Tara Calaby

writer & editor

Mid-Year Round-Up

Apologies for the long delay between posts. I’ve been up to my neck in study, so the focus has been more on essays than fiction. However, I’ve now completed the graduate certificate and hope to post more regularly in the future.

While I was away, I’ve had a few things published, so I’ll make this a quick dot point list to fill things in.

In more personal news, I got married last month! Australia is still dragging its heels on equal marriage but, as I’m a British citizen, my wife and I were able to be legally married at the home of the British Consul-General in Melbourne.

Update Time

Firstly, and most importantly, my piece “The Cow Tower” has been accepted into Mosaics: An Anthology of Independent Women, Volume 2. It’s a great concept, collecting feminist writing from women writers and supporting The Pixel Project, and I’m really pleased to be a part of it. More once we’re closer to publication date.

Secondly, in a couple of weeks I shall be starting a Graduate Certificate of Arts (Gender Studies) at the University of Melbourne. I still have PhD hopes for the future, and I have a glaring gap in my studies right where I’d like to slot that PhD, so I shall finally have the chance to study gender and sexuality formally–and to do my first university English lit subject as well. Everything’s been about my writing up until this point.

Speaking of, I’m not exactly doing any of that right now. Hopefully my head will be in the place for it sometime soon.

Recap: (SVT9) Against the Rules

svt9This one is basically a SVT mash-up of the prejudice against Trisha Martin in the first SVH books and Jessica’s trip away in SVH: Too Good to be True. The main story is that everyone thinks that Sophia Rizzo is bad news because her brother is a violent thief. Except, of course, for Elizabeth, who is always willing to find the good in absolutely everyone. The side plot is that one of Ned’s clients has invited one twin to join their family for a trip to Los Angeles. Liz wins the number game to decide which twin will go, but it’s Jess who is desperate to do so because she’s in love with the musical Shout and the lucky twin will get a backstage tour. Oh, and there’s also a school play, because why keep things simple?

Against the Rules is one of the many Sweet Valley books in which Ned and Alice are terrible parents. Sophia’s brother Tony gives Steven a black eye, so they decide that Liz isn’t allowed to see Sophia at all out of school. It would be one thing if they just didn’t want her to go to Sophia’s house out of the fear that Tony might do the same to her. But that would be too sensible. Instead, they ban any contact, because there’s no better way of judging a person than by other people’s actions, amiright?

For once of only a few times in her life, Liz is a rebel, and continues to spend most of her time at Sophia’s house. She also plans to throw Sophia a birthday party at the Wakefield house, engineering a twin swap so that she can do so, given that Sophia’s birthday just happens to fall on the weekend that she’s meant to go to L.A. Naturally, Jessica is more than happy to oblige.

Sophia’s writing the school play with Liz and a bunch of other kids, so the Unicorns decide to boycott it. I actually find the writing of Jessica very interesting in the early Twins books. She’s just so very susceptible to peer pressure and concerned with appearances and reputations. There’s a lot that’s complete rubbish in the Sweet Valley books, but I actually think Jess is pretty true-to-life for a twelve-year-old trying to find her place in her first year of middle school. Much more so than Elizabeth who really does have an abnormal confidence in who she is and what she believes.

Anyway, of course the Unicorns are made to eat their words, because that’s how these books work. We’re supposed to believe that a play written by a sixth grader (and altered a little by sixth, seventh and eighth graders) is mind-blowingly good, so good that it makes everyone like Sophia after all. Frankly, I’m dubious. I also side-eye the fact that Liz is totally okay with everyone talking about how Sophia is the best writer ever, given her usual habit of freaking out the moment anyone else shows any kind of writing talent at all. Don’t forget how hard she found it to believe that Jessica could write an interesting article mere books ago.

Better yet, the play also makes Ned and Alice realise that they are being horrible human beings, so when they get home early and discover Liz’s secret birthday party, they’re totally fine with it, even inviting Sophia’s mother and bad brother to join them. All’s well that ends well, yet again.

This isn’t one of the most interesting Twins books, largely because the ghost writer tries to fit too much into such a short novel. I think it would’ve been better if the LA plot was cut, irrelevant and glossed-over like it is.

Recap: (SVT8) First Place – Francine Pascal

First Place coverFor a book that has Lila on the front cover, this isn’t nearly as Fowler-filled as I would like. Instead, it is the love story of Elizabeth Wakefield and a horse named Thunder. No, seriously, there is some serious horse-fever-as-metaphor-for-burgeoning-puberty stuff going on here. The moment they meet is described much as the first meeting in any torrid love story:

In the silence of her first glance, she felt she could barely breathe.
And when he stared at her, he seemed to be saying, “Yes. You’re the one.”

If this isn’t enough, we then get a very seductive description of the horse through Elizabeth’s eyes:

…Elizabeth admired the perfect slope of his neck, rising like a tree trunk from his forequarters. His long shoulder muscles glistened as they stretched tightly up to the withers. And his legs, which tapered beautifully to their hooves, seemed graceful, yet powerful…

It’s a real Mr-Darcy-walking-wet-from-the-lake moment.

Ostensibly, this story is about Liz using Lila for her horse, while Lila uses Liz for her homework. It’s about Jess being jealous that Lila and Liz are spending more time with each other, than they are with her (“Lila is not my sister’s type, OK?”) and Liz pretending that she’s really Thunder’s owner, while spending a lot of time with the stable hand Jess is crushing on. Oh, and Liz spilling the beans to all of the Unicorns about Ken kissing Amy, because she is just that good a best friend.

But really, really this is the story of Liz’s hormones kicking in with a vengeance and of her becoming addicted to the feel of a powerful stallion between her legs. And, when it’s over, she feels a little naughty and a little ashamed of herself, but she’s finally learnt that it’s wrong to deceive and use people just to get neigh-ed.

An October Update

indreamsMy piece “In Dreams” was published on the 25th of September and can be read online for free at Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. It’s an older piece of mine and somewhat different to my current style, but I’ve always been rather fond of it, so I’m very glad that it’s found a good home.

In future publication news, I have a science fiction piece, “Women’s Work”, expected to be in the December edition of the Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. More details when it eventuates.

Writing-wise, I’ve just completed the first draft of a sword & sorcery short story, which is currently nameless. I hope to have it named, edited and out on submission before I head to Canada next month.

(Yes, I am going to Canada for the first time! I shall be staying with my best friend and her family and–very importantly–her cats.)

1001 Books

Peter Boxall has published three versions of a list of 1001 books for everyone to read before they die. I have my own list of 100 books, which is my main priority, but I thought it might be fun to keep track on the superdooper massive list as well. To be honest, there are a lot of more modern books on here that I’m unlikely to ever read, but I’d love to go through all the 18th and 19th century ones eventually.

Continue reading

An Update: In More Ways Than One

Welcome to the new site. My old Blogspot site was beginning to look decidedly dated, so I’ve moved to a self-hosted WordPress site that hopefully looks a little better! Everything from the old site and my even older review site should now be available here, and I’ll be adding in some further (backdated) stuff over time.

I guess the biggest news is that I have officially graduated from my degree, so I’m now Tara Calaby M.Litt M.A. I was very pleased with my marks and am now investigating PhD programs, because I just really love study. In case it wasn’t blindingly obvious.

I’ve also had a story accepted into Solarwyrm Press’s upcoming anthology, Marked By Scorn, edited by Dominica Malcolm. Malcolm’s last anthology, the Aurealis Award finalist Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction was excellent, so I’m pleased to be a part of her next project.

I haven’t been writing, but I’ve been thinking a lot about writing. That counts, right? No?

The Best of Luna Station Quarterly: The First Five Years

Usually when I talk about Luna Station Quarterly, it’s while wearing my assistant editor hat. Today, however, I’m wearing my writer hat to announce the launch of The Best of Luna Station Quarterly: The First Five Years, a collection of fifty stories from the (you guessed it) first five years of the quarterly.

In amongst those fifty stories is a little (and I do mean little) piece of my own–a science fiction piece called ‘Air’.

In total, the book runs to a massive 550 pages, so there’s plenty of other reading in there as well. You can buy it at Amazon, but if you buy directly through Luna, you’ll receive 10% off if you use the coupon provided. It’s paperback only, because this kind of celebration deserves to be held in your hand.


Grimdark, Issue #4 Now Out

Last month, I posted exciting news about “Ashes” having been accepted by Grimdark Magazine. Today, I’m here to let you know that my issue of the magazine is now out, and also to show you the gorgeous cover art from Jason Deem.

You can buy issue #4 through Grimdark Magazine‘s website, or as part of a first year bundle that includes writing from such notables as Mark Lawrence and R. Scott Bakker. It’s also available on Amazon.

Recap: (SVT7) Three’s A Crowd – Francine Pascal

Three's a Crowd coverI will happily overlook all manner of unrealistic things when it comes to Sweet Valley. I will nod and accept the fact that people still love Jessica, despite her constant scheming (because, hey, I love her too) and take it in my stride that people consider Elizabeth popular and kind, instead of boring and holier-than-though. But I just can’t take the complete and utter ridiculousness of this book. Not only is it extremely impossible, but it also sends a really dangerous message to kids.

Okay, so the story. We’ve met Mary Giaccio here and there before as one of the just-a-name Unicorns. But suddenly she’s always at the Wakefield house, which is helped by the fact that she lives with her foster parents, just up the road. Jess quickly realises that Mary is more interested in spending time with Alice than she is with Jess or Elizabeth and gets totally creeped out by the fact. I don’t entirely blame her. It’s weird if your thirteen-year-old friend comes over so she can wash dishes.

Eventually Jess puts her foot down and stops letting Mary invite herself over… so Mary moves on to Elizabeth. At first Liz doesn’t see what Jess is on about, but then eventually even she can’t help but notice that the twins are totes being used to get at their mother. And so the house becomes a No Mary Zone.

(At this point, I can’t help but think that this would’ve been a much cooler book if it turned out that Mary had a big ol’ crush on Alice. After all, we’re always being told how hot she is.)

Eventually Jess and Mary reconcile (largely because Jess realises she needs Mary’s help typing up the celebrity cookbook the Unicorns are putting together). The side plot of this one is that Liz and Co have submitted The Sweet Valley Sixers to a school newspaper competition. Only Jess manages to spill grape juice all over the ditto master—can’t you just smell the spirits reading that?—and decides to rewrite Liz’s story about career week herself.

Later that night, she overhears Ned and Alice talking about how Mary’s foster parents want to adopt her, so she decides to add that piece of good news to Caroline’s gossip column as well.

Of course, Liz is way less than pleased when she discovers that Jess’s typo-ridden article has been published under her name. Mary’s not happy either, because she doesn’t want to be adopted by her foster parents, because she’s still holding out hope that her mother will come and find her.

Turns out that Mary’s in care because her mother went away to take care of her sick grandmother, leaving her with a friend, Annie. Annie told her that her mother had died, moved them both to California, and then just left one day and never came back. Mary doesn’t want to be adopted because she just knows that her mother’s out there looking for her and that, one day, they’ll be reunited.

So we all know what happens next, right?

Liz is in the playground after school and thinks she sees her mother. Only, it turns out that it isn’t Alice, but just someone who looks like she could be Alice’s sister. The stranger asks Liz about Mary and asks Liz to take her to see Mary at her house. Now, here’s what I was talking about in the first paragraph: Liz agrees, because obviously this strange woman must know Mary, even though her story is extremely shifty. So Liz—a twelve-year-old—wanders off with a complete stranger, just because that stranger knew the name of her friend. WELCOME TO SWEET VALLEY. And Liz is meant to be the smart one.

Anyway, she takes the woman to Mary and then of course the woman turns out to be Mary’s mother, who’s been looking for her forever. And somehow despite the fact that the authorities know Mary’s story and it is quite obvious that Mary’s mother’s story would be matched up to it immediately, it actually took Annie getting arrested for everything to be resolved, because Mary’s name is really Robinson, not Giaccio and apparently she totally forgot her real name in the short time she was with Annie (riiiight) and the police didn’t bother looking for her real mother once they heard Mary’s story.

So ultimately this is a tale of gross incompetence in the police and social services departments of two states. Or, yanno, just plain implausible. Anyway, there’s the required happy ending and of course Mary goes straight back to living with her mother without any longwinded process of finding the mother a fit parent etc etc etc.

(Oh, and Liz realises that her original article was boring and that maybe she’s not the only person in the universe who can write, so edits it so that it includes part of Jessica’s version as well. The Sixers wins the contest, of course, because this is Sweet Valley.)

I feel like it’s too early in my re-read to call it, but I am pretty damn certain that this is my least liked Sweet Valley Twins book. It just drives me way too crazy trying to deal with the utter NOPE of its plot.

Moral of the Story? Foster kids always get the happy endings they dream of.

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