Culture Consumption: November 2016

Alrighty, here’s November in books, movies, and such. Some really powerful works this month.

Books

“If you want to see what this nation is all about, you have to ride the rails. Look outside as you speed through, and you’ll find the true face of America. It was a joke, then, from the start. There was only darkness outside the windows on her journeys, and only ever would be darkness.” — from The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad — which has won a National Book Award and a Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction —  tells the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When a fellow slave Ceasar tells her about the Underground Railroad, she agrees to escape with him and begins a journey north, taking her through various states and cities — each one with its own unique culture, some welcoming her with open arms, others openly hostile. The story unfolds the landscape of the Unites States, unveiling the many shades of racism, both openly violent and disguised behind a seemingly friendly face. This is a powerful book, at times uncomfortable in its straightforward portrayal of the violence inflicted on Cora and her peers, but always beautifully written and challenging in all the best ways.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: November 2016”

Coming Home

For the past several weeks, I’ve been avoiding writing much of anything, either here on my blog or poetry and other projects. I’ve been overwhelmed following the election and also busy spending time with the family over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend followed by jumping on a plane to Germany for a week long work trip.

Life is like that sometimes. But I’m back home and back writing. I will probably have a string of posts wrapping up the year over the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, here are a few pics from my time in Dusseldorf, Germany last week.

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What I’m Reading

Independent Ed by Edward Burns is a memoir describing the filmmaker’s passion for the process of directing movies and his focus on independent work, as well as some stories from his acting career. Rather interesting and enjoyable with a few useful tidbits of advice here and there.

I’m also working my way through Tim Burton: Essays on the Films, edited by Johnson Cheu. The essays present some fascinating analyses of Burton’s movies. For example, one of the essays examines atypical bodies as presented in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

What I’m Writing

I have not been writing much of anything lately — all a part of giving myself time to decompress. I tend to feel two ways whenever I’m not writing. The first is guilty, as I know in order to improve at writing and to develop my career, I need to put words on the page and send them out into the world in one manner or another. The second thing I tend to feel is acceptance, a kind of forgiveness mixed with relief, because I also know that there is no sense in beating myself up when I’m not in a place to deal with words directly.

This whole not-writing thing is going to shift, I’m sure — in part from necessity, as I had a meeting yesterday regarding an upcoming project that could be an amazing amount of fun. As the project is in its initial stages of discussion, I can’t really share what it is yet, but I may be able to do so over the coming months, assuming everything pans out.

I also have some writing assignments that I need to finish up this week.

Goals for the Week:

  • Finishing writing assignments
  • Type up and send out meeting notes regarding mystery project

Linky Goodness

“We are living through a time when dark, violent forces have been released, encouraged, and applified, on both sides of the Atlantic: by Trump in America, the Brexiteers here, Le Pen in France and too many others eager to extend its reach. I contend that in the face of such ugliness we need the beacon of light that is beauty more than ever — and I hold this belief as someone who has not lead a sheltered life, nor is unaware of the true cost of violence on body and soul. It is because of the scars that I carry that I know that beauty, and art, and story, are not luxuries. They are bread. They are water. They sustain us.” — Terry Windling in Dark Beauty.

“The 2016 presidential campaign was decidedly lacking in poetry. Yet in its aftermath, as Americans consider the contours of their new government, they are, often, turning to poems,” writes Megan Garber in Still, Poetry Will Rise.

Star Trek’s Feminist Statement: Believe Women

Culture Consumption: October 2016

A lot going on the past few days, so I’m coming in a little late, but here’s September in books, movies, and more.

Books

I really enjoyed Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville, even though it took a ridiculously long time to read. It was worth it, but it seriously took forever to read.

Miéville presents an ornately complex city, operating on a mixture of steampunk science and magic, layered with neighborhoods, districts, slums, and inhabited by numerous intelligent species from humans to khepri (insectile humanoids), Garuda (birdmen), cacti men, and other beings. Everywhere is slick and reeking with filth and squalor (although it’s noted that there are rich burroughs that are less so. It’s a fascinating place, although one I’m not sure I’d want to visit.

The story spends some time getting to know the main characters, alternating between their POVs and adding more characters as it goes along building to a catastrophic moment that unleashes danger and fear on the city. Those first 200 or so pages are necessary to making the novel work, but I had a hard time getting through them (almost too much information to be absorbed). When the action finally gets started things become gripping while still being richly detailed. A great novel, but it definitely took some work to get through.

I did a reread of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, which was a nostalgic experience that I talked about elsewhere.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: October 2016”

Returning to Bird by Bird

I returned to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life this month, although looking back I’m not really sure why. I knew I wanted to read a writing book and this was a book I loved once upon a time, but it had been years since I’ve read it and there were plenty of other as-yet-unread writing books on my selves that I could have picked up instead.

Maybe I was just drawn to it. Lamott’s words were as witty, intelligent, and compassionate as I remembered them, but I struggled through the first portion of the book, my mind distracted and unable to focus — a problem with my own headspace more than the words on the page.

I think I’ve been a bit mentally overwhelmed in recent weeks (or months), too many things in life and literature for me to process — which might be a reason I’ve been turning more to TV and movies as a form of relaxation, since they tend to require less engagement.

But as I read and continued reading, working my way through the my own mental blocks, the book slowly anchored me and I felt a little clearer. Lamott writes about her own challenges in writing and in life and the ways it can overwhelm and drive her into despair. Seeing to her imperfect journey was a comfort, providing a sense of I’m not alone in this mess as I approached mine.

At the moment, I don’t have the book in front of me, so I can’t seem to call up any of the specific pieces of advice that Lamott gives. So, I’ll point to Carina Bissett, who also did a reread of Bird by Bird recently and shared a lovely piece on the ways that this book has helped her through challenging times. In her post, she highlights the recommendations Lamott has for getting past perfectionism and moving into getting words on the page — shitty first drafts, short assignments, the picture frame technique.

As Carina notes in her post, “It can be a difficult pursuit to move past the desire for perfection in order to put the story on the page in its raw and garbled state. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to discover the places where a story might have missed its mark or characters whose voices might never be heard if you don’t get the words on the page.”

Once upon a time, I would have recommended Bird by Bird primarily to young writers, writers just learning to face the immensity of the page. But having reread it now, I can see that this is a book for writers of all ages and at many stages in their career, a book that teaches compassion for the self, even when struggling with the writing life and the universe, and everything.

Happy Halloween, boys and ghouls!

I’ve loved horror stories and costumes since I was a kid, so it’s no surprise that Halloween has long been my favorite holiday. I love the excuse to dress up as something imaginary and the call on the creepy and strange with spooky decorations.

As an adult, I haven’t indulged in my love of Halloween nearly as much as I would have liked. Although, having a niece and nephew has certainly brought some of the joy of the holiday back to me. Watching them pick our their costumes, take joy in carving pumpkins (I was ordered to design Nightmare Before Christmas pumpkins featuring Jack, Sally, Zero, and Oogie-Boogie), and run around delighted with the act of trick-or-treating makes me delightfully happy. I always make sure to wear some sort of a simple costume for them, since I know it makes them happy.

Once upon a time, I would have planned out my costume in advanced and would have tried to be more inventive. But since I have not been attending any parties or going out with friends in the last few years, my costumes have become more and more simple — just enough to go trick-or-treating with the niece and nephew. This — combined with the fact that I’ve had zero decorations at my home — has made me feel somewhat disconnected from the holiday I love.

So, at the last minute, I hit up the dollar store and other inexpensive stores, and I invested in some inexpensive Halloween decorations that make my heart swell with happy. Sometimes it’s the little things — like a few decorations — that make life all the better.

Now that I’ve started up a little collection, my plan is to add to it, bit-by-bit every year, gathering and growing my Halloween joy like I’ve always wanted.

ANNOUNCEMENTS!

Just in time for Halloween, my poem “Summer Hauntings” is up in The Ghosts Issue of Eye to the Telescope.

On a related note, Shannon Connor Winward, the editor of The Ghosts Issue, has been doing a series of blog posts highlighting each of the poems she selected for the issue and why she chose them. I’m really honored by the kind words she had to say about my poem.

What I’m Reading

In honor of the holiday, I’m starting A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which was inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd. I’ve read and loved Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, so I’m fully expecting this one to be excellent. Also, I’m already in love with the dark, sketchy artwork which loosely reminds me of the wonderfully creepy artwork form one of my favorite books as a kid, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which is being adapted into a movie by Guillermo del Toro, news that makes me all kinds of happy).

What I’m Writing

THE POEMING 2016 — a 31 day found poetry challenge comes to an end today. I’ve finished up all of my daily poems, which you can read over at Tendrils of Leaves. I’ll probably be taking a few of these down here and there as I start sending stuff out on submission, but they’ll stay up for at least a day or two.

Nanowrimo starts tomorrow, but I will not be nano-ing. I will however be doing another challenge, an eclectic do-something-everyday challenge, which I’ll talk about later.

Goals for the Week:

  • November Challenge ahoy!

Linky Goodness

9 Horrifying Books That Aren’t Shelved as Horror

Icy Sedgwick has a great post on the history of spirit photography.

10 Essential Horror Movie Scores

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Some thoughts on recent days

I was going to go into more detail, but the short version is I got a new hair cut and color, went and picked out some pumpkins with the fam, and am now resting because I’m fighting off a potential soar throat.

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Went to buy #pumpkins with the fam today.

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What I’m Reading

I’ve started up Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clark, which is fun and readable so far. The science is there, but in just enough detail to make the discovery of a giant cylindrical alien starship seem real without stopping up the flow of the story. I’m enjoying it.

Still working on Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

What I’m Writing

I am caught up on all my daily poems for THE POEMING 2016. It’s been a challenge to keep up with them everyday with the amount of non-writing to-dos there has been over the past few weeks.

In other news, it’s amazing what can you do under a deadline. When I discovered that the submission period for poetry at Uncanny Magazine was coming to an end in just a few hours last Monday, I rallied into editing mode — because Uncanny is one of my favorite genre publications. In two hours I did a complete rewrite of the poem, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” a Rapunzel retelling. I was happy enough with the results that I sent it in right as the deadline was closing. Now to just wait for a response. 

As the month draws to a close I can’t help but think about November and the forthcoming Nanowrimo. Although I don’t think I’m going to sign up for the novel writing challenge, I’m trying to think about what other sort of challenge I might set for myself — particularly a challenge that will help me to get work done and out into the world. Maybe an editing/submission challenge of some sort. I don’t know.

Goals for the Week:

  • Get all my required POEMING found poems written and posted
  • Avoid getting sick

Linky Goodness

As I’ve been trying to get back into running, a pastime that both keeps my body out of pain and clears my head, I found Ryan Holiday’s essay, The Timeless Link Between Writing and Running and Why It Makes for Better Work, rather interesting. He writes, “I run because I love it. Because it’s good exercise. It’s the only exercise I’ve ever really been good at, and I’ve done it essentially non-stop since middle school. But I run for another reason, the same reason that many writers apparently run: it makes me better at my job.” I don’t think you need to be a runner (or walker/hiker/etc.) to be a great writer, but for some of us, it acts as one of the many support struts that aids our work.

Robinson Meyer also wrote a beautiful piece on Hayao Miyazaki and the Art of Being a Woman. She writes,

“I remember watching 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind for the first time. A young woman flies in, early in the film, on her white glider, into a vast forest of beautiful yet toxic plants and takes a sample from one into a beaker. When I hear her voice, something makes me shiver. When she takes off her brown oxygen mask under the protective molted shell of a beetle’s eye, poisonous pollen falling around her like snow, it happens again. I know she’s the girl on the cover of the movie case, yet here she is: alone, exploring, unafraid, androgynous. I’m a tween, and I don’t process my thoughts clearly at the time. But I know, suddenly, that she is different from everything else I’ve watched up to this point. She seems to wear power like a coat. She lingers in my thoughts after the movie is over.”

Something About Something

Between multiple birthdays, a baby shower, going to press at the day job this week, and now starting to feel energetically off (and maybe getting sick) — I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and a little behind on quite a few things. So…, I am keeping this short.

What I’m Reading

I didn’t actually read anything last week — at least not anything in book form. I temporarily lost my copy of China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station and just didn’t make any progress on Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

What I’m Writing

I made it through all my daily poems for THE POEMING 2016 last week, except for Sunday. Now with all that’s been going on and how I feel and everything else, I’m a few days behind. I can and will catch up, of course, but I have to make sure to find space to mentally and physically rest in order to prevent a collapse.

Goals for the Week:

  • REST
  • Get all my required POEMING found poems written and posted.

Linky Goodness

10 Books That Don’t Exist But Should (Unfinished, Lost, Withdrawn, and Otherwise Tempting Us), which includes Stephen King’s  The Plant, my book for THE POEMING project

21 Amazing Science Fiction and Fantasy Books to Add to Your October Reading List

Watch a Book Being Made the Old-Fashioned Way. Slowly, and by hand.

Culture Consumption: September 2016

A lot going on the past few days, so I’m coming in a little late, but here’s September in books, movies, and more.

Books

Pixar Animation is one of my favorite movie making studios. Not every flick is my cup of tea, but they seem to approach each project with a sense of innovation and heart. How they manage to consistently maintain that level of creativity in an industry that tends to churn our generic blockbusters on a regular basis is presented Creativity, Inc. Written by by Ed Catmull (one of the founders of Pixar) with Amy Wallace, the book is simultaneously a history of the computer animation industry, a memoir of Pixar with all its ongoing success and challenges, and a guide for approaching the management of creative teams.

One of the main ideas behind his management philosophy is that it’s impossible for one person to know everything, and that, in fact, it is certain that there are things unknown that are influencing the flow of creativity. He writes,

“I believe the best managers acknowledge and make room for what they do not know—not just because humility is a virtue but because until one adopts that mindset, the most striking breakthroughs cannot occur. I believe that managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear. Moreover, successful leaders embrace the reality that their models may be wrong or incomplete. Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it.”

This acknowledgement of unknown factors influencing the dynamics of a creative environment enables the initiation of a process of self reflection and analysis — not as a one time solution but as an ongoing process of growth. As one solution proves to be successful, another litany of challenges will present themselves and it’s important to know how to navigate those new challenges and change tactics as they arise. One of the many things I love about this book is how it shies away from simple, trite catch phrases that are usually presented as rules for success. Phrases such as “Trust the process” sound wise at first glance, but can often come to be meaningless. The reality is that finding solutions often requires adaptability and a willingness to address problems, failure, and change.

One of the great flaws, he finds in many operations is how they address failure as something to be avoided at all costs, a believe that often stifles creativity and risk taking. Catmull asserts that failure is “a necessary consequence of doing something new.” The very act of forging ahead on a new project, whether creating a film or writing a book, means that there will be inevitable failures along the way. Rather than seeing these failures as doom, seeing them as inevitable enables people to work through the frustration of not getting it right the first time (or second or tenth). It’s something that I’ve learned (and am still learning) to accept as I’ve attempted and failed again and again at finishing my stupid novel — each failed attempt getting me closer and closer to understanding the heart of the story, getting closer to learning how to get it right.

I also rather likes what Catmull had to say about change (similar to failure, in that people tend to be terrified of it):

“Here’s what we all know, deep down, even though we might wish it weren’t true: Change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. Some people see random, unforeseen events as something to fear. I am not one of those people. To my mind, randomness is not just inevitable; it is part of the beauty of life. Acknowledging it and appreciating it helps us respond constructively when we are surprised. Fear makes people reach for certainty and stability, neither of which guarantee the safety they imply. I take a different approach. Rather than fear randomness, I believe we can make choices to see it for what it is and to let it work for us. The unpredictable is the ground on which creativity occurs.”

I could probably quote passages and passages of this book, and examine each one closely, but I would quickly run out of space here. Having listened to Creativity, Inc. on audio book (narrated by Peter Altschuler), I’m eager to buying a print copy so that I can peruse the text more closely to better absorb the information and examine it for concepts that might help my own creative life.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: September 2016”

Writing in Chaos

Although I’ve pursued the more solitary act of writing poetry and fiction, I’ve been interested in the process of filmmaking since high school. The collaborative nature of the medium, in which a handful to hundreds of people with their own skill sets, come together to tell a story is fascinating to me. As an entry point into the medium, I’ve tried to write screenplays (both short and feature length) over the years and have even made some awkward attempts at directing with no idea of what I was doing and no understanding of the complexities involved in the process.

Other than the money and (more importantly) time aspects of the filmmaking process, the biggest obstacle for me over the years was trying to figure out how to track down a community of filmmakers to work with. I didn’t even know where to begin. So, I was stoked to discover MMTB – Movie Making Throughout the Bay, which not only provides that sense of community, but also has a “get in there and get movies made” attitude with workshops and challenges that focus on making moviemaking happen.

Over the the weekend, I participated MMTB’s first Writers & Actors Short Film Challenge. Writers showed up at the MMTB headquarters in Rodeo, CA — and interesting jumble of a building with rooms that can be staged in a variety of ways — were given a set of guidelines and four hours to complete up to three scripts. The guidelines were simple enough: keep the story under three minutes, include all three available actors, set the story using one of the rooms in the building, and no special effects. After four hours of writing, we gave feedback and voted on the scripts, and the top three scripts were filmed that night.

I managed to complete one script to my own satisfaction — which was not selected for filming. But I received a lot of positive feedback for my incredibly awkward bathroom scene, which starts out humorous and becomes a story about one of those unexpected moments in which two people connect. I also received some great feedback about how to make the short script better. (Someone said the script made them incredibly uncomfortable because it was set in a bathroom, which made me laugh because uncomfortable was what I was going for.)

In general, I was impressed with the number of quality screenplays that the group was put together and I had a great time sticking around to watch the scripts become films. All of the actors were equally impressive, memorizing their lines on the fly, getting into character, doing a rapid shoot, then switching up for the next one and doing it all over again.

On set at MMTB in Rodeo, CA.

ANNOUNCEMENTS!

I seem to have forgotten entirely about making any announcements in a while, so I’ve got quite a few of them to share. Woo!

First, I’m incredibly honored that the editors of Noxnbinary Review has nominated my essay, Beyond Shahrazad: Feminist Portrayals of Women in The Arabian Nights, for Best of the Net 2016.

Several poems from my forthcoming chapbook, Pantheon, have been published online. You can read three poems — “Harley Quinn,” “Rogue,” and “Ursula,” over at Issue 8 of Yellow Chair Review, and a fourth poem, “Sarah Connor: Our Lady of Self Determination,” within Issue 26 of Literary Orphans.

“The Tenth Sister,” a prose/hybrid poem that is part of a series based on the Twelve Dancing Princesses fair tale, has also just been published in the Write Like You’re Alive 2016 anthology from Zoetic Press, September 2016. The anthology, which I also helped curate, is free and full of tons of great writing.

And last but not least, “Because Her Face Fades,” a poem I cowrote with Laura Madeline Wiseman, was recently published in Faery Magazine #36, Autumn 2016,

What I’m Reading

China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station is amazing but presents slow, slow, slow reading for me. It’s a little too challenging for my overworked brain right now, but I keep pressing on.

Still reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, as well.

What I’m Writing

In addition, to the script challenge I mentioned, I’ve also launched into the THE POEMING 2016, which my first three found poems based on Stephen King’s The Plant up at Tendrils of Leaves and ready for your reading pleasure.

Usually when creating found poems, I work in erasure (like this, for example), in which I take a printed text and blackout words until all that’s left is the poem. It’s a very restrictive way of doing found poetry, as you have to move down the page in such a way that it remains readable, but it also provides the ability to incorporated fun visual elements.

But I’m trying something different with THE POEMING, opening myself up to using any word on the page in any order. But since I’m still drawn to the tactile sensation of writing on paper, I end of creating wild intricate webs of lines and circles words (as pictured below). It’s a fun sort of chaos and somehow I’m still able to decipher it as I work through a page — despite sometimes getting temporarily lost in my own maze.

Goals for the Week:

  • Get all my required POEMING found poems written and posted.

Linky Goodness

“That book you’re writing is mewling again in the dark. It’s a half-formed thing — all unspooled sinew and vein, its mushy head rising up out of the mess of its incomplete body, groaning and gabbling about this life of misery it leads. Its life is shit because you haven’t finished it. It’s flumping along on stump legs, pawing its way through your hard drive, bleating for attention. It needs words. It needs plots. It needs resolution,” says Chuck Wendig in his post, “Here’s How To Finish That Fucking Book, You Monster

And since it’s a King month, here Why Stephen King Spends ‘Months and Even Years’ Writing Opening Sentences.

Also, 40 Jokes That You’ll Only Get If You’re A Grammar Nerd

To Nashville and back

Last week, I took a business trip that took me through Nashville, northern Alabama, and into Kentucky. I spent quite a bit of this trip driving from location to location and with all the work meetings and industrial site visits, there was little time for hanging out.

I checked out the Nashville City Cemetery and would have loved to have explored it more, but it was sweltering hot and humid out and I couldn’t handle it. Not even in the shade.

So, I journeyed to the air conditioned realm of the Frist Visual Arts Center, which featured three displays that day — an exhibit of pottery and embroidery created by women at the turn of the 20th century, a collection of classic Italian cars showcasing the styling and beauty of the engineering, and a small exhibit featuring the surreal art of Inka Essenhigh.

Most importantly, I made sure to get my good eats on while at Nashville by visiting Hatti B’s for some great fried chicken and Biscuit Love for some bonuts.

The Nashville City Cemetery.
The Nashville City Cemetery.
Bonuts from Biscuit Love.
Bonuts from Biscuit Love.

What I’m Reading

China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station presents an incredible detailed portrayal of one of the strangest fantastical cities I’ve read. There’s a strange mixture of magic and science combined with a gritty seedy feeling — the entire city being filled with grime and refuse and other more disturbing images. It’s not a nice place to visit (or live), but it’s also beautiful in its way. The characters, too, are rather interesting — one being an artist pursuing a dangerous commission and the other a scientist of magic (it seems) who has been provided with a seemingly impossible challenge.

Still reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, as well.

And I’m reading The Plant by Stephen King — an unfinished novel about a plant that invades the office of a small publishing house — for THE POEMING (which I’ll talk about below). I’m sure many sinister things are abound to happen in the story, although I’m not sure how deep into the story it goes before it just drops off into unfinished territory.

What I’m Writing

Due to the traveling, my writing was sporadic last week. I attacked some poems in an attempt to meet an anthology deadline, but trying to combine the submission process with being on the road stressed me out. So, I let it go for now. But at least I have a couple of solid poem starts that might find homes elsewhere.

At the moment I’m getting prepped for THE POEMING — an October challenge in which 50+ plus poets have been each been assigned one of the 50+ novels written by Stephen King. Each poet will write/create a found poem from their assigned novel (mine is The Plant) and will post one new poem per day in the month of October. All of the poems will be shared on Tumblr — my challenge page is Tendrils of Leaves.

Goals for the Week:

  • Work on that short story or one of the poetry collection projects

Linky Goodness

Carina Bissett beautifully shares her thoughts on Finding Beauty in Brokenness.

8 Female Surrealists Who Are Not Frida Kahlo

5 lessons I learned while submitting to literary journals, by Icess Fernandez Rojas

Through the Walls

Through the Walls documentary
Image via Through the Walls.
The Cito.FAME.Us open mic event last week featured a special screening of Through The Walls: A San Quentin Film, a documentary produced by Change it Up media about how inmates in San Quentin prison were (and are continuing to) use music to overcome loss and create change. POISE, a rapper and activist, presented the documentary and discussed his own time in prison and his work with music and activism. He explained that documentary was made in secret, using one of the rooms the inmates were allowed to practice and perform in.

The documentary follows a specific group within the prison that is attempting to not only change their own lives, but pledging to work to change the communities they grew up in once they leave prison. Part of the philosophy is that as much as music is a reflection of the world, music also has a powerful effect on the world — so the group is attempting to write positive lyrics that share the truth of the prison life they’ve lived and of the world as they see it, as opposed to feeding the fantasy of being a gangster, and hopefully affect change.

Through the Walls is still in progress — the plan is to extend 45 minute version shared at Cito into a feature length documentary. I hope it gets some traction, because it’s a great film. I think the movie could be an interesting tool in classrooms, where it could be shown in order to spark discussion with students. You can check out the trailer for Through the Walls behind the cut.

Continue reading “Through the Walls”

Thoughts on the Whole30 Thing Now That It’s Over

Whole30 cat memeFor those who haven’t been reading the weekly posts, here’s the simple scoop on Whole30. Essentially, it’s a 30 day challenge to eat clean — as in no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites), or re-created junk food — as well as to detox, change, habits, and so forth. There’s more to it than that, lots of philosophies and perspectives and addendum and such that fill and entire website with essays and blog posts about the challenge, but that’s the essential gist.

I didn’t really have any expectations when I started this challenge, so it’s easy for me to call it a success — and on the whole, I’d say it was. I followed the rules for 30 days, even when certain family members begged me to quit so that I could drink with them, even when I sat helping a friend put together grab bags of candy while she ate cupcakes, even when I was getting really, really bored and feeling really, really over it.

I’m not going to passionately rave about how great Whole30 is, like I’ve seen other bloggers do. But I will say the experience was worth it for me. Three days after the challenge has ended, and I’m still feeling pretty good.

For anyone interested, my here are my week one, two, three, and four breakdowns of what I spent on groceries and so forth. My overall thoughts and feelings are below. It’s a little random, but that’s how I roll.

It’s Not as Hard as It Seems

Okay, I know I said I had no expectations going in, but I guess I had one — that it would be hard as hell.

That was one expectation I was glad to have proven wrong. The Whole30 did take more work, requiring time and energy to meal prep for the week and cook after getting off work. But when I looked for it, the willpower to say, No, to candy, chips, and other junk food was there. One reason was that I was in the right headspace for this. When a sister roped me into trying to do this two years ago, the entire concept annoyed me and I didn’t really try, which had me quitting at the end of the week (better than my sister, who quit after two days). This time around, I was ready to commit, which made things go smoothly. Another reason was that I had already stopped buying some of the things on the banned list (such as milk and bread).

The hardest part was reprogramming weird habits that are almost like muscle memory. Like grabbing taquito off of my nephew’s plate to take a bite and show him how good it is and that he should eat it, too (which never works). Or, snagging a piece of candy out of the dish at the doctor’s office. In all of these occasions, I didn’t even particularly want the thing I was grabbing, but latched onto as a reflex. I caught myself immediately, but was surprised how I could act without making a conscious decision to do so.

The other challenge was that eating Whole30 is more pricey — with my grocery costs at least doubling what they were before the challenge — although not too bad when you can buy things to last you a couple of weeks, such as bulk items and meats that you can freeze.

Feeling Clean

The best way I can describe how I feel after all this is clean. The best way to describe it is the opposite of when you eat fried food and junk, when you feel heavy and dragging and like your skin is producing grease. It’s a good, light feeling, one I’d like to hold on to — which is one of the reasons I don’t have any immediate urges to runout and consume copious amounts of junk food.

No Cravings

The only thing I desperately wanted to have in the final two weeks of this challenge was corn (specifically corn as part of a Chipotle said) and a beer. Not the worst things to be craving as things go. I am not, however, dying to have chips or cupcakes or chocolate or any of the other things I used to want to have ALL THE TIME. In fact, if a cupcake were set in front of me, I wouldn’t even really want it right now (although I would probably be tempted to take a bite, which would likely lead to more bites). It’s kind of cool and makes me feel more in control of

There’s Sugar in Everything

I kid you not. Read the labels. It’s added to salad dressings and lunch meat and all kinds of things you wouldn’t think sugar would be in. It was one of the hardest things to avoid.

Also, wheat, which is also in a ton of things — although since most of those things are processed food items that I wasn’t allowed to eat anyway, it was easier to avoid.

Apparently, I Can Cook Things

I have been known to be a lazy cook, the kind of cook that just throws pre-made frozen food into the oven and sets a tim, the kind of cook unwilling to do anything that requires even a hint of additional effort. My mom and sisters have consistently made fun of me (in a loving way) for my complete lack of interest in this regard, as they are all rather good cooks in their own way.

But on the Whole30, I had not choice but to prepare my lunches at the beginning of every week and cook my dinner every night. So, I planned out that required small amounts of effort and time and was able to come up with a number of good eats that often took me less than 20 minutes to make. This included super easy stuff like chicken salad wraps or lettuce-shell chicken tacos to slightly more complicated meals like sausage and zucchini-bell-pepper-cauliflower stir fry, baked salmon with brussel sprouts, and a beef patty and portobella mushroom burger. After three weeks, I was even starting to get a little creative, mixing together ingredients without double checking a recipe first.

My favorite meal was a sausage sweet potato hash with a friend egg on top (I do not have a photo of this, I’m afraid as I got lazy about taking food pics toward the end) — something I would never have thought to make prior to this challenge. This breakfast is sweet and savory, and I love the egg yolk mixed up in it all. It’s just so good and supper simple. (If anyone wants the recipe, then I’ll provide it, but honestly it’s just sweet potato, yellow peppers, and sausage in a pan with a fried egg).

I Freaking LOVE Almond Butter

No, seriously. I didn’t know how good this was, so blinded was I by the standardized peanut butter.

A Balance Between Healthy and Happy

Finding a good balance between healthy and happy is the next step. What this balance looks like is different for everyone. Theodora Goss has a great post on this concept and presents an example on what works for her. For some this balance may involve sticking strictly to something like the Whole30 plan, for others it may mean eating whatever the hell they want when they want, and for still others it might mean something in between.

balance

It will probably take some time to figure out exactly what sort of balance works best for me, but this is what I do know:

  • I want to stick to having most of my meals consist of primarily meat and vegetables, with an addition of some grains like corn, quinoa, and so forth. I feel like this would work well for me, since I probably need some additional carbs beyond meat and veggies in order to power my running. I’m also happy having various kinds of fruit for a sweet kick with dinner or whenever.
  • I want to keep the habit up of cooking my dinners most nights. It feels good to be in control of my own cooking and it’s great when I get a tasty meal just right.
  • I’m going to have beer, wine, whiskey, or other booze when I feel like it (even if Whole30 says its a no-no, as in never). Enjoying a drink from time to time is a part of what makes me a happy person, as long as I’m keeping it (mostly) in moderation.
  • I am not going to play an is-it-worth-it game every time I want to have something less than the usual healthy. That kind of game would probably just make me miserable in the long run, feeding the kind of guilt spirals I just don’t need.
  • That said, I don’t want to fall into the eating-junk-food-because-it’s-there trap, which was something I did quite often before I started this challenge.

I’m sure I’ll have to change things around and re-adjust in the coming months as I continue to explore what sorts of food works for me, and as I face peer pressure again. (It’s amazing how much easier it is for me to say “I can’t because I’m doing Whole30” than it is to say “I’d rather not.”) Already this week, I’ve had a glass of beer and some sushi and other non-Whole30 items — and I’m still feeling clean, still feeling good.  Let’s keep it that way.

Tell me about your own food journeys in the comments. Whether you’ve done the Whole30 things or have tried other kinds of plans.

_________________

Culture Consumption: August 2016

It’s been a great month. One of the highlights this month was the All Womyn’s Showcase (write up here), which I not only attended but also participated in. I love attending live events (even if they sometimes exhaust me) and I keep telling myself that I want to see more of them.

Books

Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki is such a wonderfully strange graphic novel. For most of the book, each page represents a single vignette, a tiny story about one or more of the characters from the Academy. At the beginning the vignettes jumped between so many different characters, it was difficult to keep track of who was who and what was going on, which made it a little hard to get into. But, as I continued reading and the characters began to repeat, I recognized a main set of characters I could connect and resonate with, allowing me to settle into the odd and beautiful stories at this strange school which features an array of mutants and magic and science.

Some of the vignettes are anchored in ordinary teenage angst (like crushes and school dances and friendship) that makes them easy to relate to, while others are simply, delightfully bizarre (such as the everlasting boy, who throughout the book experiences a variety of deaths and rebirths and eternities). There’s a lot of wit and wisdom present (sometimes beyond what I would expect from a typical teenager, though these are not typical teenagers). Taken as a whole, Super Mutant Magic Academy is really a fabulous book, which doesn’t allow itself to be anchored by any single storyline, but lets itself fall into the chaos of teenage-dom with all its weird wisdom and foolish obsessions.

SuperMutantMagicAcademy1
Continue reading “Culture Consumption: August 2016”

All Womyn’s Showcase

All Womyn's Showcase
Admist a great many other things that happened last week, on Sunday I attended and performed at the All Womyn’s Showcase — which featured five hours and more than 20 performers of poetry, music, and art, as well as booths for artists and community activism. It was a stellar day, one that I felt so honored to take part in.

Some of the amazing poets included Arlene Biala, Santa Clara Poet Laureate, with two moving pieces; Christina Springer; Jaqunasty, a spoken word poet with a powerful voice and words full of feels; and Aasha, who performed several kick-ass poems, as well as co-hosted the event alongside Estrellita Munõz. Also, Nicole Henares shared a poem from Madrid with Bianca Rodriguez performing flamenco alongside — there was something powerful about seeing two such different forms of art performed side-by-side, with ever staccato-ed flamenco step punctuating the words in the poem.

There was so much great music, too — Socorra floored me with her foot-stomping rock; Claymoon wowed me with the growl of the lead-singer’s voice and the emotion in their lyrics; Astralogik made me want to sway to their soulful electronica; Bird & Willow shared some lovely folk; and as always Q&A made my world a better place with their beautifully strange, folky tunes.

One comedian, PX Floro, also took the stage and she was hilarious.

This is really just the short list, as there were so many other amazing poets and artists who gave wonderful performances at the All Womyn’s Showcase as well. Thank you so much to Robertino Ragazza and Quynn Nguyen for organizing and hosting this amazing show!

In other awesome event news, I also attended Cito.FAME.Us hosted by the hella famous Lindsey Leong on Thursday night for the first time in many months. I read a few poems and listened to a variety of comics, musicians, and poets share their works. There have been some changes with Cito — the event remains a weekly, free open mic taking place at Iguanas in San Jose, but the hours now run from 8:30 – 11:00 pm, with signups starting at 8 pm. It a great venue for South Bay poets and artists to come share, with all forms of work welcome, from poetry to music to comedy and dance (as long as it’s family-friendly, i.e. no cuss words). Sometimes they even set up a screen to share short films and other media — as they will be doing this week with the screening of Through the Walls, a 45-min documentary filmed at San Quentin State Prison that shows how inmates are healing through music.

What I’m Reading

I’ve come back to Gateway by Frederik Pohl, a book I started reading many months ago but only got a few pages into before the time limit expired on my library loan. The story seems to center around a man, who continues to be haunted by his time working on Gateway, some sort of space travel station (though I’m not clear yet on how it operates, since I’m still in the beginning).

Still reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and the nostalgia is strong.

What I’m Writing

I honestly can’t remember what — if anything — I wrote last week. So, that basically means that I didn’t write anything, which is not where I like to be.

Goals for the Week:

  • Work on that short story or one of the poetry collection projects

Linky Goodness

Webster Dictionary on when words stray from their roots:

“Many complain when the word ‘awesome’ is used to describe things that are not, in fact, deserving of awe. Yet few object when ‘awful’ is used to mean something other than ‘full of awe.’ … There have been a number of people who have inveighed against this loose sense of awful over the years, but their ranks are thinning, and most of us seem to not mind its use very much. If you have taken these conflicting positions about awesome and awful, you needn’t feel bad about it (and you probably don’t); one of the only things that is as resolutely illogical as the English language is the way that most of us feel it should be used.”

The fabulous Ursula Le Guin will become one of the few living writers to be inducted into the Library of America canon for her literary work, The Complete Orsinia.

Why Do We Judge Parents For Putting Kids At Perceived — But Unreal — Risk?

The Whole30 Thing – Week Four

The what and why of the Whole30 food challenge is here, but essentially the rules are no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites) for a 30 days.

How I Feel

There are four days left in the challenge and I’m feeling good — that same clean feeling throughout my body. I also have no cravings, or at least not any for junk food (I just really, really want some corn, okay?). My only physical complaint right now it that my right shoulder and neck are a mess — although that is more than likely from some other cause.

In general, this has been a good experience (which I’ll write about next week when this is all officially over), but I’m definitely looking forward to being done and having more flexibility in terms of my food choices.

Continue reading “The Whole30 Thing – Week Four”

Moon Glowing and other things

Glowing with the Moon is among my favorite open mic events. It’s a summer event, hosted outdoors by Lorenz Dumuk at the beautiful School of Arts & Culture @MHP in San Jose. The combination of the outdoor venue and the wonderful people who come to participate always makes it a relaxing and enlightening event. I read an older poem of mine and listened to many other poets read their own words. Tshaka Campbell was particularly powerful — his performances usually are — and I hope he comes out with a book soon, so that I can enjoy his poetry as often as I want.

Announcements

Red Sky, an anthology on the global epidemic of violence against women forthcoming from Sable Books, will feature the poem “The Matchsticks I Sold for Him,” which was cowritten by Laura Madeline Wiseman and myself. I’m not sure of the date of publication yet, but will let you know when I do.

Patreon logoQuite a while back (like, two years ago) I wrote a post on the crowdfunding platform, Patreon, which enables fans to make monthly contributions to artists in order to keep them creating new stuff. There are a lot of great writers and publications on there (some of which I mention in the first post).

After spending some time contributing to other creators on Patreon and a considerable amount of time dithering about my own worth as a writer, I’ve decided to create my own artist’s page on the site. This means that — if you love my writing and are so inclined — you can contribute money every month to help me out in this whole writing thing. I still feel really weird about this, still doubt whether my writing is good enough to have fans, still question whether I’ve provided enough rewards for backers — but I did it anyway, because the worst that could happen is that no one contributes and my page just sits at zero for forever, leaving me exactly where I am now.

What I’m Reading

I’ve started on a reread of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and its interesting reading this now, because I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a writer compared to when I first read it.

Although I haven’t started it yet, SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki is next up on my list (I’ll probably be getting into it tonight, actually). I’m sure I’ll dig this one, because I also really enjoyed her book, This One Summer.

What I’m Writing

After last week’s hiding away from all things words, the Glowing with the Moon event was a breath of air invigorating me back to the page. I was able to come clear with one prose poem draft and I was able to shape is into a “final” draft — which felt good.

I also turned to a not-quite-drafted Hansel and Gretel retelling, but I just sort poked at it with a long stick a couple of times without getting too close. I know I’ll be able to get this one out eventually, maybe even sooner rather than later. But there’s still some mental processing going on.

Goals for the Week:

  • Work on that short story

Linky Goodness

“Many fantasy authors wrestle with the desire to produce historically plausible narratives that are not innately offensive and oppressive by modern standards of gender, sexuality, and race relations. This is a worthwhile struggle; there are far too many lazy works that blame their prevalence of rape and misogyny on “historical accuracy.” At the same time, patriarchy and sexism have actual societal consequences; you cannot just create a world where women can become fighters and everyone wears a magic birth control necklace and expect that nothing else will change. Adding divorce into the mix is one means of balancing gender and marital dynamics, without sacrificing the coherence and logic of a fictional society,” writes Anise K. Strong in Beyond Happily Ever After: Why Divorce Needs to Be An Option in Fantasy Fiction.

And because I love watching great movie trailers, here is Max Covill on A24 and the Art of the Movie Trailer.

The Whole30 Things – Week Three

The what and why of the Whole30 food challenge is here, but essentially the rules are no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites) for a 30 days.

I’m three weeks in and fully in the I’m so done stage.

How I Feel

Clean (I don’t really know how else to describe it), but otherwise normal. No surges of energy that other people have described. At least not yet.

Mostly, though, what I’m feeling is a kind of boredom with the level of restrictions and I’m wanting this to be over with. I’m not craving anything in particular (except booze). I don’t want candy or pastries or chips or other kinds of junk food. All I want is to be able to have some corn on my Chipotle salad. Or, quinoa. Or, other mostly healthy things that provide some variety, but are restricted during the Whole30.

And I want a freaking beer, or wine, or whiskey, or whatever.

Other than that, I’m feeling pretty good to go on this. The cooking is sometimes annoying after a long day, but doesn’t feel overwhelming. Even the weekly meal prep is easy enough. So, I’m sticking with it and I’m certain I’ll make it through the next week and a half.

Meanwhile, my dad being his ever helpful self told me I should drop this thing so we can go out and have drinks together — thanks, dad.

Continue reading “The Whole30 Things – Week Three”

Nothing Comes of Nothing

I felt like I was hermit-ing myself away this week. I don’t mean that just in the sense of hiding myself from the world (because when I think about it, since I spent time with my sister on Monday and hung out with a friend on Sunday), but also in the sense of hiding from my own creativity and somewhat from social media. Although, this feeling may be less reflective of last week than how I feel at this moment.

I don’t know if I’m ready or willing to pull myself out of that mode just yet, but I can tell that this is going to start to drag on me if I let it go on, too long. When I’m in this mode I tend not to get much of anything productive done and that’s not helpful on many levels.

What I’m Reading

I finished up She Walks in Shadows, the anthology edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles and may have some thoughts to share on it soon. But for now I’ll just say that it’s a solid collection of weird, Lovecraftian stories.

I’m about halfway through The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms, which is an entertaining adventure romp with a fun, sassy main character.

What I’m Writing

Rinse and repeat from last week — no new words were written last week, and no major editing. I’m finding it very difficult right now to face words, can stand to either look at a blank page or edit anything I’ve already written. Kind of frustrating, but I’ll work my way out of it soon, I’m sure.

Goals for the Week:

  • Work on something – ANYTHING

Linky Goodness

“We love her and we hate her in equal measure. We feel that way because she revels in being all the things that we are told we aren’t allowed to be. She is confident, and she has wrinkles, and her nose isn’t a formless nonthreatening comma in the middle of an ill-defined wide-eyed face—it’s a knife, or an arrow, or a scythe. She frowns. Everyone in the audience and on the internet wants to talk about whether or not she’s sexy but they’re asking the wrong questions and she’s laughing at them for it,” writes Sarah Gailey in Defense of Villainesses.

The Historical Origins Of The Witch by Danika McClure

Jo Eberhardt on The Problem with Female Protagonists

The Whole30 Thing – Week Two

The what and why of the Whole30 food challenge is here, but essentially the rules are no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites) for a 30 days.

How I Feel

I’m told most people quit on day eleven. That was yesterday.

I’ve had a few “I’m so over this” moments” and some cravings this week, but they were mostly idle thoughts and I was able to easily enough brush them aside.

The hardest part of the week was hanging out with my niece and nephew. There are some weird habits people can get into around kids — they aren’t eating their dinner so there is leftover food on their plates that’s easy to nab, or they have their little cups of Goldfish crackers and it’s just so easy to reach in an grab one, or so on.

While feeding my nephew dinner, which he was not eating, I went to do the see-look-it’s-good thing and went to take a bite of one of his taquitos to prove to him that I wasn’t lying, that his good was indeed good. I brought the taquito up to my mouth and even touched my teethe to it before I realized what I was doing. No bite was taken, thus no rules were broken. But, man, it was so close.

The funny thing is: trying to prove to a kid that they should eat a thing by eating it yourself never actually works. They see us eating stuff they don’t like all the time. So, maybe that habit should just be shut down entirely.

Continue reading “The Whole30 Thing – Week Two”

Moving Slow

It was a mellow week last week. I gave myself space for that, just sitting around and watching TV and old movies.

I particularly loved binge watching Stranger Things — creepy and nostalgic with amazing music and some cool world building. I can’t wait for season two.

What I’m Reading

I didn’t read anything out of books last week, so I’m still working on both She Walks in Shadows, the anthology edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles, and The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms.

What I’m Writing

No new words were written last week, and no major editing. However, I did manage to make some minor tweaks to the new chapbook and send it out to a contest for consideration.

Goals for the Week:

  • Edit and submit something

Linky Goodness

Jade Sharma tells the story of the terrible, no good, very bad day she woke up as a debut author.

On The Furiosa Test, How The Mad Max: Fury Road Heroine Is Inspiring More Inclusive Cinema, by Jamie Righetti.

A New Journal Publishes Poetry by Computers

The Whole30 Thing – Week One

As I mentioned last week, I’m doing the Whole30 challenge — essentially no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites). Here’s my week one round up of how it’s going.

How I Feel

So far I haven’t felt overly tempted have been few. My office has chocolate in stock and other no-nos for this challenge. But even though I’m aware of them and other temptations in my everyday, I’ve found that I’m able to glance them longing for a brief moment and then move one. (I have had an anxiety dream midweek in which I was tricked into eating some pasta or something and felt frustrated about having to start the challenge over.)

Apparently, it’s entirely normal during the first 14 days to experience headaches, lethargy, sleepiness, crankiness, and so on. My energy has definitely went down as the week went on, with it being harder and harder to get out of bed in the mornings up through Thursday. There were also a couple of times midweek in which I’ve had less patience things that normally don’t bother me (although the fact that I’m overwhelmed with work at the moment may be contributing to this).

However, I woke up this morning with significantly more energy than yesterday and in a much better mood, so hopefully I’m on an upswing.

Continue reading “The Whole30 Thing – Week One”

Culture Consumption: July 2016

Wait. July is over already? Where did the year go?

Books

All the Birds in the SkyI’ve long loved the work Charlie Jane Anders does — both as the host of Writers with Drinks and as a long-time editor and writer at i09. So I was thrilled to have been able to pick up a copy of All the Birds in the Sky (which I got signed at one of her readings in San Francisco).

The novel is sort of a like a nature witch and mad scientist love story that explores the philosophical differences between how magic and science approach deal with a world that’s falling apart. Both have their own ways of trying to make things better, but when magic and science begin to clash, it threatens to destroy the world instead.

I love the characters in this novel. Both Patricia and Laurence had rough childhoods that they managed to survive and deal with in their own ways. Though they are both flawed, they also have their own sense of compassion that leads them to try to do good in the world. Somehow, despite all their differences and mistakes, they manage to fit together.

Anders’ writing is beautiful — a mixture of beautiful details, humor, and emotional resonance. I loved this book.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: July 2016”

The Big News: Pantheon forthcoming in 2017

Pantheon, my chapbook of poetry based on a series of Our Lady poems has been accepted for publication and it forthcoming from ELJ Publications in August 2017! Each of the poems speaks to a female pop culture character, examining their hidden stories and the ways these characters can sometimes feel personal or sacred to our lives.

This will be my first collection of poetry and I’m so excited!

In related news, I just learned that three of these poems — Harley Quinn, Ursula, and Rogue — will be published in Issue 8 of Yellow Chair Review!

What I’m Reading

I’m still working on both She Walks in Shadows, the anthology edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles, and The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms. Both are thrilling in different ways, the one being dark and strange Lovecraftian short stories and the other being a fun action adventure fantasy romp.

What I’m Writing

The 31/31 challenge hosted by Zoetic Press wrapped up yesterday. I finished a total of 23 poem drafts for the challenge, which feels kind of awesome because now I have 23 new things that can be edited and submitted.

During the course of this challenge, I managed to put together first drafts for all the prose poems in my Twelve Dancing Princesses collection — something I’ve been meaning to polish off for a long time.

So, now it will be all editing, editing, editing and submitting for a while.

Goals for the Week:

  • Submit chapbook collection to YCR contest.
  • Start editing

Linky Goodness

Lynne M. Thomas on How Creating Inclusive Sci-Fi/Fantasy Sparked a Culture War: “We all want to find ourselves in stories. Finding ourselves in stories should be easy. No one should ever have to feel grateful just to see themselves.”

Defining the Genre: 7 Novels of Afrofuturism

The Lake Monsters of America (which is just begging for a series of poems)

The whole Whole30 thing

Whole30There is this thing called the Whole30 challenge. It’s a challenge to eat whole, non-processed foods for 30 days, including “meat, seafood, eggs, tons of vegetables, some fruit, and plenty of good fats from fruits, oils, nuts and seeds.”

During that time you are not allowed to consume added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. You are also not supposed to create baked good (breads, pancakes, etc.) with compliant substitutes, and smoothies and other blended drinks are frowned upon.

The aim is to go for healthy eating and there are entire areas of the internet given over to how awesome this challenge is and the health benefits it provides.

Although I find aspects of it annoying, I’ll be doing the Whole30 challenge for the month of August. Why? Because my sister has had some anxiety and health challenges, she wants to try it to see if it will help her, and she doesn’t want to do it alone. So, I’m backing her up.

I’m pretty sure I have the willpower to stick to the plan (she says as she sticks a piece of chocolate candy in her mouth). My two main challenges are going to be cooking and cost.

Most of the recommended meal plans I’ve seen for Whole30 so far have been elaborate to say the least, often written by people who seem to enjoy cooking. The plans involve weekly meal-prep work and homemade dinners every night and 50-item shopping lists.

None of which works for me or my sanity.

I don’t really cook much and I dislike grocery shopping. And it seems like the Whole30 thing would less helpful if it includes a massive amount of stress.

I’m trying to find ways to keep it all as easy and cheap as possible. I need breakfasts that I can put together in less than 5 minutes flat and ideally eat while I’m walking out the door (right now I do protein shakes, which are not allowed in the plan). Lunches will be mason jar salads made on Sundays (something I used to do for a short while) and dinners will have to be one-pan and able to be finished in no more than 20-30 minutes. Most of my shopping will be at Trader Joe’s. Apparently, I can have carnitas salads from Chipotle, which is awesome for a quick fix, since they’re right across the street.

I’ll post weekly updates on the meal plans and costs and how things are going — in part to just keep myself accountable.

Have you done Whole30? What was it like?

The Mondays Ain't So Bad

Over the weekend, my family and I celebrated my niece’s birthday. She’s four years old and such a wonderful little princess monster.

I’m back in the office after a work trip and the weekend and it’s Monday. My to-do list both at my day job and my writing/poeming job is long and only growing longer, it seems. But that’s okay, because I woke pretty well rested and generally feeling good, which is a nice start to the week.

What I’m Reading

She Walks in Shadows, the anthology edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles, continues to present fantastic weird stories and art involving Lovecraftian mythos. I especially enjoyed Jilly Dreadful’s story, which is creatively told through the format of a dissertation outline.

I’m also started The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms, which looks like it’s going to be a great fantasy, superhero, action-adventure story.

What I’m Writing

I managed another six poems/flash pieces last week for the Write Like Your Alive, a 31/31 project being hosted by Zoetic Press, which jumps me up to a total of 15 pieces. So, I’m still quite a bit behind, but not dauntingly so. I’m hoping that I can manage two poems a day for the rest of the week, which would put me at a total of 30 for the month — a happy making amount for certain.

In other news, I received a rejection on a chapbook submission. It was a lovely encouraging rejection that said some wonderful things about the collection as a whole and complimented two of the poems in particular (one of which I wasn’t as confident in, but am now feeling better about). On the one hand, I’m disappointed. On the other, I’m feeling good and more confident about my ability to put together a coherent poetry collection — something more than just a randomly thrown together set of random poems — which is kind of awesome.

Goals for the Week:

  • Finish up the 31/31 challenge by drafting a multitude of poems
  • Take a look at the rejected collection and see about submitting it to another publisher

Linky Goodness

Vanessa Willoughby has a beautiful essay up, Black Girls Don’t Read Sylvia Plath.

“It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t mean it. It doesn’t matter that he’s secretly quite a sweet, vulnerable person who is gracious to those he considers friends. It doesn’t matter that somewhere in the rhinestone-rimmed hamster wheel of his mind is a conscience. It doesn’t matter because the harm he does is real,” writes Laurie Penny in her amazing piece, I’m With The Banned: What my evening with Milo told me about Twitter’s biggest troll, the death of reason, and the crucible of A-list con-men that is the Republican National Convention

Michael Arnovitz presents a call for reason regarding Hilary Clinton: “Hillary is nobody’s idea of perfect. Fine. But in my view if a man with her qualifications were running in the Democratic primary, Bernie would have been done before he even started. And if a man with her qualifications had been running for the Republicans, they’d be anointing him the next Reagan while trying to sneak his face onto Mount Rushmore.”

The Mondays Ain’t So Bad

Over the weekend, my family and I celebrated my niece’s birthday. She’s four years old and such a wonderful little princess monster.

I’m back in the office after a work trip and the weekend and it’s Monday. My to-do list both at my day job and my writing/poeming job is long and only growing longer, it seems. But that’s okay, because I woke pretty well rested and generally feeling good, which is a nice start to the week.

What I’m Reading

She Walks in Shadows, the anthology edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles, continues to present fantastic weird stories and art involving Lovecraftian mythos. I especially enjoyed Jilly Dreadful’s story, which is creatively told through the format of a dissertation outline.

I’m also started The Dragons of Heaven by Alyc Helms, which looks like it’s going to be a great fantasy, superhero, action-adventure story.

What I’m Writing

I managed another six poems/flash pieces last week for the Write Like Your Alive, a 31/31 project being hosted by Zoetic Press, which jumps me up to a total of 15 pieces. So, I’m still quite a bit behind, but not dauntingly so. I’m hoping that I can manage two poems a day for the rest of the week, which would put me at a total of 30 for the month — a happy making amount for certain.

In other news, I received a rejection on a chapbook submission. It was a lovely encouraging rejection that said some wonderful things about the collection as a whole and complimented two of the poems in particular (one of which I wasn’t as confident in, but am now feeling better about). On the one hand, I’m disappointed. On the other, I’m feeling good and more confident about my ability to put together a coherent poetry collection — something more than just a randomly thrown together set of random poems — which is kind of awesome.

Goals for the Week:

  • Finish up the 31/31 challenge by drafting a multitude of poems
  • Take a look at the rejected collection and see about submitting it to another publisher

Linky Goodness

Vanessa Willoughby has a beautiful essay up, Black Girls Don’t Read Sylvia Plath.

“It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t mean it. It doesn’t matter that he’s secretly quite a sweet, vulnerable person who is gracious to those he considers friends. It doesn’t matter that somewhere in the rhinestone-rimmed hamster wheel of his mind is a conscience. It doesn’t matter because the harm he does is real,” writes Laurie Penny in her amazing piece, I’m With The Banned: What my evening with Milo told me about Twitter’s biggest troll, the death of reason, and the crucible of A-list con-men that is the Republican National Convention

Michael Arnovitz presents a call for reason regarding Hilary Clinton: “Hillary is nobody’s idea of perfect. Fine. But in my view if a man with her qualifications were running in the Democratic primary, Bernie would have been done before he even started. And if a man with her qualifications had been running for the Republicans, they’d be anointing him the next Reagan while trying to sneak his face onto Mount Rushmore.”

So, life

The week of Fourth of July, I alternated between lounging with family by Clear Lake to hanging out in a camper cabin on the coast for some writing and reading R&R (which I may or may not write a blog post about), to binge watching horror movies with my cousin, to chilling at the Yuba River. I came home feeling energized and relaxed, only to have the “real” world slam into me and I rather quickly went back to feeling overwhelmed in work and writing and life in general. At some point I’m going to have to learn how to cultivate that sense of calm, even in the rocky waters of everyday life and the stresses involved. Not an easy task.

In general, I have not been in the mood to touch a computer when I get off work, which is why my posts have been more sparse here and elsewhere. I’m choosing not to be hard on myself about my level of productivity (since it’s not even as low as I keep guilting myself into believing) and am instead giving myself what space I can.

What I’m Reading

I just finished up Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, which I read in a single day — something I haven’t done in ages. It’s a powerful coming of age story about friendship and rivalry between different groups in a small community. It also has a mystery that gets pulled up out of the past. There’s a lot of humor and a lot of tragedy and it all weaves together beautifully.

I’m part way through She Walks in Shadows, an anthology edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles that is full of female-driven stories inspired by Lovecraft. Some great stuff in here so far.

What I’m Writing

I’m currently in the middle of the Write Like Your Alive, a 31/31 project being hosted by Zoetic Press. I’m behind for the moment, with only nine of the 31 poems completed. I’ve been moving slower through these than I have with previous similar challenges, being more careful in choosing what to put down instead of just powering through. Many of these are poems that I’ve outlined or have had stored away in my head for a long time, so it’s a good feeling just to get them down on paper.

I’ll be traveling this for the day job, which will provide me with a bit of hotel time in which to dive into some more writing and hopefully that will help me catch up.

Goals for the Week:

  • Draft a multitude of poems

Linky Goodness

Why Calvin and Hobbes is Great Literature, by Gabrielle Bellot:

“Though focused on suburban American characters, it crossed cultural borders for me in Dominica because so much of it seemed universal. I lived at the edge of a mountain village, and on the days when the wind had stopped blowing and everything felt still and stricken with the melancholy of a too-short Sunday I enjoyed retreating into a room and disappearing into the world of a book collection of Calvin and Hobbes. (I had them all.) Then someone would call me through the halls of our house, or I would simply look up, and it was like waking from a trance. Suddenly, it would be evening, the wind up our mountain like the breaking of soft sea waves, the brown moths already crashing madly into the lamps or dying in the wax pool of a lit candle, the breadfruit leaves already like the silhouettes of monstrous bats in the dark, the night already having begun to put on her starry pearls. I loved disappearing into beloved books and reappearing into reality, with a shock, some hours later.”

Culture Consumption: June 2016

In the intensity of getting words written, I feel as though I’ve slowed down on reading. In some cases, I’ve even been avoiding it in lieu of more mentally easy story consumption through TV and movies. Not always the best thing, since reading words is a part of what inspires me to write words. So toward the end of the month, I tried to get outside, setting into an easy chair by the pool, and delve into some much missed words.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: June 2016”

The Goings On

Oh, my. I’ve yet again skipped a week of my weekly updates, which makes them more bi-weekly for the month of June. The goings on are going on — mostly a lot of trying to get writing done and then binge watching television to recover from the trying to get writing done.

Announcements!

A Gathering of Baba Yagas,” a poem cowritten by Laura Madeline Wiseman and I, is now up at Strange Horizons! This was the first poem Madeline and I wrote together and I’m thrilled to see it published.

There is some other GIANT news, but I’m not 100% sure that it’s okay to share it yet, so I’m just going to tease you about it for the time being.

What I’m Reading

I haven’t been doing much reading lately. Or rather, I have, but not as much for the shear pleasure of it. So it’s a joy to begin All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. The story of a naturalistic witch and a young mad scientist is charming. This is exactly the kind of book to get me back into the reading mood and I can’t wait to see where it leads.

What I’m Writing

Last week was primarily spent in finalizing and then submitting my Our Lady chapbook for publication. The collection, called Pantheon, is done and off and out of my hands and I’m going to say no more about that.

Since send that off, I’ve polished up The Things I Own, another chapbook which was a finalist in the Dirty Chaps Contest. With some tweaking — pulling out a couple of poems — and putting in of a couple of others, I’m hoping it will find a home elsewhere.

Coming up next is the Write Like Your Alive, a 31/31 project being hosted by Zoetic Press. Signups for the project are open until June 30th, with the opportunity to be published, if you complete at least 20 days. Let me know if you join, as I will definitely be participating (because why not drown myself in more challenges and projects) and would love to be able to share the journey.

Goals for the Week:

  • Prep for Write Like You’re Alive and then write like I’m alive

Linky Goodness

Justine Larbalestier has an amazing poet on How to Write Protagonists of Colour When You’re White: “Step One: Ask Yourself Why”

“All of the goals I had set for myself in my twenties had come and gone. As a result I had simply shut down. For some reason it felt easier and more comfortable to resign myself as a failure than to risk actual failure,” writes Kate Maruyama in On Saying Yes: Fight the Fear.

I really don't know how to write this post

The recent mass shooting in Orlando is taking up much of my heart and soul, so I’m putting my usual review down lower in the article and skipping to links I’ve found to be important and/or helpful.

It’s not enough to be mournful or to send prayers, as John Scalzi points out in his heart rending piece on “thoughts and prayers” in the face of continued violence. There’s a point where action has to be taken, and I’m looking for ways to offer what actual physical help I can.

The Huffington Post has a piece on How To Help Orlando Shooting Victims And Their Families.

Vox explains America’s gun problem:

“No other developed country in the world has anywhere near the same rate of gun violence as America. The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate as Canada, more than seven times as Sweden, and nearly 16 times as Germany…

To understand why that is, there’s another important statistic: The US has by far the highest number of privately owned guns in the world.”

Petition to Ban Assault Weapons.

What I’m Reading

I haven’t had time to do much reading the last couple of weeks and so I haven’t started in to any novels or full length collections. The next on the list is The BFG by Roald Dahl, a reread of a book I loved when I was a kid. Something nostalgic and simple and sweet would be boon right now.

What I’m Writing

Last week was incredibly busy with deadlines looming both at my day job and for the chapbook I’ve been working on all through May and June — so busy that I never got around to writing about my time at Bay Area Book Fest, where I hung out with my Zoetic Press peeps. But Allie Marini wrote about it, so you can read that.

The chapbook is almost done — which is great, since the deadline is just two days away. Over the weekend, I’ve editing the hell out of a lot of poems, culled several that were just not coming together the way I wanted, and finalized many more. There are three poems remaining that are not quite ready, but I really want to include, so I’m desperately trying to work through them in time to submit.

Goals for the Week:

  • Finish and submit the 30/30 poetry collection
  • Breathe

I really don’t know how to write this post

The recent mass shooting in Orlando is taking up much of my heart and soul, so I’m putting my usual review down lower in the article and skipping to links I’ve found to be important and/or helpful.

It’s not enough to be mournful or to send prayers, as John Scalzi points out in his heart rending piece on “thoughts and prayers” in the face of continued violence. There’s a point where action has to be taken, and I’m looking for ways to offer what actual physical help I can.

The Huffington Post has a piece on How To Help Orlando Shooting Victims And Their Families.

Vox explains America’s gun problem:

“No other developed country in the world has anywhere near the same rate of gun violence as America. The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate as Canada, more than seven times as Sweden, and nearly 16 times as Germany…

To understand why that is, there’s another important statistic: The US has by far the highest number of privately owned guns in the world.”

Petition to Ban Assault Weapons.

What I’m Reading

I haven’t had time to do much reading the last couple of weeks and so I haven’t started in to any novels or full length collections. The next on the list is The BFG by Roald Dahl, a reread of a book I loved when I was a kid. Something nostalgic and simple and sweet would be boon right now.

What I’m Writing

Last week was incredibly busy with deadlines looming both at my day job and for the chapbook I’ve been working on all through May and June — so busy that I never got around to writing about my time at Bay Area Book Fest, where I hung out with my Zoetic Press peeps. But Allie Marini wrote about it, so you can read that.

The chapbook is almost done — which is great, since the deadline is just two days away. Over the weekend, I’ve editing the hell out of a lot of poems, culled several that were just not coming together the way I wanted, and finalized many more. There are three poems remaining that are not quite ready, but I really want to include, so I’m desperately trying to work through them in time to submit.

Goals for the Week:

  • Finish and submit the 30/30 poetry collection
  • Breathe

Time Flying By

I could write about my birthday celebrations last week and wading in the river until it soaked my pants and enjoying family and friends, but I’m currently too dazzled by the fact that it’s going to be June tomorrow and where did the time go, I want to know, where did it go.

What I’m Reading

I haven’t started in on a new novel yet, so right now my reading is focused on finishing the 2016 Rhysling Anthology. The speculative poetry inside these pages is pretty much consistently great, although there are certainly some favorites jumping out at me.

What I’m Writing

I’m approaching the deadline for this poetry collection that I’ve been editing, so I’m approaching the freak out stage of the process. (Okay, it’s all the freak out stage.) I need to polish up the poems I’m pretty sure I’m going to include and allow myself to let go of the rest, even though there’s a part of me that wants to force them into working, even though they may not be able to be forced.

Goals for the Week:

  • Continue editing the 30/30 poetry collection.
  • Submit a set of poems for publication

Linky Goodness

Gretchen Gerzina discusses the rediscovery of a 19th-century novel and how it transforms the image of black female writers.

“If your networks can’t help you reach out to awesomely skilled women, you need better networks,” writes Tin Geber on male privilege and networks.

We Need to Talk About That Wonder Woman Budget: It’s not all good news for Princess Diana of Themyscira, by Ashley Lynch.

Rage Writing Through the Block

It was a frustrating week in writing, one of those weeks where you keep trying different routes to get into the words, only to come up against another wall.

One night this week, I sat with a set of poems in front of me. I picked up one poem, and then the next, and then the next — each time putting the poem back down into the pile after having just barely glancing at it. The feeling of frustration just kept building and building.

There’s a feeling of restriction, I find, in being artistically blocked. I find myself curling in, my muscles tightening up. It’s a feeling of not being able to move or act. And the more I feel I can’t write or act, the more I tighten the ball.

All I want to do is just scribble in rage until I tear through the page, I thought, while still trying to face the words I couldn’t seem to face.

Until I finally asked myself why I was avoiding it. If rage write what what I wanted to do and if it wasn’t really going to make things any worse, why not do it. So, I grabbed a red pen and started scrawling all the hate words and curses and anger out on to the page. I scribbled over what I wrote, I scratched over and I tore through the page, ripping a hole and gouging it open.

Rage writing might seem a counterproductive way to deal with an emotional block (which really what I think writer’s blocks are). But here’s the thing, it helped. It loosen up all that tension that had built up and allowed me to loosen. I started having fun with the scribbles, and they became more playful, less angry.

Not long after putting the page of rage writing down, I was able to pick up a poem and edit it into a finished piece that I’m rather happy with, allowing me to end the day with a feeling of accomplishment and calm.

I’m not saying rage writing is the solution for everyone facing a block, or for every time it comes up. There are a lot of ways to relax that tension and frustration. Other paths for other writers might do better with meditation, or taking a long walk, or reading an awesome book.

The point is there are creative solutions to finding your way around the wall.

Let me know what solutions you’ve found that work best for you in the comments.

What I’m Reading

I should have been able to finishe Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, in just a few hours. But there have been numerous distractions, so I’m still in the process of reading. Good stuff so far.

Also about halfway through the 2016 Rhysling Anthology, which is full of amazing speculative poetry.

What I’m Writing

I talked about most of my writing week already. Another frustration was that I had put together a submission of poems, only to realize halfway through submitting that my intended submission did not fit the journal’s guidelines after all. So, I sighed and put it aside and began looking into where else to submit, but never actually got around to submitting.

Goals for the Week:

  • Continue editing the 30/30 poetry collection.
  • Submit a set of poems for publication

Linky Goodness

“If there is a thematic message encoded in the “girl” narratives, I think this is its key: the transition from girlhood to womanhood, from being someone to being someone’s wife, someone’s mother. Girl attunes us to what might be gained and lost in the transformation, and raises a possibility of reversion. To be called “just a girl” may be diminishment, but to call yourself “still a girl,” can be empowerment, laying claim to the unencumbered liberties of youth. As Gloria Steinem likes to remind us, women lose power as they age. The persistence of girlhood can be a battle cry,” writes Robin Wasserman in her wonderful exploration of what it means when we call women girls.

In The Unsung Heroes of the Poetry World, Krystal Languell talks with 11 poets on what it takes to run a small press.

Beyond Harry Potter: 25 Fantasy Adventure Series Starring Mighty Girls

Boston’s sidewalks are covered in secret poems, which are only revealed when it rains.

Taking in the Sun

My weekend was filled with sunshine. My sisters, mom, niece, nephew and I spend Saturday on the beach enjoying the sun and sand and surf. The babies had so much fun splashing their toes in the clear blue water, giggled as it washed up over their legs. They also loved digging in the sand and building sand castles.

Sunday I took myself on a solo hike and run through a local trail.

We’re definitely in the Spring of things, with sunny days on the horizon (no surprise, really, in California).

At the beach near Half Moon Bay.

What I’m Reading

In my project of making up for missed childhood reading, I’m following up Anne of Green Gables with Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. I’m only a chapter in, so I don’t have a ton of thoughts as of yet, but I’m sure I will.

Also reading the 2016 Rhysling Anthology, so that I can make my votes soon.

What I’m Writing

Work on the 30/30 poems is ongoing. I do a substantial edit of about one poem at a time, followed by a re-exmination of one of the previously edited poems.

One the whole, I still have so many doubts about these poems. But I’m trying to just trust my original gut feeling. I try to focus on the spark inspired me to go in that direction in the first place and to move in that direction with my edits.

Goals for the Week:

  • Continue editing the 30/30 poetry collection.
  • Submit a set of poems for publication

Linky Goodness

“The fact that “The Little Mermaid” revolves around the silence of its heroine speaks to the political situation of the era. In some ways, the 1830s in Europe marked an “enlightenment” period for gay activism,” writes Maddy Myers on Queer Subtext in The Little Mermaid, From Hans Christian Andersen’s Original to Disney’s Adaptation.

Rose Hackman on how women are pushed to de-escalate sexist incidents.

In The Secret to Reviewing Mediocre Movies, Jacob Oller writes, “Each review should be something I’m proud to publish or at least contain something I’m proud to publish.,” which also applies to the wider world of writing in that we should all be writing something we’re proud to publish.

A Strange Horizons survey shows that sci-fi media coverage is still dominated by men.

Legacy of Poetry

The Center for Literary Arts at San Jose University (SJU) hosted Legacy of Poetry Day at the Hammer Theatre on Thursday. The event started off with music and presentations of theater and folkloric from SJU, followed by readings from poet laureates from around California, culminating in a reading by U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.

Herrera read some amazing pieces, including at one point a poem about laundry written on the back of an actual laundry bag. He has a generosity of spirit that’s really wonderful. Following the readings, he did a series of signings and for each one, he sat the person down next to them and spoke for a short moment about poetry while he signed.

Alejandro Murguía, the San Francisco poet laureate emeritus, was equally amazing during his reading in which he played off the other poets and performances from the evening — having either come up with the words on the spot or just before going out on stage. It was one of those performances that socks you in the chest because it was that good.

I was also blown away by the work of Arlene Biala, poet laureate of Santa Clara County, who read a deeply moving poem.

What I’m Reading

Apparently, I missed out on a thing called Anne of Green Gables as a child. So here I am reading it and I’m almost done and it’s fairly lovely in a wistful, hopeful way.

Still working on In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood. In the second section, she’s included portions of past essays that analyze SF books and worlds. Some of it’s interesting, some of it’s a repeat of what she’s already discussed.

What I’m Writing

All those thirty poems I wrote during April? Well, now they need editing. A few are almost ready to go. Others need a lot of overhaul. So, I’m starting in. I’m finding myself being super critical of them, even hating some. Mostly, I am just trying not to despair, because sitting around wailing isn’t at all productive.

But that’s all kinda part of the process.

In a similar theme, I speed-wrote the draft of a new poem this week, while my mom was sitting near by. She asked me to read it aloud, so I did. It was too soon. The poem was too rough, resembled nothing of what it had been in my head, fell flat across the polite silence of the room. I should have waited to share it, held on to it and waited to share it when the timing was right as I usually do. No one said anything. The conversation moved politely away from the scope of poetry without commentary. I quietly despaired.

That’s kinda part of the process, too.

Goals for the Week:

  • Continue editing the 30/30 poetry collection.
  • Submit a set of poems for publication

Linky Goodness

Mallory Ortberg on Publishing, Weight, and Writers Who Are “Hard To Look At”

“I was an escapist. That was what, finally although implicitly, he was accusing me of. For a long time I felt vaguely ashamed of being an escapist. But recently I have decided to reclaim the word,” writes Theodora Goss in her lovely piece, Writing My Mother’s Ghosts.

Sonya Vatomsky on The Gendered Experience of Fear & Better Living Through Horror Movies:

“I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies after my assault.

This surprises people, women in particular — horror as a genre is so overrun with male fears and fantasies that it’s almost impossible to separate the human desire to feel fear in a safe, contained environment from allyship with the male fear narrative. They are conflated. Empirically, depending on how broad the range of movies you watch, they can be identical. Because in the same way that a nearly all-male literary canon shapes our personal narratives, male identity also shapes our fears and our perceptions of what should be feared.”

In her piece On Robots as a Metaphor for Marginalization: The Stories We’re Not Telling, Maddy Myers writes, “Much like how the mutants in X-Men serve as a catch-all metaphor for various forms of marginalization, so too do robots end up in that role. They most often serve this purpose in the stories that have a robot in a starring role; a story that is about a robot will generally also be a metaphor for oppression.”

New-to-me movies watched in April 2016

1. Frankenstein (1931)

The definitive Frankenstein monster, the monster all other Frankenstein’s are compared to. Although the some of the opening sequences are a bit awkward, this movie comes alive (pun intended) when the monster does. Karloff is wonderful as the monster and I completely understand why his performance was lauded. With great use of shadows and some creative film moments, this is a classic film worth seeing.

2. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Another great film from director James Whale. The movie is a bit stranger than the first Frankenstein, mixing a set of weird characters with humor and fantastic camera work to bring some interesting contemplative moments to the monster. Although the monster is responsible for a number of deaths, some are understandable after the horrors he’s endured, and the sense of his loneliness and longing for kindness are clear.

My main disappointment is that the Bride of the title gets so little screen time. In the few minutes she’s on screen, she presents a fascinating figure, twitching like a bird with fascination at the world. She’s amazing and I wish she had to be and do more.

3. Darling (2015)

Darling was a strange one, an intense story of a young woman taking on a care taking job and slowly going insane. The reasoning for this transition and whether she had mental health problems to begin with is not clear.

The story is set up in chapters with the start of each one featuring the young woman staring ahead like a portrait. I’m not sure these chapter cards are necessary, as the lend a feeling of unreality to the story.

Shot in black and white, the film mixes long shots of beautiful cinematography with jumps of fragments short frames, jarring the seemingly calm sequences with something hidden behind the scenes. This happens fairly consistently throughout the movie, to the point that it almost becomes numbing and looses the effect it’s going for.

Darling is interesting, bloody, strange, and mostly well done.

4. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Fun and mostly funny mockumentary about four vampires living as flat mates in New Zealand. Each vampire is from a different era and part of the humor is how each of them sees the modern world. They are also all awkward, failing to have that suave beautiful grace presented in most vampire movies. Not all of the jokes were laugh out loud funny, but there were a few golden moments. Plus, the characters were all likeable enough that I was willing to go on this bizarre little journey with them.

5. Purple Rain (1984)

I watched Purple Rain for the first time and I’m wondering how the hell I’ve never seen this before.

Prince on stage represents the golden moments of this movie. He’s a level of fabulous and HOT that cannot be contained.

Sure, the plot is thin as fishnet tights and the acting is sometimes laughable, but it’s also freaking fantastic for being the ’80s rock movie it is.

Reading from Poetry Month and beyond

My April was full of poetry, as it should be. I’m giving myself permission not to have to write reviews for all of these, due to the level of overwhelmed I’ve been and seem to continue to be.

Poetry Books Finished

Some of these are rereads. Some I started earlier in the year and only finished in April. All of them, I loved.

1. Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild by Allie Marini
2. God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant (review)
3. Terra Incognita by Jennifer Martin
4. was it more than a kiss by Chella Courington (spotlight interview)
5. A Heart with No Scars by Brennan “B Deep” DeFrisco
6. A History of the Cetacean American Diasapora by Jenna Le (spotlight interview)
7. An Animal I Can’t Name by Raegan Pietrucha
8. The Midway Iterations by T.A. Noonan
9. My Mother’s Child by Pamela L. Taylor (spotlight interview)

Read in Part (as in a poem or few)

Again, some of these I’ve read in their entirety years ago, and others are ones I just didn’t have time to delve into completely at this time.

Neat Sheets: The Poetry of James Tiptree, Jr.
Paper House by Jessie Carty
Elephant Rocks by Kay Ryan
Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon by Pablo Neruda
From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes by B.C. Edwards
Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse by David Perez
Ceremony for the Choking Ghost by Karen Finneyfrock
The Letter All Your Friends Have Written You by Caits Meissner and Tishon
No Experiences by Erin Watson
The Woman Who Fell from the Sky by Joy Harjo
TEN by Val Dering Rojas
Dream Work by Mary Oliver
An Apparently Impossible Adventure by Laura Madeline Wiseman
Ay Nako: Writing Through the Struggle by Lorenz Mazon Dumuk
Cloud Pharmacy by Susan Rich
The Usable Field by Jane Mead
Debridement by Corrina Bain
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
The Haunted House by Marisa Crawford
Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone by Annelyse Gelman
Domestic Work by Natasha Trethewey

Catching Up

Back at the beginning of the month, I forgot to post my reading from March, so here’s those:

1. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

About a year ago (or something), I read and adored Jo Walton’s Among Others, for the way it handled fairies and magic as subtle things in the world, so subtle they often go unnoticed by most people.

Tooth and Claw is nothing like Among Other, a completely different direction in style and story. The book is a comedy of manners, kind of like Jane Austen but with a society of dragons. It deals with the practical matters of such a society. From the book description:

“Here is a tale of a family dealing with the death of their father, a son who goes to court for his inheritance, a son who agonizes over his father’s deathbed confession, a daughter who falls in love, a daughter who becomes involved in the abolition movement, and a daughter sacrificing herself for her husband.”

It’s so human in the kinds of troubles the dragons have to face (which makes sense since dragon culture was influenced by the Yarge), but social manners and propriety are all greatly influenced by the biology of the dragons — a young women is gold when she is a maiden, but blushes to pink when she becomes betrothed signifying her new ability to have children (it makes for some interesting new challenges when a woman is “compromised”); the length of a dragon has a strong influence on their social position; and so on. There is more, but I don’t want to give too much away.

The only giant glaring negative to this novel was the fact that my edition had two pages that were bound wrong — page 19 came after page 22 (which took me a week to figure out) and another page toward the end was flipped upside down.

Otherwise, Tooth and Claw was a charming read, neatly pulling together the threads of all the character’s storylines into a satisfying conclusion.

2. The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

This novella explores the nature of consciousness and what constitutes sentience. In the story, a set of digital pets are created and sold to users in e VR environment. While some grow bored with the creature a few become dedicated to their progress and they begin to grow their own sense of autonomy. There’s no apocalyptic machines-are-going-to-take-over-the-world elements to this. It’s more of an intellectual exploration of one possibility. It’s fascinating and sweet, and the people raising these AI pets bring them up like family.

3. The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

A young teenage boy has become a single father. He’s not ready for it and struggles to maintain his schooling and raise his daughter and is strained to the point of extreme exhaustion. But throughout there is no doubt that he loves his little girl and he will do anything for her, if he can. It’s wonderfully moving and worth a read.

Ending Poetry Month with a Bang

and by bang, I mean the pounding of my fingers against the keyboard as I desperately worked to finish the number of challenges I set for myself at the beginning of the month.

Sunday, I travelled up to San Francisco for an evening of words at The Alchemy Slam & Open Mic, located at F8 bar & lounge. Unfortunately, I mixed up the times, so I missed the first half of the show, but caught the second half, which was plenty full up of amazing poets whose words filled the room with feelings. The Grand Slam Champion, Casey Gardner, with Hadas Goshen, Kyle Liddle, Apollo, and Mic Ting rounding out the Alchemy Slam Team, which will be going on to nationals.

Announcements!

  • Winners for the Big Poetry Giveaway! Brian Wong and Renee will soon receive copies of Southern Cryptozoology by Allie Marini and A Heart With No Scars by Brennan DeFrisco, respectively. (Winners were selected by a random number generator.)
  • Dirty Chai Press announced the winner of their Dirty Chaps Contest — Unapology by Courtney Gustafson — to whom I offer a hearty congrats! I’m also thrilled to note that my manuscript, The Things I Own, was named as a finalist!
  • Laura Madeline Wiseman and I have have received an acceptance for two poems — “Eleven Wild Brothers” and “Maestros of the Farmyard” — for publication in The World Retold anthology, edited and published by The Writers’ Guild of Iowa State University.

I managed to post three poet spotlights this month with three wonderful women:

What I’m Reading

I’ve finished up the 30 selfies with poetry on my Instagram, which highlighted both new poets I’ve discovered and works that I’ve loved for years. I’ll list my complete poetry reading for the month tomorrow.

Still working on In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood. So far she’s shared how she perceived genre as more of a fluid thing and her reasoning behind using the term “speculative” instead of “science fiction” to describe her own work.

What I’m Writing

There were a few days toward the end of the month in which I began to doubt my ability to complete the 30/30 challenge. It wasn’t the number of poems left, as there were only about a handful left to write. But at a certain point I began to loathe every word I put down onto the page. It happens.

With reminders from fellow writers that these are meant to be drafts, not completed poems, I worked through the frustration. One of the ways I did this was to switch from screen to pen and paper for several poems and just free wrote as fast as I could to outpace my inner critic.

And it worked. I completed a total of 30 poems in 30 days and I feel good about most of them. I’ve never managed to do anything like that before. So, I’m feeling rather good.

Poems I completed last week (all will be taken down at the end of May, maybe):

Goal for the Week:

  • Take some time to chill.
  • Start editing 30/30 poetry collection.
  • Write at least one poem from Twelve chapbook.

Linky Goodness

“The practice of developing any kind of spiritual practice, anything that brings you greater awareness of yourself and your relationship to the world around you, is a process of stepping into a fire and allowing the flames to eat you whole. It is not gentle. Often, it even seems unkind,” writes Robin Lee on the dark side of being full of light.

100 Must-Read Sci-Fi Fantasy Novels By Female Authors!

Poet Spotlight: Pamela Taylor on balance in life and poetry

Pamela TaylorPamela Taylor is a data guru by day and a poet by night. She has a doctorate in social psychology from UCLA, a MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a Cave Canem Fellow. When she is not working or writing, she’s dancing Argentine tango in the Boston area. Her first chapbook of poetry, My Mother’s Child, was published by Hyacinth Girl Press in June 2015.

You recently published your first book of poetry, My Mother’s Child. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about. Is this your first collection?

My Mother’s Child is my first chapbook. I wrote these poems over a 5 year span. Until I put a collection together, I never understood it when poets said their books took them years to write. I think the earliest poem (“The Climb”) was written in 2009 when I attended a small poetry generative workshop. Many of the poems about my professional life were written during my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Others, like the closing poem (“There’s a Graveyard in My Belly”), were written during the week-long Cave Canem retreats for Black poets.

When I thought I had written enough poems to go into a book, I printed them out, put them in a logical order, and sent it out as a full collection. That strategy got me nowhere. So I focused on the poems I had gotten published in literary magazines and journals and a few others I thought were good poems. This time, I laid them out and let them speak to each other. The poems arranged themselves in two distinct groups. I sent both out as chapbooks to separate contests. This collection was a finalist for the Imaginary Friend Press chapbook competition. One of the readers, Margaret Bashaar, had her own press and asked if I would be willing to let her publish my collection with Hyacinth Girl Press.

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Pamela Taylor on balance in life and poetry”

Playing a game of catch up

What I’m Reading

It’s still poetry, poetry, and more poetry, which you can see on my Instagram.

But I’ve also started reading the first few chapters of In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood, in which she discusses her own relationship with the speculative genre and what inspired her to write her own other worlds.

What I’m Poeming

I keep playing a game of catch up with the 30/30 challenge. I fall behind a day or two, then get caught up and then fall behind and get caught up.

Some of my poems have required “research,” by which I mean the watching of copious amounts of movies and TV in order to get new ideas. For example, I watched both two 1930s movies, Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein with the aim of writing a poem for the Bride (who is only in the movie for about a minute). Of course, in the process, I couldn’t help but write a poem for the monster himself, as well.

The poems I’ve completed this week (all will be taken down at the end of the month May):

Goal for the Week:

  • Only SIX poems left to write in the challenge! So polish it off!

Linky Goodness

Alyssa Rosenberg on Mourning Prince and David Bowie, who showed there’s no one right way to be a man: “We’re in a moment in American politics consumed by gender panic, from Donald Trump’s menstrual anxieties to the rise of and backlash to a movement for transgender rights. And now we’ve lost two men who had an expansive, almost luxuriant vision of what it meant to be a man and lived out that vision through decades when it was much less safe to do so.”

Brain Pickings shared The Importance of Being Scared: Polish Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska on Fairy Tales and the Necessity of Fear.

Scott Mendelson explains Why It Matters When Female Stars Are Kicked Out Of Their Franchises: “When you’re a woman in Hollywood, no matter your stature, no matter your billing, and no matter your importance to the television show or film franchise in which you appear, you may well always have a target on your back. At the end of the day, the only indisposable part of the franchise or the hit television show is the guy.”

Burning Tales

On Saturday, I attended the one year anniversary of the Burning Tale open mic, which was held in what is my new favorite venue, Studio Bongiorno. The studio features a fantastic mix of the beautiful and creep with assemblage art and random doll heads on shelves and a full size coffin in the courtyard.

Studio Bongiorno

The feature poet of the night was Abe Becker, who shared beautiful, raw, and funny words exploring the awkward land mines of human relationships. A number of other amazing readers also took the stage, and I was honored to have been able to read two of the poems from my current 30/30 challenge with a kind response from the audience.

I’ll definitely be returning to Studio Bongiorno for more Burning Tales and other events, as well as just to grab some great coffee.

What I’m Reading

A number of excellent poetry books — mostly a poem here and a poem there, jumping around as I post photos of the books I love. However, I did finish God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant, about which I posted a very short review.

What I’m Poeming

I’ve slowed down a bit on the 30/30 challenge. Although, I’ve mostly been able to keep up the pace, I fell slightly behind (just a day). The main problem is that the ideas are not as free flowing as they were at the start of the challenge — something I expected to happen. So, now I’m just trying to slam any words down at the wall, a dragging my feet through the sand level of momentum, which is sometimes kind of painful. I’m still going, though, and I intend to finish.

The poems I’ve completed this week (all will be taken down at the end of the month May):

Goal for the Week:

  • Get those poems per day written and posted!

Linky Goodness

Some thoughts about Contemporary Innovators of the Short Story on Electric Literature.

And Gwendolyn Kiste presents my one of new favorite retelling of Snow White in “All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray.”

Poetry Review: God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant

“He got into nails, of course,
because He’d always loved
hands–
hands were some of the best things
He’d ever done”

In Cynthia Rylant’s novel-in-poems, Godgets a job, watches cable, eats dinner alone, marvels at he beauty of the world, sees all the ways life went in directions he didn’t intend it to go, discovers Himself. By grounding himself in the mortal world, He learns loneliness, anger, wonder, and fear. I found myself smiling at each new discover God made about the world he created, as well as each new discovery about Himself. These are accessible poems, beautiful in their simplicity and the way they subtly unveil layers of meaning in their own words and in religion and life. Recommended reading.

“But he finally saw
how pain caused
one of two things:
A reverence for life.
Or killing.
Both grew from the same seed.”

_____________________________________

Poet Spotlight: Jenna Le on Whales, Womanhood, and the Writing Life

Jenna LeJenna Le lives and works a as a physician in New York and writes poetry, fiction, essays, criticism, and translations, which have been published in numerous periodicals, both in print and online. She is the author of two full-length collection of poems, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011) and A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Anchor & Plume Press, 2016). She has been a winner and finalist of multiple awards, including the Minnetonka Review Editor’s Prize, the Pharos Poetry Competition, and the William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition, among others.

Her poetry has been described as visually precise, culturally aware, poignant, sensual, intriguing. In this interview, she speaks about her most recent collection, her writing process, and about the inherently political ways human beings relate to the natural world.

Your most recent book of poetry is A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about.

Well, my first book of poetry, Six Rivers, came out in 2011. In the years that followed, I wrote a poem here, a poem there, without any conscious thought of putting a second collection together. As this stack of poems grew, I became increasingly interested by the puzzle of how to tie them all together. I had many, many false starts: I initially thought about using superheroes as the unifying theme for this book (I’m crazy about superhero stories!). Another idea I considered was to organize the collection around the idea of diseases that are transmitted from mother to child, both literal and figurative.

But the obsession with whales snuck up on me, unexpectedly liberating me from the mother-child dyad that had structured my way of looking at the world for so long. I found myself writing more and more poems about the shadowy idea of the whale and what it meant to me. There was something deliciously anarchic about it; it let me rewrite stories that had grown old to me through familiarity in a fresh way. Eventually the sheer preponderance of whale poems in the collection left me with no choice but to make that the central conceit of the book.

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Jenna Le on Whales, Womanhood, and the Writing Life”

Defying Gravity

I took a break from poetry reading, writing, and living on Thursday and wandered up into the city with my mom and sister. We ate a ton of amazing Indian food at Mela Tandoori and watched Wicked in the gorgeous Orpheum theater. The musical was just as powerful and amazing as it was when we saw it six years ago.

Orpheum theater - Wicked
Sis, mom, and I outside the Orpheum theater before seeing Wicked.

My favorite song is “Defying Gravity,” which always has me singing to myself after hearing it as well as wanting to find my own ways to defy gravity. For the moment, I think accomplishing all the poeming that I’m accomplishing this month works for me. For the most part, I feel as though I’m flying through words and it’s wonderful, although I foresee some headwinds in the near future.

What I’m Reading

I’ve shared a number of excellent poetry books this week, but I’m most excited about From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes by B.C. Edwards, in which each poem is presented in a psuedo-recipe format.

I’m putting Gateway by Frederik Pohl aside for the moment, probably until I can get through April.

What I’m Poeming

More poetry words on the page for the 30/30 challenge. My initial burst of writing flow has slowed down some. I’m still managing to get at least one poem out per day (pretty much), but I’m also feeling a little worried as I look ahead to the 20 more poems I still need to write this month.

The poems I’ve completed this week (all will be taken down at the end of the month May):

Goal for the Week:

  • Get those poems per day written and posted!

Linky Goodness

White Poets Want Chinese Culture Without Chinese People, writes Timothy Yu in response to Calvin Trillin’s poem ”Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?”

I want to feel what I feel. Even if it’s not happiness,” Toni Morrison says in an interview with Emma Brockes, in which she also shares about her life at 81 and her new novel, Home.

“My college professor Brooke Stevens told my class it was not the best writers who succeeded, but the most persistent ones, and I have reminded myself of that advice again and again. What he left out is that in addition to trying really, really hard, you also need the chutzpah to promote yourself and make the right connections. But that becomes challenging, if not impossible, when you’re constantly questioning your value as a writer,” Lindsay Merbaum writes in Not a Real Writer: How Self-Doubt Holds Me Back.

Siobhan Lyons writes about what ‘ruin porn’ tells us about ruins: “Criticisms of ruin porn stem from the suggestion that these photographs are bereft of any sort of socio-economic context regarding their cause and aftermath, and are dismissive of the broader failures of modern economic life.”

Poet Spotlight: Chella Courington on being "at home with voice and vision"

Chella CouringtonChella Courington grew up in a family of storytellers. Seduced by the written word, she pursued her Ph.D. in literature from the University of South Carolina and her MFA in poetry from New England College. In addition to teaching literature and writing at Santa Barbara City College in California, she writes and publishes poetry and fiction, which has appeared in several books and chapbooks. Here, Chella speaks about her two latest publications, a flash novella and a new collection of poetry.

Tell us a little bit about your recently released novella, The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow.

A life in flashes, it tells of Adele and Tom, a writing couple now in California. Told from both points of view, the novella explores the increasing distance between two artists trying to occupy the same space: one writer’s success is another’s failure.

But finally, the story is Adele’s as she struggles with relationship, self and aging. A woman born in the Appalachian South yet finding home in California, she tries to understand who she is through the past and the present.

The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow by Chella CouringtonYou’ve described The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow as a flash novella. How did flash fiction as a structural form lend itself to the telling of a larger tale

Flash fiction is not naturally a form that lends itself to a longer traditional narrative (one with a mainly linear plot line). But flash fiction does lend itself to a pointillist novel/novella where each flash provides a point, an emotional brushstroke. The combined points, artfully arranged, tell a tale.

The flash novella is a good choice for writers with time constraints because the structure allows for the creation of many individual pieces of art that can be written in bursts of limited time. Each piece is small with a focus on language and imagery, rewarding close attention and revision. The flash novella does not depend on an outline nor require high drama (murder and mayhem).

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Chella Courington on being "at home with voice and vision"”

Poet Spotlight: Chella Courington on being “at home with voice and vision”

Chella CouringtonChella Courington grew up in a family of storytellers. Seduced by the written word, she pursued her Ph.D. in literature from the University of South Carolina and her MFA in poetry from New England College. In addition to teaching literature and writing at Santa Barbara City College in California, she writes and publishes poetry and fiction, which has appeared in several books and chapbooks. Here, Chella speaks about her two latest publications, a flash novella and a new collection of poetry.

Tell us a little bit about your recently released novella, The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow.

A life in flashes, it tells of Adele and Tom, a writing couple now in California. Told from both points of view, the novella explores the increasing distance between two artists trying to occupy the same space: one writer’s success is another’s failure.

But finally, the story is Adele’s as she struggles with relationship, self and aging. A woman born in the Appalachian South yet finding home in California, she tries to understand who she is through the past and the present.

The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow by Chella CouringtonYou’ve described The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow as a flash novella. How did flash fiction as a structural form lend itself to the telling of a larger tale

Flash fiction is not naturally a form that lends itself to a longer traditional narrative (one with a mainly linear plot line). But flash fiction does lend itself to a pointillist novel/novella where each flash provides a point, an emotional brushstroke. The combined points, artfully arranged, tell a tale.

The flash novella is a good choice for writers with time constraints because the structure allows for the creation of many individual pieces of art that can be written in bursts of limited time. Each piece is small with a focus on language and imagery, rewarding close attention and revision. The flash novella does not depend on an outline nor require high drama (murder and mayhem).

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Chella Courington on being “at home with voice and vision””

Poetry all the time

Over the weekend, my mom and I did a sleepover with the babies (i.e. my niece and nephew), who we read to and played with and climbed all over me like a jungle gym. It was a delight, as always.

Other than that, it’s been all poetry all the time due to all the National Poetry Month things I’ve got going on.

What I’m Reading

Poetry, poetry, and more poetry. Most notably, I read bits of Paper House by Jessie Carty (Folded Word) and Terra Incognita by Jennifer Martin (Dancing Girl Press).

I’m still sort of reading Gateway by Frederik Pohl, but only in bits and fragments, since so much of my focus is on poetry this month.

What I’m Poeming

Pretty much ALL of my words will be in poetry form this month, due to the poem a day challenge that I’m participating in. So far the poems are coming well, falling into place exactly on the day they’re due, and I’m feeling wonderfully inspired and excited about how the series is going.

I’ve been posting these poems on a separate blog and you can view them here (although they will be taken down at the end of the month May):

Goal for the Week:

  • Keep on writing a poem a day.

Linky Goodness

The Big Poetry Giveaway is in full swing. Go comment to win a book by some amazing poets.

Ursula K. Le Guin on Racism, Anarchy, and Hearing Her Characters Speak.

And, since pop culture is something I’m thinking a lot about while writing all these poems, here’s Kevin Pickard’s exploration of how pop culture is addressed in fiction.

National Poetry Month 2016 – It Begins

National Poetry Month is one of my favorite months of the year, because I get to be all excited about poetry and people don’t stare at me weird — okay, they stare at me less weird, or less people… Nevermind.

In addition to reading all the poetry I can, I have a number of poetry thingies going on.

Poetry in process meme
Whiskey. Whiskey will be an April necessity.

First, I’m offering up two books of poetry as part of the Big Poetry Giveaway 2016.

I am also participating in ELJ Publications’ 30/30 challenge, in which I will attempt to write thirty poems in the thirty days of April. For that challenge, I’ve created a separate blog to house all the poetry that I create.

I’ll be posting a #selfiewithpoetry a day on my Instagram.

And, if all goes well, I’ll be sharing four new Poet Spotlight interviews on my blog.

So, yeah, it’s going to be a busy, wonderful, and word-filled month!

What National Poetry Month look like for you? Share your plans (or lack thereof) in the comments. 

New-to-me movies watched in March 2016

March was a GIANT movie month for me, because I participated in the March Around the World challenge, which has a goal of watching thirty movies from thirty different countries in one month.

I did not make that goal, but I did manage to watch 22 movies from around the world. Not too shabby.

March Around the World Challenge (my favorites are in bold):

1. Monsoon Wedding — India (2001)
2. Suspiria — Italy (1977)
3. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — Australia (1994)
4. Ida — Poland (2013)
5. Blue is the Warmest Color — France (2013)
6. Heavenly Creatures — New Zealand (1994)
7. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night — Iran (2014)
8. Bangkok Love Story — Thailand (2007)
9. Volver — Spain (2006)
10. The Snapper — Ireland (1993)
11. The Assassin — China (2015)
12. Sin Nombre — Mexico (2009)
13. A Better Tomorrow — Hong Kong (1986)
14. Juan of the Dead — Cuba (2011)
15. Stalker — Russia (1979)
16. The Second Mother — Brazil (2015)
17. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance — South Korea (2005)
18. Sisters in Law — Cameroon (documentary, 2005)
19. The Devil’s Miner — Bolivia (documentary, 2005)
20. The Cave of the Yellow Dog — Mongolia (docudrama, 2005)
21. Xenia — Greece (2014)
22. U-Carmen eKhayelitsha — South Africa (2005)

Non-challenge movies:

1. Treehouse (2014)
2. Crimson Peak (2015)

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “New-to-me movies watched in March 2016”

Big Poetry Giveaway 2016!

Big Poetry Giveaway 2016

As National Poetry Month is around the corner, it’s time for the Big Poetry GiveawayAllyson Whipple has taken over hosting duties from the amazing Kelli Russell Agodon.

Other blogs participating in the giveway will be listed online shortly.

But first, let me introduce myself as I have a feeling that there are going to be a number of new faces around here.

Andrea Blythe - poet

I write poetry and fiction with primarily a speculative bent. Images of fairy tales, mythology, and folklore often appear in my work, sometimes in unsettling ways. Some of my poetry has appeared in print and online publications and a few of my poems have been nominated for awards. I also on the rare occasion attend open mics and poetry slams where I perform my work in front of actual people.

Beyond the writing life, I am trying to convince myself that I’ll someday run a marathon. I also watch an inordinate amount of creepy television and horror movies, plan for the zombie apocalypse even though I’m not convinced it will happen, and shower my nieces and nephews in love.

Ahem, moving on…

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The Books

I don’t have any of my own work to offer this year, but I am happy to present two chapbooks from two poets I love.

Chapbook 1

Southern Cryptozoology by Allie Marini

Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild by Allie Marini delves into beautifully unsettling territory, as these poems present (possibly mythological) creatures that live and hunt in the Southern states of the U.S. (Cover art is by MANDEM.)

“Then the kegger at the party rock: furred & scaled & unexplainable,

grunting, tossing tires from a cliff as though they were rings in a carnival shill’s booth. Suddenly, chaos, the squeal & stink of rubber on dirt & asphalt. There are rumblings of LSD in the keg: There’s got to be some natural explanation.”

— from “Southern Cryptozoology 4: The Lake Worth Monster,” in Southern Cryptozoology

Chapbook 2

Cover-a heart with no scars

A Heart with No Scars by Brennan “B Deep” DeFrisco is a witty set of poems with layered messages examining how we relate to the world around us and to each other. Brennan is an amazing spoken word poet and his words will hit you right in the feels. (Cover art is by Arthur Johnstone and Livien Yin.)

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How to Enter

To enter, just comment on this post with your name and email address by 11:59 p.m. Pacific on April 30th. I will select the winners shortly thereafter using a random number generator.


Running and feeling strong and beautiful

Saturday was the She is Beautiful 5K and 10K run in Santa Cruz. This is the third year that I’ve participated (starting with the 5K the first time and the 10K thereafter) and it’s always a fabulous experience. The women are of all ages and shapes and sizes and the course follows along the coastline with waves lapping at the bottom of cliff below.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day in Santa Cruz and I ran the first four and did intervals of running and walking for the last two miles. Although I didn’t run the full 6.2 miles of the 10K, I felt stronger than I had the previous year. Instead of feeling drained at the end of the event, I felt energetic and happy, if also red and sweaty.

I’m already looking forward to next year and am looking for some other events that I might do in between now and then.

She is Beautiful 10K 2016
All set to rock the 10K in my new Welcome to Nigh Vale leggings.
She is Beautiful 10K 2016
“Some days I crush life and other days I just want to take a nap.” — one of the many inspiring She is Beautiful signs

What I’m Reading

I finished up The First Part Last by Angela Johnson, which was a lovely story about a teenage boy becoming a father.

Next up I’m planning to read Gateway by Frederik Pohl. The description I’ve got says “The Heechee gateways, remnants of an ancient civilization, provide instantaneous passage to the far reaches of the universe but do not ensure destination, return, wealth, or survival.” Should be fun!

What I’m Writing

I wrote things! Or, more like, I started editing and redrafting an existing story, because the deadline for submission is looming in a few days and I really want to submit something to that market, so I better get sh!t done. In other words, my scifi sleeping beauty story that has little to do with sleeping beauty other than original inspiration is this close to being finished and ready to submit. Or as finished as I’m going to be able to get it for now anyway.

Goal for the Week:

  • Finish one story and/or one poem draft.
  • Submit something.

Linky Goodness

“I grew up anxiously awaiting the apocalypse, a taste of ashes in my mouth,” writes Rachel Kessler in her essay “When Apocalypse is Your Religion.”

Because National Poetry Month is coming up, here are 14 Brilliant Women Poets To Read.

Podcasts Part III – Films and Filmmaking

Wrapping up my trio of podcast posts — the first two focusing on radio dramas and poetry and fiction, respectively — I’m going to point to those podcasts focused on films and filmmaking that I’m currently consuming.

Although, my writing focus has primarily on poetry and fiction, I’ve always held a fascination with the collaborative nature of the filmmaking process. The idea of scriptwriting and film directing is always present at the back of my mind as something I might do someday. Listening to podcasts about the process and history of making movies lets me daydream and marvel at others doing the work, while also stirring up that latent desire. I know this is going to kickstart me into attempting screenwriting again or maybe jumping into a 48 Hour Film challenge.

Black List Table Reads

The Black List Table ReadsThe Black List is a “closed network of script buyers, script representatives, and script writers that makes everything easier for everyone involved.” The idea is to share awesome unproduced scripts in the hopes of getting them made into actual movies. New scriptwriters can also upload and share their work to get feedback as well as using the script as a demonstration piece for future work. That alone is awesome.

The associated Black List Table Reads podcast takes is a step further, turing the best of the unproduced scripts on the site and turns them into “movies for your ears.” These scripts are read by pro-level actors, with sound effects stitched in for an immersive experience of the scripts. And the scripts themselves have generally been fantastic. Being able to hear the scripts read provides a great sense of scene pacing along with other lessons in craft — in addition to just being an enjoyable experience.

Just a few of the scripts I’ve loved (and really hope become full movies):

  • The Hitch — “While visiting Los Angeles in 1927, young British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock is accused of murder and must go on the run to prove his innocence.”
  • The Other Side — “A young Hasidic Jew recruits a hipster girl to help him expose a horrific crime in a secretive community in Brooklyn.”
  • Mr. Malcolm’s List — “We head across the pond and back in history about 200 years for Mr. Malcolm’s List. It’s a little bit Jane Austen. It’s a little bit Oscar Wilde, and it is all good.”

In addition to the script table reads, the podcast also features interviews with screenwriter and producers, which provide perspective on the writing process, how other writers have managed to get their movies made, and the ups and downs and sideways avenues of the industry. Lots and lots here for anyone interested in the art of screenwriting or who just enjoys great movies.

Scriptnotes

ScriptnotesScriptnotes is a weekly podcast in which working screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin discuss “screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters,” from the craft of writing scripts to the business of being a working writer dealing with directors and producers to places to glean ideas from. What I love about this podcast is the practicality of how screenwriting is discussed. No fluff, no air declarations of trying to find your inner writer. Just a straightforward look at the business of being a screenwriter, and since both John and Craig are currently working in the industry, writing original feature scripts and performing rewrites, their advice has merit. Also, the buddy humor between John and Craig in their kind of opposites attract relationship (like you’d see in a movie) is wonderful.

Only a portion of the most recent episodes are available to listen to for free, but for a measly $1.99 a month, the entire log of over 200 episodes can be accessed.

Slums of Film History

Slums of Film HistoryCurrently on hiatus after completing season one of Slums of Film History, Slate and Tom share a low “a lowbrow look into the high art of cinema.” The duo present in-depth historical scope of the gritty, gross, explicit, weird, and other aspects of the movie world not normally discussed in polite company. Each takes turns sharing taboo subjects with detailed movie references and legit-ish research. Previous topics discussed have included cannibalism, snuff films, the rise and fall of the NC-17 rating, nudity in film, hooker vengence, bad babies, and hagsploitation — other among unsavory things.

Being a fan of horror and weird creepy sh!t, I freaking love this podcast. It’s fun and funny and sometimes inappropriate, as well as providing some fascinating information about film history. The discussions about the evolution of the current rating system and how nudity has been handled over different time periods was particularly interesting (although to be honest, my favorite episodes are the gross ones, like “Bad Babies”). Definitely recommended for fans of cult movies and other oddities of film.

Imaginary Worlds

Imaginary WorldsCreated by former Disney animator Eric Molinsky, Imaginary Worlds is a podcast “about science fiction and other fantasy genres — how we create them and why we suspend our disbelief.” Episodes explore an array of fictional worlds, from movies to TV animation to comic books, novels, and other art forms. Each is well put together with interviews from historians, filmmakers, cultural critics, and a variety of others. I’m particularly fond of the episodes that go behind the scene of how some forms of art, such as movies, are made. However, there’s a wide range of topics covered, so that the episodes never get boring. The also tend to be on the short side (under 20 minutes), which makes them the perfect bite-size podcast to listen to.
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And that’s is for the current podcasts I’m enjoying. I’m sure that, as I finish up with the back episodes of all of these, I’ll start exploring further. For example, I’ve heard awesome things about Serial, but have not had a chance to start listening in yet.

FOGcon Recap 2016

A couple of weekends ago — has it been that long? — I traveled up to exotic Walnut Creek to gather with fellow readers and writers to talk about genre books, movies, and other bits of geekery at FOGcon. As always it was a fun event, which included tons of coffee and a little booze and karaoke and other such things.

Honored Guests were Jo Walton, Ted Chiang, and Donna Haraway, with Octavia Butler services as Honored Ghost.

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Panels

Lots of great thinky things at the panels this year to mentally chew on. Nom, nom. The panels tended to be more focused on science discussions that reading and writing discussions, but it was fascinating nonetheless.

The Developing Reality of Intelligent Machines looked at how AI is perceived in fiction and films as a self-aware being compared to how intelligent technology in the real world today is being used to provide better ways to solve problems. The intelligent machines of today are incredibly advanced in how they have been programed to serve human needs. But, as the panelists noted, these computers and machines are limited to their programming — they will do what they are programmed to do. So the concern is not so much about machines suddenly becoming self aware and taking over the world, but who is running the machines and to what purposes are they setting them to.

And even if a machine were to become self aware, it would be questionable as to whether human beings would recognize the moment when it occurred. It’s assumed (in movies and fiction) that AIs would think in the same ways that we do, however, that is not necessarily the case. Someone from the audience stated that the singularity is now, bringing up the game of Go (apparently more complex than chess) taking place between a computer and Go champion that evening (which the computer won).

The From Caterpillar to Butterfly panel delved into the weirdness of nature, from parthenogenesis to penis fencing flatworms to interesting mistakes in biology. We discussed the adorable tardigrade, or water bearer, an adorable micro-animal that is the only creature known to be able to survive in hard vacuum; a multitude of amazing plants (such as a vine that can change its leaves to match the tree they’re on); and animals that can change their gender (such as the clown fish, all of which are male, except for the biggest and baddest, which becomes the only female). The lesson, for me, was that in designing alien or strange species of animals with interesting biology and social structure, a writer can definitely turn to the natural world for inspiration of many kinds. Recommended Reading: The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins and Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson.

Other great panels (which I’m going to go into less detail on, because time):

The Ethics of Magic discussed how the rules of magic are presented in stories. For example, the rules of Star Wars present the Jedi as the “good guys” despite some deeply troubling and morally ambiguous aspects to their order. Recommended Reading: Wildseed by Octavia Butler.

Are 72 Letters Enough? In Search of a Perfect Language tried to define what was meant by “perfect.” For some this was a language that was unabiguous and complete, able to portray every thing in existence accurately. The discussion lead into how often the concept of the “true name” for things comes up in fiction, among many other things. Recommended Reading:  The Search for a Perfect Language by Umberto Eco and “TAP” by Greg Egan.

Homo Sapiens Tekhne: Assistive Devices and Body Modification in Science Fiction and Fantasy looked at the past and present of human body modifications, from tatoos and piercings to assistive devices and cell phones, as well as looking at how body modification is handled in stories. Recommended Reading: Runtime by S.B. Divya.

And finally, Domestic Fantasy: Transforming the Domestic looked at how the domestic scene, family and home, are portrayed in fantasy stories. Recommended Reading: Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick and Little, Big by John Crowley.

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The Book Haul

FOGcon book haul

I went rather light on the book haul this year, as I was trying to keep my bookshelves from topping down and crushing me beneath a ginormous pile of books. My grabs:

  • Rolling in the Deep by Seanan McGuire – a limited edition, signed copy, which I didn’t realize at the time
  • Trafalgar by Angelica Gorodischer
  • The Neat Sheats, poetry by James Tiptree, Jr.
  • The Fantod Pack by Edward Gorey
  • and three editions of Fantasy & Science Fiction

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*sleepy, happy sigh*

FOGcon is one of my favorite events of the year, and already I’m looking forward to 2017. The theme next year will be Interstitial Spaces (intermediate spaces between one thing and another), which is a topic I find fascinating.

So this is what exhaustion feels like

Last Tuesday, I participated in Get Lit #10 at Ale Industries in Oakland. This is a great event for two (of many) reasons — first, it hosts a ton of great writers who are encouraged to read something they’ve never read before (first drafts, recent edits, something hidden in the back of their closet for ten years, etc.) and, second, because Ale Industries is a fantastic space, part brewery, part tasting area, in an old warehouse. I was feeling all nervous and awkward at the start of the event, but the event was full of great people reading new stuff and I soon settled in to the groove well. I even talked to some new people and made some new writerly contacts. I’ll definitely be back, if only just to sip beer and have a listen.

The weekend was consumed with a plethora of hard labor, as I stepped in to help my sister and her husband paint their kitchen and bathroom, while their children began to reenact scenes from Lord of the Flies after being left to their own devices in the living room. I can’t exactly say this was fun (although I love any baby time I can get). It was more hours and hours (a total of something like twenty-five hours spread out over three days) of grueling work leaving me work out and exhausted — but their house looks amazing.

And … week three of the March Around the World movie watching challenge, I watched: A Better Tomorrow (Hong Kong) and Juan of the Dead (Cuba).

What I’m Reading

This post actually catches me between books. Up next I have either A Step from Heaven by An Na or The First Part Last by Angela Johnson — both were Printz award winners. But I haven’t decided which one I want to launch into first.

What I’m Writing

Another slim writing week, with the exception of ongoing collaborative projects. Although I did finish a draft of a new poem called “Grandpa on the Stairs,” which I read at the Get Lit event. The poem is almost there and with another edit might be ready to send out.

I’m going to have to get kicking with the short stories this week, since there are a couple of deadlines looming.

Goal for the Week:

  • Finish one story and/or one poem draft.
  • Submit something.

Linky Goodness

“…who doesn’t hope occasionally for some brilliant blast of insight, some perfect kick in the ass?—only to be left strangely deflated by the advice I’ve just received. In fact, I’ve come to suspect that the likelihood of these pearls of wisdom stymieing a writer—aspiring or otherwise—is quite a bit greater than the chance of their helping her at all,” writes Danielle Dutton on Terrible Writing Advice From Famous Writers.

Tim Urban explains the uncomfortable truth about tipping, which is awesome because I can be super awkward about that sort of thing.

10 Women Shaking Up Comics

Podcasts Part II – Poetry and Fiction

Following up last week’s post on audio theatre podcasts, here are a few of the poetry and fiction podcasts I’ve been gorging myself on lately — most of which are associated with print and/or online publications for speculative fiction and poetry.
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Uncanny Magazine

Pod-UncannyUncanny Magazine is an bimonthly online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine that published gorgeous fiction and poetry, as well as essays and interviews. What I love about the Uncanny podcast is the unique format, which incorporates a reading of a short story and a poem from the current issue, followed up by an author interview (most often the author of the short story that was just read). As such, each episode tends to be about an hour in length. Uncanny provides a powerful collection of emotionally moving and beautifully written work, which is read by fantastic narrators.

A Small Selection of Favorite Stories and Poems (so far):

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Lightspeed Magazine

Pod-LightspeedLightspeed Magazine is a monthly publication, providing a wide ranging array of science fiction and fantasy fiction, as well as essays and interviews. Each podcast features an individual story. The narrators are all phenomenal, making it easy to just melt into the story while listening. Most of my (current) all-time favorite stories have been discovered on this podcast.

A Small Selection of Favorite Stories (so far):

  • Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn, as read by Gabrielle de Cuir

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PodCastle

Pod-PodCastlePodCastle is unique here in that it is solely an audio journal, providing well-produced audio versions of fantasy stories, most of which have been previously published in other publications. At the end of each episode, feedback is provided for stories that have previously appeared on PodCastle. Since, PodCastle is subscription based, only a selection of the most recent stories are available for free.

A Small Selection of Favorite Stories (so far):

  • Ogres of East Africa” by Sofia Samatar, as read by by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali and Troy L. Wiggins

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Nightmare Magazine

Pod-NightmareNightmare Magazine is a sister publication to Lightspeed, and often features many of the same set of fantastic narrators. The stories in this podcast are darker, slipping into more horror and dark fantasy, tales to unsettle and creep you out.

A Small Selection of Favorite Stories (so far):

  • Spores” by Seanan McGuire, as read by Kate Baker
  • Fishwife” by Carrie Vaghn, as read by Susan Hanfield
  • Returned” by Kat Howard, as read by Gabrielle de Cuir

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The New Yorker: Poetry

Pod-NY-poetryIn each episode of The New Yorker’s Poetry podcast, a poet is asked to read a poem that has been published in The New Yorker and then to read one of their own poems. Together with the host Paul Muldoon, the poet discusses the poems and why they are compelling. These discussions tend to be more intellectual and academic, which is sometimes more than I can fully focus on when I’m listening on the road home. However, there are some interesting discussions of craft and how the language in certain poems can create an emotionally moving experience in the reader.

I believe there’s also a New Yorker fiction podcast, but I haven’t got to that one yet.

Episodes I Particularly Liked:

  • Ellen Bass’ reading and discussion of Adam Zagajewski’s “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” as well as her own poem “Reincarnation”
  • Meghan O’Rourke’s reading and discussion of John Ashbery’s “Tapestry,” as well as her own poem “Apartment Living”
  • Ada Limón’s reading and discussion of Jennifer L. Knox’s “Pimp My Ride,” as well as her own poem “State Bird”

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Another two podcasts that I’ve started listening to are Strange Horizons and Apex Magazine, both of which feature great stories and narrators. Although, I’ve found them to not have quite as good of a sound quality and in some cases to be a little more glitchy.

Next week I’ll finish up this little series of posts with my favorite Filmmaking and Screenwriting podcasts.

Events and more events

So many things this week!

Tuesday, I checked out the Alchemy Slam & Open Mic at the F8 Lounge in San Francisco, which is a homey, intimate space. My plan was to simply kick back and watch the amazing Allie Marini and Brennan DeFrisco perform, but I got talked into pulling putting my name on the list. It was a wonderful experience in terms of both listening and speaking, due in a large part to the great group of people who were present.

Over the weekend was FOGcon, three days of talking all things genre and geeking out with friends and meeting authors and hoarding books and generally having a good time. I’ll being doing my usual report later this week.

And finally, for week two of the March Around the World movie watching challenge, I watched: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Iran), Bangkok Love Story (Thailand), Volver (Spain), The Snapper (Ireland), The Assassin (China), and Sin Nombre (Mexico).

What I’m Reading

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang, which was supposed to have been FOGcon homework. The story involved the creation of AI creatures in a virtual space, at first as

What I’m Writing

My writing was slim this week, though I mostly managed to keep up with all the collaborative projects I’ve been working on. But FOGcon and the movie watching challenge have taken giant bites out of my writing time. This weekend will be rough in that regard, as well, because I have plans to help my sister paint her house this weekend.

However, since I signed up to participate in Get Lit in Oakland tomorrow, where I am required to present new work, I will be compelled to get something down on the page this week.

Goal for the Week:

  • Finish one story and/or one poem draft.
  • Submit something.

Linky Goodness

A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction, as presented by Nisi Shawl.

Five Signs Your Story Is Sexist

FOGcon Homework: Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

FOGcon 2016 kicked off yesterday, and I’ve already been to several interesting panels, connected with friends, and generally having a fabulous time. I’ll be posting a recap sometime next week, but for now…

About a year ago (or something), I read and adored Jo Walton’s Among Others, for the way it handled fairies and magic as subtle things in the world, so subtle they often go unnoticed by most people.

Tooth and Claw is nothing like Among Other, a completely different direction in style and story. The book is a comedy of manners, kind of like Jane Austen but with a society of dragons. It deals with the practical matters of such a society. From the book description:

“Here is a tale of a family dealing with the death of their father, a son who goes to court for his inheritance, a son who agonizes over his father’s deathbed confession, a daughter who falls in love, a daughter who becomes involved in the abolition movement, and a daughter sacrificing herself for her husband.”

It’s so human in the kinds of troubles the dragons have to face (which makes sense since dragon culture was influenced by the Yarge), but social manners and propriety are all greatly influenced by the biology of the dragons — a young women is gold when she is a maiden, but blushes to pink when she becomes betrothed signifying her new ability to have children (it makes for some interesting new challenges when a woman is “compromised”); the length of a dragon has a strong influence on their social position; and so on. There is more, but I don’t want to give too much away.

The only giant glaring negative to this novel was the fact that my edition had two pages that were bound wrong — page 19 came after page 22 (which took me a week to figure out) and another page toward the end was flipped upside down.

Otherwise, Tooth and Claw was a charming read, neatly pulling together the threads of all the character’s storylines into a satisfying conclusion.

Podcasts Part I – Audio Theater and Radio Drama

A few months ago, I discovered podcasts. Or not discover them, per se, as I’ve been aware of them and they’ve been around for ages now. So maybe I should say, several months ago, I decided to give listening to podcasts a try and they’ve consumed my life. My usual music time in the car has been taken up with listening to podcasts, and I’ve also started listening to them when I go on runs.

I don’t know why I didn’t start listening to them before. Podcasts are amazing — or at least the ones I’ve discovered are, and I know there are a ton more amazing podcasts that I could be listening to.

Since the list of channels that I’ve been listening to is rather long, I’m splitting them up into three separate posts. Part II will be fiction and poetry podcasts, and Part II will cover film and filmmaking podcasts.

First up is radio drama or audio theatre, which I think both describe the same thing and I’m assuming apply here, in regards to narrative podcasts in which a story unfolds over multiple episodes.

I’m itching for more radio drama style podcasts, so please send recommendations!

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Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale podcast“When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. But, because of distance, not for millions of years.” — Night Vale Proverb

Welcome to Night Vale is a serial podcast about a community radio show, reporting on the quaint and creepy desert town of Night Vale. The voice of Night Vale is Cecil Balwin, who reports on local news and community events, like giant glow clouds raining down the bodies of dead animals or the goings on of the Sheriff’s Secret Police or strange underworlds appearing under bowling alleys.

So, I started listening, and because I’m a completionist on these kinds of things, I started at the beginning and have been working my way forward. Since there are over 80 episodes and since I can only listen to one or two a day without devolving into madness, it’s taking me a rather long time to catch up. But that’s okay, because starting at the beginning has allowed me to see how the town and all of its characters have grown and survived or survived but damaged or not survived, as the case may be.

Night Vale was the rabbit hole that spun me off into discovering more and more podcasts. It’s fantastic.

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The Message

The Message podcastThe Message is a sci-fi narrative that follows “the weekly reports and interviews from Nicky Tomalin, who is covering the decoding of a message from outer space received 70 years ago. Over the course of 8 episodes we get an inside ear on how a top team of cryptologists attempt to decipher, decode, and understand the alien message.”

Only eight episodes long, The Message is a great bite-size introduction to this kind of audio theatre and podcasts in general, presenting an unsettling sci-fi storyline with great voice acting and sound effects. Just talking about it makes me want to go back and listen to it again. It’s that good.

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Alice Isn’t Dead

PrintAlice Isn’t Dead follows the story of an unnamed narrator, searching for her wife, whom she believes to be dead, while working as a truck driver. Joseph Fink, one of the creators ofWelcome to Night Vale, told Wired, that the story would have the same humor mixed with creepiness as Night Vale — a sure win for me.

This one is so new that I’ve only listened to the teaser. But based on that and the fact that it’s from the creators of Welcome to Night Vale, I have high hopes that Alice Isn’t Dead is going to be fantastic.

Updated to Add: Having listened to the first episode, I can say that Alice Isn’t Dead is creepy in a decidedly different way from Night Vale., where strange and creepy happen but are generally mitigated by the light, humorous tone. Alice Isn’t Dead has humor, however, it seems to be a little darker.

Narrated by truck driver, Nicole, the narration is punctuated by scratchy hiss of the truck’s CB radio cutting in and out. The effect is unsettling as some of the storyline comes through in non-chronological order. The horror of events described are more personal and frightening, leaving a lingering sense of threat. All of this is to say, I freaking like it and can’t wait to hear more.

Rain and mud and beautiful things

The rain, rain, rain came down, down, down this weekend. But that didn’t stop my family and I from heading out to Loch Lomond and taking a short hike. It was a grey, chilly day by a beautiful lake, tromping through slightly muddy trails and watching my niece and nephew jump in puddles.

My favorite part was when my niece put her finger to her lips and said, “Shh. We have to be very quiet. Because of the water.”

Loch Lomond1

Loch Lomond2

And because, apparently, I have all the time in the world (haha), I’ve signed myself for the March Around the World movie watching challenge, in which I am meant to watch 30 movies from 30 countries. So far, I’ve watched: Monsoon Wedding (India), Suspiria (Italy), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Australia), Ida (Poland), Blue is the Warmest Color (France), and Heavenly Creatures (New Zealand).

What I’m Reading

Turns out the missing page within Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton (that I mentioned last week) turned out to be not missing but transposed. Apparently, page 19 comes after page 22 in my edition.

Other than the little page weirdness, Tooth and Claw is turning out to be a good read. It kind of reminds me of something like Charles Dickens, but with dragons instead of people. An interesting aspect of the society is that it’s perfectly normal for dragons to eat other dragons, either as an inheritance from family member that have died or to cull the weak, whom they don’t feel are worthy of surviving. I’m curious to see how this family of dragons strive to make their way in society and try to build a wealth for themselves, although I suspect at least one of them is going to fall into tragedy.

What I’m Writing

Due in part to the immense amounts of movie watching and, in part, to my inability to focus on any one project at a time, I didn’t manage to complete anything last week. Being indecisive about which short story to work on is a sure way to fail to finish any short stories. Although, I did manage to jot down a few scenes and notes in the hopes that I might actually finish something this week.

Goal for the Week:

  • Finish one story and/or one poem draft.
  • Submit something.

Linky Goodness

SFF in Conversation: Talking Novels with Haralambi Markov, Sunil Patel, and S.L. Huang

Why is Elizabeth I, the most powerful woman in our history, always depicted as a grotesque?

Benjamin Crouse comments on the friend-zone and how it diminishes the value of friendships as a whole.

Good things at Zoetic Press

I adore Zoetic Press, which produces two fantastic lit journals Nonbinary Review and Unbound Octavio among a number of other wonderful things. Within the Litho Reader app for iPhone and iPad, they wrap amazing pieces of poetry and fiction in gorgeous covers.

Recently, Zoetic Press released their first two full length books on the Litho Reader app — Erin Elizabeth Smith’s The Fear of Being Found and Christopher E. Grillo’s The Six-Fold Radial Symmetry of Snow — both of which look fantastic.

Zoetic Press has also been migrating all of the back issues of Nonbinary Review online to make them accessible to the whole wide world of readers. Although I recommend downloading the Litho Reader app to get the full experience of each issue, This means that Issue #4 Bullfinch’s Mythology is now up online, which includes my poem, “Eve and Pandora.”

I recommend reading the entire Bullfinch Mythology issue, because it is brimming with amazing work. And not just that, but all of the available issues because they are all full of wonderful things.

 

New-to-me movies watched in February 2016

1. Jupiter Ascending (2015)

By all accounts this is a ridiculous movie, but it’s delightfully so. The movie just oozes with scifi geekery, from boots that allow you to fly to human-animal clones to a planet comprised of bureaucratic aliens. The costuming and sets are visually gorgeous with rich detail.

My major complaint is the heroine, Jupiter, spends most of the movie falling off of buildings and being caught by the hero. She’s literally whipped around from place to place without much agency of her own, which doesn’t make me much interested in her as a character.

Nevertheless, this was fun.

2. Deadpool (2016)

Amazeballs. This movie manages to be a superhero movie that breaks the rules of superhero movies. It’s incredibly violent, with tons of blood splatter and severed limbs and other cringeworthy moments, and it has more fourth-wall-breaking humor and asides than a wrecking ball. Plus, it brings in two awesome X-Men characters, who have not been seen (much) before. So much win.

deadpool

 

 

Weekend? What weekend?

It’s been one of those weeks where time seems to compress itself together and you find yourself blinking and wondering where the days went. Which is not to imply a lack of fun. In fact, much fun was had, what with the celebrating of my brother’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Chase!) and the throwing of a Stella and Dot trunk show — both of which involved family, friends, laughter, and just the right amount of liquor.

What I’m Reading

Well, I was reading Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton. However, there’s an entire page missing — just one whole page gone — near the beginning and it’s thrown me off a little bit. I keep trying to figure out how best to read the missing page, while deciding if I should just keep on reading even though my brain is screaming at me that there might be vital information within that page regarding plot of character.

I can’t even tell you about the story, except that there are dragons, because of the horror of the missing page. *wails*

What I’m Writing

I’ve started redrafting my scoff retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Connecting to the tone I want for a story is a large part of my ability to actually finish a short story, and I seem to have the right tone now. So, I have hopes.

A deadline to a writing market sprung itself on me last week. It was a today, what do you mean today, I haven’t written the thing moments. In the past, this has meant me just giving up on the idea of submitting to the market. But last week, I decided, hell no, I’m writing the thing. So, I wrote the poem in an afternoon and submitted it. I feel pretty good about it, too, although I’ll wait to pat myself on the back until I get a response from the publisher.

Goal for the Week:

  • Finish one story and/or one poem draft.
  • Submit something.

Linky Goodness

“You don’t need more motivation. You don’t need to be inspired to action. You don’t need to read any more lists and posts about how you’re not doing enough,” writes Jamie Varon in her post to Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind In Life.

Hanna Brooks Olsen on Why Women Smile at Men Who Sexually Harass Us — “In my life, it has become abundantly clear to me that there is no way for me to end the constant barrage of unwanted conversation and touching and sexualization of my body. There is nothing that I can do to stop giving tiny pieces of myself and my time on this earth to the men who demand it because there is nothing that I can do to stop the demand. That’s not on me.”

A huge international study of gun control finds strong evidence that it actually works. Surprise, surprise.

Book Review: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

New York is a terrifying place in the summer of 1977  with incidents of arson, a massive blackout, and a serial killer known as Son of Sam shooting young women. As if this is not enough, seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez also has to deal with her out of control brother, her mom who may loose her job at any moment, and a landlord who continues to hassle them about the rent. With all this going on, its seems almost too much to have to deal with falling for the hot guy who started working at the grocery store, as well.

The heat and anxiety of living in 1977 New York comes through clearly in Burn Baby Burn. I could practically feel the heat baking through the cement and the growing tension surrounding the ongoing murders created a constant underlying anxiety, which must have been present for so many people at the time.

But for all the dangers out on the streets, the biggest dangers in Burn Baby Burn are the ones that are closest to home. Nora’s situation at home is clearly abusive, but it can take a lot of break out of the secrecy and suffering and shame that such a situation creates. Medina does an excellent job balancing the frustrations and fears of being a teenager in a hostile world, while also imbuing the story with a sense of young joy and hope. Nora has a lot to deal with, but all of her problems are real relatable problems and there is little to no angst for angst sake. She’s a believable character, one I could easily relate to and sympathize with. Nora’s relationships wither her family and friends are well handled, each with their own layers of complexity.

FOGcon Homework: Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler

As Octavia Butler is the Honored Ghost for FOGcon this year, it seemed like an excellent idea to return to Bloodchild and Other Stories. Its a slim volume of stories, one that could easily be read in an afternoon. But these are stories with incredible strength.

It’s no wonder, for example, that “Bloodchild” won three awards for best novelette (Hugo, Nebula, and the Locus). This story of how humans have come to live symbiotically with an alien species on another planet. It’s also a coming of age story and a beautiful and complex exploration of birthing, family, and love. “Bloodchild” lingered with me long after I first read it, and returning to it I find myself pondering it all over again. It’s a powerful story and makes me desperate to write, to continue attempting to build my skills in the hopes of coming even a little close.

All of these stories provide their own explorations of humanity, from apocalyptic world in which people have lost the ability to understand either written or spoken language to unusual solutions to managing genetic diseases to the sympathetic explorations of family conditions. There’s a lot of strangeness and a lot of beauty to discuss and explore here and I highly recommend this book as an introduction to Butler’s work.

Visiting historical sites around Nashville

My trip to Nashville last week was necessarily mellow, because I fell sick halfway through. Nevertheless, my mom and I managed to get out, see some historical sites, and have some good eats. I could write a whole other post on the food in Nashville — bonuts from Biscuit Love and fried chicken from Hattie B’s (which has six levels of spicy including “Shut the Cluck Up”) — um, yum. But I really want to share some of the history we learned about and how it was portrayed.

There is a certain amount of rewriting of history in the South, a romanticizing of the antebellum era, giving the period a soft glow that blurs out the uglier aspects of slavery. Traveling to the South, I wondered how much of this I would see while visiting historical museums.

The Lotz House

Driving on a road trip to see the countryside, my mom and I accidentally discovered the Lotz House in Franklin. We were just exploring and didn’t have any destination in mind while we were driving, but the sign indicating that the house was a Civil War museum called to us.

Since we were there on a weekday, we were were the only two people on the tour. Our guide explained how the house was a center point for an epic battle in which thousands of Northern and Confederate soldiers died. The Lotz family, including the children, were present during the battle and hid inside a brick basement while events raged outside.

Johann Albert Lotz was a master woodworker and he used his home as a showpiece for his profession, displaying elaborate mantles and carved banisters. Following the battle, his family returned to their home, which had been battered and badly damaged, a home full of bullet and cannon holes. The evidence of his quick repairs to make the house livable again are still evident in the home. There are still scars in the brickwork, still bloodstains in the wood floors.

Despite all these repairs, Lotz and his family were forced to flee Tennessee when the KKK threatened to end Lotz’s life for carving a piano that portrayed an eagle holding a tattered confederate flag. He fled all the way to San Jose, California, as far away as he could get before hitting water. (My mom and I have plans to visit his gravesite, which is nearby where we live.)

What was interesting about the Lotz house was that it centered around an everyday sort of family. They were not rich. They were just craftsmen trying to get by and survive impossible circumstances.

Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage

The Hermitage is the home-turned-museum of President Andrew Jackson. The primary focus of the museum is the life of Jackson, his role as a general and as a president, and the legacy he and his family left behind. The tour of the manor house was interesting, although it also felt brief giving a perfunctory view of the household and how it operated (though this is likely because of the large number of tours and tourists coming through there everyday).

Out behind the Hermitage, the plantation home of President Andrew Jackson.

The Hermitage was a working plantation, which was made profitable by slavery. It was no surprise to me that, in being a museum dedicated to a former president of the United States, the museum glossed over much regarding the lives of the slaves. Most of the information stated or hinted at the idea of Jackson considered to have been a “benevolent” slave owner, who treated the slaves as his “black family.” Even the former slave buildings say little, explaining only that little is known about the lives of the slaves who lived there. Anything more than that is mostly related is subtle hints and insinuations, at best.

However, there was an interesting display about the life of Alfred Jackson, who was born as a slave at the Hermitage to the cook, Betty. Following the end of the Civil War, Alfred continued to work at the Hermitage as a caretaker. When the plantation was converted into a museum in 1889, he became one of the first tour guides.

Alfred Jackson remained at the Hermitage after emancipation and was the first tour guide when the plantation was converted to a museum.
Alfred Jackson remained at the Hermitage after emancipation and was the first tour guide when the plantation was converted to a museum.

The Belle Meade Plantation

We visited the Belle Meade plantation in a rush at the end of the day after returning of our tour of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. The Belle Meade plantation includes a manor house tour (which we did not take), a beautiful stables and carriage house, a large collection of antique carriages and sleds, and outbuildings. A winery has also started up on the site, with wine tastings available as part of the tour.

The Manor House of the Belle Meade plantation with an old cart sitting out back.

The collection of horse-drawn carriages was wonderful (although our experience of it was frustrated by the wedding that was being set up for the night). All of the carriages are beautiful and well preserved, and I enjoyed learning about the various uses of each one.

One of the many carriages on display at the Belle Meade plantation.
One of the many carriages on display at the Belle Meade plantation.

The plantation was known for its horse breeding. According to our Uber driver, all of the horses that have participated in the Kentucky Derby can trace their lineage back to the Belle Meade plantation. I have no idea if that’s true, but it’s fascinating either way.

The dairy house at the Belle Meade plantation. Behind it is a replica of the slave quarters, which would have originally be placed further from the manor house.

The thing I appreciate the most about Belle Meade, however, was how it handled the history of slavery. The property includes a reconstruction of the slave quarters, which is used exclusively to explore the lives of the slaves who once lived on the plantation with video recordings forming an oral history of black lives and excavated artifacts revealing fragments of how the slaves lived found in and around the Belle Meade site.

Belle Meade acknowledges that an important aspect of history has been erased and is making strides to combat that erasure through an archeological project called Journey to Jubilee. The mission statement of the project is “to preserve and interpret the African-American story at Belle Meade plantation while educating the public about the significance of the contributions made by African-Americans and their significance in American history.”

After seeing how the Hermitage glossed over this important part of history, it was so refreshing to see a historical site making efforts to share and discuss challenging topics. The three to five year project is ongoing and hopefully, they will put together an excellent historical resource as they work to tell more of the whole story.

Home again from Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee is a pretty cool town. Beyond the neon lights of the entertainment strip, where every bar has live music pouring out country and rock tunes, there are plenty of sights of explore and some fabulous places to eat (my mother and I visited Biscuit Love twice, because the Bonuts, OMG, they are so good). Despite my falling ill halfway through the week, my mom and I managed to have a great time, hanging out in the city and exploring the countryside. A little longer write up on the trip will come in the next day or two, because I have thoughts. But for now…

What I’m Reading

I’m doing a reread of Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler, as she will be the Honorary Ghost at FOGcon 2016. I’m relearning all over again how amazing she is at telling complex and interesting short stories. If you want a short form introduction to Butler’s writing, this is a great way to go. Several of these stories — “Bloodchild,” “Speech Sounds,” and “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” — were nominated for awards, such as the Hugo and Nebula.

What I’m Writing

In the week prior to my Tennessee trip, I hunkered down and finished a new draft of a my short story, “A Dream of This Life,” which is about dream selling and addiction. Response to the story has been good so far, although it still needs some tweaking. For the moment, however, I’m just going to let it sit for a little while so that I can come back to it fresh.

I also pulled together a set of poems and got them sent off.

Goal for the Week:

  • Finish one story and/or one poem draft.
  • Submit something.

Linky Goodness

Allie Marini writes on the Fallacy of the ‘Serious Writer’ in her an ongoing series of essays on reading fees over at Rhizomatic Ideas.

Kelli Russell Agodon on how women writers can become more successful: Submit Like A Man.

“As literary writers, when writing about our individual traumas, we’re still called upon to use the elements of our craft in a way that strives to move beyond the individual story, and instead, capture something universal, or offer something educational,” writes Kelly Sundberg in her essay, Can Confessional Writing be Literary?

My inner critic is harassing me

What I’m Reading

I’m still reading Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina. The story is focused on the coming of age journey of the main character, dealing with a mess up family, deciding what to do with yourself after high school, and falling in love. But it’s also marked with the constant fear of being made the target of a serial killer (Son of Sam).

What I’m Writing

Words and I did not get along so well last week.

This is in part because the day job has not eased up on me as much as I expected it, too. I will pass this hurdle soon enough, I hope. Oh, how I hope.

This is also because I’ve been trying to write more thorough book reviews for “professional” publication on various websites. When I’m writing reviews for my blog, then the process is no problemo. But as soon as I decide to write a review for submission, my inner critic clamps down and strangles the words out of me. The process of working through the block has been causing me to fall behind on both my writing AND my reading, which it so, so frustrating.

I’ve been trying to think about the book review process differently by imagining the book reviews as being only for myself or my blog in order to shake the inner critic off. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I just give up and post it on my blog, like I did with The Ballad of Black Tom, just to get it done and posted.

However, despite all these frustrations, I managed to send out several submissions of poetry, so at least I felt productive in some way.

Accepted! Yellow Chair Review has accepted my poem, “A Letter from Eve to Barbie,” for their forthcoming Issue #6!

Goal for the Week:

  • Finish one story and/or one poem draft.
  • Submit something.

Linky Goodness

“In “Formation,” black women’s bodies are literally choreographed into lines and borders that permit them to physically be both inside and outside of a multitude of vantage points. And what that choreography reveals is the embodiment of a particular kind of 21st Century black feminist freedom in the United States of America; one that is ambitious, spiritual, decisive, sexual, capitalist, loving and communal,” writes Naila Keleta-Mae in her piece GET WHAT’S MINE: “FORMATION” CHANGES THE WAY WE LISTEN TO BEYONCE FOREVER.

Ursula Le Guin Gives Insightful Writing Advice in Her Free Online Workshop.

It’s Women in Horror Month, and Carina Bissett presents some excellent examples of women writing the weird.

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom is a fitting tribute to H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a novella that draws up the doom-ridden horror of the elder gods, while also addressing the unsettling prejudice of Lovecraft’s writing. “I grew up worshipping the guy so this issue felt quite personal to me,” explained Victor LaValle. “I wanted to write a story set in the Lovecraftian universe that didn’t gloss over the uglier implications of his worldview.”

The story centers around Tommy Tester, a young black man in 1920s Harlem. In order to avoid the hard life his father led as a laborer, Tommy turns to hustling in order to make his living. He has learned to disguise himself, donning a suit, a guitar case, and a shuffling step to mask himself against the watchful eyes white folks and the cops, who might see him as threatening otherwise. He knows how to put on a bit of theater and draw in a certain subset of clientele. But after he delivers an occult tome (with a page conveniently missing) to a reclusive sorceress in Queens, he earns her wrath, which brings destruction down on him and leads him into awakening powers best left sleeping.

Racism serves as an ever present backdrop, a constant shadow laid across the vivid descriptions of Harlem and other regions of New York that make their appearance. This racism takes several forms, both subtle and overt, from the cops who hassle him and steal his money to the patronizing rich white man who promises “salvation” for the downtrodden. Some of these moments are eerily familiar to current events. This is an intricate part of what makes this story so horrifying. If the world is so hateful, then how can ancient, powerful, and indifferent beings be any worse? Thus, Tom’s descent into darkness is frightening, blood soaked, and to a certain extent understandable.

The Ballad of Black Tom is fast read and a brilliant horror story.

New-to-me movies watched in January 2016

1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

The first film I’ve seen in the new year and a good conclusion to the Hunger Games storyline. They handled some of the stranger aspects of the book with aplomb and Jennifer Lawerence continued to bring depth to the character in situations where it could easily be overshadowed by the action.

2. Pontypool (2008)

A three-person team of a small town radio show become more and more horrified as reports come in of what seems to be rioting and death. With its small cast and single location, this movie manages to provide a growing sense of tension. It’s a fantastic take on the zombie apocalypse story with a unique concept for how the infection spreads. Really enjoyable.

3. Blazing Saddles (1974)

A spoof of the western genre. Not as funny as I thought it was going to be based on my experience with other Mel Brookes flicks. While probably “edgy” for the time period, some of the jokes are somewhat cringeworthy in the present day. However, the scenes with Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder are brilliant.

Book Review: Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Get in Trouble provides yet further evidence as to why Kelly Link is one of my favorite living short story writers. These tales are raw and human, with interweavings of the speculative, sometimes in subtle ways.

In “The Lesson,” the only hint of magic or the scientifically strange is a stuffed, clawed creature said to be long extinct, despite strange rustlings in the night. Where the magic comes in is how the story unfolds. Two men, awaiting the birth of of an adoptive child through a surrogate mother, take a trip to an isolated island to attend the wedding of a friend they haven’t seen in years. Through the bride’s wonderfully weird version of party celebrations and the discomforts of being disconnected from news from the mainland, it becomes clear that these two men love each other deeply and that that love is being strained by the stress of adoption. It also becomes clear that the decadence of their youth no longer appeals to them. “The Lesson” is a beautiful tale and my favorite in the book.

Other stories reveal a young woman who serves as an uneasy caretaker for the mysterious beings that live up on the hill (“The Summer People”), an aging movie star, formerly known as the demon lover, who seeks out his ex-girlfriend while she’s on a ghost hunting expedition (“I Can See Right Through You”), and a girl attempts to meet an older man she catfished online at a hotel where dentist and superheroes are both having conventions (“Origen Story”).

Another story that lingers with me long after I read it is “The New Boyfriend,”    which explores the complicated mess of teenage friendship and young love in unsettling ways. When her friend received her third animatronic boyfriend, a girl enacts a plan to steal it for herself, convince he can love only her.

All the Birds … and other things

On Saturday, I took a jaunt up to the city to Borderlands Books for a reading and book signing with the amazing Charlie Jane Anders in celebration of her new novel All the Birds in the Sky. It was a packed house, with standing room only as Charlie read from her charming and funny tale about a witch and a mad scientist becoming friends. I laughed out loud several times during the reading and then waited in a rather long line to get my book signed (during which time, I found too more books to purchase that day). It’s was a joy and a delight to have been there, even though I couldn’t stay longer to mingle. I’m just so happy for her and for all of her success.

All the Birds in the Sky description:

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

What I’m Reading

Since I started it first, I’m reading an ARC of Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina, which is the story of a young high school student coming of age in Brooklyn, New York in 1977, when the infamous Son of Sam serial killer was shooting young women on the streets. So far it’s interesting.

On the docket: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

What I’m Writing

As expected, the my day job work pretty much stripped my brain of words or any interest in looking at computers last week. So, I honestly can’t remember actually putting any words to the page. I might have done, might have worked on a book review, but I’m not sure. So, yeah.

Anyway, now that the big day job project is done, it’s time to get back to creative things in my off hours.

Goal for the Week:

  • Finish one story and/or one poem draft.
  • Submit something.

Linky Goodness

Tobias Carroll discusses things left unsaid or unspoken in fiction“Every story that works gets the level of description that it needs. Which isn’t to say that the level of description needed for every successful story is the same; quite the opposite.”

The Five Stages of Confronting Your Own Privilege, as described by Daniel José Older.

Charlie Jane Anders on 5 books that wonderfully combine sci-fi and fantasy.

Book Review: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

In a dark city, overshadowed by darkness, a man embraces his wife and daughter and then boards a steamship for another country, where he hopes to create a new life for his family. After going through a long process of immigration, he finds himself in a city he finds himself is bright and beautiful and strange.

Although he doesn’t understand the local language, he fumbles his way into a room for rent and then seeks employment. Along his journey into shaping a new life for himself and his family, he meets other people from other countries who have migrated to this city as well. Each has their own stories, their own reasons for leaving home and making a new life for themselves.

One of the amazing things about this book is how it tells a moving, heartfelt story entirely in images. There are no words, just gorgeous art. The art is softly penciled and sepia toned. It manages to be both realistic and fantastical at the same time, elaborately bringing to life a strange world that also feels familiar.

A beautiful book.

Art from The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Season of the Crow

Last Friday, I witnessed a bit of magic in the form of poetry and music at the Octopus Literary Salon (which is fast becoming a favorite place of mine). Hosted Richard Loranger, the Crow Show featured an amazing array of diverse voices, including musical guest the Lake Lady Ukulele Project and poets Corrina Bain, Kelly Klein, Brennan DeFrisco, Tureeda Mikell, Annelyse Gelman, and Laura Jew. I took photos throughout the night, but they were on my phone and turned out horrible.)

It was a tough week last week and I almost opted out of the event. But I was able to rally my energy when Friday rolled around, and I was so grateful to have been able to be present that night. Some moments are perfect at the time in which they occur, something about the combined energy of the people in a room and the energy of the performers — which is difficult to describe to anyone else after the fact. All I can say is that it was a wonderful night and I highly recommend tracking down the work of each of these performers, if you can.

What I’m Reading

I’m still loving the short story collection Get in Trouble by Kelly Link. The most recent story I read, “The Lesson,” was a heartbreaking and beautiful tale about a gay married couple anxious about the health of the surrogate mother bearing their child. It’s also about a wedding, a strange tropical island, and wish making. It’s gorgeous.

What I’m Writing

Somehow I started working on a brand new story draft last week, rather than trying finish the almost-done story I meant to work on. Apparently I’m distractible. Although jumping into new and shiny things instead of finishing existing things has been a habit I’ve been trying to avoid. However, the new (-ish, because I had previously tossed out an old draft) story is geared toward a specific market with a specific deadline, so all will be hunky dory if I can stick to that deadline.

Meanwhile, the day job is somewhat overwhelming this week, leaving me little mental capacity to handle the two book reviews and two short stories I really should be working on. I’m trying not to beat myself up, if I find myself exhausted at the end of the day.

So, this week, I’m going to give myself a break on all that, with a gentle nudge to try to get some work done, but it’s okay if I don’t.

Goal for the Week:

  • Survive.

Linky Goodness

Daniel José Older with 12 Fundamentals Of Writing “The Other” (And The Self).

A loving tribute to Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele presented by Gina Abelkop.

Frida Kahlo on How Love Amplifies Beauty: I love Diego so much I cannot be an objective speculator of him or his life… I cannot speak of Diego as my husband because that term, when applied to him, is an absurdity. He never has been, nor will he ever be, anybody’s husband. I also cannot speak of him as my lover because to me, he transcends by far the domain of sex. And if I attempt to speak of him purely, as a soul, I shall only end up by painting my own emotions.

“I love it when you post pictures of yourself… They give me a little window into your life,” writes The Bell Jar in her post on selfies.

Holding Patterns

I’m in a weird place for the beginning of the year. On the one hand, I feel excited about what this year can bring (provided I put the work in with the writing and such). I have short stories and poems and novels and ideas all in various stages of drafting and/or brainstorming (some might say too many of these things), all of which have me wanting to scratch at the page in a rapid fashion.

On the other hand, I feel like I’m in kind of a holding pattern. My day job is intense right now, with two giant projects looming over me and which are not allowing me much headspace beyond their enormity. I keep feeling like once they’re done, I’ll have energy to get back to it again. But I think the issue is more that I’m falling back into old habits and not carving out space to write no matter what.

It’s all solvable. The big projects will get done. In the meantime, I just need to make sure that I leave clear space for my own words on a regular basis.

What I’m Reading

The Ballad of Black Tom by by Victor LaValle, a novella about magic in Jazz Age New York. Charles Thomas Tester, a young man from Harlem, who gets mixed up in a deeper and darker magic than he’s prepared to handle. It’s interesting so far, well written and starting to get creepy.

I’m also reading the short story collection Get in Trouble by Kelly Link, who is one of my favorite short story writers. These stories so far are inventive, each playing with writing styles and tone, while sharing human experiences that glance at the supernatural and strange.

What I’m Writing

I’ve entered into a hectic period at my day job, which has me not wanting to look at computer ever again by the time I get home. That being said, I managed to edit and pull together a chapbook of poetry last week, which was sent out to two different publishers. Here’s hoping.

Somewhere along the way I also managed to throw down some outlines for new scenes that will go into my dark Sleeping Beauty-inspired story, “A Dream of This Life.”

In other news, I received my first rejection of the year. All par for the course.

Goals for the Week:

  • Edit  “A Dream of This Life” to completion.

Linky Goodness

Tasha Robinson talks about the Trinity Complex. She explains that while there has been a push for more strong and more complex female characters in movies, TV, video games, etc., many of these characters are hampered by the fact that they have nothing to do. (Discovered via Rhizomatic Ideas.)

The Night Witches were a band of an all-female squadron of bomber pilots who ran thousands of daring bombing raids during WWII, which is an awesome piece of history I didn’t know about.

Lise Quinta talks about the death of art and what it is we are really mourning when celebrities, like David Bowie and Alan Rickman, die.

Also, here’s a list of David Bowie’s 100 favorite books.

Saying good bye to David Bowie

“The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.” — David Bowie

I was going to write about my lovely weekend as part of my usual Monday update, which included a surprise visit from my amazing aunt and a walk among the redwoods, but right now my heart is all caught up in the world’s loss of an astounding artist and man. A lot of people have reached out and shared their tributes and feelings about this loss already, so I’m not going to repeat the same sentiments, when there are so many people who have done it better.

“Bowie provided us with a soundtrack for our alienation,” wrote Charlie Jane Anders in David Bowie Made The World a Safer Place for the Alien in Us All.

Emily Asher-Perrin describes Bowie as the The Patron Saint of Personal Truth. She writes, “We talk so much these days about how representation matters, and here’s some more anecdotal evidence to fuel the fire; I’m not sure I ever would have realized that I was queer if David Bowie didn’t exist.”

Buzzfeed also has a roundup of the ways People Are Mourning David Bowie On Twitter, which is both moving and humorous and heartbreaking.

For me, my awareness of Bowie was less through his music than through his film performances, most notably Labyrinth, which both dazzled and frightened me as a child, with Bowie as the goblin king being likewise both creepy and attractive. Along these lines, Peter Bradshaw has a nice piece on Bowie the film star: “Pop singers from Sinatra to Elvis to Madonna have dabbled in the movies, with varying results, but David Bowie always convinced his public that every role he accepted was an artistic decision and an artistic experiment, governed by his own idealism.”

I also want to point to a well rounded piece by Aida Manduley, in which she asks Time to Mourn or Call Out? She writes, “We should not simply dismiss David Bowie’s artistic legacy and the impact he had on many AND we should not dismiss the allegations of rape and the realities of how he had sex with a 14/15-year old when he was a powerful and revered adult.”

Prior to reading Manduley’s article, I had no idea that Bowie had been accused of rape, which adds another layer of disheartening to his loss. No one wants to believe their heroes are flawed, especially if those flaws are to the degree of something as awful as the accusation of rape. However, it’s important not to ignore the full picture of pop stars and actors and other famous individuals, which is why I’m including Manduley’s article here.

Top Movies of 2015

Toward the end of the year, I didn’t seem to have much time for watching movies, but nevertheless there were some fabulous feature and short films that I’ve seen for the first time this year. As with my Top Reads, I’m organizing these based on categories.

Best Drama

Pariah (2011) is the story of a  17-year-old African American girl who hangs out at clubs with her openly lesbian friend Laura. Through the course of the film she begins to figure out her own identity. It’s a beautiful story of young love and family friction/love and the many ways a heart can be broken and healed.

Pariah-title-placard

Best Historical Picture

The Academy Award nominated film, Selma (2014), tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and several civil rights activists’ peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in the face of violent opposition. The aim of the March was to achieve fair access to voting access for African Americans. It shows the many layers of effort from multiple groups that enabled this march to happen successfully. The directing, cinematography, and performances throughout the film are fantastic.

selma-bridge movie still

Runner-up: Belle (2014) is the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of a slave and Captain John Lindsay, a British career naval officer. As the captain must travel to earn his living, he leaves his daughter as a free woman in the care of his uncle, a high ranking judge of the U.K. courts. This beautiful movie reveals the conflicting nature of her position in which she is both loved by her family and an outcast in society.

Best Science Fiction Movie

A three way tie between The Martian (2015), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and Ex Machina (2015) — all vastly different films, all great for vastly different reasons.

The Martian, a story about a single astronaut accidentally stranded on the hostile surface of Mars, provides a combination of intense moments with humor. This is combined with beautiful images of the Martian surface, red deserts and plains stretching to the horizon. It’s gorgeous and moving and hilarious and wonderful.

martian-gallery5-gallery-image

What I loved about Star Wars: The Force Awakens was how it was able to capture that elated joy I felt when I was young, watching A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Last Jedi over and over and over again. This new iteration went straight to the heart of what makes Star Wars great with a new cast of young heroes ready to take up the fight.

star-wars-force-awakens-rey-bb8

Ex Machina, meanwhile, is a much quieter movie, centering around only a handful of characters. In it a young engineer is recruited by an genius entrepreneur to perform a Turing test on a humanoid AI robot, named Ava. The movie intelligently explores the nature of humanity and consciousness. Alicia Vikander is amazing as Ava, bringing a subtle alieness to the character, even when she seems to look entirely human.

EX-MACHINA-screenshot

Best Post-Apocalyptic Movie

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is a gorgeously filmed vision of the post-apocalyptic world. Although, lets be honest, it’s pretty much a single long car chase sequence across the wasteland. It’s a spectacular spectacle with beautifully choreographed stunts and action sequences. Mad Max is just as hard core as he’s ever been, and he gets to fight along side some amazingly bad ass women, not only Imperator Furiosa, but all of despot’s escaping wives. It’s one-note, perhaps, but it’s brilliant. The wasteland never looked so good.

mad max fury road

Best Horror Movie

A tie between The Devil’s Backbone /El espinazo del diablo (2001) and It Follows (2014).

The Devil’s Backbone, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is set during the Spanish Civil War, during which a 12-year-old Carlos is sent to a boy’s orphanage that is full of secrets. The imagery haunts from the start, with the image of a giant unexploded bomb shown standing in the center of the orphanage courtyard. The movie provides a steady eerie feeling that builds into a surprising conclusion.

the devil's backbone unexploded_bomb

It Follows is intensely creepy. The concept of a sexually transmitted monster, which on the surface sounds ridiculous, is handled with brilliant skill. Every bit of lighting combined with camera angles and music builds a growing sense of anxiety about this creature that never stops pursuing its intended target. I loved how the characters used their friendship to positive effect. When the main character’s friends could neither see nor believe in the creature, they didn’t waste their time doubting her. Instead, they recognized that she needed help and did what they could to provide that help. It’s an incredibly well done movie and one that caused me a few anxiety dreams after watching it.

It Follows movie still

Best Animated Film

Le Gouffre (2015) is a beautiful short film in which two young men face a chasm and find an industrious way to try to cross it. Rendered in CGI animation, a beautiful story of friendship and community evolves in just 10 minutes. You can watch it here.

le gouffre

Best Foreign Film

Wadjda (2012) is the first movie to be entirely filmed in Saudi Arabia and is the first film directed by a female Saudi director. It’s the story of a spunky young girl, named Wadjda, who wants her own a bicycle, even though considered indecent for a girl to ride. In order to get the money for the bike she wants, she joins a competition for learning and reciting the Koran. This movie is charming and the little girl Waad Mohammed who plays the main character is wonderful. I hope to see more work by director Haifaa Al-Mansour in the future.

Wadjda still image

Runner-up: In Circumstance (2011), filmed in Iran, two young women the strict rules that circle their lives in Tehran, Iran. Along the way, they fall in love with each other. There’s a sense of danger present even as they feel the most free, the impression that they are always being watched and judged. A beautiful and stylish film.

Best Documentary

Okay, so technically I only watched one documentary in 2015, but it was a really good documentary. In The Red Chapel / Kim Jong-Il’s Comedy Club (2009), two Danish Korean comedians, along with their manager, travel to North Korea in order to perform for the country’s National Theater. The aim of the trip is to discreetly reveal the disturbing nature of this totalitarian dictatorship, while also subtly poking fun at the regime during the comedy sketch routine. However, their plan quickly falters as their routine picked apart and replaced by a performance that suites the party line. The documentary has its flaws, but it fascinating in the way it moves from being, at first, unsettling but slightly humorous to being somewhat terrifying.

the-red-chapel

Honorable Mention: Best Worst Movie

The Barbarians (1987) is awful on so many levels and takes cheesy fantasy to amazing heights. It features beefcake twins with more glossy, well oiled muscles than any one person should rightly have.  Together with a scantily clad thief, they track down a magical ruby and defeat and evil band of barbarians. The villain has a unicorn horn strapped to his head. One of the heroes brays like a donkey when he’s excited. The dragon looks like a giant erect penis with a deranged Alf head (I’m not even kidding). The Barbarians is bad. It’s so, so bad. But it’s glorious in how bad it is.

What movies have you watched and loved in 2015?

 

Top Reads of 2015

Since I can’t seem to narrow my favorite books down to a top ten list, I’m presenting them here as my favorites according to categories.

Best Science Fiction Novel

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and with it the entire Imperial Radch trilogy, which is the best science fiction trilogy I’ve read in probably ever. Breq used to be a part of the Justice of Toren, a ship powered by artificial intelligence with a thousand ancillary counterparts all operating as part of the same consciousness. But with the rest of her self destroyed, she is alone — a single ancillary pretending to be human and driven by anger to seek revenge against the one who destroyed her main ship.

As this trilogy unfolds, the world and the characters unfold with it. There are many layers to the Radch culture, a powerful colonizing empire that has invaded and taken control of a number of systems. The cultures and societies that were invaded, however, were not entirely erased and it’s revealed how the Radch rules of propriety are reinterpreted in different systems or ignored entirely, depending on the group of people. There’s more, as well, with mentions and interactions with non-human aliens who are truly alien by human standards. And the characters, likewise, are handled with the same level of delicacy and care, each one uniquely themselves and people I can relate to and care about. Utterly fantastic.

Runner-up: The Martian by Andy Weir — The story of an astronaut stranded on the hostile surface of Mars. The science and humor and constant tension presented make this a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read.

Best Fantasy Novel

A tie between Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold and Uprooted by Naomi Novik — both with stories of women with hidden power, who find themselves ensconced in battles bigger than themselves. Though both provide unique, clear world building, cultures, and magical systems.

Paladin of Souls is the story of a middle-aged royal woman, who has been kept confined due to a decade long period of mental instability caused by prophetical visions. Having regained a sense of autonomy over herself, she feels claustrophobic under the well-meaning coddling of the people who have long cared for her. She decides to go on a pilgrimage as a means of escape and the journey leads her back into the world of gods and visions, with a looming threat on the horizon.

In Uprooted (which I also mentioned as a favorite novel on Rhizomatic Ideas), a Dragon chooses a young maiden to take back to his tower every ten years. The Dragon is 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 the ten year period. 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. Although the Dragon is a central character, it’s the friendship between Agnieszke and her friend Kasia that makes this novel shine.

Best Apocalyptic Fantasy Novel

I’m starting to stretch my category specificity with The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, because how many fantasy apocalypse novels are there in the world.* However, The Fifth Season is too good not to mention. The worldbuilding is fantastic, with a society that has faced many seasons of destruction and famine, so that their lore is filled with knowledge on how to survive.

In the story, Essun returns home to find that her husband has murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Shortly after this discovery, a volcanic rift is torn across the center of the continent throwing the Sanze empire into chaos. A great earthquake rolls over the land, crushing cities and villages, and ash begins to cloud the sky and Essun is left to pursue her husband and daughter admidst the growing calamity. The journey delves deep into her past and unveils many secrets about herself and the world.

*I know of at least one other magical apocalypse novel — The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson, which is also fantastic.

Best Steampunk Novel

Rupetta by Nike Sulway is beautiful and strange alternate history, N.A. Sulway that questions the nature of humanity and god and to explore what constitutes a soul, while also taking into consideration how history is shaped and how the creation of history through carefully selected “facts” or stories shapes a society. Rupetta is an animatronic object, constructed in the 1600s by a young French woman out of brass gears and cogs and leather fittings to resemble a human being. As she continues to exist beyond the lives of those who loved and used and despised her, the world changes in dramatic ways.

Best YA Novel

A tie between All the Rage by Courtney Summers and The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma — both of which present some darl explorations of what it means to be a girl.

All the Rage is is a rough, beautiful book that explores the after math of rape and the brutal reality of rape culture. Ostracized by her community for accusing the sheriff’s son of rape, Romy Grey becomes tried to find ways to escape from what happened to her while being unable to forget it because of the constant bullying from her classmates. This heavy, emotionally wracking story is also beautifully written, with Summers perfectly capturing Romy’s voice and inner journey.

The Walls Around Us has a haunting quality and not just because the story is populated with ghosts. The stories of the three girls at the center of this story — Amber is a young woman convicted of murder who has been locked in prison for years; Violet, a ballet dancer with a dark secret; and Orianna, a girl caught in a tide of misfortune who binds the other two together — weave together unveiling lies and secrets and the truth behind a murder. Rich, gorgeous prose brings the world inside this prison for young women and the outside world (for this books seems to divide the world into two realms – inside and outside) to vivid, brutal reality.

Best Western Novel

Okay, so, I don’t normally read enough westerns to be able to have a separate category for them. However, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee is wonderful. Two girls — Samantha (called Sam), a violinist, and Annamae, a runaway slave — head out on the Oregon Trail dressed as young men, hiding from the law and hoping for a better life in San Francisco. The two make friends with a group of young cowboys along the way, who join them on their adventures in the prairies of the Wild West. I love the way this book breaks down the myth of the West, providing a more diverse portrait of the time period, while also putting the friendship between these two girls at its center.

Best Short Story Collection

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr. is a must read for any science fiction fan and for anyone interested in tightly wrought, unsettling stories. “The Screwfly Solution” involves increasing numbers of attacks by men against women. Bits of news clips, letters, and diary entries are placed alongside the main narrative of a man trying to make it home to his wife and daughter amid the mounting chaos. The ending is fatalistic, powerful, terrifying, making it one of the best short stories I’ve read in years. And that’s just one example in a collection that explores gender and sexuality in challenging and innovative ways through intelligent science fiction. Reading Tiptree’s stories makes me feel inadequate as a writer, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Best Graphic Novel and Best Comedy

Hyperbole and a Half:Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh is an illustrated collection of essays based on her popular blog. These essays delves into stories about her own life, about her dogs and family and self identity, in each case revealing the flaws and joys with a sense of self mocking humor and honesty. Many times while reading, I burst into laughter not caring what anyone else thought about my enthusiasm.

Brosh is brilliant and witty and a lot of fun to read. I hope all my hopes that she will release a sequel (hopefully one featuring the infamous Alot).

(Image by Allie Briosch)
(Image from Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh)

Best Poetry Book

Populated by mermaids and drift bottles and lost sisters and brutal mothers, Drink by Laura Madeline Wiseman is the collection of poetry I mentally return to again and again. I love the lyrical beauty of these poems, the layering of image and metaphor and how each poem layered with the next provides and beautiful emotional arc when the collection is read from beginning to end. (My full review of Drink can be found over at Rhizomatic Ideas.)

Runner-up: Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone by Annelyse Gelman, which features poems that are witty, clever, fun with an undercurrent of vulnerability and introspection. They explore the chaotic realm of everyday life, poking fun at its imperfections and drawing out its underbelly.

Best Nonfiction Book

In Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, Douglas A. Blackmon reveals through meticulous research how southern whites by-passed the Emancipation Proclamation and constitutional amendments to continue slavery in the form of convict forced labor. They found their way around emancipation by criminalizing black life by writing laws targeted specifically at African Americans, one such law making it illegal for someone to leave their current employment without their employer’s permission.

This is a depressing book, which is also dense with facts and data, making it a difficult read. However, it’s also a vital book. It presents an aspect of American history that one would not necessarily want to look at, but it’s something we need to look at.(Full review.)

What were some of your favorite books from 2015?

Transitioning into the New Year

Looking back on 2015…

If I could sum up my experience of 2015 in just a few words, I would say that it was a strange mixture of overwhelming and astoundingly wonderful.

In Writing:

At the beginning of 2015 I wrote about seeking minimalism and creative focus. The idea was to step away from doing ALL THE THINGS and focus in on the work that mattered most to me. In some ways, I achieved a sense of minimalism through an increased sense of focus on my writing and in other ways I failed miserably.

At the beginning of the year, I focused in on the YA novel I’ve been trying to get drafted for a couple of years now. A few month into slogging through the novel, however, I faltered and couldn’t find my way any further into the story.

Somewhere around that time, when I was starting to feel lost, I reconnected with poetry, writing and editing and submitting it to number of markets. Around the end of the year, I joined the Brainery Science Fiction Fairy Tales short story writing workshop (which I wrote about here), which brought me back around to fiction.

In 2015, I submitted more poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for publication in a single year than I have in all the years I’ve been pursuing writing combined (I’m fairly sure, although I don’t have old data back that up). As I result, I’ve received more rejections, acceptances, and publication credits than before. Around six poems (three of which were collaboratively written with Laura Madeline Wiseman) and an essay have been published since the beginning of the year.

Even more amazing, two of those poems have been nominated for awards — “The Things I Own” (published in Thank You for Swallowing, July 2015) was nominated for Independent Best American Poetry and “Eve and Pandora” (published in Nonbinary Review, Issue #4: Bulfinch’s Mythology: The Age of Fable, April 2015) was nominated for Sundress Best of the Net.

I also attended more open mics, readings, and writing events (such as FogCon) that I had previously, including a few events in which I was a featured performer. Through these events, I’ve made some great connections with other poets and writers and artists, all of whom continue to inspire me in a variety of ways.

In blogging, I started a series of Poet and Artist Spotlights in late 2015, an attempt to highlight and acknowledge creators I admire. The first three in the series — Jill Allyn Stafford, Laura Madeline Wiseman, and Kristina Marie Darling — all shared insights about their work and their process. Doing the spotlights was a fun exercise and I hope to be able to significantly expand this series in the new year.

Other Non-Writing Things:

Running and improving my distance (with the ultimate aim of running a marathon) has been a major goal for me over the past few years. I did participate in a couple of events, including the She is Beautiful 10K, which was wonderful, and the UROC not-really-a-half-marathon half marathon, which I didn’t actually run and was miserable. After the UROC, I fell out of my running routine and I was okay with that. I think I needed the break.

Travel included two work trips to Orlando, Florida in the spring and Detroit, Michigan in the fall, as well as an amazing journey up to Anchorage, Alaska to visit family (which included an intense hiking excursion, or intense for me anyway, my sister thought it was no big deal).

Looking forward to 2016…

I’m hesitant to make any major writing goals, or even life goals, encompassing the entire year. One of the many things 2015 taught me was that priorities shift throughout the year and what’s important at the start is not always going to be what’s important at the end.

At the moment I find myself wanting to be drawn in several different directions. I have a number of stories drafts that came out of the Brainery workshop that are calling out to be polished. The novel is also calling to me again and a couple of poetry drafts and poetry book manuscripts want some attention. It would be easy to end up mentally dismembered by letting myself be pulled every which way at once.

But 2015 also taught me that by focusing in on a specific project (or maybe two at most), fantastic things can be accomplished.

For the moment, I think I’m going to focus on the short stories. A couple are near-ish to done and two more need to finish being drafted. In the second half of the year, I may go back to the novel after I’ve done some more research.

I know that I also want to stay physically active and to that end I’m doing a trial run with some early morning yoga classes (maybe too early) before work and I’m going to try to get back into a running schedule.

And other than that, I’m just going to let the year unfold as it may and will keep readjusting my goals along the way.

How was your 2015? What sorts of goals, if any, do you have in mind for 2016?

Books finished in November and December 2015

1. Attachments (audio book) by Rainbow Rowell
2. Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
3. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
4. My Life Before Me by Norah McClintock
5. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
6. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
7. Rough Magick, edited by Francesca Lia Block and Jessa Marie Mendez
8. Fables: Happily Ever After by Bill Willingham
9. Fables: Farewell by Bill Willingham

REVIEWS

Continue reading “Books finished in November and December 2015”

Book Review: Rough Magick

The short stories and poems in Rough Magick, edited by Francesca Lia Block and Jessa Marie Mendez, explore the darker side of love and sex with a mixture of haunting, romantic, and horrifying tales. The anthology is split into two parts with the first half being lyrical stories based in realism, while the second half presents fantastical tales. This choice to split the collection was my biggest annoyance. I would have preferred to have read alternating tales of realism and fantasy, which would have provided an interesting juxtaposition. On the whole, though, Rough Magick is a strong collection with the majority of the stories being rather good and some being utterly fantastic. Here are a few favorites.

Written out like a series of instructions, “Spell to Mend a Broken Heart” by Amanda Yates Garcia sketches out the pain of heartbreak and charts a path to healing. 

“Paradise” by Ashley Inguanta is a  gorgeous story of burning — California wildfires and dry, dusty air, and the thirst of dried out and ashy hearts.

In “Venus,” Sarah Herrington presents two young girls discovering each other among the Venus fly traps with a beautiful, magical lyricism.

Probably the most disturbing story in the collection is “Rathead” by Laura Lee Bahr. It’s a strange staying which a woman falls for a handsome magician, only to wake up the morning after to discover he has a rat head. She stays with him, both loving and hating him for and despite of his hideous head.

“Persephone + Hades” by Jilly Dreadful and K.T. Ismael envisions the underworld as a sleek and seedy version Los Angeles, with various gods of death commingling and Persephone’s journeys there a kind of rebellion against her mother. The writing in this is rich and playful and gorgeous. For example: “I was taken by the ruin that bloomed there: eyes rotted out of the skull, nose skin shrinking away from its open mouth and maggots feasting away on what was left. Surrendering to the cycle, how death begets life: these were things I would never know as the daughter of Demeter.”

Kira Lees offers a disturbing vision of possessive love in “Strands of Gold.” A young girl discovers a monster, which falls in love with her instead of eating her. She brings him gifts of other children (to consume) and plays other kinds of games with him as she grows older. The ending is wonderfully unsettling.

New-to-me movies watched in November and December

1. NH10 (2015)

A woman and her husband take trip from Delhi to the countryside. Along the way they try to help a young woman being dragged off by some men, which leads them to being hunted by the locals.

Altogether a solid thriller/revenge film and it’s interesting to see a film from India expressing the same city folk fears of hicks as in the U.S. (but not surprising when I think about it).

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Love, love, love, love, love. It totally gave me the feeling I had when I was young — when I used to watch Episodes 4-6 over and over and over again to the point of annoying the hell out of my family.

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

On the same day Essun comes home to find that her husband has murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter, a volcanic rift is torn across the center of the continent throwing the Sanze empire into chaos. A great earthquake rolls over the land, crushing cities and villages, and ash begins to cloud the sky. Essun leaves behind the illusion of normalcy she had shaped for so many years and journeys into a wilds of the collapsing world in order to pursue her husband and save her daughter.

Essun is a woman with secrets and many names. I don’t really know how to talk about her without giving something away. There were aspects of her personality and her story that were only revealed (to me, at least) deep into the novel, her individuality, her self having many aspects, all naturally fitting in to the whole of her story. She’s complicated and calm and full of rage. One phrase she repeats again and again throughout the story as she faces prejudice and oppression in many forms is, “It’s not right.” She sees that society is violently broken and is powerless to stop it. And already, I feel as though I’ve said too much, so let’s move on.

The worldbuilding in The Fifth Season is exceptional. It’s a world built on continual catastrophe, a continent continually beset by earthquakes and the threat of apocalypse. The stability of the empire is built on survival through past destruction, surviving many apocalyptic seasons (known as fifth seasons, seasons of death) in which earthquakes, volcanoes, or other natural disasters have created months, years, or decades of light-less winter and famine. As such, the culture is focused on survival, with their scripture, known as Stone Lore, primarily presenting knowledge on how to prepare for and survive the next apocalyptic season that is sure to come.

The Fifth Season is the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy. I hadn’t intended to get started on another series this year, but here I am and I don’t at all mind. Jemisin’s story is fantastic on many levels and I can’t wait for next books to be released.

Things I Learned from the Brainery Workshop

Last week, the Brainery Science Fiction Fairy finished up with an analysis of the final set of portfolios (including my own). The class was a wonderful and empowering experience. Jilly Dreadful is an amazing teacher and the class was filled with great writers — Katy Stenta and Kirsten Squires. (A few other writers started out with us, but for personal reasons were unable to complete the workshop.) It was cool to see their work develop over the course of twelve weeks and I can’t wait to see where all their writing goes from here.

The weekly mash up of a fairy tale with some element of science was a fascinating exercise, which pushed the boundaries of what fairy tales can be. Although each week we worked with the same fairy tales and science, the stories that came from each writer were vastly different, some barely containing any resemblance to the original tale.

I’ve learned a lot about the craft of writing and myself as a writer from this workshop. Here are just a few of the bits and pieces that stick out most for me.

Henry Meynell Rheam - Sleeping Beauty
“Sleeping Beauty” by Henry Meynell Rheam

Things I learned about craft…

The Magic in the Gutter

One of the ideas Jilly presented was the idea of the Magic in the Gutter, a concept I believe she found in Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. In comics, the gutter is the blank space between panels of art, the space between one image and the other. In that blank space, the reader uses their imagination to fill in the details themselves. This concept can also be applied to fiction writing, as she noted in response to a story I had written, which had a more fragmentary style. In order to have something to submit, I had focused in on specific detailed scenes without connecting them and I was concerned that without these connections, the reader might get lost in the story.

The concept of the Magic in the Gutter, however, trusts that the reader will fill in the details between the scenes for themselves. In many cases, its possible to get away with just leaving the gap and letting the reader make the connection — unless knowing the exact details of what happened in between is important to the story, in which case, it should probably be a scene itself.

Learning this was incredibly freeing to me, as I’ve often obsessed about trying to make my stories linear, following every step from beginning to end in order to achieve clarity. The Magic in the Gutter reveals how that clarity can still be present, even with well placed gaps in the action.

Draw from Your Passion

Sometimes, as in the case of one of my fellow workshop writers, a story has a clear core passion, a message or point of view about the world, that comes out through the story. Figuring out what that core is, what is a driving you to write the story — whether is a central relationship or a frustration regarding how society today is hyper-vigilant over parents — can help clarify the goals of the story and drive conflict.

It was one of the many moments in workshop, where I found myself immediately wanting to apply this new knowledge to other things I’ve been writing. What is the core of this story? What is the underlying passion for me that is driving me to write it? How can I draw that out in the characters and the conflict?

Arthur Rackham Little Red Riding Hood
“Little Red Riding Hood” by Arthur Rackham

Things I learned about myself as a writer…

Apparently I CAN Finish a Short Story

You might not think this that big of a revelations, but it was huge for me. I’ve been a poet for a long time and am fairly comfortable with poetry as a form, but have piled up stacks of story drafts that were never completed or never edited to the point in which I felt they were good enough to submit for publication (although, I’ve “finished” and posted a number of flash fiction drafts on my blog over the years).

One of my goals in joining the Brainery Workshop was to break free of that cycle and to write and edit some stories that I could then send out for publication. I finished two stories — “How Bluebeard Ends” and “Missed Connections – Nov. 11 – Redhead at the House of Needles” — both of which have been submitted for publication. Two other stories were fully drafted and need some editing in order to get them ready for sending out. The rest of the fives stories that were drafted during workshop are not anywhere near ready, but I can see the trajectories of the plots and how to finish them and I know I can put the work in to get them done.

It feels pretty damn good.

My Super Power is Voice

A few weeks into the workshop, Jilly addressed all of the writers and shared  what she felt our writing super power is with each of us. According to Jilly my power was voice, the ability to personify a character or tone in the story.

It was an interesting revelation. During the process of writing a new story draft each week, I found that if I was able to narrow in on the right voice or tone for the story, then it would flow more easily for me. But if I couldn’t figure out the tone, then the story was often more of a struggle.

Knowing this, I wonder if my struggles in continuing with my novel at the beginning of the year might have been partially been influenced by the fact that I never really felt as though I had a handle on the characters. The novel is written from two separate first person POVs and yet they sound the same to me. Maybe finding their individual voices is what I need to do in order to get back into finishing the novel.

What now…

I thrive on deadlines. Self imposed deadlines don’t always work. Far more effective are the deadlines imposed as part of a group or class, in which I ramp up my own sense of obligation to contribute. This is part of the reason why the Brainery workshop worked so well for me. And now that I know that I can write and finish short stories, I’m toying with the idea of participating in one of the novel writing workshops as a way to get back to being engaged with an even longer work. I’m a little intimidated by the idea, though, as I can foresee the level of work involved in participating. If not in the spring, then maybe in the summer or fall.

Still recharging

My need to recharge continued through last week. Every time I came home from work I couldn’t bring myself to pull out my computer and get to work. I’m okay with that, because it gave me time to catch up on my reading.

What I’m Reading

I’ve just started Ancillary Mercy by Anne Leckie, the conclusion to the Imperial Radch trilogy, and I AM SO EXCITED. I’ve loved both of the first two books and the third is starting out just as great.

Still working on Rough Magick, a collection of short stories edited by Jessa Marie Mendez and Francesca Lia Block.

What I’m Writing

Although I didn’t continue on any of the other short stories from the Brainery Workshop, as I intended, I did manage to churn out a spontaneous villanelle with rhyme and everything, even though I never rhyme in my poetry. It was kind of an exciting moment for me.

Published! Yellow Chair Review released its Pop Culture Issue, which includes “Allow Me to Tell You About Plastic and Mold,” a poem about Barbie and the various forms of decay I experienced in my youth. 

Accepted! Rose Red Review has published “Hunger” and “The Huntsman’s Heart,” two collaborative poems cowritten with Laura Madeline Wiseman.

Another collaborative poem, “A Gathering of Baba Yagas,” also written with Laura Madeline Wiseman, has been accepted for publication in Strange Horizons.
Goals for the Week:

  • Edit a short story. 

Room to rest

Over the weekend I allowed myself space to step back from writing for a few days. Instead I attended a holiday party with friends, celebrated my dad’s birthday with a hike, and gave myself space to lounge and read and take naps. It was a calming and healing weekend, which didn’t quite cure me of my two-week-long cough but came close. Sometimes I forget how important it is to allow space for recharge, mentally, socially, spiritually.

What I’m Reading

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is amazing. I love the world building, which is revealed through three central characters at, I presume, different points in the timeline. One of the characters, Essun, is presented using second person narration, which is an interesting choice. Although I’m not sure it’s necessary, it’s well done and I don’t find it distracting at all, especially since her hunt for her daughter as an apocalyptic event (called a Fifth Season) falls down upon the world is totally thrilling.

Still working on Rough Magick, a collection of short stories edited by Jessa Marie Mendez and Francesca Lia Block.

What I’m Writing

Most of my work last week was focused on finishing up my portfolio pieces. Once I submitted them on Thursday, I considered launching immediately into another story, but stopped. My brain needed some rest over the weekend after all the hard work of the last eleven weeks.

Goals for the Week:

  • Edit another short story to completion.

Brainery Workshop – Science Fiction Fairy Tales – Week Twelve

The final day of class (the day in which my portfolio pieces will be discussed – eep!) was rescheduled to Monday of next week so that we could accommodate almost everyone attending. I finished the three stories I wanted to present as my portfolio. One of my concerns going into this class was this fear that I would end up with a ton of drafts, but no finished stories. There was a part of myself (rather foolish, perhaps) that believed I would never be able to finish a story. But I did and I am all kinds of glee.

Linky Goodness

  • The Two Most Powerful Words That You Can Say To Yourself While Writing by Charlie Jane Anders — “‘I’m bored.’ These two words are the hardest thing to admit, when you’re writing your deathless novel, or screenplay, or short story. You’re supposed to be creating a work of timeless brilliance. How can you be bored?  But admitting that you’re bored is the first step to not being bored.”

“Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy.” – Søren Kierkegaard

Note: I started writing this post on Monday with the intention of posting it on Monday, but somehow managed to forget it entirely because there were too many things going on in my mind — which when I think about it is somewhat of a contradiction to my statements below. 

It’s that season. You know, the one where you’re rushing around trying to schedule in family events and time with friends and shopping and events and all in the name of showing how much you care about people, but sometimes it feels as though it gets lost in the rush of getting things done. Or maybe it’s just me, feeling a little overwhelmed.

Brain pickings has a great post on what Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote in contemplating our greatest source of unhappiness. He talked about how busy-ness is a kind of escapism, of being absent from your life. “The unhappy one is absent,” he explains, and certainly the holiday season is one in which it’s to be busy and focused on the past or future instead of present in one’s life.

The idea of busy-ness as a source of unhappiness is not entirely new to me per se, but it’s one I’ve lost sight of. I don’t think being busy is bad in and of itself, as it depends on what kind of busy. My participation in the Brainery Workshop, for example, has filled up a significant portion of my time in a good way, making me both busy and happy. It’s allowed me space to be fully present in the experience of words, both in reading them and in writing them. Engaging in writing and reading is something that fills me with joy, when I give myself space to do so.

Likewise, I think it’s possible to approach the holidays with less stress by being more present when with family or friends. At least, that’s how I’m hoping to approach this month. Although I have a long list of things to get done, I don’t want such lists to get in the way of my enjoying the moment with the people I love. It’s not as easy as saying it, I know. Being present, like most things, requires its own kind of practice and it’s something I’m going focus on (really, it’s something I’m often focusing on as much as I can).

What I’m Reading

I’ve started The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin and by started I mean opened it up and placed a bookmark inside. I’m certain this will be a good one, though, because I’ve loved other things by Jemisin.

Still working on Rough Magick, a collection of short stories edited by Jessa Marie Mendez and Francesca Lia Block, and I’ve reached the second half of the book, where there seems to be some stories with actual magic in them.

What I’m Writing

My collaborative poetry work has slowed down a bit due to how massively busy I’ve been with work and writing short stories and life in general, but it’s still going and good things are happening.

Unbidden a new poem idea popped into my head, because ideas do that sometimes. So, I started jotting down thoughts for a Persephone poem and will also be working on it this week, assuming I get through my writing/editing work for the Brainery Workshop.

Goals for the Week:

  • Edit last story for class.
  • Finish Persephone poem

Brainery Workshop – Science Fiction Fairy Tales – Week Eleven

We’re in the series revision stage at the Brainery Workshop, with last week’s session being focused on revision exercises to stretch our concepts of what’s possible with a story. This included switching POVs, doing the opposite of what was originally planned for a story, and other goodies — all of which provided some fruitful considerations for the rewrite.

My portfolio of stories is almost ready and includes my Bluebeard story, Iron Henry story, and Sleeping Beauty story. All of which are pretty much as done as I can make them at this point, so I’ll be putting them aside to wait for the comments that will be coming in at next week’s session.

Technically, I don’t have to write anything else for the workshop and I could take a break this week. But since I’m still in the workshop mentality, I think I’m going to try to get one more story written to a finished draft by next week. Ultimately, I’d like to get all of the stories I started during the workshop finished and ready for submission, which would make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Linky Goodness

Gratitude and things

I spent my Thanksgiving holiday bouncing between family members’ homes and being met with gobs of good food and laughter at each place. The weather was chill and we shivered in our California-level sweaters (i.e., too thin) and enjoyed watching out breaths puffing into the air. They were some lovely and mostly restful days.

Of the many things I’m grateful for in my life, I find myself really blessed by words at the moment. It’s been a great year so far in terms of my writing life, due in part to the inspiring work of my many writing friends, to collaborative work with Laura Madeline Wiseman, and to the Brainery Workshop. I’ve probably written more consistently and more profusely this year, as well as having submitted more work for publication, than I probably ever have in the past. I’ll probably expand on this in an end of the year post.

What I’m Reading

Still working on both Rough Magick, a collection of short stories edited by Jessa Marie Mendez and Francesca Lia Block, and My Life Before Me by Norah McClintock.

What I’m Writing

See Brainery Workshop below.

Goals for the Week:

  • Edit two more stories for class.

Brainery Workshop – Science Fiction Fairy Tales – Week Ten

Last week’s topic discussion for Brainery Science Fiction Fairy Tales workshop group looked at the “Hansel and Gretel” and synesthesia and empathy disorders. I was particularly interested in an article about a young woman who has a form of synesthesia related to machinery, which I incorporated into a story about an smart house that welcomes runaways Hansel and Gretel inside but does not wish to let them go again.

Last week ended the writing of original drafts for the Brainery Worshop and now we’re on to a stage of finishing and editing and putting together a short portfolio of our word. I already have one done, called “How Bluebeard Ends,” and I am starting work on my Sleeping Beauty and Iron Henry pieces. If I finish those with enough time to spare, then I’ll try to put one of the others together.

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

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?”

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.

 

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.)”

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. 

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.

Books finished in October 2015

1. The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (audio book) by Susanna Clarke
2. All the Rage by Courtney Summers
3. Fiendish (audio book) by Brenna Yovanoff
4. Celestial Inventories (short stories) by Steve Rasnic Tem
5. Failure Lyric, poetry by Kristina Marie Darling

Still reading at the end of the month:
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie and Attachments (audio book) by Rainbow Rowell. Both are wonderful.

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “Books finished in October 2015”

It begins…

The season has begun — not the season of manic holiday shopping, although that’s alive and well, too — but the season of manic writing in the form National Novel Writing Month, the annual challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days.

To all participants, I wish you much caffeine, words, and luck.

I will not be participating this year, although I have been severely tempted to throw yet one more thing on my plate. Instead I will take a more practical approach to the month of November and focus on completing my current challenge — writing and finishing every weekly story for the Brainery Science Fiction Fairy Tales workshop, which is enough work in and of itself.

What I’m Reading

I AM READING Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie AND I’M JUST HALFWAY THROUGH AND IT IS AS AMAZING AS Ancillary Justice. Leckie is my writing idol, with how she has created unique, complex cultures combined with a large cast of interesting characters combines with thrilling storylines.

What I’m Writing

See below, because only Brainery writing got done this week. All other writing was outside my ability to function last week.

Goals for the Week:

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

Brainery Workshop – Science Fiction Fairy Tales – Week Three

Last week’s topic discussion for Brainery Science Fiction Fairy Tales workshop group looked at the “Bluebeard” fairy tale with a connection to cryptography, a recipe for something dark and unsettling. (The exploration of the tale certainly had my mind going down dark alleys and even evoked an anxiety dream based on the movie It Follows, in which I continually tried to find ways to evade and un-evadable monster.)

After reading a number of cryptography articles, I decided to take a chance. Instead of including some sort of science fictional cryptography in my tale, I attempted to make the tale itself a kind of cryptography in which the readers would have to determine the ultimate meaning. It was really risky and (much to my surprise) was met with positive results from my writing group to the extant that I will be attempting to finish the piece by the end of the month in order to submit it to Uncanny Magazine at the recommendation of our teacher Jilly Dreadful.

This upcoming Thursday’s class will focus on The Three Little Pigs and animal testing, which may actually take me the dark and unsettling places I thought I was going last week. I have not started this yet, as I’ve been too focused on the Bluebeard tale.

Linky Goodness

  • Killing Like They Do in the Movies  by Justin Phillip Reed — “My first and only real conversation with my great-grandmother, the truest stoic I ever knew, was a warning after she caught wind that I “went around” with white girls. Perhaps she recalled how this would’ve ended in the early part of the century she had lived, had witnessed. The consistent drama of horror seems to be its nestling inside the trope of preying on and violating innocence, which is the domain ruled by young white women, if ruling is a way of being puppeteered.”

Happy Halloween! and 100 Years of Costumes

In honor of my favorite holiday, here is video presenting 100 Years of Halloween Costumes. Most of the costume choices seem to be spot on, although the 2015 costume is bizarre. Also, I love that some of the early masks, even the innocent ones, are the creepiest by far.

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Another fun post: Feminist Halloween Costumes for 2015

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My weekend Halloween celebrations begins tonight with some creepy horror movies and will be followed up tomorrow with some trick-or-treating with my niece (Elsa) and nephew (a ninja turtle). Later that night there’ll be drinking and dancing I’m sure.

I’ll just be recycling last year’s Jack Skellington costume. Coincidentally, my mom bought a Sally costume this year, so we’ll be able to hang out together as a pair.
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Happy Haunting, everyone!

___________________

In which there is an unexpected vacation, books, and kudzu

Last night, I got an unexpected vacation from writing — because I left my laptop at the office, which is an hour away from my home. So, I setting into the couch and let myself relax for the evening. I watched an episode of Scream Queens and then the premier episode of Supergirl, which presented a bright, enthusiastic hero and a wonderful cast of sidekicks. I’m looking forward to seeing more.

What I’m Reading

I finished All the Rage by Courtney Summers last week, in part due to a can’t-put-it-down-even-though-I-need-to-work-in-the-morning late night reading session. Let me just say, Oof, my heart. It’s a brutal, emotionally honest book with an intense exploration of rape and its aftermath. I’m still toying with the idea of doing a more thorough review.

Not sure what’s up next. I have Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie and a couple of audio books available to me. Although, I’ve joined a reading group and so should get started on Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

Decisions, decisions.

What I’m Writing

Just like an alien parasite, the Science Fiction Fairy Tales Brainery Workshop is filling me with euphoria and eating my brain — and I love it. Although very little of my other writing projects are getting done. I’m fine with that. Writing is writing is writing.

Goals for the Week:

  • Finish workshop draft before class.
  • Continue editing the Sleeping Beauty and/or the Iron Henry and/or Jack and the Beanstalk inspired stories (see how these stories stack up, I can tell) — if there’s time.

Brainery Workshop – Science Fiction Fairy Tales – Week Three

Last week’s topic discussion for Brainery Science Fiction Fairy Tales workshop group looked at the “Jack and the Beanstalk” fairy tale with a connection to invasive species. I focused in on kudzu, which an invasive vine infiltrating toward the north from southern states. It grows rapidly and in giant towers, knocking over power poles and causing a multitude of other problems. I find it incredibly creepy and I’m not the only one as the video below shows.

Continue reading “In which there is an unexpected vacation, books, and kudzu”

Mondays keep bleeding into Tuesdays

Litquake concluded over the weekend, after a full week of literary events. I didn’t make it to even a fraction of the readings or panels I would have liked to have gone to, because I started feeling overwhelmed last week. So, I did what I needed to, listened to my own needs, and took time to tune out and rest when I needed.

The Zoetic Press Presents Mythmaking on Saturday at Double Dutch was fabulous. Allie Marini MC-ed with literary trivia and marvelous introductions. My fellow readers, Daniel Ari, Brennan ‘B-Deep’ DeFrisco, Rosemary Tantra Bensko, and surprise reader Emily Rose Cole, were all fabulous, each offering works with unique spins on old tales. My own reading of three poems also seemed to go well; I felt confident, at least, while reading.

The Zoetic Press reading was livestreamed and there’s a recording for anyone who wants to check it out.

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What I’m Reading

My personal reading time continues to be focused almost solely on articles and fairy tales for the Brainery Workshop. So, progress on Celestial Inventories by Steve Rasnic Tem remains slow, although I’m continuing to enjoy the collection.

I have All the Rage by Courtney Summers checked out from the library right now and I need to start reading or it’ll end up overdue. I’ve heard nothing but great things about this one, so I’m excited to get started.

What I’m Writing

Um, just jump ahead to the Brainery Workshop section and you’ll get the idea.

Goals for the Week:

  • Finish workshop draft before class.
  • Continue editing the Sleeping Beauty and/or the Iron Henry inspired stories (this is going to start stacking up, I can tell).
  • Get one Twelve Dancing Princesses prose poem drafted.

Brainery Workshop – Science Fiction Fairy Tales – Week Three

Pretty much everyone in the Brainery Science Fiction Fairy Tales workshop group was challenged by last week’s story topic, “The Frog King, or Iron Henry” fairy tale with a connection to robots/cyborgs. For me, the problem was that I couldn’t connect to the princess and frog story line, but I was fascinated by the character Iron Henry, a seemingly minor character in one version of the original fairy tale. Iron Henry is a loyal servant of the prince, who is so heartbroken when the prince is turned into a frog, he wraps three iron bands around his heart to prevent his heart from breaking.

Continue reading “Mondays keep bleeding into Tuesdays”

A plethora of words and writing

Litquake, a weeklong festival celebrating the written word, be it fiction, poetry, or nonfiction, started over the weekend. Although I wasn’t able to attend any of the weekend events (due to the fantastic and extended celebrating of my brother and sister’s birthday!), I was able to shoot up to the city last night for two panels — Hot Off the Press: The Latest From the Publishing Pros and Horror and Hilarity: A Conversation with Christopher Moore and S.G. Browne.

The Hot Off the Press panel included a number of agents and publishing house representatives, including the amazing and wonderful Lise Quintana, founder of Zoetic Press and the Lithomobilus app. Much of the discussion centered around how writers can attract the attention of agents and publishers (i.e., treat your writing like a business, write good stuff, build an author platform, do your homework, etc.), with a little bit of attention offered to digital applications and other publishing trends. Overall, it was a good panel with the exception of the tendency of the gentlemen to interrupt the female panelists before they barely had a chance to get a word out.

Horror and Hilarity was good fun. Both authors — Browne (who I’ve read) and Moore (who I haven’t) write satirical fiction with speculative elements, such as vampires (Bloodsucking Fiends, Moore), zombies (Breathers, Browne), personifications of ideas such as death (A Dirty Job, Moore, and Fated, Browne), and so on. It was kind of a nuts and bolts of genre, publishing, and writing kind of discussion, so it was a bit dry in some parts. The most hilarious part of the night was the first audience questions, in which a young man asked the authors if they talked to girls, you know, for research on how to write women.

The rest of the week will include a ton of other exciting events, though I don’t know how many I’ll be able to attend during the work week, as I’ll be saving my energy for Saturday.

d6768611-ef41-4c26-a425-5cb2ba1a04e7

What’s on Saturday? Just a little reading reading by Zoetic Press writers at Double Dutch from 6-7 pm, which will include Daniel Ari, Jaz Sufi, Rosemary Tantra Bensko, and myself! I’ve heard rumors there will also be some Literary Trivia fun, as well. The Zoetic reading is just Phase One of Litcrawl, which includes copious amounts of readings. So come by and say, Hi!

If you’re not going to be able to make it in person Saturday night, you can tune in online as Zoetic livestreams the reading.

What I’m Reading

Due to the amount of activities and writing I’m doing, I’m still working on Celestial Inventories by Steve Rasnic Tem. I haven’t been as attached to the later stories in the book as I have been in the first, but I’m still enjoying the read.

What I’m Writing

It’s been a busy week in terms of events, but I’ve eeked out some writing time in order to throw down a few scenes for this week’s Brainery workshop short story, while also inching along on the Sleeping Beauty (see below).

Goals for the Week: Finish workshop draft before class. Continue editing the Sleeping Beauty inspired story. Get one Twelve Dancing Princesses prose poem drafted. Submit one poem. (Because I don’t have enough going on.)

Brainery Workshop – Science Fiction Fairy Tales – Week Two

Last week’s class focused on reviewing work created for the Sleeping Beauty and science of sleep topic. I was really drawn to the idea of projecting dreams back to a viewer (not a new concept in science fiction) and was fascinated to learn through the class reading that scientists have actually been able to achieve something close to this. They can create a map of a person’s brain while they are watching movie clips and using the data can project the images back on a screen, which blew my mind.

My half finished Sleeping Beauty story used this idea of dream projecting as the basis for selling dreams, which turned into something dark and noir-ish. I got some great feedback from my fellow writers, all of whom shared their own creative spins on the tale, and now the story is poking at me to finish it and I think if I stay focused, it will turn into something submit-able.

This Thursday’s class will focus on The Frog King, Or Iron Henry with a connection to robots and cyborgs, oh my!

Linky Goodness

  • Pop Culture is ‘Boring as F!@#’: A Playboy Conversation with Monica Byrne — “The word “diversify” centers white experience as the permanent default, but whiteness is actually very rare and exotic, statistically speaking. “Equilibration” implies—if you’ll permit me to get scientific for a second—a natural process of diffusion across all boundaries. In other words, “equilibration” implies that the array of art that gets made will finally reflect the array of people who live under its influence.”