Culture Consumption: August 2021

Hi, lovelies. Coming in late again, but here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

Sorrowland by Rivers SolomonTwo of the books I loved this month focus on women finding power through transformation. In Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon, a heavily pregnant Vern escapes from a religious compound into the woods, where she gives birth to twins. For a while she lives wild, raising her children as she pleases — all the while they are being hunted. As time passes, Vern begins to grow in strength, experiencing a physical transformation she doesn’t understand.

Sorrowland was described to me as gothic horror, though considering the extent of Vern’s physical changes, it could almost be described as body horror. The book definitely carried some dark elements to it, some terrible and terrifying things — but throughout the darkness, there was also a light showing through in the way Vern grows and learns to claim her own identity and space in the world, finding pleasure in the ways her body changed. The love she has for her children and they for her is wonderful, complex, and beautiful. And her family grows when she finds people with whom she can connect can care for, while receiving the same in return. That carries with it such a powerful light of hope through all the dark times she experiences.

Goddess of Filth by V CastroThe second book was Goddess of Filth by V. Castro, in which a group of friends perform a play seance, laughing and drinking — until their friend Fernanda begins chanting in Nahuatl and appearing to be possessed. As time passes, Fernanda continues to act strangely, “smearing herself in black makeup, shredding her hands on rose thorns, sucking sin out of the mouths of the guilty.” With her mother in a moral panic over the changes, Fernanda’s friends try to find a way to help her in any way they can.

I love so many things about this book — first and foremost the way these five friends are wonderful. They support each other, look out for each other, and do what that can for each other.  Another aspect that I loved about is that Fernanda’s possession is not an assault, but more symbiotic. The goddess within her offers wisdom and strength, and Fernanda begins to change, finding strength and confidence in the presence of the goddess. When her friend Lourdes begins to realize this, she works to help Fernanda face this new reality. The story has its terrors, but it is also so beautiful. I’m so glad I read it.

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The Illusion of Choice: Lessons from the Writing Excuses intensive course on writing for games

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash.

Hosted by published authors working in a variety of genres and with decades of experience in the industry, the Writing Excuses podcast offers quick 15–20 minute long episodes packed with insightful writing, craft, and business advice. This year, the podcast has shifted its format to focus on eight-episode intensive courses that drill down into a particular subject — in this case, game writing.

Along with regular hosts Mary Robinette KowalDan Wells, and Howard Taylor, the eight episodes on game writing were led by two guest hosts, Cassandra Khaw and James L. Sutter, both of whom have extensive experience writing for games. Kaw has worked as a senior scriptwriter for Ubisoft Montreal and as a freelance writer for various indie video game developers. Sutter is a co-creator of the Pathfinder and Starfinder table-top roleplaying games.

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Falling in Love with Shadow and Light

Sky Cathedral by Louise Nevelson — found wood sculpture at the San José Museum of Art.
Sky Cathedral by Louise Nevelson — found wood sculpture at the San José Museum of Art.

The last time I visited a museum prior to the pandemic was at the San José Museum of Art, where a friend had put together an event featuring mixture of poetry and music. During a break between the sets of performances, I wandered the exhibits, checking out what the museum had on display.

When I wander through a museum, I observe it from my own subjective point of view, not much caring whether the work is considered important or interesting from a cultural or historical perspective. I look for work that speaks to me, that hooks something deep within my chest and tugs.

That night, I found myself standing before Louise Nevelson’s Sky Cathedral, a found wood sculpture comprised of architectural elements, crates, and other pieces, assembled into geometric chambers and painted entirely black. It captivated me immediately.

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Five Things I’ve Learned About Podcasting (and what I still need to do to improve)

podcasting microphone
Photo by Daniel Rubio on Unsplash.

Podcasting was not a challenge I ever expected to take on. When I approached the New Books Network with a request to be interviewed on their New Books in Poetry podcast about my recently published collection of poetry, the founder and editor-in-chief, Marshall Poe, confessed that the company did not have a host for the poetry podcast at the time. He then asked if I would be interested in adopting the role.

After some further conversations with Marshall, a fellow poet and writer Athena Dixon and I decided to jump onboard and accept cohosting duties for the New Books in Poetry podcast. Although I can’t speak for Athena, I confess that I personally had zero podcasting experience prior to taking on this challenge. Since New Books in Poetry was an existing channel with a following, I was fortunate that my first foray into the process was not started from scratch (with all the steps that that requires), allowing me to ease my way into learning how to plan, record, and edit an episode at my own pace through trial and error.

Thus far, cohosting a podcast has been a fun and interesting journey. In the time since Athena and I started hosting, I’ve had the honor of speaking with a number of amazing poets about their books, their work, and their writing process. I’ve learned a lot, both from the poets I’ve spoken with and about the podcasting process.

I am by no means a podcasting expert. However, on the chance that it may help someone else starting out in their own podcasting journey, here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned about podcasting thus far—along with many more things that I still need to work on.

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Exploring the Self by Honoring the Magical: Lessons from Lisa Marie Basile’s Magical Writing Grimoire

Photo by petr sidorov on Unsplash.

I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of witchcraft — the idea that ritual, spells, and willpower can effectively shape the world around you. No doubt movies like The Craft and Practical Magic had a significant influence on this interest. As a teenager, I would roam through the public library seeking out some old leather-bound tome to guide me (something that always seems so easy to achieve in movies).

If it had existed back then, The Magical Writing Grimoire by Lisa Marie Basile would have been a book that I would have found compelling. Even as a teenager, I already had the sense that the written word — and poetry in particular — had a kind of magic to it. Reading was empowering for me, conjuring up deep emotions and manifesting new perceptions of the universe around me. At a time when I was just starting to figure out who I was as a writer and a human, this book would have felt like a gift.

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