Jan 19 2016

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.


Jan 12 2016

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.


Jan 8 2016

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?

 


Jan 6 2016

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?


Jan 4 2016

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?