extribulum

Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

Here’s your problem, here’s your book

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2013 at 9:00 am

Cary Tennis — well, for a start, CARY TENNIS is an awesome name — Cary Tennis is an advice-column writer for Salon.com. I don’t read Salon generally, but a specific letter was linked by Publisher’s Weekly and looked scandalously interesting, so I followed the trail.

The title of the letter to Cary was “I Am Named In A Terrible Book“. It sounds more interesting than it is, to be honest, but if you want to read it for yourself, feel free. I wasn’t even that interested by Cary’s reply, until I skimmed to the end:

As an antidote, I prescribe “Pale Fire” by Vladimir Nabokov. This fine tonic will remove the taste of aesthetic badness and also provide a little of the bracing, acerbic hilarity needed to fully recover.

I do love Pale Fire. But what struck me was the idea of an advice columnist that gave you required reading. How great would that job be? You’d have to read a lot of  books, but that’s not exactly a chore. Imagine every week your column runs a (usually banal and easily-solved-by-common-sense) problem, and you provide advice and the name of a book they should read for more context. Ill-mannered family member? The Moonstone. Your child running around with kids you don’t approve of? Well, I suppose it could go either way, like, you could recommend The Outsiders on one end of the spectrum and maybe Harry Potter on the other.

Not sure if you want to get back with your controlling ex? Twilight!

Literary criticism and sound advice all in one place. I’m for it.

Edited on 2/4/2013: Oh snap. VINDICATED.

Advertisements

An Author In Search Of A Novel

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2013 at 9:00 am

I am picking up today where I left off a few days ago, with my examination of YA literature; you can read part one (the problem) here, and part two (the research) here.

After months of trying to finish the essay that those two parts began, I realized that my search for a definition was in fact the wrong search. I should have been searching for a process, because process often defines product. So, thinking as a creator of literature rather than a consumer of it, a few things became clear.

I decided that marketing, definitions applied by others, and even adolescents’ self-definitions don’t matter to the creation of this particular form of novel. In this sense, a YA novel is not a book about something. Except in the rarest of cases, a YA novel is an adult talking to a teenager. Everything else is window dressing.

So I thought about motivation and message and after that came a very simple three question formula (I do love things in threes).

  1. Why do I, an adult, want to talk to young people?
  2. What do I want to tell them?
  3. Why do I want to tell them that?

Mind you, calling them “young people” makes me feel so very old, but I am more than twice the age of the youngest readers on this blog, and I was an adult before some of my presumed target audience was born.

Here’s the kicker about these questions: they are sequential. Each question leads to the next and you can’t get to two without answering one. Question one is vital because I have, in fact, heard writers answer it with “That’s where the money in publishing is”.

That’s a bad answer. Possibly not the only bad answer, I haven’t been through every answer, but certainly a bad one. Even if the statement itself is true — there is a lot of money in YA lit — it’s not the way you ever want to answer a question about your passion.

Anyway, it’s a good question to keep one honest, because it’s the first step in not condescending to your audience. It’s what sticks me down, because initially I thought I don’t want to talk to “young people”. But then I thought, really, it’s more most young people. The Dead Isle came as a surprise YA Fiction to me — I’ve had many parents buy it for their kids, or to read with their kids. It does carry a message that is not exclusively for the young, about compassion and justice and the power of creativity, but that message is conveyed by young characters.

The characters I created for The Dead Isle are the kind of kids I want to talk to. Shy, nerdy, brilliant Jack. Affectionate, cheerful, isolated Clare. Independent, aggressively sensible Purva, who has no patience for the games of others.

But the question isn’t who, the question is why, and I suppose the answer is

1. I want to talk to young people who are who I was: shy, nerdy, smart, independent, relatively happy despite my isolation, old before my peers were, already sick of the bullshit. Because I’ve been there.

I didn’t get very many books about me. Catcher in the Rye was one. Ender’s Game (despite Card’s horrible politics) was another. The Magician’s Nephew, my favourite of all the Narnia books. Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, which might not be highly acclaimed literature but was valuable to me. These are books of varying quality and era and genre, but they were books about me and they gave me comfort. They taught me about my future.

So assuming those are the kids I want to talk to, the kids like me, what do I want to tell them? I’ve got friends with kids, Olivia and Irene and Harry and Vivi and Little Sam and Noel and Gabriel and a handful of others. I can’t lie to them or be cruel to them. For one, I will get totally busted by their parents.

What do I want to tell them?

2. Well, basically, what I want to tell everyone: that compassion is a high and difficult art, that greed is insidious and cruel, that the world is waiting for people to discover it. I want to explain how the wonder of discovery makes compassion easier and greed more difficult and how the more those two balance out, the closer you come to justice. And sometimes I want to tell stories just plain ’cause I like telling stories.

Three is a little more abstract, because the answers lie in the first two questions. Why do I want to tell kids that?

3. Because people told me about compassion and greed and wonder once, and I believe strongly that what they said was true. If we as a species are going to do more than murder each other and destroy our only home, I think everyone has to understand it. I don’t have all the answers but I have the tools to get us there if kids who are smarter than me take the philosophical hand up that I’m offering them.

So in the end, I don’t know if I want to write a YA novel, or I should say another YA novel. If I did, I doubt it would be one any trad publisher would be interested in. But if I do want to, now I have the knowledge necessary to lay it out.

Really, it’s what I’ve been doing all along.

Failing At Wikipedia or, It’s YA Because It’s YA

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2013 at 9:00 am

This is part two of my exploration of YA Literature and how to define it in a useful way, as a writer who may be interested in writing it. I’ve talked a bit about the initial problem, which is not only a broad one of definition but also, in my case, a specific issue with experience. When last we left me, I was stuck without a formal conception of what YA Lit was.

And so I went to the internet, looking for how they defined it. Sometimes, the best way to define something is to find someone else’s idea of the thing and figure out where you disagree.

When in doubt, start with Wikipedia and a skeptical expression.

Wikipedia says that YA Lit is literature written for, published for, or marketed to adolescents between the ages of 14 and 22 (22, Jesus, that’s an old Young Adult) but really that’s not that helpful. It’s a book for kids because it’s written as a kid’s book, essentially, or even just because it’s sold as one. I could have gone full-out with The Dead Isle; I could have marketed it as a YA adventure, since three of its four main characters are under the age of twenty and the fourth is very much cast in the mentor role. But I wanted the story to present as a book with broader appeal — and while there’s no length limit on YA novels, it’s an awfully long book.

Reading onwards, Wikipedia diverts fairly quickly into a discussion of the most prominent member of the YA Lit family: the “problem novel”.

Problem novel refers to young adult novels in the realistic fiction category that “addresses personal and social issues across socioeconomic boundaries and within both traditional and nontraditional family structures” (Cole 98). Some of these themes include: identity, sexuality, science fiction, depression, suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, familial struggles, bullying, and numerous others. Some issues that are talked about in young adult literature are things such as friendship, love, race, money, divorce, relationships within families.” [….] In a paper written by April Dawn Wells, she discovers seventeen common traits of young adult novels. These include: “friendship, getting into trouble, interest in the opposite sex, money, divorce, single parents, remarriage, problems with parents, grandparents, younger siblings, concern over grades/school, popularity, puberty, race, death, neighborhood, and job/working.”

Thanks, Wikipedia. You just defined all of literature. Subject matter, it seems, is not going to be much help. It’s all very well to say that YA Lit concerns identity, of which many other aspects including sexuality, class, family, and race are a part, but if that were true I wouldn’t have been the only kid in AP English who liked The Great Gatsby.

Primarily, the focus is centered around a young lead character and the reader experiences emotions, situations, and the like through this character and is able to see how these problems/situations are resolved.

Also that sounds like an invitation to “write down” to the reader as you instruct them on problem resolution, and we’ve discussed “writing down” already.

Granted, I think the above is important because it can expand. I haven’t read The Hunger Games, but I understand that they are in major part about the resources that teens have at their disposal with which they can help repair damaged societies.

So there was my first answer, but not a particularly satisfactory one.

I considered a survey of the “big names” in YA Lit, but that has shifted over time as well, from the in situ dystopia of SE Hinton to the imagined dystopia of Suzanne Collins, from Catcher In The Rye to Go Ask Alice to the pulp suburban horror of my generation’s teens. Even defining Catcher In The Rye as a young adult novel will probably get me some flak, but most people I’ve met who love it do so because they read it as teenagers and could relate to Holden’s attitudes and predicament. That says something to me about the audience it got, whether it wanted it or not. And given that it is now marketed to teens in the form of classroom reading…

So I could have gone all out, but a survey of the world of YA literature just sounds exhausting. I thought I’d set that aside as a last resort. I hit upon the idea to look at contests — competitions asking for YA submissions with the winner being published or a published story being rewarded with publicity. Surely those would have decent quantifications for YA; they’re looking for the next big thing, after all, they should know how to ask for it.

The work cited will illuminate the teen experience and enrich the lives of its readers through its excellence.

Uh.

To be eligible, a title must have been designated by its publisher as being either a young adult book or one published for the age range that YALSA defines as “young adult,” i.e., 12 through 18.

Guess not.

Other websites were a little more helpful — or more cynical, depending. An article at Jezebel states:

Since as far as I can tell, these categories exist primarily for schoolteachers, booksellers, and award-givers, Fine Lines will from now on define “YA” as any book read in one’s own company from the time one learns to read to the time one pays one’s own rent.

That’s actually quite useful. As is this quote from a school library blog critiquing a story that is only YA in the sense that it’s marketed to teens:

this journey doesn’t feel like the teen journey (from acted upon to acting upon).

In that vein, James Dawson, who I quoted in the first essay, has a novel theory about children:

I had a recent conversation with a librarian concerned at the number of year 10 and 11 pupils reading EL James’s erotic bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey. However, she also admitted that many realised early into the book that it “wasn’t for them” and chose to pursue it no further. Teenagers are as capable as any reader to decide what is right for them. As a 12-year-old, I had no access to young adult fiction because it didn’t exist. Instead I went straight to Stephen King and James Herbert. I was able to choose what was suitable and unsuitable.

But none of this is all that helpful in giving me a framework.

Which is where this essay stalled for months.

And then last week I thought, I’m going about this wrong. I’m coming at the problem as a consumer, not a creator. I am both; most of us are. But I was using the wrong half of me for this particular issue. I’d been looking for what a YA novel is, when I should have been looking for how a YA novel comes to be.

When I finally swapped over, the solution to the problem was a delightfully simple series of questions, and they came very easily. I’ll be discussing those on Friday, so stay tuned!

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Everyone Under The Age Of 22

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2013 at 9:00 am

I keep circling back to this essay. Every time I put it away, I eventually come back to it. It is the essay in which I try to define YA literature.

And it got really long, so this is the first of a three-part series in my examination of YA lit. This is a rough essay, and certainly some of you out there are more well-versed, so suggestions (not for books to read, oh god, please not for books to read) and critique are welcome.

So today’s topic is an introduction of the problem.

I made a post once about how I had difficulty with YA lit, both with writing it and plotting it. Most of the people engaging in the discussion at the time made a good point: I couldn’t very well be saying that if I didn’t have a good definition of what it was. Besides, defining a problem is the first part of solving it. But a definition of YA lit is like a definition of porn. Most people just kind of know it when they see it.

I thought a lot about how to define YA literature. I thought about discussing how I never liked children much even when I was one; about how I started reading “Tween and teen” books when I was eight, and how when I was a teen I was mostly frightened of the other teens around me. I fled to the adult company of the newly-minted internet, and avoided most of my peers. It’s not a particular badge of pride or shame, it’s just what is: I was never any good at being a Young Adult, and they still hold that mysterious power for me. A cool kid at the age of sixteen will always be cooler than I am no matter how old I am. I don’t especially have a burning desire to encounter many.

I also thought about the discussion that my readers had about “writing down”, a reaction to the condescending youth-aimed literature of the mid-twentieth century. SFNovelists had an essay on what YA is:

It described fiction written for adolescents, who weren’t quite ready to move on from Middle Grade books to more adult reading matter, but who nonetheless wanted more complex and challenging subjects. What this meant was that YA books had a more limited vocabulary and syntax than books written for adults, and it showed. We found the language patronizing, and the characters, often simplified to make the author’s point, annoying.  YA was for people who, we thought, didn’t really like to read, or they’d learn to do it properly.

One of my commenters posted a quote from a LeGuin essay from 1973:

All you do is take all the sex out, and use little short words, and little dumb ideas, and don’t be too scary, and be sure there’s a happy ending. Right? Nothing to it. Write down. Right on. […] But you won’t have every kid in America reading your book. They will look at, and they will see straight through it, with their clear, cold, beady little eyes, and they will put it down, and they will go away. Kids will devour vast amounts of garbage (and it is good for them) but they are not like adults: they have not yet learned to eat plastic.

Now, on the one hand, good points all; on the other hand, see what I mean about how frightening Young Adults are?

It’s also easy to say kids should be treated like intelligent beings, because lord knows I wish I’d been treated that way more often, but it’s not the end of the story. Children aren’t miniature adults, even the really smart ones. I wasn’t any good at being a kid, but I would have made a shitty, irresponsible, miserable adult, too.

I considered studying the loud and vicious debate that’s going on right now regarding “darkness” in YA literature. It does look as though things have been getting darker, but I wonder. Kids half a generation below me get Hunger Games, but I got Christopher Pike novels — and we both get The Hobbit and the Narnia chronicles, just like our parents and grandparents did. They weren’t any less dark, really, they just had fewer televisions in them.

And I think it’s better to write dark books for youth and let their parents decide, rather than legislate what a writer can and can’t say to a fourteen-year-old. The publishers are already going to keep those gates pretty tight. One YA author, James Dawson, said that the things publishers keep from YA lit are the three S’s: “Shagging, swearing, and slaughter”. Despite, as he points out, these being three very popular things with teenagers.

And while Dawson doesn’t like being told what he can and can’t write, he’s aware that if he wants his books published, there are certain things that won’t fly. This isn’t necessarily a problem with self-publishing the way I do it, but of course traditional publishing still has perks that selfpub doesn’t, and one of those is a very strong connection to schools and libraries that buy YA literature.

At the start of this I was left with the problem that I am trying to understand books written, in the main part, for someone I never was, in a field (traditional publishing) to which I don’t fully belong. I could read a lot of YA Lit; in the past, I have, particularly in college where I used to pick books at random from the YA shelf and read them to relax. But I never read them at the right time, first too young and then too old, and finding the patterns and traditions is hard going.

So I turned to the internet, and we’ll be talking about that adventure on Tuesday.

YA Literature and DEEP IRONY

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2013 at 9:00 am

So, WordPress prepared a “2012 annual report” for me, explaining my most popular posts, my number of visitors, and various other factoids about my blog. Thirty thousand hits last year; not too bad.

You can see the complete report here.

Mandr, my hat is off to you, my little comment monkey.

What’s funniest about the annual report is that this is the year I released The Dead Isle, which could reasonably be considered YA lit, and my most popular post is about how I can’t write YA lit. Somehow I feel this is the story of my life.

I’m not objecting, really. Mostly I’m just confused.

Anyway, it’s an interesting read for me, and for you guys it’s a back-end look at what I do, the way my internet life works, the stuff I see that guides me. I don’t know how I ended up living such a feedback-driven life, but to be honest I’m kind of enjoying it.

God Needs A New Agent

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2013 at 10:00 am

Before we begin, a bit of PR — I just did an interview with Elin Gregory over at Speak Its Name, about my writing process and about The City War in specific. If you’re interested, you can read it here!

***

A lot of the time, the posts I write here are driven by reactions to reading I do, both within the literary sphere and outside of it. The last post, about narrative in human life, was very much outside of literature in terms of sources and goals. Today’s is a little different.

I read a lot of articles in a given week, some for my job, some from aggregation sites like BoingBoing, some from specialist sites like Publisher’s Weekly. This past week I read two that I’d picked up and saved to read before the holidays: Has Fiction Lost Its Faith? and Horror: A Genre Doomed To Literary Hell?

Both concerned essentially the same thing: a discussion of something missing from modern literary life, and a question as to why. The contrast interested me, because if you read both the articles you get the idea that faith and horror are the two things that literature, in the literary-novel sense, is leaving behind.

Mind you, the New Yorker article about faith is not actually referring to faith, but to Christianity. I don’t know if the writer was only interested in Christianity, or doesn’t read books about people of other faiths, or maybe just doesn’t think other faiths matter enough to spend time working out whether they are disappearing from literature as well. And, on the whole, I was a bit “well, Christianity had its turn in the spotlight for the last FIFTEEN HUNDRED YEARS, it can give a few other faiths some headline time” but, as the author points out, it’s odd to see Christianity ebbing out of the literary scene at a point where America at least is deeply torn by issues of faith driven by warped bigots hiding behind religion as their excuse (my words, not his).

The Guardian article about horror is mostly about how genre literature (science fiction, murder mysteries, et cetera) is being allowed into the literary sphere, how “literary” genre fiction is now a big deal — but somehow horror’s gotten left out of it. The author points out that we live in a world where the tropes of horror are becoming more and more common: people literally haunted by houses now not worth their mortgage, corporations with legal personhood, computers that can be possessed by virii. And while there are writers of horror who reach a literary level, they are few, and often do so by accident. I can’t help but agree with the author that Stephen King is a great writer, but “routinely fails the dismount”.

At first I thought it would be interesting to write about these two articles together because they seem to be about the same problem happening to genres on the opposite end of the spectrum: faith and horror.

And then I realized that I was, really, reading about the same thing.

It’s hard to write about Christianity because it is such a dichotomy: I have Christian friends who embody the kind and compassionate aspects of the faith, and they are my friends in many ways because they are kind people who understand they live in an imperfect world. Their faith is often personal rather than socially evangelical. But there are many others claiming the faith who espouse the darkest parts of it, the twisted misogyny and consumerism and bigotry that have become an intrinsic part of some branches and which my friends wish would get the hell off their religion. So just to be clear: I am talking about people who call themselves Christians and do things that would horrify Christ. Unfortunately, these people appear to be in the majority and, if they aren’t, they’re loud enough to drown it out.

And, in so many ways, the faith these people espouse has much in common with traditional twentieth-century horror.

In horror, particularly in cinematic horror in the past century, the ones who die first are the ones who defy a narrow, rigid definition of acceptable. Those who engage in sexual behavior (be that premarital or homosexual or kinky), those who aren’t young-white-male, those who are poor, those who are outsiders. It’s become a joke to my generation, that the black guy never survives, that kids having sex have got to go. Much of horror — HP Lovecraft in particular comes to mind — is about not questioning, not exploring, and not poking-the-thing-in-the-corner if you want to stay safe and sane. In both horror and in the darker side of Christianity, there is an unseen, supernatural force that judges the abnormal and casts it out or makes it the evil to be vanquished by the hero. In both, science is viewed as deeply suspicious, the producer of monsters who must be slain. Both are relics of a repressive mind-set which favors the maintenance of the social order over the acceptance of those who disrupt it.

Which makes their disappearance from modern literature pretty easily explainable, and not entirely undesirable.

These genres don’t have to disappear, but if they want to maintain or increase their presence, they do need to make some radical changes. Society is hopefully becoming more fluid and accepting, more flexible in its definition of normal, and less desperate to adhere to the concept of normal to start with. Literature tends to be about questioning barriers rather than enforcing them, because enforcing barriers makes for boring reading — which is why you have to use things like monsters and magic and guys rising from the dead to spice it up. Horror that works against the concept of the maintenance of social order would be a radical thing, but it would also be treated much more as literature than its fellows. As the popularity of Stephen King’s early “outsider protagonists” and the more recent popularity of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House Of Leaves can testify.

As for faith — well, the article about faith opens with a description of a novel in which two people have an affair, and one of them just happens to be a seminary student, and religion doesn’t really come into it — which may also be appropriate for books that want to explore faith. Writing about faith as an identity rather than as a rule of law allows an exploration of how individuals react to communities, which is one of the most literary concepts there is.

The upshot of all of this is that literature moves at the speed of society and sometimes, when it leaps ahead, changes society itself — but in order to leap ahead you have to at least be neck and neck. Some genres are falling behind. And, to be honest, I rejoice in the fact that there is a shrinking space in our society for the enforcement of an outdated and repressive social order.

Careful When You Kill Your Darlings

In Uncategorized on January 8, 2013 at 9:30 am

About six months ago, shortly after the cinema shooting in Aurora, CNN ran a story by Bruce Schneier about how we tend to draw the wrong lessons from horrific events.

Schneier said that instinctively, our brains are not that good at risk analysis. We base our evaluations of events, particularly threatening events, “more on stories than on data”:

If a friend tells you about getting mugged in a foreign country, that story is more likely to affect how safe you feel traveling to that country than reading a page of abstract crime statistics will. Novelty plus dread plus a good story equals overreaction.

Chip and Dan Heath, in their book Made to Stick, bear this out with a lot of evidence; stories give us something to grip onto that has an emotional association.

This emotional touchstone found in narrative, which is generally absent from hard data, also affects how we narrate our own lives, to ourselves and to others. Maura Kelly, reviewing “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human” in The Atlantic a few months ago, talks about Jonathan Gotschall’s theory that stories make us feel our lives are important, and allow us to impose order on chaos. There’s a famous saying: the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.

The negative aspect of all this is that a scary story is more effective than a ream of reassuring data, as the general reaction to the Aurora shooting seems to bear out. People said at the time they were scared to go to the cinema, when in reality they should be much more scared of getting into their cars.

The positive aspect of the human dependence on narrative is that when we re-narrate our own lives, we tend to make them better — ourselves more heroic, our actions more sensible, our existence as individuals more important. Gotschall even theorises that “talk” therapy is effective because it forces us to narrate our lives to another person and, when we do, we tend to reframe them more positively than we might privately. People with depression, he says, actually see their existence more realistically, which may be why they’re so depressed.

Gotschall says that humans crave meaning, but meaning is not the same as truth. Meaning tends to come from cohesive stories rather than the random events that make up our lives. There’s a debate that sometimes crops up among consumers of popular culture as to whether “realism” or “fantasy” is preferable: whether people want stories where realistic events happen, deaths and unhappiness and breakups and failed love (George R. R. Martin’s love of killing everyone in his books comes to mind), or whether they want stories where people get the happy endings they deserve and the bad always suffer (shades of Mills & Boone).

It’s difficult to go either way, because the one is often depressing and the other is frequently boring. As Charles Schultz said, “Happiness, unfortunately, isn’t funny,” but I have to admit that I’m depressed often enough that I prefer the fantasy. On the other hand, as a writer focused on interaction with his audience I also have to make sure that I’m serving as many people as I can without corrupting the story. It’s one reason I disdain writers who destroy just to be novel or shocking, those who kill characters out of spite or who react to their fans’ love of a character or relationship by wrecking it. It’s petty, which is very human, but it’s a particularly cruel form of pettiness masquerading as realism.

We have the ability to put order to the world, at least a little bit, in our stories; we even have the inclination. If you destroy, the result for the story should be worth the effect. Reality is frequently hard and unforgiving and we have to spend the rest of our time in it anyway.

The Seduction Of The Fearful

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2013 at 10:00 am

A couple of weeks ago I posted some images from an old comic book that were — well, let’s call them subtly risque. It was an alternate reading of the text, to be sure, but it did make one scratch one’s head just a little.

I got a comment on the post from a regular reader, to the effect that she wasn’t sure if censorship boards ever even looked at comics like they did at movies. This was my reply, and I thought it merited a rewrite here, because I think knowing about censorship and knowing why one stands against it is important. Especially in light of the recent scandal over Nobel Prize for Literature winner Mo Yan’s pro-censorship stance and Salman Rushdie’s public condemnation of him for it.

Comic books in particular have a fairly dark history of censorship that ties into McCarthyism, racism, and homophobia. They’ve been a heavy target for fearmongers. But fearmongering often only glances off the surface of any given narrative — you can’t swear in comics but you can murder, you can’t show sex but you can show musclebound men and busty women in spandex, you can’t (well, couldn’t) show an interracial relationship but you could show Cap and Falcon fighting evil together.

Comics censors had a lot of rules but they rarely looked into the deeper story, the part that grabs you by the emotions no matter what the medium. Take Arnie as an example. In the Captain America comic books, there’s a story where Captain America in the sixties meets a man he knew when they were growing up in the thirties named Arnie. When they reunite and catch up on each others’ lives, he finds out Arnie is gay. They couldn’t explicitly state it — which is of course wrong — but any gay man reading it back then and certainly anyone reading it now (and probably a lot of heterosexuals back then) could clearly get the message.

Cap accepted Arnie without hesitation or question, defended him, and avenged his partner’s death. The censors said “You can’t say gay” so the comics said “Cap’s best friend has two failed marriages and a roommate named Michael who makes him happy” and Cap said “I’m glad you’re happy” and a generation of gay comic book readers understood implicitly that Captain America was okay with them. It wasn’t ideal, certainly, and the story itself wasn’t perfect, but the censors couldn’t get the meat — they could only get the shine on top.

Censorship is evil, but it’s a very narrow evil, and stories always find a way, which is why censorship has never won and won’t ever win. You can burn a book, but you can’t burn a story.

You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. Yet in their hearts there is unspoken – unspeakable! – fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts! Words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home, all the more powerful because they are forbidden. These terrify them. A little mouse – a little tiny mouse! – of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.
— Winston Churchill