05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

This was going to be awesome, but...

Hi everyone! I am YA author B A Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for teens. My tagline tells you what I am about - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them. 

First, let me explain that my post was going to be awesome.

First, I intended to go deep into the history of Halloween. Until I began doing research for this post, I had no idea that hallows were saints, or that Halloween was the first day in a traditional three-day time of remembrance for hallows, martyrs and the faithful departed.  How could I, when 21st century America has turned October 31 into an all too commercial day for purchasing candy to hand out to kids running around looking for freebies much to the dentist's delight?  Halloween is all about  purchasing expensive costumes (including sexy vampires but seldom involving any saints), playing pranks, attending wild parties, telling scary stories or watching horror movies, or some combination of the above.

Then, I was going to talk about two books that are not your grandma's scary stories.

One, The Girl With All The Gifts, handles the typical horror, post apocalyptic, zombie genre in a totally atypical way. At first, this story, largely told from the monster's point of view, seems a little ho-hum. Melanie is an "infected" child with superior strength and an almost uncontrollable desire to feed on the flesh of uninfected human beings. But she can also think and learn, and even appreciate a good book. Something in the child's brain makes her half monster/half human and provides the key to ending the epidemic devastating humanity. At least, that's what everyone, from the scientist determined to harvest the cure from Melanie's brain, to Melanie herself, believes.

But she doesn't want to die, even if that sacrifice will save the human race and her beloved teacher. And we readers don't want her to die, either. Because we know something the scientist doesn't. We know there is a real soul inside Melanie. So we read on, hoping for the romance between the teacher and the soldier to blossom, and for both to find a way to save both Melanie and humanity. 

But that would be too easy, and this author forces readers to walk through door number three.

The other book, the Queen of Katwe, deals with ordinary, everyday fears in a more contemporary setting. On the surface, its an inspirational story about a female chess prodigy, Phiona Mutesi, is discovered in a slum in Uganda. who uses her prodigious talent at chess to become her country's female champion. Hurrah, right? Nothing scary about that.

But this is a real life story about a real girl, and reality is never that straightforward or devoid of fear. The fear of walking into a strange room and being ridiculed by everyone there can be huge for an adolescent. When someone makes snorting noises and calls you a pig, the urge to never return is huge.

Phiona moves from being afraid of rejection after defeating one of the experienced boys, to overconfidence and humiliation at the hands of an adult champion with no fear of vanquishing a fourteen year old.

And when you are a mother, seeing your child step out into the big, bad world can be terrifying.  Not just because she will be traveling to strange countries without you at her side. Not even because you fear someone may try to hurt her. Her mother rightly fears that once Phiona has slept in a real bed, flown on an airplane, played in a swimming pool, and discovered that ketchup is the world's greatest invention, the return to the hard life in the slums of Katwe will forever torture the girl.  If you don't think that's a horrifying fear, remember that when most parents look at their children, they have one big wish - that they be happy.

That's what I was going to talk about.

(BTW, this is where I start talking politics, so if you want to avoid that and stop reading now, I won't be offended)

We all fear something, whether it’s the monster chasing us to grab and eat us, or the fear of failure and it’s twin, the fear of success. The question is, how do we handle our fears? So I have to add an addendum about my personal fears. A year has 365 days, and disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Fear isn't just about monsters eating human brains (although considering the current state of politics at times I do wonder if a few zombies have been chomping on some of the people I see around me)

On Halloween I will dress to impress the things that say boo and trigger old-fashioned superstitions. I have my very own witches costume, complete with wig, hat and broom and spend every October 31 daring the things that go bump in the night to come and try and best me.

Fear doesn't have to be about the end of the world. Sometimes it's about leaving the world you know for a new one. I'm not talking about some overlap between science fiction and horror or an airplane taking a girl from the depths of a slum to the magnificence of Moscow. Sometimes the world you think you know seems to disappear in real life.

That's what seems to have happened around me this election year. Human monsters have appeared to spew hate, and, in some cases, to act in hate on other human beings. It's not just about books or movies, and whoever wrote this script doesn't appear to have left much possibility for even a happily for now ending, much less a happily ever after. This is why I prefer the escape of a book. It's also why I can't retreat into a story and forget the world.

I live in America. If you don't, I'll just say pray for us. Pray that we remember the things we really want in a leader. That we find a way to control ourselves and our inner demons. That we remember that in most cases, being politically correct is just another way of saying be polite and caring.

When I was very, very, very young, I saw a movie called Gorgo. I remember the name because it scared me to the point where I lay in bed for many nights afterward, staring at the light in the hall, certain I would see the monster's shadow and preparing myself to run. On the way to school, in broad daylight, I would look up, afraid I would see it's head towering over the buildings.  (Do not ask my how I could believe the monster would fit inside my families apartment and still be big enough to bee seen over rooftops. I was young. It made sense to me at the time.)

I saw the movie again a few years ago. When it ended I shook my head and wondered why that campy movie once scared me so completely.

 I want this year to be like that.

In a decade or so, I want to look back at how people behave, and get that same feeling. I want the good people to show those who think everyone needs a fistful of guns that they are wrong. I want good cops to refuse to allow a few bad ones to tarnish them all. I want people to realize that it's not about the size, or shape, or color of the bodies we inhabit. And most of all, I want people to realize that when picking a Commander in Chief, experience and training for that job count. I would not hire a fry cook, no matter how excellent he or she was on the culinary front, to rewire the electricity in my house.

Please let me look back on 2016  someday and wonder why I was ever so scared.

Like I said, before the world got in the way, I originally intended for this post to be an awesome discussion on things that go bump in the night.  (You can tell me if it still is.)



Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for introducing me to two awesome new YA books! Can't wait to read them!

People seem weary of the hateful rhetoric and distrust apparent on both sides in this election. I urge everyone to vote, no matter what - and to accept the outcome. Please don't abandon America this election!

B. A. Binns said...

Thanks, Sarah. This was going to be details about Halloween and it's origins, and the Celtic holiday of Samhain, with a touch of Day Of The Dead, and then talk about the two stories and the fears the main characters have in detail. But then I realized some of my own anxieties were interfering with my ability to concentrate on the topic.

Maybe that's why write realistic fiction, I find reality scary.

BTW, Queen of Katwe was made into a Disney movie that is currently in theaters. Girl With All The Gifts was also made into a movie, but as far as I know it has only been released in the UK.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Thanks for the post, B.A. I keep looking back at terrible times in history and taking comfort in the fact that things did change. But it will take a concerted effort, including thoughtful voting in November, to turn things around.

Judith Ashley said...

I totally agree with you that reality is scary. I've sworn off watching the news but the last couple of days I've backslide thinking that if I watch 30 minutes it won't be so frightening to me. Not true. I also want to look back on 2016 but see how we, as a country, have grown to be more of what we say we are.

Thanks for a great post. BTW: Samhain is the beginning of the new year for most pagans. The veil between this plane (world) and the next is thin. We can more easily connect with those who have passed on. And the Wheel of Life turns.