Sometimes life likes to throw everything at you at once. Sometimes you like to add to the pile by throwing things at yourself. Work, family, life, the universe, and everything adds up into a big knotted ball of overwhelmed — which is pretty much where I’m at right now. Not all of it is bad, in fact a lot of it is many kinds of awesome, but it’s still mentally, emotionally, and physically tiring.
Looking forward into the next year, I know it’s probably not going to lighten up anytime soon — my day job will remain hectic, my creative work will still need to get done, community in the form of family, friends, and social activities will still call for my presence. Life will likely remain packed over the foreseeable future, so I need to have strategies to maintain my physical and mental health.
As with my usual doling of advice, these items are representative of things that I am doing or am going to try to do in order to help myself. Results may vary.
“Snow glitters on the edge of the pond in a scene that could be but isn’t from a Victorian Christmas Card. Soft light falls from an early moon. Recorded carols play from a lean-to crèche, where the Holy Family shivers….”
3.Two Poems by Daniel Reinhold, published in H_NGM_N
“What if I carried the moon in my back pocket? Could I dance in my sleep? Swallow your soul whole?” …
4. Moving by Sara Backer, published in Pedestal Magazine
“We confront accumulation. No room is exempt from the purge; no cupboard can be left for later….”
5. Art History Kirun Kapur, published in Jam Tarts Magazine
“I’d even smoke the angels, that’s what he liked to say, …”
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.
There are a zillion lists of favorite/top Christmas movies out there, so creating my own is probably just adding to the chatter (and it’s even possible I’ve done this before). Yet, here I am adding my own personal list, and it is just that — personal. These are movies that I either grew up with or have a connection to, that I get eager to watch every year, and that (along with friends and family and decorations) make it feel as thought the season is really here, as I cuddle up with my sisters in big fluffy blankets to watch.
My list focuses on movies about Christmas, instead of movies about other events that just happen to be set at Christmas time, such as Die Hard, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Home Alone.
So, here are my favorite Christmas movies, in no particular order.
Gonzo makes for a surprisingly great Charles Dickens and Michael Cain is fantastic as scrooge. Each of the ghosts hit the perfect notes: The Ghost of Christmas Past is ethereal and wispy, the Ghost of Christmas Present is joyful and solid, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is a kid=friendly level of grim and frightening.
A orphan crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and ends up being raised by an elf at the North Pole. It’s not until he’s an awkward, ginormous adult that he figures out he’s not really an elf and goes in search of his father, a Scrooge-like character who has been on the naughty list for years. His reunion with his long lost father does not go smoothly.
One of the things that makes this movie fantastic is Will Ferrel’s ability to pull off a level of childlike innocence and glee that reminds me of the shrill, ridiculous joy of being young at Christmas. Just seeing him scream “SANTA!” at the top of his lungs makes me think, Oh, yeah, I remember that feeling.
A Christmas Story (1983)
All Ralphie wants for Christmas is a a Red Ryder B.B. gun, but all any adult, — from teachers to his parents and even Santa Claus — has to say on the matter is “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”
I know people who hate this movie (my sister is one), but I can’t go through the Christmas season without watching it at least once. The dark humor appeals to me. Also, the adventures of this family struggling through Christmas — the kids dealing with bullies, over-sized snow suits, and horrible gifts, the parents trying to offer as much joy as they can while strapped for cash — resonates with me. It reminds me on a small level of the chaos that surrounded my own family around the holidays, my parents doing the best they could with what they had. Somehow it all came together into a fabulous holiday event in the end.
The Santa Claus (1994)
When advertising executive Scott Calvin accidentally kills Santa Claus by causing him to fall off the roof, he finds himself whisked off to the North Pole with his son, where he learns he has to take Santa’s place as the deliverer of presents and joy to the children of the world. Though he tries to deny it, his transformation into Santa begins to take place regardless.
I’m not really a fan of Tim Allen, but I love this movie. It’s funny and sweet and magical, and I will sit and watch it anytime it comes on.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Feeling depressed and disenchanted with his work as the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington wanders away from Halloween Town and discovers a doorway into the North Pole with snow and elves and joyful feelings. So enamored is he with the discovery of Christmas that he takes over the holiday, taking on the role of Santa Clause.
While I feel this is almost as much of a Halloween movie as a Christmas movie, I love this animated tale, which puts a creepy spin on the genre. It fills the dark little heart of my goth/horror-loving shadow self.
Honorable Mention: Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
And the rest of the ’60s Christmas cartoons, really. Each of these movies, especially Rudolph holds a special place in my heart. Rudolph as the outcastand, all of the misfit toys, and the abominable snowman — I love them all.
The rain has come at last. The parched, drought ridden earth is slippery with heavy rainfall, stirring up mud and sludge. Every morning this week, I have awoke in the dark to the sound water splattering outside my window. I step outside my front door and listen to the thrumming rhythms on my umbrella and feel happy.
When I was a little girl I used to run out into the rain in shorts and a tank top. I rode bicycles over the slick streets. I kicked puddles. I jumped in the mud. Gutters would gush water and I would stand under them as though I were a tourist under a waterfall in Hawaii. The water would soak through my clothes and drip down my hair. My shoes sloshed. I never shivered. I never shook. I danced in the rain and felt clean and free.
My niece has turned two and has evolved into a delightful princess monster (and all that that implies). We have to convince her to wear a coat in the rain (she wishes to escape wearing only a frilly dress). After the rain, she prances out to the driveway to stomp in puddles, little insignificant ones, with a smile like the first beam of sunlight through the clouds.
Later I tromp through the mud, following my niece to the tree swings. I pull her onto my lap and we swing together, while large drops fall on us from the tree above. We twist back and forth, the word rocking to and fro, just sitting together enjoying the quiet day as we watch the post-rain fog gather around the farmhouse.
Driving in California is the only thing I hate about the rainy season. Otherwise knowledgeable people forget how to drive as soon as the roads grow wet. It can take a week or more for them to grow used to it and for the level of car accidents to lessen, and by then the rains have gone.
I could live some place where the rain was rampant through many seasons. Seattle, maybe. Or perhaps a rain forest. The sound and rhythms of water emptied from the sky has always soothed me, and I find myself longing for rain after months and months of sun and heat.
Then again, maybe it’s the contrast, the absences of rain followed by its sudden heavy presence that confers the joy.
This past couple of weeks have been of the beat-my-head-up-against-a-wall variety, particularly in regard to accomplishing the mountainous tasks that had piled up at my day job. So, I figured it would be nice to be able to share a few of the things that have made me smile lately (above and beyond my niece and nephew, that is, who always make me smile no matter what’s happening).
2. The Beyoncelogues – Actress Nina Millin takes Beyonce songs and performs them as dramatic monologues. The results are utterly fantastic. I particularly like her rendition of “Single Ladies,” but the whole five part series is great.
Seeing Millin perform and bring new depth to these songs is deeply inspiring to me. I love seeing popular works redefined in inventive ways and seeing her perform makes me want to try to write a short film script, or even a feature film script, for Millin to star in.
3. I’m currently reading Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older (ETA: to include Older). These fantasy stories are exactly what I need right now. They’re not exactly lite, or not all of them, but they’re interesting and thought provoking and bite-sized. It’s good reading, which makes me happy.
5. Running with Zombies is a 5K fun run in San Jose, in which the zombies don’t chase the survivors, but run alongside them. It’s kind of like a zombie walk, but with running instead. And, while I tend to prefer walkers instead of runners at the cinema, I’m happy to say that my sister and I will be shifting into zombie mode this October in order to join the run – zombie make up, torn clothes, and all. I’m so excited!
Note that I avoided putting my recent download of Minecraft Pocket Edition on this list, because it’s not so much making me smile as it’s consuming my life. If this no sleeping, no eating thing keeps up I might be more of a zombie than I expected by the time the fun run roles around.
1. Last Thursday (July 17), I rolled down to Iguana’s in San Jose to participate in an open mic with the same group of artists I joined previously. The open mic was filled with a variety of wonderful, creative, inspired performers. The Hella Famous Lindsey Leong was a damn good host, full of energy and joyful humor in the face of the struggle, and of course it was a delight to once again see my favorite dynamic duo Q&A — Alice and Quynh. As I hoped, I managed to finish my new poem in time to read at the open mic. It was a wonderful, supportive environment and such a delight to be a part of.
2. Progress on the novel! The Board spawned new post-its, which has helped me shape out more of the beginning of The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. I now know where I’m planning to start with Adam’s POV, which is a huge relief.
3. I just learned about #365feministselfie, in which women (and I’m sure some men) have been posting daily or weekly or whenever selfies. I love the idea of using the selfie as a form of personal empowerment, especially for marginalized groups. The challenge started at the beginning of the year (so I’m late to the party). Viva la Feminista is where the challenge started and it has a great explanation as to the why. I’ll be posting my selfies on instagram and tumblr.
4. This really should be number one, but the Monster (my niece) turned two on Monday. She has two new princess dresses and has paraded around shouting, “I’m a princess!” Love her so much!!
5. Tonight the Writing Gang reunited! Even though one of our members has transplanted herself to the East Coast (*sniff*), we will meet by skype to discuss our work.
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.
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.
As a reader, I can’t help noticing patterns that emerge in the stories I read. Sometimes these stories are spot on, and sometimes I find myself longing for different kinds of stories than what I see on the pages. Here are a few tropes or plots points I would like see occur in more books.*
1. Books That Start with the Characters Already in a Romantic Relationship
So many stories, from romance novels to YA fantasy, begin with two strangers meeting for the first time, having instant attraction, and ultimately finding their way to love. These stories are great, and I enjoy them just as much as the next person.
But these stories seem to stem from the idea the Falling-in-Love aspect is the only interesting or challenging part of a relationship. If our two heroes can just get past these hurdles, then they’ll realize it’s True Love and they’ll be guaranteed their happily ever after.
The reality is that relationships are hard work. It involves day-to-day acts of compassion, understanding, and compromise in order to stay in love.
Staying-in-Love has the potential to be just as compelling and romantic a trope as Falling-in-Love, and would be great to see more stories begin with characters already in a relationship, which they have to hold on to through the storm.
2. Non-Romantic Relationships
Again this is me not so much turning away from romance, but wanting an addendum to it. Many stories, particularly in YA books, focus on the love story to the end that other relationships fade to the background. Sometimes that happens, a person falls in love and is so wrapped up in the feeling, they can’t make the other valuable relationships with friends and family fit in.
But I think life tends to be more multilayered than that and with all the levels of relationships and love — mothers, fathers, siblings, best friends, cousins, etc. — there is a lot of room for emotional complexity. I’m not saying ditch the romance (though I kind of am with my book), but alongside falling in love, lets have some of the other kinds of relationships, too.
I told Miyazaki I love the “gratuitous motion” in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.
“We have a word for that in Japanese,” Miyazaki said. “It’s called ma. Emptiness. It’s there intentionally.”
Is that like the “pillow words” that separate phrases in Japanese poetry?
“I don’t think it’s like the pillow word.” He clapped his hands three or four times. “The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.
Reading this, I thought about how many stories just power through to the ending in one action sequence after another without allowing that space to breathe and feel something.
Placing a quiet, still moment into a story seems easier in a movie, because it’s a visual form. But I think it’s possible to achieve in books, too, and I would like to see more stories, normally rife with action allow a space for the reader to feel about the characters before plunging in again.
What are tropes, plots, ideas that you would like to see appear in more novels?
*And, as I long to see these things, I find myself drawn to writing them in order to fulfill that desire.
* * *
Since this is supposed to be a Friday Five post, here are two more unrelated Things you may be interested in checking out:
“The Man Card concept specifically, however, is insulting to men and women in what it’s saying about our respective roles. Men are supposed be this way, not that way. Do these things, not those things. You’re not a man if you don’t fit society’s (or some section thereof’s) definition of one, and, unfortunately, people who joke this way are denigrating empathy, sympathy, respect for women, honesty, sensitivity, and responsibility. They’re saying real men prize getting their way over cooperating or compromising. Real men don’t care what their girlfriends or wives think. Real men do what they want.
This is dangerous.”
2. Check out Malinda Lo’s Guide to YA. Malinda Lo is the author of a great Cinderella retelling, called Ash, and she’s writing a multitude of posts YA novels, particularly those with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters or issues. If you’re a writer at all interested in writing about GBLTQ characters or issues, then I highly recommend working your way through this reading list.
Since today marks the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) — that delightful challenge to complete a ridiculous 50,000 words in a single month — I thought I would pull out an old video for today’s Friday Five.
Don’t Delete Anything
Dares and Prompts
Plot Ninjas Are Your Friends
While I will be attempting to write 50,000 words this month, I will not technically be doing Nano because I will be working on an old project (the rules of Nano say that it should be a new project). I will be attempting to finish draft one of Under the Midday Moon, so that I can use 2014 to edit it.
The key to Nano, really, is the community and that you are not in this alone. I really appreciate that a lot, especially at moments like now, when I haven’t been feeling very motivated.
For those like me, not technically following the Nano rules, but still wanting to participate in some form, you can do an anti-Nano project. Set your own goal and then post updates on your blog, or if you’re on livejournal join the squidathon and post updates there (they do check-ins on Mondays and Fridays).
I will, however, be updating my progress on the Nano website, under my username blythe025. You are welcome to join me there, if you’d like.
Are you participating in Nano this year? What will you be working on?
This, my friends is my favorite holiday. I love a good scare, the costume, the creepy decorations, the delight of believing in the ghost in the attic or the monster under the bed even if for just one night.
My sister is less enthused. Anything to scary gives her anxiety. My baby niece is also getting to an age where she’s paying attention and could get frightened of what’s on the screen.
So my family has had to modify our scary movie watching quite a bit (at least during the daylight hours). Here is a list if Halloween-ish movies that we love and can all watch together.
Note: None of these movies are terribly scary, but each kid will react different (I remember being terrified of Labyrinth as a kid). Judge this list based on what you know of your own kids and their readiness level.
1. Hocus Pocus (1993)
“Three hundred years ago the Sanderson sisters bewitched people.” These witches might be silly and rather stupid, but they’re a lot of fun to watch cavorting around the modern era. There’s plenty of corniness, but also some great jokes and a dance number. Bette Midler and her fellow witches are all great.
This is a favorite of my family and one that’s almost always one TV during the Halloween season.
2. The Monster Squad (1987)
A group of kids, obsessed with horror comics, have created their own monster squad to battle evil. Little do they know, Dracula and the other classic monsters are real and are coming to town to find a secret amulet that will allow evil to rule the world.
This one doesn’t translate as well. The humor is cornier and the story is silly, but it’s still a fun movie.
I remember watching it as a kid and not knowing what a virgin was and thinking it was a nationality (because the virgin has to read from a German book to stop evil). Also while it’s never specified, the virgin in case apparently has to be a girl.
Still, gotta love the appearance of all the classic baddies at the same time. It’s ridiculous and absurd and fun.
3. The Witches (1990)
A young boy goes to a retreat by the sea shore with his grandma, and discovers that it is has become host to a gathering of purple eyed witches (with Angelica Huston as the head witch). When the boy gets caught by the witches, he is turned into a mouse and has to convince his grandmother to help him stop their nefarious plans.
The monster makeup when the witches peel off their human skin is fantastic and some scenes are genuinely delightfully gross. Great dark fantasy movie.
4. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks retelling the classic Frankenstein story in the most hilarious way possible. When Dr. Frankenstein’s heir inherits a castle in Transylvania, he can’t help but follow the same experiment and bring the monster to life once again. The black and white filming, fantastic comedic timing, and Brook’s genius all make for a fun homage to a classic movie monster.
5. Beetle Juice (1988)
This is probably belongs at the top of the list in all its weird, hilarious awesomeness. For those who don’t know, the story involves a couple who die suddenly in an accident and are trapped within their house, haunting it. The realm of the dead is twisted and strange with the dead locked in their bodies as they were when they died. When a family moves in and starts restructuring their dream home, they call on Beetlejuice to help them get rid of them and end up with more than they bargained for.
This is probably the best (or at least my favorite) movie on the list.
I know there are plenty of others that I missed. The Adams Family movies come most immediately to mind and there are many others, I’m sure.
What are your favorite not-so-scary Halloween themed movies?
I don’t have much time to write a new post today (as I ought to), so I’m going to do a throwback with my “Three Things I Own and Don’t Know Why’ video, which you can watch below or by following this link.
For non-video watchers, these three things are:
1. A Multitude of Computer Cords (and I don’t know what they go to)
2. Clothes That No Longer Fit Me
3. A Whatchamacallit
Technical this is supposed to be a Five Things Friday post, so I guess I’ll add:
4. This video was uploaded in August 2009 (so long ago!), so I don’t actually own all these things anymore. The cords have been dispersed to family members and some (not all) of the clothes have finally been donated. The whatchamacallit was finally given away just last week, so I am free of that strangeness, too.
5. I still own a ton of things I don’t know what to do with from craft supplies I have a feeling I’ll never get around to using to old cell phones (like the flip variety) that I’m sure I should be tossed. I think there will always be something or another that I own for strange and unclear reasons.
What about you? What do you own that you don’t know why?
In other news…, have a happy Labor Day weekend! I hope you get to relax and eat good food and do fun things!