Deschutes Public Library Youth Lit Festival

Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses?

This was a critical question posed to me and my fellow panelists by the inimitable teen services librarian April Witteveen last weekend at the Deschutes Public Library Youth Lit Festival.

Can you guess how I answered? (Hint: I’m not a great multitasker. LOL.)

I love festivals like this where I get to interact with readers during panels and workshops. I taught a session on building three-dimensional characters and also played Pictionary with my writer friends in front of an audience. (Thankfully, April didn’t pit us against the illustrators!)

If you were in my session, here are the links to the handouts. (Sorry I didn’t get them up right away). Ping me with questions via the contact link.

Building Voice and Character Iteratively
Character Interview from Lee White
Character Interview from Gotham Writers

It was delightful to hang out with my fellow presenters. Fonda Lee writes badass sci-fi / fantasy. Matthew Cordell is an incredibly generous picture book master. Dan Gemeinhart writes deeply thoughtful MG novels. Katherine Roy hangs out with elephants!!! Catherine Alene blew me away with her honesty. Librarian Jaime Wong was a delight to chat with. Jason Reynolds Skyped in and gave a great talk. All in all it was a fantastic day, well-managed by all the brilliant people at the library.

If you were there, what was your favorite part?

Jamie, Katherine, Me, Dan, Fonda, Matt, & Catherine

I love that Matt Cordell captured this moment.
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No More Excuses on the Lerner Publishing Podcast

I was very pleased to have the opportunity to speak at length about NO MORE EXCUSES: DISMANTLING RAPE CULTURE on the Lerner Publishing podcast. I hope you’ll take a listen. It’s available at all the usual podcast places. Specific links are at the end of this post.

Because I think that this book is so critically important for our national conversation I’ve compiled some resources for using the book in book clubs, classrooms and libraries. You can access a list of Recommended Resources (related books, movies, websites, and hashtags). I’ve also prepared a downloadable Discussion Guide. And here’s are some specific actions each of us can take to make a better, safer world.

10 things you can do to dismantle rape culture

  1. Check out the websites microaggressions.com and everydaysexism.com to educate yourself on how rape culture manifests in day-to-day life.
  2. Call out toxic gender stereotypes. They hurt all of us.
  3. Pay attention to double standards—men versus women, white people versus people of color, rich versus poor, straight vs. queer. Rape culture interacts with privilege. People from marginalized groups bear the brunt of rape culture.
  4. Believe survivors. False reports are incredibly rare (only 2-8%). If you feel a knee-jerk need to dismiss a report of sexual assault, ask yourself why.
  5. Advocate for comprehensive, consent-based sex education. Abstinence-only sex education perpetuates rape culture.
  6. Educate yourself about sexual objectification in the media. Be able to separate images that empower from those that dehumanize the female body. (This is explained in detail in the book.) Also, check out the Headless Women of Hollywood.
  7. Examine your preconceived notions about romantic gestures. Check how they’re represented in movies and media. Is one partner pressuring the other? Does “no” turn into “yes”? Would the actions of any one partner be considered illegal?
  8. Shut down slut shaming, whether you are the target or a bystander. (Again, there are suggested comebacks in the book).
  9. Develop a positive relationship with your own body. (There’s a list of suggestions in the book).
  10. Learn how to talk comfortably about sex and consent with friends, family, and intimate partners. Check out my other book The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex for lots of references.

Three more, specifically for men

  1. Listen to women. Don’t dismiss or minimize their experiences with harassment. Acknowledge the impact of bad behavior.
  2. Be an ally. Don’t let sexist comments slide. Consider how you can make women feel safe. Stand up if you see assault happening. (There are lots of specific suggests in the book.)
  3. Consider how toxic masculinity and rape culture have affected how you express and present yourself to the world. Do you feel compelled to conform to rigid gender stereotypes at the expense of your softer side? How has that affected your relationships with women?

 

Listen on Google Play

Listen on iTunes

Listen on Spotify

Listen on Stitcher

Read a transcript of the interview

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Time for the Young People to Lead

What if we, as a country, made policy decisions based on what was best for young people? 

This question has been bouncing around in my head all week. 

In the course of my activism work over the last two years, I have closely followed the young people who are on the front lines of the Resistance. I follow Mari Copeny, the girl fighting to get clean water for Flint, Michigan; the Parkland teens demanding an end to gun violence; Greta Thunberg, the activist demanding action on the looming global climate catastrophe; and many others. 

Their presence in social and climate justice movements underscores two realities. The problems they want solved were created by us—the old people of previous generations—and the dire consequences of these problems will be carried by them. And yet, at every turn, pundits and politicians and parents find ways to dismiss and denigrate young people. 

This is abuse.

No hyperbole here. We force fed lead-poisoned water to children and then told them that they should leave the thinking to us. We failed to regulate deadly firearms and then told them that an inevitable consequence of freedom is that they have to watch their friends bleed to death. We ignored science and then told them they’ll have to deal with drought, wildfire, disease, tsunamis, and other fun stuff. Abuse.

What if we put young people first? What if we let them lead? That’s the future I want to live in. What about you?

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Let’s stick it to Betsy DeVos

My next book is NO MORE EXCUSES: DISMANTLING RAPE CULTURE. It will be available early next year from Twenty-First Century Books. As many of you know, the writing of this book was devastatingly difficult. I spent months in dark places, wrestling with the reality of sexual assault in this country. I envisioned this book as a road map to a better place–a place where we can be safe in our own bodies, a place where mutual respect and enthusiastic consent are norms not exceptions.

Kirkus calls this book “a laudably current guide to rape culture.” This is an important and timely book. It doesn’t shy away from the hard truths, but it’s not hopeless either. I wish I could put it in the hands of every single teen, especially now that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is rolling back hard-won protections for victims of sexual assault and harassment in schools.

California Representative Maxine Waters says the DeVos approach “will prioritize the interests of the institutions and the accused, while undermining protections for survivors.” The net result will be that fewer survivors will come forward and more perpetrators will be free to continue committing violence.

The best way to make sure this book finds its way to as many readers as possible is to get it into school libraries and public libraries. Join me in sticking it to Betsy DeVos. Submit a purchase request to your local public library. It’s easy. Usually all you have to do is search for “suggest a purchase” on the library website and fill in the critical information:

Title: NO MORE EXCUSES: DISMANTLING RAPE CULTURE
Author: Amber J. Keyser
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
Year: 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5415-4020-0
Audience: Teen
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: Book

Of course you are also welcome to preorder a copy for yourself from your local indie bookstore or direct from the publisher.

Purchase links: Lerner Publishing, Barnes and NobleAmazon, and IndieBound.

*The book is published in a super strong binding designed for decades of use in libraries. That’s why it’s kind of expensive. Direct from Lerner is the best price.

Thanks, friends.
Let’s fix this rape-y culture we live in.
Our kids deserve better.
XO from me (as long as you consent).

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Pushing Out of the Comfort Zone

This weekend I’m performing in my first aerial silks recital. I keep going back and forth trying to decide if signing up was a good idea or a terrible idea. I’m one of the very oldest people who trains at the studio, and there are definitely days when I think that maybe I’m too old for circus arts. On Sunday, when I do my routine, most of the audience will be the parents of the other performers. In other words, the audience will be made of my peers.

Am I going to look stupid? Is this going to be one of those cringe-worthy moments? Are those other parents going to wonder what the heck this mom-lady is doing performing with their children. I don’t know. It’s possible, but I’m doing it anyway. In the (many) years since I was doing ballet, I’ve missed performing. Doing book events is a kind of performance, but it’s not quite the same as training for weeks to put on a show designed to transport the audience to another realm. I’m pushing out of my comfort zone.

I’m not an adrenaline junkie or a big advocate of risky behaviors, but I do think that fear holds us back from taking risks that might be transformative like traveling to a new country or volunteering with a new group of people or writing a book, for that matter. Sometimes change feels too huge and too dangerous for any of us to have the audacity to take it on (um… current political landscape, anyone?) but I try to consider the other side of the scary thing. Will I regret not having tried? What would it mean for me to fail? What could it mean to succeed? I’m stubborn so usually I decide that I would rather do the scary thing than sit around wondering what might have happened.

What are you afraid to try?
What’s holding you back?
What might happen if you pushed out of your comfort zone?

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It’s been a long time…

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted here. The last four months are kind of a blur. I had a very fast turn around deadline for my next nonfiction title, a cheery little tomb about rape culture. I’m also really busy running a progressive political action committee dedicated to resisting the heartless policies of the current administration. There is a lot to be outraged about, but I’m trying to turn my horror into action. That, at least, feels productive.

Here’s something else that feels productive:
BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS!!!!

I’ve read some really good titles lately. Put these on your to-read list, and once you’ve read them, let me know so we can have a mini book club!

 

 

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On wishes and real life

I’ve been thinking about wishes (which isn’t quite the same as actually wishing). Specifically, I’ve been thinking about what we call wish fulfillment stories. These are stories in which the author writes a successful conclusion to her own inner fantasies. The most obvious wish fulfillment stories are romance novels, a denigrated genre if ever there was one. Pronouncements are made with supercilious distain: that’s not literature or it’s just a love story or that’s impossible.

I think Kelly Jensen nails it when she observes that the biggest wish fulfilled in romance novels is female pleasure. Consider that for a moment (and maybe read this essay by Lili Loofbourow about how the metrics for good/bad sex are so different for women than for men). It is merely a wish—a wish with all the unrealistic hopefulness that implies—for a woman to seek and satisfy her own needs for intimate pleasure. That’s impossible.

In the last year I wrote the draft of a new novel that I crammed full of things I love. Things like David Bowie and cosplay, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and taco carts, Jeff Goldblum and aerial silks. I wrote a book that made me happy, a book about friends that take care of each other and people who get along even though they are really different.

The entire book is pure wish fulfillment.

It wishes inclusion and respect.
It wishes tolerance and love.
It wishes the elevation of our best selves.
It wishes hope.
It wishes a extended hand.
It wishes glitter and bonfires on the beach.

Writing it was an escape from real life, a personal pleasure, exactly like a romance novel (but mine isn’t a romance novel FYI). Now I have to revise it, and here’s the problem: I write contemporary, realistic fiction, and this book wishes the opposite of what I see every day in the news. Most of the big issues I need to resolve in this draft are a direct result of this conflict between the world I want and the world I see. This is a harder issue to resolve than a hitch in the plot or an inconsistent character arc. This is big philosophical stuff.

I don’t have the answers right now about how to fix this novel, but I do know one thing for sure—there’s nothing wrong with wishing the world were different. I believe it’s called hope.

Tell me, what are you wishing for these days?

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Getting Married?

It must be review time! This is a nice one from School Library Journal about my new book TYING THE KNOT: A WORLD HISTORY OF MARRIAGE:

What’s love got to do with it? Not much, Keyser asserts in this examination of the history of marriage. Up until about 250 years ago, marriage was mainly a transaction or union of couples that entailed political, social, and economic factors. Her discussion of traditions and customs from different cultures and countries is a fascinating and insightful one. All types of unions are explored in this book, including levirate, same-sex, green card, and polyandry marriages. Keyser is straightforward and objective in her examination of different views on the institution. She highlights how changes in society (women’s rights, economic conditions, divorce rates, etc.) as well as a general shifting of attitudes has greatly affected marital unions. Keyser’s book is well researched and greatly illustrated with photographs. VERDICT This highly readable text would be a commendable addition to a social science collection for its pertinent information on cultural studies.

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Beyonce, the Male Gaze, Feminism, and Underwear

Stoked to get this great review from School Library Journal for UNDERNEATH IT ALL: A HISTORY OF WOMEN’S UNDERWEAR.

The biologist and writer offers a fascinating examination of an often under-explored facet of life—underwear. Undergarments for women have evolved throughout the centuries from simple, plain cloth tunics and elaborate corsets made with steel or whalebone stays and to today’s contemporary bralettes and more. Historically, Keyser asserts, underwear is designed to create what ever is perceived as a perfect body. Examples are the Gibson Girl and today’s Victoria Secret Angels. The book is divided into eight chapters that follow a historical time line and place the garments in perspective with the events and culture of the time period discussed. Chapters are illustrated and contain sidebars. The writing utilizes contemporary language and examples, citing Beyoncé and ad campaigns that challenge stereotypical views of beauty. Highlights of the book are the author’s citation of women historians, writers, and entrepreneurs. VERDICT A bit niche but endlessly fascinating, a great addition to nonfiction collections.

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2017 in Five Words

We have very nearly survived 2017. If that’s not a reason to raise a glass of champagne and celebrate, I don’t know what is. As you know, this year has been one of struggle for me, but I’m feeling surprisingly good right now.

Why?

Good question!

I can give you the answer in five words—outrage, action, connection, joy, and vision.

But since I’m a writer, I think I’ll give you the answer in a lot more words! Here is my five-word recap of 2017:

OUTRAGE—Perhaps no explanation is necessary. If you pay attention to the news, every day there is an outrageous affront on human decency or American democracy. But what I am talking about is turning outrage into fuel for action. I’m grateful for my outrage because it propels the work I must do to make the world a better place.

ACTION—I am grateful that I have learned to participate in our democracy. I can make phone calls. I can be informed. I can understand how the system works and which of its flaws require attention. This year, some friends and I started a political action committee dedicated to getting progressive representation for our district. It’s concrete work that I am proud of. 

CONNECTION—Through my activism, I have connected with an amazing group of smart, dedicated progressive thinkers who want an American system that works for all of us. They make being an activist fun (most of the time) and keep me going when my spirits flag. Also, I’ve found a new, more genuine way to connect with each of you, and you have sustained me with your empathy, your kindness, and your heart.

JOY—This year I had to actively seek joy. I wasn’t just looking around and hoping it would show up. I worked to make joy happen. I’m not going to go so far as to say that there’s been an abundance of joy, but there has been some, including my cupcakes posse, long hikes with my dog, the satisfaction of helping a young mom and her daughter from becoming homeless, getting to read Kiersi Burkhart’s newest book before anyone else in the world, writing a new novel full of elements that delight me, and my epic 6,152 mile road trip with my teenagers. All good things!

VISION—2017 has been a year of fighting bad guys, but when the bad guys are vanquished, what next? Well, that’s where vision comes in. Here’s the future I want: basic income for all, excellent schools for all, universal healthcare for all, safe housing for all, reproductive freedom for all, sensible gun reform for all, clean air and water for all, honest government for all people (not corporations), and just for the hell of it, let’s throw in the end of rape culture and the dismantling of racism in America.

So… here we are… heading into 2018. These five words, for which I fought tooth and nail this year, are going to be my guideposts moving forward.

Tell me, what are your words?

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