Nov 23 2015

Books, words, and the role of technology 

What I’m Reading
Still working on Rough Magick, a collection of short stories edited by Jessa Marie Mendez and Francesca Lia Block. Not as many of the stories have actual magic in them as I would have hoped, but even so they tend to be beautifully written, which makes up for it.

I’ve also started reading My Life Before Me by Norah McClintock, which is set in the ’60s and is about a young woman who wants to be an intrepid reporter like Nelly Bly. As a fan of Bly myself, I’m finding this fun so far.

What I’m Writing

See Brainery Workshop below.

Goals for the Week:

  • Finish workshop draft before class.
  • Edit Bluebeard tale in time to submit to Uncanny (sooclose).

Brainery Workshop – Science Fiction Fairy Tales – Week Seven

Last week’s topic discussion for Brainery Science Fiction Fairy Tales workshop group looked at the “Little Red Riding Hood” and surveillance culture, which was a theme I thought would have been rife with ideas. But all week I came up blank, with only vague glimmerings of overly complex concepts without characters or a story.

A few days before our workshop group was set to meet, I posted about my frustrations. Jilly Dreadful came back with a writing challenge to write a Craigslist Missed Connections personals ad, which turned out to be just the kind of constraint I needed to put something on the page. Over the course of my lunch break, I pounded out a story of a missed meeting and sent it in for workshopping. I was blown away by the positive response the piece received. For me, it was a quickly written throwaway piece. But I followed my group’s advice, made a few minor corrections, and submitted it for publication.

This upcoming class will focus on Hansel and Gretel and synesthesia and empathy disorders. Since we’re meeting early, I only have tonight to put something together, but I’m feeling okay about that as I already have the beginning of an idea.

Where I’ll Be

On December 3, from 9-midnight at Iguannas in San Jose, I’ll be one of many ladies featuring at the Cito.Fame.Us Queens of the Bay mic and birthday party for the amazing host Lindsey Leong.

Linky Goodness

  • In The Problem with #FirstWorldProblems, An Xiao Mina looks at the problematic ways mobile technology is discussed in the media, considering how vital it has become to people around the world. — “Empathy is founded in our ability to see ourselves in the lives of others, to understand their pain and suffering and respond with compassion. If we cannot imagine the lives of others very different from ourselves, we cannot empathize with their joys and sorrows, and if we take as a frame of reference our own experiences, we cannot deeply engage with others’ lived experiences. If we assume that phones are frivolous, luxury devices for playing games and getting distracted at the dinner table, we cannot imagine how critical they are for helping people find their way to nearby safe points — and then we overlook the need to distribute prepaid SIM cards alongside water bottles. If we assume that transparency and openness are universal goods, we cannot imagine how that openness can be terrifying for a queer person trying to live safely and with dignity in a country with anti-LGBT legal structures — and then we enact Terms of Service and user experiences that promote the very thing (visibility) that can make their lives more dangerous.”
  • Rachel Syme presents a thorough and detailed discussion of the history and current role of the selfie in society and culture in SELFIE: The revolutionary potential of your own face, in seven chapters“Consider this: maybe a woman — or really any person — who takes and publishes many pictures of herself is simply ambitious. She wants people to recognize her image-making ability, her aesthetic boldness, her bravery for stepping into the frame and clicking send. When you tell someone that they have sent too many images of themselves into their feeds, when you shame them with cries of narcissism and self-indulgence, when you tell them that they are taking up too much virtual space (space that is at present, basically limitless, save for the invented boundaries of taste): you need to question your motives. Are you afraid of a person’s ambition to be seen? Where does that come from?”

Nov 20 2015

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

From page one, I loved Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Every ten years a Dragon chooses a young maiden, but this is not the kind of dragon with scales or the kind who would eat her. He’s an ageless wizard in a tower, who keeps the darkness and malevolence of the Wood at bay in exchange for the service of a girl, whom he releases at the end of ten years (although none of the girls chose to return home after). Every one expects him to take Kasia, the most beautiful and brave and capable girl in the town, so when the time of the choosing comes and he chooses Agnieszka instead, it’s a great surprise to everyone, most especially Agnieszka herself.

It’s difficult to describe the plot of this book, because so much unfolds is packed away and then unfolded again over the course of the story. Amal El-Mohtar has in her review on NPR has a wonderful description of reading this book.

“Watching the plot develop is like watching time-lapse footage of a plant growing, unfurling leaves, gaining height and depth simultaneously: it’s an organic, vivacious development that builds seamlessly on what came before. Agnieszka’s training, her failures and successes in magic, her loneliness and fears and frustrations, all bud and blossom into new adventure even as the roots tangle into deeper complication: The ultimate source of the Wood’s malice.”

Although the story features sex and something like romance, the friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia is the true heart of this story. Having known each other all their lives, their friendship begins sweet, but delves into a deeper trust as all their petty jealousies and hidden anger laid bare over the course of the story. But throughout, they stay true to each other and they stay true to themselves, able to have their own emotional arcs, face their own inner demons, and realize their own strength and confidence.

There are so many other things I could say about this book, about how it plays with story telling and myth, how it focused more on the local village community than on royalty, how it relates a story of nature versus civilization, or maybe how explores the differences between linear versus organic styles of magic. This book is just so wonderfully layered and I’m sure there will be more to think about and reconsider when I come around to reading it again, but for the moment I just want to say that I love Novik’s writing style, how she manages to maker her lines seem at once so beautiful and at the same time so effortless. I melted into this story and I will be looking forward to exploring more of Novik’s work.


Nov 16 2015

A week away, but not to play

Most of my free time last week involved prepping for and going on a business trip to Detroit for my day job. On the whole the trip was a success, although I had to struggle through it a bit since I was sick the entire time.

Having been to Detroit before and having loved the experience, I was looking forward to getting out and doing things, checking out an art museums, a cemetery, or whatever sounded interesting. Normally, when traveling, I’ve been known to pack my days with activities. But because I had been sick through almost two weeks — through too much work while preparing for this trip, through setting up and going to a trade show, through interviews and meetings and business dinners — I gave myself permission to laze around my hotel room and recover instead. It was the right move and what I needed.

However, I did have to go out to eat, so I made sure to hit up my favorite restaurant and bar, Wright & Co., where I had a boulevardier (to burn off those germs) ordered some aMAZing port tenderloin. I also visited Astoria Pastry Shop in Greektown for baklava. Good eats = good times.

What I’m Reading

I’ve started up Rough Magick, a collection of short stories edited by Jessa Marie Mendez and Francesca Lia Block. This has a couple of stories from writer friends I know through the Brianery workshop, including our beloved teacher Jilly Dreadful.

In other bookish things, a few of weeks ago I chanced into being at my local library during a $3/bag book sale. All considering, I was extremely conservative in my purchases, as my book shelves are already pretty much full. When considering a book, I made sure to consider whether I would read the book immediately, if I had the time available, in order to prevent adding to the number of books I’ve had for years and never read.

So, here’s my book haul.

Book Haul - November 2015

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Many Waters by Madeline L’engle
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
The Intuitive Writer: Listening to Your Own Voice by Gail Sher
Superstitions and Old Wive’s Tales by Hilary M. Cannock
Bartimaeus, Book One: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
City of Darkness, City of Light by Marge Piercy
The Red Tent by Anita Diamond (this is the only one I’ve read before)

What I’m Writing

All my writing progress vanished while preparing for the work portion of my trip. It was only after the trade show was over that I had mental capacity to handle words.

Goals for the Week:

  • Finish workshop draft before class.
  • Edit Bluebeard tale in time to submit to Uncanny (I’m getting close).

Brainery Workshop – Science Fiction Fairy Tales – Week Seven

Last week’s topic discussion for Brainery Science Fiction Fairy Tales workshop group looked at the “Little Mermaid” fairy tale with a connection to gene manipulation and transhumanism.

Normally, I read a number of fairytale versions and a number of articles in preparation for my story, but last week did not offer my time to make that happen. I ended up just speed writing as much as I could over the story in the hour and a half before class and I wasn’t really satisfied with what I wrote.

But this week, we broke with the typical class format and did an in class writing exercise, which opened up the ending of the story for me and gave me a clear sense of where I wanted to go. It’ll take a bit more research and brainstorming to outline the plot, but I think this one will eventually come together.

This upcoming Thursday’s class will focus on Little Red Riding Hood and surveillance culture. I have no idea where this one will take me. At the moment, I’m starting to look back over previous stories to see what might be edited to completion.

Linky Goodness

  • The Difference Between a Great Story and a Shitty Story Is Often Really Tiny by  Charlie Jane Anders — “It’s easy to see why telling stories and casting magic spells are so often compared or conflated in fantasy stories—because telling a good story is very much like casting a spell. You’re creating another reality and trying to immerse people in it, and you’re hoping to make it so compelling that people “forget” it’s not real. (Almost like a trance.)”

Nov 9 2015

Travels and travails 

I am writing this in between flights at the Seattle airport. I was supposed to layover in Minneapolis but sh!t happens and important mechanical components sometimes stop working on planes, requiring them to be replaced and thus travelers, such as myself, must find new means to reach their final destination. 

Despite the four hour delay, I am quite pleased they discovered this complication while we were all on the ground instead of in the air.

There was one brief moment of this trip is doomed when a boom of thunder rattled the airport right before my newly scheduled replacement flight. But the staff assured us all was well and the flight took off as scheduled. Now I wait in Seattle.

I’m also coming off being sick over the weekend, which along with all the prep required for my work trip left little space for writing. 

What I’m Reading

My in flight reading is Uprooted by Naomi Novik. The story presents an interesting twist on the idea of dragons taking maidens. In this case, the Dragon is an ageless magician who keeps the girls as servants for ten years before letting them go. He does this in exchange for keeping the Wood at bay, a place mysterious and frightening. I love the main character, Agnieszka, who is fumbling and frightened but is stronger than she thinks. 

What I’m Writing 

I planned to finish up my Bluebeard tale last week, but with the preparations for this trip and getting the current short story written, I didn’t have time. I need to hurry to finish it, though as the submission deadline for Uncanny is fast approaching. 

Brainery Science Fiction Fairy Tales Workshop

Last week’s writing assignment focused on  the Three Little Pigs and animal testing. I got a bit lost on the animal focus, as it didn’t invoke many story ideas. I couldn’t think of any kind of animal subjects and eventually tried to think of the three houses as mental defenses and the wolf as an outside presence trying to break in. 

It felt like the weakest of the stories I had submitted, but the feedback was good. What came out of it was that the strongest aspect of the story was the interactions between the three family members. Knowing that will help guide me in directing the story once I get around to rewrites. 

This week’s assignment focuses on The Little Mermaid and genetic modification/transhumanism. I’m just starting to read the source material, but already I can tell this is going to take me some strange places. 

Nov 4 2015

New-to-me movies watched in October 2015

(I don’t have the mental capacity for full reviews this week, so here are some short thoughts.)

1. Glengary Glen Ross (1992)

About five minutes into watching this, I thought, This feels like a David Mamet play. That would probably be because it was written by David Mamet. The story is as simple as a day in the life of shady real estate salesmen, but the crisp and snappy dialog and brilliant acting make this incredibly dark and tense.

2. The Martian (2015)

Capturing almost everything I loved about the book, the movie was just as funny and thrilling as I hoped it would be with gorgeous shots of the martian landscape.

3. We Are Still Here (2015)

This fairly standard haunted house movie set in the early ’80s features a family trying to start over, a suspiciously creepy small town, and a violent ghosts. The opening sequences are unsettling with sparse images of a snowed in landscape, which building to a conclusion full of bloodplatter. Just what I wanted to see.