Culture Consumption: February 2018

Here’s my month in books, movies, and television.

Books

As I already mentioned, I adored Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, which is a stunning book of gods and bodies and fractured minds. The writing is stunning, and I highly recommend picking up this book. I’m planning to read everything I can from this author from here on out.

The Night Masquerade by Nnedi OkoraforAnother great read was Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor. This is a powerful conclusion to the trilogy, which had me crying in front of strangers on several occasions. The trilogy has been imaginative and moving from start to finish. I love Binti as a character in every way and she grows more and more strong and interesting with each book. I’m sad that the series has ended, because I could always read more Binti.

I also did a reread of Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass, the fourth book in The Dark Tower series — which I already wrote over 2,000 words on, but I’ll just say that it was fun to return to the story of Roland’s youth and I’m excited to pick up the next book in the series (new territory for me).

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: February 2018”

A week away, but not to play

Most of my free time last week involved prepping for and going on a business trip to Detroit for my day job. On the whole the trip was a success, although I had to struggle through it a bit since I was sick the entire time.

Having been to Detroit before and having loved the experience, I was looking forward to getting out and doing things, checking out an art museums, a cemetery, or whatever sounded interesting. Normally, when traveling, I’ve been known to pack my days with activities. But because I had been sick through almost two weeks — through too much work while preparing for this trip, through setting up and going to a trade show, through interviews and meetings and business dinners — I gave myself permission to laze around my hotel room and recover instead. It was the right move and what I needed.

However, I did have to go out to eat, so I made sure to hit up my favorite restaurant and bar, Wright & Co., where I had a boulevardier (to burn off those germs) ordered some aMAZing port tenderloin. I also visited Astoria Pastry Shop in Greektown for baklava. Good eats = good times.

What I’m Reading

I’ve started up Rough Magick, a collection of short stories edited by Jessa Marie Mendez and Francesca Lia Block. This has a couple of stories from writer friends I know through the Brianery workshop, including our beloved teacher Jilly Dreadful.

In other bookish things, a few of weeks ago I chanced into being at my local library during a $3/bag book sale. All considering, I was extremely conservative in my purchases, as my book shelves are already pretty much full. When considering a book, I made sure to consider whether I would read the book immediately, if I had the time available, in order to prevent adding to the number of books I’ve had for years and never read.

So, here’s my book haul.

Book Haul - November 2015

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Many Waters by Madeline L’engle
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
The Intuitive Writer: Listening to Your Own Voice by Gail Sher
Superstitions and Old Wive’s Tales by Hilary M. Cannock
Bartimaeus, Book One: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
City of Darkness, City of Light by Marge Piercy
The Red Tent by Anita Diamond (this is the only one I’ve read before)

What I’m Writing

All my writing progress vanished while preparing for the work portion of my trip. It was only after the trade show was over that I had mental capacity to handle words.

Goals for the Week:

  • Finish workshop draft before class.
  • Edit Bluebeard tale in time to submit to Uncanny (I’m getting close).

Brainery Workshop – Science Fiction Fairy Tales – Week Seven

Last week’s topic discussion for Brainery Science Fiction Fairy Tales workshop group looked at the “Little Mermaid” fairy tale with a connection to gene manipulation and transhumanism.

Normally, I read a number of fairytale versions and a number of articles in preparation for my story, but last week did not offer my time to make that happen. I ended up just speed writing as much as I could over the story in the hour and a half before class and I wasn’t really satisfied with what I wrote.

But this week, we broke with the typical class format and did an in class writing exercise, which opened up the ending of the story for me and gave me a clear sense of where I wanted to go. It’ll take a bit more research and brainstorming to outline the plot, but I think this one will eventually come together.

This upcoming Thursday’s class will focus on Little Red Riding Hood and surveillance culture. I have no idea where this one will take me. At the moment, I’m starting to look back over previous stories to see what might be edited to completion.

Linky Goodness

  • The Difference Between a Great Story and a Shitty Story Is Often Really Tiny by  Charlie Jane Anders — “It’s easy to see why telling stories and casting magic spells are so often compared or conflated in fantasy stories—because telling a good story is very much like casting a spell. You’re creating another reality and trying to immerse people in it, and you’re hoping to make it so compelling that people “forget” it’s not real. (Almost like a trance.)”

#ShortReads Days 20-21

Both stories are by James Tiptree, Jr., published in the collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, because I can’t seem to get enough.

“The Girl Who Was Plugged In”

Dark and complicated, this story is about a young woman who yearns to touch the beauty of the starlets she worships like gods. So, when a corporation offers her the chance, she agrees to be the mental controller of a waldo, a beautiful puppet-girl who dazzles audiences and sells product. But everything comes at a price.

One of the many fascinating things about this story is the voice of the narrator, a voice I associated at first with the girl, but is clearly separate and slightly omniscient. It’s not clear who this narrator is, nor is it clear who she is speaking to — maybe us, but maybe someone else specific from the past.

“The Man Who Walked Home”

I can’t really talk about this story without giving too much away, but I can say it’s apocalyptic and portrays an array or humanity after the fall. About halfway through the story, I started thinking I wasn’t that into it and then the ending. Oh, my, the ending. And, yeah, it’s just as fantastic as all the rest of the Tiptree stories I’ve read.

#ShortReads Day 19: "12:02 P.M." by Richard A. Lupoff

Published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, January/February 2011

A man is caught in a time loop, the same hour repeating over and over again which no one else seems to notice. A basic fun adventure, time travel story. 

Tell me your short story suggestions in the comments. 

#ShortReads Day 18: "The Grief Frequency" by Kealan Patrick Burke

Available on Kindle.

This is a knock out of a short story, creepy and sorrowful. After his wife dies, Paul is drawn so deeply into his grief that he begins to see… I won’t tell you what. Burke does a fantastic job with this story, creating deep characters in a short space and invoking the feeling of grief, while also making it all so unsettling. 
Favorite Line(s): I dug deep into the pockets of my overcoat and grabbed fistfuls of patience as I watched them queue for the opportunity to be sorry.”

#ShortReads Days 16-17

“Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch” by Kelly Barnhill
Published in Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2014

The widow Sorensen forms a new, if unconventional, family for herself at the shock of the local town. Though Agnes Sorensen is clearly human she is portrayed as nymph-like with a magical collection to animals and her new paramour. A sweetly romantic and whimsical tale.

Favorite Line(s): “Seeing no one there (except for a family of rabbits that was, en masse, emerging from under the row of box elders), Father Laurence felt a sudden, inexplicable, and unbridled surge of joy — to which he responded with a quick clench of his two fists and a swallowed yes.”

“Sleepwalking Now and Then” by Richard Bowes
Published in Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2014

Art imitates life or, rather, life imitates art in a theatrical play staged in a dilapidated hotel in 2060. I love the idea of a stage play that takes place over multiple days and rooms in which the audience can interact with the actors. I didn’t much connect with the characters or story as a whole, though; the ways theatre sets a stage for violence is a common theme.

Favorite Line(s): “Like many New Yorkers, Jacoby Cass saw the rising waters as a warning of impending doom but, like most of them Cass had bigger worries.”

#ShortReads Days 13-15

“As Good As New” by Charlie Jane Anders
Published in Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2014

A young woman playwright who is the only survivor of the apocalypse. You’d think that would mean the end of all things, but it turns out the apocalypse has some surprises left. The story is charming and funny and has a lot of dialog about theater and stage writing. So much fun.

Favorite Line(s): “When Marisol let herself think about all the people she could never talk to again, she got so choked up she wanted to punch someone in the eye until they were blinded for life.”

“The End of the End of Everything” by Dale Bailey
Published in Some of the Best from Tor.com: 2014

A considerably darker and more fatalistic story than what I generally like, in which a bleak ruin is slowly consuming the world and the rich spend the end of days in lavish parties with some picking themselves off periodically in suicide. It dragged a bit for me, but the characters were lost and real, and the ending brought it around to a powerful and moving conclusion.

Favorite Line(s): “Words were but paltry things, frail hedges against the night. Ruin would consume them.”

Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar
Published at Strange Horizons

A young woman deals with the aftermath of her mother’s departure. I don’t really want to say anything more than that, because this is a sad and moving tale, one I recommend you should go read right now.

After you read the story, check out this fabulous analysis of what’s not said by Anaea Lay.

Favorite Line(s): “I hate selkie stories. They’re always about how you went up to the attic to look for a book, and you found a disgusting old coat and brought it downstairs between finger and thumb and said “What’s this?”, and you never saw your mom again.”

#ShortReads Day 7: "The Screwfly Solution" by James Tiptree, Jr.

Published in the collection, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

Sometimes you read a story that impacts you with the same intensity of a novel. This is one of those stories. I’m still floored, just sitting her thinking about it.

Alan is an scientist in South America studying ways to decrease the productivity of parasitic caneflies. Meanwhile, his wife in Ann Arbor is writing with increasingly disturbing news about a Sons of Adam cult and a spreading violence against women.

“The Screwfly Solution” is incredibly unsettling and absolutely brilliant. One of the best stories I’ve read in a long time and I’m considering retreading it right now, even though I should really go to bed.

Favorite Line(s): N/A, I’m having a hard time picking just one when I pretty much adore this entire story from beginning to end.

What short stories have you read and loved lately? I would love some recommendations.

#ShortReads Day 5 & 6

Missed a day yesterday. (Eep.) So, here are two story reads today, both published by Tor.com.

Ambiguity Machines: An Examination” by Vandana Singh

This tale is presented in the form of an engineering exam offered by the Ministry of Abstract Engineering, in which three investigations involving “reports, rumors, folktales, and intimations of machines that do not and cannot exist” are offered. Each of the accounts presents different people from different parts of the world. They are a beautifully written tales with common themes of longing, sadness, and loneliness, although each seems to find ways to overcome this either through the machine or in avoidance of it. A gorgeous story.

Favorite Line(s): “So into his design he put the smoothness of her cheek, and the light-flash of her intelligence, and the fiercely tender gaze of her eyes. He put in the swirl of her hair in the wind, and the way her anger would sometimes dissolve into laughter, and sometimes into tears. He worked at it, refining, improving, delaying as much as he dared.”

The Two Weddings of Bronwyn Hyatt” by Alex Bledsoe

Bronwyn Hyatt is Tufa (a kind of fairy creature) who is marrying her love, a human. In preparing for her wedding day, she’s torn on what to wear for a dress, wanting to honor her people, while also not wanting to be bound by tradition. While pondering her problem, she meets a Yunwi Tsunsdi (another kind of fair, known as little people) who presents a solution to her problem as long as Bronwyn makes a deal. This was a fun, light-hearted story, in part due to the mundane way these events and fantastical creatures are described.

Favorite Line(s): The woman reached into a bush beside the trail and produced a miniature fiddle. She tucked it under her chin and played a high, mournful note. “It is a beautiful day for thinking. What are you pondering?”

It’s Short Story Month! What shorts have you read and loved lately?

#ShortReads Day 3: "Sing, Pilgrim!" by James Patrick Kelly

Published in Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, November/December 2013.

When a seemingly ordinary chair appears in the middle of a sidewalk, it sparks a new religion and hope of transcendence. A very short and simple story that paints a picture of what the world would be like if there existed a religious relic that actually did something. Not a story with any deep emotion or insight and not the type to linger after being read, but a decent read.

Favorite Line(s): “It has been said that every age gets the chair it deserves, and the history of chair culture is checkered at best.”

It’s Short Story Month! What short stories have you read and loved lately?

#ShortReads Day 2: "The Last Flight of Doctor Ain" by James Tiptree, Jr.

Published in the collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.

This is the first Tiptree I’ve read and it’s excellent. The short story is told omnisciently giving little bits and pieces of what happened based on the comments of people who happened to notice him on his journey. Though dark and fatalistic, it’s brilliantly executed. 

Favorite Line(s): “The woman seemed stronger here. She was panting in the sea wind, her large eyes fixed on Ain.”

It’s Short Story Month! What short stories have you read recently? 

Friday Flash: Resident Ghost

A soft padding of feet comes from above, my cat Jaspar stalking across the attic floor. How he manages to get up there is a mystery, one I’ve long ago given up on solving. His slow prodding bursts into the rapid thumping of running, then silence. Scuffling sounds. A loud crash follows as something falls over.

He’s playing with the ghost again.

I sigh and climb out of bed, grumbling at having been woken up before 5 a.m. My limbs are heavy with sleep as I pull down the steep steps to the attic and ascend to discover what sort of mess they’ve made. The air in the attic is always chill and little goosebumps crawl up my arms.

When I bought the house four years ago, I didn’t know it came with a resident. We didn’t get along at first. My presence offended the ghost. I was an interloper, changing their home into something unrecognizable. I tore up the ugly carpets and replaced them with wood, remodeled the kitchen and the bathrooms. I repainted everything and arranged furniture. The ghost responded with loud thumping in the middle of the night, startling me from sleep, my heart pounding. Pictures would fall off the walls and shatter. Objects would move from one location to another, making me hunt for a pencil or my toothbrush or any other small thing when I needed it. Fruits and veggies went rotten in hours if left out on the counters. The electricity flickered and went out. It wasn’t I made a deal, promising to leave the attic alone and unchanged that the ghost left me mostly in peace.

Mostly. It still plays tricks sometimes.

I scan the attic with a flashlight. Jaspar blinks at me in the beam of the light, his pupils flashing green.

“What have you been up to,” I ask.

He yawns innocently and pads over to me, weaves in and out between my legs, purring loud as revved engine. I push him gently aside with my feet, afraid to step on him, but he just resumes his rubbing of my ankles.

The crate Jasper — or the ghost — knocked over lays on its side, its contents and packing grass spilling out onto the floor. I trip over Jasper on my way across the room, quietly cursing him and start stuffing picture frames and old knick knacks back into the crate. Every time I lift an item back into the crate it feels as though I’m touching a secret. I’ve never looked through any or the boxes or chests up here. Maybe because I associate them as belonging to the ghost, though they could belong to some family that left them long before or long after they arrived.

I pause to glance at the old black and white family photos, as I put them away. Turn-of-the-century photos always seem creepy, the pasty faces, the too white whites of their eyes, the blank expressions —presumably happy people at one time and all that’s left is this unsettling imagery.

A draft whispers along my neck. Something knocks against the attic floor. My heart races and the hairs on my arms stand on end.

“Alright, alright,” I say to sooth myself as much as the ghost. “I’ll get on with it, then.”

Jasper scampers down the ladder before him. I step down onto the first step and flick off my flashlight. “Have a good day.”

A bubbling sound like laughter comes back to me out of the darkness, unsettling, but not hostile. It’s a strange coexistence. But I’ve had worse housemates in my lifetime.

Jasper yowls downstairs for his breakfast. And that’s one of them, I think as I climb down and close up the attic behind me.

* * *

Footnote: Hmmm. I have to admit that this feels like a piece of a story rather than a complete story in itself, but it’s what I could manage today. I’ve always wanted to write a story where the owner of a house chooses to coexist with a ghost rather than try to remove it. Will have to see about expanding this someday.

* * *

In related news I’ve just learned that May is Short Story Month. Yes!

I’ve also learned that Sara Zarr has started a challenge in which she will be reading a short story a day in May and tweeting about it with the tag #ShortReads. I plan to do the same, posting short reviews on my blog here as well as on twitter.

And since I always need more reasons to write, I’m also planning to post a Friday Flash every week this month (maybe, we’ll see how it goes).

My first read:

Among the Sighs of the Violoncellos” by Daniel Ausema, published at Strange Horizons — The story is a poetic vision of a Eden-esque garden with fairy tale trees, wish granting lizard tales, and a single glinting white swan. It’s told from the point of view of the tenders, the ones invisibly keeping paradise tended and beautiful. Wonderful.

Favorite Line(s): “In the back of the garden is a tree that bears orphan farmboy fruits. If you pluck one at just the right time, it will become a hero. A moment too soon, and the unripe hero fails in his quest. A moment too late, and he lives out his life bitter over missed opportunity, brooding on the injustices of life.”

Bluebeard

Blue Beard in Tales of Mother Goose (Welsh)
Bluebeard illustration from Tales of Mother Goose by Charles Perrault.
Superhero Plus Fairy Tales

Oh, how people love to whisper. The rumors of my husband were rampant as gnats in summer. They speak loathingly of his ugly blue-black beard and how he towers over everyone in a room, thick and tall as an evergreen tree. They say he goes through wives the way wolves tear through rabbits, one after the other. No one knows what becomes of these fine young, innocent ladies, they say. And they wonder at what great wealth he must possess to draw so many new brides into his home.

I married not for his money, but for the rumors.

Continue reading “Bluebeard”

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ― Anaïs Nin

While the weekend was spent celebrating Mammas, both my own mom and my sister who is fantastic with the Little Monster, I somehow managed to be somewhat productive this week.

On Tuesday, fellow poet Lorenz Dumuk (@LorenzDumuk) and I visited a friend’s classroom to read our poetry as part of her English class. As I haven’t read in ages, I was feeling rather nervous and kind of rushed through my pieces, but as usual Lorenz was amazing. He is a powerhouse of spoken word and it’s always inspiring to watch him offer up words to an audience.

Afterward, I went home and started reading Jessie Carty’s new book of poetry, Practicing Disaster,* in order to hold on to the galvanizing feeling created with poetry.

As a result of all this hearing and reading of fantastic poetry, I poured out five poem drafts all in one go, one of which I posted up on wattpad, called “Kamikaze.”

The juiced writerly feeling didn’t fade away, and I ended up putting together a Friday Flash. The short short story, called “Four and Twenty” is a bit about baking pies and a bit about a murder of crows. I plan to make a habit of posting a Friday Flash at least once a month.

My goal for the week is to edit the poem drafts and put together a small submission to a journal. I also have one submission still out that I haven’t heard back from, which I need to send an inquiry on.

*Jessie Carty sent me a review copy of her book. I should have the review up middle of the week, which I plan to follow with an interview with the poet (something I have never done before, eek!).

Updatery – Life Keeps On Keeping On

The winners of the Rhysling Award have been announced. I am not among them, and that’s okay. I was and still am just so honored to have been included in the list of nominees.

In other writing news, the short story I have currently circulating has been rejected again, but that’s the writing life. Time to send it to a new publication.

My biggest issue in my writing world right now is that I haven’t been writing much of anything at all, which is rather depressing. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately, in part due to all my traveling and I’ve been trying to just relax when I get home. (I suppose it doesn’t help that my relaxation has lately taken the form of mainlining episodes of Fringe.) At any rate, I’m going to have to hunker down toward my goals once I’m back from work trip to Italy and into my day-to-day rhythm.

Oh, yeah, did I mention that I am going to Italy? No?

Well, I’ll be traveling to Udine for work, then spending three days in Florence and a day in Venice for fun. I am STOKED.

* * *

In other, other news, my trip to Washington DC (a couple of weeks ago) was awesome. We did so much and saw so many sights. Here are photos I took of the Lincoln Monument, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

DC

Washington DC

Washington DC

The amazing thing about the trip was not just the places we visited, but the people we were with. These women I traveled with are amazing women — books geeks, fabulous mothers, nerds, intelligent business women, joyful lovers of life, and so much more. I feel blessed to know them.