Feb 27 2016

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.


Feb 26 2016

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.


Feb 26 2016

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.


Feb 22 2016

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?


Feb 8 2016

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.