Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “social change”

Corina Vacco – Social Activist and YA Award Winning Novelist

I write because I believe fiction can be a vehicle for social change. I believe when the reader becomes emotionally engaged with a character, they too are moved to action. I met Corina Vacco when she joined the Berkeley Writer’s Group, and laughed at what I first thought, was a cool but whimsical YA novel with outrageous characters and wickedly sharp dialogue.

corina headshot

But Vacco uses her humor and excellent writing to fight for something she passionately believes in: our children deserve to grow up in a clean world as a foundation to each realizing his/her own potential. I can think of nothing more inspiring than empowering the next generation to action – and to do it reading and laughing is a powerful combination.

MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN, an award winning YA novel will be released by Random House, on June 11 and has been called THE OUTSIDERS of our generation. Vacco calls it “my love letter to a cleaner world, and my hope is that it will raise awareness of the growing problem of toxic towns and the lingering effects decades-old pollution can have on our present-day environment.”

Read her inspiring story below and, if you live in the Bay Area, join me at her book launch at Books Inc., Opera Plaza, 601 Van Ness, San Francisco at 7:00 PM on June 11 (appropriately situated opposite City Hall!).

Corina book cover

=============================

Culture shock ensued when the Coast Guard moved our family from the sun-kissed beaches of Miami to the cold, polluted city of Buffalo. It’s not easy to switch gears from palm trees to smokestacks, from saltwater air to the nostril-burning smell of a local asphalt plant, and this is especially true when you’re an environmental activist.

I had a cursory knowledge of Western New York’s pollution history. I knew of the Love Canal disaster—an elementary school and hundreds of homes were built atop 21,000 tons of toxic waste that later oozed into basements and triggered serious illness, along with forced evacuations. I also knew Rust Belt steel workers had unknowingly rolled uranium for the Manhattan Project during WWII, and that the corresponding uranium waste had ended up in landfills throughout the Buffalo-Niagara region. I was scared to live in such a place. Alright, perhaps a better word is terrified.

No sooner had I unpacked than I joined the fight against a contaminated landfill adjacent to a school and playground. Residents whose backyards blended into the landfill’s slopes had received official letters telling them not to eat vegetables out of their gardens. Unfortunately, the town meetings and public comment periods were nothing but thinly-veiled smack-downs of the residents who dared voice concerns. Panels of industry “scientists” and a smug, highly-decorated Army Corps of Engineers representative in full uniform stood at the front of the auditorium and admitted that yes, hundreds of contaminants were leaching into the local groundwater, but don’t you know each dangerous ingredient fell within acceptable limits? Of course, no one had even begun to test the effects of the entire cocktail of contaminants on each genetically-unique individual in the room, but it didn’t matter. The panel of “scientists” was absolutely certain there was no hazard, and a decision was made to leave the landfill alone. The residents, who obviously could not sell their homes, were told to go back to their lives and “just relax”.

I lived in Buffalo’s art district, far away from this plagued town and its infamous landfill. I should’ve been able to rest easy. But as it turns out, activists can never really rest easy. Not in this world. I was devastated when I heard the landfill would not be remediated.

One of my good friends lived a literal stone’s throw from the landfill and invited me on a toxic tour of her neighborhood. We visited defunct factories, a radioactive creek, and the boarded-up homes of Love Canal. She then introduced me to her husband, and they told stories about growing up amid such intense pollution. They recalled splashing in puddles the color of anti-freeze, riding their bikes down the landfill’s slopes, and breaking into contaminated factories. I was moved by these accounts, how a world so foreign to me, so repulsive, could be viewed with…nostalgia. They weren’t ashamed of their neighborhood. They didn’t want to flee. They wanted the pollution cleaned up so they could stay. Imagine that.

I wrote the first outline of MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN in my car, parked at the foot of an ominous, snow-covered landfill. There, with my window cracked so I could breathe the industrial air, I had long conversations with an angry boy who’d suddenly taken up residence inside my head. I asked him all sorts of questions: What is it like to live near one of the most poisonous landfills in the world? Why do you and your friends break into the abandoned factories when you know it’s dangerous? Are you furious about what happened to your father? And my protagonist said, “I have a story to tell you. It’s about revenge.”

MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN (Random House, June 2013) went on to win the Delacorte Prize for a First YA Novel, and has been called THE OUTSIDERS of our generation. It is my love letter to a cleaner world, and my hope is that it will raise awareness of the growing problem of toxic towns and the lingering effects decades-old pollution can have on our present-day environment. Please visit me at www.corinavacco.com.

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.   For more about the author, check out his website.

Can Fantasy Be A Vehicle For Social Change?

I believe passionately that writers of fiction can ply their craft to help effect positive social change and offer a platform for values and principles. The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale both reflect this and I have a series of books focusing on social issues in the US (all based in San Francisco) beginning with Unwanted Heroes which will be released by Three Clover Press later this year and highlight the way we treat war veterans and the homeless.

I was delighted when Kaitlyn Cole from Online Universities shared a list that their faculty had put together entitled: 50 Best Novels For Political Junkies.

Kaitlyn wrote: “True story: Some of the best political novels aren’t explicitly about politics. Yes, some of the books on this list deal directly with governments and politicians, with laws and the ways they’re made or abused, and with the peril and promise inherent in every governing body. But some of them use adventure, parable, or satire to subtly explore our political system with a depth that wouldn’t be possible any other way.”

Great point and relevant to those of us who write political fiction. But how about fantasy? Is there room to use our elves and dwarves to promote social injustices or causes? 

Over the last three summers I was blessed with the amazing experience of writing three fantasy novels together with now 13-year-old son. While I have read a few fantasy novels, I had no idea about the “rules” of the genre.

Writing with my son, however, compelled me to include moral issues such as racism, dictatorship and freedom, as well as the values of friendship and inclusiveness. I was writing for my son and there are plenty of swords, quests, elves, dwarves etc., but as I watched him read and listened to his feedback, I waited for his comments about such issues and derived huge satisfaction when he brought up issues.

In setting my goals for an exercise at Author Salon, I wrote:

“I have seen the impact of the Harry Potter series and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series on my son and his friends. I want to help shape the landscape of the next generation’s imagination and maybe even the society they strive to create.”

 My lack of knowledge regarding fantasy leads me to ask the question: Can fantasy offer a vehicle to discuss political and social injustice? I would love to hear your answers.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

An Author’s Code of Practice

Earlier this month I gave a workshop for the California Writer’s Club on Transformational Fiction and exploring fiction as a tool to change the world. It was a great session with a group of committed and serious writers all of whom provided insightful material.

At the end, I shared the following takeaway, though not part of the actual workshop, I believe it touches on many of the challenges that writers face. I would like to encourage people to create their own code of practice and hang it in full view from where they sit to write. If you do write your own, please share it with us.

THE SERIOUS WRITER: 9-FOLD CODE OF PRACTICE

These nine tips are inspired by the teachings of Stephen King in his book On Writing. The credit is his, the honor to pass it on is mine, the opportunity is yours.

1. Write Every Day

No excuses. None. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up, but write the next day. If you can, set a consistent time of the day, but either way, this is a daily practice like anything else for which one strives for excellence. If you can, dedicate a place in your house purely for writing. When you are there, do nothing else. Don’t wait for inspiration. Write, write, write.

2. Write a draft. Then let it rest.

King recommends that you crank out a first draft (don’t stop to edit or contemplate) and then put it in your drawer to let it rest. You need to transition from creator to editor and a break helps build the correct perspective.

3. The Ten Percent Rule.

When you revisit your text it’s time to remove all the superfluous words and sentences. Kick out the clutter and your message gains clarity and power. King advises to cut by 10%. Tough to do, but you won’t regret it.

4. Sacred Space.

This is a profession, a business. If possible, have your own physical place to write. Treat it like an office desk. It should be clean, uncluttered, but you should own it. Just entering and sitting down, puts everything else out of your mind. If you can’t have a physical space, create a mental one. I have certain playlists on my iPod and wear headphones. Kids? Yeah, they are in the house somewhere.

5. Shut Up And Listen.

King has a professional network to back him up. Most of us use family, friends, writers’ groups, and other networks. Solicit honest, constructive feedback – compliments are nice for our ego but don’t advance our manuscript. You don’t have to take every piece of advice that every person suggests. But you do need to listen and consider.

6. Read a Lot.

When you read, you learn. It might remind you of what you should be doing: a cool technique, style or voice. Sometimes you learn what not to do. There are always lessons to learn. Read (or listen to it – the audio is brilliant) Stephen King’s On Writing annually. You won’t get bored.

King reads his own book - v. powerful to listen to.

7. Network.

Writing is only a solitary art if you want it to be. Meet writers at writers’ groups, clubs, conferences or online. Support others and you’ll find support (no leaching). Proclaim that you are a writer. Some may smirk, but you’ll discover new friends and contacts, often unexpected.

8. One-third:One-third:One-third.

Allocate your time to thirds: 1. market what you have published (or plan to), 2. edit what you have written, 3. write your next book.

9. Enjoy and Believe.

It’s the only sustainable way.

10. Deliver More Than is Expected. Always.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Post Navigation

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: