly and generously as possible, so that it includes adults, and children, and everyone on the margins.

-Noah Berlatsky, The Hooded Utilitarian

And the rest!

[Rubric and Salmon Jo] wonder whether it’s worth fighting a seemingly impossible battle, whether things are really as bad as they think, whether the “other side” is really any better, etc. Revolution is not an easy or peaceful process. Even trying to imagine or work towards it is messy and exhausting. I liked that Swans & Klons didn’t offer easy answers. . . And at the very end, I liked the none-of-the-above, open-ended conclusion. It left some questions, and there is definitely a whole other story ahead of them (not one that’s going to be, or necessarily needs to be, written, but still), but I found it to be satisfying, especially considering how ambitious it is to fit a story about a whole dystopian society into such a slim book.

-Danika, The Lesbrary

The author has created a world which is vividly described and well thought through.  The book covers some serious social issues but they are subtly handled.

-Susan, Hearts On Fireheartfire

I love it when society is the villain. . . It makes you feel suffocated, like there's no way the main characters can win. Yet they pull out some how. . . Lastly, the last few pages made my heart hammer.

-Kelly Matherly, Read It In HoustonCartoonMe-last-01

[A] fully realized science fiction world where two energetic, hopeful young characters try to make political change and find adventure. . . . It's a high stakes but high spirited adventure, and I recommend it for yourself and the teens in your life: it holds together well, with just the right mix of realistic teenage love and a fascinating speculative world. And Olsen leaves an opening for more adventures!

-Meredith Sue Willis, Books For Readers

So far, in my reading experience, this is a unique plot and I always enjoy running into that.  This is another novel with a strong female protagonist, even if she doubted herself. Rubric and Salmon Jo both have a lot of personality and complement each other perfectly. . . Pacing in this one is quick and easily flows from page to page. (This could easily be read in one sitting.) . . This is a great novel for teens (and a lot of adults too) since it is a story about self identity and getting to know and appreciate oneself. If there are more books to follow I will pick them up without question and I recommend this one.

-Shannon Pease, Addicted to Books

I have to say, I'm quite impressed by this book. It falls in two of my favorite book genres- dystopian and LGBT. . . I am a huge fan of dystopian fiction, and this is the first book I have ever encountered with such a strong queer theme. It gave the novel a very unique plot line, and will make it stand out in my mind.

Because of the lesbian motif of Swans and Klons, I found it more relatable than most other books of the same genre. I was able to more vividly experience Rubric's emotions- from love to separation and grief- since they were emotions directed at a female. I often thought of my own girlfriend and myself in their place.

As with other dystopian novels, I like this book because it was disturbing. Books with futures that are almost utopias scare me more than horror books ever could, and this one was no exception. The unique twist of genetically identical people being created only to be slaves is creepy, at the very least, though I mean it in the best way possible.

I sincerely hope that Swans and Klons is the first book in a series, or at least a two-parter. Nora Olsen has made a new fan in me with her new, queer-friendly take on dystopian fiction. Fans of books such as Beta or Uglies should check this book out.

-Jillyn, Bitches N’ Prose

This is a quick, fun read.  The characters are a little quirky and their relationship fantastic (no angst, no unwarranted fights or wafflings of affections, no love triangles, just a nice, functional relationship).

-Jessica Strider, Sci-Fi Fan Letter

There is a lot to like in “Swans and Klons.” In Salmon Jo and Rubric’s native land, “Society,” author Nora Olsen has created a future without poverty or war, yet nobody seems to have any spiritual fulfillment or real happiness either. . .  I think female tween and young teen readers will feel empowered by this world without men. Some young male readers could be less enthralled, but I think the story’s adventure–with massive explosions–is strong enough to keep them interested.

[Rubric and Salmon Jo] face danger together; they argue and annoy each other and make up, just like any other real couple–straight or gay. Author Nora Olsen has set a goal to write entertaining books where LGBTQ teens can see themselves in the starring role. In writing “Swans & Klons,” she has created a book where two girls can love each other, kiss and hold hands openly. The only pointlet I would make here is that in Society, there are no other choices. Their healthy, sharing relationship promotes a positive image for lesbian teens, but in Society, you’re either lesbian, or you’re single: it’s a totally safe world, unlike the worlds many LGBTQ teen readers inhabit.

At day’s end, “Swans and Klons” is a fast, imaginative journey through a unique fantasy world teens will love. Bonus points to Ms. Olsen for sneaking in additional depth we way-the-hell-beyond-Y-A readers can geek out over.

-Tom Sanchez, [okay, the name of this blog cracks me up. It has the very serious title “St. Petersburg Book and Film Review,” but the address is: http://booksandmoviesandcrap.com/2013/05/04/swans-and-klons-by-nora-olsen-2013/]

This book has a wonderful plot that takes readers on a journey of self-discovery, and shows what happens when the basic principal you have been taught all your life turns out to be a lie.

-Jennifer Lavoie, True Colorz

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I’ve focused on the positive, but I’m honest so here are some negative excerpts from reviews as well.

Salmon Jo. The girlfriend is called Salmon Joe. Isn't a salmon a fish?. . . What made it worse was that because it was written in the third person and everyone was a girl, Olsen had to use their names to distinguish one from the other - hence even more 'Salmon Jo'. I just...I lost my patience, hearing Rubric go on and on about this fish.

-Nina, Project Read and Review

Rubric and her girlfriend Salmon Jo (and can we take a moment to comment on that name? It’s strange and I keep reading about a fish!) break into a laboratory where they discover that their world isn’t nearly as perfect as they had thought, and they decide to take action by rescuing the Klons. . . I didn’t hate the book, but it really didn’t strike me as anything more than just “okay”.

-Laureen, Ms. Bibliophile

The world Olsen creates is interesting, but never really unique. It reminds me of some very old science fiction stories and movies. The Panna’s are very pampered and sheltered, and that causes the story to feel a little like a boarding school story. . .

I think it is interesting that all Pannas have a noun and name combo, but I could never decide if the “L” was pronounced in Salmon Jo’s name or not. . . Final Verdict: An ok novel that doesn’t disappoint, but doesn’t provide a thrill either.

-Lynne, http://francesandlynne.wordpress.com

There you have it!

Swans & Klons giveaway

Here's your chance to win a free copy of my upcoming novel Swans & Klons on Goodreads! Enter by clicking here.

You could be the lucky winner!

In other news, I'll be at the Rainbow Book Fair in NYC this Saturday (April 13th.) I've been attending this event for a few years, and I always have a great time because there are so many tables with great books and free swag, and the reading series is also very diverse and interesting. It's at a new location this year, the Holiday Inn on W. 57th Street, and I'm curious what that will be like. I will be at the Bold Strokes Books table from noon to 1pm, so if you want to drop by and say hello, don't be shy.

I've been enjoying Gizoogle--a parody search engine that translates web pages into exaggerated thuggy slang. (If that doesn't make sense, just go try it. But a warning!: There is bad language, so don't do this if you're too young to look at the F-word.) Because search engines make everyone monumentally self-involved (or is it just me?), I most enjoy Gizoogling myself and my books. For example, my Gizoogled FAQ web page says,

Q. Nora, what tha f*** is yo' book Da End about?

A. Julia n' her playaz grill tha unthinkable, a ghetto destroyed by nuclear war.  These five queer teens bust magical amulets ta travel all up in time, desperately tryin ta save humanitizzle from total destruction.

Q fo' realz. Is you available fo' readings n' school visits?

A. Why, yes muthaf****! I be also aiiight ta conduct freestylin workshops or hook up wit yo' school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. If yo ass is horny bout havin me do a school visit or reading, just drop a note at Contact Me.

Q. Can I gots a review copy of yo' book?

A fo' realz. Absolutely, if you gotz a funky-ass B-ta-tha-L-O-Gizzay or other venue where you wanna ta post yo' honest opinion of tha book.

Q. Do you have any cats?

A. Yes, mah hoe n' I have two cats, n' you can put dat on yo' toast. Look at how tha f*** thugged-out they is biaaatch! I be a gangsta yo, but y'all knew dat n' mah babies!

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I don't think anyone on earth talks like Gizoogle except Snoop Dogg so my initial reaction was that Gizoogle is not offensive. But, eh, now I'm feeling a little uneasy. What do you think? Is Gizoogle racist? Is this funny or not? I need to know your thoughts.

Swans & Klons coming soon!

I'm really excited because the publication of my new novel Swans & Klons is just around the corner. (In May!) Swans & Klons 300 DPI

Swans & Klons has already received some reviews that made me really happy. The first one was a very thoughtful and in-depth review from Djibril al-Ayad at The Future Fire Reviews. (The same good people who create the awesome Future Fire magazine also run a review site for speculative fiction from small and indie presses.) Here's an excerpt:

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Swans and Klons. . . is a light-hearted, fast-paced adventure in the utopia-turns-to-dystopia mould. The story follows two rebellious young girls, lovers, in a women-only world where all reproduction is performed via cloning, and a life of luxury, freedom, high culture and learning is supported by a large labor-pool of genetically inferior slave workers, as they fight to undermine their own privileged place in this society. . . . [T]his is a strikingly readable novel with appealing characters and an engaging premise that should keep young readers interested, whether the girls Olsen is specifically targeting who “can see themselves reflected in” a queer narrative, or a more general, open-minded readership.

This is a World Without Men (WWM) of one of the classic types: human males were all but wiped out by a genetic disease, and have been replaced by reproductive technologies through which children are created without the need for either copulation or pregnancy. There is a certain Russ-esque cheerfulness to the way the last surviving men from this historic pandemic are casually referred to as “cretinous males”, and the girls in this story have a horrified fascination with the very idea of male sex or reproduction.

The most effective literary dystopia is that which is not obviously dystopian to all, one where an idyllic life for the privileged class is possible not despite, but because of the terrible oppression of an underclass. . . This travesty, only slowly revealed to the reader, is the injustice upon which the cleverly executed conflict of the entire novel is built. . . This is a powerful story, told by sympathetic but not perfect protagonists, and with both truly frustrating challenges and enough optimistic moments to leave the idea that real change is possible.

Nora Olsen lists her goal as writing “thrilling stories and novels [for] LGBTQ teens”, and this novel certainly normalizes the lesbian relationships without fanfare or angst, but I think it’s also an accessible enough story that it should be popular with a general YA readership as well.

-Djibril al-Ayad

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The second review of Swans & Klons was from Queer YA. I follow this site religiously, because the reviewer Daisy Porter is very sophisticated, has no time for cliches, and is quite picky, so I can always take her book recommendations to the bank. If she likes it, I know I will like it. (Although if she doesn't like it, I still might like it.) So it means a lot to me that she enjoyed Swans & Klons.

A couple of centuries from now, men are obsolete and society is dominated by women. Rubric is sixteen and in training to become a Panna, or upper-middle-class career woman; she’s served by Klons, who aren’t human but look it; and she’s got a “schatzie” (girlfriend), Salmon Jo.  Everything is going well for Rubric until. . . [SPOILERS! Only go read the review of you want to be spoilered.] The advantage of SF is that a world can be built in which lesbianism is the norm and there isn’t any painful coming-out process. Instead, Rubric and Salmon Jo are just people who happen to be in love. Yay.

-Daisy Porter, Queer YA

I'll keep you kids updated on giveaways, readings, and any other Swans & Klons-related goodness.

If you're on Goodreads, consider adding Swans & Klons to your TBR list. How do you feel about Amazon's takeover of Goodreads? Well, you could always switch to LibraryThing or Shelfari. . . oh no, wait, Amazon owns those too. I, for one, welcome our new corporate overlords!

Simpsons joke!

I’m very excited to share good news about my next novel. SWANS & KLONS will be published in May 2013 by Bold Strokes Books. Check out the cover!

SWANS & KLONS is the story of Rubric, a sixteen-year-old girl who lives in an idyllic all-female society where non-human Klons do all the work. But once Rubric and her girlfriend Salmon Jo uncover a terrifying secret about the Klons, they fall into the dark underside of their seemingly perfect world. Will they make it out alive?

As I’ve written about before, there is a real shortage of YA dystopian novels with queer characters. I’m happy to do my bit to remedy that! And I’m delighted to be working with Bold Strokes Books, one of the pre-eminent contemporary LGBTQ publishers. Their YA imprint, Soliloquy, is first-rate. (BTW, right now they are running a 10% discount on all orders over $25, if you are in need of reading material.)

Bold Strokes Books holds literary events during Women’s Week in Provincetown, Massacusetts. I’ll be at a panel on forthcoming books called “Worth the Wait.” The moderator will be Anne Laughlin, and the other panelists are PJ Trebelhorn, VK Powell, Sophia Kell Hagin, and Barbara Ann Wright.

The panel will be on Friday, October 12th from 2pm to 3pm at the Provincetown Library at 330 Commercial Street. We’ll all discuss our upcoming novels and give brief reading. Check out the full schedule of Women’s Week events here!

There’s also a dynamic new organization in New York’s Hudson Valley called POKLit. POKLit holds a series of literary events in Poughkeepsie, NY, and it’s revitalizing both the arts scene and the downtown area. I was lucky enough to participate in two of their events, a spoken-word “funeral” for some outdoor sculptures that were being removed from a park and an open mic reading. Good times!

POKLit’s project HALLOW STORIES, a performance taking place in a historic fireplace, is coming up on October 20th and is sure to be spooky and compelling. Don’t miss it if you’re in the area!