New-to-me movies in December

Not a great month for movie watching….

1. The Giver (2014)

The Giver is about a young boy who is assigned to work with an older man, who houses all the memories of society. Somehow the humanity’s memories have been stored away, leaving everyone empty of extreme emotions and happy in their assigned roles within a community in which everyone is equal. Or something.

I think what this movie suffers from most is the current trend in YA dystopian stories, such as The Hunger Games and Divergent, in which a young character rebels against the system. It carries too much of that sleek pop-culture flavor and even mimics certain scenes (most clearly the visual aspects of the ceremony at the beginning of Divergent). What might have been unique about the original storyline has been obliterated by the need to fit in with these other popular dystopian stories, which was unfortunate. The result is a boring movie that doesn’t make much sense.

I have not read the book. I’m sure that where movie is obtuse and incomprehensible, the book is logical. Or at least I hope it is. The movie’s ending was so illogical that I was ranting at my family members, who kept telling me I was over thinking it. I guess I just need to read the book.

2. Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Technically, I watched this in November while captive on a plane flight. It was a terrible decision really. Zero entertainment. Zero joy. Even the action was snooze worthy. Not even really worth writing a review about. It was just… so, so, so bad.

Books finished in December

1. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
2. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3
3. The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
4. Siberiak: My Cold War Adventure on the River Ob by Jenny Jaeckel
5. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Hepperman
6. The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
7. Audacious (a novel in verse) by Gabrielle S. Prendergast
8. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “Books finished in December”

Seeking Minimalism and Creative Focus in 2015

For the last few of years, I’ve posted massive lists of goals for the year (such as in 2014), making note of ALL THE THINGS I want to do an accomplish. While I’ve always had fun creating this lists, I’ve noticed that I’ve only ever been able to accomplish a tiny corner of them, if that.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve read several articles and posts about eliminating and approaching minimalism in order to be better focused on achieving one’s goals. “It’s not enough to have great ideas. Lots of people have great ideas. The problem is that too many great ideas cancel each other out,” explains Olivere Emberton, noting that trying to focus on too many separate ideas will get you nowhere. He adds, “Monomaniacal focus on a single goal is perhaps the ultimate success stratagem. It’s a pattern found in everyone from Edison to Einstein. When you’re able to focus on a single goal, constantly, your achievements reach their theoretical limit.”

Continue reading “Seeking Minimalism and Creative Focus in 2015”

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by

Fairy tales neatly blend together with the lives of teenage girls in this darkly funny collection of poems for teens. Definitely from a girl’s perspective, these poems explore unfortunate boyfriends, friendships, girl-on-girl cruelty, and other teenage nightmares using the fantastical and strange. As the Hepperman explains, these poems show how a teenage girl walking down the street can feel as though she’s trapped in her own personal tower. Many of these poems are simple, narrative poems told from the point of view of a villain or an innocent, if you believe one is any different from the other. The book is also illustrated with fantastical and surreal black-and-white photography, often evoking fairytale imagery.

A lot of these poems focus on body image, weight issues, anorexia, and so on. It was by far the most common theme among the poems. And for the most part Hepperman explores these issues artfully, though at times it seemed as though there was too much focus on this subject, the impact dulled by overuse and the ultimate message eventually feeling somewhat trite. However, some of these body image poems were also my favorite in the collection, as with “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy”, which shows how easy it is to become obsessed with self-image.

It used to be just the one,
but now all mirrors chatter.

In fact every reflective surface has opinions
on the shape of my nose, the size

of my chest, the hair I wash and brush
until it’s so shiny I can see myself

scribbling notes as each strand
recommends improvements.

— from “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy”

One of the things I really enjoyed about this collection was how darkly funny many of the poems were. For example, the poem “Big Bad Spa Treatment” describes how you can get sumptuously treated with “deep-tissue Massage Mallets, / leaving you loose / and gristle free” and a “honey barbecue facial mask”. And the evil queen doesn’t stop at Snow White in “Assassin,” but laboriously works to take out Sleeping Beauty, Gretel, Bo Peep, Goldilocks and others in her need to be the fairest.

While I can’t say this was the best collection of poetry I have every read (I think there is more mature work out there), it was certainly enjoyable and I would recommend it for just about any teenage girl. I think it would resonate with that age group quite a lot. I would have been obsessed with this collection as a teenager, reading it dogeared and copying quotes down in my journals. I remember facing my own self loathing around my body in high school and the awkwardness I felt around my peers, and I’m sure this book would resonated. It might have even made me feel stronger, as though I could face the world with courage and awesome.

My Top Five Christmas Movies

There are a zillion lists of favorite/top Christmas movies out there, so creating my own is probably just adding to the chatter (and it’s even possible I’ve done this before). Yet, here I am adding my own personal list, and it is just that — personal. These are movies that I either grew up with or have a connection to, that I get eager to watch every year, and that (along with friends and family and decorations) make it feel as thought the season is really here, as I cuddle up with my sisters in big fluffy blankets to watch.

My list focuses on movies about Christmas, instead of movies about other events that just happen to be set at Christmas time, such as Die Hard, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Home Alone.

So, here are my favorite Christmas movies, in no particular order.

The-Muppet-Christmas-Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Numerous as the “best of” Christmas movie lists are the adaptations of Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol, but the muppets version is by far my favorite, gently incorporating the zany antics of the muppets characters, while also holding true to the sentiment of the original story.

Gonzo makes for a surprisingly great Charles Dickens and Michael Cain is fantastic as scrooge. Each of the ghosts hit the perfect notes: The Ghost of Christmas Past is ethereal and wispy, the Ghost of Christmas Present is joyful and solid, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is a kid=friendly level of grim and frightening.

Elf

Elf (2003)

A orphan crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and ends up being raised by an elf at the North Pole. It’s not until he’s an awkward, ginormous adult that he figures out he’s not really an elf and goes in search of his father, a Scrooge-like character who has been on the naughty list for years. His reunion with his long lost father does not go smoothly.

One of the things that makes this movie fantastic is Will Ferrel’s ability to pull off a level of childlike innocence and glee that reminds me of the shrill, ridiculous joy of being young at Christmas. Just seeing him scream “SANTA!” at the top of his lungs makes me think, Oh, yeah, I remember that feeling.

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story (1983)

All Ralphie wants for Christmas is a a Red Ryder B.B. gun, but all any adult, — from teachers to his parents and even Santa Claus — has to say on the matter is “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

I know people who hate this movie (my sister is one), but I can’t go through the Christmas season without watching it at least once. The dark humor appeals to me. Also, the adventures of this family struggling through Christmas — the kids dealing with bullies, over-sized snow suits, and horrible gifts, the parents trying to offer as much joy as they can while strapped for cash — resonates with me. It reminds me on a small level of the chaos that surrounded my own family around the holidays, my parents doing the best they could with what they had. Somehow it all came together into a fabulous holiday event in the end.

the-santa-clause

The Santa Claus (1994)

When advertising executive Scott Calvin accidentally kills Santa Claus by causing him to fall off the roof, he finds himself whisked off to the North Pole with his son, where he learns he has to take Santa’s place as the deliverer of presents and joy to the children of the world. Though he tries to deny it, his transformation into Santa begins to take place regardless.

I’m not really a fan of Tim Allen, but I love this movie. It’s funny and sweet and magical, and I will sit and watch it anytime it comes on.

the-nightmare-before-christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Feeling depressed and disenchanted with his work as the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington wanders away from Halloween Town and discovers a doorway into the North Pole with snow and elves and joyful feelings. So enamored is he with the discovery of Christmas that he takes over the holiday, taking on the role of Santa Clause.

While I feel this is almost as much of a Halloween movie as a Christmas movie, I love this animated tale, which puts a creepy spin on the genre. It fills the dark little heart of my goth/horror-loving shadow self.

Honorable Mention: Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

And the rest of the ’60s Christmas cartoons, really. Each of these movies, especially Rudolph holds a special place in my heart. Rudolph as the outcastand, all of the misfit toys, and the abominable snowman — I love them all.

What are your favorite holiday movies?

Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 3

Arabian NightsI have officially finished all three volumes of The Arabian Nights, a 2,715 page journey!

Volume 3 comprises nights 719 to 1001, as well as the “Aladdin, or the Magic Lamp” standalone story. This third volume has proven to be my favorite, as there is less repetition (same kind of story followed by same kind of story) than in the previous books and some stories that begin on well trodden themes actually branch of in surprising directions. Adventures, romances, and comedy tales mix together with morality tales in a broad spectrum of stories, many of which I found rather fun and interesting.

Shahrazad’s Tale Comes to an End

As I mentioned, in my review of volume 2, we can see Shahrazad’s story and dramatic progression through the tales she tells, guiding King Shahriyar to a different perspective on women. By volume 3, I get the sense that Shahrazad has relaxed, which allows her to explore a greater variety of tales. She probably senses him coming around and so can use the tales more as entertainment than for moral and philosophical lessons.

Continue reading “Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 3”

"Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work."

~ Peter Drucker

My plans and good intentions would have seen me continually working on the Novel in Poems I started in November. While procrastination has certain reared its multitude of heads, I did sit down to get to work a couple of times, only to sit at the screen feeling stymied. This is something that happens often for me as I get into the middles of longer works, when I get lost in the woods of where it could go and start feeling unsure of which way to turn.

As I usually do in such situations, I tried to make my through by setting down ideas of where I want to go, drafting out a kind of a rough outline for the rest of the story. It’s like pulling out a map, figuring out where I’m at and planning out which trails I want to head for. This process usually helps guide me forward. At the very least, I feel good about having put something down on the page.

Coming back to the Novel in Poems, however, I still couldn’t find my way back into the story, which calls for another stratagem. Sometimes moving away from the computer and working on good old-fashioned pen and paper helps to kick start the mind in a different direction. The idea is that I’ll print out existing pages and start reworking them, while jotting down ideas for future chapters. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

The only flaw in this plan is that I don’t have a printer at home — an entirely silly thing not to have as a writer, I agree. Thus, I’m going to go ahead and buy myself a new printer as a personal Christmas present this year.

Speaking of awesome presents for writers. My fantastic friend and roommate bought me StoryBox novel writing software for Christmas. I don’t know much about it, but I’m excited to try it out and see how the outlining aspects of the program works. If anyone has used this before, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Book Review: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Book description (from Goodreads):

“In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient African tongue.

Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers her magical destiny-to end the genocide of her people. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture-and eventually death itself.”

I loved many things about this book, fantastic post-apocalyptic worldbuilding, fascinating characters, and a captivating storyline, full of complexity. The writing is clean, giving Onyesonwu a clear voice as she narrates her life story.

Onyesonwu is a wonderfully interesting character, full of both anger and compassion, able to strike out and provide healing, desiring revenge and yet not wanting to engage in the violence she sees around her. Likewise, her companions and teachers (there are many) are complicated too, with a variety of motivations and assumptions based on traditions or superstitions.

The story includes descriptions of rape, genocide, female circumcision, stoning, child soldiers, and other real-world violence that is horrifying (and sometimes hard to read), and yet handled with honesty, precision, and care. In the face of all this horror, the story could have easily turned into a downer, but hope, love, and friendship are weaved into the story as well. The story is powerful, deeply resonant, and one to think about long after having put it down. An amazing work of art.

I will definitely be reading more by Nnedi Okorafor.

Here Comes the Rain

A few drops of rain spattered my face as I stepped out of the office today — the beginning of the great storm to come tomorrow. The night is calm, cool. You wouldn’t believe a massive storm system was about to roll in.

The news has been spouting about “storm watch 2014,” because tomorrow’s storm is supposed to be the biggest deluge since 2008, with heavy rain fall and strong winds. There could be power outages, fallen trees, and flash floods. There could be thunder and lightening (a rare occurrence).

As I wrote on Friday in honor of recent rains, mild in comparison to what is coming. My feelings are torn in regards to the storm. I love storms, love cuddling up safe inside and warm and watching lightening flash through the downpour. But I’m a little wary of commuting to work, as I’ll be heading home (very slowly) during what is supposed to be a peak of the storm.

All will be well, though, I’m sure. And I hope everyone stays safe on the roads tomorrow.

Five Thoughts about Rain

Fog at the Farmhouse

1.

The rain has come at last. The parched, drought ridden earth is slippery with heavy rainfall, stirring up mud and sludge. Every morning this week, I have awoke in the dark to the sound water splattering outside my window. I step outside my front door and listen to the thrumming rhythms on my umbrella and feel happy.

2.

When I was a little girl I used to run out into the rain in shorts and a tank top. I rode bicycles over the slick streets. I kicked puddles. I jumped in the mud. Gutters would gush water and I would stand under them as though I were a tourist under a waterfall in Hawaii. The water would soak through my clothes and drip down my hair. My shoes sloshed. I never shivered. I never shook. I danced in the rain and felt clean and free.

3.

My niece has turned two and has evolved into a delightful princess monster (and all that that implies). We have to convince her to wear a coat in the rain (she wishes to escape wearing only a frilly dress). After the rain, she prances out to the driveway to stomp in puddles, little insignificant ones, with a smile like the first beam of sunlight through the clouds.

Later I tromp through the mud, following my niece to the tree swings. I pull her onto my lap and we swing together, while large drops fall on us from the tree above. We twist back and forth, the word rocking to and fro, just sitting together enjoying the quiet day as we watch the post-rain fog gather around the farmhouse.

4.

Driving in California is the only thing I hate about the rainy season. Otherwise knowledgeable people forget how to drive as soon as the roads grow wet. It can take a week or more for them to grow used to it and for the level of car accidents to lessen, and by then the rains have gone.

5.

I could live some place where the rain was rampant through many seasons. Seattle, maybe. Or perhaps a rain forest. The sound and rhythms of water emptied from the sky has always soothed me, and I find myself longing for rain after months and months of sun and heat.

Then again, maybe it’s the contrast, the absences of rain followed by its sudden heavy presence that confers the joy.

Book and Movie Completed in November

Does this blog title sound odd to you? Because it sounds odd to me.

I don’t remember the last time I’ve only finished one book over the course of a month, as I tend to average between 6-8 books a month. This is in part because of my busy November schedule and because my time was spent absorbing longer works. In addition to the one book I’ve completed, I spent the month working my way through the third volume of The Arabian Nights (which is 850 pages long, so I’m still not done after reading around 500 pages this month).

It was also a slow month in movie watching, with only one new-to-me movie watched. Though again, I spent time working my way through a longer storyline, binge watching ten episodes of The Walking Dead on my flight back from London, instead of catching up on current movies like I usually do.

All that is to say, here are my thoughts on the one new book and movie for this month.

Movie – Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the ApesAn astronaut journeying through space lands on a strange planet, on which the human-like inhabitants are mute and are ruled by intelligent apes. Captured and unable to speak due to an injury, the astronaut (played by Charlton Heston) is unable to express his intelligence and is treated like a caged wild animal.

While the makeup and special effects are corny by today’s standards, I totally understand why this movie is a classic. The storyline is compelling as it presents an interesting, critical look at what it means to be human, how we treat animals in cages, and the threat of human’s tendency toward violence. There are many layers and much that could provide ample space for critical discussion (I’m sure many essays and analyses exist). An excellent movie, so much more interesting than ANY remake that has come after it (and I’m sure sequels, too, though I haven’t seen all of them yet to be able to judge).

Book – Sleepwalk by John Saul

I’ve had this on my bookshelf for ages and finally picked it up because it was a lightweight paperback to take on the plane. It served its purpose as something to read, but it annoyed me in several ways. The main character was a teacher; I was a substitute and my sister and friend are teachers, and the descriptions of classrooms and schools in the book did not ring true. None of the characters were particularly interesting either and the evil corporation conspiracy storyline was cliche. Plus the story involved around the concept “noble natives” as connected to nature compared to the people in town people who blindly working at an oil refinery, which is destroying nature. It all felt like it was borrowing old ideas, tropes, and stereoypes mixed together into a novel. Not a winner.

November Recap, or how did I manage that?

It’s hard to believe that November is already over, even though it vanished in a flash of activity, including a week long trip to the U.K. for work with a couple of days to tour London, a full day of helping my sister move into a new apartment, several events leading up to a lovely wedding for a good friend, and two Thanksgiving dinners combined with a variety of other family on-goings.

In addition to this, I participated in two November challenges — National Blog Posting Month and Nanowrimo.

The goal for National Blog Posting Month was to write a blog post a day during November. I managed to pull off a total of 21 posts over the course of the month. My personal favorites:

  • Autumn, which incorporates poetry and creative nonfiction
  • Bluebeard, a flash fiction piece that may or may not lead to more stories or a longer work

I fell short of Nanowrimo’s goal of 50,0000 words, as well, managing around 14,500 words, which is still a hefty chunk for a novel in poems. I’ll post an excerpt and thoughts on my process later.

While I did not reach my set goals for either challenge, the point was to get me writing and, in that, I feel successful. Words have been put on the page and progress made.

The next step is to maintain that progress. So, while my December is likely to be as busy with events as November, I’m planning to write at least three blog posts a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday posting) and use what time I can in order to finish draft zero of the novel in poems. That will provide me with plenty of work, I’m sure.

Did you participate in any November challenges? How did they go for you?

My heart goes out to Ferguson

Following the report that the Grand Jury failed to even indict the office who killed Michael Brown, I feel sad and discouraged.

I tend to not talk about race and racism on my blog for a number of reasons, in part because I don’t feel I have enough knowledge to be able to address the issues properly and in part because I don’t want to overwrite the voices of POC who speak from personal experience and with more eloquence than I ever could.

 

As I am white, I get to feel sad and discouraged. I get to not talk about race and racism everyday of my life and can, if I want to, pretend there’s not a problem here. But racism is rampant and I don’t want to be a part of the problem by ignoring the dangers it represents to a significant portion of the American population.

I get to look at my niece and nephew, running around, laughing, and playing and I know that my greatest fear for them does not include the fear that either one of them being shot by a police officer.

I’m going to close up (because there are other voices more important than mine) and say, I hope that those protesting in the Ferguson and around the nation will stay safe tonight and I send my prayers out to all the the people of Ferguson.

John Stewart on Racism

Bluebeard

Blue Beard in Tales of Mother Goose (Welsh)
Bluebeard illustration from Tales of Mother Goose by Charles Perrault.
Superhero Plus Fairy Tales

Oh, how people love to whisper. The rumors of my husband were rampant as gnats in summer. They speak loathingly of his ugly blue-black beard and how he towers over everyone in a room, thick and tall as an evergreen tree. They say he goes through wives the way wolves tear through rabbits, one after the other. No one knows what becomes of these fine young, innocent ladies, they say. And they wonder at what great wealth he must possess to draw so many new brides into his home.

I married not for his money, but for the rumors.

Continue reading “Bluebeard”

Lazing or resting

A reclining lady with a fan by Eleuterio Pagliani (1826-1903)
“A Reclining Lady with a Fan” by Eleuterio Pagliani

* * *

Sun rises and I pad out from bedroom to loveseat in pajamas, curl up with a thick blanket, let my feet dangle over the seat’s arm. The TV clicks on with an electric beep, noise pours out, full of automated laughter flipping through to reality celebrities bitching flipping to the laser fire of epic space battles. During commercials, the TV falls to mute, and I read, shifting to a more comfortable position. Afternoon light lines the room through the window blinds. Stomach rumbles, bladder complains. I get up, go pee, fix a sandwich, grab an entire bag of chips, return to my perch on the loveseat. Settle in. Words, channels, social media scanning on my phone. I don’t notice the light fading from the sky until I can no longer read the words on the page.

* * *

I sometimes give myself permission to have such lazy empty days. After a particularly stressful week it feels good to regress into the cave of my apartment and disconnect from the outside world.

But it’s easy to overdo it. Too many laze days in row or over the course of a month, and I begin to feel heavy. The emptiness weighs on me. The inner gnat starts nagging me about all I’ve failed to do — writing, laundry, cleaning, writing, running, writing.

Laying in one position watching hours and hours of television can be draining, sucking the life out of the day. It empties the mind but doesn’t necessarily make me feel good in the long run, sometimes making me feel more tired than when I started the day.

A completely lazy day is never as restful as I imagine it to be. Even one act of movement from the couch — a good run, lunch with a friend, a walk to the coffee shop across the street — opens the day up to a greater feeling of restfulness. I find that being active and taking part in fun (though not hectic) activities brings a greater inner stillness than sitting on the couch all day doing nothing.

What do you find most restful? Lazy days doing nothing at home? Or getting out and doing things?

Pining the Map

Create Your Own Visited States Map

When I was growing up, I saw a movie in which a girl pushes a pin into a map on her wall for every city she’d visited. I don’t remember the name of that movie or TV show, but I remember the longing for my own map and the desire to have so many travels that the map would be stuck so full of pushpins that you could hardly see the lines and designations underneath.

My travel dreams have always been of the large variety — a cross country road trip to visit ever state in the continental United States, trekking from China to India over the Himalayas, flying to the tip of South America and and making my way back up to the U.S. by car, train, bike, boat, or foot alone.

None of these dream trips have manifested as of yet. Life is full of obligations and I have not been good about planning ahead in terms of saving up funds for such a trip, but that has not stopped me from dreaming.

I must also admit that I have immensely lucky and grateful to have landed a job that has allowed me to travel on a smaller scale, such as with my recent trip to London. I may only be able to touch down into some places for a day or two, but it’s a gift to just be there for even that amount of time. I’ve had some beautiful experiences.

Though travel sometimes exhausts me and I always fun myself grateful for the comfort and peace of home, my wanderlust is never doused. Often the act of travel stoked my longing for more worldly wandering. The world is just so full of so many places to see and people to meet.

Where have you traveled and where do you long to go?

Words

As I was avoiding getting ready for work early this morning, I noticed a theme of posts about “words” showing up on my feed. I always find it fascinating when my reading naturally falls into themes without purposefully meaning to.

*

The Oxford Dictionaries have named “vape” 2014’s word of the year, explaining that “As e-cigarettes (or e-cigs) have become much more common, so vape has grown significantly in popularity. You are thirty times more likely to come across the word vape than you were two years ago, and usage has more than doubled in the past year.”

In response to this news, John Kelly wrote and excellent post about the etymology of the word.

*

Hel Gurney writes, “ALL WORDS ARE MADE-UP WORDS,” explaining how it’s silly for modern writers to complain that the younger generation is ruining the English language:

If English had never changed then we’d all be reading Beowulf without a translation; and yet there’s always someone who seems to think that English-as-it-is-right-now is the pure, immutable, “correct” form and everything after this arbitrary cut-off point is Wrong. All it takes to see the absurdity is to imagine people tutting over Shakespeare for all the words he “made up”.

Gurney also discusses how the creation of new words and terminology can be empowering to marginalized groups by reshaping what is defined as “real.”

“A word after a word after a word is power,” wrote Margaret Atwood (Happy Birthday!) and there is truth to this. Words have power and the way language shifts and changes over time to some degree mirrors some of the power shifts in society.

*

These coincidental commingling discussions of words lead me to discover Pet Words by Brad Leithauser in the New Yorker. Leithauser writes:

The word “sweet” appears eight hundred and forty times in your complete Shakespeare. Or nearly a thousand times, if you accept close variants (“out-sweeten’d,” “true-sweet,” “sweetheart”). . . . Every poet, every novelist has his or her pet words. Which words these may be dawns on you gradually as you enter the world of a new writer. . . . Either way, you’ll likely discover that your author’s personal dictionary contains an abundance of amiable acquaintances, but a select few intimate friends.

I’ve learned over time that I have my own pet words, which cycle through depending on my mood. The word that most insistently comes to mind is “tether,” which has appeared again and again in several poems. (You can find an example in my poem “Miscalculation“, published on Train Write.) I love “tether” for the way it feels on my tongue, a soft feathery feeling. Something tethered seems to be bound in such a fragile and gentle way, like a boat taping lighting against the dock or a spider web strung between two poles. It’s a word I can’t help but return to, always there waiting for the right moment to slip quietly into the text.

*

What are your thoughts on words this fine day?

Tis a Pity — My last night in London

My favorite moment in London came my last night before flying home, when I went to see Tis a Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

The playhouse alone is fantastic. Associated with the Shakespeare’s Globe replica, it has been built according to the plans for a 17th century style indoor theater. The theater is small and the stage performances are candlelit, making it feel intimate.

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Interior of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as pictured in the program.

In addition to the amazing setting, Tis a Pity She’s a Whore was one of the best performed plays I’ve ever seen. The play, which I read in college as part of a Shakespeare’s contemporaries class, is about a young man who falls in love with his sister. When he comes to her to confess his love, begging her to kill him or love him, she matches his love and the two begin an incestuous affair.

Meanwhile, the sister is being courted by three different suitors. As the tale unfolds and the desires of each of the characters overlaps and conflicts, several plot lines of revenge evolve and unfold into bloodshed.

The play was funnier than I remember it being in college, as dry reading on the page bears less life than what was brought to the stage with these amazing actors and well planned direction. The result felt like a 17th century version of a campy horror flick with plenty of well punctuated humor and pools of blood puddling onto the stage. Though no campy horror flick could have featured the resonance and complexity of this story, which presents an even handed look at the brother and sister’s relationship. Although, I found the concept disturbing, I also found myself wanting the brother and sister to be protected from the doom coming for them.

The candle lit atmosphere fit the story perfectly. The playhouse had candelabras that could be raised and lowered during the performance, allowing changes of setting to be indicated and at one point for the candle light to be doused entirely to present a night scene, at which point the actors lit themselves with handheld candles.

Though the play was three hours long, it never once dragged. I left the playhouse feeling elated, having seen an amazing performance.

IMG_4776.JPG
Tis a Pity She’s a Whore featured a scene with nudity.

The program was also the best put together booklet I’ve seen, providing not just a synopsis of the play and a list of the actors, but also a look at the influences of the play when it was written, a biography on John Ford, a critical analysis of the storyline, and a historical look at house incest was perceived in the 17th century compared to today. It also provides information on the historical style of the playhouse and how the modern replica was built. The program was worth every penny of the four pounds I played for it.

I would almost travel back to London just to see another performance at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse — it was that good.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas – Poppies at the Tower of London

IMG_4642.JPG

During my trip to London, I was fortunate to be able to visit the Tower while the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation of ceramic poppies was on display. Each of the 888,246 poppies that fills the moat represented a British military fatality during the WWI.

The view of the poppies pouring out of one of the Tower windows and filling the moat with bright red is inspiring, whether you know the meaning or not. It’s an installation to make passersby stop and take pause, and it’s no wonder that every walkway surrounding the Tower was thick with people doing just that.

The moat has since been emptied of the poppies and I am grateful for the lucky timing that allowed me to witness this spectacular remembrance of fallen soldiers.

Continue reading “Blood Swept Lands and Seas – Poppies at the Tower of London”

What makes a story a story and other thoughts at the Tate Modern

Untitled Painting by
Untitled Painting (1965) by Michael Baldwin

As I was walking through the Tate Modern, I came upon “Untitled Painting” (1965) by Michael Baldwin, which is a work with a mirror attached to a canvas. The description noted that historically painting has often been referred to as window to the world, a perspective captured within the frame. However, the mirror in this piece shifts the gaze of the window, revealing the viewer in the act of viewing rather than an image the artist made themselves. In addition to being the viewer, you also become the subject of the painting as well.

As I stood observing myself, now the living and temporary subject of the painting, I started to think about the nature of art and the artists who create it. Since it’s been years since I’ve taken an art history class and I don’t tend to speak critically of art, bear with me as I may misinterpret some things.

Continue reading “What makes a story a story and other thoughts at the Tate Modern”

Imaginary Architectures

When I walk through an art museum, I seek out works that move me, pieces of art that resonate in some way or in some way make me stop in my tracks and consider it further. The art that moves me is not always the most famous or most popular art. It may capture my imagination, sending me off into a story, or it may provide and emotional gut check.

I especially look for this in modern art museums, such as the Tate in London. I’m drawn more to modern art (much of the older art prior to the 18th century can sometimes all look the same to me no matter how beautiful), so local modern art museums are always a must when I travel .

The Tate has many great works of art in a variety of styles, from cubism to minimalism and everything in between. There are a few Picassos there among other well known artists.

However, one set of pieces that stood out for me were the imaginary architectures from the Projects series of Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin, which presented dreamlike architectural imagery in old style etchings that had me imagining steampunk landscapes and Victorian industrial and fantastical cities. I would love to post some images of the art here, but I’m not sure what the copyright rules are. You can see one of the intricately detailed images on the Tate Modern website.

More can be found posted here.

Both artists are “paper architects” who created seemingly impossible designs out of paper. I plan to follow up and learn more about both of these artists and their work. But in the meantime, I think I’m going to have to go back to the Tate later this week and buy a print from their Projects series for my wall.

St. Michael's a jerk and other paintings at the National Gallery

The National Gallery in London holds oodles of amazing paintings across many centuries, from the medieval religious works (including a piece by Leonardo Da Vinci) through to Renaissance to some expressionists (with some works by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gough). But here are a few paintings I found amusing beyond the quality of the art. I admit that this post is partially inspired by Women Having A Terrible Time At Parties In Western Art History, which is far more hilarious than I am capable of being.

Saint Michael Triumphs over the Devil (1468), painted by Bartholomé Bermejo, in which Saint Michael comes off as something of a dick.

IMG_4593.JPG

Continue reading “St. Michael's a jerk and other paintings at the National Gallery”

All the World's a Stage

IMG_4614.JPG
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

It’s been a busy day in London, visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tower Bridge Exhibit, and the Tower of London (including just about everything but the armory exhibit in the White Tower); taking Thames River Cruise; walking by Big Ben, Westminster Abby, St. James Park, and the Buckingham Palace; and then finishing up at London Bridge Experience.

My Favorite Bit of the Day: The Globe.

The Globe is as close of a replica to the original Globe theater as possible, considering there is not much beyond the information provided except in the travelogues of visitors. This is actually the third Globe. The first burned down only fifteen years after being built due to the genius idea to fire a cannon out of the attic as part of a special effect, which causes some of the burning cotton to set the roof aflame, though no one died. The second was rebuilt and closed down about 30 years after it opened, when the Puritans finally succeeded in closing all of the theaters.

This, the third Globe was rebuilt by Sam Wanamaker only 200 meters from where the original stood. Before starting the tour, an exhibition provides some background on the history of the Globe and how the replica was built, as well as including modern costumes designed to look like Elizabethan originals and recordings of famous monologues from Shakespeare’s plays.

Standing in front of the stage, learning about the tricks and understanding by being present really enhances how I feel about Shakespeare’s work. As the guide was speaking, just at her normal level, I could hear her voice reverberating off the rafters — the acoustics are amazing. Being there made me want to pick up and read some of his plays that I haven’t read before, or maybe just binge watch some of the movies.

The Globe is a working theater, too, putting on performances in (mostly) the old style with no electrical audio enhancement or special effects. The only lighting used is during evening performances, but it is used merely to allow the stage and audience to be lit to simulate the daytime experience, in which the audience and actors can see each other. In addition to Shakespeare’s plays, modern plays are also performed.

I would LOVE to have been able to see a performance at the Globe, but since it’s an outdoor theater, performances are only in the summer.

Fortunately, as an alternative, there is also the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is designed to be like an indoor, candle-lit Elizabethan playhouse — where they will be playing John Ford’s Tis a Pity She’s a Whore. Ford is a contemporary of Shakespeare and this is a play I read in college, which makes it doubly exciting. Tis a Pity is a story about incest between a brother and sister, which ends in a terrifically violent and bloody fashion in true Jacobean manner. Should be uncomfortably fun.

IMG_4626.JPG
Side view of the Globe, showing where the groundlings stand and other audience members sit.
IMG_4620.JPG
The heavens above the stage, where there’s a trap door for gods to descend.
IMG_4621.JPG
A happy traveler and Shakespeare lover.

The next leg of my travel will be work involved in an industrial city nearby and, thus, in a sense, slightly more mellow. So, I’ll be using the next few days to catch up on my London posts.

A post about London

IMG_4586.JPG

I was un prepared for how crowded and busy London was going to be, but it was a good kind of crowed and only certain spots. I mean, I was a pain to maneuver a suitcase or an umbrella down the sidewalk sometimes, but it was also wonderful to be able to listen to the many different languages (French, Spanish, and other languages I couldn’t name).

Tonight when I came out of the National Gallery, the rain was falling heavy. I pulled out my umbrella, but my shoes and pants were still getting wet. I was cold and could feel the water wanting to seep into my shoes, but I stopped worrying about it and just loved the rain. It felt like London blessed me (even though I know it rains here all the time).

Later, as I walked away down quieter streets to the hostel, with the lights reflecting off the wet streets, I was struck again by the absence of people after the earlier rushing crush of bodies.

And that’s about all I have the energy for in this post. I visited the National Gallery and the Tate Museum today, both of which had me thinking thoughts (one particular set of thoughts likely to turn into a very long post), but at the moment, the jet lag and exhaustion have caught up with me.

Good night.

The post in which I'm waiting at the airport

IMG_4568.JPG

I am at the airport. Waiting for my flight to London via Chicago.

Will be boarding any second now. Any second.

Excitement is present beneath the tedium. I’ve never been to the UK (Well, actually, I spent three days in Ireland, so that’s not entirely true). First time in Britain.

Since this will be a work trip, I’ll have just a little time to visit and check things out. In the day and a half I have in London, I plan to visit:
– the National Gallery
– the Tate Modern
– Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
– a Thames River Cruise
– the Tower of London
– the Tower Bridge
– the London Bridge Experience (a horror history tour)
– and walk around a whole lot, seeing Buckingham Palace with the changing I the guard, Big Ben, and plenty of other stuff, I’m sure.

I’ll have another half day after the conference, but I haven’t planned that out yet. Expect many London posts over the next week.

So, yeah, still waiting.

I should pull out my laptop and Nano for a bit, because I promised myself I would use the waiting while traveling to write.

So, here I go: waiting and writing.

Autumn

Acer near Birch Walk
Photo: Derek Harper (Creative Commons)

Out strolling, I learn how
the ocher yellow birch leaves tremble
against a robin-egg-blue sky. In a fairy tale,
a man finds a grove of trees
with leaves of gold, and here, now,
I believe it to be true. He could have plucked
these very leaves
as proof of the world’s wonder.

* * *

I have lived in Northern California most of my life. There are few birch trees, if any, and few trees that even bother changing color with the coming of Autumn. The seasons are less defined, blending one into the other with little differentiation. The first signs of Fall came only a few weeks ago with a noticeable chill to the morning air, a few sporadic grey-skied days with light rains lasting no longer than a day.

I remember piles of leaves, brown and yellow and golden, covering lawns. The rustle and crunch of them beneath my sneakered feet, sweeping huge piles into the air with one sweep of my feel. I imagine these memories attached to my younger years in Alaska, but more likely it would have been California — making my nostalgia misplaced. Perhaps this is in part due in part to my present longing for a true Autumn, a true Winter, at the very least a week of storms and rain.

* * *

I don’t much care for the hero in the story of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses“, who stalks the ladies down into the forests of gold leaves and silver leaves and then ruins the party.

Though to be honest, no one comes off well in this story. The king is sending men after his sleeping daughters and chopping heads off when they find nothing. The daughters blissfully drug the men, knowing they will die for their failure.

Still, I put my sympathy with the daughters, who seek adventure and dancing and joy. Though the hero brings them home and helps their father tether them to hope, I imagine each girl, one by one, shucking off the cords and wandering away for new adventures. The door to the magic lands may be closed, but their feet are strong and the world is wide. There is enough gold in the sun and silver in the clouds to give them joy, as they discover new shores and ensnare new friends into the freedom of dancing.

* * *

In fairy tales, everything — gifts, tests, friends — come in threes. They say that about deaths, too. When celebrities die, we count them in groups of three, create a grouping of deaths and call the curse down when the third falls. As though folk tale superstition can stop the flow of time, can hold back and make sense of the chaos of daily life. Summer becomes Autumn whether we like it or not, and we all must cross the threshold of Winter to reach the Spring.

* * *

Look what has become
of my heart, the husk of a brown leaf,
hold it in your hand, watch
it crumble to dust
and feed the earth,
wait, wait,
in the cold, in the dark,
see the tender shoot
of its feeling
emerge.

Smiling when your heart is breaking

When I was 13ish, my cousin shared the movie My Girl with my younger sister and I. We had no idea what we were in for, the fun and funny coming of age story of a girl coming of age eventually left my sister and I completely destroyed, curled up in a balled weeping mess, hugging each other to hold back the feelings.* I remember it taking some time to calm us down, though my cousin claims innocence and no memory of this incident. Over the years, I’ve watched My Girl dozens of times and I’ve wept every time.

So, when My Girl 2 came out a few years later, I had to see it. It was… okay. Not nearly the amount of heart as I would have hoped.

But that’s not the point.

The point is there was one moment in the sequel I adored — when Veda finally sees a video of her mother and she sings the Charlie Chaplin tribute song “Smile” (the only available version of this scene is this really bad recording). I’m sure I cried, because I’m a big baby at movies. There was something about they way the actress who played Veda’s mom is so casual, singing it acapella, smiling to herself, an slightly embarrassed that captured me.

I loved the words, too. They are simple words, but sweet, speaking of holding to hope through hard times, something I could and still can relate to in the face of struggle. It places this among my favorite songs.

So, after finishing the movie, I immediately rewound the tape so that I could start memorizing it. I still know it by heart to this day.

I’m not a good singer (to be honest, I’m terrible), but if asked, I will sing “Smile,” mimicking the inflections of Veda’s mom. I can almost sound okay singing it, or so I’ve been told by my mom. 😉

The words, as I remember them:

Smile though your heart is aching,
smile even though it’s breaking,
although a tear may be ever so near,
that’s the time, you must keep on trying.
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
if you just light up your face with gladness.
Hide any trace of sadness.
When there are clouds
in the sky, you’ll get by.
Smile through your fear and sorrow,
smile and maybe tomorrow,
you’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
if you just smile.”

And here’s a really sweet cover of the song I found (with what are likely the “correct” lyrics):

*If you’ve have not seenMy Girl, I urge you to go see it. Tell me what you think. If you don’t tear up even a little, even just a little extra moisture going on, I say you have no soul.

Failure to Vote

One of my personal flaws is my disinclination to engage more in politics. I suppose this is in part due to a sense of helplessness in the face of social and other issues I see within my country and in part due to laziness. Keeping up with politics is often disheartening, time consuming, hard work, and there are so many fun things I’d much rather be doing. Though I do read blogs and watch The Daily Show, I don’t often speak or write about politics.

But I feel I should be able to pull of a basic level of engagement: voting.

I tell myself every time that I miss a chance to vote that next time I will get my mail-in ballot, read up on the candidates and measures, and vote on time. And yet, here I am again. I’ve forgotten about the election, I’ve failed to get it together to vote, and promising myself to do better next time. I hope I can make that happen.

How often do you engage in politics? If you’re in the U.S., did you vote today?

Edited to Add: Just learned about headcount.org, which helps voters to register, find polling places, and provides other resources.

If you know of other such resources to make life easier for voters, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Resources for Voters

Facing the mountain

Tom Frost - Robbins ventures up - 1961
Photo by Tom Frost (Creative Commons 3.0).
Saturday morning, I came to the sudden realization that I was doing Nanowrimo whether I liked it or not. After several hours of denial in which I instituted time-old delay tactics, such as twitter and tumblr, I decided on a story to work with — a novel in poems involving the interweaving and retelling of many fairy tales and myths — and began to dig in.

This weekend was an excellent lesson in making time to write.

On Saturday, in between switching out laundry, I wrote. After going for a 4 mile run/walk, I wrote. In the few minutes before I had to leave for the awesome Dia de los Muertos party, hosted my fantastically awesome friend Lise, I wrote.

On Sunday, I woke up early and wrote, because I knew the majority of my day would be given over to helping my sister move from one apartment to another — both apartments were on the second floor. Well, one was on the second and a half floor, because there was a flight of stairs just to get to the second floor, which means my legs are all wibbly wobbly today. While my sister and mom were organizing all the moved-in things, I sat in the living room and wrote some more.

The result: 3,079 words written.

Already, with just that start, I feel better. The poems are more prosey than I’d like, but that’s for editing to fix. The months of feeling stuck and miserable from not writing has slid off my shoulders. This was exactly what I needed. I have a mountain of work ahead of me, but if I continue to be creative with my use of time, then I’m certain I can make it all work.

This is the mountain of things to be done during the rest of November:

1 — Trip to the U.K. for work. I’ll have a day and a half in London to tour the city, which will be action packed

3+ — Bridal party events to attend, including the bachlorette party, the rehearsal, and actual wedding itself.

2-3 — Thanksgiving dinners. The family dynamics are shifting this year and I’m not sure how it’s all going to fall into place.

27 — Blog posts left to be written as part of NaBloPoMo.

46,921 — Words left to be written for Nanowrimo.

Unknown Number — Of books to be read, runs to be run, and hang out time with friends and family have to be fit in.

Are you participating in any November challenges? Have you had a good kick off to the month?

New-to-me movies: August to October

Very short reviews from three months worth of movie watching. What have you seen lately?

1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
3. Divergent (2014)
4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
5. The Bling Ring (2013)
6. A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)
7. Prom Night (2008)
8. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
9. Captain America: The Winder Soldier (2014)
10. The Pact (2012)
11. The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
12. Horns (2014)

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “New-to-me movies: August to October”

Books completed in October

1. Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
2. Contact (audio book), by Carl Sagan
3. Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older
4. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
5. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson
6. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (audio book) by Robert Louis Stevenson

Still reading at the end of the month: The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3, which will probably take me a long while.

Please share what you have been reading in the comments. Nothing better than discussing books!

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “Books completed in October”

Getting back on the horse, or something like that

It’s November 1st, and here I am not participating in National Novel Writing month, not even in a modified format. I love Nano and have participated more often than not over the past eight or so years. It’s helped me write words, a lot of words. And even though much of those words were set aside or trashed, I know those words have helped me complete other projects that I’m proud of. I also wouldn’t have many of the friends I have today.

So, I always feel a little sad on those rare Novembers when it participation won’t work for me, for whatever reason. This is one of those Novembers, because I will be traveling for work to the U.K. in a week and will have a slew of other events during the rest of the month.

Also, I’ve been feeling blocked with writing lately and have been trying to dig myself out. I would argue that feeling blocked is an excellent reason FOR doing Nano, rather than not doing it. Nothing to get past a slump like putting down words at a breakneck pace and racing past your inner critic…

and… um…

freaking, fracking dammit! I can’t do Nano. I won’t.

But it’s occurring to me now — literally, right at this minute as I’m typing, seriously — that participating in Nano might be infinitely helpful to getting me back on tra— NO! I DON”T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!

But if I work on a new project, i.e., not the werewolf novel that has been hovering over my head like a great cloud of doom, then maybe, just maybe I can…

But I swear, I don’t have time for this. I mean, I’ll be traveling, loosing a WHOLE WEEK.

But I could write on the plane.

But I…

I swear, I started this post intending to make my excuses for Nanowrimo and announce my participation in NaBloPoMo. But, now, I guess…

Well, shit…

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History

Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History

I received this book as a reward for supporting the kickstarter project that made it possible. “Most written chronicles of history, and most speculative stories, put rulers, conquerors, and invaders front and center,” the editors wrote in the project description. “People with less power, money, or status—enslaved people, indigenous people, people of color, queer people, laborers, women, people with disabilities, the very young and very old, and religious minorities, among others—are relegated to the margins.”

Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History provides alternative narratives, presenting the stories of people that the history books usually ignore. A wide ranging variety of voices populate this excellent collection of stories, offered alongside an individual black and white illustrations, also in a variety of styles. The stories are anchored in time and place, with the date and setting noted at the top of each one, this connection with real-world history makes these stories of the fantastic more believable. There was not a single one in this collection that I didn’t like and, for me, the stories ranged from good to utterly fantastic. Below are a few of my personal favorites.

Continue reading “Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History”

Ahhh! Zombies run!

Zombies and survivors ran together during the Running with Zombies 5K fun run event in San Jose, which I participated in with my sister, both of us shambling out of bed bright and early Saturday, donned decaying flesh, and set out to run our brains out.

Despite some confusion as to where to park (the online directions were wrong), my sister and I had a rotting good time at the race. It kicked off with an air raid siren. The sky was grey and bleak with a slight mist, matching the tone of the event as we ran along the quite, closed off streets of San Jose, making it feel as though the city was a dead zone. The terrain then carried us through winding trails of a park where scattered zombies snarled at runners (some caged behind a chain link fence), past a abandoned and dilapidated building, and down a dirt, vacant feeling path where slow shuffling zombies wandered (one dragging the plastic corpse of a half eaten pig).

It was fun to see all the people who came, from young kids to wizened adults, many of whom came as zombies. Some got fairly creative with their costumes, including a zombie Star Trek officer.

As I haven’t been actively training as much as I would like, I felt a wee slow during the three-mile run and was definitely below my usual pace. But, hey, I was undead at the time, so I have an excuse and it was a shotgun blast of fun. I’d do it again in a heartbeat (if I had one). I think I’ll rise to the occasion again next year.

IMG_4423.JPG
Survivors and zombies assemble before the the race start line.
IMG_4424.JPG
Me and my undead sister.
zombies in a cage
Caged!

Book Review: Contact by Carl Sagan

“In the scant few decades in which humans have pursued radio astronomy, there has never been a real signal from the depths of space, something manufactured, something artificial, something contrived by an alien mind.

And yet the origin of life now seemed to be so easy — and there were so many billions of years available for biological evolution — that it was hard to believe the Galaxy was not teeming with life and intelligence.”

– from Contact by Carl Sagan

Contact by Carl Sagan
So many alien contact stories, especially those presented in movies, show a hostile force invading the Earth, forcing the human race to rally together in order to fight back. This is perspective is often driven by humanity’s history of violence and colonization, as well as human paranoia, such as with 1950s alien invasion movies as a metaphor for Cold War fears.

While I’ve enjoyed many an alien invasion stories (most recently, Falling Skies), I find myself drawn to and prefer first contact stories that are more positive or, at least, more ambiguous.

I think that is part of what made me love the movie Contact so much, when it was released in 1997, that story of ambiguous first contact with alien life based in scientific plausibility. It was a story not wholly built on paranoia and allowed for interesting perspectives to come through — How would people and government and religious groups react if an alien signal arrived from space? Plus it featured a complicated woman, heading the scientific investigation, played by the amazing Jodie Foster. I still get chills just rewatching the movie trailer.

“I’ll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space.”
— from Contact (movie version)

It’s taken me a long time to get around to reading the novel, but it’s been on my to-read list ever since I’ve seen the movie. I’m so glad I did.

Continue reading “Book Review: Contact by Carl Sagan”

All Hail the Great Pumpkin

IMG_4389.JPG

October is my favorite time of year, or at least that’s what I’ve decided just now. The crisp, cold mornings allowing me to pull out my collection of scarves, the hope of future storms and rain so desperately needed after the long, dry California summer, and the coming of my favorite holiday, Halloween.

So, it was a delight to see that Monster, my niece who just turned two this summer, is delighted with the season as we walked around the pumpkin patch with her parents and her baby brother.  Monster held shoulders back with an expression of smiling, princessy pride as she rode the pony. She sat (mostly) still as Minnie Mouse was painted on her cheek with glitter that made everything from her baby brother to my tee-shirt where she rested her head sparkle. She scampered through the pumpkins in her Minnie Mouse dress, pointing to each one and calling out, “Ha’oween!” All pumpkins are Halloweens to her.

I know she’ll love dressing up as Tinkerbell (though, honestly, she’d wear a sparkly dress every day of the week, if she could) and going out Trick or Treating (she’s already started practicing).

I’m so proud and happy to be an Aunty. Halloween this year is going to be so much fun.

Germany Wanderings

1.

The sun is setting in Quedlinburg as I step out of my hotel in search of an ATM and food. The ATM is easy. I have a clearly marked map and even in the fading light, the streets are easy to follow.

I turn toward where I think the city center is an start walking, figuring I find somewhere to eat along the way. It’s a tiny town after all.

A shouting, laugh conglomeration of teenagers ambles down the street. Two ride rattling skateboards on the sidewalk.

A man sags past alone and lonely.

Then, a family of three generations, grand parents, youths, children rolling forward in strollers.

Other than these few encounters, the streets are quiet. Empty. The cobblestone are black and shiny with reflected streetlights. I am beginning to think every shop and restaurant is closed in the entire tiny town, when the image of Frida Kahlo in a window stops me. I adore Frida and feel a warm glow at the sight of her.

Continue reading “Germany Wanderings”

Books finished in September

This is coming to you rather late due to my recent two weeks in Germany, two weeks of hard work and very little play. I’m planning to get a short post up tomorrow with the highlights of the trip, but for now…

Books Completed
1. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
3. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
4. Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
5. Locke & Key: Head Games, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
6. Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
7. Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
8. Locke & Key: Clockworks, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
9. Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez

Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:
Contact by Carl Sagan, because the last CD of the audio book was too scratched to listen to and I’m still waiting to get the print edition from the library
• Blue (poems) by George Elliott Clarke
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox
• The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3, which will take me a while to work through

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “Books finished in September”

How to Dig Yourself Out of a Creative Slump

It’s an awful, crappy (insert additional expletives) feeling when you’re in a creative slump, no matter what you’re working on, whether its writing, painting, or a new business proposal. Everyone goes through it — and yet it manages to be a terribly isolated feeling, like you’re trapped inside a dank, dark cave with no sign of rescue on the horizon.

Here are some things you can to do to help pull yourself out of the mire. Or, rather, I should say, here are a few things I’m currently doing to try to dig myself out of my own current slump. As with most bits of advice, your mileage may vary.

Seek Community Engagement

Go out and find fellow artists, writers, creators with which to interact. You can do this online, but if you’re really stuck, I recommend seeking a face-to-face experience. It provides a different level of osmosis. On a really good day, you can feel their excitement, their creativity energy coming off them. I don’t think of this as stealing, so much as basking in their sunlight. It’s great for gathering inspiration

My most recent foray was to attend Writers with Drinks at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco this weekend. Charlie Jane Anders is a live electrical wire on the stage and she always selects amazing writers to perform. It was a fantastic event and I felt energized by the end, excited to get some of my own words down.

Continue reading “How to Dig Yourself Out of a Creative Slump”

Five Friday Goodies

This past couple of weeks have been of the beat-my-head-up-against-a-wall variety, particularly in regard to accomplishing the mountainous tasks that had piled up at my day job. So, I figured it would be nice to be able to share a few of the things that have made me smile lately (above and beyond my niece and nephew, that is, who always make me smile no matter what’s happening).

1. I’ve just learned that Ursula K. Le Guin is the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. I have read a handful of books by her and have loved each and every one, though I have a particular soft spot for the Earthsea series.

2. The Beyoncelogues – Actress Nina Millin takes Beyonce songs and performs them as dramatic monologues. The results are utterly fantastic. I particularly like her rendition of “Single Ladies,” but the whole five part series is great.

Seeing Millin perform and bring new depth to these songs is deeply inspiring to me. I love seeing popular works redefined in inventive ways and seeing her perform makes me want to try to write a short film script, or even a feature film script, for Millin to star in.

3. I’m currently reading Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older (ETA: to include Older). These fantasy stories are exactly what I need right now. They’re not exactly lite, or not all of them, but they’re interesting and thought provoking and bite-sized. It’s good reading, which makes me happy.

4. This video of Terry Crews playing music by flexing his muscles, each one attached to an electrode attached to an instrument, is old to the nets, but new to me. Jaw-dropping, head exploding levels of awesome.

5. Running with Zombies is a 5K fun run in San Jose, in which the zombies don’t chase the survivors, but run alongside them. It’s kind of like a zombie walk, but with running instead. And, while I tend to prefer walkers instead of runners at the cinema, I’m happy to say that my sister and I will be shifting into zombie mode this October in order to join the run – zombie make up, torn clothes, and all. I’m so excited!

Note that I avoided putting my recent download of Minecraft Pocket Edition on this list, because it’s not so much making me smile as it’s consuming my life. If this no sleeping, no eating thing keeps up I might be more of a zombie than I expected by the time the fun run roles around.

Books Completed in August

1. Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Echo
2. We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead, edited by Dawn Keetley
3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
4. The Essential Edgar Allan Poe (audio book) by Edgar Allan Poe
5. Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
6. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line: Veronica Mars #1, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham7.
7. The Science of Herself, Plus… by Karen Joy Fowler

Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
• Blue (poems) by George Elliott Clarke
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox
• The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “Books Completed in August”

Book Review: House of Leaves

It’s hard to know how to explain the story of House of Leaves, which is deeply layered. I suppose one could start the explanation with what is essentially the core story, Navidson, an acclaimed photographer moves with his family into a country home in order to rebuild bonds and find a calmer, more cohesive life together, only to discover that the house is much more than it seems.

That explanation just barely scratches the surface of this book, however. The story begins with Johnny Truant, who learns of the death of a man named Zampanó and discovers a chaotic stack of papers in the man’s empty apartment. As he starts to put them together, his life starts to fall apart.

Continue reading “Book Review: House of Leaves”

Checking Out Corktown, Detroit

While my journeys in Corktown — the oldest neighborhood in Detroit — occurred over the course of two separate days, they really belong in a single post, since Corktown was so distinct compared to downtown Detroit. Corktown is where I started to see real signs of decay with many buildings and businesses nearby boarded up and dilapidated. But several great restaurants and a new brewery commingle, revealing signs of vibrant life.

Wednesday night, after day one of the conference I was attending for work, my new friend drove us out to Michigan Central Station, was built from 1912-1913 for the Michigan Central Railroad and was closed down in the ’80s. It’s been run down ever since and is currently surrounded by a chain-link fence with razor wire at the top to prevent anyone from going in. Through the open doorways, you can see signs of crumbling and decay, but it’s still such a beautiful building. There’s local debate as to whether it should be torn down or restored. I vote restored, though I know it’s never quite that simple.

Detroit - Michigan Central Station
Michigan Central Station

Dinner that night was Slow’s Bar-B-Q, where we were served up some amazing, perfectly moist brisket and creamy, dreamy mac n cheese — so, so good. My second side was the green beens, which were perfectly cooked, but had a spicy sauce that I wasn’t digging. Just a bit to spicy for me, especially since I really like the taste of plain, lightly salted green beans.

Detroit
Great brisket at Slow’s.

* * *

On my second trip to Corktown (on Friday , my friend Lorie was driving through and she pointed out what looking like a bar inside a warehouse. “I drove past here last night and it was jumping,” she said. “Do you want to check it out?”

I said, “Absolutely.”

As we were walking in through the back, we were greeted by a young woman named Courtney. She said the place was a distillery, called Two James, and she was one of the partners.

She showed us through the tasting room, where the style expressed a sense of old and new all at once, to a door leading to the distillery. I thought she was just going to let us peer through the window, but she said, “We don’t normally let people back here, but since you’re so enthusiastic…” Then she opened the door and showed us in, where several men were working at the giant copper pot.

“They’re brewing gin right now,” said Courtney. “I always think it smells sticky.”

“Sticky” is the perfect way to describe the heavy sweet scent that hung in the air. I wouldn’t know how to describe it any other way.

She led us over to a barrel, where there was an unlabeled bottle and some small plastic shot glasses and gave us a taste of the gin that was brewing. I’m not normally a fan of gin — this was the smoothest gin I’ve ever tasted. I would even consider just having it over rocks and sipping it slowly.

I told Courtney as much. “Yeah,” she said. “Most gins have 4-5 botanicals. We use 12.”

In the tasting room, I ordered a Manhatten, which I knew was a whiskey forward drink. It was fantastic, one of those drinks in which you can taste the good liquor.

My second drink was the Corktown Mule, a mixture of Old Cockney Gin, lime juice, and ginger beer. The drink was sharp with the taste of ginger and refreshing, a great summer drink.

From the tasting menu: “Two James Spirits is proud to be the first licensed distillery in the city of Detroit since prohibition. Our 500 gallon American made copper pot still resides in an old red brick warehouse in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood. At Two James, our passion lies in creating small, handcrafted batches of premium spirit, using locally sourced ingredients that highlight Michigan’s agricultural abundance and more importantly the people and city of Detroit.”

According to the bartenders, Two James is named after both of the partner’s fathers, each of whom are named James. The distillery was named in tribute to their fathers. It’s been open for only around a year and only sells the liquor they brew themselves. For me at least, Two James distillery is a must-go spot in Detroit.

A food truck, names Katoi, parks out behind the distillery and serves Thai food to hungry liquor tasters. But Lori and I were in the mood for burgers, so we walked down to the Mercury Bar, which is directly across the street from Slow’s.

We were running short on time when we arrived at the Mercury Bar, as I needed to be at the airport in under an hour or so to fly home. But Gino, a man with warm smiles, a pink-toned plaid shirt, bow tie, and thick-rimmed sunglasses assured us that he could get our burgers out in a hurry. The burgers came out in perfect timing and were big and juicy and good eating after all our liquor tasting.

Detroit was a delightful experience, not at all like the rumors would have led me to believe. I would definitely go back again and maybe next time, I’ll check out some more of the cultural sites as well as the good eats.

Detroit
The Two James logo.
Detroit
The tasting room.
Detroit
A wall of barrels at Two James.
Detroit
You can look through the barrels into the distillery.
Detroit
Inside the distillery with it’s large copper pot.
Detroit
The line of liquor.
Detroit
A tasty Manhattan.

Getting In and Hanging Out

Detroit

On my last day in Detroit (last Friday, Aug 22, as with previous night), we set out without much of plan, electing to wander around Greek Town and the surrounding areas. We checked out Saint Mary’s Church and had some eats at El Wood Bar & Grill.

While we were eating, we listed to the preparations for the Eminem and Rhianna concert going on across the street, including a sound check from Rhianna. At the gates, people were already lining up (it was only mid-morning).

Meanwhile, there were signs of people in jerseys, waiting for the football game that night. Since the arena is across the street from where the concert was being held, I can imagine how packed and chaotic the night would be — any restaurant and local workers were talked to just shook their head at what was about to enfold. Though Lori and I were well on our way out of there before the gauntlet fell.

Detroit - Saint Mary's Church
Saint Mary’s Church

The theme of the day seemed to be getting into places you wouldn’t normally be allowed, which started with our visit to Saint John’s Church. The door was locked as we were walking up, but as we were walking around the side of the building an old, young at heart woman came out a side door. We told her we were trying to see the church and she welcomed us in through the back offices, where she pointed out old photographs of the church whenit had been moved 60 feet back in order to allow a widening of the street out front. She also showed us portraits of the founder and his wife, let us into the original church chapel, and then let us explore the main church at our leisure.

Continue reading “Getting In and Hanging Out”

Good Eats and Great Folks in Downtown Detroit

My third night (last Thursday) in Detroit was dedicated to exploration. New friend Lori and I started out with the plan to walk around downtown Detroit and see what cool little spots we could discover in the area. To that end, we rode the Detroit People Mover (an elevated train) to Broadway station and just started walking.

Not far from the stop, we found ourselves at the Angelina Italian Bistro, across from the Opera House. Angelina’s featured a large marquee style front, which leads me to believe it might have been an old theatre — and since so much of Detroit has a history, I would not be surprised if it was. The bar and restaurant were virtually empty. Looking to try out a local brew, I ordered a Motor City Lager. The blonde beer was a little blander than I normally like, but it wasn’t bad. The appetizers, however, were excellent. The crab cakes were packed with flavorful herbs and the scallops were buttery melt in your mouth perfect.

On Eric’s recommendation, we walked a couple of blocks around the corner to Wright & Co. From the exterior, the only sign of a restaurant is a placard with the logo the phrase “Second Floor.” Inside and up a flight of stairs (or the elevator), which made me feel like we were discovering a secret, is the restaurant and bar, packed with people. The space is trendy with a great mix of old and new. I particularly liked the stamped tin ceiling.

Continue reading “Good Eats and Great Folks in Downtown Detroit”

Running the Detroit Riverwalk

Detroit Riverwalk
View from the Detroit Riverwalk, looking across to Canada.

It was a grey skied, muggy afternoon at the Detroit Riverwalk, but the river was beautiful and it was a perfect place for a run. The path was mostly empty when I started, but as the afternoon turned into early evening, more and more people filled the walkway, running, walking, chatting, hanging out, riding bikes, laughing. All around me people were out enjoying the evening.

As I ran along the trail, occasionally glancing out across the water, people would say, Hi, or offer encouragement. One young woman broke off from her crew of friends and ran along beside me, mimicking my movements with a big grin on her face. A younger me would have been embarrassed by the good-natured mockery — but today, I just smiled and fell into pace with her, exaggerating my own movements as she did, participating in the sillyness until she fell back, rejoining her group, all of them laughing and me laughing, too. The laughter invigorated me and I picked up my pace, feeling stronger and lighter.

I felt easy, like I could run for days — one of the rare times I feel this way on a run. The mileage tracker on my phone informed my that my pace was faster than it has ever been.

This was the first time I’ve gone running while traveling. The combined factors of packing the running shoes (extra weight), trying to figure out where to run, and a silly self-consciousness about the idea of being judged by the locals has kept me from trying it. Today I figured out that not only is running while traveling doable, but it can also be a rather pleasurable way to experience a new place.

Detroit Riverwalk
Detroit Riverwalk

Just 10 Minutes

The “write just 10 minute a day” goal worked well last week. It got me to write five out of seven days, and as I figured, I ended up writing for more than 10 minutes each time.

My word count was especially boosted when friend Yvette and I got together on Thursday for a writing session. I had some panic approaching the blank page, but pushed through and churned out 1800 words for the new opening Adam chapters for the werewolf novel that I swear will get written this year despite it all dagnabit.

So this week I’m keeping with the 10 minutes per day plan and adding send out a poetry submission to the list. Both totally doable.

Good Reads: Tom Pollock has a great guest post up on Chuck Wendig’s blog about Writing Around a Day Job, which is especially pertinent for me right now. Key advice: Make a time plan and stick to it. Yes, sir.

How did it get so late so soon?

“Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” — Dr. Seuss

СоветскийВудильник12ч34м
Photo: Petra Dr – Creative Commons

I’ve felt the weight of of time these last few weeks. I woke up this weekend amazed that July has passed me by, and I wasn’t entirely sure how it happened. I had this flash of terrifying premonition that I would wake up tomorrow and I would be 90 with nothing written or completed, my life already vanished before my eyes in a great big “Where has it all gone?”

I’m probably being over dramatic.

Okay, I know I’m being over dramatic. But I also know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Life seems to fly by so fast sometimes, especially when you’re not actively engaging in the things you/re passionate about — as I’ve been doing these past few month. I have been actively avoiding writing any resembling my novel and most things resembling stories or poems, with a few exceptions.

That said, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about spending every available moment of the past week with my cousin, who is in town from Alaska. Hurrah for family love and laughing about our own strange families and drinking three bottles of wine in a single night!

In other news.

I have been upping my running as of late. After completing a 5K, I was all mentally geared up to go for a 10K, but fell off running for a while. I’m trying to run Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, strength train on Wednesday. If Life will let me fit in a Thursday run, then I’m trying to do that, too. One the whole, I’m feeling good about my progress — despite having to rebuild my endurance to 3 miles again — and I’m starting to look for a 10K to sign up for in November or December.

Though in the meantime, I’m stoked about the upcoming Run with Zombies, fun run 5K, which I’m planning to sign up for, if I can convince a family member or friend to join me (my usual race buddy hates horror and won’t touch the race with a ten foot machete).

Back to the time thing.

As a way to assuage my feeling of lost time, I’m setting a goal of writing for a minimum of 10 minutes per day. While that may seem low, it’s just about the right amount for how busy I am at the moment. Also, once I get started, it’s unlikely that I’ll actually stop at the 10 minute mark.

So that’s it, goals and such for the week.

How are you these days? Do you feel like the forward progress of time is against you? Or are you seizing the day?

__________

Books Completed in July

1. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
2. A Good Indian Wife, by Anne Cherian
3. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons from a Life in Comedy, by Carol Leifer
4. TEN (chapbook), by Val Dering Rojas

Still in progress at the end of the month: Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Echo and We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s the Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human by Dawn Keetley — these two books are the reason why it’s been such a slow reading month for me.

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “Books Completed in July”

Poetry Chapbook Review: TEN by Val Dering Rojas

Book Cover: Ten by Val Dering Rojas

TEN by Val Dering Rojas
Publisher: Dancing Girl Press
Date Published: 2014

ONE.
I think
if he tried,
I would crumble
like the iridescent shell
of a beetle.

Val Dering Rojas’ TEN consists of ten long poems alongside ten mini-poems that explores the inner working of body and soul through the out workings of color and texture. The ten mini poems act as a form of chapter headings in between each of the longer pieces, providing a framework for the chapbook. Read together, all in one go, these mini-poems provide a poem of their own, which unveils a personal journey, from a place of a place of disconnecting from emotional wounding to a sense of inner calm, a spiritual awareness. As interjections, the mini-poems share thematic progression with the longer pieces.

In “An Instance of Affliction,” a medicine cabinet is contemplated, an “axis of obsolete / streets, old razors roads.” The medicine cabinet, the objects within, and the reflection in the mirror fade behind an deeper reflection. The material world itself becomes metaphor for personal experience.

“How To Leave” expresses the unpacking and dismantling of the meaning love with “its utopian tongue”, expressing both how love fails us and also all the things (objects and feelings) that must be left behind. “Love can’t be found / in these humble jars of honey, / in these everyday teaspoons.” At the same time, there is what remains in the leaving: “You are packing yourself up in bags, // stuffing yourself in boxes.” What do we have in the ending of a relationship, but ourselves? The objects (clothing, books, toiletries, towels, bedding), which gets stuffed into bags and boxes, become representative of the self. And yet, the poem, shows how the things we tell ourselves in leaving (“I hate love” or that “love / doesn’t know any truth at all”) are either lies or, at the least, half truths, because feeling, love, emotion lingers.

The progression of the poems eventually lead the reader to realize that the self is enough. In “While Alone at Topanga Thrift,” the narrator explores the feeling of space while discovering objects in a thrift store: “It occurs to me / that most things are made / to be filled; even now, / these old red dough-bowls / brim with sun.” As with the rest of the poems, it’s easy to relate the outer objects to the inner realm. The imagery of a tiny teacup or a ginger jar becomes moving and beautiful metaphor.

EIGHT.
I can’t let you
see me cry,
but if you’d like,
I’ll tell you a sad story.

I’ve returned to these poems several times in the course of reading them, each time discovering something new — a turn of phrase to fall in love with, a deeper meaning to latch onto. Each poem is shown to be lovelier and more evocative each time I read it. All told, a lovely. wonderful collection and I hope to be able to read a full length book from Val in the near future.

Note: A review copy of TEN was provided by the author, whom i consider a friend. Take this review with as much of a grain of salt to taste.

Five Things Make a Post

1. Last Thursday (July 17), I rolled down to Iguana’s in San Jose to participate in an open mic with the same group of artists I joined previously. The open mic was filled with a variety of wonderful, creative, inspired performers. The Hella Famous Lindsey Leong was a damn good host, full of energy and joyful humor in the face of the struggle, and of course it was a delight to once again see my favorite dynamic duo Q&A — Alice and Quynh. As I hoped, I managed to finish my new poem in time to read at the open mic. It was a wonderful, supportive environment and such a delight to be a part of.

2. Progress on the novel! The Board spawned new post-its, which has helped me shape out more of the beginning of The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. I now know where I’m planning to start with Adam’s POV, which is a huge relief.

3. I just learned about #365feministselfie, in which women (and I’m sure some men) have been posting daily or weekly or whenever selfies. I love the idea of using the selfie as a form of personal empowerment, especially for marginalized groups. The challenge started at the beginning of the year (so I’m late to the party). Viva la Feminista is where the challenge started and it has a great explanation as to the why. I’ll be posting my selfies on instagram and tumblr.

4. This really should be number one, but the Monster (my niece) turned two on Monday. She has two new princess dresses and has paraded around shouting, “I’m a princess!” Love her so much!!

5. Tonight the Writing Gang reunited! Even though one of our members has transplanted herself to the East Coast (*sniff*), we will meet by skype to discuss our work.

Lifting Our Voices to the Moon

Last Friday night was lovely. I attended Glowing with the Moon, an open mic hosted by my amazing, wonderful poet friend, Lorenz Dumuk. Lorenz is an amazing poet and one of the kindest, most generous-hearted people I know.

The night included a mix of featured poets and open mic participants with a variety of styles, including Yvette McDonald, Lindsey Leong, Scorpiana Xlynn, and others. The out pouring of words as the sky darkened into night was wonderful.

Q&A also performed a couple of sets. The musical duo is comprised of Quynh Nguyen and Alice D. Chen. They play a mixture of covers and original music in a style that is sweet and slightly eerie. They don’t have a website or facebook page that I can link to yet, but they have definitely made a groupie of me.

Lorenz presented several lovely counterparts to the mixture of spoken word and music:

  • He asked everyone to participate in a salt-art table, to draw out our dreams or what we’re looking to let go off in salt, then to sweep it into a bag, which he will later take and return to the ocean.
  • At another point, he asked everyone to stand up and greet a stranger, saying our name, what we hoped to call to ourselves, and what fears we wanted to let go of — the result was an opening up to someone new, perhaps letting in a little vulnerability along the way.
  • Since it was that kind of night, Lorenz also asked us to close our eyes and listen to the wind singing in hushed tones in the trees around us.

I don’t know that I can properly explain how grounding and wonderful a night Friday was and what a great community these artists and poets are. I find myself sometimes longing for community of this kind, a creatively charged group casting their words into the world (I do have my Writing Gang, though life has intervened making it hard for us to gather). Such kinds of communities makes me feel alive to words.

As I usually do after such an event, I went home and threw some words down on a poem I’ve been working on for a while. There’s going to be another open mic at Iguanas in San Jose on Thursday. My goal is to finish this poem in time to read it at the Thursday open mic, which is intimidating since this poem makes me feel vulnerable writing it, let alone reading it out loud to others.

I hope everyone is having a lovely week, full of creativity and joy.

Books Completed in June

1. The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home, by Margaret Atwood and Naomie Alderman
2. Red, by E.J. Koh
3. The Complete Guide to Buying a Business, by Fred Steingold (DNF)
4. Hum, by Jamaal May
5. The Blue Place, by Nicola Griffith
6. Fangirl (audio book), by Rainbow Rowell
7. Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder
8. Parasite, by Mira Grant
9. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Vol. 2

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “Books Completed in June”

Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 2

Arabian Nights

Thoughts on Volume 1.

Volume 2 of The Arabian Nights begins with night 295 of tales and goes through night 719. The stories at the beginning of the book are all very short, some only around a page or two long, and it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that the tales grew into longer epics once again, including the seven voyages of Sindbad. There’s a lot of risk of tedium when you binge read these books like I’m doing. The shorter tales all stacked on top of each other begin to blur together and longer tales can grow to such epic lengths as to be too long, and long or short there are repeated kinds of stories, themes, and phrases throughout. But if I had not read these books in the rapid way I’m going, I’m not sure that I would have figured out the genius of Shahrazad.
Continue reading “Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 2”

Taking Action, Redrafting, and Getting Back to Work

As I mentioned in my review of Save the Cat!, the value of any how-to book is whether it inspires you to take action. For the past several months, I have been stalled out and completely avoiding working on my werewolf novel, The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. After drafting about two-thirds of the book, plot problems proliferated and I didn’t know how to move forward toward the ending. Since a lot of my fellow writers have been recommending Save the Cat! recently, it seemed like a good idea to give it a read and see if it sparked the flame of progress once again.

It did just that.

Here are a few of the tools from the book I’m using to try to build forward momentum.

Continue reading “Taking Action, Redrafting, and Getting Back to Work”

Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

20140626-220823-79703775.jpg
Not actually the last book you’ll need on screenwriting.

Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder provides a guide to screenwriting from an industry perspective, focusing on what a writer needs to do to prep for the act of writing. These techniques include creating a logline (or one-line), watching and analyzing movies in your chosen genre, creating a beat sheet, and building a board to layout scenes as a form of outlining. Skipping over actually writing process, he then reveals some screenplay “rules” and somethings to look for during edits if the finished draft isn’t working.

Continue reading “Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder”

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

20140626-214819-78499307.jpg

44. [Fangirl] (audio book), by Rainbow Rowell (*****)
Category: Part Four – Just Because

Prepare for caplocks and lots of squee.

Cath and her twin sister Wren have loved Simon Snow since they were kids and avidly lived in the fandom, reading, discussing, and writing fanfic. But when go to college, they head for college, Wren wants her own life and to leave all that behind. Facing a new school with new social rules by herself, Cath retreats further into the fanfic worlds she’s created and that she refuses to leave behind.

I love, love, LOVE this book. Normally I only listen to audio books in the morning on my way to work, because after work I’m too mentally tired to pay attention. But with Fangirl, I couldn’t stop listening, using every available moment in the car that I could to keep listening.

(I should note here that if you don’t get fandom, then it will probably be hard to relate to this book, since it’s a vital element to the story.)
Continue reading “Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell”

Poetry Review: Hum by Jamaal May

Hum by Jamaal May

Hum by Jamaal May
Publisher: Alice James Books
Date Published: November 2013

Description: “In May’s debut collection, poems buzz and purr like a well-oiled chassis. Grit, trial, and song thrum through tight syntax and deft prosody. From the resilient pulse of an abandoned machine to the sinuous lament of origami animals, here is the ever-changing hum that vibrates through us all, connecting one mind to the next.”

I admit to being drawn to this collection because of the gorgeous cover and its steampunk robot with a birdcage head, which immediately sparked my imagination. The physical book itself is also beautiful, with a lovely typeset. A smattering of dark pages, each for a “phobia” poem (such as Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored”), appear throughout the book, starting out black at first then lightening toward softer grays. It’s an interesting way to highlight a set of associated poems and there’s a subtle effect to reading words with white text on a dark page that suits the “phobia” poems. For example, reading “Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored” on one of the rare black pages in the books creates an interesting contrast between text and the physical page.

Hum is dedicated to “to the inner lives of Detroiters.” When I think of Detroit these days, I picture photo essays that show the city in seemingly apocalyptic states of decay. May’s poems reflect this state of everyday apocalypse. “Still Life” presents a “Boy with roof shingles / duct taped to shins and forearms / threading barbed wire through pant loops” as well as other trash can armor in the face of what seems to be a wasteland. While in “The Girl Who Builds Rockets from Bricks,” a girl wanders in “the caverns of deserted houses,” performing “her excavation for spare parts: // shards of whiskey bottle, matches, / anthills erupting from concrete // seams, the discarded husk / of a beetle.”

{C} Continue reading “Poetry Review: Hum by Jamaal May”

Books Completed in May

1. Red Hood’s Revenge, by Jim C. Hines
2. The Snow Queen’s Shadow, by Jim C. Hines
4. Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty
5. Wormwood by G.P. Taylor
6. Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
7. Saints by Gene Luen Yang
8. Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Still in progress at the end of the month: The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 2.

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

Continue reading “Books Completed in May”

Joys, travels, poetry, and other doings

A lot has been going on over the past couple of weeks since I last posted, so I’m going to sum things up in list format (in order of importance, rather than chronology) to make things easier on myself. I still have to do my book and movie round up for May, but that’ll come tomorrow probably.

– The biggest announcement by far is the birth of my nephew. The Monster (my niece) is being adorable around him, very gentle and loving so far. I can’t even express what a joy it is to welcome this tiny little person into the family.

20140609-130241-46961672.jpg

– I also turned 34 years old in the past two weeks (on May 26 to be exact), and a Happy New Year to me. A gentleman recently told my friend that she should count her birthday as the true new year, since it announces another new year of her life. I love that, and it seems like a perfect time to reassess life, the universe, and everything. With all that’s been happening, I haven’t had a chance to do that yet, but I’m planning to think about taking a serious look at my goals this week. It so happened that my birthday was marked by…

– getting rather sick. Oh the joys of coughs and runny noses, just as I’m launching into…

– a two week work trip, involving two conferences and an industrial plant visit. Travels took me to Detroit, West Michigan, and Montreal. There was a lot of work and a lot of trying to rest in order to recover from being sick, so I didn’t do much touring, except for two beautiful days in Montreal. I let my feet carry me around the city to here and there, exploring Old Town and other areas of the city center. It was beautiful out and I’d like to have more time to explore Montreal properly in the future.

20140609-130237-46957544.jpg
Montreal with the Parc du Mont-Royal in the background.
20140609-130243-46963559.jpg
Inside the Basilica of Notre Dame in Montreal.

– Being in Montreal, I had to go see Cirque du Soleil. It was a bigger expense than I had planned, but Kurios is a steampunk inspired show, so I couldn’t resist. They did a marvelous job with the aesthetic and it fit really well into the acrobat sequences. The first half, in particular, was astounding in beauty and stunts. The second half had a few weird bits that I didn’t get, but it didn’t lessen my overall enjoyment. Kurios is my favorite of all the Soleil shows I’ve seen.

20140609-130239-46959075.jpg
Inside the Cirque du Soleil: Kurios tent. The show had an awesome steampunk aesthetic.

– I came home to two poetry pretties in my mailbox — the lovely TEN chapbook by Val Dering Rojas (which I received from the author) and Live From The Homesick Jamboree by Adrian Blevins (which I received as part of a poetry giveaway). I’m looking forward to reading both!!

 – Two contributor’s copies of the Strange Frenzies anthology also arrives. The anthology includes my poem, “Comfort At Last.” A wonderful surprise.

Review: Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

11389398

I don’t even know how to talk about this book with out flailing with joy.

I love the characters. After years of homeschooling, Maggie is starting public school and finds herself lost and lonely in a crowd of people. I could feel that to the core. She has three brothers, each of whom is unique to themselves and make up part of her big family. It’s great to see them fight and laugh and be an imperfect, trying to be happy family. (Can I just say how great it is to see a main character who has relationships with her family?) Maggie also makes two friends, a punk-style brother and sister duo, both of whom are wonderful characters.

I love the art. It captures the unique personalities of the characters and expresses their emotions so well, often without needing dialog over-layering it. It’s just really beautiful.

I love the geekery. These characters have things they love and it’s clear they really, really love them. It fills me joy to see characters flailing with glee over something they love (much as I’m flailing over this book).

I love the story. It’s really funny and sweet, and it made me happy cry by the end.

Friends with Boys is practically perfect in every way and I will definitely be reading more by Faith Erin Hicks.

Some sample pages (taken with my phone):

20140522-133245-48765279.jpg

20140522-133243-48763417.jpg

You Are Awesome

Spent a sunny Saturday at Boogie on the Bayou in Campbell with my Bestie, drinking several beers, eating giant sausages, shopping at the many booths, and getting sunburned. While out and about, we came across a rather awesome young woman, holding a “You are Awesome” sign. So, I had to take a picture.

And, Darling Readers, in case you didn’t know, you are awesome, too. (^_^)

20140519-142853.jpg

What I’m writing: I posted another Friday Flash, called “Beyond Borderlands.”

What I’m reading: Amal El-Mohtar posted a great essay on Reading Dialect in Celeste Rita Baker’s “Name Calling,” which lead to some interesting discussion. The reading and discussions lead me to actually reading Rita Baker’s rather fantastic story itself – posted first in the edited version (toning down the dialect) and second in the original version (with dialect as it was submitted).

Other Thingies: I actually got off my bum, braved the heat, and went for a run this weekend, which felt fantastic.

It’s going to be busy week as I prep for my trip. Not sure how much I’ll be able to accomplish beyond Get Ready for Trip, but here’s hoping.

How are things going with you?

Friday Flash: Beyond Borderlands

Section from Frontispice de la Toyson d or (1613) – Public Domain
Section from Frontispice de la Toyson d or (1613) – Public Domain

“This is an auspicious day,” speaks the Alchemist, the High Cleric, the Guardian of the Seven Realms, raising his palms to the passive crowd. The people squint up at the Alchemist as though staring into the sun, unaccustomed to looking directly at his grace. When his radiant smile falls upon them, a collective sigh whispers among the people. “For on this auspicious day, the people of the borderlands beyond the Seven Realms, who have been tried to the crime of sacrilege and been found guilty, will meet their punishment.”

The People of the Realms applaud with the polite respect due their Guardian.

The Alchemist lowers his hands, a light wind tugging at the edges of his robe. The robe, like the dais he stands on and towering walls of the temple behind him are laced with the luminescent weaving of centuries old magic. First planted as a protection and declaration of peace within the temple, the magic has since grown like a weed, swirling vine-like charms and enchantments into stone foundations, extending from the heart of the central city out into the Realms. The poetic pattern retains inertia, a soothing weight upon the People who do not struggle against the web. Even the Alchemist, the High Cleric, the Guardian of the Seven Realms, no longer questions it omnipresence.

Continue reading “Friday Flash: Beyond Borderlands”

Poetry Review: Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty

Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty

Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty
Publisher: Aldrich Books
Date Published: April 2014

“You wish you had coined the word zaftig;
that you were OK with abdomens
that hung over bikini bottoms.”
— from “Zaftig Profiling”

Practicing Disaster is collection of narrative poetry presenting  an exploration of ordinary lives. These are people you could meet on the street, from the a sixteen-year-old hotel maid to a short order cook to any number of strangers you might meet on the street. For example, in “Eating at Work,” an employee travels further and further afield in search of lunchtime solitude. While in “Some Basic Consumer Math,” the owners of a Chinese restaurant tailor their food for their most loyal customers, all from the retirement home nearby, making their Sa-Cha chicken “about as mild as the contents / of a store bought spaghetti sauce.”

Some of the prose poems, in which thought condenses into thought, are among my favorites. They allow a free flow feel of the poem, different from the lined sister poems. In “I was 36”, the narrator describes her first experience getting a pedicure, remembering the same sloughing off of her grandmother’s feet. In that youthful remembering is the memory of childhood discovery and the “lesson in not going through other people’s personal affects”, and just as one can “flake off the dead skin” there is the feeling of flaking off the past.

“The Patient” also explores time passing, like the dropping of green beans into a bucket or the beeping of machines: “The doctor uses the word / aphasia / I focus on the center— / a phase / a moment.” The disjointed, jigsaw pattern of the words on the page (which I couldn’t possibly replicate here) matched the disjointed experience of a patient in the hospital, as well as the way the past jumps forward and seems to collide and become a part of the present.

In the titular poem, a women plays with the idea of disaster on her commute, imagining “overpasses from her car could spill like ink in blotchy slow motion,” and how she might shape catastrophe to set herself free. Knowing the trapped feeling of the commute, I can sympathize with the narrator, have even practiced a few of my own disasters.

Many of these poems reflect similar kinds of personal experience, even if they are outside us (as though we are people watching at a corner cafe). As a reader, there a sense of Yes, me, too; I’ve felt the same. Reading “Zaftig Profiling” (quoted at the top), I also wished I had coined the word zaftig, that I could, as mentioned later in the poem, laugh loudly in mixed company.

At first glance, what’s revealed in these poems could be described as mundane, bits of ordinary lives normally passed over or cast away as unimportant. The narrative voice of these poems, likewise, is straightforward, seemingly plain. However, this initial impression is deceiving. I’ve read through this collection twice now and have made new discoveries on each read, subtleties of voice and thought I hadn’t noticed the first go around. There are layers of humor, breaths of poignancy, beautiful discoveries.

Edited to Add: I should probably note that I received a free review copy from the author.

Good Reads for Writers — On Plotting

While scrolling through my blog cue today, I noticed two very good blogs that talk about why stories work and why they don’t. Both posts look at how to approach plotting, coming to similar, but slightly different conclusions. Each has me thinking about my current stories and how I approach them. Hopefully, you find them helpful as well.

Carrie Cuinn – “It takes three points to make a plot, or, how to write an interesting (complete) story.

“While a story can have any number of events, for it to be interesting and complete, it must have three event points on its plot. Less than that, and the story is either incomplete (a vignette or character study) or it usually fails to be interesting. Often, a plot with fewer than three events is both incomplete and boring.”

Lisa Cron on Writer Unboxed – “What Kindergarten Got (And Still Gets) Really, Really Wrong, Part One

“What I learned from working with the incredibly dedicated teachers, the curriculum, and the state mandated tests is that the “story is a bunch of big, eventful, unusual things that happen” idea is firmly planted in kindergarten and nourished from there on out — which is why it can be so damned hard to uproot. It’s at the foundation of how narrative writing is taught, and a major reason why so many kids (not to mention former kids) hate writing. And, for those of us former kids who love to write, it’s a major reason our manuscripts fail.”

Lisa Cron’s post also have me think about how the idea of plot/story being problems can also help writers in another area — creating dynamic characters. Often characters will be seen as too being too passive in stories. However, characters are likely to be less passive, if they have a problem that requires them to act in order to resolve it. So, thinking of story as problem provides a solution two two writer dilemmas — plot and character — with one stone. Very cool.

If you’re a writer, tell me what you’re writing these days? Did these articles help you?

If you’re a reader, what are you reading? Is it well plotted, or does it fall flat in the way these articles describe?

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ― Anaïs Nin

While the weekend was spent celebrating Mammas, both my own mom and my sister who is fantastic with the Little Monster, I somehow managed to be somewhat productive this week.

On Tuesday, fellow poet Lorenz Dumuk (@LorenzDumuk) and I visited a friend’s classroom to read our poetry as part of her English class. As I haven’t read in ages, I was feeling rather nervous and kind of rushed through my pieces, but as usual Lorenz was amazing. He is a powerhouse of spoken word and it’s always inspiring to watch him offer up words to an audience.

Afterward, I went home and started reading Jessie Carty’s new book of poetry, Practicing Disaster,* in order to hold on to the galvanizing feeling created with poetry.

As a result of all this hearing and reading of fantastic poetry, I poured out five poem drafts all in one go, one of which I posted up on wattpad, called “Kamikaze.”

The juiced writerly feeling didn’t fade away, and I ended up putting together a Friday Flash. The short short story, called “Four and Twenty” is a bit about baking pies and a bit about a murder of crows. I plan to make a habit of posting a Friday Flash at least once a month.

My goal for the week is to edit the poem drafts and put together a small submission to a journal. I also have one submission still out that I haven’t heard back from, which I need to send an inquiry on.

*Jessie Carty sent me a review copy of her book. I should have the review up middle of the week, which I plan to follow with an interview with the poet (something I have never done before, eek!).

Four and Twenty

Photo: A Murder of Crows by Jesse Weinstein (Creative Commons)

The crows were in the trees again, crowding the branches with ruffled feathers. Mara watched them watching her. She plucked a blueberry from the unfinished pie filling in front of her and popped the berry in her mouth, then sucked the purple juice from her fingers.

After wiping her hands on her apron, she dusted flour over the rolling pin and cutting board and slammed a fresh ball of pie dough down. It flattened under her rolling pin, bit by bit. When became sticky and clung to the rolling pin, she breathed slowly and dusted the pin with more flour just as her mother had taught her. It had taken her twenty-four tries roll out the bottom layer of crust alone and fit it neatly into the pan. She thought if she screwed this one up, she might scream.

“The trick is in the crust,” Mara’s mother used to say. “Pie filling is great, but the crust is where the magic is.”

Continue reading “Four and Twenty”

Poetry Win! Live From The Homesick Jamboree!

6998642I just learned that I’ve won a copy of Live From The Homesick Jamboree by Adrian Blevins! Yay!

Summary from GoodReads:

Live from the Homesick Jamboree is a brave, brash, funny, and tragic hue and cry on growing up female during the 1970s, “when everything was always so awash” that the speaker finds herself adrift among adults who act like children. The book moves from adolescence through a dry-eyed, poignant exploration of two marriages, motherhood, and the larger world, with the headlong perceptiveness and brio characteristic of Adrian Blevins’s work. This poetry is plainspoken and streetwise, brutal and beautiful, provocative and self-incriminating, with much musicality and a corrosive bravura, brilliantly complicated by bursts of vernacular language and flashes of compassion. Whether listening to Emmylou Harris while thinking she should be memorizing Tolstoy, reflecting on her “full-to-bursting motherliness,” aging body, the tensions and lurchings of a relationship, or “the cockamamie lovingness” of it all, the language flies fast and furious.

I’m stoked to read this. Poetry is joy afterall. (^_^)

The book was offered by Joseph Harker as part of the Big Poetry Giveaway.

Books read in April

1. The City & The City, China Miéville (one of the best I’ve read this year)
2. Creepers, by David Morrell
3. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 1
4. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
5. lost boy lost girl, by Peter Straub
6. Camouflage, by Joe Haldeman
7. The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo
8. The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
9. Hourglass Museum (poetry), by Kelli Russell Agodon
10. The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

REVIEWS (behind the cut): Continue reading “Books read in April”

Lethargy breeds lethargy.

“Lethargy. It’s a word I know, because it’s in one of my father’s favorite expressions. Lethargy breeds lethargy. It means the more you lie around doing nothing, the more you want to lie around doing nothing. Your limbs and your mind feel so heavy that it becomes a major effort just to lift your arm to channel surf.”
― Neal Shusterman, Dread Locks

As I idled away the weekend, avoiding any opportunity or incentive to do anything, it started to become clear to me that I was in a lethargy cycle that I’m having a hard time escaping. I don’t even want to write out goals, because I know I won’t do them, but I also know that by not setting goals, I have no reason to accomplish anything. Gah.

I am reading quite a lot, which I consider a form of forward progress. But if it weren’t for the adorableness of the Little Monster, who’s parents invited me out to lunch, I might not have changed out of my pajamas or left the house all weekend. (While that’s not a bad thing in and of itself, I usually find I need to get out at least a little to feel healthy and balanced.)

So, in the absence of having any new about my personal goals to share with you, here are a couple of cool things on the interwebs:

  • The flash fiction, journal NaNo Fiction is celebrating National Short Story Month by posting flash stories with an accompanying prompt to get writers writing. I keep telling myself that I need to play with flash fiction more, since it’s close to poetry in terms of tightness of narrative.

Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon

18406197

Hourglass Museum by Kelli Russell Agodon was the April read for Jessie Carty’s Poetry Book Club — and it was so yummy.

“If you think you are the mermaid, think again.
You are the ocean holding the mermaid afloat,
trying to change the world one dolphin at a time.”

— from the poem “Souvenir Boxes”

Agodon’s poetry explores a variety of themes within Hourglass Museum. As the title suggests, art is an important source of inspiration here (as can also be seen in the long list of notes at the end of the book), with poems referencing great artists such as Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol. The idea of preservation, via canvass, poem, or as a collection in a museum, of moments captured and held in stasis through artifice and creation are a constant in these poems.

“Dark matter angels mingle over oceans
and bubbling cities filled with unopened jars,
all we had were cupboards and cupboards
of challenges.”

— from the poem “A Moment Ago, Everything Was Beautiful”

The outward inspiration of art and museums, is drawn into the personal scope of Agodon’s personal life, both her inner emotional realm and the outer realm of home and family and relationships. This connection between art and home works well, since as human being we often take memories and put them on the shelves of our minds, we collect pieces of anger and store them for later use, attach joy to simple objects, return to each of them again and again, revisit, and Agodon’s poetry reflects this.

“I place solitude in a frame on my desk
and call it, The one I love.”

— from the poem “Line Forms Here”

She explores a variety of emotional states, including depression and loneliness. The language beautifully expresses these emotions and allowed me to connect with them personally. I could see myself in these moments of darkness and in the ways a write approaches such moments, especially through pen. I think these feelings are approachable from a variety of perspectives, allowing many kinds readers to feel them.

“There’s no dessert in the picnic basket,
so I swallow time. My mouth is full
of hands and numbers. I ask for seconds.”

— from the poem “Drowning Girl: A Waterlogged Ars Poetica”

And yet, there is a sense of humor throughout, too, a poking of fun at the supposed importance of depression, so that such darker subjects cannot drag down the reader and instead allow them to explore and transverse the state. It brings a lightness to the poems that makes them great to read.

“I escape disaster by writing a poem with a joke in it:
The past, present, and future walk into a bar — it was tense.”

— from the poem “Sketchbook with an Undercurrent of Grief”

All in all, this was a wonderful collection and, though I own it in digital format, I’m contemplating buying it again in print format as well, just so I can add the tactile sensation to my enjoyment of the book.

“Madness is a meaningful way to exist.”
— from the poem “Menacing Gods: An Abstract”

An Adorable Monster and other good things

I did not exercise all last week, unless you count my playing with my niece, a.k.a. The Monster — following her as she ran around the park and rolling with her in the grass and spinning in circles and then hauling her over my shoulder to get her back to her parents at the picnic tables — which I totally do.

The Monster had a lovely Easter. She got to paint eggs and then “find” eggs during an Easter egg hunt (which was more us just tossing plastic eggs into the grass and playing pick up with a plastic bucket, because she’s not yet two).

Words Here and There

I haven’t been putting many expectations on myself in terms of writing lately, due to the many, many things going on in other arenas of my life. But I’ve managed to feel a few sparks of inspiration over the past couple of weeks, which is awesome.

Despite my previous protestations that no poetry would be written this month, I’ve added a number of poems to The Poetry Project over on Wattpad. You can read each of the poems at the following links:

I’m planning to close The Poetry Project to new prompts as of April 30th, so if you would like me to write you a poem, then please leave me a prompt in the comments either here or there.

I’ve put together an excel sheet of chapters of the werewolf novel, noting things that need to be added and major problems that need to be solved along the way. It’s not a complicated layout, but it was enough to start getting my thoughts in order and I’m also using the tabs to start trying to keep track of characters and places that are important. I still have NO IDEA to solve the one major problem I have at the moment. The most obvious solution is to cut out the problem entirely, but I’m not sure that’s what I want to do.

I also met with the Writing Gang over the weekend, all of whom continue to be awesome. They gave me some feedback on some of the later chapters, which was valuable as always. I think I need to look at solving the big problems and work my way through edits from the beginning at this point. *le sigh*

Good Movie Watching

The Host (2006)I saw The Host (Gwoemul) for the first time over the weekend and it was SO FREAKING AWESOME. The story involves a large genetically mutated creature that rises up out of Han River in Seoul, South Korea and begins to attach the population. A young school girl is taken by the creature during the initial attack, and amidst a virus scare and government lockdown, her family escapes quarantine to try to rescue her.

It sounds like just your typical monster movie, but the story is intelligent and the family is both charming and silly in their bungling attempts to save their daughter/niece. It offers fantastic action sequences with a spice of humor, alongside an interesting social commentary. The monster turns out to be the least terrifying aspect of the story. Instead it’s the failed efforts of the Korean and U.S. government to solve the contamination problem, as well as the cold calculating treatment toward the patients in quarantine by officials and doctors alike that becomes truly frightening.

This is one of those movies that was so cool, I want to now see everything done by the director, Joon-ho Bong. The director’s most recent movie is Snowpiercer, which I’ve heard is amazing. So, I that may be the next movie I seek out by him. If you want more evidence of Joon-ho Bong’s awesome, you can check out this post.

Things to Do This Week

  • Edit chapter one of werewolf novel and try to solve big plot problem
  • Find a publisher to submit chapbook manuscript to
  • Continue research/do homework on business thing that I can’t talk about yet

Easter weekend, tra-la-la

I have plenty of things I could-a, should-a, would-a written, but its Friday and Easter weekend. I will get to eat all the good food and watch my almost-two-year-old niece run around being the cutest little monster as she looks for Easter eggs without really understand why.

So, have a great weekend one an all!

A Patronage Model for Artists, Writers, and Creators

I rather love Kickstarter, because I love seeing interesting projects come to life and seeing my funds culminate in a tangible results. This may mean that I get to end up with a copy of the book, a print of the art, or a DVD of the film I supported, which is a nice gift in exchange for my money. Or, it may just mean that I get to see an artist who I respect and whose work I love get to complete a project that they’re passionate about. It’s awesome.

So, I was very curious to learn about Patreon, a new crowdfunding website based on the traditional patronage model, which used to involve kings, queens, and other royalty or the wealthy providing funds to allow artists to continue their work.

The website says, “Patreon was created to enable fans to support and engage with the artists and creators they love. Empowering a new generation of creators, Patreon is bringing patronage back to the 21st century.”

The site is similar to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms in the sense that it allows fans to directly interact and fund artists and creators they enjoy. However, rather than funding a single big project, Patreon allows fans to provide funding for an artist or authors ongoing work. Here’s a short video about how it works.

I love the idea, particularly for those artists and creators who may focusing on ongoing work and art, rather than the big idea/project model that Kickstarter supports. It could help to keep some artists working when they might not otherwise be able to.

Continue reading “A Patronage Model for Artists, Writers, and Creators”

Things

This weekend was mostly lazy with lots of movie watching. It was mostly bad or so-so movies (with the exception of The Spectacular Now).

I’ve started reading The Three Musketeers and I’m rather enjoying the antics of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artagnon. There’s a lot of hot headed-ness, running off to get into sword fights, slinging of insults, intrigues with mysterious women, and so on. All quite fun.

The most exciting thing this weekend was the family visit to the 4D Ultrasound* clinic. I don’t know if I announced this to you all, but my sister’s due to have her second baby (a boy) in a couple of months (end of June), so I’ll get to have a second little person to read to. (^_^) Anyway, the technology these days is amazing. We could see the features of baby Colton so clearly and he’s adorable. Looks just like his big sister. It’s so exciting!

*I don’t know why they call it 4D, when it doesn’t actually transcend time. It’s more like an advanced 3D technology.

Writing Life

Since April is National Poetry Month, this is normally the time I would be wildly attempting to complete the 30 Day Poetry Challenge or reading poetry on youtube or in some other way trying to engage. That hasn’t happened this time around, because there’s still traces of a bunch of things going on. While I’m not going to try to pound out two dozen or more poems this month, I do want to get back into my Morning Poetry Ritual (in which I must write a poem each morning). I need some sort of spark to keep the words burning in me.

For those interested in Poetry Month goodies, here’s a couple:

Running Life

Haven’t run much since completing the 5k two weeks ago, and I need to get back to it. I’d like to move up to the next level and run a 10K this summer.

I’ll try to get a couple of workouts or runs in this week, although it might not happen on the weekend because of family events filling Saturday and Easter Sunday. I’ll have to take it easy, though, since I’ve somehow managed to straing my lower back over the weekend.

How are you all this week? Are you loving life?

_______

Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 1

Arabian Nights

When King Shahriyar discovers his wife to be unfaithful, he begins to marry young women, only to behead them in the morning. In order to save the young women of the region, Shahrazad gives herself to the King Shahriyar. She is not expected to survive beyond dawn, but during the night she begins to tell tales, each night ending the story in the middle, leaving the king desperate to learn the ending and allowing Shahrazad to live another day.

One of my reading goals for this year is to read the complete version of A Thousand and One Nights. My aim was to find a translation that was as complete as possible, including “Aladdin” and “Ali Babba and the Forty Thieves“, both of which were added in the 1700-1800s. Since there are many translations, I eventually settled in the Penguin Classics version, The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights, which comes in three giant volumes and claims to be as complete as possible. (Plus I really liked the covers.)

Volume 1 is 980 pages long. It includes the beginning of Shahrazad’s marriage to Shahriyar and provides up through night 294 of tales, as well as “Ali Babba and the Forty Thieves” as an appendix.

Shahrazad’s tales range from adventure yarns with djinn to morality tales, love stories, fables, and war epics. Despite the variety of tales, there was also a great level of repetition, with similar descriptions of characters or expected outcomes. Though this should be expected due to how many stories there are, it can get burdensome for some readers, I’m sure.

The stories are also often nested, a tale within a tale within a tale. Just as Shahrazad saves herself through the telling of the tales, many of the characters within her stories also save themselves from death in a similar way. For example, kings are of ten saying, tell me story more wonderful than what has just happened or I’ll cut off your head. The nesting not only allows Shahrazad a longer tale to tell, which keeps her alive for more nights, but also shows how valuable the act of storytelling was thought to be. Sometimes the nesting becomes a bit too much, though, and there are so many stories within stories, it can be easy to forget the original story, until it’s finally returned many pages (and nights) later.
Continue reading “Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 1”

New-to-me movies watched in February and March

Since I never got around to posting February’s movies, you get two months of reviews at once! Yay?

February:
1. Sympathy for Mr. Vengence / Boksuneun naui geot (2002)
2. Oldboy / Oldeuboi (2003)
3. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

March:
5. Nebraska (2013)
6. Captain Philips (2013)
7. Her (2013)
8. American Hustle (2013)
9. Gravity (2013)
10. The World’s End (2013)
11 13 Sins (2014)
12. Veronica Mars (2014)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

Continue reading “New-to-me movies watched in February and March”

Books Read in March

1. 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (***1/2)
2. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt (DNF)
3. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (audio book), by Michael Chabon, read by Peter Riegert (*****)
4. The Missing by Sarah Langan (***)
5. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (****)
6. March by Geraldine Brooks (****)
7. Kira-Kira (audiobook) by Cynthia Kadohata (****)
8. The Worm by Elise Gravel (****)
9. Scarecrow Gods by Weston Ochse (*)
10. Colaterales/Collateral by Dianapiera Di Dontao (****)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

Continue reading “Books Read in March”

A long time ago, we used to be friends…

Both my sister and I were fans of the show and fell in love with it, even though our introduction was the not-great third season. Still, there was something about the witty, smart-ass, I-will-destroy-you-if-you-cross-me petite blonde that filled us both with glee.

Though the third season did kinda suck, we were still sad when the show was canceled (just as we fell in love with it, too). So, imagine our joy when we learned of the Veronica Mars movie.

Anyone else excited for the Veronica Mars movie?

From IMDB: “Years after walking away from her past as a teenage private eye, Veronica Mars gets pulled back to her hometown — just in time for her high school reunion — in order to help her old flame Logan Echolls, who’s embroiled in a murder mystery.”

A simple analysis: if you loved the TV show, then it’s highly likely you will love the movie. If you hated the TV show, then you’ll hate the movie. If you never knew anything about the show, then the experience will be hit or miss, you may hate it or fall in love with Veronica and find yourself obsessively watching all the episodes.

Kickstarter funded, the movie was clearly made for fans, bringing back well-loved characters to show them how they’ve changed in the past nine years and in some cases how they haven’t changed at all. There were hints and reminders of the show, both overt and subtle. One of my favorite such instances appeared near the beginning, when a street performer in the background played the theme song for the show. It was just subtle enough that my sister didn’t even notice until I pointed it out to her and we both giggled in gleeful joy.

I’d say the most awkward part of the movie was the voice over rehashing of information. It fits with the Veronica Mars style, in which she fills viewers in on what’s going on, but it didn’t really work here. It basically gave a general overview of the show, which was meant, I suppose to fill in those who were new to Veronica Mars as to who she is. However, for Veronica fans this was known information and for non-Veronica fans this information wasn’t pertinent to the storyline of the movie (for example, Lily’s murder, though important in the show has no bearing on the movie). I think it probably caused more confusion instead of helping, and it would have been better if, instead of summarizing the TV show, the narration introduced the plot of the movie and maybe provided some info on the past nine years.

As a fan, the movie gave me exactly what I was looking for — a good, solid murder mystery and a revisiting of favorite characters. Veronica was the same queen of sass that she always is and she and Logan continue to smolder. (Their relationship is funny, because they are always drawn together in states of crisis and then fall apart when the reality of being together on a day to day basis comes into play, though maybe since they’ve both (hoefully) grown up some over the past nine years, they’ll work it out this time.) The story maintained the same dark noir and sharply humorous tone of the show. It could almost be called a two hour episode, especially since the ending made it feel like the pilot for a new TV show — and oh, the SQUEE I would have if that were to happen.

Walking out of the theater, I felt the Veronica Mars’ great big tada. My sister and I were both smiling, feeling as though we’d visited an old friend.

Also, one more gif, because I just can’t resist:

Yes, Veronica, even after a tasering, I would still love you.

She is Beautiful

20140326-094148.jpg
A foggy Sunday morning in Santa Cruz.

20140326-094251.jpgLast Sunday (March 23*), I rolled out of bed at the unfortunate hour of 6 a.m., fell into my running gear, and drove into Santa Cruz with my sister to participate in the She is Beautiful run, an event that supports the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center. My sister planned to run the 10K and I would run the 5K.

The morning was foggy and chill as we parked our car and we rubbed at our arms as we hiked up the hill to check into the event. At least the cold woke us up; all sleepiness falling away in the face of the damp chill. There were complications with our bibs (which for a short while could not be found), but before long we were at the starting line with a multitude of women — many in pink — waiting to start the race.

Then we were off an running (well, it was walking at first, due to the crowds). We both fell into our own rhythm and my sister soon outpaced me, and I found myself running alone but not lonely among the throngs of women.

And what wonderful, beautiful women there were of all shapes, sizes, and ages, from elementary school kids to older women with wrinkles and greying hair. Women of amazing athletic skill and women power walking through the course. Thin women and round women. Mothers pushing strollers or with babies in packs strung across their chests. Disabled women in wheelchairs or using canes. And everyone cheering everyone else on.

At one point, a supporter on the sidelines, called out to the crowds, “You’re beautiful!”

I choked up and almost cried, because they really were and I was apart of that and it was an amazing feeling of love and community. I breathed and held back my happy tears and kept running.

I ran the entire way (minus the short bit of walking at the beginning and one short stretch of walking up the final hill). I wasn’t the fastest runner, but I did it. I accomplished my goal and that felt amazing.

As far as my first real running event goes, it was wonderful — such an empowering experience and it has me looking forward to the next one. Maybe next time, I’ll stretch myself further and god for a 10K.

20140326-094202.jpg
Sister Pilar and I, smiling and ready for our race.

 

20140326-094218.jpg
Many beautiful women crossing the finish line.

*Yes, it’s taken me a whole week to write this post.

A new stage adaptation of Pride & Prejudice

Sunday night discovered that San Jose Stage Company was doing a reading of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Neither of us had any idea what was meant by “reading” in this case, because it was at a theater rather than a book store. But we are both Austen lovers and couldn’t miss the opportunity of seeing this.

It turned out that, inspired by her own love of the book, Halsey Varady (one of the actresses in the troupe) had written an adapted stage play for the novel and this was the first public reading of her newly written play.

The ensemble cast (about eight) was fantastic. The only staging was a set of chairs all in a row and a set of music stands in front of them and during the reading. When it was their turn to speak, they came up to a music stand, placed their script binder down, and read their part. They occasionally switched positions and used very minimal blocking to scene shifts clear, but otherwise that was it. The lack of stage set or costumes in no way detracted from the performance, and the actors proved that, with the right cast, such stage design is unnecessary.

Also, though the actors playing Elizabeth and Darcy stayed in the same character throughout, the rest of the ensemble played two, sometimes three different characters. It was amazing to see them just stand, step up to the music stand and disappear into a new character. A couple of times, I thought additional actors had magically appeared out of the thin air, they were that great.

One of the wonderful things about the performance was how Varady managed to bring out the humor from Pride and Prejudice. She chose her favorite lines and was able to utilize punchlines without loosing any of the linguistic flair of Austen’s linguistic style. It all worked well, and the tightened up the storytelling was hilariously entertaining. (I honestly never laughed so hard at Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s dinner at Rosings.)

After the performance, Halsey Varady spoke to the audience and asked for feedback. There weren’t many critiques, because it was so polished.

The idea is for the play to be transitioned into a full stage play or a radio show (or both), any and all I’d love to see happen — because I’d love to go see it again.

20140326-094111.jpg

Five Books or Magazines I Have Read Lately

1. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policeman's Union CoverWell, it was more like “listened” since this was the audio book, read by Peter Riegert, who was fantastic. Riegert has the perfect gravelly voice for a hard broiled detective novel and it adds to the mood of the book beautifully.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is first a detective novel, playing off the traditional noir genre with sarcastic, mouthy homicide detective Meyer Landsman looking into the shooting of a former chess prodigy and heroine addict. The investigation leads him through the various seedy realms of Yiddish Sitka, Alaska* and it unfolds like a great chess game in which he finds himself “contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.” Like most hard broiled detectives, Landsman finds himself seeking his own salvation as he tries to uncover truths.

The book is also a fascinating alternate history, because Yiddish Sitka never existed. Chabon unfolds a fully realized, multi-layered imagining of what this island and its inhabitants would look like if it did, full of worldwide politics and local eccentricities. The details are rich and I could feel both the cold of Alaska and visualize the inner workings of this Jewish community.

On top of a fantastic, complicated plot and an fascinating litany of character, there’s Chabon’s writing style — poetic and rich and beautiful. When he describes a grimy hotel, you can feel the dirt getting underneath your fingernails. When he speaks of breathing in the cold, your teeth ache in sympathy. Chabon is just so, so good.

When the audio book ended and the last word was read, I sat back with a happy sigh and thought to myself, Well. That was just about perfect.

The audio book also includes an interview with Chabon following the book, in which he provides insight into how he came to write the story and how he approached the writing. I love that kind of thing.

*Yay, Alaska! Including Alaska in a story immediately grabs my attention.

2. Goblin Fruit – Winter 2014

I always mean to read more lit journals, both online and in print, but never seem to get around to actually doing so. Managed it this time, and the experience made it clear why I need to do so more often.

Kristina McDonald’s “Dear Prince“, in particular, gave me chills. The poem is from Cinderella’s point of view and I love how the image of the glass slipper is used and where it’s taken. She does a wonderful audio reading of the poem, too.

Each poem in this edition of Goblin Fruit is fascinating and expansive and compelling in its own unique way. This is a must read for poetry lovers. Continue reading “Five Books or Magazines I Have Read Lately”

Get Gone and Carry Less Crap

gone going
Photo: “gone going” by Jose Manuel Escarcega (Creative Commons)

In my fourth year of university, I journeyed into Mexico for a ten-week language study course. Not only was this my first trip out of the U.S., but it was also my first trip without any family (I can’t say alone, since I was traveling with a troupe of 24 fellow students).

Ten weeks – it seemed like forever to me. So, of course, I thought I would need a giant bag to haul the clothing and supplies needed for that great length of time. So, my parents bought me a suitcase 2.5 feet wide by 3.5 feet tall and about 1 foot thick. It was giant. It was monstrous. I didn’t even manage to fill the fu–, er, sucker; it was that big. Arriving at the airport and seeing my fellow classmates’ baggage, began to hint at the possibility of my mistake.

One classmate brought nothing more than a small, brown, standard-sized knapsack. That was it. For ten weeks. (I am still impressed with that feat.)

When you have to drag your over-sized bag down several blogs of cobble stones or haul that fu–, er, sucker up a flight or two of stairs, you learn real quick just how much it sucks to pack heavy.

Like Scarlet O’Hara, I pulled myself up and made a solemn oath — I would never over pack again.

Less is Less (and that’s a good thing)

I’ve done a lot of traveling since that first big trip to Mexico, for play, for work, and sometimes both at the same time.

These days, I can pack like a lightweight queen and can fit a week’s worth of professional work clothes and office supplies for conferences, along with a week’s worth of play clothes and accessories into a single bag (the play clothes and work clothes are not always compatible).

Here’s a few things I do to make it work: Continue reading “Get Gone and Carry Less Crap”

Movie Review: The World's End

Being a HUGE fan of Shaun of the Dead (the hilarious spoof of the zombie classic Dawn of the Dead), I was über-excited to learn about Edgar Wright and Simon Peg’s most recent foray in to genre, The World’s End. Reality being reality and life being lifelike, I wasn’t able to see The World’s End in theaters and only managed to finally watch it this past weekend.

Short analysis: I loved it.

Longer analysis: This story of five friends meeting up in their hometown to perform the epic pubcrawl they failed to complete as younger men, only to find the town they knew invaded by replicant-style robots, hit all the right notes for me.

Like with Shaun of the Dead, this movie plays manages to lovingly spoof the genre while offering up characters to care about and just a bit of heart. It maybe didn’t pull off the relationships between the characters as well as Shaun of the Dead did, but it was still a fun movie, with lots of action and humor.

Plus booze — there was lots of beer drinking and drunkenness.*

One of the most impressive things, in terms of acting, was how well each of the characters portrayed being drunk. It’s apparently one of the hardest things to do in acting and each of them pulled it off just about perfectly. Watching the characters do the Slow Blink at about level 7 on the drunkeness scale reminded me of my own knights out drinking. I’ve been there.

For those interested, here’s the video of Simon Peg showing Conan O’Brian the twelve stages of drunkenness:

*Actually, I wasn’t clear on how these drunken, untrained gents managed to fight as skillfully as they do in this movie — at some points it was almost too slick — but that didn’t stop from the entertainment value for one second.

Great movie.

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Reality has been kicking my ass lately, but I’m managing to get a few swings in finally. Bits and pieces of life are starting to fall into place, resembling at least an amalgamation of order.

The sun dappled through the trees as I took my run this weekend, a little more warmly than I would normally like, but it was lovely out nonetheless. Since falling off my running habit a few weeks ago, I’m not quite back to where I was in terms of distance. I only have the rest of this week to train, because the She Is Beautiful 5k is on Sunday. I’m sure sure the adrenaline and energy from my fellow runners will help me get through race day with a smile.

Writing progress has been minimal at best. I opened up my laptop this weekend with the intent to write new chapters for The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter (formerly Under the Midday Moon), but couldn’t jump into the groove of words and sentences and paragraphs and all that lot.

So, instead I gathered all my printouts and started putting together a spreadsheet of chapters written and chapters yet to write and problems that still need to be addressed — which I consider to be good progress. I have more work to do on the spreadsheet and it’s helping me to wrap my head around what I need to get done and how I might approach things, which is a relief.

To Do This Week

  • Finish the novel spreadsheet
  • Edit “The Shadow’s Flight” short story to meet flash fic markets and send it out
  • Write and/or edit one of the poems on deck
  • Run the She Is Beautiful 5k!

Good Reads

1. The Bare Knuckle Writer presents an awesome blog post on “Character EDC.”

EDC = Every Day Carry, or the things you always take with you no matter what.

“The things a person always has on them tells you what kind of person they are. A sentimentalist? A minimalist? A survivalist? All those people will have different things.”

This immediately had me thinking about the characters in my novel and what they always carry with them. Claire, for example, always carries the keys to her dad’s cage around her neck, even though she only needs them at home. So far, I’ve only referenced the keys a few times in the story, the times when she’s needed them. But since she always wears them, even when she doesn’t need them, I can see her wearing them as a kind of charm, a comforting talisman when things are going wrong.

Now I’m going to have to think about other characters and what they carry around and what it means to them, even if they’re not conscious of it.

2. The Winter 2014 issue of Goblin Fruit is out!

Go forth, friends, and read beautiful things. (^_^)

FOGcon Followup

I’ve been meaning to do a wrap up of FOGcon 4 with a detailed account of the panels I attended like I did with Day One (mentions a panel discussing rape), but I have not had the time or energy to pull it off. I also have to play catch up with two movie review posts that are long overdue, so I’m going to present you with the FOGcon short version here, which is:

It was fabulous.

The honored guests, Seanan McGuire and Tim Powers, were both great. Seanan McGuire was hilarious and nearly had me falling off my chair laughing at some points, and she’s also powerful in the way she passionately speaks on subjects she cares about. Tim Powers was funny and wonderful in entirely different ways. It’s always great to meet the authors you enjoy reading, especially if you find them delightful.

FOGcon also featured an Honored Ghost: James Tiptree, Jr. and there was a panel dedicated to her memory. Moderator and panalists, Debbie Notkin, Bradford Lyau, Pat Murphy, and Naamen Gobert Tilahun were wonderfully passionate and knowledgeable about her life and work, making it a wonderful panel to attend. I haven’t read any of Tiptree’s work, but now it’s clear I’m going to have to.

In fact, throughout the event I found the panels and discussions entertaining and mind-opening.

Also, I picked up some lovely books.

20140314-084418.jpg

Book grab include:

  • The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow
  • The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler
  • The Wild Girls by Ursula K. Le Guinn
  • Report from Planet Midnight by Nalo Hopkinson
  • Links: A Collection of Short Stories by Kaylia M. Metcalfe
  • Not pictured: a short story mini-chapbook called “Rats!” by Brett James, as well as a copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Realms of Fantasy

The “Plus…” series of books are very cool, because in addition to including a novella, they also include essays and interviews and other goodies.

The entire experience of FOGcon left me feeling inspired and joyful and wanting to get back to writing, which is exactly the feeling I need right now.

FOGcon 5 (2015) will have the theme “The Traveler” and will have Kim Stanley Robinson and Catherynne M. Valente as honored guests (OMG!), which sounds so amazing. The dates will immediately go into my calendar and I just hope that I don’t have any work trips that will conflict with the event.

#FOGcon – Night One

Trigger Warning: General mention and discussion of rape.

When I pulled into the hotel parking lot this evening, all I wanted to do was sneak up to my room and hide. I knew there were still FOGcon panels and such going on

It happens. Sometimes the idea of being social is just too much and I just need to be alone in a quiet room disengaging until I’ve recharged.

So, I spent the first hour just relaxing and looking through the panels to see what I wanted to do tomorrow. Along the way, I learned that there was a late night panel, called “When is Your Heroine Finally Going to be Raped?” with Seanan McGuire, Sasha Pixlee, and Karen Williams, with Alison Moon as the moderator.

The panel was inspired by this blog post by Seanan McGuire, in which she describes her reaction to one of her fans asking the above question — her answer: never.

I remembered reading that blog post when she first put it up (I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of rape culture) and I was curious about the discussion.

Also, it was based on the desire to see and possible meet Seanan McGuire that I gathered myself up to come to FOGcon in the first place this year, so it seemed like such a shame to sit in my room. So, I found myself finding the energy to get out of my pajamas and back into real clothes, so I could go to the panel.

It was a heavy topic for my introduction to this year’s con, but it was fascinating and everyone on the panel was great.

Here are a few thoughts and quotes that came out of the discussion:
Continue reading “#FOGcon – Night One”

Off to FOGcon

Welp, I’m off to FOGcon, a small-scale scif/fantasy convention, where I will listen to panels on all the geeky things I love and chatting with some of my writerly friends and other good things. It’ll be nice to escape reality for a while.

Anyway, I hope everyone has a lovely, lovely weekend!

You have to keep pushing toward those dreams no matter what setbacks happen. – Anthony Hamilton

Struggle is the word of the…, well, I guess it’s the word of the month at this point. Nothing has been going easy for at least the last couple of weeks and all I’ve wanted to do is crawl into a hole and hibernate, safe and alone in the dark, until everything troublesome goes away. (This is partly why my weekly update is on Wednesday instead of Monday.)

In Writing

I received my first rejection of the year from Daily Science Fiction.

Most of last week was spent feeling completely unfocused. I would pick up my laptop or a notebook, poised to write, then put it down again feeling frustrated.

As always, meeting with my Writing Gang, left me feeling inspired, so on Sunday night, though, I managed to hand write some thoughts on a scene for my Fay Fairburn story, which felt good. Though I still have yet to make much (or any) progress on my main writing project this year, Under the Midday Moon.

This week, I’ve been trying to break the “blocked” pattern by hand writing an idea for a chapter (for a different book) out in one of my journals. I have some preliminary thoughts down and it’s very disjointed, but it feels like it will come together into the right thing. So, I’m slowly starting to feel better about that.

In Running

I had two great workouts with my trainer last week, though the Wednesday workout was so hard, it was almost too much. I was almost to the point where I thought I might throw up. I know some people are into that level of training, but that’s not where I want to be and I don’t think it’s actually healthy.

Saturday I attempted a run and managed a mile, but got mentally blocked (amazing how much of running is mental). I know I could have run those three miles — I’d don it before, after all — but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I very quickly started getting frustrated, and the more frustrated I became, the harder it was for me to run.

Because of this, I added a run on Tuesday. Again, I walked at the one mile mark, but almost made it through the second mile once I started up again. It wasn’t an ideal run, but it was an improvement, so I was feeling okay at that point.

I’m just going to have to build up my running again until I’m back at three miles, and then I’ll probably add in some different running routes, because boredom might be a factory in my resistance to run.

To Do in the Coming Week – the Usual

  • Work on my mental state and try to find equilibrium
  • Write or edit anything
  • Run
  • Have fun on my business trip to San Diego

Preliminary thoughts on Oscar nominations

The Academy has announced its nominations for the Oscars. For several years now, I’ve been attending the Best Picture Showcase, presented by the AMC movie theaters, which allows me to catch up on all the nominated movies in a couple of weekends. I’m in the habit at this point of posting the movies and my thoughts on them before the awards.

Since I haven’t seen ANY of the movies nominated, these thoughts are based on synopsis and trailers alone.

Continue reading “Preliminary thoughts on Oscar nominations”

New-to-me Movies in January

My movie watching habits have changed significantly over the past several months. It used to be that I would go to the theaters about 2-4 times a month to see new movies. Now I’m lucky if I go once a month, mostly due to financial reasons. Also, when I get access to Netflix (while housesitting), I tend to not want to watch new-to-me movies and go for TV shows instead.

For example, last month I watched significant amounts of Doctor Who (season three and most of four) and The X-Files (rewatched all of season one). So I’m thinking I might start posting my TV watching thoughts more often, though I’m not how I want to approach that yet. In the meantime…,

January Movies:

1. 2 Guns (2013)
2. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

Continue reading “New-to-me Movies in January”

Books completed in January

1. Redshirts, by John Scalzi
2. Among Others, Jo Walton
3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (audio book), by Junot Diaz
4. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
5. The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

Interesting Reading Fact: All three of my first three reads heavily referenced science fiction and fantasy literature, which was expected with Redshirts, but was more of a surprise with Among Others and Oscar Wao. I always find it interesting when the books I read are thematically connected in some unexpected way.

Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King (riveting!) and The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 1 (wonderful, readable stories).

.

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

Continue reading “Books completed in January”

Sometimes rest is necessary

I don’t generally watch sports, though I enjoy going to Sharks hockey games and I almost always join family or friends for Superbowl, because of good food and good company and beer.

All I knew about the game going in was that it was supposed to be a good one, since Seahawks have great offense and Broncos have great defense, and everyone I knew was rooting for the Broncos. My family and I decided to go for the Seahawks since they were closest to us geographically.

Twelve seconds into the game, when the Seahawks scored their first touchdown, it was clear how things were going to go, and my family spent the rest of the game marveling at how the Broncos were pretty much destroyed. By the second half, we considered rooting for the Broncos, simply because they looked so downtrodden.

However the game went, it was fun hanging with the fam and eating buffalo wings and watching my niece run around the living room causing chaos like the delightful little monster she it. All in all it was a good Sunday.

Accomplished Last Week

Not much.

Since I started off the week feeling rather ill and stressed out, I just let it be an easy week. I even took Thursday off work and spent the day marathonning episodes of Doctor Who and X-Files while I let myself recover from being sick.

I did manage a bit of exercise with a 4 mile walk with my sisters and my niece on Saturday and a run on Sunday (though I didn’t manage my full three miles).

To Do in the Coming Week – the Usual

  • Write a minimum of 2,000 words on Under the Midday Moon
  • Submit something (poem, story, whatever)
  • Do two runs and a strength training routine
  • Set a budget for the week and stick to it

Weekly Update (because I don't have energy to come up with a clever title)

My weekend was lovely. Spent Saturday night out with a good friend, having a tasty meal at Johnny Garlic’s.

Sunday I met up with another good friend in San Francisco, where we discovered a street fair in preparation for Chinese New Year. We had szechuan food for lunch, checked out City Lights Bookstore (which is amazing! can’t believe I’ve never been!), and then closed out the day with a tea tasting. So much fun. (^_^)

Accomplished in Writing

In one of those moments where an idea just clicks into place, I realized the dynamics of one of the relationships in the story, which allowed me to rewrite a recent chapter and move forward on a stronger footing. Previously this chapter had almost zero conflict, or at least zero conflict based on anything solid. Now it’s much stronger and it creates a nice ripple for conflict in upcoming chapters. Has me excited to get back to making progress on Under the Midday Moon (the title of which I might change).

Two submissions sent out this week, containing one short story to a paying market and three poems to a non-paying market that I think is cool.

In Running

I did my three miles on Saturday using the Zombies, Run! app, which was fun and forced me to do sprints to escape the zombies. Though my pace turned out to be slower, because I think the sprints slowed me down afterward as I tried to even out my breathing.

Sunday’s run was skipped, however, because I decided to let myself take it easy before heading to SF.

To Do in the Coming Week

I’ve been feeling off today, bit of a scratchy throat and, well, just generally off. Also, I’m in the midst of going to press at the day job, which means added stress. So, I’m taking it easy on myself by not actually making a list. If I get some writing done or stuffsomething submitted out, great. If not, well it’s important that I rest.