Hi, all. Hope you’ve had a good November. Here’s my month in books, movies, and television.
Tipping the Velvet presents the life and times of Nancy Astly, an oyster girl, who falls in love with male impersonator Kitty Butler. After forming a friendship with Kitty, she follows her into the theaters of London, where she works as a dresser (helping Kitty with costumes) before becoming a performer herself. This beautifully told story is a sensual exploration of love and the ability of gender roles. Waters is a master of historical fiction and I loved this almost as much as I loved Fingersmith.
Here are Part I and Part II of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. Part III is focused on my reread of book three, The Waste Lands.
Fair warning: Spoilers ahead.
The Waste Lands begins with signs that Roland Deschain, the gunslinger is slowly going mad. At the end of the previous book, he stopped the Pusher from shoving Jake (the boy who appears in the first book) in front of a car, thus preventing events from the first book from ever happening. This creates an interesting temporal paradox, in which the gunslinger begins to experience split realities — one in which Jake dies and one in which he never met Jake. As time goes on, his mind becomes more and more divided between these two realities.
Fell a whole month behind and still moving slow, but here we go — presenting my last two months in books, movies, and television.
The Stone Sky is a powerful conclusion to N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. Essun has grown into immense power and is determined to end the seasons (times in which the world tears itself apart), while her daughter, Nassun, with her own power and burdened by the memories of cruelty enacted on her and other orogenes, sets out to destroy the world for good. The character walk through an apocalyptic landscape of ash and cold, a world coming undone, each marching to their own destiny — and in the end a beautiful conclusion full of heartbreak, forgiveness, and ultimately love. The Broken Earth trilogy is brilliant from start to finish — one of my favorite reading experiences in recent years.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter is a well loved collection, especially the title story “The Bloody Chamber.” People have been telling me about it for years — and now that I’ve read it, I totally understand why so many people love it. The story follows the Bluebeard fairy tale closely: a girl marries a rich man, who gives her the keys to the house telling her that she can open all the doors but one — a test she fails to nearly disastrous results. Carter takes the myth and brings it into the modern world (1970s, when it was first published) and provides more depth to the main character, giving her a history and motivation for the choices she makes. It presents servants that have personalities and her mother, who has fought in revolutions and can advice her over the telephone. The resulting story is at the same time grittily real and subtly magical.
One of my pet peeves about fairy tale retellings is that they often loose the magic when they are modernized. But all of the stories in Carter’s collection present similarly gritty and unsettling takes on old fairy tales, while not loosing that original weirdness and magic. It’s a fantastic collection.
Here’s Part I of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. These are my thoughts on rereading The Drawing of the Three, the second book in the series — and as such, there may be spoilers ahead.
The Drawing of the Three opens precisely where the first book left off, with the gunslinger Roland alone, collapsed from exhaustion on the shore of a great ocean. As the tide rolls in, he is woken by the incoming tide (which douses his bullets) and is greeted with horrors that drag themselves out of the water. These lobstrocities with their strange questioning sounds attack him as he’s waking — and this attack, which happens in the first five pages, is brutal, leaving him catastrophically wounded.
Undeterred, Roland continues his long, plodding journey toward the Dark Tower. As walks up the beach, with infection from his injuries spreading, he discovers the first door, the first drawing.
In the first book, The Gunslinger, the man in black laid out Roland’s future using a form of tarot cards, presenting three cards in particular that represent the people he would need on his journey to the Dark Tower — The Prisoner, The Lady of Shadows, and Death (but not for the gunslinger). Each door represents one of these cards. When opened, the doors reveal our own world at different time periods, from where (and when) he must draw out the people destined to join him in pursuit of the Tower.
In the afterward to The Drawing of the Three, King wrote, “This longer second volume still leaves many questions unanswered, but I feel that it is a much more complete volume than the first.” And I am in agreement with this sentiment. I enjoyed my reread of The Drawing of the Three more than I did the first book. Where The Gunslinger felt a little disjointed, as though all the pieces didn’t quite fit together, The Drawing of the Three feels whole. The storyline is simple on the surface, with the gunslinger finding three doors and opening them, but each door presents it’s own complications in terms of how the gunslinger can obtain who and what he needs. As new companions are added to the story, things become increasingly character driven, with their flaws driving much of the conflict — as they tend to do in relationships. It makes for interesting character growth for all three of the main characters, and that growth more than anything else is what makes this such a great novel.
“I feel strongly that we’re only hurting ourselves as writers by being so secretive about money. There’s no other job in the world where you get your master’s degree in that field and you’re like, Well, I might make zero or I might make $5 million! We don’t have any standards in that way, and we probably never will. There will always be such a wide range of what writers are paid, but at least we could give each other information.” Cherryl Strayed in conversation with Manjula Martin, published in Scratch
Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin (founder of now-closed Scratch Magazine), presents a mix of interviews and essays on the act of trying (sometimes succeeding) to make money as a writer. These perspectives come from writers of varying backgrounds, from novelists and poets to news and creative nonfiction writers, to filmmakers. A number of writers I’m fond of are included in this book — such as Austin Kleon, Malinda Lo, Roxane Gay, and Daniel José Older — as well as many writers whose work is new to me.
Readers of Scratch will not find a step-by-step guide on how to “make it” as a writer. This collection of essays never reaches a consensus, except perhaps to say that the pathways to making a living as a writer are multitudinous and have not all been discovered yet. Lacking any one clear answer, the reader instead of directives, the reader is given personal journeys (sometimes deeply so). It’s not a matter of “this is how you should do it,” but rather “this is how I am doing it”.
With all the traveling and such, I’ve fallen a bit behind. I’ve read some great books and seen some great movies over the past couple of months, though.
“There is a point when a man may swim back to shore, but he was past it. There was nothing left but to be swallowed by the enormity of the sea.”
— from Certain Dark Things
I love vampires and I love Mexico City, so it’s no surprise that I loved Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The world Moreno-Garcia has created features vampires of many species that live out in the open with humanity. Though vampires have been ousted from many countries around the world, they’ve gained a stronghold in Mexico, forming powerful and dangerous cartels — with the exception of Mexico City, which exists as a vampire-free zone due to the strength of the human gangs.
Certain Dark Things is told from multiple points of view — Domingo, a garbage-collecting street kid; Atl, a descendant of Aztec blood drinkers on the run from a rival vampire gang; Rodrigo, a human servant of vampires hunting Atl; Ana, a cop who becomes wrapped up in events when bodies start turning up; and a few others. Altogether, this is a brilliant crime thriller full of vampires and gangsters and femme fatales. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is fast becoming one of my writers favorite writers, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.
“There are worlds built on rainbows and worlds built on rain. There are worlds of pure mathematics, where every number chimes like crystal as it rolls into reality. There are worlds of light and worlds of darkness, worlds of rhyme and worlds of reason, and worlds where the only thing that matters is the goodness in a hero’s heart.”
— from Down Among the Sticks and Bones
In Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire, Jacqueline and Jillian are twins born to parents who never really understood or wanted children, parents who believe children are objects to be shaped to their desires. But the world is full of doors to other worlds and Jacqueline and Jillian find their way to a place of darkness and death, where they suddenly have the ability to choose.
Seanan McGuire seems to be getting better and better with every book she writes. The writing in this book is beautiful, often taking on the “fairy tale” tone of an outside narrator as a separate character relating the story.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a standalone story in the Wayward Children series, and as such, you can read the books in the series in any order. Although if you really want to know what happens to Jack and Jill, then I recommend reading Every Heart a Doorway, which chronologically comes after this one (even though its the first in the series). I hope there are many, many more books in this series, because I’m loving it. Continue reading “Culture Consumption: June & July 2017”
Last night, I slipped out of my routine and to check out the Well-RED poetry showcase, featuring poets published in the Spring Mother Tongue anthology at Works/San José. The event was hosted in part by Poetry Center San José, a rad organization and a great place to turn to for more on South Bay Area goings on in poetry. It’s the first time I’ve been out to a literary event in months (probably, maybe, at any rate it’s been a rather long time).
Spring Mother Tongue is an anthology edited by Arlene Angeles Biala, Santa Clara County Poet Laureate. The collection provides a space for poets to share the stories behind each of of their own names. “You may recognize yourself in us. You may recall your own name(s) and stories around it/them and be moved to use your own poetic voice. I hope that you do,” writes Biala in the introduction.
The readings present a nuanced and layered exploration of names and what they mean. Some are funny, some are sweet, some explore the ways names are used to strip power away from us, and some are reclamations of power. It’s a beautiful anthology, one I recommend picking up, especially if you’re a local to the Bay Area, California.
What I’m Reading
I am about halfway through and entirely loving Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which is about vampires in Mexico City. The story is told from multiple points of view, both those of humans and the vampires themselves. I’m loving learning about the different species of vampires, each with their own evolutionary traits of abilities, strengths, and drawbacks. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a fantastic writer, quickly rising to the top of my list of favorites.
What I’m Writing
Over the past week, I completed a draft of a six page poem — the longest single poem I’ve ever written. Most of my poems tend toward the shorter side, 30 lines or less, and I’ve thought of myself as a poet who just wasn’t the type to write longer pieces like that — but apparently I’ve proved myself wrong. I’ve set it aside for the time being, letting the original flow of idea rest, so that I can come back to it for an edit later.
I also have episodes of a web series in progress — episode one has been done for a while, and I’ve started in on the opening scene of episode two. If I can focus and not get distracted by all the shiny poems I seem to be wanting to write this week, then I can probably finish drafts of at least two more episodes before I head out on my next big bit of travel in a week and a half.
The Running Life
Got my first run done in over a month on Saturday. It felt great to hit the pavement, good for my muscles and good for my soul. I was able to run a bit farther than I expected considering how long it’s been since I last went for it, which was reassuring. I need to get back into the routine. I can tell that my body needs it.
Total miles in the last week: 2.20
Total Miles for 2017: 70.84 miles
“a poem is an utterly free space for language; no objective and definite criteria could possibly apply to evaluate it. In fact, poetry is the only utterly free space for language that I’m aware of, and that is what makes it indispensable to me, and also what makes writing it and reading it a political act: Any act where freedom is urgently at issue is a political act, and any space that makes us aware of our innate freedom is a radically political space.”
Leah Schnelbach’s fantastic essay “Sometimes, Horror is the Only Fiction That Understands You” is a wonderful exploration of what Stephen King’s writing has meant to her in life — and as someone who read every King book I could get my hands on in high school, I completely resonate with this.
May was an interesting month, in that it was full of fabulous travels. Still managed to read and watch quite a few great stories.
I adored Bone Gap by Laura Ruby a subtly speculative novel about Finn and Sean O’Sullivan, two brothers surviving in small town full of gaps that people slip through all the time. First, their mother abandons them for a new life, then Roza — the young woman who shows up in their barn and brings light into their lives and the lives of the whole town — vanishes. The story and characters and magical realism and the setting of a small town (where everybody knows everything about everyone, even if they always get the story wrong) is gorgeous. Also, the audiobook narrator Dan Bittner does a fantastic job of bringing each of the characters to life, making them feel distinct when the POV shifts.
My weekend was full of FOGcon in all its geeky glory. Lots of fun and thinking about speculative literature and movies. Lots of food and drinks and karaoke. It was wonderful and exhausting to the point that I came home on Sunday and immediately fell into a mid-day nap. Still feeling tired a day after (and I should probable wrap up this post as soon as possible, so I can head off to bed.
Sometime this week, I’ll do a full recap with notes from panels and book recommendations. For now, here’s my bookhaul from the even, which was somewhat small this year. Probably a good thing, since my bookshelves are already overflowing and my reading time is slim. The books:
Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
The Velocipede Races by Emily June Street
Life in Babel by Brett James (mini-chapbook)
What I’m Reading
I’ver started The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman, which I picked up with the intention of reading before FOGcon. The story is of a young boy who escapes his abusive uncle only to be trapped by an evil wizard, who expects him to be his apprentice. Sherman did a great reading of the prologue and first chapter during FOGcon and I’m excited to continue reading this fantastical adventure story.
What I’m Writing
I wrote on FB earlier today about the state of overwhelmed I continue to be feeling, due to the multitude of projects I have going on. The bulleted list of things to accomplish is long and it seems to only be getting longer the more I work on it. So, I keep taking one item at a time. Then one more. Then one more. And hopefully I’ll get through a few things by the end of this week.
One of those things is writing the first episode of the webseries in time for critiques later this week.
The Running Life
My personal challenge for March to run a minimum of a mile a day has been going well for the most part, although I have not been hitting all the days. I skipped Wednesday, Sunday, and today — Wednesday because I could feel my muscles were already overworked from the workout with my trainer and the other days because I’m still recovering from the weekend festivities.
I’m going to try to finished up the rest of the month straight through. But even if I don’t I feel like the challenge was something of a success in terms of what it taught me about the effects of daily running.
Longest Run of the Week: 1.76 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 7.11 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 54.31 miles
“Dolly Parton started writing songs as a child, and she left her home for Nashville at 17, and she’s been working ever since. She’s 71 now; she says she writes songs every day, unless she is sick or on a movie set. It’s hard work to maintain a career that spans decades. This is important to remember for all creative people. It is a long game. There is no overnight success,” writes Annie Hartnett in Lessons I Learned From Dolly Parton on a Creative Life
FOGcon starts later today. It’s a small con for fans of genre and an event that I’ve gone to several years in a row. I usually try to read at least one book by each of the Honored Guests ahead of time, so that I’ll know their work when I see them speak. I’ve been a little behind on this “homework” this year and have only managed to get one read in so far — The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett.
The Liminal People is a scifi crime novel centered on Taggert, a man with the power to heal or hurt the people around him. He serves a ruthless man and has done terrible things in the course of his work. Although he dislikes it, he has made peace with his life — until an ex love asks for his help to find her daughter. The search for the girl leads him into a face-off with others with enough power that they seem to walk the borderline between human and god.
Taggert is an interesting character, bordering a line between hero and anti-hero. He’s capable and willing to be cruel and violent, but his cruelty is mostly associated by the way he’s been trapped into his current life by his master, Nordeen. Taggert also acts to protect the people he cares about, even if it means personal danger to himself.
The novel is a great crime/action thriller that sets up an interesting world, in which powerful people have the ability to manipulate the world (which kind of makes us ordinary humans feel rather small) Being both on the shorter side and fast paced, it’s a quick read (perfect for where my head has been at lately). I’m looking forward to checking out the other two books in the trilogy, The Liminal War and The Entropy of Bones.
Next up in FOGcon homework is The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman, who is also an Honored Guest at the event.
My reading continues to be sloooowwww, but at least I finished a few things this month — along with seeing a TON of movies.
Through the Woodsby Emily Carroll was a favorite read from this month. This beautifully illustrated collection of scary stories, involving ghosts and wolves and other stranger monsters explores the dangerous things hidden in the dark that can steel one’s life and/or self away. The art uses bright vivid colors with a mixture of line styles to create a sense of tension and unease while reading — some scenes are vividly terrifying.
I also loved reading Jessie Carty’s collection, Shopping After the Apocalypse. In this collection of prose poetry, the narrator begins a journey across an apocalyptic landscape. Contemplative and beautifully written, each poem builds on the next forming an interconnected story of isolation in an abandoned landscape. The result is a more contemplative exploration rather than the violence and terror expressed in most apocalyptic storylines. I really enjoyed this collection so much that I interviewed the poet about her writing process.
On Tuesday night, I forged out five hours after an already stressful day at work to make a last ditch effort to complete a chapbook manuscript in time for a looming submission deadline. I slammed into the work, editing and in some cases entirely redrafting prose poem pieces, following by a reordering of the set, and what final polishing I could manage within the tight deadline. Some of the final pieces came together strong, others less so.
I love deadlines for the amount work they force out of me in short spans of time. I don’t know that I would say I thrive under them, since who can thrive when you’re mentally and physically exhausted to the point all you can do is collapse into a stupor. However, I do find them valuable.
However, the intensity of the deadline is influenced in no small part by my capacity to procrastinate. For example, on Monday night, the day before this five hour editing bonanza, I had set myself a goal of finishing off edits on a handful of poems — only to find myself watching Game of Thrones instead. I would saved myself a lot of stress and pain, if I hadn’t avoided the work Monday night.
“Over the years, I’ve developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: we were too good in English class. This sounds crazy but hear me out…. If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good.”
In her piece, Mcardle also writes, “Most writers manage to get by because, as the deadline creeps closer, their fears of turning in nothing eventually surpasses their fears of turning in something terrible.” This was pretty much the driving force that got me to finish the chap in time for deadline.
I didn’t expect that my chap would be selected. I just had that feeling based on how rushed my work was, and that feeling was confirmed less than a week later, when the rejection came in (mega kudos to the publisher for the awesomely fast response time, though). I couldn’t feel too bad about this, however. The deadline provided me with the impetus I needed to finish a project I’ve been poking at for well over a year. Over the next week or so I’ll take a look at it again to refine it further and send it out again.
What I’m Reading
I finally finished Tim Burton: Essays on the Films by Johnson Cheu, a rather good collection of academic essays on Burton’s films — interesting analysis in the ones I could decipher.
Still working my way through Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez and Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman. Both are great.
Just started Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz on audio book this morning. I didn’t realize when I picked it up that it’s a future dystopia/utopia novel, in which people are expected to fit into norms or risk being sent to the Blight. This allows for transgender identities as long as they are able to fit into the gender binary once they select their gender, but causes problems for Benders, in other words genderqueer folks who don’t fit neatly into the binary. The story centers on a young teenage Bender, named Kivali, who is sent to a camp where they are expected to learn how to fit into society. It’s very interesting so far.
What I’m Writing
Following Tuesday night’s deadline chasing, I pretty much allowed myself the rest of the week off. I had completed my !5 Minutes per day, after all — and then some. Now it’s time to get back to work. Most likely this work will involve a new look at the chap for more polishing. Some additional poems will also get some looksees to see what edits need to be made. Goals for the Week:
Go back in for a fresh look at the chapbook; get three poems edited
The Running Life
The dawdling continued a little bit this week. I got one weekday run in and one weekend long run in. However, my body was so achey on the long run that I cut it short and walked most of the way. I’m glad I got two days in this week, which at least keeps up the baseline — although it doesn’t do much for improving my distance.
“I am most satisfied when a poem works on several levels, when it sings, rings, plays the changes, and invokes the transcendent,” says Akua Lezli Hope in an interview.
“The progressive liberal agenda isn’t about being nice,” writes Tucker FitzGerald in Intolerant Liberals. “It’s about confronting evil, violence, trauma, and death. It’s about acknowledging the ways systemic power, systemic oppression, systemic evil, work in our world around us.”
Welcome to my first Weekly Update of the year. I post these because they provide a good way for me to hold myself accountable, both in terms of meeting my writing and reading goals, as well as making sure I post regularly on the blog.
Lately, there seems like there’s so much to write about, so much to resist and fight against, so much to do and say and act on that at times it feels overwhelming. Sometimes you can only do what you can do, so today, I’m going to talk about the Uptown Fridays event hosted by Nomadic Press that I attended a couple of Fridays ago, because it was wonderful and inspiring.
It was an interesting challenge getting to the event that night, involving an hour long car ride from my work to Oakland — only to find when I arrived that I had left my wallet back at the office, which meant that I had no cash or cards on hand to buy dinner or books from the reading. I considered returning to my office and coming back over the bridge (which would have made me late to the event), but decided to roll with it. Since I had an apple left in the car, I knew I wouldn’t starve and I let go of the idea of otherwise needing my wallet on hand. I let go and gave myself to enjoying the event I came for.
Thomas Nguyen performed a set of songs that were moving, some mixed with speeches and sounds from a tape recorder to wonderful effect. (He was also my hero of the night, reminding me of the toll on my return trip to work for my wallet and giving me a fiver to make it back without a wicked ticket.)
Isobel O’Hare read both from new work and from her chapbook The Garden Inside Her. I’ve known her from the online Facebook world for some time, so it was great to meet her in person. Her work is great and I’ll have to buy her chap the next time I get a chance.
Caits Meissner, whose work I’ve been following for years, was a delight to meet and hear read. She read both a new experimental piece that gave me chills and from her new book Let It Die Hungry. I was so grateful that my checkbook was in my purse, because it allowed me to buy Caits’ new book and have it signed. The book includes poems in both text and comic form — I can’t wait to read it.
For all the frustration of getting to the event and leaving my wallet behind, it was worth every bit of panic and frustration, because the night was a blessing. And it’s clear to me that I need to attend events like this more often, more events where people speak and address the world — both because it’s important to support artistic communities in times like this and because I find such experiences soothing to the soul.
What I’m Reading
My reading pace has been abysmally slow this month, has in fact been getting slower and slower over the course of the past year. I think this is partially because I’ve been reserving my lunchtime reading for getting some writing work done and because I’m too mentally distracted when I actually get home.
I’m currently working my way through Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez and Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, two very different books that I’m enjoying quite a bit. One is a collection of darkly beautiful short stories, the other is a novel about dragons.
If I finish on book this month, it will have to be Tim Burton: Essays on the Films by Johnson Cheu, because I’ve been working on it for several months now.
What I’m Writing
I have been off and on sticking to the 15 Minute Rule more or less over the past couple of weeks, especially during the last week when I launched into that wonderfully productive time of deadline panic. Poor Belly Press is closing for chapbooks in two days and I would love to have my Twelve Dancing Princesses chap picked up by them, because their chaps are so beautiful — which has lead me into desperately trying to edit and polish up my work in order to make the deadline. In fact, I should be getting off the blogging and back to work right now. (But allow me just a moment more.)
Goals for the Week:
Finish chap edits and get it sent out
The Running Life
Since one of my goals is to actually accomplish a half marathon this year, I’ve decided to add running to my weekly updates.
I’ve been keeping with my routine of getting up hella early and making it to the gym two days a week for some short runs before work. These shorties are at about 25 minute, or 1.5-1.6 miles. Good small starts in preparation for the buildup, and they feel make me feel energized and cleansed in the morning. However, I have skipped my long weekend runs the last couple of weekends. I should be pressing past three miles into four miles at this point, but I’m dawdling.
I’ve been gathering links for weeks, so this is going to be a longish list.
In How To Keep Your March Momentum Going (regarding the amazing, inspiring event that was The Women’s March), Catherine Pearson recommends actions like signing up for e-mail updates from your local legislators and calling Congress daily.
“What comes next for the anti-Trump resistance will depend on how consistently these activists will engage and turn out for causes that are not their own; whether they’ll continue to phone their federal and state representatives after the inauguration and confirmation hearing hubbub dies down. It’s quite possible that what was started as an arguably superficial gesture at unity will evolve into one that holds the most powerful dissenters accountable for the least powerful,” writes Devon Maloney in Some Inconvenient Truths About The Women’s March On Washington.”But to do so, resisters must first reckon with complex issues of intersectionality.”
In Before You Celebrate The Zero Arrests At The Women’s March, Zeba Blay writes: “Of course, it is always a good thing when citizens are allowed to exercise their right to protest without anyone being harmed or detained. But there’s a question that should be asked and acknowledged, even as we celebrate the success of the protest:Would the outcome have been the same if the march had been exclusively organized by and mostly comprised of women of color?”
In Independent Ed: Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life, Edward Burns relates his experiences working in the film industry as a writer, director, and actor. Burns directed and produced his first film, The Brothers McMullen, on a tiny $25,000 budget — which went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1995. Since that initial success, he has gone on to make ten more films on his own terms and act in several big budget Hollywood movies (such as Saving Private Ryan) and television shows.
This memoir highlights Burns’ successes, but perhaps more importantly delves into his mistakes, the poor decisions and bad luck that makes a movie fail to be the success one hoped it would be. These missteps, more than the successes, are where the greatest lessons lie.It’s hard to figure out why something succeeds, much easier to point to the number of reasons why something didn’t. His honesty in looking back on these moments, in which he examines where he went wrong and where the cards were against him, is a part of what makes this memoir work.
A few practical, useful pieces of advice are littered throughout the book (the difference between a master shot and a two shot, for example), providing some help in the nitty gritty of making a movie — but the real value of this book is in his philosophy toward filmmaking in general.
For Burns, the act of independent filmmaking is the ability to make movies according to your own vision and away from influences that might compromise that vision. He describes the twelve best days of his life as the twelve days he spent filming his first movie, The Brothers McMullen — twelve days telling a story true and making a movie for no other reason than the sheer joy of making a movie.
After The Brothers McMullen became a success and as his career as a director progressed, Burns continued to seek out those twelve days of joy. This lead him to choose projects that may have had smaller budgets, but that provided him with the freedom he needed to tell the kind of quiet stories to which he was drawn and to experiment with new technologies (such as using digital cameras and premiering some of his films on streaming services).
With the availability of such technologies, he notes, filmmakers have the opportunity to seek out their own twelve best days, to experiment and learn how to make movies while in the process of making movies in the same way writers learn how to tells stories through the act of telling stories, and musicians learn how to create songs by plucking strings on a guitar to get it right. He explains:
“At this moment, anyone who dreams of becoming a filmmaker is lucky indeed. For the first time in the history of cinema, filmmaking does not need to be a capitalist enterprise. You no longer need millions of dollars or even thousands of dollars. You are no longer beholden to someone writing a check. It no longer needs to be a business. It can be your artistic expression.”
Many filmmakers have realized this and are using various outlets on the internet to get their movies made and seen. But, as someone who’s often felt overwhelmed by what I believed the barriers to moviemaking to be, it’s empowering to be reminded that those barriers than I had imagined them. It’s a strong message for me — for all of us creative types — to get back to work and to keep seeking out those best days, those days when we are engaged and living our work.
As a footnote, I realize that I’ve never seen any of the movies Burns directed. As someone interested in independent filmmaking, I’m fascinated by what people are able to accomplish with small budgets and creative thinking. It would be interesting to do a marathon focused on movies that Burns directed to see how his skill in low budget movies evolved over time.
Another Note: This book was an ARC provided by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.
Over the weekend I got a gumption — wouldn’t it be a great idea to rearrange my closet, flip-flopping it, so that the office supplies and the clothing would switch places. (Since, I don’t have a separate office, I have to keep all of my office supplies in my bedroom.) It’s an idea I’ve had for months now, but kept putting it off because I keep a heavy filing cabinet in the closet and I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off alone.
Then the gumption happened. So, I put Daria on in the background and pulled everything from the hangar rack down out of the closet, creating a massive heap of clothing and boxes and bins on and around my bed. Then I put it all back in with minimal sorting.
It was far easier than I thought it would be to make the switch.
The strangest moment for me was as I was restoring order — a strange anxiety started creeping up around the edges telling me that this was all wrong. My clothes were not meant to be here, my craft supplies not meant to be there. This feeling of wrongness started to freak me out a tiny bit. I felt my pulse speeding up and my chest tightening.
But I kept working. I knew what I was feeling. It was an underlaying fear of change. How many years had I kept my closet in the exact same order? Four? Five? I was used to the status quo and a part of me was rebelling against any alteration to that status. Mostly, I just laughed the feeling off and kept working until I was done*. Since completing it, the anxious feeling is gone, having been replaced by the mild confusion about the location of things.
My mom has said that it’s a good idea to reorder things in your life from time to time, because switching things around breaks up your routine and keeps your mind more actively engaged. In the few days since I’ve made the switch I have found that I have to actively thing for a moment before I move to the new location of my socks, for example. I’m not sure if it will help my mind in other ways, but I’m happy with the change.
* Technically I was only done with one phase — there are two more to complete the reordering project. The first is to switch up the top shelve as I had done with the lower section. The second is to go through all the stuff I haven’t looked at in ages to see what I might get ride of and/or condense.
After finishing Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire last night, which was a lovely tale of lost girls, I’ve picked up Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal and started listening to I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson on audio book. Good stuff all around.
Still also enjoying Tim Burton: Essays on the Films. It’s quite academic in its discussions, so it’s taking a bit of work to get through, but it’s at least stretching my ideas of how to interpret Burton’s films.
What I’m Writing
I finished up my writing assignments from the previous week, but did little on the litany of poems and stories that need editing. I’d like to get a bunch of them completed and sent out by the end of the year — or a dozen or so poems and at least one story.
This is in addition to various administrative, end-of-the-year type stuff that I need to get done.
I’ve lucked out this year and am able to take some vacation time during the holidays. So, if I can stay focused I should be able to pull that off.
Goals for the Week:
Edit, edit, edit
Post two additional blog posts (not including this one)
Alrighty, here’s November in books, movies, and such. Some really powerful works this month.
“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
Colson Whitehead’sThe 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.
Get all my required POEMING found poems written and posted.
“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”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Quite 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
“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.
Wait. July is over already? Where did the year go?
I’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.
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.
“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
“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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
1. The Martian by Andy Weir
2. Fables, Vol 18: Cubs in Toyland by Bill Willingham
3. Fables, Vol 19: Snow White by Bill Willingham
4. Fables, Vol 20: Camelot by Bill Willingham
5. Divine Scream by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
6. Less Than Hero by S.G. Browne
7. Red Equinox by Douglas Wynne
A significant portion of Andy Weir’s The Martian centers around a lone astronaut using his wits to survive in impossible circumstances.
During a massive sandstorm and an evacuation of the mars expedition team, astronaut Mark Watney is hit by a radio dish and presumed dead. But he wakes on Mars alone, still alive in a hostile environment. The only way to survive is to use scientific knowledge and engineering skills to make an uninhabitable world inhabitable for four years when the next Mars mission is set to return.
Space and travel to other planets are incredibly dangerous for human being. There are thousands of ways for a person to die, from severe cold to lack of atmosphere to the wrong oxygen/nitrogen/carbon dioxide mixture in a space suit. A small error in judgment, one tiny unconsidered element of physics (like a single flawed bolt or a piece of overstretched fabric) can mean catastrophe and death. This epically fun book makes this danger brutally clear.
This weekend I fell into the black hole of baby love, staying two nights at my sister’s house and letting the little ones laughter (and occasional tears) wash over me. Time slipped away and all the things I needed to get done, should get done, didn’t matter, because there were my niece and nephew splashing in the creek with redwoods towering above and because tiny hugs and bitty kisses.
Besides, I got plenty done in during the work week and even made it out to Cito.FAME.Us open mic on Thursday night, where I was able to visit with friends, hug it out with amazing MC Lindsey Leong, listen to gorgeous music from Alice Chen, the other half of Q&A, and to share some of my own words.
What I’m Reading
I am almost done with The 2013 Rhysling Anthology, which contains so many amazing speculative poems in a range of styles.
Next up, I have The Martian by Andy Weir, which is about an astronaut who gets left behind on Mars and has to figure out how to survive. I have heard so many great things about this book and I can’t wait to get started.
What I’m Writing
Poetry continued to be my main focus at the moment, from collaborative poems to individual poems and slow work on a novel in poems. Several poem drafts were started last week and one was finished. Progress continues and it feels good.
I have only recently discovered Google Docs, a wondrous invention that allows me to work collaboratively and to continue working on a single document from multiple locations, including my phone. Why oh why have I not used this before?
Goal(s) for this week: Relook at my recently submitted and rejected chapbook to see what I can add or remove to make it stronger.
The amazing Lise Quintana wrote a powerful piece on What Happens When You Tell A Woman She’s Being ‘Dramatic’ – “With four words, my overwhelming feelings of fear and sadness were dismissed as invalid, and I was made aware that telling adults the things that scared me would never result in those adults trying to make me feel safe and loved. It would result in adults telling me that my fear was ridiculous, and that my perceptions of the world were wrong. That I could not trust my own feelings and should keep them to myself.”
The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy – “Today’s covert version of white supremacy is a lot more subtle than having black overseers beat their fellow slaves. Nor is this power the same as buying or selling your slaves children for a good price, using black children as alligator bait, cutting open pregnant black women, castrating black men, generational rape and molestation of black women and men, and lynchings of those who were accused of making whites nervous. This is something more subtle than that. The ruling class has begun to employ a particularly clever passive tactic to remain in power while denying this power. They pretended this was the natural way for society to function and influenced perception by using double standards in language as a starting point.”
“History was an art form — the delicate, dangerous art of creating the past.”
Science fiction writers have long used visions of animatronic machines and robots to questions the nature of humanity and god and to explore what constitutes a soul. In this beautiful and strange alternate history, N.A. Sulway performs a similar exploration 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. She shares souls and consciousness with the women who wynd her. As Rupetta recounts her own story, in which she witnesses centuries, from her creation to the formation of a new society with her image at its center, she reveals the ways she has been loved, hated, and used by the women she is bound to, as well as the ways she herself has loved.
Alternating with her own story is Henri’s tale, a young woman living in the “present” day society formed out of the devotion to the Fourfold Rupettan Law — “Life is Death. The Earth is a Grave. The Body is a Machine for Dying. Knowledge is the Path to Imortality.” Henri longs to be a historian of the Penitent order and to give up her human heart for a mechanical one that would extend her life. In her researches on the Salt Lake Witches, she uncovers a hidden secret that could shake the stability of the current societal order.
This was a strange and wonderful read with beautiful language. I loved the varying relationships between each of these women, based on kindness, love, friendship, and trust, as well as pain, betrayal, and anger. At it’s core this is a love story interweaved with the histories that shape society and the intellectual rebellions that threaten to undo it.
The hardback edition is out of print and expensive to purchase, but I recommend picking up a digital copy.
“We went wild that hot night. We howled, we raged, we screamed. We were girls — some fourteen and fifteen; some sixteen, seventeen — but when the locks came undone, the doors of our cells gaping open and no one to shove us back in, we made the noise of savage animals, of men.”
A few years ago now, I read and fell in love with Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls, an emotionally complicated sister-centered story with a touch of creepy and unsettling magical realism. It’s a story that still haunts me, sneaking from behind the shadows into the foreground of my mind. A book that I treasure in my soul and a level of achievement that I aspire to in my own writing.
Nova Ren’s latest novel, The Walls Around Us, has the same kind of haunting quality, and not just because it’s a ghost story. It’s a tale that lingers long after you’ve put it down.
Three girls are 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. Their stories weave together unveiling lies and secrets and the truth behind a murder.
Alternating between Amber and Violet’s points of view, the story unfolds with a feeling of inevitability, a sense that everything has happened before and cannot be stopped from happening again. Neither girl is nice or easy; instead they are both complicated and difficult, having made dangerous decisions that lead to catastrophes that define their lives. Where Nova Ren’s skill is clear is in how she manages to generate a feeling of fascination and sympathy for both of these girls. Violet in particular is an awful human being, and yet I found myself pitying her and how she has cut herself off from feeling for anyone else in the world and a part of me wanted her to make it to Julliard despite all the things she’s done.
Amber is particularly interesting to me in the way she erases herself into the group of her fellow prisoners, rarely using the singular “I” and more often using the plural “we”, as though their stories and her own story were the same, as though they are all one body of girls moving through the prison system. Her own personal story slowly unfolds but never quite condemns or absolves her of any crime. She is both guilty and a victim of society and circumstances, screwed over by the man her mother married and the system. A girl taken for granted, as many in the prison are.
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. The supernatural aspects of this tale are subtle, weaved in among grounded real-world details enabling a level of plausibility. The effect — of not just the supernatural elements, but the entire story — is unsettling in all the right ways. Although the end is satisfying, this is a novel without easy answers, one to ponder after finishing, and then to go back and reread and ponder some more.
For a further exploration, here are some great interviews Nova Ren Suma has done regarding the book:
1. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
2. Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone: Poems by Annelyse Gelman
3. Drink by Laura Madeline Wiseman
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma and I’ve started listening to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke on audio book, which is a reread after watching the recently released mini-series.
My Saturday was spent celebrating my niece’s third birthday with a pool party at my apartment. It was so much fun watching her splash around and leap off the edge into the water — that girl has no fear and I hope it stays that way as she grows up. She’s a giant piece of my heart right now, her and her baby brother both and it give me so much joy to spend time with them.
Of course, it took three hours of scrubbing my house top to bottom, while crying Oh, my gawd, why is my house so filthy, in order to have guests over, only to have to clean all over again after they left. But I have no complaints, every bit of scrubbing was worth it.
Sunday was a big fat slug-fest because I was tired of functioning for the week. I feel no regrets…., okay, I feel some regrets, but only little ones.
What I’m Reading
I’ve just started reading my signed(!) copy of The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. As is no surprise to me, I’m already falling in love with the language and with these complicated girls. There’s a reason Suma is one of my favorite authors.
What I’m Writing
Just a little bit of writing got done last week, mostly on Tuesday night with some editing of a review I’ve been working on. I think I needed to take it easy in order to recover from the go-get-em attitude of the week before.
Accepted! I’m pleased to announce that Nonbinary review has accepted my essay, “Beyond Shahrazad: Feminist Portrayals of Women in The Arabian Nights,” for its 1001 Arabian Nights issue. I’m thrilled to know that all that hard work paid off.
Rejected! Two publishers have rejected my Sincerely Yours chapbook (le sigh), but there are two more out. If they both come back as rejections, too, I’ll have to reassess and resubmit.
Goal(s) for this week: Finish and submit a selection of poem(s).
1. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
2. Ship Breaker (audio book) by Paolo Bacigalupi
3. Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin
4. Atonement by Ian McEwan
5. Kit’s Wilderness, by David Almond
6. Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
My trip to the Bay Area Book Festival could have been a bit more organized. Okay, it could have been a lot more organized. I did zero planning before hand and I lagged Sunday morning, showing up at the festival late in the afternoon. The festival hosts oodles of panels and talks, but I visited none since most fill up quickly and I didn’t know what what happening when or where anyway.
My lack of planning also meant that I missed a chance to visit the Zoetic Press booth, as they had already packed up shop by the time I got there. So no shiny shot glass or other Zoetic goodies for me. I’ll have to catch them next time.
Nevertheless, I had a lovely time, enjoying the sun as I meandered through the booths. I had a few good conversations with writers and publishers. One of my favorite bits was the Poetry Trading Post at the Small Press Distribution booth, where visitors can sit and write out a poem in exchange for a free book off the display. I put out a spontaneous bit of words, which may appear on the SPD website at some point.
Along the way, I managed to swell my bag with a number of books, some half price and some freebies grabs. I picked up:
The Oxygen Factory by Renée des Lauriers (the watercolor cover drew me in)
Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki
Slices of Flesh: A Collection of Flash Fiction Tales from the World’s Greatest Horror Writers
Bright Turquoise Umbrella, poetry by Hermine Meinhard
What Snakes Want, poetry by Kita Shantiris
The Best of the Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce
Sacred Precinct, poetry by Jacqueline Kudler
Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace (for my niece)
In other book haul news. Thanks to the Big Poetry Giveaway, I received two new-to-me poetry books in the mail — God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant from Lissa Clouser and The Cradle Place by Thomas Lux from Steve Lavigne. Thanks to you both! I eagerly look forward to reading.
What I’m Reading
I’ve started in on Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin. It’s horrifying to see the lengths companies like this would (and do) go to in order to ignore the environmental and health ramifications of dumping chemical waste into the ground, rivers, and ocean so that they can make a profit. This is not a happy read, but it’s fascinating.
What I’m Writing
Some painful attempts to start a new piece happened this week. I kept leaping in to the work only to stumble all over my own self doubts and come up short. The key to these kinds of moments is to just keep putting words on the page — any words, any at all. If one idea slips through your fingers, reach for another. If that crumbles, keep going. Eventually, all this stilted painful writing resulted in something that may actually be editable and so everything was okay in the end.
I’m a bit behind at this point and will have to double up next week in order to catch up.
Where I’ll Be
This Friday, I’ll be attending (and probably performing) the Glowing with the Moon reading and open mic, held at the School of Arts & Culture @MHP, starting at 6 pm. This event happens every second Friday of the summer months and always has an earthy feel to it. It’s a very loving and supportive space.
In Heroine’s Journey: Learning to Work, Theodora Goss talks about the importance work plays in female centered tales, especially folk tales, noting “Often, in these fairy tales, it is exactly the heroine’s work that leads to her final reward.” The post is part of a series on the Heroine’s Journey, with the most recent being A Temporary Home.
1. Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugresic
2. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
3. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
4. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
5. Middlesex (audio book) by Jeffrey Eugenides
6. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
7. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (audio book) by Truman Capote
8. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Books still in progress at the end of the month: The Hours by Michael Cunningham, Everyone I Love Is a Stranger to Someone, poetry by Annelyse Gelman, and thanks to the Short Story Month challenge I’m in the middle of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, a massive compilation of James Tiptree, Jr. short stories.
1. A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
2. Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
3. Blue, poems by George Elliott Clarke
4. Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
5. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
6. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illus. by Matt Phelan
7. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
8. One Hundred Years of Solitude (audio book) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
9. wingless, scorched & beautiful (chapbook) by Allie Marini Batts
10. how i live now (audio book) by Meg Rosoff
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić, Everyone I Love Is a Stranger to Someone, poetry by Annelyse Gelman, and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
“if, in April,
the seeds planted in your scapulas
fail to bloom into wings
at least learn to love falling—”
— from “Boneseeds”
The ten poems in wingless, scorched and beautiful delve into the dark corridors of women’s lives and bodies. These are women who have made mistakes, crawled through the muck, endured, and returned scarred but with renewed strength.
At first glance, a reader might perceive these poems as gloomy, but here death and rebirth dance with each other in cyclical pirouettes and hope comes back around eventually. For example, in the opening poem “Boneseeds,” the act of crashing down transitions through catastrophe into flight, while “breeding, trumpet flowers out of the dead ash” reveals how life — both plant vines and oneself — can labor to come back from destruction.
In “Her Intentions Are,” the “you” of the poem is a woman broken down by abuse, her shame and devastation revealed public on a city street corner. Her “every clinging breath is futility” and her “tears are scented and boiling with the stink of desperation”. The imagery, such as wolves and women in battle armor, evokes a feeling of folklore that reflects the inner forests in which she struggles. Though no happily ever afters are on the horizon, the poem culminates in the ability to rise up and continue living.
Female sexuality and how it is twisted and commodified is discussed in the poems “Pussy Pass” and “high art”. The first expresses rage at the entitlement of men, who expect their advances to be granted with ready sex — “every man who thinks sex is a gumball that’s owed to them / after putting two nice-guy coins into the girl-machine”. Meanwhile, the second explores the nature of art, noting “soft filters / don’t make disenfranchised body parts / any less than pornographic.” For me, “high art” suggests that art is a mirror, reflecting both truth and lies that are determined by consensus of the beholders.
Each of the poems collected here is powerful, revealing its own mixture of beauty, strength, and pain. Multiple readings of these poems unveil new layers of meaning and I suggest downloading the collection, which is available free online, and spending time with each one.
“…poor things, they
can’t see that I am
dead inside, numb to their
ether, the drug they smell on me is
freedom, they want to taste it like
ginger, a sweet and hot burn.”
— from “Vampire Boys” (note: not original formatting)
If wingless, scorched & beautiful proves to not be enough for you, never fear. Batts has released two other collections this year — another chapbook, Pictures From The Center Of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, March 2015), and a full length collection, Before Fire: Divorce Poems (ELJ Publications, 2015). Based on the strength of wingless, scorched & beautiful, I would recommend either of these collections as a good way to spend your money in support of the poet.
Description “On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.”
I love this book. There are so many layers of world building and character and language that make this fantastic. Beyond the creativity of the world, the just storyline is a straightforward and tense revenge tale and I often found myself unable to put this book down.
The ruling human culture and government is the Radch. The language has no distinction between genders in their culture, so the main character uses “she” for all characters. This is set up and made clear early on, as Breq’s story begins on a world with distinct genders, so that while. Breq uses “she” in all cases, another character might use “he” pointing out the language distinction. Breq also has to be careful to not mis-gender characters in order to avoid confrontation. It might be confusing, except that it’s handled exceptionally well. It was fascinated to note my own assumptions while reading and how they shifted when I learned that a particular character was “male” according to a more binary society.
In addition to the Radch, which is a complex society with rules of power and politeness and a sort of interplanetary manifest destiny, every world had its own societal rules that felt complete and natural to that world.
I also really loved Breq and the idea of a character as being one part of larger being. As Justice of Toren, she was the ship and all of the human-esque counterparts, known as ancillaries, all sharing the same mind. This was another area, where Leckie’s skill is proven as she was able to portray that sense of being a single being existing many place at once in a clear and compelling way without it being overwhelming to the reader. It also created a unique and fascinating layering to Breq’s character, who is the single unit cut off from her former self.
In fact, each of the characters was fascinating to me and those I initially hated turned out to have depth and histories that revealed them to not be bad guys, at least not from their own point of view.
I don’t really know what else to say. I love, love, loved this book and I can’t wait to read the a sequel, Ancillary Sword.
“And the Bastard grant us… in our direst need, the smallest gifts: the nail of the horseshoe, the pin of the axle, the feather at the pivot point, the pebble at the mountain’s peak, the kiss in despair, the one right word.”
I LOVE THIS BOOK! Let me count the ways!
1. It’s so refreshing to have a female main character who is middle aged. At 40 years old, Rowena Ista dy Chalion is free of her past madness and tucked away into a safe, little town away from the demands of the central government. She is coddled and patronized and treated like a child. She’s hard on herself and bitter about her past mistakes. Ista longs only to escape the bounds of her past and of her claustrophobic present life, and so enacts a plan to venture forth on pilgrimage, even though she doesn’t feel slightly pious. Along the way, she curses the gods for the burdens they once placed on her and her failure to carry those burdens. Despite all her hard edges, she’s compassionate toward most people, hoping to do as little harm as possible as she seeks her own freedom.
2. Challion is a well imagined high fantasy setting. The back of the book described it as medieval, but I would more visualize it as similar to 16th century Italy or France. Without overwhelming the reader with details, Bujold presents the society along with its government and religions in a way that rather specific to this world.
3. I love that there clear magical rules and limitations with power sourced either from the gods or demons. The rule provide just enough leeway for mystery to still be possible, although it’s clear that while these rules can be bent, they cannot be outright broken.
3. The fifth god in Challion’s religion is The Bastard, who is less holy than the other gods, enjoys playing tricks, and has a delightfully crude sense of humor.
5. Liss is a courier, who becomes Ista’s lady in waiting on the road. She’s a rough and straightforward girl from a common family, who unabashedly rides faster than any man on the field. I love her.
6. Illvin makes me swoon.
7. The writing is wonderfully vivid, drawing me in so that I can hear the buzzing of green flies or the see the glint of a man’s armor.
8. Though it’s the second book in the series, it stands on its own feeling complete in and of itself. This book is just about perfect for me and my tastes, so much so that I almost don’t want to read the first or third books and risk marring the experience (though I’m sure I’ll read them eventually after some of the shine wears off in my memory).
As a fan of horror (and someone who hopes to write it), I’m stoked that Women in Horror Month exists to promote women in the genre, from filmmakers to artists to novelists. In that vein, here are a five women writers of horror or horror influenced fiction, whose work I’ve loved.
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within.” – from The Haunting of Hill House
The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever read. The way the characters bond together and simultaneously become hostile to one another in the face of the horrors of the house is quite compelling. The story is creepy and weird and nothing is every quite resolved.
She’s also well known for the short story, “The Lottery,” which is often taught in high school English classes and for good reason. It’s frightening in a dystopian sort of way. I need to get around to reading more of her short stories sometime.
“Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot — in this case, my brother, Shaun — deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.”— from Feed
Mira Grant is the dark alias of fantasy writer, Seanan McGuire. As Grant, her novels delve into the scientific thrillers with lots of death and mayhem, causing them to overlap with horror.
Her Newsflesh trilogy explores a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies, in which humanity has clutched a fragile foothold of society. Overlapping the constant threat of being chewed up by or turning into the infected, are dark governmental conspiracies.
I’ve also read Parasite, the start of her Parasitology series, which is thus far proving to be fantastic as well.
Caitlin R. Kiernan
“Hauntings are memes, especially pernicious thought contagions, social contagions that need no viral or bacterial host and are transmitted in a thousand different ways. A book, a poem, a song, a bedtime story, a grandmother’s suicide, the choreography of a dance, a few frames of film, a diagnosis of schizophrenia, a deadly tumble from a horse, a faded photograph, or a story you tell your daughter.” ― from The Drowning Girl
The Drowning Girl tends toward psychological horror, explorations of the psyche more than physical danger. That is certainly the case with The Drowning Girl, in which is told from the point of view of a schizophrenic young woman named India. I almost wouldn’t consider this horror, although there are hauntings and werewolves and mermaids that play their parts and some of the elements are deeply unsettling. The Drowning Girl was a favorite read for me.
Kiernan’s work has been listed on several horror lists and her novels certainly play with the genre.
“The rustling peaked, became a chitinous clicking, and Morrow fought hard to stay still while the whole wheel-scarred road suddenly swarmed with insects — not locusts, but ants the size of bull-mice, their jaws yawning open. Neatly avoiding both Chess and Rook’s boots, they broke in a denuding wave over the corpses, paring them boneward in a mere matter of moments.” – from A Book of Tongues
I was introduced to Files’ writing with the Hexslinger series, a re-imagining of the Wild West in which a violent and dangerous preacher turned sorcerer and some of his fellow outlaws is drawn into a deadly game with the gods. These novels take you uncomfortable and visceral places. Not just gore (though if you like that, there’s plenty), but also in terms of sex, psychology, and emotion.
Writing this reminds me that I still need to buy and read A Tree of Bones. Also, I was excited to learn that her new short story collection, We Will All Go Down Together, was recently be released in late 2014.
“You have to salvage what you can, even if you’re the one who buried it in the first place.” – from “The Wrong Grave”
“The Wrong Grave,” featured in Link’s Pretty Monsters: Stories is wonderfully creepy and strange, involving a boy who goes grave robbing in order to recover the drafts of poetry he left in the casket of a friend — only the discover it’s wrong grave and the dead girl inside is rather annoyed to be disturbed.
While many of the stories in Pretty Monsters are more fantasy than horror (and this collection is more YA), she definitely has a knack for darker fantasy as well. Her collection of adult stories, Get in Trouble, is also supposed to have some horror stories.
1. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
3. Links: A Collection of Short Stories by Kaylia M. Metcalfe
4. Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam
Total for the year: 4
Favorite Read: Palimpsest was complex and lyrical and wonderful.
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon. I thought I’d be done by now, but it’s fascinating and fact heavy, which is why it’s taking me so long to read.
1. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
2. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3
3. The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
4. Siberiak: My Cold War Adventure on the River Ob by Jenny Jaeckel
5. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Hepperman
6. The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
7. Audacious (a novel in verse) by Gabrielle S. Prendergast
8. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
Volume 3 comprises nights 719 to 1001, as well as the “Aladdin, or the Magic Lamp” standalone story. This third volume has proven to be my favorite, as there is less repetition (same kind of story followed by same kind of story) than in the previous books and some stories that begin on well trodden themes actually branch of in surprising directions. Adventures, romances, and comedy tales mix together with morality tales in a broad spectrum of stories, many of which I found rather fun and interesting.
Shahrazad’s Tale Comes to an End
As I mentioned, in my review of volume 2, we can see Shahrazad’s story and dramatic progression through the tales she tells, guiding King Shahriyar to a different perspective on women. By volume 3, I get the sense that Shahrazad has relaxed, which allows her to explore a greater variety of tales. She probably senses him coming around and so can use the tales more as entertainment than for moral and philosophical lessons.
1. Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
2. Contact (audio book), by Carl Sagan
3. Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older
4. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
5. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson
6. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (audio book) by Robert Louis Stevenson
Still reading at the end of the month: The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3, which will probably take me a long while.
Please share what you have been reading in the comments. Nothing better than discussing books!
I received this book as a reward for supporting the kickstarter project that made it possible. “Most written chronicles of history, and most speculative stories, put rulers, conquerors, and invaders front and center,” the editors wrote in the project description. “People with less power, money, or status—enslaved people, indigenous people, people of color, queer people, laborers, women, people with disabilities, the very young and very old, and religious minorities, among others—are relegated to the margins.”
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History provides alternative narratives, presenting the stories of people that the history books usually ignore. A wide ranging variety of voices populate this excellent collection of stories, offered alongside an individual black and white illustrations, also in a variety of styles. The stories are anchored in time and place, with the date and setting noted at the top of each one, this connection with real-world history makes these stories of the fantastic more believable. There was not a single one in this collection that I didn’t like and, for me, the stories ranged from good to utterly fantastic. Below are a few of my personal favorites.
“In the scant few decades in which humans have pursued radio astronomy, there has never been a real signal from the depths of space, something manufactured, something artificial, something contrived by an alien mind.
And yet the origin of life now seemed to be so easy — and there were so many billions of years available for biological evolution — that it was hard to believe the Galaxy was not teeming with life and intelligence.”
– from Contact by Carl Sagan
So many alien contact stories, especially those presented in movies, show a hostile force invading the Earth, forcing the human race to rally together in order to fight back. This is perspective is often driven by humanity’s history of violence and colonization, as well as human paranoia, such as with 1950s alien invasion movies as a metaphor for Cold War fears.
While I’ve enjoyed many an alien invasion stories (most recently, Falling Skies), I find myself drawn to and prefer first contact stories that are more positive or, at least, more ambiguous.
I think that is part of what made me love the movie Contact so much, when it was released in 1997, that story of ambiguous first contact with alien life based in scientific plausibility. It was a story not wholly built on paranoia and allowed for interesting perspectives to come through — How would people and government and religious groups react if an alien signal arrived from space? Plus it featured a complicated woman, heading the scientific investigation, played by the amazing Jodie Foster. I still get chills just rewatching the movie trailer.
“I’ll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space.”
— from Contact (movie version)
It’s taken me a long time to get around to reading the novel, but it’s been on my to-read list ever since I’ve seen the movie. I’m so glad I did.
This is coming to you rather late due to my recent two weeks in Germany, two weeks of hard work and very little play. I’m planning to get a short post up tomorrow with the highlights of the trip, but for now…
1. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
3. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
4. Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
5. Locke & Key: Head Games, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
6. Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
7. Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
8. Locke & Key: Clockworks, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
9. Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:
• Contact by Carl Sagan, because the last CD of the audio book was too scratched to listen to and I’m still waiting to get the print edition from the library
• Blue (poems) by George Elliott Clarke
• Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox
• The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3, which will take me a while to work through
It’s an awful, crappy (insert additional expletives) feeling when you’re in a creative slump, no matter what you’re working on, whether its writing, painting, or a new business proposal. Everyone goes through it — and yet it manages to be a terribly isolated feeling, like you’re trapped inside a dank, dark cave with no sign of rescue on the horizon.
Here are some things you can to do to help pull yourself out of the mire. Or, rather, I should say, here are a few things I’m currently doing to try to dig myself out of my own current slump. As with most bits of advice, your mileage may vary.
Seek Community Engagement
Go out and find fellow artists, writers, creators with which to interact. You can do this online, but if you’re really stuck, I recommend seeking a face-to-face experience. It provides a different level of osmosis. On a really good day, you can feel their excitement, their creativity energy coming off them. I don’t think of this as stealing, so much as basking in their sunlight. It’s great for gathering inspiration
My most recent foray was to attend Writers with Drinks at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco this weekend. Charlie Jane Anders is a live electrical wire on the stage and she always selects amazing writers to perform. It was a fantastic event and I felt energized by the end, excited to get some of my own words down.
It’s hard to know how to explain the story of House of Leaves, which is deeply layered. I suppose one could start the explanation with what is essentially the core story, Navidson, an acclaimed photographer moves with his family into a country home in order to rebuild bonds and find a calmer, more cohesive life together, only to discover that the house is much more than it seems.
That explanation just barely scratches the surface of this book, however. The story begins with Johnny Truant, who learns of the death of a man named Zampanó and discovers a chaotic stack of papers in the man’s empty apartment. As he starts to put them together, his life starts to fall apart.
1. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
2. A Good Indian Wife, by Anne Cherian
3. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons from a Life in Comedy, by Carol Leifer
4. TEN (chapbook), by Val Dering Rojas
Still in progress at the end of the month: Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Echo and We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s the Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human by Dawn Keetley — these two books are the reason why it’s been such a slow reading month for me.
if he tried,
I would crumble
like the iridescent shell
of a beetle.
Val Dering Rojas’ TEN consists of ten long poems alongside ten mini-poems that explores the inner working of body and soul through the out workings of color and texture. The ten mini poems act as a form of chapter headings in between each of the longer pieces, providing a framework for the chapbook. Read together, all in one go, these mini-poems provide a poem of their own, which unveils a personal journey, from a place of a place of disconnecting from emotional wounding to a sense of inner calm, a spiritual awareness. As interjections, the mini-poems share thematic progression with the longer pieces.
In “An Instance of Affliction,” a medicine cabinet is contemplated, an “axis of obsolete / streets, old razors roads.” The medicine cabinet, the objects within, and the reflection in the mirror fade behind an deeper reflection. The material world itself becomes metaphor for personal experience.
“How To Leave” expresses the unpacking and dismantling of the meaning love with “its utopian tongue”, expressing both how love fails us and also all the things (objects and feelings) that must be left behind. “Love can’t be found / in these humble jars of honey, / in these everyday teaspoons.” At the same time, there is what remains in the leaving: “You are packing yourself up in bags, // stuffing yourself in boxes.” What do we have in the ending of a relationship, but ourselves? The objects (clothing, books, toiletries, towels, bedding), which gets stuffed into bags and boxes, become representative of the self. And yet, the poem, shows how the things we tell ourselves in leaving (“I hate love” or that “love / doesn’t know any truth at all”) are either lies or, at the least, half truths, because feeling, love, emotion lingers.
The progression of the poems eventually lead the reader to realize that the self is enough. In “While Alone at Topanga Thrift,” the narrator explores the feeling of space while discovering objects in a thrift store: “It occurs to me / that most things are made / to be filled; even now, / these old red dough-bowls / brim with sun.” As with the rest of the poems, it’s easy to relate the outer objects to the inner realm. The imagery of a tiny teacup or a ginger jar becomes moving and beautiful metaphor.
I can’t let you
see me cry,
but if you’d like,
I’ll tell you a sad story.
I’ve returned to these poems several times in the course of reading them, each time discovering something new — a turn of phrase to fall in love with, a deeper meaning to latch onto. Each poem is shown to be lovelier and more evocative each time I read it. All told, a lovely. wonderful collection and I hope to be able to read a full length book from Val in the near future.
Note: A review copy of TEN was provided by the author, whom i consider a friend. Take this review with as much of a grain of salt to taste.
1. The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home, by Margaret Atwood and Naomie Alderman
2. Red, by E.J. Koh
3. The Complete Guide to Buying a Business, by Fred Steingold (DNF)
4. Hum, by Jamaal May
5. The Blue Place, by Nicola Griffith
6. Fangirl (audio book), by Rainbow Rowell
7. Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder
8. Parasite, by Mira Grant
9. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Vol. 2
Volume 2 of The Arabian Nights begins with night 295 of tales and goes through night 719. The stories at the beginning of the book are all very short, some only around a page or two long, and it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that the tales grew into longer epics once again, including the seven voyages of Sindbad. There’s a lot of risk of tedium when you binge read these books like I’m doing. The shorter tales all stacked on top of each other begin to blur together and longer tales can grow to such epic lengths as to be too long, and long or short there are repeated kinds of stories, themes, and phrases throughout. But if I had not read these books in the rapid way I’m going, I’m not sure that I would have figured out the genius of Shahrazad. Continue reading “Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 2”
44. [Fangirl] (audio book), by Rainbow Rowell (*****)
Category: Part Four – Just Because
Prepare for caplocks and lots of squee.
Cath and her twin sister Wren have loved Simon Snow since they were kids and avidly lived in the fandom, reading, discussing, and writing fanfic. But when go to college, they head for college, Wren wants her own life and to leave all that behind. Facing a new school with new social rules by herself, Cath retreats further into the fanfic worlds she’s created and that she refuses to leave behind.
I love, love, LOVE this book. Normally I only listen to audio books in the morning on my way to work, because after work I’m too mentally tired to pay attention. But with Fangirl, I couldn’t stop listening, using every available moment in the car that I could to keep listening.
Hum by Jamaal May
Publisher: Alice James Books
Date Published: November 2013
Description: “In May’s debut collection, poems buzz and purr like a well-oiled chassis. Grit, trial, and song thrum through tight syntax and deft prosody. From the resilient pulse of an abandoned machine to the sinuous lament of origami animals, here is the ever-changing hum that vibrates through us all, connecting one mind to the next.”
I admit to being drawn to this collection because of the gorgeous cover and its steampunk robot with a birdcage head, which immediately sparked my imagination. The physical book itself is also beautiful, with a lovely typeset. A smattering of dark pages, each for a “phobia” poem (such as Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored”), appear throughout the book, starting out black at first then lightening toward softer grays. It’s an interesting way to highlight a set of associated poems and there’s a subtle effect to reading words with white text on a dark page that suits the “phobia” poems. For example, reading “Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored” on one of the rare black pages in the books creates an interesting contrast between text and the physical page.
Hum is dedicated to “to the inner lives of Detroiters.” When I think of Detroit these days, I picture photo essays that show the city in seemingly apocalypticstates of decay. May’s poems reflect this state of everyday apocalypse. “Still Life” presents a “Boy with roof shingles / duct taped to shins and forearms / threading barbed wire through pant loops” as well as other trash can armor in the face of what seems to be a wasteland. While in “The Girl Who Builds Rockets from Bricks,” a girl wanders in “the caverns of deserted houses,” performing “her excavation for spare parts: // shards of whiskey bottle, matches, / anthills erupting from concrete // seams, the discarded husk / of a beetle.”
1. Red Hood’s Revenge, by Jim C. Hines
2. The Snow Queen’s Shadow, by Jim C. Hines
4. Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty
5. Wormwood by G.P. Taylor
6. Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
7. Saints by Gene Luen Yang
8. Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
Still in progress at the end of the month: The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 2.
I don’t even know how to talk about this book with out flailing with joy.
I love the characters. After years of homeschooling, Maggie is starting public school and finds herself lost and lonely in a crowd of people. I could feel that to the core. She has three brothers, each of whom is unique to themselves and make up part of her big family. It’s great to see them fight and laugh and be an imperfect, trying to be happy family. (Can I just say how great it is to see a main character who has relationships with her family?) Maggie also makes two friends, a punk-style brother and sister duo, both of whom are wonderful characters.
I love the art. It captures the unique personalities of the characters and expresses their emotions so well, often without needing dialog over-layering it. It’s just really beautiful.
I love the geekery. These characters have things they love and it’s clear they really, really love them. It fills me joy to see characters flailing with glee over something they love (much as I’m flailing over this book).
I love the story. It’s really funny and sweet, and it made me happy cry by the end.
Friends with Boys is practically perfect in every way and I will definitely be reading more by Faith Erin Hicks.
“You wish you had coined the word zaftig; that you were OK with abdomens that hung over bikini bottoms.”
— from “Zaftig Profiling”
Practicing Disaster is collection of narrative poetry presenting an exploration of ordinary lives. These are people you could meet on the street, from the a sixteen-year-old hotel maid to a short order cook to any number of strangers you might meet on the street. For example, in “Eating at Work,” an employee travels further and further afield in search of lunchtime solitude. While in “Some Basic Consumer Math,” the owners of a Chinese restaurant tailor their food for their most loyal customers, all from the retirement home nearby, making their Sa-Cha chicken “about as mild as the contents / of a store bought spaghetti sauce.”
Some of the prose poems, in which thought condenses into thought, are among my favorites. They allow a free flow feel of the poem, different from the lined sister poems. In “I was 36”, the narrator describes her first experience getting a pedicure, remembering the same sloughing off of her grandmother’s feet. In that youthful remembering is the memory of childhood discovery and the “lesson in not going through other people’s personal affects”, and just as one can “flake off the dead skin” there is the feeling of flaking off the past.
“The Patient” also explores time passing, like the dropping of green beans into a bucket or the beeping of machines: “The doctor uses the word / aphasia / I focus on the center— / a phase / a moment.” The disjointed, jigsaw pattern of the words on the page (which I couldn’t possibly replicate here) matched the disjointed experience of a patient in the hospital, as well as the way the past jumps forward and seems to collide and become a part of the present.
In the titular poem, a women plays with the idea of disaster on her commute, imagining “overpasses from her car could spill like ink in blotchy slow motion,” and how she might shape catastrophe to set herself free. Knowing the trapped feeling of the commute, I can sympathize with the narrator, have even practiced a few of my own disasters.
Many of these poems reflect similar kinds of personal experience, even if they are outside us (as though we are people watching at a corner cafe). As a reader, there a sense of Yes, me, too; I’ve felt the same. Reading “Zaftig Profiling” (quoted at the top), I also wished I had coined the word zaftig, that I could, as mentioned later in the poem, laugh loudly in mixed company.
At first glance, what’s revealed in these poems could be described as mundane, bits of ordinary lives normally passed over or cast away as unimportant. The narrative voice of these poems, likewise, is straightforward, seemingly plain. However, this initial impression is deceiving. I’ve read through this collection twice now and have made new discoveries on each read, subtleties of voice and thought I hadn’t noticed the first go around. There are layers of humor, breaths of poignancy, beautiful discoveries.
Edited to Add: I should probably note that I received a free review copy from the author.
Live from the Homesick Jamboree is a brave, brash, funny, and tragic hue and cry on growing up female during the 1970s, “when everything was always so awash” that the speaker finds herself adrift among adults who act like children. The book moves from adolescence through a dry-eyed, poignant exploration of two marriages, motherhood, and the larger world, with the headlong perceptiveness and brio characteristic of Adrian Blevins’s work. This poetry is plainspoken and streetwise, brutal and beautiful, provocative and self-incriminating, with much musicality and a corrosive bravura, brilliantly complicated by bursts of vernacular language and flashes of compassion. Whether listening to Emmylou Harris while thinking she should be memorizing Tolstoy, reflecting on her “full-to-bursting motherliness,” aging body, the tensions and lurchings of a relationship, or “the cockamamie lovingness” of it all, the language flies fast and furious.
I’m stoked to read this. Poetry is joy afterall. (^_^)
1. The City & The City, China Miéville (one of the best I’ve read this year)
2. Creepers, by David Morrell
3. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 1
4. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
5. lost boy lost girl, by Peter Straub
6. Camouflage, by Joe Haldeman
7. The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo
8. The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
9. Hourglass Museum (poetry), by Kelli Russell Agodon
10. The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
“If you think you are the mermaid, think again.
You are the ocean holding the mermaid afloat,
trying to change the world one dolphin at a time.”
— from the poem “Souvenir Boxes”
Agodon’s poetry explores a variety of themes within Hourglass Museum. As the title suggests, art is an important source of inspiration here (as can also be seen in the long list of notes at the end of the book), with poems referencing great artists such as Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol. The idea of preservation, via canvass, poem, or as a collection in a museum, of moments captured and held in stasis through artifice and creation are a constant in these poems.
“Dark matter angels mingle over oceans
and bubbling cities filled with unopened jars,
all we had were cupboards and cupboards
— from the poem “A Moment Ago, Everything Was Beautiful”
The outward inspiration of art and museums, is drawn into the personal scope of Agodon’s personal life, both her inner emotional realm and the outer realm of home and family and relationships. This connection between art and home works well, since as human being we often take memories and put them on the shelves of our minds, we collect pieces of anger and store them for later use, attach joy to simple objects, return to each of them again and again, revisit, and Agodon’s poetry reflects this.
“I place solitude in a frame on my desk
and call it, The one I love.”
— from the poem “Line Forms Here”
She explores a variety of emotional states, including depression and loneliness. The language beautifully expresses these emotions and allowed me to connect with them personally. I could see myself in these moments of darkness and in the ways a write approaches such moments, especially through pen. I think these feelings are approachable from a variety of perspectives, allowing many kinds readers to feel them.
“There’s no dessert in the picnic basket,
so I swallow time. My mouth is full
of hands and numbers. I ask for seconds.”
— from the poem “Drowning Girl: A Waterlogged Ars Poetica”
And yet, there is a sense of humor throughout, too, a poking of fun at the supposed importance of depression, so that such darker subjects cannot drag down the reader and instead allow them to explore and transverse the state. It brings a lightness to the poems that makes them great to read.
“I escape disaster by writing a poem with a joke in it:
The past, present, and future walk into a bar — it was tense.”
— from the poem “Sketchbook with an Undercurrent of Grief”
All in all, this was a wonderful collection and, though I own it in digital format, I’m contemplating buying it again in print format as well, just so I can add the tactile sensation to my enjoyment of the book.
“Madness is a meaningful way to exist.”
— from the poem “Menacing Gods: An Abstract”
1. 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (***1/2)
2. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt (DNF)
3. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (audio book), by Michael Chabon, read by Peter Riegert (*****)
4. The Missing by Sarah Langan (***)
5. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (****)
6. March by Geraldine Brooks (****)
7. Kira-Kira (audiobook) by Cynthia Kadohata (****)
8. The Worm by Elise Gravel (****)
9. Scarecrow Gods by Weston Ochse (*)
10. Colaterales/Collateral by Dianapiera Di Dontao (****)
Well, it was more like “listened” since this was the audio book, read by Peter Riegert, who was fantastic. Riegert has the perfect gravelly voice for a hard broiled detective novel and it adds to the mood of the book beautifully.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is first a detective novel, playing off the traditional noir genre with sarcastic, mouthy homicide detective Meyer Landsman looking into the shooting of a former chess prodigy and heroine addict. The investigation leads him through the various seedy realms of Yiddish Sitka, Alaska* and it unfolds like a great chess game in which he finds himself “contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.” Like most hard broiled detectives, Landsman finds himself seeking his own salvation as he tries to uncover truths.
The book is also a fascinating alternate history, because Yiddish Sitka never existed. Chabon unfolds a fully realized, multi-layered imagining of what this island and its inhabitants would look like if it did, full of worldwide politics and local eccentricities. The details are rich and I could feel both the cold of Alaska and visualize the inner workings of this Jewish community.
On top of a fantastic, complicated plot and an fascinating litany of character, there’s Chabon’s writing style — poetic and rich and beautiful. When he describes a grimy hotel, you can feel the dirt getting underneath your fingernails. When he speaks of breathing in the cold, your teeth ache in sympathy. Chabon is just so, so good.
When the audio book ended and the last word was read, I sat back with a happy sigh and thought to myself, Well. That was just about perfect.
The audio book also includes an interview with Chabon following the book, in which he provides insight into how he came to write the story and how he approached the writing. I love that kind of thing.
*Yay, Alaska! Including Alaska in a story immediately grabs my attention.
I always mean to read more lit journals, both online and in print, but never seem to get around to actually doing so. Managed it this time, and the experience made it clear why I need to do so more often.
Kristina McDonald’s “Dear Prince“, in particular, gave me chills. The poem is from Cinderella’s point of view and I love how the image of the glass slipper is used and where it’s taken. She does a wonderful audio reading of the poem, too.
I’ve been meaning to do a wrap up of FOGcon 4 with a detailed account of the panels I attended like I did with Day One (mentions a panel discussing rape), but I have not had the time or energy to pull it off. I also have to play catch up with two movie review posts that are long overdue, so I’m going to present you with the FOGcon short version here, which is:
It was fabulous.
The honored guests, Seanan McGuire and Tim Powers, were both great. Seanan McGuire was hilarious and nearly had me falling off my chair laughing at some points, and she’s also powerful in the way she passionately speaks on subjects she cares about. Tim Powers was funny and wonderful in entirely different ways. It’s always great to meet the authors you enjoy reading, especially if you find them delightful.
FOGcon also featured an Honored Ghost: James Tiptree, Jr. and there was a panel dedicated to her memory. Moderator and panalists, Debbie Notkin, Bradford Lyau, Pat Murphy, and Naamen Gobert Tilahun were wonderfully passionate and knowledgeable about her life and work, making it a wonderful panel to attend. I haven’t read any of Tiptree’s work, but now it’s clear I’m going to have to.
In fact, throughout the event I found the panels and discussions entertaining and mind-opening.
Also, I picked up some lovely books.
Book grab include:
The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow
The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler
The Wild Girls by Ursula K. Le Guinn
Report from Planet Midnight by Nalo Hopkinson
Links: A Collection of Short Stories by Kaylia M. Metcalfe
Not pictured: a short story mini-chapbook called “Rats!” by Brett James, as well as a copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Realms of Fantasy
The “Plus…” series of books are very cool, because in addition to including a novella, they also include essays and interviews and other goodies.
The entire experience of FOGcon left me feeling inspired and joyful and wanting to get back to writing, which is exactly the feeling I need right now.
FOGcon 5 (2015) will have the theme “The Traveler” and will have Kim Stanley Robinson and Catherynne M. Valente as honored guests (OMG!), which sounds so amazing. The dates will immediately go into my calendar and I just hope that I don’t have any work trips that will conflict with the event.
1. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys by Gilbert King
2. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
3. Tinkers (audio book), by Paul Harding
4. The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, by Caitlin R. Kiernan
5. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
1. Redshirts, by John Scalzi
2. Among Others, Jo Walton
3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (audio book), by Junot Diaz
4. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
5. The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
Interesting Reading Fact: All three of my first three reads heavily referenced science fiction and fantasy literature, which was expected with Redshirts, but was more of a surprise with Among Others and Oscar Wao. I always find it interesting when the books I read are thematically connected in some unexpected way.
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King (riveting!) and The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 1 (wonderful, readable stories).
STATS: Total Books Read = 100, of which
67 were Fiction (a mix of scifi, fantasy, horror, and classics)
9 were Nonfiction
13 were Comics/Graphic Novels
11 were Poetry
11 were Audio Books
1 was DNF (read enough to count it, but didn’t actually finish)
Best Reads in 2013
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman Dying is My Business, by Nicolas Kaufmann The House of Mirth (audio book), by Edith Wharton Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler The Replacement, by Brenna Yovanoff 17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Best Science Fiction Book Parable of the Sower was a reread and I loved this apocalyptic world and the survivors who wander through it just as much the second time around as I did the first.
Runner Up: Even with all the techno babble, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem was fascinating.
Best Horror Novel Rosemary’s Baby just about blew my mind. On the surface, it’s almost not a horror story. It reads like a literary tale of a couple dealing with the challenges of creating a home for themselves, and yet, the thread of threat is subtly there throughout. It’s amazing.
Best YA Novel
Though there are three great YA novels in my best of list, I think I’ll go with Eleanor & Park for my top. It’s just such a sweet story of young love between awkward teenagers.
Best Short Story Collection
I really enjoyed Scheherazade’s Facade: Fantastical Tales of Gender Bending, Cross-Dressing, and Transformation, edited by Michael M. Jones. The stories are consistently good throughout and explore many aspects of gender while telling entertaining speculative tales.
Best Graphic Novel
Alison Bechdel presents a moving portrait of her young years in Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a story as much about her father and his eventual suicide. The mix of literature and cultural references, along with the structure makes this a fantastic read.
Runner Up: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol is a fantastic ghost story, which is scary and well told.
Best Poetry Book The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, edited by Rose Lemberg was by far my favorite poetry read this year. It was a fantastic mix of poetry and voices, all with the speculative spin that I love.
Runner Up: Domestic Work: Poems, by Natasha Trethewey
Best Poetry Chapbook 8th Grade Hippie Chic by Marisa Crawford is a lovely exploration of youth with moments of hurt and humor. Highly recommended.
Best Nonfiction Book The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang told the story of a family torn between honoring their grandmother’s wishes for a proper, traditional burial and respecting the new communist system, which requires cremation. This painted an honest look at family life and was a fascinating look at Chinese culture in a state of transition.
Best Audio Book
Eleanor Bron’s reading of The House of Mirth is spot on. She hit the perfect tone for the story, which contributed to it also winning the honorary award of Book that Made Me Weep in the Front Seat of My Car.
What were your favorite reads this year? Let me know in the comments.
1. Slice of Cherry, by Dia Reeves (***1/2)
2. Two Mini-Chapooks: 8th Grade Hippie Chic by Marisa Crawford (*****) and No Experiences: Poems by Erin J. Watson (****)
3. Fables, Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***)
4. Fables, Vol. 14: Witches, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (****)
5. Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (****1/2)
6. Fables, Vol. 16: Super Team, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***1/2)
7. Fables, Vol. 17: Inherit the Wind, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***1/2)
8. A Handful of Dust, by Evelyn Waugh (****)
9. Trustee from the Toolroom (audio book), by Nevil Shute (****)
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chboski (****)
11. Bunnicula, by Deborah and James Howe (****)
12. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (****)
13. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams (***1/2)
14. Life, the Universe and Everything, by Douglas Adams (****)
15. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, by Douglas Adams (****)
16. Mostly Harmless, by Douglas Adams (**)
17. The Illustrated Man (audio book), by Ray Bradbury (****)
18. Currency of Souls, by Kealan Patrick Burke (***1/2)
19. How to Kill a Vampire: Fangs in Folklore, Film and Fiction, by Liisa Ladouceur (***)
20. Lucky Bastard, by S.G. Browne (****)
21. In the Night Room, by Peter Straub (***)
22. Bleeding Violet, by Dia Reeves (****)
When you French-kissed the class president on the school trip to Boston and we wore yellow feathers in our hair, and I dropped my beaded red velour bag into the harbor, it opened up a crack of light for me.”
— from 8th Grade Hippie Chick
This chapbook of inter connected prose poems calls on the ghosts of memory and youth, unveiling the pain and joy of friendship and young love. Each poem captures a moment with more fluidity than a photograph and opens up the wounds and intimacies of friendship with all it’s music and play and clothing and crushes.
Marisa draws on the small things (“I was wearing a silver ring that said, ‘Imagine’ on it.”), on the little details (“A closet full of Beatles shirts. Tie-dye. A hot pink aura.”) to open up aches and joys. Presented in short paragraphs of text, her words flow over one another to reveal the wider inner world of being young girls. Reading this book, I found myself nostalgic for days and ways that were not my own, longing for a youth that was at once so similar and yet vastly different from my own.
I adore this little stitched book as much as I adored Marisa’s first collection of poems, The Haunted House, which touches on similar themes. I may be biased, since I know Marisa from when we worked at Aunt Lute Books together and I consider her a friend. But she has such a unique voice and her words pluck a cord inside me and resonate with my inner girlhood, and I can’t wait to read more of her work. I wish her many future successes.
“What is a poem after all? you say.
Maybe it is a kind of possessing
a heap of rocks, a buoy or anything”
— from No Experiences
This collection of 24 short poems by Erin Watson began as a playful response to the randomly wise ravings of a popular spam horse, @Horse_ebooks on twitter. The spam horse account spewed phrases that revealed hidden poetry. For each of these poems, Erin took one spam tweet and built a poem around it, posting each one online. Later she kickstarter funded a physical chapbook of the poetry, which is how I discovered the project (and spam horse).
Coming from an experimental project as it did, Erin’s poetry is playful and surprising, each short line taking unexpected twists and turns. The poems are thick with layered images and meaning and they’re the kind of poems that fill up the small space they encompass. They’re poems to sit with and consider the many possible meanings of, they’re poems to read over and over again, to giggle at, to enjoy.
I asked how Erin felt about this, and this was her wonderful response:
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it a lot today: like, why does it feel a little duplicitous that something wonderful was someone’s wonderful creation instead of a weird mistake? I don’t know, mostly I’m grateful that I got to inhabit a moment where it seemed real and make a thing with the means available. Everyone should make their own weirdness in the world.”
I’m glad she got to inhabit this moment, too and that it allowed me to read and discover her poetry. I also hope she’s still avidly writing and that she will release more of her words into the world soon.
1. Go Tell it on the Mountain (audio book), by James Baldwin (****)
2. Each Peach Plum Pear, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (*****)
3. Le Mort d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (DNF)
4. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey, by Ernesto “Che” Guevera (***1/2)
5. Dying is My Business, by Nicolas Kaufmann (*****)
6. A Passage to India (audio book), by E.M. Forster (***1/2)
7. A Bend In The River, by V.S. Naipaul (***1/2)
8. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell (****)
9. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation, by anonymous, translated by Simon Armitage (****)
10. Domestic Work: Poems, by Natasha Trethewey (****)
1. Thanksgiving yesterday was great, family and food filled fun. Lots of laughing and eating. Turkey and stuffing and salad and twice baked potatoes and candied yams and green beans with bacon, not to mention pecan pies and apple pie and pumpkin cheesecake — all homemade, by the way. Plus lots and lots of champagne.
2. I received a rejection for a poetry chapbook submission, called The Letterbox, sent out many months ago. The rejection included a personal note, thanking me for submitting. The editor said I had a nice narrative arc to my poems and suggested that I submit again. I never take rejections to heart, because they are a part of the process of being a writer, but it’s always great to see that personal touch and get a bit of encouragement.
3. I have no motivation to do anything at all, even though I’m supposed to pull off 18,000 words before midnight tomorrow. *sigh*
4. I’m am enjoying reading Slice of Cheery by Dia Reeves, which has consumed most of my day so far.
5. I’m sure I have enough motivation to seek out more pecan pie, though. Mmmmm, pie. And then a nap.
I bought Eleanor & Park in support of the author due to a censorship controversy that happened, in which parents in Minnesota convinced a local school district, county board, and local library board to cancel Rainbow Rowell’s reading and speaking events, because they believe the book to be obscene.
I am ridiculously glad I bought this book, because it turned out to be one of my favorite books this year. It’s an incredibly funny and sweet love story between two outcast teenagers. The rub for these parents, I suppose, is that Rowell approached the story with honesty, the teenagers are intimate (but not overtly so) and cuss as a direct result of the abuse and bullying they witness. Rowell is an author who doesn’t pull punches, but she does so skillfully to reveal truth and offer hope in bleak circumstances.
Park is something of an outcast. He’s not tormented by the other kids because of being “grandfathered” into the community as one of the locals, but he still doesn’t quite fit in. He doesn’t meet his dad’s standards of being manly or his school’s standards of being cool, so he kind of floats in an in between place of not being friendless while also being rather lonely.
Eleanor moves back in with her mom, brothers, sister, and abusive stepdad after having been kicked out of the house for a year. The loneliness of having been excluded of her family life has left its mark on her and she feels like an outsider in her own home. Desperate to not be abandoned again, she does her best fit within her step father’s rules, while also avoiding him. At school, her sense of exclusion is continued with bullying from the popular kids, who continually call her names and harass her.
Eleanor and Park meet as she climbs the bus for the first time on the way to school. The bus has its own rules and hierarchies, into which Eleanor does not fit and it leaves her standing in the aisle as the bus jolts into motion. Park’s first intention to is to leave her hanging like the rest, but he scoots aside and lets Eleanor sit with him. What starts out as indifference grows into friendship as the two begin sharing and exchanging music and comics, then as their friendship blooms into trust it becomes love.
I loved Rowell’s writing style, which was clean and occasionally poetic. (“His eyes were so green, they could turn carbon dioxide into oxygen.”) And I love how she structured the story, with it being told from both Eleanor and Park’s point of views. This allowed for one part of the conflict to exist in misunderstandings in the way we perceive ourselves and how we think people perceive us. Neither Park nor Eleanor are mind readers and so often presume the negative (he must hate me, she must be embarrassed by my, he must think I’m fat), when the reality is that the thing one is most embarrassed by is one of the things the other loves most.
The way the relationship grows and changes and becomes slowly more intimate throughout the novel is touching and funny and sad. It’s really a great read and one I would recommend to anyone who likes bitter-sweet romance.
I had plans, you know. I had things to do. But no, you had to provide me with the awesome that is Dying is My Business. Now my laundry remains unfolded. Stacks of papers and other detritus continue to clutter my shelves. All the words I planned to write remain unwritten. And I’m can’t seem to rub the glue from my eyes, as I try to recover from the hours of sleep I lost last night in the desperate need to finish reading.
I was absorbed by the story from page one, when Trent wakes from being shot and killed yet again with another dried out husk of a body nearby. The trade off for his return to life is that someone else must die. As an apparent side effect of his condition, Trent has also lost all of his memories beyond one year before. He’s been taken in by Underwood, a twisted and violent crime boss, who exploits his abilities and sends him out to “collect” various things. Trent’s latest assignment to collect a mysterious box quickly leads him into a new understanding of the world, a world that includes magic, gargoyles, and a whole slew of things most people never knew existed.
Having an amnesiac main character can potentially be annoying, if not handled well. But Trent as a character is spot on. His loss of self and personal history has caused him to be cynical and fatalistic in understandable ways. He longs for the truth about his past without becoming tedious or whiny, and it’s easy to see how Underwood could have drawn him in by promising those truths. Trent is sometimes protagonist, sometimes antagonist, and sometimes both. He carries a great level of guilt for the lives he’s taken and the crimes he’s committed, making for a conflicted and fascinating character.
Now, can I just take a moment express my love for Bethany? This diminutive, spright-like young woman with a passion for the rules, a troubled past, and vest full of charms that will lay you on your ass has won my heart. She is hard edged, intelligent, honest, and kind. She is, in a phrase, many kinds of awesome.
And then there is poor, poor Thompson Thornton (Whoops. Knew I was getting it wrong). My heart is all asunder from his hopeful bravery and ability to crack jokes in the face of his tragedy.
I have love for all the characters really, even the nasty ones. Underwood and his cronies are cruel and unsettling in the most delightful ways. The Black Knight is destructive, powerful, and greedy for power. I shiver at the thought of ever meeting anyone of them in a dark alley.
Last night, I could not stop reading. I turned page after page, ignoring the episodes of Big Bang Theory my roommate turned on and loosing — as I mentioned — much sleep. I continued reading even as my friend began to turn of all the lights in the house, leaving only a single lamp behind my head to illuminate the pages.
Upon finally reaching the end, I began to flail. “No!” I cried, waking my roommate from her deep slumber. “Why?! Why is it over? I need more book! Why isn’t there more book?!”
You’re ending gave me chills, and I find myself awash with feels, saddened and maddened that it’s over. How can it be over, when I want so much to keep reading, to know what happens next, to know the fates of the characters I’ve come to love?
Why would you do this to me, Mr. Kaufmann? What am I supposed to do with my life now?
This had better be the beginning of a series with the second book to come in the near future. Because if I do not have the sequel soon, I will be forced find a way to flay you in a manner that would make Underwood grin.
1. In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, by Allan Weisbecker (***1/2)
2. Zone One (audio book), by Colson Whitehead (****)
3. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes (****)
4. Day Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko (***1/2)
5. Alice in Wonderland: A Color Primer, by Jennifer Adams, art by Alison Oliver (*****)
6. The War of the Worlds, by HG Wells (***1/2)
7. A Stir of Echoes, by Richard Matheson (****)
8. The Eye Book, by Dr. Seuss (writing as Theo LeSieg) (****)
9. American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett (*****)
1. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling (****)
2. Burnout, written by Rebecca Donner, illustrated by Inaki Miranda (**1/2)
3. The Outcast Oracle, by Laury A Egan (****)
4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (*****)
5. Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip, by Linda Oatman High (***1/2)
6. Memento Mori, by Murial Spark (****)
7. Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler (*****)
8. Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E Butler (****)
9. Shadow, by Suzy Lee (*****)
Neil Gaiman is a long favorite of mine. I’ve read almost all of his bibliography, so I was thrilled to learn this novel was coming out.
The story revolves around a man who returns to where he grew up and begins to remember a series of terrifying events when he was a child. As a seven year old, he made friends with Lettie, the youngest member of the Hempstocks who live at the end of the lane. When a border within his home commits suicide, it sets of a series of strange events and unleashes frightening creatures.
This story didn’t disappoint me one bit. It’s interesting that this has been described as an adult novel, since its so clearly from the young boy’s POV and Gaiman captures that youth, wonder, and fear perfectly. The boy is fully realized and made me remember my own youth. I saw one reviewer describe the sex scene as awkward, but it wasn’t. It was sex from a child’s perspective, which makes it seem strange and undefinable at the same time. The scene was well executed and showed the character’s youth even more as the rent seemed unimportant to him.
I especially loved the Hempstocks and how they are portrayed. The three women are so clearly more than what they appear and have latent power. They are loving and warm and fascinating characters. I would love to see them turn up in more stories.
Gaiman also has a way of making magic seem matter of fact, just another part of the natural order, which I LOVE. It’s one of my favorite things about his writing in general. That, along with his invention of creepy creatures that are dark and terrifying and yet somehow sympathetic, too. Ursula was evil and wicked and cruel and yet I pitied her in the end.
“Girls go missing every day. They slip out bedroom windows and into strange cars. They leave good bye notes or they don’t get a chance to tell anyone. They cross borders. They hitch rides, squeezing themselves into overcrowded backseats, sitting on willing laps. They curl up and crouch down, or they shove their bodies out of sunroofs and give off victory shouts. Girls make plans to go, but they also vanish without meaning to, and sometimes people confuse one for the other. Some girls go kicking and screaming and clawing out the eyes of whoever won’t let them stay. And then there are the girls who never reach where they are going. Who disappear. Their ends are ends are endless, their stories unknown.”
I adored Nova Ren Suma’s previous book Imaginary Girls (and even mapped out how I would approach making the movie, if I could), which was a wonderfully surreal and creepy tale of two sisters and their loyalty to one another. So, 17 & Gone was a must read for me. It hooked me from page one, and by page three I had chills and was smiling from ear to ear.
When Lauren finds a missing poster for Abby, she begins to be haunted. Abby appears to her, tangled and lost, a seventeen-year-old girl gone missing, a girl who wants something from Lauren. But Abby isn’t alone and following behind her are other girls, all seventeen years old, all missing without a trace, all wanting their stories heard, all wanting to be remembered. As the visions of these girls multiply, Lauren begins to loose the tether to her own life and, seventeen herself, she begins to wonder, if maybe she’ll be the next girl to vanish.
Lauren’s self becomes submerged beneath beneath the stories of the girls and we get to see bits and pieces of her personal life like we’re coming up for air. In a sense this makes it a little hard to get to know her as the main character, but her story unfolds as the novel goes on and this erasure works as she looses herself under the tide of girls and their stories. It fits with the storyline and the discoveries at the conclusion.
Her writing is rich and vivid, and it’s really impressive how Nova Ren is able to layer the stories of the girls with Lauren’s thoughts and personal life, creating a complex web of narratives that is nevertheless easy to follow. She makes it look easy, though I know it couldn’t possibly have been.
As a side note, I suggest that you do not read the Author’s Note at the end of the book (as I did) before you finish, as it will spoil the ending. But even with the ending twist spoiled, I still loved this book, wholeheartedly.
My ultimate sadness is that Nova Ren only has one other book out, her first book Dani Noir (which was later republished under the title Fade Out). After I devour that one, I’ll have to patiently (or not-so-patiently) wait until 2015 for her next book, The Walls Around Us to be released.