Women in Horror – Short Film: Wake (2010) by Bree Newsome

Wake

Written & Directed By: Bree Newsome

Length: 21:29 minutes
Genre: Horror

What It’s About: “A repressed woman does away with her domineering father, freeing herself to pursue her heart’s desire. Using a local folk magic called “root-work”, she conjures a demon to aid her in creating the man of her dreams — but soon finds herself in a waking nightmare.” — Bree Newsome

Why I Like It: This short hits the perfect tone from minute one, with Charmaine’s opening words, “Everybody knows if you’re fixin’ to GOSSIP, you gotta have a little dirt on somebody. And everybody knows if you’re fixin’ to BURY, you gotta throw a little dirt on somebody. But don’t everybody know that if you’re fixin’ to CONJURE, it’s best to take a little dirt from a body…” This story of southern folklore and a woman going after her own desires is brilliantly acted and compelling from start to finish — with an ending that gave me chills.


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Women in Horror: Prevenge (2016) directed by Alice Lowe

Prevenge

Near the movie’s opening, a very pregnant Ruth enters a reptile shop and discusses the kinds of available animals with the creepy owner. The owner’s behavior is unsettling — his passion for the creepy crawlies in his store a little too enthusiastic, even when he sees the woman in front of him is uncomfortable. Without context, the viewer is left with the uncomfortable feeling that something awful is about to happen to this flinching woman — then bam, the scene turns in another direction entirely.

Prevenge

It’s a wonderful entry into the film, as we quickly learn that Ruth is hearing the voice of her unborn daughter — and that voice is the voice of rage, demanding blood and violence. Prevenge is an excellent black comedy, in which our heroine deftly deals out a series of brutal deaths. Everything is well shot and edited to deliver excellent punchlines without loosing the emotional thread of this woman, who is lost and disconnected from the people around her. I was entirely delighted by this movie.

Prevenge

Prevenge is one of those movies in which the journey of how it was made is almost as great as the film itself. Lowe — who wrote, directed, and starred in the film — was six months pregnant when she received an opportunity to direct a low budget film. She poured all her frustrations about her career  into the movie, putting together bloody revenge thriller. “Suddenly, you’re a mother and people think different about you and you don’t have control over your job anymore,” said Lowe. “All of this stuff, I was feeling fairly grim and dark about, and I just put it in this film.”

The film was scripted and shot on an expedited schedule (with only 11 days of filming) — and all while Lowe was still pregnant. So, the baby belly we see in the movie is Lowe’s real baby belly. Considering that it’s a miracle any movie gets made at all — especially one as fantastically fun as Prevenge — thrilling to know that Lowe let nothing stop her in moving forward with her passion for making films.


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Women In Horror: Dearest Sister directed by Mattie Do

dearest-sister-nong-hak

“A village girl travels to the Lao capital, Vientiane, to care for her rich cousin who has lost her sight and gained the ability to communicate with the dead.”

This film can best be understood through the complicated familial relationships that are at its core, which blend of love and betrayal within the situational reality of class structures. Nok (played by Amphaiphun Phommapunya) exists in an unsettled position throughout much of the film. When she arrives at her cousin’s home, she is an outsider — the camera peering with her into the home as the servants ignore her and the husband keeps speaking English, a language she doesn’t understand. The scenes provide an intense feeling of isolation, which is continued even as she is introduced to Ana (played by Vilouna Phetmany) the next day.

Nok exists in an odd liminal space within the home. Although she’s family, she has been brought there to help and serve Ana. She’s too much of a servant to be treated as family and too much apart of the family to be welcome among the servants.

Dearest Sister - Mattie Do

It’s only when Nok begins to earn Ana’s trust that her position within the household begins to change. Ana is loosing her sight, the world reduced to a blur of light and shadow — with ghostly figures emerging out of that distorted vision, the sudden awareness of these spirits causing her to become injured. No one believes her, thinking the injuries are something she is doing to herself. Her husband is willing to spend any amount of money to cure her blindness and help with her mental care. He clearly loves her, and yet he also often treats her like a child. Meanwhile, the servants only care that they not be blamed when the mistress injures herself.

dearest-sister-nong

Nok is the only one who listens, the only one who works to find a way to help Ana manage the ghosts. With this help, Ana is able to feel more comfortable in dealing with her situation, and therefore happier — but this happiness is coupled with a new dependence on Nok.

The relationship grows more complicated as Nok discovers that she can profit from Ana’s condition. While she cares for Ana, she’s also drawn to want to be more a part of Ana’s world — and that includes the wealth, nice clothes, and other fineries she sees around her. Money seems to be a way for her to move from her liminal space into more firm footing beside Ana. This, of course, doesn’t go to plan.

All of the interplay between the characters in this household represent complicated power structures based on family, money, and class. The cinematography, editing, and sound design all work together to help illustrate and build upon the great performances presented by each of the actors. For example, as their relationship blossoms, Ana’s conversation with Nok is layered over several moments of quiet moments between the women — illustrating their growing friendship and intimacy.

This is a beautifully made film, unraveling concepts of trust, family obligations, and the power of money. The horror is not just in the ghosts and the inevitability of death, but in the ways people manipulate and abuse each other in both subtle and overt ways.


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Call for Submissions: Nonbinary Review #21: The Works of H.G. Wells

The Works of HG Wells

NonBinary Review, a quarterly digital literary journal, has an open call for submissions of poetry poetry, fiction, essays, and art relating to The Works of H.G. Wells. All submissions must relate to the books (movies or television shows will not be accepted).

NonBinary Review pays 1 cent per word for fiction and nonfiction, and a flat fee of $10 for poetry (singular poems or a suite)  and $25 per piece of visual art.

Extended Deadline: April 22, 2019

Full submission guidelines are on their submittable page.

Women in Horror – Short Film: Monster (2005) directed by Jennifer Kent

Monster

Written & Directed By: Jennifer Kent

Length: 10:43 minutes
Genre: Horror

What It’s About: “A single mother battles her son’s fear of a monster in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.”

Why I Like It: “Monster” is the short film that was later extended into the feature length Babadook — both of which are great. In both, a woman is harangued by her overactive son and his imaginative fears. How this develops into revealing the supernatural force at work is a bit different in each, with the condensed narrative of the short adding to the dark fairy tale tone. It’s able to build a story without needing to explain much — the monster is a monster andcan be defeated. In other words, it’s possible to master one’s fears by giving them a stern talking to. I also admire the beautiful black and white cinematography with its stark shadows.


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Fives Books of Poetry to Check Out for Women in Horror Month

I’ve been a fan of horror as a genre since I was a kid, but only recently became aware of how poetry and horror intersect to provide beautifully dark verses capable of illuminating the shadowy side of the human experience. Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increasing number of horror poetry collections written by women in the world (in part, because I’ve been more actively looking for them). It’s exciting to see this develop. Below are a few of the horror poetry books I’ve read and love, and I hope to discover many more in the future.

I am not your final girl by clair c holland

I am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland

I Am Not Your Final Girl offers up the female personas of characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent. (Full review.)

Southern Cryptozoology by Allie Marini

Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild by Allie Marini

I’ve put Southern Cryptozoology on other favorites lists before and will continue to put it on lists, because this chapbook is one of my favorite poetry reads. This collection presents a bestiary of strange, legendary creatures from the Southern parts of the U.S., examining what it means to be monster or human, beast or woman, myth or flesh.

R E D by Chase Berggrun

R E D by Chase Berggrun

In R E D, Berggrun presents a series of erasures of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The poems transform the text from a storyline in which women have little to no agency to a stunning exploration of abuse, violence, power dynamics, and femininity.

Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar

Basement Gemini is a gorgeous chapbook of poetry that draws on horror movie tropes to explore female power and agency. There’s a kaleidoscopic beauty to these untitled lyrical prose poems that feel cohesive a cohesive whole. Chelsea says, “Basement Gemini was kind of born out of that idea — the simultaneous, seemingly-contradictory-but-not-really victimization, vilification, and empowerment of women that’s encountered so often in horror.”

heliophobia by Saba Syed Razvi

Heliophobia by Saba Syed Razvi

Razvi’s collection tangles together darkness and light into a dark tapestry of power poems. As Razvi describes her book, “I suppose these poems are some kind of unholy fusion of museums, goth clubs, meditations, and global diaspora — all rewritten through dream logic, in some kind of ink made of the timeless decay of memory!”

Horror poetry books by women on my TBR:

  • A Collection of Nightmares by Christina Sng
  • Love Lessons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Lisa Cheby
  • Love for Slaughter by Sara Tantlinger
  • The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger
  • Final Girl by Daphne Gottlieb
  • Satan Says by Sharon Olds
  • Twisted in Dream: The Collected Weird Poetry of Ann K. Schwader
  • How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda Addison
  • Something in the Potato Room by Heather Cousins
  • Satan’s Sweethearts by Marge Simon and Mary A. Turzillo

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Women in Horror – Short Film: Danger Word (2013) directed by Luchina Fisher

Friends, it is February and that means that it is Women in Horror Month. I’ll be participating by consuming books, movies, and short films written and/or directed by women — and highlighting as many as I can here on my website.

Danger Word

Directed By: Luchina Fisher
Written By: Tananarive DueSteven Barnes

Length: 18:40 minutes
Genre: Horror

What It’s About: A 13-year-old girl and her grandpa struggle to survive in a zombie infested world.

Why I Like It: The zombies are situated into the background, as such the violence and scares are subtle with the relationship between the grandfather and granddaughter being at the forefront. The writing in this regard is excellent with believable dialog and some genuinely moving moments, and Frankie Faison and Saoirse Scott both do a great job of bringing these characters to life. Every scene is well utilized, so that when the truth about the zombies is revealed, the story delivers some chilling realizations.


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Culture Consumption: January 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂 I’ll be posting my favorite reads and movies of the year in the next week or two.

Books

 

I finished three fantastic poetry collections this month. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays. The collection offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The blend of writing styles and art make for a powerful and necessary read.

My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing by Kelly Lorraine Andrews is a beautiful little chapbook published by Pork Belly Press. These poems explore the physicality of existing in a body, with a blend of mortality and eroticism.

Ivy Johnson’s Born Again dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, it gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. Check out my interview with Johnson on the New Books in Poetry podcast.

I also completed Wolves of the Calla, the fifth book in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It was a fantastic read, so I wrote a bit of a post about why I loved the story and characters.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: January 2019”

Wolves of the Calla – Reading The Dark Tower, Part V

Here are Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

Wolves of the Calla by Stephen KingPart IV is focused on book five, Wolves of the Calla, and as with all of these posts, there will be so many spoilers.

When I first started reading this series as a teenager, I tore through each of the books, eager to get to the end, only to come to an abrupt halt when I discovered the fifth book had not been written yet. It took Stephen King six years after finishing Wizard and Glass to finish and publish The Wolves of the Calla. During that time, I had lost the thread of the narrative. I always intended to finish reading the series, but it settled comfortably into the back burner and stayed there — until now.

Wolves of the Calla is the first book in the series that’s new to me, and that newness might be why it took me ten months to get around to reading it. Lately, I’ve been having a hard time coming back to stories (TV shows especially), finding myself simultaneously caught between wanting to know the ending to the story and at the same time not wanting to know what happened to the characters. Reading books one to four was comfortable, stepping into the fifth book was a risk, the witness of terrible things, or worse, disappointment in the story or characters.

I shouldn’t have been so worried.

Continue reading “Wolves of the Calla – Reading The Dark Tower, Part V”

A Discussion of Memes to Movement with An Xiao Mina

Wednesday night, I headed up to The Bindery, a lovely bookstore and author reading space in San Francisco, where An Xiao Mina discussed her newly published book, Memes to Movements: How the World’s Most Viral Media Is Changing Social Protest and Power, with Robin Sloan.

Lively and entertaining, the discussion considered whether cats or goats are lords of the meme world (depends where you’re at), the ways Chinese citizens use memes to work around the country’s internet restrictions, decoding memes and the importance of translation for a deeper understanding of culture, and how spreading misinformation isn’t that different from digital marketing. I’m excited for the chance to read this book and to dive more deeply into memes and the power they have in the world.

Memes to Movements-An Xiao Mina

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Short Film: How to Be Alone (2010)

Short films (usually defined as films 40 minutes or less) can be powerful, delivering an impactful story in a short timeframe, with every scene, every moment carrying weight. As a fan of the short film form, I want to highlight some examples of the medium that I love and hopefully bring more attention to the creators. I’ll be sharing narrative shorts in a multitude of genres: horror, action, comedy, romance, animation, and so on. Other shorts (like the one I’m presenting today) may be in the form of poems in which the visual medium of films complements and uplifts the language. And as I discover more of them, I may throw in some short docs and video essays that I find Bpartculularly compelling.

How to Be Alone

Directed By: Andrea Dorfman
Written By: Tanya Davis

What It’s About: A poetic contemplation on the value of solitude.

Why I Like It: Uplifting and beautiful, this short presents a poem that an instructional style that narrates the potential of solitude as a state to seek, rather than avoid. The imagery, music, editing, and animation come together with the words (sometimes scrawled across the screen) to express the full, soothing impact of the piece. Every time I watch How to Be Alone, I find myself calmed. It’s lovely.


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New Books in Poetry: Born Again by Ivy Johnson

Ivy Johnson-Born Again

A new episode of New Books in Poetry is up, in which I speak with poet and performance artist Ivy Johnson about her book, Born Again.

The poetry and prose in Ivy Johnson’s Born Again (The Operating System, 2018) beautifully dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, this collection gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. The work blends sensuality and spirituality, merging the grounded reality of existing a physical body in the world with a sense of worship, prayer, and spell casting.

“I submerge my hands in ink and smear them across the wall
I cover my body in rich purple paint and rub against white paper
I place a sticker of the Virgin Mary on my bedroom window next to the fire escape
She hurts with the glow of blue frost
I race down the stairs to make snow angels in the dog-piss
Fill the silhouette of my body with marigolds”

— from “Take a Moment to Gather Yourself”

You can listen to the episode here.

I’m still in the process of figuring out how to be a good interview podcast host, how to shuck off my own nervousness and dig up confidence enough to feel strong in these interviews. But whatever limitations I believe I have at this moment, they are more than surpassed by the intelligence and insight of my guests so far.


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Eight Movies I Loved in 2018

I didn’t see many new movies in the theater last year, so most of the new-to-me movies I watched and loved were from previous years. I’ve also been on a kind of horror kick, watching that genre more than any other and my top eight will clearly reflect that, although there’s a teeny bit of romance and drama in the mix as well. Anyway, here are the eight movies I loved in 2018.

What were some of your favorite movies from last year?

the shape of water

The Shape of Water (2017)

In this stunning and strange dark fairytale, a mute womanfalls in love with a creature from the deep, who she decides to free from a government organization treating like a specimen for testing. Guillermo del Toro has long been my favorite director and The Shape of Water is a gorgeous example of why. His passion for monsters is clear in the way he seems to always present the most beautiful of monsters — not to mention the entire world in which those monsters and outcasts live. From the cinematography to the editing, this is a masterpiece of a film.

Halloween 2018

Halloween (2018)

One of the few movies I saw in theaters, Halloween ignores all the past sequels providing a refreshingly satisfying edition within the franchise. The story sees Laurie Strode (last girl of the first film) still locked in survivor mode, forever preparing for the boogyman to come lunging out of the closet. Scarred and hard edged, she is determined to be ready for when Michael Myers breaks free — which of course he does. One of the great things about this movie is how it shows trauma being passed down through generations, with Laurie’s daughter and grand daughter feeling the effects of her ongoing fear and resolution. While it’s got some logic flaws here and there, the movie maintains a solid level of tension along with some good jump scares — a solid addition to the franchise.

Mayhem (2017)

Mayhem (2017)

When his office building becomes quarantined due to spread of a virus that knocks peoples’ inhibitions to zero, recently fired Derek Cho (Steven Yeun) and aggrieved, former client decide to take it man and deliver some well-earned pay back. As Cho and Cross fight their way to the top, chaos roars around them with office staff destroying the office, attacking each other, openly having sex, and acting out their worst impulses all around them. Mayhem is faced paced, violent, and darkly humorous.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

Anyone who has said “the romantic comedy is dead” would be proven wrong over the past year. The genre is very much alive with a number of successful titles coming out in theaters and streaming. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of these titles, in which a teen girl writes secret love letters to boys that she has had a crush on — never intending to actually send them out. When the letters suddenly make their way into the world, things go wonderfully, wildly wrong. This movie is sweet, funny, and entirely charming — a movie I’ll definitely use for comfort watching in the future.

The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

The Eyes of My Mother (2016)

A lonely little girl who grows into a lonely and disturbed woman, so desperate for companionship she carves it out of the people around her. The Eyes of My Mother is a subtle and deeply unsettling horror film, with  black and white cinematography that adds beautiful weight to the quietly unsettlingly scenes.

Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk (2017)

During WWII, British and French troops have been cornered by the Germany army, trapped up against a beach in Dunkirk, France. The movie follows three different stories, covering the land air and sea as soldiers and civilians work to save the lives of the men on the beach. I’m not a war movie fan, but between the gorgeous cinematography, brilliant editing and sound design, and compelling interwoven storyline, Dunkirk is a powerful and thrilling film.

The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986)

A scientist develops a means of teleportation. It would be an amazing discovery, if a fly didn’t happen to enter the chamber when he while he was testing the machine on himself — leading to a slow genetic mutation. It’s clear why The Fly is considered to be a classic of the horror genre, with its phenomenal, cringe inducing special effects — not to mention a very attractive Jeff Goldblum.

Hereditary (2018)

I’m not sure this movie belongs here. Did I love the experience of watching movie? Not really. It was the last movie I saw in 2018 (it just missed being on my December Culture Consumption), and I’m still processing how I feel about it. I’m not sure I’ll ever know how I feel about it.

Herditary was by far the most visceral movie experience I’ve experienced in a long while — and I don’t used the word “visceral” lightly. From minute one, this movie does everything it can to make it’s viewers feel uncomfortable, starting with moving in on a miniature house with disembodied footsteps. From the use of wide angle shots to the disorientating sounds and music to the way the actors are presented as haggard (compared to the glossy prettiness seen in many other horror movies), Hereditary keeps things slightly (or totally) off kilter. With this constantly present tension, the shocks when they come are ever more brutal and surprising. I spent the vast majority of this movie with my body locked, every muscle tensed tightly — and this while watching the movie in the cozy space of my cousin’s house, where I could pause it and process as needed. (I can’t imagine what the experience would have been like in the theater. I think I might actually have fainted.)

I totally understand why people would hate this movie (one moment in particular fairly early on would drive people away from it). But I also understand why people would love this movie. If the purpose of a movie is to make the audience feel something, then this is a film masterfully executed, providing an experience wrought with discomfort, revulsion, and horror.

After watching this movie with my cousin, I told her that while I thought it was a fantastically made film, but that I didn’t think I would ever be able to watch it again. In the couple of weeks since watching it, I’ve since recovered from the emotional and physical shock and I’m now considering a return to Hereditary in order to better understand how this movie affected me in the way it did.


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16 of My Favorite Reads from 2018

It was a great reading year for me. The vast majority of the 63 books I read in 2018 were excellent, beautifully written, and/or just plain fun — and this could potentially be a much longer list, if I were to include every book that I enjoyed reading last year.

Fiction

freshwater by akwaeke emezi

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emzi

Connected to gods and spirit, Ada navigates her life with a sense of fractured self. Emzi’s debut novel is stunning from top to bottom. Ada’s story is heart wrenching. The writing is lush, vivid, and lyrical. It’s the kind of writing to sink into and get lost in. This book haunts me in the best of ways. (Full review.)

All Systems Red - Martha Wells

The Murderbot Series by Martha Wells

Technically, this is a cheat, since this series constitutes four books — All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy — but I’m counting them as one, since they are all just too good. All Murderbot (as it has dubbed itself) wants is to be left alone and watch hours of vids in peace. But as a security robot assigned to protect a team of scientists surveying a new planet, it has to spend a significant amount of its time preventing humans from doing stupid things that could get them killed and then saving those humans when they do those stupid things anyway. This becomes even more difficult when it becomes clear his clients are under threat of being murdered by outside sources. I loved Murderbot and all its depressed sass from page one, and each of the novellas in which it appears is full of thrilling action and humor.

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Driven by the need to impress her politically motivated mother, Ingray embarked on a dangerous and desperate scheme with unexpected consequences. Leckie is a master of world building, and the planet Hwe on which Ingray resides is a fascinating world of political intrigue. The intercultural confusion that occurs when alien ambassadors and rogue ship captains get mixed up in her scheming makes for an entertaining twists and turns and Ingray stumbles through dramatic conflicts she accidentally sets in motion. Another great book from one of my favorite authors. (Full review.)

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

In order to escape her past, Rosemary joins up with a motley crew of space farers who are tasked with opening the wormholes that enable long distance space travel. The relationships between these lovable goofballs (comprised of a mix of backgrounds and species) is at the center of this novel. Presented in episodic chapters, the novel feels a bit more like a sitcom than an epic space opera — and if you like humor, found families, and stories about compassion, then that’s totally in its favor. (Full review.)

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Believing it can bring her a balm to her trauma and anger from the violence she witnessed on her way to Oomza University, Binti has returned home only to unveil strange new family secrets. While deep in the desert contemplating this new knowledge, she learns that the presence of her friend Okwu (the first of the Meduse species to journey to Earth in peace) has stirred up violent repercussions from the Khoush, putting her family in danger. Can she rush home in time to protect them? The Binti Trilogy is an imaginative and thrilling space opera, with beautiful layers of culture and character woven throughout. The Night Masquerade makes for a wonderful and satisfying conclusion that left me in tears.

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

The island of Sawkill Rock is a idyllic place, where the the ocean crashes against rocky shores, prize horses graze in green pastures, and where the people are lithe and prosperous and unconcerned. Yet the Rock carries a dark secret — girls have been disappearing there for decades and urban legends abound about a monster in the woods. No on has braved out the truth about the missing girls, not until three girls come together to peer into the secrets hidden on the island. I love the way this book puts female relationships at its center, providing the power to root out evil only when three girls come together to fight it. (Full review.)

the changeling by victor lavalle

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Apollo Kagwa is a book man, tracking down rare first editions to make his living. When he falls in love with Emma and they have a son together, he is determined to be a better father than the man who abandoned him when he was young. But Emma begins acting in strange and unsettling ways, building to a terrible act before vanishing — sending Apollo’s world spinning out of control. The Changeling by Victor LaValle is a powerful novel, presenting a variety of horror, both mundane and supernatural, a mix of folklore and familial love and violence.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

Looking for answers following her friend’s death,Danielle Cain (a “queer punk rock traveller”) finds herself in Freedom, Iowa — a squatter town professing to be a utopia. However, something’s wrong about the place, and it’s not just the heartless animal life wandering around as though they aren’t really dead. I freaking love The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion — which I grabbed off the shelf because of its amazing title and strange eerie cover. The story is beautiful, unsettling and surprising with a multitude of interesting, believable characters. When I finished reading, I just sort of clutched it to my chest, wanting so much more of these people and this world.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Aster is an adept healer living in the slums of the generation starship, HSS Matilda. The class inequalities between the upper and lower classes are dramatic, with those in the lower decks struggling to survive under the dominance of the police force. Aster is a fascinating character — brilliant, obsessive, curious, and solitary — who pushes back against the strict oppression in what small ways she can, uncovering truths about her mother and the ship in the process. (Full review.)

Stories of Your Life and Other by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others presents a collection of short stories with characters who are driven by the pursuit of knowledge. The science at the core of these tales is not the flash bang of laser guns or space ships or explosions, but in the contemplation and study of our world through linguistics, mathematics, architecture, and beauty. As I read Chiang’s stories, I was continually impressed by his skill as a writer. (Full review.)

Poetry

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar 

If They Come for Us is a stunning collection of poetry that ” captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America by braiding together personal and marginalized people’s histories.” These poems are lyrical and powerful and moving. I love the creativity offered, from the way Asghar addresses the political through the personal to the ways she plays with language and uses humor to emphasize the messages within many of these pieces. (Full review.)

R E D by Chase Berggrun

R E D by Chase Berggrun

In R E D, Berggrun presents a series of erasures of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The poems transform the text from a storyline in which women have little to no agency to a stunning exploration of abuse, violence, power dynamics, and femininity.

I am not your final girl by clair c holland

I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland

I Am Not Your Final Girl is a collection of horror-themed poetry draws on the female characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent. (Full review.)

Bonus: A couple of amazing chapbooks I read this year include Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar (interview) and No God In This Room by Athena Dixon (interview) — both of which I highly recommend.

Comics & Graphic Novels

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris

Set in 1960s Chicago, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is told by Karen Reyes a young girl with a passion for pulp horror stories. In her spiral bound journals, she draws out her life in a mix of sketches, journal entries, and comic panels — presenting the interconnected stories of her mother, brother, and the people who live in her community. The use of color and crosshatching makes for some of the most beautiful artwork I’ve seen in any graphic novel, and the story itself is wonderfully complex and layered. (Full review.)

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror, written and illustrated by Junji Ito

Uzumaki: Spiral Into Horror, written and illustrated by Junji Ito

I’ve read a multitude of works by Ito in the past year, going into my own spiral of exploring his graphic works of horror. If I had to choose just one of this books to recommend, however, I’ll go with the classic Uzumaki, in which a town is threatened by the looming presence of a simple geometric shape. The image of a spiral fills the town, infusing and consuming the people. The black and white artwork manages to be both beautiful and horrifying at the same time.

Nonfiction

Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer 

Aimed at writers of speculative fiction (but valuable just about any writer), Wonderbook covers the full range of the writing process, from structural story elements to world building to revision, providing a theory and practice of writing. What sets this above the average writing advice book is the multitude of prompts, writing exercises, and essays from a variety of authors. (Full review.)

What were some of your favorite reads from 2018?


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Finish THE NOVEL: My Writing Goal for 2019

Writing Goals 2019

As arbitrary as the start of a new year is, I enjoy goal setting and, really, I just love making lists. So, I’ve done many kinds of resolution and goal setting over the years — I’ve kept it (fairly) simple, and I’ve made massive lists of ALL the things. Each of these has met with mixed results, although I’ve found in general that a simple set of concrete goals usually works best.

This year, my goal making boils down to one thing:

Finish THE NOVEL

In some scope or another, THE NOVEL is always present in my mind. It haunts me that I have never even completed a full draft that can be properly shared. So, it was quite a shock a few months ago when I realized that the brief break I took in working on THE NOVEL had turned into almost five years.

I kept telling myself that I would get to it — I need to finish this thing here, so I can get back to THE NOVEL. I’ll start work on THE NOVEL next month. No, the next after that.  — and then time passes, because that’s what time does. In some form or another, I’ve been putting Finish THE NOVEL on my annual goals for the past five or six years.

I’m tired of this pattern. So, this year, I have one goal — Finish THE NOVEL. That’s it.

I’ve set out a plan for doing the work and have even switched around my day job schedule a a bit to provide more dedicated time to writing. It means that I’ll probably have to say no to some of the kinds of collaborative work I’ve been doing in the past year.

BLOG BADGE 2019 Poetry Blogging NetworkIt also means that some of my shorter projects will be back-burnered.  Even though there are other things I’d like to get done in 2019 — Finish any or all of the short stories and poetry projects I have “in progress,” Blog at least once per week at part of the Poetry Blogging Network, Attend a reading or open mic at least once a month, Return to a regular running routine, etc. — all of these things by necessity will need to be secondary to may main task for the year — working on THE NOVEL.

This is an achievable goal. All it requires is the focus and effort to make it happen.

The Year of Finishing THE NOVEL is officially underway.

What are your goals for 2019?

A Footnote on Bullet Journaling: Last year I tried out Bullet Journaling as a means to help me stay organized and focused. I always meant to provide a follow up on how that went, but never got around to it. I dove fully into it at the start of the year and found it extremely helpful toward my productivity. It let me calendars and lists that suited me (I may have mentioned that I love lists). 

However, about mid year, the benefits of the Bullet Journal (creating your own calendar) became the struggle. Around that time, I started to feel too overwhelmed with keeping up with the weekly or even monthly layouts, so I slowly stopped doing them at all. 

So, I would say that I found Bullet Journaling to be a bit of a mixed bag. It was useful when I had the focus to use it, less useful when I was too overwhelmed to keep it going.

That said, I’m putting starting off the year with a Bullet Journal again — this time will an even simpler design. Hopefully that will help me keep the journal going, and in turn, help provide me with the focused tasks to meet my goal of finishing THE NOVEL.


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My Year in Review

Every year, I look back at last years goals and try to assess what worked and what did not work for me. 2018 was an interesting year, bringing a considerable amount of stress and anxiety — and I’ve noticed a number of others have experienced the same, if not more in that regard.

Just looking at my goals from the previous year, I can see that I’ve accomplished a couple of things: my blogging year was pretty consistent and I did manage to launch and successfully fund a kickstarter, among other things. But some of the major projects I was hoping to complete (finish the novel, run a half marathon) did not reach completion.

During the second half of the year, I’ve especially been felt a sense of stagnation. I stopped running, attending few writing events, and in general felt that there was little progress on my personal projects.

But this feeling of stagnation is a bit of self deception, because if I consider things as a whole, then it’s actually been phenomenal year for me in terms of writing and travel — a year I could and should be proud of. So, instead of worrying about what didn’t work for me in the past year, here are some of the good things that have gone down in 2018.

Continue reading “My Year in Review”

Culture Consumption: December 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂 I’ll be posting my favorite reads and movies of the year in the next week or two.

Books

A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon and Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar

I read two phenomenal (if very different) poetry collections this month, A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon and Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar. In her book, Yoon reflects on the lives of Korean comfort women of the 1930s and 40s, considering not only the history of sexual slavery, but also its ongoing impact. On the other hand, Bodnar uses imagery from horror cinema in her chapbook to delve into the dilemma of female power.  I also interviewed both poets about their work — Yoon on the New Books in Poetry podcast and Bodnar on my blog.

Another book I loved this month was Ted Chiang’s stunning short story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others. These stories present beautiful contemplations of our world through linguistics, mathematics, architecture, and beauty — with characters who pursue knowledge and understanding. It’s lovely and I’ve written more on this over here.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: December 2018”

Building Poetry Community: My Blogging Year in Review

I took part in the Great Poet Bloggers Revival, launched by Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon, which challenged poets to publish one new blog post per week in order to help everyone feel more engaged in the community.

This year, I managed to put together 63 blog posts — not all of these were put out weekly as intended and not all focused on poetry. But I’m feeling happy and confident about the amount of blogging I managed to do in 2018.

Out of all the blogging I’ve done in the past year, I am most proud of the eight poet spotlight interviews I’ve conducted. It’s such a pleasure to be a part of and learn from the poetry community — and since I’ve been lax on participating or attending readings and open mics, being able to still feel connected through these interviews has been wonderful. Links to the eight interviews are presented below.

Sarah Blake on leaving earth and finding home in poetry:

“It’s hard to describe why I write poetry because it feels somewhat out of my control, but I know I need poetry to move through the world and my life, and I’m extremely grateful that poetry is the form that feels like home to me — even if it’s a scary home that I find riveting and that I feel extremely vulnerable in.”

Chelsea Margaret Bodnar on horror and the dilemma of female power:

“I was a total tomboy and actively discouraged being perceived as feminine, but lots of horror movies (think The Ring, Carrie, and even Psycho, in a deferred kind of way) reinforce that femininity can be dangerous, which is problematic, obviously, but also weirdly empowering. Basement Gemini was kind of born out of that idea — the simultaneous, seemingly-contradictory-but-not-really victimization, vilification, and empowerment of women that’s encountered so often in horror.”

Joanna C. Valente on spirituality and the drive to communicate:

“I largely consider myself a witch with a mashup of Eastern Orthodox/Jewish beliefs, which is because of my relationships and upbringing and interest in largely just being authentic and true to myself. So this book is largely an exploration of that as a queer person, using the first part to explore gender and sexuality and dysfunction in the tradition family setting, while the other parts explore this within the technological realm.”

Anthony Frame on the environmental impact of people and making poetry dance:

“I’m not someone who sits before the page every day; I do a lot more daily internal work and note taking, which leads me, eventually to the page — but after a while (maybe a year or eighteen months) I had a decent stack of poems. So, I did what I normally do — I looked through them to figure out my obsessions to help guide me towards a new manuscript.”

Stephanie M. Wytovich on staring down your demons:

“To me, the horror genre is all about survival and strength, which is why I feel drawn to it. I enjoy writing in a genre that doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that monsters (both real and imagined) exist, and I like to take the opportunity to teach my readers (sometimes through personal example) how to face down their demons and win.”

Marisa Crawford on pop culture, feminism, and the value of emotional knowledge:

“There’s a long history of literary critics and gatekeepers insisting that poems that reference pop culture or contemporary culture are necessarily not serious works of art, and that great literature must be timeless. I reject this idea — I think it’s dumb to try to divorce art from your lived experiences and the culture it comes out of, and that trying to ties into this false notion that literature can or should be “universal,” which historically has really just meant writing that appeals to straight white men.”

Holly Lyn Walrath on hybrid writing and the idea of femininity:

“Weird writing inhabits a liminal place between genres. It’s the stuff of the strange and not-quite-definable, a hybrid kind of writing that sings its own song and creates the instruments as it goes. Basically, it’s anything that doesn’t fit the mold. I think this approach excites me because I don’t really think or dream in the ways that are expected.”

Saba Syed Razvi on the interplay between dark and light:

“There is a different kind of knowledge that emerges in the obscured spaces, those shaped by the shadows of what is in the way of our easy reach. The allure of the uncertain, the risk, the hidden, and the dangerous orbit around the notion that risk brings relief, brings possibilities beyond what is easily inspected. Just as we are so accustomed to the image, we tend to crave the comfort of texture or touch, the scent of the unfamiliar as much as the sensation that invites us into staying in the revelry of the uncertain. In this space of darkness, what we see is never really certain, and the secret parts of the psyche find opportunities to come out and play.”

Other than the poetry spotlights highlighted above, I also blogged about my culture consumption (books, movies, TV, games, etc.) throughout the year, shared news about my writing and travels, and hosted a couple of giveaways. Among these, the five that I’m most pleased with are:

    1. As a Single Lady Alone on Valentines Day
    2. The Beautiful Horrors of Junji Ito
    3. Six Things I Loved About Egypt
    4. Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook is a fantastic toolbox for fiction writers
    5. Wizard and Glass – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part IV

All in all, I think it’s been a pretty good blogging year for me. Thank you to everyone who’s been with me on this journey. I hope you’ll stick around and continue reading in the new year.


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Book Love: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Other by Ted Chiang

The 2016 movie Arrival  — in which aliens come to Earth and a linguist works with a team of scientists in order to communicate with them — is one of my all-time favorite science fiction flicks of all time. The skillful way in which writer and director were able to weave together events from multiple times in the Louise’s life in order to build a beautiful emotional arch is stunning to watch.

Since seeing the movie, I’ve listened to a couple of podcast interviews with screenwriter Eric Heisserer, in which is describes falling in love with Ted Chiang’s novella “Story of Your Life” and his long journey of adapting the complex story into a screenplay and then spending years seeking someone to make it into a film. Hearing his passion for this story and his descriptions of what had to change and what did not in order to make the film possible, I knew I needed to read the original novella.

Just as with the movie, “Story of Your Life” involves first contact with aliens and humanities attempts to work together in order to be able to communicate with and understand them. It’s also centered around Louise, who is relating the story of her daughter’s life. It’s also about linguistics and science and love and the functioning of time. It’s a beautiful story — one that is both intimately similar and vastly different from the movie adaptation of it, both story and movie being beautiful in their own right, allowing me to love them independently of each other.

Reading the rest of Stories of Your Life and Others, I continued to be impressed by Chiang’s skill as a writer. Science is at the core of his work — not in the flash bang of laser guns or space ships or explosions, but in the contemplation and study of our world through linguistics, mathematics, architecture, and beauty.

Many of these stories are driven by humanities pursuit of knowledge. In “Tower of Babylon,” a builder is brought to work on an enormous tower, which is being constructed in an attempt to reach heaven. It’s massive undertaking of generations. To reach the top takes months, some people are born, live, and die on the tower without knowing any other life. As it grows ever taller, the tower reveals the secret of the world in a beautifully surprising way.

While in “Understand” this pursuit of knowledge is driven in a different direction. Rather than building an external tower, a man who wakes from coma begins to developed dramatically increased intelligence, reaching a point of even understanding his own mind and being able to manipulate its function to improve his mental operations. It’s fascinating to see him reach a point beyond human understanding and then to see how our perspective of him shifts toward the end.

“Seventy-Two Letters” dives deep into exploring the power of language by imagining a world in which many of the scientific principles of the world are determined by nomenclature. This is not only the writing of names upon machinery in order to create automatons, but also the biological principles of life. I was surprised to realize that this was a story I had read before (in an anthology, I think). I was fascinated by it was the time because it was such an odd concept and it has stuck with me over the years. Rereading it, I was struck all over again by the strength of this story.

The power of personal perception and how it influences prejudice is explored in “Liking What You See: A Documentary,” a story in which a university group presents that idea of requiring all students to implement Calli, a non-invasive brain modification that prevents the user from “seeing” or understanding beauty (or lack thereof) in another person. By presenting a series of personal accounts of people from variety of backgrounds, the story is able to provide a nuanced examination of the power of beauty and associated issues surrounding media manipulation.

This collection of stories is beautiful — one I would highly recommend for anyone interested in science fiction of a more contemplative nature.

New Books in Poetry: A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon

Yoon-A Cruelty Special to Our Species copy

My first podcast interview at New Books in Poetry is live! I had a lovely conversation with Emily Jungmin Yoon regarding her  first full-length collection, A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco Books, 2018), which examines forms of violence against women. At its core these poems delve into the lives of Korean comfort women of the 1930s and 40s, reflecting on not only the history of sexual slavery, but also considering its ongoing impact. Her poems beautifully lift the voices of these women, helping to make them heard and remembered — while also providing insight into current events, environmentalism, and her own personal experiences as a woman in the world.

I loved this collection of poetry, which was so moving in how it addressed intense subject matters. Her words are lyrical, vivid, and enriched with a playful examination of language, the way mean slips depending on perspective and how language can be a powerful tool. These poems help to give voice to women whose stories are not commonly told. It’s beautifully done.

Culture Consumption: November 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂

Books

Fatimah Asghar’s If They Come for Us is a stunning collection of poetry (more on that over here).

I’m continuing to love the Murderbot diaries from Martha Wells. The third book, Rogue Protocol, provides more  adventure, more snark, more delightful robot anxiety.

Finding Baba Yaga: A Short Novel in Verse by Jane YolenJane Yolen’s short novel in verse, Finding Baba Yaga, was also a quick fun read. In this fairy tale retelling, a modern teenager runs away from the abuses of home and finds sanctuary in the chicken-legged home of the witch Baba Yaga. She works hard under the tutelage of the witch, who has iron teeth and a sharp nose and rides a mortar and pestle. The witch is not nice — perfectly willing to gobble up children (especially boys) when the situation calls for it — but she’s fair, and the girl finds sanctuary with her. The poetry is straightforward, but lovely with some fun wordplay thrown in to keep things lively. And the story feels complete with satisfying end.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: November 2018”

Book Love: If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

 If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

I fell in love with Fatimah Asghar’s writing as soon as I heard her fantastic slam piece, “Pluto Shits on the Universe,” in which she gives Pluto voice and the power of chaos. So, when I learned that her collection, If They Come for Us, was available, I knew it was a book I had to own.

As described by Goodreads, “In this powerful and imaginative debut poetry collection, Fatimah Asghar nakedly captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America by braiding together personal and marginalized people’s histories. After being orphaned as a young girl, Asghar grapples with coming-of-age as a woman without the guidance of a mother, questions of sexuality and race, and navigating a world that put a target on her back.”

If They Come for Us is a stunning collection of poetry, lyrical and powerful and moving. There are many things I love about this book, from the way Asghar addresses the political through the personal to the ways she plays with language and uses humor to drive home meaning.

Among the things I adore is the beautiful physicality found in many of these poems, in which the body is sketched out in vivid detail — and not just the pretty bits, but the full reality of a body that makes up a human being. A body is where “mosquito bites bloom” or where exist “hairs crawling out.” In “Oil,” she writes, “The walk to school makes the oil pool on my forehead / a lake spilling under my armpits.” The specifics of existing in a human body in these poems feel as though the speaker is declaring their existence in a world that doesn’t always want them. It’s a lovely way to claim space.

Asghar is inventive with the poetic form, not only presenting poems in free verse, but using words in unusual ways whether it’s putting a stanza upside down so that the book has to be flipped over to be read, or whether it’s situating her words within the constructs of a “games” in the form of a bingo card, mad libs, map, or cross word puzzle. The poems in this collection in their beauty and variety offer continual surprises and wisdom each time I read them.


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New Poetry & Stuff

I’ve got several goodies to share!

1. “Miss Piggy: Our lady of Owning That Shit” was published in Vol III, Issue 4 of Pittsburgh Poetry Houses. They publish beautiful little broadsides of poetry, which are displayed in little houses and offered for free in the local area before being shared online.


2. Bekah and Shannon Steimel reprinted “Ursula: Our Lady of Unrepentant Self Possession” followed by an interview in which I discuss my writing process, what I’m reading, and other such things.


3. “Welkin Waltz,” a collaborative poem by Laura Madeline Wiseman and I is up at Thirteen Myna Birds.  It’s a venue for dark poetry that I’ve loved for a long time, so it’s an honor to be included.


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News! Taking Over the New Books in Poetry Podcast

New Books in Poetry

I’m stoked to let you all know that Athena Dixon and I are taking over hosting duties for the New Books in Poetry podcast!

The podcast is part of the New Books Network, which reaches about 30,000 people a day and listeners download over a million episodes a month. The New Books in Poetry podcast itself has been around since 2011 and has featured a variety of poets from different backgrounds. The podcast has been on a bit of a hiatus. Now, we’re excited to be starting it up again.

Athena has already completed her first episode, in which she speaks with Vernon Keeve III about his book Southern Migrant Mixtape (Nomadic Press, 2018). Of his work, she states:

Memoir comes in many forms, be it poetry or prose. Keeve’s work is a bridge between both worlds. In a manner that is simultaneously universal and intimate, his book is an unflinching view at what it is to be black, queer, disenfranchised, jubilant, and resilient. Via his deft pen, Keeve turns his focus on how his own personal history is deeply connected to, and is bolstered by, the black experience in society.

It is via this collection, Keeve hopes to create a legacy for the story of his family, his culture, and the future. As he writes in “The decomposition of Emmett,”

There is a dis-
ease in the land.

This collection dissects the diss, the unease, and the sickness of American generations as a means of healing and reconciliation.

Be sure to check out the episode!

Poet Spotlight: Chelsea Margaret Bodnar on horror and the dilemma of female power

Chelsea Margaret Bodnar is made of blood, meat, and bones — the usual suspects. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in: The Bennington Review, The Birds We Piled Loosely, Freezeray, Leopardskin & Limes, Menacing Hedge, and NANO Fiction, among others.

You recently published your debut collection of poetry, Basement Gemini (Hyacinth Girl Press). Tell us a bit about the chapbook and how it came into being.

Well, I wrote Basement Gemini at a time when I was thinking very extensively about The Ring. I think it’s a fascinating movie, and no, I haven’t seen the original Japanese version. I’m a straight-up American Ring poseur. Anyways, The Ring is really interesting to me because of the ambiguity of its message. The takeaway is essentially that a little girl has been abused and ultimately murdered, but the twist is that she was presumably inherently evil the whole time, and you end up with this weird message/ethical dilemma about misplaced empathy, feminine power, and nature vs. nurture. At the end of the day, though, no matter how evil and powerful she was, Samara couldn’t get herself out of that well.

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Chelsea Margaret Bodnar on horror and the dilemma of female power”

Culture Consumption: October 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂

Books

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2) by Martha WellsIt’s been a phenomenal month of reading. In addition to Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (discussed here and here), I read Artificial Condition, the second book in Martha Wells’s Murderbot Diaries. After the events of All Systems Red, Murderbot goes looking into its dark past in an attempt to remember just what happened on the day when a number of humans were killed. Of course, there are problems along the way.  I read this novella all in one sitting. I love Murderbot and all his anxieties and the way he somehow tries to do what’s right by people, even when all he wants to do is hide away somewhere and watch vids. So far, there are two more books in this series and I’m looking forward to reading them.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: October 2018”

Book Love: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

DESCRIPTION: “Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.”

I did not read the description or any reviews before picking up this book. Enough people told me this was a necessary read and so I read it. As a result, I was expecting quite a different book than the one I got. What I expected was a gritty space thriller (not sure why I came to that assumption). What I actually got was the aforementioned light-hearted space romp — and I’m thrilled, because this is a delightful book.

The story begins with Rosemary Harper who joins the crew of the Wayfarer in order to flee the misfortunes of her past. On the ship, she’s presented with a (mostly) lovable bunch of goofballs and odd characters — Ashby, the pacifist captain, Sissix, the reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks, Lovey, the ship’s AI system, among several others — who go around tearing holes in the universe (creating wormholes for ships to pass through). It’s dangerous work, but their new assignment is even more dangerous still, as they are tasked with traveling to a war torn galaxy in order to make their jump.

The way these crew find friendship and family through each other is just, oh, so wonderful. It’s funny and charming and so heartwarming. Conflicts naturally arise within any group working in a confined space, especially when that crew contains a diversity of not only cultural but species differences. It’s the ways these characters address these conflicts, always with compassion and a desire to understand another person’s perspective at their heart.

Each chapter feels like a semi-contained story within the overarching storyline of the novel, revealing some piece of personal history or new connection between the characters, with everything coming together in the end.

I love each of these characters so much, and love seeing the way they care for each other. One scene in particular moved me so much that after finishing the book, I read it all over again — something like three or four times. And I’m sure that I’ll return to moments in this book in the future, whenever I want a little comfort in my life, a moment of believing that people can be good to each other after all.


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Book Love: Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.
He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.

The island of Sawkill Rock is a idyllic place, where the the ocean crashes against rocky shores, prize horses graze in green pastures, and where the people are lithe and prosperous and unconcerned. Yet the Rock carries a dark secret — girls have been disappearing there for decades and urban legends abound about a monster in the woods. No on has braved out the truth about the missing girls, not until three girls come together to peer into the secrets hidden on the island.

The story is split between each of the three girls — Marion who is weighed down by loss and is the steady mountain her mother and sister lean upon, Zoey who bares her outcast status with pride and longs to gain justice for the friend she is sure is not just missing but gone, and Val who rules as Sawkill royalty, gorgeous, privileged, and ruthless.

I love novels that center female relationships at their core, and this is the thread that holds this story together. As narration shifts between their perspectives, we get to see and understand  each of them from different angles and insight — the weight each of them carries and their individual sense of isolation and loneliness. It’s as they begin to understand what links them together — friendship, love, or enmity — that they are able to find away to face the monsters of their world.

Structurally, the novel is tight, each scene feeling essential, with nothing wasted — not one felt like filler, just something put there to take up space. And yet, the story also felt multilayered and complex enough to keep me fascinated and surprised the whole way through. This is combined with beautiful, clear language that brings Sawkill Rock and its girls vividly to life.

I also appreciated how Legrand doesn’t pull punches. The novel walks the borderline between dark fantasy and horror, with the monsters being truly monstrous. There’s also enough suggestions of bloodshed and dark moments to make this book quite unsettling at points, which I loved.

It also made me cry, which I also loved. So much to love about this book.


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Culture Consumption: September 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂

Books

I read and adored I Am Not Your Final Girl, a collection of horror-themed poetry by Claire C. Holland (review) and Nova Ren Suma’s latest eerie YA novel, A Room Away from the Wolves, for which I’m hosting a giveaway. Although each has a very different tone, both books explore the strength of women when faced with unsettling or violent circumstances. I highly recommend them.

I also enjoyed Jeremy C Shipp’s novella The Atrocities, which is a tightly told horror story. Ms. Valdez is hired as a private teacher for Isabella. She journeys to an labyrinthine estate adorned with grotesque statues and painting, where she learns that the young girl she is supposed to teach is dead and a ghost. As Ms. Valdez begins to uncover the truth about this strange family, she faces the hauntings of her own past. Great story.

Sticking with the horror theme, I finished the graphic short story collection Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito. I adore Ito’s work in general, though this collection didn’t quite meet the same level of unsettling beauty as Uzumaki or the stories in Shiver.  Still, there were a couple stories that stood out for me, with images that linger, including “Dissection-chan,” in which a woman is obsessed with the idea of dissection, and “Blackbird,” in which a man survives a hiking accident through horrific means.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: September 2018”

Book Love & Giveaway: A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

Feeling betrayed after her mother kicks her out of the house after another supposed indiscretion, Bina takes immediate action — choosing to leave of her own accord. She grabs what money she can and travels not to the family friends her mother selected, but to Catherine House in New York City, the woman’s residence her mother once lived. Bina has heard many stories of Catherine House, stories to fascinate her, stories to make her believe she can regain some connection to her mom by going there herself. But when she arrives at Catherine House, she is confronted with dark secrets she doesn’t understand and which may leave her trapped within its walls.

Nova Ren Suma is one of my favorite authors. I love the way she builds unsettling atmosphere into her stories and how she complicates female relationships, which are never simple in her tales. A Room Away From the Wolves does both of these things — both Bina’s relationship with her mother and her strange friendship with her downstairs neighbor Monet are complex, loving, and problematic. Much of her story is trying to find herself outside the context of her mother, while also confronting her own fears.

As Bina learns about herself, she works to understand the mysteries surrounding Catherine and the house. One of the things I love and am frustrated by in this book is how the story is comfortable allowing some secrets to remain secret. Not every mystery is explained. Not every dark corner is revealed. And the reader is left wondering. It makes me want to pick up the book and start rereading to see if there were some clues I missed the first time around, knowing that I would get to enjoy the beauty of Suma’s prose and storytelling all over again.

Footnote: This is the second book by Suma that I immediately saw being perfect for movie adaptation (the first being Imaginary Girls). This could be made into a beautiful kind of haunted house movie, one with complicated female characters at its center.

Giveaway

So, it turns out I have an extra copy of  A Room Away From the Wolves. How? Well, I’m a goof.

It went like this: as soon as I found out it was available for preorder, I clicked the order button. Then, time went by — and I saw another mention of the book. How have I not preordered this yet? I demanded of myself. It’s absurd! So, I ordered it again.  Hence: extra copy.

And what am I do with this extra copy? Why spread the love, of course.

If you would like to get your hands on my extra copy of A Room Away From the Wolves, all you have to do is leave a comment with your name and email by October 25th.

Want an extra chance of winning? Then, also subscribe to my newsletter, where I talk about books, poetry, and the writing life.

That’s it. I’ll use a random number generator to select the winner.

Book Love: I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland

I am not your final girl by clair c holland

Just in time for the Halloween season. I Am Not Your Final Girl is a collection of horror-themed poetry draws on the female characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. In her introduction, Claire C. Holland notes, “I draw strength from the many strong women around me, both real and fictional.” The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent.

“I have known monsters and I have known men.
I have stood in their long shadows, propped
them up with my own two hands, reached
for their inscrutable faces in the dark. They
are harder to set apart than you know.
— “Clarice,” The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

As a horror fan, I know many of the characters and movies referenced, and it’s fascinating to peer in at them from the unique perspective of these Holland’s words. That said, there just as many that I haven’t seen and a few I had not hear of — but not knowing the direct reference in each case did not stop me from enjoying the poem for its own sake, the words drawing me in. And now I have a list of movies that I need to seek out and watch.

“Separate yourself, like sliding wire through
clay. Divide your organs – heart, lungs, tongue,
and brain. You think you need them all?
You’d be shocked what a woman can live
without. We’re like roaches, we thrive”
— from “Shideh,” Under the Shadow (2016)

I read I Am Not Your Final Girl from top to bottom with delight. Although the subject is focused on horror, the collection doesn’t come off as a downer. Instead, it presents a sense of fierce hope in the act of resistance, in rising up, in fighting back.

Footnote: I won a copy of this book in some sort of contest — Instagram or Twitter or something, where precisely has completely swooshed out of my head (it’s gone and I don’t expect to get it back). Whatever or wherever the contest was held, I am grateful to have received a copy of his collection, because I loved reading it.

Poet Spotlight: Holly Lyn Walrath on hybrid writing and the idea of femininity

Holy Lyn Walrath

Holly Lyn Walrath’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Luna Station Quarterly, Liminality, and elsewhere. Her chapbook of words and images, Glimmerglass Girl, will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. She is a freelance editor and host of The Weird Circular, an e-newsletter for writers containing submission calls and writing prompts. ​Find her on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath or on Instagram @Holly__Lyn. (Bio from author’s website.)

You recently published your first collection of poetry, Glimmerglass Girl. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

Glimmerglass Girl by Holy Lyn WalrathSome time ago I realized I’d written a lot of poems centered on the idea of femininity. It made sense to me to compile them into a collection. Many were poems I loved but that weren’t getting a lot of attention publication-wise. I think the most surprising thing about putting the collection together was that those poems (which at the time seemed like failures to me) suddenly made sense as a part of a collective whole. They spoke to each other in a new way. So that was my process, finding the pieces that I loved and wanted to contrast with each other to create new meaning.

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Holly Lyn Walrath on hybrid writing and the idea of femininity”

New Story Up at Luna Station!

Luna Station Quarterly 035I’m stoked to have “A Dream of This Life,” my short story about insomnia and dream selling, has been published in issue 035 of Luna Station Quarterly.

This story started its life during The Brainery’s Science Fiction Fairy Tales workshop — ten weeks of writing stories in which fairy tales and science were mashed together. “A Dream of This Life” is a mash up of sleeping beauty and dream science, with the final result bearing little resemblance to the original fair tale.

Some stories come out nearly whole in one go. This was one of those stories. The first draft was very similar to the one that was finally published. Although I went through a process of writing additional scenes, thinking the story needed more, the workshop group reigned me in and guided me back toward the more concise version. Without the help of the group, I might have been lost down a story rabbit hole. But something that writing those extra scenes taught me is that there is more to this story — and I may just get around to writing it someday.


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Culture Consumption: August 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂

Books

The Changeling by Victor LaValleThe Changeling by Victor LaValle is a powerful novel, presenting a variety of horror, both mundane and supernatural, a mix of folklore and familial love and violence. Apollo Kagwa is a book man, tracking down rare first editions to make his living. When he falls in love with Emma and they have a son together, he is determined to be a better father than the man who abandoned him when he was young. But Emma begins acting in strange and unsettling ways, building to a terrible act before vanishing — and Apollo’s world is spun out of control.

What makes the horrors of this novel work so effectively is how rooted the story is in normal, everyday life before slowly gathering in strange moments one-by-one. It’s beautifully evoked, layering in the anxieties of fatherhood and dealing with racism and the ways we fail to be compassionate to loved ones when things are hard and the male ego and so much more — all combined with its undertones of folklore. The worst horrors are not always of the supernatural kind, and this story parallels them well — making for a frightening and deeply moving tale.

This is the second book by LaValle that I’ve read (the first being The Ballad of Black Tom) and I’m itching to read more of his work.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: August 2018”

WorldCon 76 Recap and Book Haul

Last weekend, I attended my first WorldCon!

For years I’ve been wanting to attend, but haven’t been able to travel to the many wonderful destinations the event appears at around the world. So, when I saw that WorldCon 76 was going to be in San Jose, California (practically my backyard), I jumped at the chance to finally attend — and not only attend, but participate in a reading!

During WorldCon, I still had to work my day job, so I didn’t get a chance to fully experience the event. But even just going in the evenings and on the weekend, I had a fabulous time. I ran into several writer and reader friends, chatted it up with some lovely strangers, and shopped for books and other goodies to my heart’s content (and pocket book’s misery). Here are a few highlights from my first WorldCon.

Watching the Hugo Awards

Rather than going into the grand ballroom, some friends and I gathered in Callahan’s to watch the live stream together — which allowed us the ability to grab some beers and snacks while we were watching. While the ceremonies as a whole were great, one of the best moments of the night was N.K. Jemisin winning the Hugo for Best Novel. She’s the first person to ever have one this award three years in a row, and her acceptance speech was a moving and funny and powerful. I cried seeing it at WorldCon and I cried again rewatching it on video. Check it out. It’s amazing.

Breaking Out of the Margins

Panel with Michi Trota, JY Yang, Foz Meadows, Caroline M. Yoachim, and Sarah Kuhn (moderator)

Breaking Out of the Margins was probably my favorite panel at the event. All of the authors were brilliant, pulling from each of their experiences to form a thoughtful, intelligent discussion on the subject of identity in relation to creative endeavors.

Both Michi Trota andCaroline M. Yoachim noted that when they were young writers, they had defaulted to putting white people as main characters. As they grew as writers, they began including characters who were more like them, representing their own experiences and backgrounds.

Sarah Kuhn noted the people will often ask why the author made the character black or Asian or gay, which reflects the default white straight perspective. But when an author makes a character white, straight, cis-gendered, this also is a choice that they’re making, although it’s not seen as such.

Kuhn also brought up the concept of “Rep Sweats” the stress of watching, reading, or creating a work that is the sole representation of a culture or group of people. Suddenly, there’s a lot of pressure for that work (she used Fresh Off the Boat as an example) to be perfect — in part because if the show fails, then it could be a years before anything like it comes around again.

Foz Meadows replied that when there’s a lack of diverse content in the world, then the little bit of content that is produced has a greater weight to it. So, the solution is to have a wider range of representation that allows authors and creators to have the room to fail.

Meadows also quoted a tumblr post talking about Jupiter Rising, which stated that it’s garbage, but it’s your garbage. The point being that some of the fun of fiction and film and such is being able to enjoy fun trash with characters who represent them.

“Yes,” replied JY Yang. “I just want to make stories about kissing and shooting things in space!”

In the end, “Let us write trash,” became a gleeful rallying cry — and I’m hoping we will all get to read some fantastic new trash from these authors in the future.

Research Rabbit Holes

Karen Joy Fowler, Andy Duncan, Lawrence M. Schoen, Ann Leckie, Irene Radford, and Sarah Pinsker (moderator)

Research Rabbit Holes was a delight of a panel, presenting for the most part stories of the ways the authors had fallen into such holes, how those holes had revealed surprising inspiration for their stories, and a multitude of fun facts they discovered over the years. I unfortunately wasn’t able to retain all of these stories, even though they delighted me.

The panel pointed out that there are two kinds of research — the brainstorming stage (before you start the story) and the plug-in-a-fact stage (when you just need to know one specific thing while you’re writing). The brainstorming stage is the hardest to know when to stop and each writer had their own take on when that moment is. Ann Leckie noted that you don’t need to know all the details before you start writing, while Lawrence M. Schoen explained that he likes to feel fully immersed in the research, knowing he won’t be writing it all out, but that that immersion allows details to come out naturally in his writing.

On being afraid of getting it wrong, Karen Joy Fowler said, “When someone sends me an email saying ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about’ because I’ve intersected two streets in a story that could never intersect, I just think, ‘I gave that person more pleasure by getting it wrong than if I had gotten it right.'”

Petrified Trees, Enchanted Mirrors: The Gothic Universe of Female Mexican Horror Writers

Raquel Castro, Andrea Chapela, Gabriela Damian Miravete, and Pepe Rojo (moderator)

The three panelists — each of whom write horror themselves — provided some fascinating insight into the long tradition of female Mexican horror writers. This is a horror that is specifically feminine, with women using the genre to explore the circumstances of their lives and the stereotypes and repression of women within the country.

There is something about horror that has to do with control,  explained Raquel Castro, a control that women don’t have. These stories help women deal with the horrors of their everyday lives that they don’t have control over — providing a way for them to exorcise these feelings. “I’ve heard so many stories of the women’s lives around me, and these stories haunted me,” said Castro. “I wanted to tell these stories — but coded through horror.”

Gabriela Damian Miravete said, “Horror is a place for of creativity and life. Even though it speaks of grim things, it is a safe space. It can give you comfort, as you read it, knowing there’s daylight and that in the end, you can put down the book and escape the haunted house. It’s a joy we must recover.” Miravete also pointed out that as horrors in real life increase, the horror genre tends to decay — but that she hopes that we can reverse the flow, compensating with genre.

The panel named a dozen or so female horror writers in Mexico, but unfortunately I had a hard time getting all the names down. However, The Outer Dark podcast will be sharing the panel in a future episode and plans to provide a list of all the writers and stories suggested. So, I’ll be sure to link to them once that list appears.

Poetry Readings

On Sunday, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) hosted a reading of speculative poetry. I always find joy and inspiration in hearing poems read, and I was honored to have been read alongside G.O. Clark, Sue Burke, John Phillip Johnson, Mary Soon Lee, Denise Clemons, and Alan Stewart (author website included where I could find it).

The SFPA Readers
The SFPA Readers (L-R) G.O. Clark, Sue Burke, John Phillip Johnson, Mary Soon Lee, Denise Clemons, and me. (Alan Stewart not pictured)

Several of the SFPA crew were also on the Science Fiction Aesthetics panel that followed immediately after the reading. I was able to pop in for half of the panel before running off, but enjoyed the discussion while I was there.

Book Haul

The first night I came home from the con, my roommate stared at me in confusion. “Where’s your usual stack of new books?” she asked.

I laughed. “What do you mean? It’s only the first day! I’ll have plenty of books by the end, I promise.”

And I certainly lived up to that promise. Here’s what I grabbed.

book stack

  • My Life, My Body, Plus… by Marge Piercy
  • The Atheist in the Attic, Plus… by Samuel R Delany
  • Skies of Wonder, Skies of Danger: An Isle of Write Anthology, edited by John Appel, Jo Miles, and Mary Alexandra Agner
  • The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
  • The Long Way to a Strange and Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic, edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo & Chris N Brown
  • The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
  • Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

Announcements: New Poetry and an Upcoming WonderCon Reading!

I’ve been slacking, so there are so many things to announce!

Every Girl Becomes the Wolf

Every Girl Becomes the Wolf is now available!

This chapbook explores the received images of the feminine in fairy tales. The women and girls in this collaborative chapbook resist the common tropes of red riding hoods, gilded mirrors, and iced palaces. Every girl becomes the wolf because every girl has the power to tear apart the cultural conceit of wicked stepmoms, heartless mothers, and voracious monsters. Witches, hags, and mothers of damaged creatures from myth, movies, and lore prowl through this poetry. Lilith settles in to enjoy the county fair rib-off, Grendel’s mother holds her son close, and the Sphynx bears the weight of mythic secrets. Mothers demand their own freedom, daughters refuse gendered expectations, and wives leave what spoils with rot behind. As they wrestle with their place in these stories, they transform into figures outside of the victims or villains they have been perceived to be.

I’m so proud of this chapbook of monstress poems Laura Madeline Wiseman and I coauthored and its been a delight to see that friends, family, and strangers have been receiving the book.

I received my author copies this week — with their gorgeously smooth textured covers — just in time for WorldCon 76 this weekend! If you’re going to be there, consider stopping by Room 212C to hear me read some poetry-type things along with some fellow Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) members.


They Said – Undead Anthologies

Two gorgeous new anthologies have also entered the world in recent weeks.

They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing, edited by Simone Muench and Dean Rader, includes poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as hybridized forms that push the boundaries of concepts like “genre” and “author.” Each piece is also presented with a afterward in which the collaborators describe their process for working together. The anthology includes “A Gathering of Baba Yagas” cowritten by Laura Madeline Wiseman and I.

Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghosts, Ghouls, and More, edited by Bianca Lynne Spriggs and Katerina Stoykova, offers over seventy contemporary poets contending with a time-honored topic: what lies beyond ‘the great beyond.’ It showcases poems ranging from deceased relatives and celebrities to other undead entities such as, vampires, automatons, angels, and yes, zombies. This anthology includes a reprint of my poem “Beware of Attics”

In other poetry news, Laura Madeline Wiseman and I have some new poems out in the world — “Reflection of the Blind” appears the Eye to the Telescope Issue 29 – The Dark, and “Pouring the Pennyroyal,” “Fish Bone Wishes,” and “Cento of the Golden Key” are up at Priestess & Hierophant

The latest edition of my newsletter is out, if you want to check it out!

Touring Petra

In the midst of our nine days in Egypt, my sister and I took a day tour into Jordan to visit Petra. This involved getting up at 3 a.m. for a two hour bus ride, one hour boat ride across the Red Sea, and another two hour bus ride, during which was had to pass through border control (and then the reverse for our return). It was a long journey for such a short (four hour) tour of Petra, but it was absolutely worth it.

Petra was the capital city of the Nabataeans, a nomadic people who used the city as a trading hub. The most famous structure is the “Treasury,” a tomb carved into a sandstone cliff at the end of a narrow gorge — a structure that was featured at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Treasury style is influenced by the Greek and Egyptian cultures. The upper level includes images of two Amazons, with the the Egyptian goddess Isis at the center. At the center of the middle band is Medusa, who acts as a guardian of the tomb. And there are other references as well. Watching the Treasury slowly be revealed as you walk(while dodging out of the way of speedily moving horse-drawn carts) down the narrow gorge is stunning.

The Treasury is the most famous structure at Petra.

But there is so much more to Petra than the Treasury. The rock formations alone are beautiful. And there are numerous tombs carved into cliffsides, as well as a theater, a church, a monastery and other structures. Altogether, my sister and I only saw a fraction of Petra (and even less of Jordan)  — and we were immediately struck with a desire to return and hike through more of the site.

petra
Moving through a gorge in Petra.
Petra – the Royal Tombs
Petra – the Royal Tombs

Six Things I Loved About Egypt

When my sister and I told family and friends that we were planning to spend nine days touring through Egypt, we were often greeted with warnings — it was dangerous, they said, we should stay away. But that didn’t stop us.

Egypt was a phenomenal place to explore. Although there were annoyances (as there always are when traveling), both my sister and I felt safe during our nine days in Egypt. The food was (for the most part) great — often kebabs or chicken with rice, salad (a mix of cucumber and tomatoes), tahini sauce, and pita bread for dinner and falafels for breakfast in the mornings. We also tried and rather enjoyed koshari, a dish with rice, pasta, lentils, and fried onions with a red sauce.

My sister and I packed as much as two people could humanly pack into our nine days, visiting dozens of pyramids and tombs and temples while we were in Cairo and Luxor, as well as managing a trip to Dahab on the Red Sea and a day trip into Jordan to visit Petra (which I’ll talk about in a separate post). With the heat — which varied between oven and hell most days — and out packed itinerary, we were exhausted by the end but it was all worth every second. Here are a few of the moments I loved.

Continue reading “Six Things I Loved About Egypt”

Poet Spotlight: Marisa Crawford on pop culture, feminism, and the value of emotional knowledge

Marissa Crawford

I’m so thrilled to be able to feature Marisa on my site. I met her many years ago when we were both interns at Aunt Lute Books, and it’s been a delight seeing her flourish as a poet in the time since.

Marisa Crawford is the author of the poetry collections Reversible(2017) and The Haunted House (2010) from Switchback Books, and the chapbooks 8th Grade Hippie Chic (Immaculate Disciples, 2013) and Big Brown Bag (Gazing Grain, 2015). Her poems, essays, and interviews have appeared in BUST, Broadly, Hyperallergic, Bitch, Fanzine, The &NOW Awards 3: The Best Innovative Writing, and elsewhere, and are forthcoming in Electric Gurlesque (Saturnalia Books). Marisa is the founder and editor-in-chief of the feminist literary/pop culture website WEIRD SISTER. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. (Bio from poet’s website.)

How did you get started as a poet? Why draws you to writing poetry?

I fully credit the movie My Girl for making me a poet — this movie basically destroyed my childhood but also made me the person I am now, and the poem the main character, Vada, writes about her best friend dying made me want to write poems myself. I wrote my first poem in 4th grade when my best friend moved away, and continued writing poems in high school. When I got to college, a few teachers encouraged me to write more and that’s when I started taking myself seriously as a poet. I’m drawn to poetry because I think it’s the way I naturally think — poems can be weird and sad and scary and funny and political and they can about 100 different things all at once. And poetry to me is kind of the pinnacle of valuing emotional knowledge over rational thinking, which is far too often disregarded in our mainstream capitalist culture.

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Marisa Crawford on pop culture, feminism, and the value of emotional knowledge”

Culture Consumption: July 2018

Hi, lovelies. I’m currently in Egypt, so I pre-prepared and scheduled this post. Anyway, here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂

Books

Pretty much all of my reading this month has been focused on working through the 2018 Hugo nominations, or as many of them as I could get to.

My favorite read of the month was My Favorite Thing is Monsters, the stunning graphic nvel written and illustrated by Emil Ferris. It has some of the most gorgeous art I’ve seen in a graphic story. My full review is here.

From My Favorite Thing is Monsters.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: July 2018”

Reading the 2018 Hugos: Best Novella Noms

Even though there’s more days in the month, this will be my last Hugos post. Tomorrow I’ll be winging my way to Egypt with my sister and I’m not sure how Internet access will be, so I need to get my votes in before I leave.

So, here’s my thoughts on the nominated novellas.

All Systems Red-Martha WellsAll Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing) — Martha Wells’ novella All Systems Red presents the diaries of a company-supplied security android designed to provide protection for survey teams exploring planets for possible resources. Murderbot (as it calls itself) just wants to be left alone to watch hours of vids in peace. But when another survey team mysteriously goes silent, it has to work with it’s team of clients to discover the truth before they’re all killed.

I loved this book. Murderbot is cynical about humans and the world in general, an attitude that is totally understandable given its circumstances and understanding of the universe. But the team of scientists he’s assigned to give him a broader perspective on humanity, showing him people who are able to work together with compassion and intelligence — such considerations they show not just to each other but to Murderbot itself, as they continue to work with and rely on it. It’s so wonderful to read a story that centers people who are good to each other. Plus, the action is intense, making this a short and rapid read. There are already several sequels to this out in the world and I can’t wait to read them all.

Uncanny Magazine-MarApr17
Cover of Uncanny Magazine, Issue 15, March-April 2017.

“And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017) — Insurance investigator, Sarah Pinsker, gets an invitation that she at first believes to be a joke — until she stands in a hotel lobby facing a multitude of versions of herself from a multitude of parallel worlds, each representing the infinity (or a small portion of that infinity) of diverging choices she could have made in her life. One of the Sarahs has found a way to open the door and invited the rest of the Sarahs to come to a convention, a meeting of similar (sometimes almost exact variations), which is in some ways unsettling in itself. Then one of the Sarahs shows up dead. Insurance investigator Sarah is set to the task of looking into the murder after a storm rolls in cutting the local police off from reaching the island.

Who would we be if we made different choices in our lives? It’s a question pretty much everyone has asked themselves. I couldn’t imagine a more poignant examination of that question than this story. In some ways, all the ways the variations of Sara are similar is as fascinating as the ways in which they are different. All together, it’s so strange and meta and moving and  fascinating — with an ending to sit and think over long after you’re done reading.

Binti Home by Nnedi OkoraforBinti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing) — The Binti trilogy is fantastic from top to bottom. The second book in the series, Home takes place one year after the events in the first book. Binti is a student at Oomza University as she hoped. Although she’s considered a hero for brokering peace between two species, Binti is fundamentally changed and still dealing with the trauma — a mix of panic attacks and deep rooted anger.

Believing it can bring her healing, she decides to return home to the family she slipped away from in the middle of night. Coming with her is her friend Okwu — the first of the Meduse species to come to Earth in peace — which of course creates it’s own multitude of problems.

This is a quick paced space opera with imaginative world building and fantastic characters. It’s amazing to me how Okorafor can pack so many layers of culture and characters into such slim books.

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY LangThe Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing) — Unfortunately, I did not get around to finishing this one, so I can’t express my full thoughts on it, but here’s the book description:

“Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?”

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuireDown Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing) — 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 rather than actual, you know, people. But the world in which they live is full of doors and some of those doors lead 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.

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.

River of Teeth-Sarah GaileyRiver of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing) — Once upon a time, the U.S. government considered importing African hippos and raising them in the Louisiana bayou in order to address a need to increase the national meat supply — not joking, this was really a thing. Sarah Gailey’s novella presents a reimagined history in which this damn foolish/brilliant idea actually took place.

A group of charmingly of devious scoundrels set out on a caper — I mean, “operation” — to clear a section of Mississippi river of feral hippos. Winslow Houndstooth is a former hippo rancher with swift knife skills and a grudge. Regina Archambault (“Archie”) is a brilliant conartist, with a protective affection for Houndstooth. Hero Shackleby is a demolitions expert who has become profoundly bored by their peaceful retirement. Adelia Reyes is a heavily pregnant badass . . . and well, I’m going to let you figure out the rest.

The audio book narration by Peter Berkrot is fantastic, bringing all the characters to vivid life. I was as delighted by the idea of riding domesticated hippos as I was horrified by the idea of stumbling upon a group of ferals. Although, I had a bit of a hard time getting into the story at first, the caper — ahem, “operation” — was fun with some solid twists and the ending was deeply satisfying.


My personal and entirely subjective ranking:

  1. Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  2. All Systems Red by Martha Wells
  3. “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017)
  4. Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
  5. River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)

Since I did not finish reading The Black Tides of Heaven, it is not ranked.

All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.

Reading the 2018 Hugos: Paper Girls, Vol 3

Paper-Girls-Volume-3

One of the challenging aspects of trying to read all the noms in the Best Graphic Story category is that many of the works are later volumes. So, if you’re not keeping up — like me — that means you need to first read the previous volumes before reading the actual nominated work just to follow the storyline.

Which is what I did with Paper Girls, Volume 3, and no regrets on that front, because this is a fun story. Shortly after Halloween in 1988, four young paper delivery girls find themselves confronted with a litany of bizarre occurrences — including futuristic teenager rebels, odd spaceships, and dinosaurs flying through the sky — that lead them on a series of time traveling adventures.

Volume 3 reunites the four girls after the events that separated them in previous volumes, and they find themselves trapped in a past highly affected by tiny rips in space. The people there collect the multitude of future technologies that come through. As the girls try to help out a young woman with an infant, a time traveler pops through, offering a few more fragments of insight into what’s really going on.

I’m a sucker for a good time travel romp (which I’m sure I’ve said a dozen times before) and this one is solidly loopy and fun,, but what really makes this story great is that each of the paper girls interesting in their own right. Each deals with the adventures in their own way, revealing their own strengths and perspectives — while also addressing issues of first periods, family concerns, and questions of what it means to grow up. I totally dug this one.


Paper Girls, Volume 3 — written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher — is nominated for Best Graphic Story. All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.

Reading the 2018 Hugos: Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch books, starting with Ancillary Justice, is at the top of my list best trilogies that I’ve ever read. I loved the intricate intergalactic universe she created along with the characters who roam it.  I’m pretty much down to read anything Leckie writes at this point.

Provenance is set in the same universe (an instant draw for me), but it’s focused on a different region of the galaxy, primarily set on a planet called Hwae, which has their own unique conflicts and cultural values. There is a strong focus on family as a political construct, as well as a passion for “vestiges,” or cultural artifacts that provide a level of prestige on the owner.

Driven by the need to impress her politically motivated mother, she embarked on a dangerous and desperate scheme — to bring a criminal out of imprisonment so that e can reveal the location of some stolen vestiges. Of course, nothing goes according to plan. The person she broke out claims to be someone else entirely. She quickly devises a new plan, but her ship home gets stopped by an ambassador with a gripe and once she does make it home, she’s greeted by political turmoil. Things only get stranger and more dangerous from there.

I don’t want to say much more than that — vestiges play a large role in storyline, as does the question of whether they are valid or forgery It’s twisty story with many, many threads from seemingly dissimilar occurances that all somehow come together in the end.

Ingray, at first, seems a bit frivolous. Her plan is absurdly risky and has cost her much in it’s execution to only have it fail. However, she’s a person who proves herself capable of thinking her way through just about any crisis (with only a little panic in the interim). Her plans are wild and sometimes foolish, but they also tend to work. She’s also really compassionate toward other people, helping who she can despite the risk to herself. It makes her lovable.

She makes some interesting allies throughout her journey — most notably, Garal Ket, the prisoner who may or may not be who she was seeking, and Captain Tic Ulsine, who ran away from his life on Geck by making off with a few of their ships. Both of these characters are clever and entertaining in their own unique ways.

On the whole, I would say that Provenance is a lighter romp than the Radch trilogy, the elements driving it more down-home with several iterations of family and family conflict being at center. A lot of the characters motivations are the result of the desire to fit in with family or the rejection of family along with the formation of new families. It’s impressive how Leckie is able to bring so many threads together into such an interesting story. It’s brilliantly done.


Provenance is nominated for Best Novel. All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.

Reading the 2018 Hugos: Best Novelette Noms

Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017) — Thuan and Kim Cuc disguise themselves as houseless in order infiltrate and spy on House Hawthorn, a mission that is complicated when a magic curse begins to attack the house in which they are being tested. That’s the simple description anyway, since there are many layers to this story, which hints at a wide, well-detailed world — not surprising as this story fits into the Dominion of the Fallen series. It’s excellent on its own, and definitely has me itching to read more of this world.

Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, February 15, 2017) — Jedao is an operative in the Kel military, with a long list of successes in his mostly classified battle record, who is assigned a mission to investigate the disappearance of another operative and his ship that have disappeared. The story is as much about how Jedao relates to the crew of the ship he’s assigned to as it is about the investigation. He’s clever and capable in his work, which is always fun to read, and the story comes together in a thoroughly satisfying ending.

The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017) — A group of humans are on a mission to save Sol using an old derelict starship — problems abound with all available bots working to repair the ship. In this midst of this Bot 9, the oldest on the ship, is brought online to hunt down an biological entity, which is all well and good except Bot 9 has some its own ideas of how things should be handled. As the story continues we get insight into the inner lives of the bots’ existence when they’re not working. This story is charming and I am so in love with Bot 9.

A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017) — Helena is a forger of beef, with a careful artistic attention to detail. Her work is going smoothly until an anonymous caller places a demanding order for 200 T-bone steaks — a job she might have refused, if the caller didn’t insist on blackmailing her into the work. This story is great fun and I loved the unique idea of using 3D-printing to forge meat. It also has great characters in the form of Helena and Lily, both of whom are smart, capable women, and an ending that made me smile with glee.

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017) — Finley, a young transgender man, gets bitten by a vampire while having a night on the town. Facing death, he elects to become a vampire himself. Exploring what it means to transition from a number of angles — emotionally and biologically (with a look at how vampirism might specifically affect someone who is transgender and taking hormones) — this story is compelling. It’s also rather sexy, with the relationship between Finley and Andreas (the vampire who bit him).

Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017) — A history teacher and fiddler on a generation starship comes into conflict with one of her students who believes learning the history and stories of the world they left behind is pointless when he will never visit that world. This is an incredibly beautiful  story of fiddlers, music, and the value of memory keeping. I love this story and was so absorbed that when I finished, I found myself blinking in surprise that the real world was still here.


My personal and entirely subjective ranking:

  1. “Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017)
  2. “A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017)
  3. “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017)
  4. “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June 2017)
  5. “Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017)
  6. “Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, February 15, 2017)

All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.

Reading the 2018 Hugos: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

I’ve been hearing about An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon  for a while now, someone or another popping up in my twitter feed to announce how wonderful the book is. Having read it, I am in complete agreement with the praise it’s received.

Description:

“Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.

When the autopsy of Matilda‘s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.”

Aster is a fascinating character, an adept healer, as well as a scientist with an avid curiosity for how things — machines, the ship, the universe — work.  She’s also brilliant, obsessive, and somewhat solitary due the way many in the community treat her, calling her ogre and freak. She’s The ways she interacts with other people is complicated by her being  aneurotypical. She has difficulties with parsing out meaning behind people’s words, has difficulty recognizing sarcasm, and tends to have difficulty understanding the emotional undertones in her interactions with others.

The few people she is close to — Giselle and Theo — are each hard edged and complicated in their own ways. Giselle, her closest friend, is violently self destructive. Theo, the Surgeon General of the ship, is an ally and friend who helped to educate Aster in medicine and health care. Both act as a kind of foil to Aster, providing pushback and counter perspectives to the way she perceives the world.

It’s Giselle who provides the key Aster’s obsession with discovering more about her mother’s past, providing the key to unlocking her mother’s journals. As she dives more and more deeply into that history, hoping to understand herself, she begins to see how the some of the stories she’s been told may not be what they seem and that the ghosts of the past provide no easy resolution.

This novel provides many layers that could be unpacked.  It’s a stunning and beautiful accomplishment — and I’ll be keeping my eye out for more work from Solomon in the future.


Rivers Solomon is nominated for theJohn W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, an award associated with the Hugos. All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.

Reading the 2018 Hugos: My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

Written and illustrated by Emil Ferris, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is a masterpiece of the graphic novel form. Set in 1960s Chicago, the story is told by Karen Reyes a young girl with a passion for pulp horror stories. In her spiral bound journals, she draws out her life in a mix of sketches, journal entries, and comic panels — presenting the interconnected stories of her mother, brother, and the people who live in the community around her. When her neighbor, Anka, dies under mysterious circumstances, Karen begins an investigation into her death that reveals how Anka survived and escaped Nazi Germany.

The art is some of the most stunning that I’ve seen, with it’s crosshatched style and selective use of color. Some pages are present full portraits, while others are broken up into comic book panels to move the story forward. The art provides beautiful depth to the characters, who are given greater depth and humanity through the detailed art presented. The colors selected —bright reds, blues, and the like — highlighting specific aspects of their

Also, recreated covers from pulp comics are spattered throughout, breaking up the story like chapter heads. They also continuing reiterate Karen’s passion for the horror genre, as she is the one recreating the covers to practice her drawing skills.

One of the particularly interesting aspects of Karen’s character is how she perceives humans and monsters. She draws herself in her journals as a half-werewolf — understandable considering both her love for monsters and how she is treated as a freak by other students at school.

In general, the people she has the most sympathy for are those who she presents with some kind of monstrousness. Her friends take up roles as ghosts, vampires, or other monsters to her werewolf. In a world full of human beings capable of performing monstrous acts, Karen relates more closely to the fantastical monsters in the stories she reads.

I was also thoroughly moved by Karen’s relationship with her mother and brother. There’s such love and compassion between them, even when things are not perfect. Deeze, her artist brother, shares with her his passion for art, introducing her to the classic paintings at the museum and how they speak to him, as well as sharing the work he creates on his own. It’s a lovely relationship.

This is an astounding, complex, gorgeous book — one I’ll be recommending to every human being even vaguely interested in graphic novels. It’s amazing work, and I’m eagerly awaiting the opportunity to read the second concluding volume, and I plan to follow Ferris’ career closely from here on out.

All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.

Reading the 2018 Hugos: No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin
I’ve loved Ursula K. Le Guinn’s writing ever since I first read The Wizard of Earthsea over a decade ago. Since then I’ve continued to be awed and moved by her books, worlds of fantasy or science fiction, both adult and young adult. Her work has moved me time and time again. 
I didn’t know she that she published a blog (which she started in her eighties), but as No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters — a compilation of her posts — shows, she approached the task with wit and wisdom. 

In her introduction, Karen Joy Fowler says, “What you will find in these pages here is a more casual Le Guin, a Le Guin at home.” Many of these essays deal with the personal — the act of growing old or the adventures of her cat Pard. I found myself moved by the insights Le Guin had to share, delightedly laughing at her sense of humor (her essay “Would You Please Fucking Stop?” on the use of cursing in literature had me rolling), or thoughtfully considering her point of view.

“It can be very hard to believe that one is actually eighty years old, but as they say, you’d better believe it. I’ve known clear-headed, clear-hearted people in their nineties. They didn’t think they were young. They knew, with a patient, canny clarity, how old they were. If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub.’ (from “The Sissy Strikes Back”)

In addition to the personal, her essays look at a variety of topics, from the literary world to examinations of exorcisms, the idea male group solidarity, utopias, fashion in solider uniforms and more. 

Le Guin made good use of the casual blog format well (although she dislikes the word itself, saying it sounded like “a sodden tree trunk in a bog, or maybe an obstruction in the nasal passage”) — the format giving her space to dive in to a topic as extensively or briefly as she wanted.  It’s a wonderful collection.

“The fantastic tale may suspend the laws of physics — carpets fly; cats fade into invisibility, leaving only a smile — and of probability—the youngest of three brothers always wins the bride; the infant in the box cast upon the waters survives unharmed — but it carries its revolt against reality no further. Mathematical order is unquestioned. Two and one make three, in Koschei’s castle and Alice’s Wonderland (especially in Wonderland). . . . Otherwise incoherence would invade and paralyze the narrative.’ ( from “It Doesn’t Have to Be the Way It Is”)

No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin was nominated for Best Related Work.  All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.

Culture Consumption: June 2018

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

Books

All Systems Red-Martha WellsMartha Wells’ novella All Systems Red presents the diaries of a company-supplied security android designed to provide protection for survey teams exploring planets for possible resources. Murderbot, as it calls itself, just wants to be left alone to watch hours of vids in peace. But when another survey team mysteriously goes silent, it has to work with it’s team of clients to discover the truth before they’re all killed.

I loved this book. Murderbot is cynical about humans and the world in general, an attitude that is totally understandable given its circumstances and understanding of the universe. But the team of scientists he’s assigned to give him a broader perspective on humanity, showing him people who are able to work together with compassion and intelligence — such considerations they show not just to each other but to Murderbot itself, as they continue to work with and rely on it. It’s so wonderful to read a story that centers people who are good to each other. Plus, the action is intense, making this short and rapid read.

I also completed Wonderbook, Jeff Vandermeer’s massive tome containing a beautifully illustrated toolboox for writers of fantastical fiction (which I wrote about here).

And I read through the 2018 Rhysling Anthology, which essentially acts as a voters packet for the Rhysling Awards. It’s a fantastic overview of the best short and long form speculative poetry from the previous year, as nominated by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry association, showcasing a wide array of poetic voices, styles, and forms.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: June 2018”

The Undead Poetry Anthology is available for preorder!

Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghosts, Ghouls, and More

Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghosts, Ghouls, and More, edited by Bianca Lynne Spriggs and Katerina Stoykova, is now available for preorder from Apex Book Company!

The anthology offers up more than 70 poems exploring the realms of life after death, from the ghosts of loved ones to vampires, zombies, and more. It includes a reprint of my poem, “Beware of Attics.”

I’m stoked to be a part of this collection, which has some fantastic poets, including: Tony Barnstone, Erinn Batykefer, Melissa Bell, Shaindel Beers, K.T. Billey, Rob Boley, Andrew Bourelle, David Bowles, Suzanne Burns, Cathleen Calbert, Lauren Camp, Lucia Cherciu, May Chong, Jackie Chou, Chloe N. Clark, Wanda Morrow Clevenger, Curtis Crisler, John Paul Davies, Carol V. Davis, Ann DeVilbiss, Joan M. DiMartino, Donelle Dreese, Nettie Farris, Ruth Foley, Joshua Gage, Martha Gehringer, Kim Goldberg, Amelia Gorman, Lea Graham, Yalonda Green, John Grey, Jennifer Hernandez, John Hoppenthaler, Leonard Kress, John James, Tausha Johnson, Mary Soon Lee, Sandi Leibowitz, Alexander Lumans, Jeffrey H. MacLachlan, Amy MacLennan, J.G. McClure, C. McDaniel-Reed, Jeremy Megargee, Tiffany Midge, Sarah Fawn Montgomery, Lenard D. Moore, Annie Neugebauer, Kurt Newton, Valerie Nieman, Jeremy Paden, Tina Parker, Zachary Riddle, Jamieson Ridenhour, Gina Roitman, Nicole Rollender, Margaret Rozga, Eva Schlesinger, Salik Shah, Christina Sng, Bianca Lynne Spriggs, Ashlie Stevens Margo Stever, Karah Stokes, Katerina Stoykova, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Mark Teats, Allison Thorpe, Megan Tilley, Jonathan Travelstead, Holly Lyn Walrath, Emily Paige Wilson, Keith S. Wilson, Hermine Pinson, and Katie Riley.

Plus, all preorders are 20% off.

Reading the 2018 Hugos: Best Short Story Noms

WorldCon is coming to my hometown, giving me the opportunity to attend for the first time. I’m super excited to check out the event

As a result of this development, I get to have the added benefit of being able to vote for the 2018 Hugo Awards (of course, I could have done this by just purchasing a supporting membership (or even just reading the list without voting), but now I have added incentive because nothing inspires me more than a deadline (and lists (and yes I’m nesting parenthesis within parenthesis (because I can)))).  This is sparking a flurry of reading, as I’m trying to read as many of the books and stories and journals nominated, so that I can be a fully informed voter.

A few of the nominated works I’ve already read (one of my favorite books from last year was N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky), and I haven’t decided if I’m going to write about them further.

At any rate and without further adieu, here’s my first batch of Hugo reads:

Nominated Short Stories

Carnival Nine,” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2017) — Zee is a clockwork girl who has been granted more turns of her spring than most, and as a result has more energy to consider the possibility of adventure. Her extra energy leaves her to abandon Closet City for the oddities of the carnival train, where she grows to understand love and the burdens of caring for family. The construct of a story in which characters are granted a limited number of turns per day provides a beautiful metaphorical basis to explore how the energetic enthusiasm of youth can be ground down by the burdens of adulthood. Such a moving tale.

Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny, September 2017)  — A strange guide (the narrator) leads a visitor through a museum of curiosities, strange objects abundant in their many cases. The experience changing the visitor in odd and fundamental ways as they journey through. Written in second person, the narrative draws the reader directly into the unsettling experience of exploring the museum. It’s richly detailed with darkly surreal undertones. I’ve read it several times and have noticed new details every time.

Fandom for Robots,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, September/October 2017) — When an archaic robot existing as an exhibit in a museum learns of the anime Hyperdimension Warp Record, it begins to take a dive into fandom, eventually creating its own fanfic and forming a creative partnership. This is a delightful fun story of creativity and fandom.

The Martian Obelisk,” by Linda Nagata (Tor.com, July 19, 2017) —  In the face of an Earth growing steadily worse and in hopes of leaving something lasting in the universe, Susannah is constructing a giant obelisk on the planet of Mars using the left over refuse from a failed planetary mission. But while in the midst of her work, she discovers a secret on Mars that could change everything. This story questions the value of creativity in the world (does building an obelisk matter, if no one will ever witness it?), while providing a beautiful exploration of loss, grief, and a fraction of hope.

Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon (Uncanny, May/June 2017) — Allpa inherits a magic sword from his grandmother, a sword with three warrior spirits ready to train him from adventure on conquest. But Allpa only wishes to cultivate his farm and grow his crops for the community. I adore this story and the way it twists fantasy adventure tales on their head, presenting a hero who believes serving the community with good food is enough of heroism for him. It’s clever and humorous and delightful.

Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, August 2017) — Trueblood works in a a tourist trap that sells simulated experiences, such as vision quests and the like, to white tourists. These experiences require a bending of historical accuracy toward the stereotypical Indian in order to be salable and Trueblood (a name he selected to be more “authentic”) is good at his job. But he begins to find his own life bend around him when he befriends one of his tourist clients. Written in second person, this story draws the reader in deep, using the idea of digital simulations to question what is “real” or “authentic” about the world that is presented to us.


My entirely subjective ranking (based as much on what emotionally moves me as it is on technical craft):

1. “The Martian Obelisk,” by Linda Nagata
2. “Carnival Nine,” by Caroline M. Yoachim
3. “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon
4. “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse
5. “Fandom for Robots,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
6. “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde

What are your favorite stories on the list? Or alternatively, what’s a story from 2017 that you feel should have made the list but didn’t?

Poet Spotlight: Anthony Frame on the environmental impact of people and making poetry dance

Anthony Frame
 
Anthony Frame is an exterminator from Toledo, Ohio, where he lives with his wife. He is the author of A Generation of Insomniacs and of three chapbooks, including Where Wind Meets Wing (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018) and To Gain the Day (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2015). He is also the editor/publisher of Glass Poetry Press, which publishes the Glass Chapbook Series and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. His work has appeared in Third Coast, Muzzle Magazing, The Shallow Ends, Harpur Palate, and Verse Daily, among others, and in the anthologies Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books (Minor Arcana Press, 2014), Come As You Are: An Anthology of 90s Pop Culture (Anomalous Press, 2018), and Not That Bad: Dispatches from the Rape Culture (HarperCollins, 2018). He has twice been awarded Individual Excellence Grants from the Ohio Arts Council. (Note: bio from the poet’s website.)

Your most recent collection of poetry is Where Wind Meets Wing. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

Frame-Where Wind Meets WingWhere Wind Meets Wing was an odd collection/project for me. I tend to be a project writer — after writing a few poems, I start to become obsessed with an idea or image or rhythm or something like that and then I focus on it until a collection starts to take shape. Of course, by the end of the project, the final manuscript has usually drifted pretty far from the original obsession but that still tends to be my writing process: fiddle around for a while until I get hooked by something.

Wind happened very differently. A lot of things kind of came together organically and independent of themselves and then, suddenly, I had a new manuscript.

I had recently released my first full length, A Generation of Insomniacs (Main Street Rag Press), and, in the time between finishing Insomniacs and finding a publisher for it, I had been writing a lot of poems about my job as an exterminator. The subject matter was very different than my usual poems about Kurt Cobain and Tori Amos. And they were really rough — really narrative, which is fine with me, but there was almost no sense of music to the poems, which wasn’t fine with me. I needed to do something to re-engage with my poetic voice or to evolve my voice to accommodate these narratives I wanted to write about.

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Anthony Frame on the environmental impact of people and making poetry dance”

Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook is a fantastic toolbox for fiction writers

Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

It’s been a long while since I’ve read a book on the craft of writing. Although I’ve often found such books valuable, in a way, I had grown out of them, focusing more on the act of writing instead of reading about it. But Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer was recommended to me recently with such fervor that I immediately picked it up — and discovered one of the best books on writing craft that I’ve yet to read.

Wonderbook is aimed at writers of speculative fiction, but is valuable to writers of any genre. The main chapters of the book cover the full range of the writing process, including Inspiration and the Creative Life, The Ecosystem of Story (point-of-view, dialog, and other story elements), Beginnings and Endings (with VanderMeer’s novel Finch as a main example), Narrative Design (plot, structure, etc.), Characterization, Worldbuilding, and Revision, along with a few interesting appendices. The chapters discuss the theory and practice of writing, while also providing inspiration, prompts, and writing exercises.

I particularly appreciate that VanderMeer does not prescribe The One Way to Write Them All, but rather cites a multitude of sources and examples to present the many sides of any method and, in fact, many sidebar items either question or direct contradict the view of the main text. In addition, the book offers essays and interviews in which fantasy authors — such as Neil Gaiman, Catherynne M. Valente, George R. R. Martin, and Karen Joy Fowler, among others — each with their own viewpoints. In this way, Wonderbook offers a toolbox of approaches to writing that the writer can pull from in order to discover what works best for them.

The illustrations, maps, charts, and artwork throughout Wonderbook, provided by a number of artists but primarily Jeremy Zerfoss, are a key way that it guides its readers through the murky waters of writing terminology, methods, and advice. They provide playful visual diagrams or inspirational asides that are valuable in and of themselves, making specific  aspects of the writing process more memorable.

illustration by Jeremy Zerfoss
One of the many fantastic illustrations in Wonderbook by Jeremy Zerfoss.

I was hoping to narrow in on a chapter and provide a more detailed look some of Wonderbook’s great advice — but I’ve run out of time, as the library is demanding its copy of the book back. But I just preordered the revised and expanded edition, so I’ll soon have my own copy to peruse at my leisure.

I will point out, however, that Wonderbook had an immediate practical effect on my writing life. While in the middle the section on Revision, I read a bit noting that one of the ways people get stuck is forcing themselves to write the story chronologically — even though it’s just as viable to start at the end or jump around while putting together a draft. I knew this already, though perhaps in more of a theoretical sense. I can’t immediately think of a time when I have applied this to writing my own fiction (essays, yes, fiction, no). But being reminded of this option to jump around in a text launched me into action.

I have a novel that I have been sitting on, after burning out on it a while back. At the time, I had given myself permission at the time to take a break and then come back to it later (that the “later” had turned into over four years is another story). All this time, I have been waiting for the right time to come back to the text, figuring I would need to do a major overhaul of the beginning in order to work through to the end — an expectation that kept me stymied.

While reading Wonderbook, I became so inspired by the idea of writing out of order that I jumped up and began writing down the climatic scene of the novel — a scene that has been playing in my head over and over again for ages. Those thousand words have put me back on the footing of maybe finally getting the novel done. (“Done.” Hah. We’ll see.)

To sum up I’ll say, this excellent and would be a welcome addition to almost any writer’s shelf.

Culture Consumption: May 2018

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

Books

It’s been a fantastic reading month for me — both in terms of sheer numbers as well as a multitude of books that I loved. Most notably was my delve into the works of manga artist and writer Junji Ito, including Uzumaki, Gyo, and the Shiver collection of short stories. As I mentioned in a previous post, Ito is a master of weird, cosmic, and body horror (sometimes all at once). It’s beautiful, disturbing, wonderful work.

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-GarciaI was also delighted by The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Love, deception, and etiquette are a the center of this story in which a young women travels to the city of Loisail for her first Grand Season. The aim of her trip is to mingle with the Beautiful Ones who make up the wealthy high society in the city in the hopes that she’ll find a suitable husband. Unfortunately, her manner and her telekinetic abilities make her a target for gossip. When she meets telekinetic performer Hector Auvray, she thinks she’s found the kind of love one reads about in books — but learns that no one is what the seem in Loisail.

This is a charming fantasy of manners, full of polite but cruel society and wonderful explorations of the people who live in it. I have so far bought and read three of Moreno-Garcia’s books and I have loved all three of them. The Beautiful Ones was no exception, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: May 2018”

Poet Spotlight: Joanna C. Valente on spirituality and the drive to communicate

Joanna Valente

Joanna C. Valente is a ghost who lives in Brooklyn, New York. Joanna is the author of five poetry collections — Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Sexting Ghosts (Unknown Press, 2018). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing By Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017), and received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. They are the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and an editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms. Joanna also currently teaches courses at Brooklyn Poets. (Bio from Joanna’s website.)

How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I started writing as a child, around age 11. I always made art, always had a strange, ferocious drive to communicate and make something that spoke to others. That made us all feel less alone. I think that still rings true today. I write because I want to understand myself and others, and connect to the world in a more fulfilling way. I think all art is political, the personal is political and especially in such a contentious time, where we need to shed light on inequalities in order to really create a truly better world, making art that sheds light on different perspectives is important to me.
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Big Poetry Giveaway 2018: We Have Winners!

Big Poetry Giveaway 2018

The Big Poetry Giveaway has come to an end. This year, I offered up No God in This Room by Athena Dixon and Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch by me. Winners for the giveaway were determined using a random number generator, and here they are:

Renee Emerson has won a copy of No God in This Room

Crystal Vega-Huerta has won a copy of Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch

Congrats! I hope you both enjoy reading your new books!

Culture Consumption: April 2018

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

Books

Orphaned Lewis Barnavelt is sent to live with his oddball, wizard uncle in a strange mansion with a next door neighbor who’s a witch. Everything is cheerfully weird until Lewis learns about the clock in the walls, always ticking away with a subtle, persistent malice. I didn’t know about this book series until I saw the trailer for the forthcoming movie (which looks like it will be quite fun), and I’m so glad I picked it up. The reality of living in a home with a clock ticking down to … something is wonderfully haunting and creepy. And yet, the story maintains a joy for magic and youthful discovery. Also, finding out that the book includes illustrations by Edward Gorey was a bonus delight.

The trailer looks like the movie could be a fun adaptation.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: April 2018”

Book Haul: Silicon Valley Comic Con

A couple of weekends ago I visited the Silicon Valley Comic Con for a day — my first time attending any Comic Con. My first impression as I walked in was of being completely overwhelmed by the amount of people and stimulation, but I quickly settled in, with enjoying the number of cosplayers and panels.

Book Haul

I was only there for a day and I was on a tight budget — probably a good thing, since I would have acquired vastly more goodies from the show floor if given a chance.

I really enjoyed Artist Alley and seeing the indie creators and publishers, so I bought a couple of comic books to support them, including:

Quince, written by Kit Steinkellner, illustrated by Emma Steinkellner, created by Sebastian Kadlecik

The Gecko and the Three Grave Robbers by Cheez Hayama

Quince and Grave Robbers comics

I discovered the Science Fiction Outreach Project booth close to the end on Sunday, which was a good thing. I don’t think my bookshelves could have handled the amount of books I would have grabbed otherwise. As it was, I got my hands on:

New Worlds of Fantasy #2, edited by Terry Carr
Always the Black Knight by Lee Hoffman
The Null-Friendly Impulser by James Nelson Coleman
The Night of the Wolf by Frank Belknap Long
Terror by Frederik Pohl
The Dream Lords: #1 A Plague If Nightmares by Adrian Cole
Men Without Bones and Other Haunting Inhabitants of the Wide, Weird World by Gerald Kersh

book stack

Panels and Such

Since I was only at the con for one day, I didn’t have much time for panels, though I enjoyed the ones I saw.

My favorite panel of the day was “The Truth is Out There: NASA’s Search for Life Beyond Earth,” which was hosted by a panel of scientists and engineers from NASA. The presenters were brilliant at sharing information about their work searching for the potential of life in the universe in such a way that was clear to everyone without dumbing it down. Definitely makes me want to study it more.

And that’s pretty much it.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

New Poetry and Other Good Things

Star*Line #41.2“Stone Clutched to Chest,” a collaborative poem by Laura Madeline Wiseman and I, has been published in the issue 41.2 of Star*Line. This print issue can be acquired at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association ( SFPA) website.

Our poem, “Stone Clutched to Chest” looks at the Beowulf epic from the point of view of Grendel’s mother — and is one of the many poems re-examining myth, folklore, and pop culture stories that will be published in Every Girl Becomes the Wolf, which is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Maybe check it out, watch the trailer, or preorder a copy?.

NonBinary Review - The Little PrinceNonBinary Review #16: The Little Prince is now available for $1.99!
“In 1943, French aristocrat, author, journalist and aviator Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, wrote The Little Prince, one of the most translated, most widely-read books in the world. Much of Saint-Exupéry’s life, including the death of his younger brother at the age of 15 and his marriage to Salvadoran artist and writer Consuelo Suncin, was woven into this tale of innocence, adventure and loss unlike anything else written before or since. In this issue, two dozen authors and artists explore this beloved tale that has haunted readers for over 75 years.” And isn’t the cover art by MANDEM gorgeous!

NonBinary Review is currently open to submissions for issue #17: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle.

There are a couple of days left to giveaway some books as part of the Big Poetry Giveaway 2018 — or check it out to see all the books you could nab (link is also in the sidebar).

Other Good Things for National Poetry Month

“Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Science explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe,” noted Ursual K. Le Guinn on the intersections between science and poetry. “We need the languages of both science and poetry to save us from merely stockpiling endless “information” that fails to inform our ignorance or our irresponsibility.”

Michelle Betters examines the convergence of pop culture and poetry.


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Call for Submissions: NonBinary Review Issue #17: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

A Wrinkle In TimeNonBinary Review, a quarterly digital literary journal, has an open call for submissions of poetry poetry, fiction, essays, and art relating to Madeline L’Engle’s 1963 book A Wrinkle in Time. All submissions must relate to the stated theme.

NonBinary Review pays 1 cent per word for fiction and nonfiction, and a flat fee of $10 for poetry (singular poems or a suite)  and $25 per piece of visual art.

Deadline: April 23, 2018

Full submission guidelines are on their submittable page.

Culture Consumption: March 2018

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

Books

Danielle Cain (a “queer punk rock traveller”) is looking for answers regarding her friend’s death, which leads her to Freedom, Iowa — a squatter town that professes to be a utopia. However, something’s wrong in down, and it’s not just the heartless animal life wandering around as though they aren’t really dead. I freaking love The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion — which I grabbed off the shelf because of its amazing title and strange eerie cover. It’s strange and surprising, while offering a variety of interesting, believable characters. I just sort of clutched it to my chest when it was over, wanting so much more of these people and this world.

Another great read over the course of the month was Nalo Hopkinson’s collection of stories, Falling in Love with Hominids. fantastic collection of stories from Hopkinson, showing the depth and range in her skill as a writer. The stories in this collection are strange, beautiful, and often unsettling. The opening story, “The Easthound,” begins with kids playing word games against an apocalyptic backdrop (a sweetspot for me). Beginning with this playful banter, the story grows more and more tense as we learn what the source of the apocalypse is. Meanwhile, “Emily Breakfast,” presents a lovely domestic normalcy, involving picking homegrown spinach, tending to the chickens — although it’s a normalcy that includes cats with wings and other animal deviations. “Blushing” is a completely terrifying Bluebeard retelling. And there are many more tales in this collection that are equally worth exploring.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: March 2018”

Big Poetry Giveaway 2018

Big Poetry Giveaway 2018

Welcome to the Big Poetry Giveaway! To participate in the giveaway and to find other blogs that are doing giveaways, check out this post.

To participate in my 2018 giveaway, just post a comment with your name and email address included. Please also let me know your first choice, if you win.

Book One: No God in This Room by Athena Dixon


In discussing her chapbook, No God in This Room, Athena Dixon says, “The pieces in the collection are all very image driven. In my poetry and my prose, I tend to concentrate on a central image or thread and then spin the work out from that axis. Some of the poems take something as small as a bee on a window sill and weave a story. Others tackle images directly related to police brutality and shootings. Each of them gives a bit of sweetness and sourness.”

Book Two: Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch by Andrea Blythe

Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch
My limited-edition chapbook of erasure poetry, sourced from past issues the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer, explores the relationship between the self and a collective consciousness that has the power to “unleash enviable culture”.


The giveaway ends on April 30th at midnight, at which point I will use a random number generator to select the winners.

You can find others who are giving away poetry listed here.

Good luck! And Happy National Poetry Month!

Big Poetry Giveaway 2018: Guidelines

Big Poetry Giveaway 2018

National Poetry Month is just around the corner and that means it’s time for the Big Poetry Giveaway! I’m honored to be taking over the reigns from Kelli Russel Agodon.

How do you participate? It’s simple:
— Anyone with a blog can give away two books of poetry.
— Anyone can enter any or all of the giveaways.

How to Participate

The Big Poetry Giveaway has officially started and will run through April 30, 2018. If you would like to participate in giving away some poetry, then you need to do the following by Thursday, April 5th (deadline extended to April 15th):

1. Create a blog post that uses the header image above (so that we know who is participating), in which you announce which two books you will be giving away. You may choose to include a little note about yourself.

Include a link back to this post so that others can easily find these guidelines and have the option to participate.

Make sure that your comments are open, so that people can enter to win.

(You can see an example at my giveaway post.)

2. Once your blog post is live, comment here with:

A) The name of your blog
B) Your name
C) A direct link to your blog post

I will keep a running list of participants, updated every couple of days until I close entries on April 5th.

3. During the week of May 1st, select two winners at random. You can put the names in a hat or use this handy random number generator.

Please note that by participating in Big Poetry Giveaway, you agree to send two books to anywhere in the world. You pay for postage. The winner does not.

FAQ

1. Can I give away my own poetry?  Yes. But please make sure that one of the books is by another poet. The idea is to share books by poets we love.

2 . What if I don’t have a book of my own? Can I still participate? Yes! Just give away two collections by poets you love.

3. Can I give away more than two books? Certainly!

4. Do chapbooks count as books? Yes!

5. Do the books I give away have to be new? Nope. Gentle used books in good condition are fine.

6. I don’t want to pay for postage if someone wins. Can I still participate? No. By hosting a giveaway as part of the Big Poetry Giveaway, you are agreeing to pay for the postage required to ship the book to anywhere in the world. If you are unable to do so, then please don’t participate.

7. Can I enter the drawing if I don’t participate in the giveaway? Yes. The drawings are open to anyone.

8. Can I enter the drawings if I am a blogger giving away two books? Yes. As noted, the drawings are open to anyone.

9. How will I know if I’ve won? The blogger running the giveaway you signed up for will be responsible for contacting you if you win.

10. What are the exact dates of the giveaway? The giveaway begins immediately and ends April 30th, 2015 at midnight (PST or Hawaii-time, not sooner).

The winners will be chosen the week of May 1st, depending on the blogger’s schedule.

Any questions, email me at andreablythe [at] hotmail [dot] com.


Participants:

  1. Andrea Blythe
  2. This Quiet Hour – Renee Emerson
  3. Poe-Query – Joannie Stangeland
  4. The Storied Imaginarium – Carina Bissett
  5. Melissa Hassard

A Great Big Stack of New Books

I’ve been on something of a book buying frenzy over the past couple of months, hitting up bookstores, small presses, and library sales (and in one case a contest win!) to the point that my bookshelves are overwhelmed and the stacks around my home are growing into towers. Although I’ve been a slow reader lately, there are many of these books that I’m super excited about and I can’t wait to dive into them.

  1. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
  2. I am Not Your Final Girl, poetry by Claire C Holland (won this in a contest! woo!)
  3. Let’s Not Live On Earth, poetry by Sarah Blake (which I just finished reading and need to review
  4. To Live Here, poetry by Soul Vang
  5. Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View 
  6. The Changeling by Victor LaValle
  7. The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton
  8. The Tale of Tales by Giambattista Basile
  9. The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales by Franz Xavier von Schönwerth
  10. The Letters of Abelard and Helloise
  11. Children of Lovecraft, edited by Ellen Datlow
  12. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  13. Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  14. The Novelists Lexicon: Writers on the Words That Define Their Work

And in a separate pic, because some of my chapbook buys don’t have spines to show:

  1. Salsa Night at Hilo Town Tavern, poetry by Kristofer Collins
  2. No God in This Room, poetry by Athena Dixon
  3. Slut Songs, poetry by Jade Hurter

What do you think? Any books I should jump into reading first?


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Preorders Open for EVERY GIRL BECOMES THE WOLF!

I’m supper stoked to announce that Every Girl Becomes the Wolf, the collaborative chapbook I wrote with Laura Madeline Wiseman is now available for preorders from Finishing Line Press!

This chapbook explores the received images of the feminine in fairy tales. The women and girls in this collaborative chapbook resist the common tropes of red riding hoods, gilded mirrors, and iced palaces. Every girl becomes the wolf because every girl has the power to tear apart the cultural conceit of wicked stepmoms, heartless mothers, and voracious monsters. Witches, hags, and mothers of damaged creatures from myth, movies, and lore prowl through this poetry. Lilith settles in to enjoy the county fair rib-off, Grendel’s mother holds her son close, and the Sphynx bears the weight of mythic secrets. Mothers demand their own freedom, daughters refuse gendered expectations, and wives leave what spoils with rot behind. As they wrestle with their place in these stories, they transform into figures outside of the victims or villains they have been perceived to be.

Here are a few poems from the collection that have been published online: “A Gathering of Baba Yagas,” “The Path That Cuts Through Famine,” and “Holding the Keys” and “The Hellos from the Corners of Quiet Rooms.”

Every Girl Becomes the Wolf

Cover Art: “A Good Milking” by Katy Horan


Your Molten Heart / A Seed to HatchIn other poetry chapbook goodness, I completed the work on my kickstarter-funded erasure poetry chapbook, titled Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch, which has been printed and shipped to backers! This was a lot of fun to put together, and I’m thrilled with how it all turned out.

I have quite a few left to sell ($10), so email me if your interested in receiving your own shiny new copy.


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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”

Book Love: FRESHWATER by Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

“The first madness was that we were born, that they stuffed a god into a bag of skin.”

I learned about Freshwater after someone (I don’t remember who) quoted a short passage on twitter. Just a single sentence or two — too short to know what the story was about, but beautiful enough to make me long to read the book. It was not yet published at the time, so I watched and waited and clicked the preorder link as soon as it appeared, then I waited some more for this beautiful book to be printed and shipped to me.

It was every bit worth the wait, because this debut novel is gorgeous.

“There was a time before we had a body, when it was still building itself cell by cell inside the thin woman, meticulously producing organs, making systems.”

Born in Nigeria, Ada begins life with a fractured self, burdened with the weight of god creatures that have been bound into her flesh. Living “with one foot on the other side” she is a troubled and volatile child who grows into a troubled and volatile adult, with a tendency toward outbursts and self harm. As she grows and moves to America, where she experiences a traumatic event, new selves crystalize within her, each providing their own protections and hungers.

Much of the story is told from the point of view of these god creatures (or spirit beings), which have their own needs and desires beyond that of Ada herself. Their story and her story blends together, as they have been blended together in spirit and flesh. It’s a fantastic rendering of having a fractured self, the confusing mix of desires and emotions that make up a person, the ways we work to protect and harm ourselves.

“I had arrived, flesh from flesh, true blood from true blood. I was the wildness under the skin, the skin into a weapon, the weapon over the flesh.”

The writing style in this book is lush and vibrant, evoking the energy and power of spirit realms represented in the voices of the gods the speak this story. It’s gorgeous on every page, bringing into existence a story that is unsettling, surprising, and powerful. This is a novel I will return to again and again.

Wizard and Glass – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part IV

“Dreams either mean nothing or everything — and when they mean everything, they almost always come as messages from . . . well, from other levels of the Tower.” He gazed at Eddie shrewdly. “And not all messages are sent by friends.”
— from Wizard and Glass

Here are Part I, Part II, and Part III of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

Wizard and Glass by Stephen KingPart IV is focused on my reread of book four, Wizard and Glass.

Fair warning: Spoilers ahead.

The third book ended on such a massive cliffhanger — with Roland and his ka-tet set to begin a battle of riddles with a homicidal AI train — that it was a great relief to finally get around to reading Wizard and Glass. This was even though I’ve read these books before and knew how the scene would play out.

Wizard and Glass opens right back with the start of the riddling competition between Blaine the Train and Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake a scene I remember being delighted by when I first read it. And it was just as entertaining to read again, because of how King manages to create intensity in a game of wordplay. I also just really like the idea of riddling, even if I’m not particularly good at it myself. The game plays out, with the group growing more and more desperate each time Blaine smugly answers — with everything wrapping up in a maniacal and humorous form of heroism.

Our heroes all survive of course, arriving at the destination of Topeka, which turns out to be an alternate version of our Kansas — a Kansas emptied of life due to a plague that killed off the population (which I’ll come back to later). All of this is an introductory endcap to what is ultimately the heart of the novel, Roland opening up to the group with the tale of his first mission as a gunslinger and his first love.

Continue reading “Wizard and Glass – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part IV”

Poet Spotlight: Saba Syed Razvi on the interplay between dark and light

In honor of Women in Horror Month — which celebrates women working in the field of horror writing, film, art, etc. — I am stoked to spotlight Saba Syed Razvi.

Saba Syed Razvi is the author of five collections of poetry, including In the Crocodile Gardens (Agape Editions), heliophobia (Finishing Line Press), Limerence & Lux (Chax Press), Of the Divining and the Dead (Finishing Line Press), and Beside the Muezzin’s Call & Beyond the Harem’s Veil (Finishing Line Press). Her poems have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies and her work has been nominated for several awards. In 2015, she won an Independent Best American Poetry Award.

She is currently an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Houston in Victoria, TX, where in addition to working on scholarly research on interfaces between Science and contemporary Poetry, she is researching Sufi Poetry in translation, and writing new poems and fiction.

Your most recent collection of poetry is heliophobia. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

heliophobia by Saba Syed RazviThis collection came about through my experiences in the world, and took shape over a span of many years. I started to write the poems in this collection as a student of literature in a university setting, but not really for any of my classes. For me, writing has always been a way to understand and navigate the world, to experience it with authenticity rather than obligation. It has always been an intimate part of who I am, so my own coming of age found its expression in these passages, easily.

I found myself thinking often of the mythology of the classics I encountered, with their archetypal appeal and their visceral logic. I also found myself shaped by the simple delight of old school Goth Clubs, filled with the elaborate plumage of attire and hair, the masks of makeup, and the exquisite sincerity with which dancing and the vibrant wail of music opened up a sense of living against the inevitable call of death, everything with the taste of duende.

Of course, growing up in Texas, as an Asian American and Muslim American, meant that I was often in many worlds at once; I found that the stories of my own dreams and darkness carried faces, melodies, and narratives that often brought a sense of belonging by way of story or shared memory. In this fusion of spaces and sensibilities, markedly ancient and demonstrably contemporary, at once part of the ordinary and outside of it, visibly able to evade certainty and yet always certainly peripheral, I found that defining anything became a kind of puzzle or quest. I wrote constantly, always capturing aspects of the world around me. And, I wove these ideas together with a sense of dream and diaspora, trance and abandon, definition and composure.

Many of these poems are encounters with literature, art, culture, and subculture, but the poems aim to create a tension between the ordinary discourse of reading through the dominant lens and the painfully intimate joy of connecting through the artifacts and elements of our various interpretations of cultural processes. The collection aims to disrupt the notion of definition as a singularly knowable thing. So, I suppose these poems are some kind of unholy fusion of museums, goth clubs, meditations, and global diaspora — all rewritten through dream logic, in some kind of ink made of the timeless decay of memory!

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Saba Syed Razvi on the interplay between dark and light”

As a Single Lady Alone on Valentines Day

I say,

blessed be the lovers,

blessed be the young, who are tangled up with lust and longing, locked in a languid exploration into the depths of another, unaware of dangers ahead;

blessed be the old married couple, who have obliterated all secrets, years kneading together into a comfortable intimacy;

blessed be the  broken-hearted, who mine the labyrinths of their own souls, excavating chunks of pain and rage, digging for meaning behind such catastrophic endings — who crawl from the grimy depths into the light, carrying the fragile, glinting hope of love still uncrushed in the palm of their hands;

blessed be the strangers, who lock liquor hazy eyes in an invitation of smiles and lingering touches, fingertips on forearm, drawing one another into a night of coiled limbs and knotted sheets and a bitter-sweet morning of pleasure or regret;

blessed be the solitude seekers, who long only for quiet contemplation and deeper understanding of self;

blessed be the angry, the depressed, the sorrowful, the lost, who fear they have fallen from the path of love, wandering so far into the woods of loneliness they no longer believe such a path exists;

blessed be the artists, who in their love of the world breath in its pain and passions and exhale them as myth and beauty upon page, canvass, tapestry, screen;

blessed be the scientists, who perceive love from the mount of knowledge, witnessing its compilation chemical reactions, pheromones and synapses swirling in a complex network of biology;

blessed be the mating of atoms, who spawn molecules, colliding to form cells, tissue, nerves, veins — shaping humanity and gravel, shale, and stone — rolling into mountains housing leaves, roots, trees — gathering into forests fed by water falling into ponds, streams, oceans — all the weft and fabric of the Earth;

blessed be the Earth, who so loved the sun, it bound itself in centrifugal orbit — for love is gravity;

blessed be the sun, who so loved the universe, it burned with a light that stretched deep into the void of space, softly stroking distant worlds thousands of light years away — for love is light;

blessed be the universe — for the universe itself is love.

As a human being alone, it is easy to forget
the heart is more then sinew,
more than ventricles and muscle,
more than an engine pumping blood.
The heart is expansive — capable
of holding in perpetual eternity
a moment, able to stretch wide,
broadening to embrace worlds
upon worlds within its every beat.

As a single lady alone, I say,
though we may never find the One True Love
promised us in fairy tales, we may come
at last to learn that Love itself is true.

Poet Spotlight: Stephanie M. Wytovich on staring down your demons

In honor of Women in Horror Month — which celebrates women working in the field of horror writing, film, art, etc. — I am pleased to spotlight Stephanie M. Wytovich.

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist, working primarily in the horror genre. She is the author of five poetry collections, including the Bram Stoker Award-winning, Brothel (Raw Dog Screaming Press) and her most recent collection, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare (Raw Dog Screaming Press). Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

She is the poetry editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction.

Follow Wytovich on twitter @SWytovich.

Sheet Music to My Acoustic NightmareYour most recent collection of poetry is Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare. Tell us about this collection and how it came into being.

Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare is a collection that was inspired by heavy doses of bad decision making, traveling down lonely roads, sleeping in the back seat of my car, and drinking too much whiskey after the bars closed. I’ve done a lot of growing up and calming down over the past three years, and after intense periods of self-care and therapy, I felt ready to stare down my demons and write about them in a way that was more autobiographical than what I usually do. Sure, there are still elements of horror and dark fantasy interspersed throughout, but this one is more about me and the trauma that I carry.

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Stephanie M. Wytovich on staring down your demons”

Culture Consumption: January 2018

Planning to hopefully be more on top of sharing these in a timely manner this year (haha). So, here’s my month in books, movies, and television.

Books

I did not finish reading a single book in the month of January — although I’m almost done with Wizard and Glass, the fourth book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. It’s a been a fun reread of this rather long book and I’m looking forward to putting together my thoughts on it (and returning the book to the library, because it’s quite a bit overdue at this point.

The other book I’ve been working on is Falling in Love with Hominids, a short story collection by Nalo Hopkinson. I love her work and am enjoying the stories I’ve read so far.

I also have several poetry books that I’m in the middle of, books in which I’ve read a poem here and a poem there, but haven’t read through completely.

Books Finished Last Month: 0

Total Books for the Year: 0

Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King and Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

Movies

The Shape of Water (2017)
The Shape of Water (2017)

Guillermo del Toro is my favorite director and The Shape of Water is a gorgeous addition to his filmography — a stunning and strange dark fairytale about a mute women who falls in love with a creature from the deep, who has been captured by a government organization for testing. Del Toro and his team have the ability to conceive such beautiful monstrous creatures for the screen, the design stunning, the personality showing through. I loved this movie. However, I want to point to “I Belong Where the People Are,” an essay by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, in which she examines how the movie portrays disability. It’s a beautiful, well thought out essay on an important subject.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: January 2018”

So, I Launched a Kickstarter

For January, Kickstarter is hosting the make/100 challenge — essentially urging creators to created a limited edition something (100 tee shirts, 100 sculptures, etc.). It’s concept I found fascinating and I really wanted to participate when they launched the challenge last year, but I had too many projects going on at the time and it didn’t work out. So, this year I was determined to put a project together.

After thinking about what would work best, I decided to do an extension of a 30/30 poetry challenge I did in April, in which I created 30 new erasure poems based on Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer as source material.

The Kickstarter project — A Fearless Chapbook of Erasure Poetry —  is to print a limited-edition chapbook of erasure poetry, compiling 20 of these already completed poems and 20 new poems that I am making during the course of the project.

I wanted to keep it simple, so I have only three reward levels:

  • $1+ — get a pdf of the chapbook and a thank you on my website
  • $10+ — get a signed print copy of the chapbook
  • $40+ — get an original of one of the erasures I create, in addition to everything else

Simplicity seems the best way for me to make it through the challenge with the least amount of stress (especially considering all the other projects I have going on simultaneously).

I’m trying to approach it in such a way that I’m asking for money without directly asking for money. Essentially, by posting a new erasure poem every day with a link to the Kickstarter included, I’m hoping that it will draw enough attention to achieve my goal.

So far, this idea is working well — I’m four days in and have achieved 26% of my goal. Yay! Although, I have a feeling I may need to be more direct as the project goes on… kind of like this:

If you have a buck or two to spend on some poetry, I would be thrilled if you could head on over and back my project.

(Whew. Not so hard.)

Anyway, it’s a strange, fun experience so far (making the video was a journey in itself), and I’m excited to see how it will all turn out.

My day three poem:

STONE

 


Linky Goodness

“I’m decades in to being a poet, but it continues to hurt to write them,” notes Karen Craigo in her excellent post, When the poems don’t come.

Poet Spotlight: Sarah Blake on leaving earth and finding home in poetry

Sarah Blake - poet

Sarah Blake is the author of three poetry collections, including Mr. West, an unauthorized lyric biography of Kanye West from Wesleyan University Press; Named After Death, a chapbook from Banango Editions; and most recently, Let’s Not Live on Earth, a full length collection, also from Wesleyan.

She lives outside of Philadelphia and travels to participate in readings throughout the year. She is also the author of a forthcoming novel, Naamah (Riverhead Books), a reimagining of the story of the wife of Noah.

Let's Not Live on Earth by Sarah BlakeLet’s Not Live on Earth is your most recent collection of poetry. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

About a year after my son was born I started writing a lot again, but I didn’t have any ideas about what the poems could be doing together. During that time, I wrote “The Starship,” a book-length poem told in second person narration, all about leaving Earth. When it came time to put a book together, I knew I wanted “The Starship” in it. I looked through years of poems to find the ones that were in conversation with “The Starship” and that’s how the book found its shape.

Your collection includes the epic poem, “The Starship,” in which a woman shifts her perception of existence when a spaceship suddenly casts her home in shadow. What is your process for writing longer form poetry? How do you balance the narrative arc of the poem with a sense of poetic immediacy?

The process is very similar to writing a shorter poem for me. The poem is all encompassing and it’s hard for me to do much else. I found myself writing pieces of “The Starship” on my phone at the Y and in bed. With a shorter poem, it’s ok to have one strange day like this, but with a longer poem, I have trouble sleeping and find myself constantly thinking about the poem for weeks. I’ve resisted writing longer poems since “The Starship” because of how it wrecks me.

I balance the narrative arc with poetic immediacy by building the poem out of small sections, which each get the attention of a poem. I love experimenting with the gestures language can make that feel satisfying, in just a few lines and across a book-length work.

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Sarah Blake on leaving earth and finding home in poetry”

Goals for 2018

new year meme

During the month of December, I had a vast number of projects and deadlines going at once. What kept me from collapsing into a quivering mess from being so overwhelmed was taking out my physical notebook and writing down every necessary item that needed to be completed that month. That list, which I was able to return to daily, helped me focus my attention in order to actually get things done — not to mention the absolute pleasure of scratching a line through an item once it was accomplished.

This experience has prompted me to try out a Bullet Journal, essentially a system of tracking and planning one’s daily life in a way that’s entirely adaptable to one’s specific needs. There are hundreds of tutorials and inspiration posts about bullet journaling throughout the internet, all with their own unique way of approaching the system. If you bullet journal, I would love to know about your process too.

I’m not starting fresh with a shiny new book the way most people do. First, because I hate leaving a notebook only partially filled (it makes me twitch). Second, because this is kind of an experiment and I want to see how effective it will be for me.

Essentially, I’m hoping it will help me with the tracking of my goals throughout the year, as well as with breaking down the bigger goals into bit sized bits for progress on a day to day basis. So far it’s going well, which brings me to:

My Goals for 2018

1. Clear My Schedule Enough to Be Able to Focus on THE NOVEL – I would love to be able to put “Finish the Novel” on here, but I know down in the depths of my wailing heart that would not be practical. I can’t seem to focus on the novel, while I have a number of projects going that need my attention right now. The plan is to clear the handful of things that are most important to me, with the aim of launching into novel revisions by July 1st.  These things include:

  • A Kickstarter project to create a chapbook of erasure poetry that I’m launching this month.
  • Finish story/chap based on the 12 Dancing Princesses fairy tale
  • Write all of the episodes of a webseries that I’m working on with some filmmaking buddies (probably most important on this list since it involves obligations and deadlines and other good things like that)
  • Finish and submit various poem and story things (though some of these could be put on hold once the noveling recommences)
  • Prepwork for the novel (a bit of research, outlining, and so on that will be helpful when I get to the editing)

The trick is going to be not piling on more projects in the meantime, which is going to take some self control.

2. Return to THE NOVEL – Assuming all goes well, I’ll spend the second half of the year focusing on the novel. Just doing that — digging into the work and making progress — would be amazing.

3. Run a Half Marathon – This has definitely been on my list for a couple of years, and I refuse to give it up. I’ve run 10K races before, so running a half marathon should be doable. The key is sticking to a running schedule (4 times per week) that allows me to accomplish training goals.

4. Blog At Least Once a Week – Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon have started up a blogging challenge for poets for the year, in which every participating poet agrees to post something about poetry (craft posts, reviews, interviews, etc.) at least once a week. Since I’m always trying to make sure this blog stays active, I jumped on board. If you want to keep up with my posts without having to think about it, you can subscribe in the sidebar. The list of participating poets is here

5. Other Goals:

  • Attend an open mic or author reading at least once a month
  • Obtain 100 Rejections – in other words, send out oodles of submissions
  • Sketch, poem, and/or journal daily
  • Bring journal everywhere (because it doesn’t help me if it’s sitting on the couch)
  • Meditate every night (10 minute min.)
  • No hitting the snooze button (which is how I get more time in the day to accomplish all the things here)

I have a tendency to want to go very detailed on my goals for the year, and this seems like plenty… and fairly achievable.

What goals or resolutions have you set for yourself? What are you hoping to achieve this year?

Culture Consumption: November & December 2017

Hi, all. Hope you’ve had a good November. Here’s my month in books, movies, and television.

Books

Tipping the VelvetTipping 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.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: November & December 2017”

Top Ten Movies I Watched in 2017

I already shared my favorite horror movies from the year. Here are my favorite new-to-me movies across all other genres.

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Clouds of Sils Maria is a complicated movie to explain. It’s centered around a film actress (Juliette Binoche) who is starring in the revival of the theatrical play that launched her career and her complicated feelings about now being in the role of the older woman. But the heart of the movie is her relationship with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart), exploring the innate weirdness of this position, in which one is more than an employee and less than a friend, in the attention demanded and intimacies shared. Most of this movie is these two characters alone together, and Binoche and Stewart play off each other beautiful with deep, complicated performances that reveal the layers of their relationship. This movie is also about the nature of art and loneliness and so many other things. It’s a movie that brought me to such a depth of feeling that I could sit in stunned silence afterward. By far, my favorite movie of the year. (My longer review is here.)

Continue reading “Top Ten Movies I Watched in 2017”

Top Ten Horror Movies I Watched This Year

I watched a lot of horror movies this year — around 34 or so — and though I’ll be posting my favorite movies in general for the year later on, I decided to give horror movies their own list. So, here are the top ten horror movies that I watched for the first time in 2017.

Get Out
Get Out (2017)

Get Out (2017)

Chris, a young black man, goes on a weekend trip with his white girlfriend to meet her parents at their secluded estate in the woods. The weekend starts off awkward and grows increasingly unsettling as it builds into a nightmare. Brilliantly executed by writer and director Jordan Peele, Get Out  is a smart, frightening, and sometimes humorous satirical thriller that unveils the nature of racism as microaggressions give way to violence.

Continue reading “Top Ten Horror Movies I Watched This Year”

2017 in Review

It’s been a rough year — and I know I’m not alone in expressing that sentiment. Putting aside the politics and news stream (which has been a constant barrage of stress and frustration), if I were to sum up 2017 in a single word, it would probably be: overwhelmed. As it turns out, this has also been my usual response these days to the question, “How are you doing?”

The year also presented a great family sorrow, as my grandmother, Florence Schlegel, passed away at the end of November. She had an amazing history — worked as a coat check Girl in NY, serving the likes of Howard Hughes and other celebrities; worked at Lockheed Martin constructing aircraft during WWII; lived on a homestead in Alaska and shot three black bears; served her community in Anchorage in a number of ways; and she was always witty and funny, and all around awesome. We miss her so much.

For all the stress and sadness that the year has yielded, though, it’s also offered up some wonderful experiences — adventures in travel and the writing life, some amazing books, and delightful moments with friends and family.

Below is some of my 2017 journey. If you’re inclined to share, then I would love to hear how your year treated you, as well.

Writing Life

I feel like I’ve done more writing than I’ve done in any previous year, although I don’t really have a way to prove that (and I’m not certain it’s true when I think about the multude of 30 challenges I did in 2016). I haven’t really been keeping track of word counts or other forms of tracking, partly because my work has been across so many diverse projects (poetry, script writing, fiction, etc.).

A part of why I might feel this way is that I’ve been trying to consistently focus on my writing in two ways — first, by getting to work early and using the extra time to write, and second, by using my lunch time to write. These little chunks have been helpful in not only getting words on the page, but also accomplishing the business side of writing, like getting work out on submission.

During the year, I sent out 47 submission packets (with anywhere from one to five poems or short stories — nine more than previous year I received 42 individual rejections and had a total of ten poems and one short story published. Not bad. Nowhere near the 100 rejections I was aiming for, but still not bad.

This does not include the collaborative poetry, submissions, and publications that have occured over the past year. I am so grateful to Laura Madeline Wiseman for being my partner in this work, and an inspiration in general. Together, we have had eight poems published in 2017, and have received an acceptance for our chapbook, Every Girl Becomes the Wolf, to be published by Finishing Line Press.

Blogging

For a couple of years, I have been doing weekly updates noting writing progress, books read, goals for the week, and other tidbits. The idea of these posts was to hold myself accountable for the progress (if any) that I was making, as well as keeping the blog itself active. I started off 2017 continuing these posts, but stopped doing them about halfway through the year when they began to feel more burdensome than helpful. Rather than spending time crafting an obligatory weekly post, I tried to focus on posts with more content to them, like my revisit of The Dark Tower book series.

In total, I shared 45 blog posts, about half the amount of posts from the previous year. I’m okay with the lower number, since it’s more important for me for focus on finishing my existing poetry and fiction projects than sharing things on the blog. However, I would like to share more (hopfully) thoughtful posts in the coming year.

Top Five Blog Posts from 2017 (By Views):

Reading

Normally I share my top reads in a longer, separate post — but I’m starting to run out of spoons to make it through the end of the year, so here’s a truncated version.

My reading stats are they lowest they’ve been in probably a decade. In years past, I’ve averaged about 90-100 books per year, this year I’ve managed 45 (as of this posting), which kind of pains me. The reason for this significant drop in my reading rate is because of how I refocused my time at work (taking up my lunch to write instead of read) and the introduction of Netflix into my home life (and the subsequence TV binge-watching that that implies). That said, I’ve managed to read a number of books that have delighted me this year, which I present below.

top ten fiction books read in 2017

Top Ten Fiction Books (with series books counted as one)

  • The Obelisk Gate & The Stone Sky (Broken Earth Book #3) by N. K. Jemisin
  • Binti & Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Tender: Stories by Sofia Samatar (my thoughts)
  • Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez (my thoughts)
  • Bone Gap (audio book) by Laura Ruby
  • A Tale for the Time Being (audio book) by Ruth Ozeki
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle (audio book) by Shirley Jackson
  • The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
  • Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

to poetry collections read in 2017

Favorite Poetry Collections

  • Let it Die Hungry by Caits Meissner
  • Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament by Kolleen Carney (poet spotlight)
  • Shopping After the Apocalypse by Jessie Carty (poet spotlight)

Favorite Graphic Novel

  • Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Running

It’s been an interesting year for running. On the one hand, all totalled up, I ran 73.63 miles over the course of year — which sounds like quite a bit. But most of those miles were in the first half of the year with March being the highest month at 17.58 miles. All of this is reflective of how my motivation regarding running shifted throughout the year (with an impact on my body health).

One of the highlights of my running practice this year was attending the She is Beautiful Run in March (despite being incredibly hungover at the time). My sisters came along and we took part in the joys of this event. I’m looking forward to finding more events like this next year.

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Travel

The day job certainly kept me busy in travel and sent me on some great adventures, including some good times in Nashville, Tennessee and most notably a two week trip to Dubai and Singapore, during which I fit in a short hopover to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I loved the cultural experiences of that trip, although the heat and humidity was so intense that I was soon happy to head home to more moderate weather.

And just for funsies, my sister and I put together a two week trip to South America, squeezing in a few days in Peru (including Machu Picchu), Chile, and Argentina. Since our time was so short, we only saw a fraction of these countries, each of which I would like to take far more time to explore.


Well, that’s my year in a snap shot. How was your 2017?

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Poet Spotlight: Athena Dixon on finding voice and taking action

Athena Dixon is a poet, essayist, and editor. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Linden Avenue Literary Journal, a phenomenal publication that she launched in 2012 with the aim of increasing “diversity in publishing by encouraging work from writers traditionally underrepresented in the industry.” Her own work has appeared both online and in print in various publications. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Best of the Net nominee, and a Callaloo fellow, and has been a presenter at both AWP and HippoCamp.

Athena’s first chapbook of poetry, No God In This Room, is now available from Argus House Press.

Athena Dixon

You recently published your first collection of poetry, No God in This Room. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came into being.

Back in 2016, I came across a contest announcement from Argus House Press. They were seeking intersectional manuscripts from poets in or from the Midwest. I thought I was a pretty good fit and pulled together a chapbook I thought best represented me as a woman, an African-American, and a Midwesterner. In recent years I’ve concentrated on essays about growing up in the Midwest, so it was nice to be able to find a home for my poetry on the same topic. This was actually the first contest I’ve entered and to my surprise I won! The collection was originally titled Way Station, but after Bianca Spriggs read the manuscript she suggested a new title. No God in This Room was the hands down winner.

The pieces in the collection are all very image driven. In my poetry and my prose, I tend to concentrate on a central image or thread and then spin the work out from that axis. Some of the poems take something as small as a bee on a window sill and weave a story. Others tackle images directly related to police brutality and shootings. Each of them gives a bit of sweetness and sourness.

No God in This Room - Athena DixonWhat lessons did you learn in the process of pulling together your debut collection of poetry? What was the biggest challenge in finishing the project?

Most of my lessons came after I entered the manuscript. I thought I was a good fit, but I’d never submitted more than a few poems at a time. After I was selected, I started worrying about what I’d included and whether or not the collection was cohesive. I toyed with the idea of withdrawing it altogether or entering into major edits because I wasn’t confident that people would like what I’d put together.

I’m a writer who reads everything aloud obsessively and I wasn’t sure the mouth feel and sound of the poems was right. Thankfully, most of my doubts were quieted when I read the blurbs, stepped aside, and listened to my colleagues.

In the future, I’d take quite a bit more time organizing the pieces and finding both the inner threads and outer structure of the manuscript in advance.

Do you have a favorite poem from No God in This Room? Why is it your favorite?

I’d say my favorite is the opening poem, “Boxes of Andromeda”. I wrote it for my mother. I was sitting on the floor at AWP back in 2015 and I scribbled it down in one sitting. I think it captures my mother perfectly. She was a factory worker, but was still very much a feminine figure. I wanted to honor her sacrifice of body in order to give me a different path.

How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I started writing short stories when I was young. I’d write what was pretty much fan fiction featuring R&B singers and groups. I still have a suitcase full of them at my parents’ house. They are pretty embarrassing!

I wrote my first poem in November 1990. When I was in the 8th grade, I had a student teacher who taught us poetry for a grading period. She was very encouraging of my writing. She told me I wrote like Emily Dickenson. I had no idea who that was. So, I started to reading poetry and writing more. From there I wrote for any venue I could. From middle school through college, I wrote for an endless number of newsletters, online magazines, poetry forums, student magazines on campus, and did freelance work.

I keep writing because of two main reasons. The first is because on those days I am feeling confident I know I am a damn good writer and I love what I produce. Those are the days I want to share what I craft with the world. The second is because I need writing to be my voice. I’m pretty quiet and sometimes I feel invisible. Writing lets me speak in ways that I sometimes can’t muster out loud.

As the founder and editor-in-chief of Linden Avenue Literary Journal, as well as being a writer, what advice would you offer to writers just getting started?

First and foremost is to be yourself! Find your voice and find what you love to write about. Knowing that allows you to be confident and vested in what you are creating. That doesn’t mean it won’t, or can’t, change over the years, but if you have some real connection to what you are writing it will show in the final product.

It may seem that you have to follow trends or like certain writers or presses, but that’s not true. The writing world is vast and eventually you will find your niche and your community. When you do? Support it and it will support you!

Do you feel community is important as a writer? How do you stay connected?

Community is important, but it is also important to know that every community isn’t for you. Sometimes, especially in the age of social media, we get the idea that a writing community has to be a group of witty and cool people who riff off of each other on Twitter and other apps. Sometimes community is that. Other times, and for me, community is a couple of people who keep me grounded via e-mail and in a private setting. This works for me because of my shyness. My community also consists of people of varying ages and backgrounds. This allows me to have fresh eyes and perspectives on my literary pursuits and questions.

Do you believe poetry can create change in the world?

I believe that it can, but it needs to be coupled with action as well. Bringing awareness to topics via our creative works is massively important, but it can’t stop there. As I said earlier, if you find your voice you are going to be vested in what you are writing. That passion and interest can manifest in many ways, but I think those actions should extend beyond writing into volunteer work, fundraising, protesting, campaigning, or any other manner of engagement.

Name one poet no one knows but should.

There are a quite a few, but those writers that I find really exciting usually come via the submissions at Linden Avenue. Two that come to mind are Daschielle Louis and Rosie DeSantis. We recently published both of them and I was very impressed with their work.

What can the world expect from you in the future?

Hopefully, my collection of essays will find a home and be sent out into the world. I’ve been crafting and publishing these essays for about the last two years and it would be wonderful to finally share all of them with the world. I also have two poems in the forthcoming Black Girl Magic anthology from Haymarket Books. That will be available in March 2018. There are a few things in the works that I have to keep to myself for now.

And of course, I will continue to publish Linden Avenue along with my staff because it’s one of my priorities to offer a place for all writers get their work out to the world.


The Waste Lands – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part III

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 - Stephen KingThe 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.

Continue reading “The Waste Lands – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part III”

Book Love: Tender, stories by Sofia Samatar

Sofia Samatar’s collection of stories reveals human (or not-so-human) tenderness as the aching of a wound, or the gentle kindness from another, or the vulnerability of the young. It’s a stunning collection of powerful stories with beautiful writing and many with creative ways of expressing the tale (essay format, journal entries, letters) that provides a unique depth and texture.

I love “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” a story in which a young woman comes to terms with her anger at the loss of her mother, sharing the stories with the reader, she keeps hidden within herself. The phrases “I don’t tell” and “I won’t tell” are repeated throughout, highlighting the need for new stories free of the pain and mistakes of the past.

On the flip-side of the relationship between mother and daughter is “Honey Bear,” an affecting story of a woman and her husband driving to the ocean with their daughter. The story sings with love and compassion. The woman is ill, the husband frustrated and over protective. She holds to her daughter with such affection in a world that is slipping away, dying. The ending of this story — which I will not spoil — shattered me. Love is so powerful. So is hope, however small.

Another deeply moving story is “Walkdog,” which is presented as an class essay about knowing one’s environment. The author chooses to write about walkdogs, creatures said to steal people away, forcing them to walk behind them for years and years. The use of footnotes here are critical to the way the story unfolds, gaps of the personal slipping under the seemingly academic, building into a story about a bullied boy and the girl who loved him, but not enough to protect him — all culminating in a heartbreaking conclusion.

Power structures are often explored in these stories. “Ogres of East Africa” — which I’ve read three times now and the story grows with each readingfor — shares the story of Alibhai a servant to a white hunter looking to track and hunt an ogre. As he records stories of ogres for hig master, he records his own history in the margins, his story slowly moving to the forefront of the text.

In a similar fashion, “An Account of the Land of Witches”  presents the story of a slave finding freedom in a strange land in which boundaries are meaningless. Later a woman in our modern world goes looking for the history of this land, basing her dissertation on the slave’s letter and her master’s refutation, only to have her efforts stopped when the borders are closed by war.

There are so many more lovely stories in this collection — both “Dawn and the Maiden” and “Cities of Emerald, Deserts of Gold” stand out for me in terms of their beauty of language. Take for example, this passage”

My love is a river. My love is a brink. My love is the bring of an underground river. My love’s arms ripple like rivers in the moonlight when he unlocks the garden gate. — from “Dawn and the Maiden”

One could go one-by-one in an attempt to honor each story in its turn. But I’m afraid I don’t have time, so I’ll just say this is a gorgeous book, worth every penny in the cost of acquiring it.

New Stuff up at Quail Bell and The Literary Whip

Quail Bell published six of my poems over the past couple of months, all from the Poeming project, in which over 50 poets were each assigned one of Stephen King’s books and charged with the challenge of crating 31 found poems in the month of October. The poems Quail Bell selected were:

In other awesome news, Zoetic Press has started a new podcast called, The Literary Whip. The podcast highlights poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that was rejected by Nonbinary Review and other publication. This is work that almost made it past the slush pile to publication, but was ultimately rejected.

As an associate editor for Nonbinary Review, I was invited to be a guest of the podcast for two episodes. It was great fun speaking with Lise Quintana, podcast host and editor in chief of Nonbinary, about “Dear Firebird” by Becky d’Ugo and “No wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise” by Jane Wiseman, as well as about literature and the editing process in general. Go check them out.

Culture Consumption: September & October 2017

Fell a whole month behind and still moving slow, but here we go — presenting my last two months in books, movies, and television.

Books

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.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: September & October 2017”

Happy International Speculative Poetry Day!

I was delighted to learn that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) “has designated November 3rd as International Speculative Poetry Day to bring attention to the genre of poetry influenced by science fiction, fantasy, horror and other imaginative genres.” This is the first time it’s been held and I’m stoked.

In honor of  International Speculative Poetry Day, here are a few of my favorite collections of speculative poetry.

Southern-Cryptozoology

Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild by Allie Marini

Southern Cryptozoology has been twice nominated for the Elgin Award, which is no surprising to me because it’s one of my favorite poetry reads in the past few years. This collection presents a bestiary of strange, legendary creatures from the Southern parts of the U.S., examining what it means to be monster or human, beast or woman, myth or flesh. The lines are wildly spaces on the page, leaving gaps and holes where truths or secrets or double meanings might slip in. And I discover new things every time I pick up this book.

“A whole town: armed to the teeth,
arming themselves against my teeth.
She-cat of Bladenboro,
I’m here for your dogs,
your sheep, your sons, your blood.
You know who I am, boys.”

– from “The Beast of Bladenboro”
(wordpress likes to compress the spacing, but you canread the complete poem at Drunk Monkeys)

The Moment of Change

The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry edited by Rose Lemberg

In this anthology, editor Rose Lemburg offers feminist speculative poetry from diverse perspectives. The quality and range of styles and stories these poems address make this a powerful collection of science fiction, myth, and folklore. (I did a longer review of this book in 2013.)

“Perfection is frictionless —
I need to stub my soul on yours,
I need to lick the slivers in your wounds.”

— from “In Defiance of Sleek-Armed Androids” by Lisa Bradley
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“This is a story,
and it is true of all stories
that the sound when they slam shut
is like a key turning.”

— from “The Girl with Two Skins” by Catherynne M. Valente

Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse

Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse by David Pérez

David Pérez uses speculative imagery in his poems to explore the ways things fall apart at the most intimate levels and how was can pull the pieces together from the chaos. There are poems in this book, like “Tickle Me Elmo on Black Friday,” that haunt me; I’ll be minding my own business and then wham, I’m thinking about them all over again.

“Sarah,
Why bother saving us
when you have fewer scars from machines
than you do from the men who made them?
You don’t have to answer that.”

– from “To the Lady who Carves a Notch in Her M-16 for Every Robot She Leaves Charred and Perforated in the Ruins of Los Angeles”
(here’s a video of Pérez reading the poem)

Transformations

Transformations by Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton’s Transformations presents retellings of classic fairy tales. The poems bring a unsettling, raw beauty to the original tales, while also being darkly humorous.

“No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:
cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
arms and legs made of Limoges,
lips like Vin Du Rhône,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes
open and shut.”

— from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”
(read the whole poem)

God Went to Beautyf School

God Went to Beauty School by Cynthia Rylant

God Went to Beauty School is a collection of YA poetry that envisions God trying out life on Earth. God goes shopping, gets a job, gets cable, explores all the mundanities of human life — and it’s deeply enchanting.

“He got into nails, of course,
because He’d always loved
hands–
hands were some of the best things
He’d ever done

– from the title poem “God Went to Beauty School”
(read the whole poem)

A few other great reads: Drink by Laura Madeline Wiseman; Shopping After the Apocalypse by Jessie Carty; Sharp Teeth (a novel in poems) by Toby Barlow; and Eating in the Underworld by Rachel Zucker


The Drawing of the Three – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part II

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.

Drawing of three-1The 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.

Continue reading “The Drawing of the Three – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part II”

A Night at the Theater: Constellations 

Friday night, I had the delightful experience of seeing Constellations, a fantastic stage play written by Nick Payne and performed at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts.

Constellations is a romantic drama with a blending of physics and beekeeping. The play illustrates string theory and the idea that every decision we make spins off alternative universes. The characters relive moments multiple times, a scene repeating again and again each time a little bit (or sometimes drastically) different than the one before. Other scenes jump forward and then back in time, moments unstuck that only make sense when all is finished. As the play goes on, we get to see every possible side of these two characters and their relationship, the good and the bad, the moments that go horribly wrong and those that go impossibly right. This nonlinear presentation of the story provides an emotional depth. The play is

The staging is kept simple, with just a few low tables or stands that the actors can move around the stage to set up a different scene or location. The back ground is a network of interconnected lights, which change along with each scene in a new configuration, like varying constellations. The lights also look like neurons in brain, the interconnections of the mind.

With the background kept minimal, the focus, then, is on the performances of the actors — who have to bring fresh emotion and perspective to dialog they have to repeat two, three, or more times as each scene repeats. Robert Gilbert and Carie Kawa achieve this with phenomenal skill, making the leap from scene to scene almost look effortless.

I loved every second of this play. Unfortunately, this weekend was the last of its run, but if this gets put on my a theater company in your local area, I highly recommend going to see it.

Just for kicks, here’s the local trailer:

Culture Consumption: August 2017

Coming in a little late, here is my August in books, movies, and television.

Books

The Girl in the RoadWhen I picked up The Girl in the Road, I thought it was going to be an entirely different book than what it was.* Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the story about two very different women making long journeys, both escaping from danger (perceived or real), both looking for hope at the end of the road. One makes her journey as a young girl by sneaking aboard a truck crossing Africa, the other walks along the snakelike spine of the Trail, an energy generation system spanning from India to Ethiopia. This novel is richly textured, with complex characters and explorations of sex, self, and sanity. A great read (although I really didn’t understand the epilogue and if someone wants to explain it to me that would be awesome).
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Newly Published Work – the Nasty Women Poets Anthology and more

Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive VerseNasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, edited by Grace Bauer and Julie Kane, is now available from Lost Horse Press and I’m honored to have a collaborative poem, “The Red Inside of Girls,” written with Laura Madeline Wiseman.

Nasty Women Poets presents a “timely collection of poems speaks not just to the current political climate and the man who is responsible for its title, but to the stereotypes and expectations women have faced dating back to Eve, and to the long history of women resisting those limitations. The nasty women poets included here talk back to the men who created those limitations, honor foremothers who offered models of resistance and survival, rewrite myths, celebrate their own sexuality and bodies, and the girlhoods they survived. They sing, swear, swagger, and celebrate, and stake claim to life and art on their own terms.”

Honored to have have a collaborative poem with Laura Madeline Wiseman included in the Nasty Women Poets anthology from Lost Horse Press.


Drunk Monkeys published my short story, “Missed Connections / Red Head at the House of Needles,” in their August issue. This is (I believe), the second actual short story that I’ve evern published, and I’m so happy to have it appear in a great publication like Drunk Monkeys. Here’s the story opening:

i am normally not the kind of dog who whistles at women on the street or stalks them with my eyes. i figure ladies have enough to worry about without some creeper giving them a hard time

You can read the rest online.


 NonBinary Review #14: The Tales of Hans Christian AndersenAs a member of the Zoetic press team, I’m stoked to note that NonBinary Review has released Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen — it’s the largest issue the publication has released to date with 53 artists and authors from around the world presenting re-imaginings of Andersen’s classic fairy tales.

Cover art is by the always amazing MANDEM.


Other Good Reads from Around the Web

“We need to stop thinking of poems as poems, but as art pieces that weave together different techniques from other disciplines, in a way to expand the line, the beat, the image,” writes Joanna C. Valente.

Sona Charaipotra and Zoraida Córdova on How YA Twitter Is Trying To Dismantle White Supremacy, One Book At A Time

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Stories You Can Read Online For Free


Poet Spotlight: Kolleen Carney

Kolleen Carney
Photo by Jessica Lynne Furtado.

Kolleen Carney is a Boston-born, Burbank based poet with an undergraduate degree in English from Salem State University and an MFA in Poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. She has published two chapbooks — Me and the Twelve Step Program (Salem State Center for Creative and Performing Arts) and Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament (Grey Books Press, 2017). Kolleen is currently the social media coordinator and managing editor for Zoetic Press, as well as an assistant poetry editor. She is also the editor-in-chief and social media coordinator for Drunk Monkeys.

Your new collection of poetry, Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament, has recently been published by Grey Books Press. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

I fell in love! As silly as that sounds. To be honest, some of the poems I had started years before, like “Bestia” and “A Very Distant Rooster”. This collection is obviously an unfolding relationship, the start of a romance, of a true love — something I am not sure I had really experienced in the past, at least not with this intensity. When Fritz and I finally got together, I wrote more and more about our experiences before and after the fact. They came easily. He’s easy to write about. Everything he does is a poem in the making, and I am constantly memorizing it all.

The poems in your collection explore intimacy and sex with a mixture of fire and decay, creation and wonder. They seem to speak to the way love can be both comforting and frightening all at once. Does this reflect your personal belief or understanding of how love is? How do you bring this intimacy to your poetry and how do you bring poetry to intimacy with others?

I absolutely believe love is a terrifying thing. To love someone is to become vulnerable, and I hate being vulnerable. But in the same way, I love the comfort of a life with someone, a routine. A warm shoulder, another body next to you at night.

I used to think I didn’t really know how to love anyone beyond my son; like, I loved people, but not that sort of real love where people die holding hands or whatever. Now I do. Now I know.

I love the idea that decay leads to new life, by the way. That fire that decimated the hill? Because of that, pinecones opened up, seeds fell, and someday that hill will be filled with new trees. It’s amazing.

Love poems are sort of a new thing for me. I have never written anything so positive. I guess yes, that intimacy comes through in the poetry, because I am just trying to frame how I feel in a way that sounds nice. As for bringing poetry to intimacy, I just try to keep this feeling going, to make everything a little magical. Sometimes even going to the store can be an adventure.

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Kolleen Carney”

The Gunslinger – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part I

My love for Stephen King’s books began in high school. At least, that’s when my passion was at its highest peak, a time when I sought out every copy of his work I could find through book stories, libraries, and garage sales and read book after brick-thick book full of nightmares and horrors. Over the years I’ve read over 25 books by King, mostly the novels now considered classics published in the ’70s and ’80s along with several short story collections. I even dedicated a video poem to his work a few years ago to show my appreciation.

The Dark Tower: The GunslingerOf all the numerous King classics I’ve read, the book I held with most love in my memory was The Gunslinger, the first book in The Dark Tower series. I remember being hooked immediately by the opening sentence, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” It seemed at the time the perfect opening sentence, setting the main characters into place upon the stage and presenting an immediate mystery as the reader wonders, Why? In fact, I loved that opening sentence so much, I memorized it and the line has often come to mind at random moments over the years.

I remember being blown away by the story, with the plodding gunslinger dragging himself through the desert, the man in black, the boy torn from another world. It leveled me and, although purely in a fantastical way, opened up new ways of perceiving the universe (or universes, as the case maybe). It became one of those books I clung to after reading, not wanting it to be over yet.
Continue reading “The Gunslinger – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part I”

On the Art of Making a Living as a Writer

“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 LivingScratch: 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”.

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Culture Consumption: June & July 2017

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.

Books

“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.
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Travels in South America (Part III): Argentina 

Wrapping up my journeys in South America — following Peru and Chile — my sister and I elected to drive across the border from Puerto Varas, Chile, into the Patagonia region of Argentina. Renting a car provides a freedom when traveling that going by public transportation and by foot does not. We were free to take any road we wanted, to wander and explore. Plus, the roads were well maintained and most people seemed to obey the traffic laws (at least as much as they do in the U.S.), so driving around Patagonia was fairly easy.

We drove past lakes and up into the mountains, where we quickly went through the border checkpoints (since it was the slow, winter season). In between each set of checkpoints is the actual border, welcoming drivers into Argentina on one side and into Chile on the other.

When I saw “we drove,” I should really clarify and say that my sister was the one to do the driving — and she hates driving. I would have been happy to drive, but since the car we rented was a manual transmission and I don’t know how to drive manual, she was stuck with it. She didn’t complain though, because it was some beautiful driving.

Argentina
The twisty road we drove over and through mountains from Chile to Argentina.

Continue reading “Travels in South America (Part III): Argentina “

Travels in South America (Part II): Chile

Continuing on my journey to South America, I’ve already shared about Peru, so now we’re on to Chile.

For Love of Pablo Neruda

My main purpose for visiting Chile was the opportunity to visit the home of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. He had three homes that were turned into museums — La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso, and his home in Isla Negra.

I was able to visit two out of the three homes, both of which feature an impressive collection of old maps, found objects, and artwork gathered together by the poet, who also served as a diplomat.

La Sebastiana is a narrow tall home, with a tight hallway leading up to each of its four or five floors. At the top was his writing room and his desk, with a few papers contained there under glass.

La Chascona is situated on a hillside in the Bella Vista district of Santiago. Neruda named the home La Chascona, which means “tangled-haired woman,” after his wife and lifelong love, Matilde Urrutia. La Chascona also featured some poetry in Neruda’s own handwriting, displayed at his desk, as well as a display of his published books in editions from around the world.

Pablo Neruda died from cancer shortly after Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, overthrowing democratically elected Allende. After Neruda’s death, La Chascona was ransacked, items were stolen and destroyed, and the drainage ditches were blocked off so the house would flooded. Matilde held the funeral in the destroyed house and the funeral procession that followed turned into one of the first public protests against the military regime. Matilde continued to live in La Chascona, restoring it and the art within, eventually starting a foundation to preserve Neruda’s legacy. She was also a human rights activist, which brought her into conflict with Pinochet.

My poet heart soared walking through the spaces Neruda once walked. I adore Neruda’s words and the passion he had for his wife, his country, and the world. It was an honor to two of his homes and to see how his love of life translated in to the spaces Neruda and Matilde made for themselves.

The one home I missed out on, Isla Negra, was actually the home I had in mind when wanting to come to Chile. Somehow I confused it with the Valparaiso house, but that’s alright. I was thrilled to have visited the two homes I did and now I have a reason to return to Chile.

La Chascona
A very happy me standing outside La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s home in Santiago.

Continue reading “Travels in South America (Part II): Chile”

Travels in South America (Part I): Peru

It’s been two weeks since my sister and I have been home from our trip in South America, and I’m still awed by all the places and adventures we were able to fit into our two weeks of travel. Our journey took us through Peru, Chile, and Argentina — all three beautiful places to explore. We did a lot of hoping around, which was perfect for this trip, but a part of me wants to go back to one or all and really settling in to a single country for a longer period of time, so that I can get to know it in depth.

Since I have a ton of photos, I’m splitting this post into three parts, starting with Peru, where we visited Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

Lima

Our experience of Lima was a colored by how exhausted we were after our red-eye flight. But with only one day to explore the city, we wandered through the main city center. The Plaza Mayor was crowded — with two events happening simultaneously. At the Palacio de Gobierno some sort of changing of the guard was going on, with soldiers in dress uniform marching and parading horses while trumpets blared. On the other side of the square, a procession accompanied by music was pouring out of the Catedral de Lima — large pavilion after large pavilion, each held aloft by four men or women proceeded out of the entrance of the cathedral. They held elaborate pedestals adorned with the images of the Virgin, Christ, and various saints. The procession was accompanied by dancers in brightly colored, traditional Peruvian dress. The trumpets from the government building clashed together with the music from the cathedral in a wonderful cacophony.

Later we stopped in at Choco Museo to try drink hot chocolate flavored with chile. Afterward, our explorations took us to Casa de Literature Puruana (House of Peruvian Literature). Inside was a library with an old printing press on display, as well as museum exhibits introducing two Peruvian poets — Magda Portal and Louis Hernandez. All of the displays were in Spanish, of which I know only a little. Nevertheless, I’m excited to go looking for their work and for the opportunity to learn more about them.

We ended our day at the Basilica de San Francisco, a church and convent which houses underground catacombs.

Basilica San Francisco, Lima, Peru.
Basilica San Francisco, Lima, Peru.

Continue reading “Travels in South America (Part I): Peru”

New Poetry Publications:

I’ve had a number of poems published over the past several weeks (or months, but whose counting), which I haven’t gotten around to announcing yet — partly because of the trip to South America I just returned from, which I’ll be sharing more about soon. Anywho, here’s what I’ve got new out on the nets:

Diode Poetry Journal published, which includes “Carrie White: Our Lady of Blood”. This a part of the collection Pantheon that I’m still trying to find a home for.

Rogue Agent, a journal I love, published “The Idea, What Else,” a found poem using words from Stephen King’s The Plant.

A few poems written in collaboration with the wonderful and amazing Laura Madeline Wiseman have also been published. Devilfish Review published “Stumble Tumble Down This Animal Hole,” and The Drowning Gull published three of our collaborative poems, “Lighting the Ghost Lamps,” “The Path of Coding Eternal,” and “The Women of Straw and Branches.”

It’s been a good month for publishing, and I’m honored to have work included in each of these publications.

The Voices of Spring Mother Tongue

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.


Some of the poets whose work appears in the anthology read at the event — representing a variety of ages and backgrounds and a multitude of voices and poetic styles. These readers included: America Cihuapilli Irineo, ASHA, Arlene Biala, Jade Bradbury, Bill Cozzini, Kiana Del Rosario, Lorenz Dumuk, Parthenia Hicks, Larry Taylor Hollist, Joel Katz, Lita Kurth, Pushpa McFarlane, Quynh-Mai Nguyen, Nils Peterson, Anthony Santa Ana, Ann Sherman, Donna Steelman, and Jarvis Subia

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

Linky Goodness

Kathleen Ossip explains Why All Poems Are Political:

“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.

3 Free Poetry Chapbooks to Read This Summer From Agape Editions

Culture Consumption: May 2017

May was an interesting month, in that it was full of fabulous travels. Still managed to read and watch quite a few great stories.

Books

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.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: May 2017”