Apr 17 2015

Book Love: Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Description from Goodreads: “Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.”

I have a secret affinity for Westerns or, more accurately, I love the idea of Westerns — although I don’t often read or watch them.

My interest is closely connected with my love for folklore and mythology and the ways modern storytellers break it apart and shape it anew. There is a myth of the American Wild West, often based almost on the image of lonely, noble white cowboys standing up against the dangers of a lawless land. I can understand the appeal of figures like Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok and the characters portrayed by John Wayne. Although, I’m more partial to the female versions, seen in Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley. I love cowgirls and will be immediately drawn to any story that has women facing the Wild West on their own terms, even not-great movies, like Bad Girls.

I come to this interest in Westerns with the full knowledge that this mythology is deeply problematic, erasing and villainizing the image of POC, particularly Native Americans. It’s a mythology to be tangled with carefully, with room for dismantling, and approached with reservation, oodles of research, and a sense of inclusion.

One of the things that drew me to Under the Painted Sky was not only the diversity of the main characters — Sammy is Chinese and Andy is black — but the fact that they disguise themselves as boys to make their road safer. I loved both of these girls, how they faced their fears and strove for their own freedom. They both have skills and knowledge of their own and learn a lot from each other. Their bond of friendship is powerful, as strong as sisterhood by the end, and I loved the mutual respect they had for each other.

“You miss being a girl? I ask her.

Not as much as I thought I would. Just feels like when I’m being a boy, I can cut a wider path.”

The trope Under the Painted Sky most clearly breaks from is the image of the lone noble cowboy image/hero image. Instead of solitude, the story presents the strength of community and the power of being backed by the family you choose. On the road, Sammy and Andy meet three young cowboys — two from Texans and one Mexican — who join them on their journey to California and teach them some cattle wrangling skills. The interactions between the five characters are often hilarious, and the author does a great job of showing how their friendship blossoms into complete trust.

Under the Painted Sky is sometimes thrilling, sometimes touching, and often funny. It had me staying up way to late so that I could finish it. A fantastic debut and a wonderful read from Stacey Lee. I’ll be looking out for more work by her.


Apr 13 2015

In which I feel as though I haven’t done thing…

My weekend whispered away, it seems. The days melting into each other with the TV chattering in the background — a large part of that chatter involving a full day marathon of all the Star Wars movies at my sister’s house.

And yet, somehow my laundry is done and my bed is made and my life doesn’t seem to have dissolved into chaos, so I guess I’ve been productive, too.

What I’m Reading

I have a great love for cowgirl stories (even though I don’t read them often), so Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee is perfect for me. I’m loving this so far, with two strong girls (one of Chinese decent accused of murder and one a runaway slave) running out into the empty wild west, dressed as boys.

Still working on Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It’s slow reading, but fun. Sometimes I guffaw outloud at the antics of these characters.

What I’m Writing

Putting together a collection is a strange process, something I don’t have much experience with and, in the past, it has not felt natural to group my poetry together. Since this present collection is made up primarily of letter-poems, they all at least fit around a single concept. Over the past week, I’ve read through all of the poems, made selections of those to include and performed edits (substantial in some cases) to each, as well as spreading them out across my living room floor to decide on an order.

I’m feeling good about where I’m at with chapbook — better than any previous time I’ve tried to put a collection together. At the moment, I’m trying to just let things sit for a bit in order to be sure of a few final edits to a couple of the poems, then I think I’ll be ready to send it out. (Eeeeee!)

Goal(s) for this week: Submit chapbook. Gather together poem drafts I’ve written from internet and the universe and organize them in my computer.

What’s Inspiring Me Right Now

Reading poetry this month, because beautiful words get me thinking about words and then wanting to write them, too.

Linky Goodness

E. Jade Lomax imagined what the Harry Potter stories would have been like, if Petunia Dursley had opened her home and heart to Harry instead of rejecting him and the result is so beautiful, it made me cry.


Apr 10 2015

Five Poems and Poets for National Poetry Month

I’m trying to actively read more poetry and lit journals from around the web in honor of National Poetry Month. Here are five that I’ve particularly enjoyed this week.

1. A series of six poems inspired by classic works of literature, including “Wuthering Heights 2″ and “Fahrenheit 451 (3)” by Denise Duhamel & Maureen Seaton, published in Coconut Magazine 19

2. Two poems from Big Brown Bag by Marisa Crawford, published in So and So, No. 8

3. The Unicorn of Renée d’Orléans-Longueville by Janna Layton, published in Goblin Fruit, Fall 2014

4. Next Time Ask More Questions by Naomi Shihab Nye, published at Poets.org (which has a Poem-a-Day newsletter)

5. A series of poems, called CATCHING THE BUS, by Margie Shaheed, published in Linden Avenue, Issue 35

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And a quick reminder, I’m hosting a Poetry Giveaway on my blog, which any poetry lovers here are welcome to take part in.

So far, only one person has commented, so your chances of winning are rather good.


Apr 7 2015

Q&A rock the mic

I mentioned last week that I had participated  Cito.FAME.Us Women’s History Month open mic, in which the amazing folk duo Q&A, performed some gorgeous originals.

I made a video of one of their songs and have posted it with their permission. So, here are Quynh and Alice, are being quintessentially awesome.

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And don’t forget to comment here to win a free poetry book!


Apr 6 2015

In Recovery

Last week was a bit rough. I got sick with a sore throat and a fever, which floored me for most of the week. I had to take time off work and from functioning in general in order to recover, so I wasn’t very productive.

I started to feel better by the time the weekend rolled around, however, so at least I was able to hang out with the family, play with my niece and nephew, and decorate easter eggs with them. It was a good, fun, relaxing weekend, which was exactly what I needed to help get me back to normal.

What I’m Reading

I’ve started reading Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool, which is about a young girl who has been left in the care of a family friend during the 1930s depression.

Still working on Blue by George Elliott Clarke and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

What I’m Writing

I meant to make some edits to my chapbook submission, reworking and cleaning up a few poems, but that didn’t happen. I needed rest more than I needed words last week.

Goal(s) for this week: Finish and submit chapbook. Or, at least finish editing the poems for said chapbook.

What’s Inspiring Me Right Now

Good health. It’s amazing how important it is to just be able to function well.

Linky Goodness

Here is a complete list of poets giving away free poetry books this month as part of the Big Poetry Giveaway!

I may have missed my chance to be added to the list, but am also giving away two books of poetry here.

Looking to read some great poetry, check out Nonbinary Reviews latest issue.