Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Review: Wave

Just a quick one, as I'm heading off early today for a day-quest to Houston.  This book is one I read with one of my tutoring students - a singular memoir, from a singular event.

 by Sonali Deraniyagala

On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since. She has written an engrossing, unsentimental, beautifully poised account: as she struggles through the first months following the tragedy, furiously clenched against a reality that she cannot face and cannot deny; and then, over the ensuing years, as she emerges reluctantly, slowly allowing her memory to take her back through the rich and joyous life she’s mourning, from her family’s home in London, to the birth of her children, to the year she met her English husband at Cambridge, to her childhood in Colombo; all the while learning the difficult balance between the almost unbearable reminders of her loss and the need to keep her family, somehow, still alive within her.

Y'know, I finished this book over a year ago, but I think I'm only just now understanding it.  The light bulb came on when I read Film Crit Hulk's essay on Gamergate.  Here is the relevant quote (de-capitalized for your reading convenience):

One of the first things we are taught in writing is that good stories are about character arcs.  People start as these flawed, incomplete persons. And through the story they make choices, learn lessons and become better people along the way, thus completing an arc.

True, yes?

And you would expect that from this book, even though it's nonfiction and the 'character' is a real person.  Because when you read the premise – here is the story of a woman who lost her husband, parents, and both children in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004- you settle in expecting the only narrative we've ever been given about these kinds of tragedies.  Hope. Resilience. Healing. Human connection. Learning to grieve and then move forward with a renewed sense of purpose.

Well, this isn't that.  This is the story of a woman who, from the moment she's pulled from the water to the very end of the book (six years later), makes very little effort for herself and none at all for anyone else. She doesn't help look for her family. She doesn't console any of the other survivors, in those awful first hours afterwards. She just sits there, sullen and passive, and then lies there, angry and suicidal, and when she finally does rouse herself again, months afterward, it's mostly to harass and abuse the family who is now living in her parents' house.  Yes, there is progress, and yes, there are milestones, but no gratitude for the people who have helped her, and no remorse for the way she's treated them.

Here's Film Crit Hulk again, from the same essay:

Meanwhile, Happy-Go-Lucky isn't about the arc of the character, but instead the arc of the audience. Our main character, Poppy (Sally Hawkins), goes along her way trying to keep the best of her enthusiasm, and people constantly tell her to be more world-weary. To protect herself. To not be so trusting. But instead of Poppy changing, we do. We the audience. ... We are the ones who grow. We are the ones who see things differently and change our perspective. And the effect is quite profound.

And here I think is the Big Idea.  If the character changes, we can think "yes, well done" and finish the book and pick up another.  But when the character remains a fixed object, WE are the ones who have to move in their orbit – and we are rarely obliging. We don't tend to like being challenged, especially by our entertainment.

And this is a challenging book.  If you're thoughtful about it, you might very well finish with some excellent questions.  Why do we treat the bereaved as though they owe us something for our sympathy?  Why SHOULD someone have to be the picture of grace and gratitude when their whole life is gone?  How would this story be different if the author didn't have the luxury of lying in bed for months at a time, being cared for by relatives and keeping a house she can no longer bear to live in?

Like I said, it's a singular book, and while I can't say I enjoyed the act of reading it, it's been paying dividends ever since.

My favorite bit:

I kept going back to Yala, obsessively, over the next months. I scavenged the debris of the hotel. I searched, dug about, scratched my arms on rusted metal. I pounced on fragments of plastic, did this come from one of our toys? Is this Malli's sock? What I really wanted was to find Crazy Crow, the big glove puppet with unruly black feathers that we had given Malli for Christmas, the day before the wave. When he tore open the wrapping and saw it, how he'd lit up.
I never did find Crazy Crow. I stopped searching the day I found the shirt Vik wore on our last evening, Christmas night. It was a lime-green cotton shirt. I remembered him fussing that he didn't want to wear it, it had long sleeves, which he didn't like. Steve rolled up the sleeves for him. "There, that looks smart." When I found the shirt, it was under a spiky bush, half-buried in sand. I pulled it out, not knowing what this piece of tattered yellowing fabric was. I dusted off the sand. Those parts of the shirt that had not been bleached by salt water and sun were still bright green. One of the sleeves was still rolled up.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Of Lions and Dragons and Raunchy Grammarians

My weekend. Let me show it to you.

See, as I've blogged before, I belong to a family who kicks ass.  And busts bricks.  And has probably spent more time in sweaty, spangly lion-pants than I've spent in all my non-couch-based activities combined.

Some of the aforementioned lions.
(My sister's not allowed to be the back half anymore, cuz she's married now.)EDIT: My sister has an open relationship with the front halves,
and she is comfortable with that. 
Anyway, so this past weekend was the annual Lunar New Year celebration, which is basically what you would get if a medieval feast, a Shanghai street party, and Kung Fu Hustle had a three-hour throwdown in front of 400 people.  With more slammin' beats and less property damage.

Well, slightly less property damage.
And it's just so damn cool, y'all.  Schools from as far away as Florida and Colorado come to show off their hard work, and there's fabulous novelties every year.  This time, we had top-hatted tai chi (way to put on the ritz, Mom!), ninja turtles, improv-weapons dueling, and - wait for it - a country western steampunk martial arts bar brawlBe still, my throbbing loins.

And be less shitty, my pathetic phone camera.
And it's just so great, because like... you know, if the DFW Writers Workshop are my second family, these guys are my second in-laws - and it is so fantastic to see another kind of community, another kind of artistry, another kind hard work paying off in sweat and splendor. So basically, if you didn't get to see it in person, go check out Laurel Houston's photo album right this picosecond - she is a phenomenal photographer (and a barefoot ninja herself!)

And speaking of which, there on the left is one of my actual in-laws:
the sweatiest and most splendid of them all.
Anyway, there was food, fun, and forms long into the night - and the next morning, I had the singular pleasure of getting up to go see some of my very favorite people, the North Texas Romance Writers of America.  It was only my second visit, but I tell you what: I'm gonna have to stop going soon, cuz every time I do, I enjoy it all the more - and it's already so good that I can't hardly stand it.

Like, it doesn't surprise me that they collaborate and support each other, because hey - we're writers; we're supposed to do that.  But I am just amazed at how organized they are as they go about it!  Everybody who has a book published gets a giant pencil.  The people who write and/or edit the most pages in a month get their names read out.  There's a segment for people to announce news, and not just writing-related news, but baby-gets-to-go-home-from-the-hospital news.  There are events and get-togethers and contests to see how much you know about other members.

And at the risk of divulging the Secrets of the Order, there is a tiara.

And the more I think about it, the more essential that seems.  Sure, there's the fun external stuff - candies and pencils and sparkly jewelry and all - but underneath that is a systematic way of including, recognizing, and caring about people.  Which seems massively important in a way I hadn't thought about before, because, like... y'know, we're so trained to respond to every "how are you doing?" with a "pretty good, and you?"  Sometimes it's just terribly hard to feel like you have permission to talk about yourself in any significant way.  So the more deliberate, explicit systems and places and rituals we have for doing that, the more genuine connections I think we can make - and I must be slow on the uptake, because from everything I've seen, NTRWA figured that out a long time ago.

Anyway, one of their rituals involves a presentation from a guest speaker - and on Saturday, that was me!  The NTRWA members and a few super-dedicated members of my traveling fan-posse came out to see the world-premiere presentation of The Comma Sutra.

I knew I was in good hands when the title screen went up and one member
immediately gasped, "that would make SUCH a great book cover!"
Here to help make sense of the joke is the class description:

Does your writing lack a certain...variety? Does your manuscript suffer from premature exclamations, heavy or abnormally frequent periods, or have difficulty maintaining even a semi-colon? Don't suffer in silence! You too can enjoy the satisfaction and self-confidence that comes with knowing how to please your critique partner. In this class, we'll practice the ins and outs of good punctuation (and yes, it WILL be raunchy.) Join us, won't you, as we embark on a journey of true textual healing.

And like, seriously y'all.  This class should have come with a diploma, a tattoo, and an apology.  The things these brave men and women endured in the name of honing their writing craft... well, let's just say that analogies were made which can never be un-made, and noble grammatical precepts harnessed to truly sordid imagery.

In fairness, some of the jokes pretty much wrote themselves.
Needless to say, I was super nervous about presenting this (because it's just so hard to know how dirty is too dirty, and how much bad xeno-erotica is too much bad xeno-erotica.)  But we had great questions and discussions, and I for one had an amazing time.

"Well then," you might say, "that's the lions and raunchy grammarians, but where are the dragons?"

So glad you asked: they are right over here, at the Kingdoms of Evil podcast!  Dieselpunk dragons, build-a-bear dragons, cake dragons - dragons for everyone!  This is the second part of the conversation I had with my notorious Red Sofa compadres, 'Evil' Dan Bensen and 'Rogue' Dan Koboldt (the first part is here, in all its seagull-stunning glory).

And here is a nice blacklight dragon to round out the set.
I've done the Evil podcast a couple of times now, and it's just such a thrill - because y'know, usually when you have a good chat with somebody, it's only between the two of you.  You can rave and gush about your super-cool friend all day long, but nobody except your mutual acquaintances are really going to get it.  Here, though, is permanent, audible proof that I am a fun person who hangs out with fun people, and evidence to help the rest of y'all understand that these guys are exactly as awesome as I've been telling you.  (I even made Evil Dan help me write exo-erotic example sentences for the Comma Sutra presentation.  Now THAT'S friendship in action.)

Anyway, so if there were going to be a single unifying thesis statement for all three of these marvelous weekend-things, it would probably be this: one of the coolest things about getting older is getting to participate in new social spheres - not just the ones you move between on a daily/weekly basis, but also the ones that reach out and include you every now and again, for special occasions.  It's a great reminder that the world is full of wonderful people, even when you don't see them on the regular, and that there are more places for you than you can ever fill at one time.  That is a pretty damn happy feeling.

The precise function of the melted chocolate remains elusive.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: Crimson Son

Ahh, you guys.  THAT was a time.  That was a weekend!

I mean, I've been to cons before.  ConDFW isn't the biggest, or the weirdest, or the wildest.  But I tell you what: to date, it's the only time I've gotten to watch an author axe-kick an editor.

In this corner, Tae Kwon Do (Russ Linton). In this corner, also Tae Kwon Do (Adrian Simmons).
Behind them, Krav Maga, Bartitsu, and Tai Chi, respectively.
For more on the cathartic beauty of the Literary UFC panel, see Russ Linton's Dealing With Rejection Through Physical Violence.  For more on Russ Linton... hang out here for a sec.

See, I have to post this big-ass disclaimer here, because I need you to know a couple of things before we get into the book review.  The thing is, I know Russ. I like Russ. I liked him pretty good even before he ninja-name-dropped our way out of a parking garage and co-ran the Shootout at the Obscure Genre Corral with me this weekend.  (NOW I think he's just fucking fabulous.)

And one of the reasons I like him so dang much is because he posted this wonderful review of One Night in Sixes.  In our world, reviews are gold - and a review that highlights the specially wonderful parts of a book while also being honest about its "watch out for" and "you might not like this if" features is mithril-coated vibranium starmetal.

But that's what he did for me - and by gum, that's what I'm gonna do for him!  So here in all its fully-disclosed glory is my review of Crimson Son.

Crimson Son
by Russ Linton

His mother kidnapped, his superhero father absent, powerless Spencer Harrington faces a world of weaponized humans to prove himself and find the truth. Nineteen-year-old Spencer is the son of the Crimson Mask, the world's most powerful Augment. Since witnessing his mother's abduction by a psychotic super villain two years ago, he's been confined to his father's arctic bunker. When the "Icehole" comes under attack from a rampaging robot, Spencer launches into his father's dangerous world of weaponized human beings known as Augments. With no superpowers of his own save a multi-tool, a quick wit and a boatload of emotional trauma, Spencer seeks to uncover his mother's fate and confront his absentee superhero father. As he stumbles through a web of conspiracies and top secret facilities, he rallies a team of everyday people and cast-off Augments. But Spencer soon discovers that the Black Beetle isn't his only enemy, nor his worst.

I think I tweeted about this book once by saying something along the lines of "because when the Black Beetle invades your ice-hole, you grab your multi-tool and GTFO." And if your first reaction to that is "I have no idea what you're talking about, but I'm up for it!" then boy, have I got a book for you.

For me, this is my first foray into superhero fiction (though I keep meaning to lay hands on Landon Porter's Descendants series).  At first, I was a little leery: the Spider-Man movies have covered my RDA of angsty super-white-boys until about 2025 - and we all know there is no angst like teen angst.

In this case, it's coming from Spencer Harrington, the powerless son of the world's greatest hero (well, almost-powerless: that boy can shake off traumatic brain injuries like most of us can walk off a charley-horse.) But we start out here with an intriguing premise: what's it like to be one of the Aunt Mays and Mary Janes of the super-verse?  What kind of life can you have when you're every villain's dream hostage – and how do you avoid resenting the super-spouse or -parent whose need to protect you has basically turned you into their prisoner?

And yes, there is teen angst, and a few moments of willful buttheadery (I imagine living in permanent solitary at the North Pole doesn't really help the whole social-skills thing), and one or two terrible decisions. But as great as it is to ask the question, "how can a normal kid hold his own in a super-powered world?", I'm even more delighted with the author's answer: "by making friends, using his heart and skill, and relying on the help of good people – supers and not-so-much – to get the job done."  Think Big Hero 6, if Baymax were a giant homicidal bug-mech named Cuddles.

But as much as I like what's here in the story, I almost appreciate it more for what's missing.  There's no love interest, for one thing (which isn't to say there's no leading lady - and let me say here that I am SO THIRSTY for more stories like this, where guys and gals can have a rock-solid friendship, Captain-America-and-Black-Widow-style, without all the will-they/won't-they business!)  No DBZ-esque "I will defeat you with the power of my rage" special-snowflakery.  And apart from a lamentably vapid fat lady and one villain's penchant for Alec-Baldwin levels of petulant cruelty, no 'types', either.  The characters feel like real people – and more than that, they treat each other like real people.  Nobody is the axis of the universe, here. Nobody is unimportant.

So if you're wondering what the trade-off is for all the gorgeous comic artwork you don't get in a novel, I think that's it right there. Sure, there's still building explosions and car crashes and narrow escapes and super-gadgetry and possibly even a cape – but there's also that deeper stuff that characterizes (what I consider) the very best superhero stories, like The Incredibles and Watchmen. We have time to meditate on what happens to these super-people when they're used up and broken, and to the regular people who have to live in their shadow.  We have room to consider what separates a good parent from a good-intentioned one, and how to let go of somebody you shouldn't have had to lose in the first place, and why we keep wanting what we can't have. We have a super-verse where the heroes don't all wear spandex, and the villains aren't all bad people.

As it happens, this is a first novel, with some of the challenges that first novels have: I feel like it could be about 10% leaner, and I encourage you to give it 50 pages to really hit its stride.  But boy, if this is what a first novel can be - if this guy can pack this much action and drama and humor and heart into a freaking debut - then you definitely want to be caught up and ready before he drops his second.  I'll save you a spot in line.

My favorite bit:

I turn to the door. No keypad, not even a handle on this side. The seam around the door is so tight, I don't think a piece of paper could slip between it and the frame. Outside, Dad is playing ass-puppet for an Augment, and Emily is doing a good job as an Exorcist stand-in. In here, I've got no tools, no battle armor, and no underappreciated minions on my side.

I slump against the door. "We're fucked."

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Book Review: The Transformation of Lawrence Croft

What's this?  Two blog posts in one week?  Have I gone mad?!

No - but I am going to ConDFW this weekend!  And to celebrate, I thought I would post the thematically-appropriate first entry in what will hopefully be a weekly feature: book reviews!  (See, all that about me going to read more wasn't just hot air.)

This is one I picked up at the last local con, from an author named Mark Finn, who absolutely floored me at his reading.  Around here, he's Kind of a Big Deal - and that was before we found out this week that he's been tapped to write for Conan. Seriously, seriously check this out.

The Transformation of Lawrence Croft
by Mark Finn

MagicCon is an ordinary fantasy/science fiction convention. Three days of comic books, anime, and X-Files jokes, which is exactly what Larry Croft and his friends D.J. McGuiness, Fred "The Turk" Terkington, and Burt Vaughn, are looking for. Unfortunately for Larry, a long-forgotten Roman god named Stercutus is primed to make a comeback, and this particular god's sphere of influence really stinks. What follows is a picaresque mash-up of Urban Fantasy and Fandom as worlds collide, friendships are forged, and confusion abounds in a city of secret magic and a sub-culture that Wants To Believe.

The first time I interacted with Mark Finn, we were both on a panel at a local sci-fi/fantasy convention. I was saying something about having gotten into fandom back in the heady days of AOL and dial-up modems and Sailor Moon e-zines.  He looked at me with a pained expression, rubbed his forehead, and said "Kid, you're makin' my tumors throb."

I tell you this because you need to understand one vital fact about this book: it could not have been written by anyone but a world-class geek, someone who has lived and loved the con scene for literally decades... and there truly is no school like the old school.

Yes, there are jokes and stereotypes large and small (and like the con-goers Finn pokes fun at, trending towards large.)  Yes, the four main characters are, with one happy exception, socially regressive nerdbros.  But it's comedy of the "King of the Hill" varietal: a loving, exquisite, self-deprecating send-up of the neighborhood, as only a local could write it. (And to be clear, that's a small n – the Neighborhood here is something else entirely).  It's Clerks nerd-banter with Bill and Ted comradery and Galaxy Quest-level misunderstandings. It's absolutely funny, but the humor doesn't come at the expense of heart.

I'm sure if I looked hard enough, I could find some nits to pick.  There are plenty of characters to keep track of, which was right up my alley, but may give some readers a mental CPU spike.  The group of women introduced near the end veer a little close to the Sex and the City school of cattery for my taste (though the fan-snubbing author-celebrity-vampire Jane Callow is an unvarnished delight). And I might wish that the narrative cast its aspersions with a little less omniscience: I'm okay with someone being a sloppy sadsack disaster - delighted, in fact! - but to me it's better when that's just one character's take, rather than the judgment of the universe at large. (Because then we-the-reader can take a page from the Book of the Dude.)

Regardless: it's no exaggeration to say that this is hands-down the most fun book I've read in at LEAST a year, and I will absolutely recommend it to anyone who has ever rules-lawyered their way out of a critical hit, worn their favorite Star Trek shirt a few too many days in a row, or smelled day-three con-funk and lived to tell the tale.  Don't miss this book - and if you're heading to the con this weekend, don't miss Mark either!

My favorite bit:

"Okay, oh Wizened Sage, who do gamers not like?" said Burt.

"Well, they can't afford to not like anybody, can they?" muttered Turk.

D.J. peered at the ceiling in concentration.  "Oh, I guess if you had to pick someone they didn't like, it would probably be the cosplayers and, uh, maybe the fanfic writers." The metaphor was falling apart, but as an intellectual riddle, it beat watching the hotel television.

"So, basically," said Burt slowly, "what you're saying is, the difference between a geek and a nerd is anyone who eats more paste than you two?"

"Yeah... hey, fuck you, man!"

Monday, February 9, 2015

Getting the Medicine Show on the Road

Y'know, it's really remarkable how much you can get done when your brain is not actively sabotaging you. I'll probably blog about that sometime.

For now, count your notches and set your watches, cuz Medicine for the Dead is coming out in less than two months!

(I know, right?  Holy mackerel.)

So here's what's happening.  Are you ready?  Are you stoked?

Well, first the news: the book has gone to print, and launches are booked!  The US launch will be Saturday, March 28th at 3:00PM at the Hurst Barnes & Noble (same one as last time), and the UK launch will be at Dysprosium in London, at some point during Easter weekend - will keep you posted on that one. In both cases, there will be goodies and prizes and books, and a grand time to be had by all!

"Sure," you say, "But what can I do between now and then?"

So glad you asked!

1. Put it on your radar! That can mean pre-ordering the book, requesting it from your local library, and/or adding it to your Goodreads "want to read" list.  Basically, everything you do to tell the world "hey, I want this" makes it that much more of a hot commodity, and makes YOU more of my actual favorite person. (And if you have Netgalley privileges, feel free to skip the queue.)

2. Catch up on the story! If you haven't read One Night in Sixes, you're gonna want to do that first - and here to help you is a handy-dandy Goodreads giveaway.  Go! Click! Win!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

One Night in Sixes by Arianne "Tex" Thompson

One Night in Sixes

by Arianne "Tex" Thompson

Giveaway ends February 15, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
But it's not all about what you can do for me, natch.  Let me tell you what I can do for you.

See, I've learned a thing or two from last year.  This time, I'm not just out to drop a book on the world.  THIS time, I'm opening up a whole toy-store of cool stuff: sneak previews, deleted scenes, easter eggs, giveaways, hopefully some neat-o merch, and more that I can't even tell you about yet!  Some of it will go live here on the blog, but as everyone knows: if you wanna get into the club, you gotta be on the list.  

So do yourself a favor and sign up for the mailing list! I'll aim to send it out about once a month - a little more often here during launch season.  Here's a free sample to entice you:

What is that, and what does it have to do with anything?  Sign up and find out!

(To be clear: that link will sign you up for the readers edition - all things fun and fictional about Sixes, Medicine for the Dead, and future works.  For the writers newsletter - everything about writing classes, resources, and events - click the black "For Writers!" button on the sidebar above.)

Oh!  And in the meantime, come find me this weekend at ConDFW!  Full schedule is below the cut.  It's been a long, cold winter about six weeks of below-70 temperatures, and I'm jazzed to get back out into the world and see some fresh, fun faces!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Great SFF Book Bonanza of 2015

Okay, y'all.  I have an ugly confession to make. I'm warning you right now: it's bad. It's real bad.

Are you ready? Promise not to be mad?

All right, here it is: I basically didn't read last year.

And before your monocle drops in the champagne, let me clarify: I DID read. I totally did. I read for work - let me tell you, I am now the James Wood of 10th- and 11th-grade Catholic school booklists - and for my friends, several of whom have manuscripts so amazing that my fists curl in disgust every time I realize that you guys can't read them yet.

But in terms of voluntary, published, pull-it-off-the-shelf-and-buy-it leisure reading - forget keeping abreast of new releases; I haven't even glimpsed a side-boob.

It is most definitely time to change that.

So this is where I throw myself at your feet and clasp your knees like a Greek supplicant and say "help me, benevolent literarian - deliver me from my prison of ignorance and squalor."  Would you, could you, pretty please with a cherry on top:
  1. Recommend me a book, novella, or short story
  2. of the sci-fi/fantasy/spec-fic persuasion
  3. that was professionally published in 2014
  4. and that you thought was terrific.
I know - it's a tall and oddly specific order. But here's the thing: the Hugo and Nebula nominations are open for a limited time only (and man, if anybody knows when the Hugo noms close, clue me in, because my and Google's best guess is mid-March).  And as someone who is now actually eligible to vote in both, I am anxious not to let some wonderful deserving Uncle-Ben masterpiece languish and die on the cold streets of collective indifference before I learn to use my powers for good.


see what I did there

If you are likewise of the SFF awards-voting persuasion, let me tell you about this amazing novel. It's called One Night in Sixes (but would have been better titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, if that bastard Eggers hadn't beaten me to it) and it is NOT ONLY Hugo and Nebula eligible, BUT ALSO a seminal entry in what is sure to be this year's hottest subgenre: epic fantasy literary Western culturepunk (or "rural fantasy" for short.)  Behold the stunning literary triumph that readers are calling "bad shit happens... then worse shit happens"! Marvel at what Publisher's Weekly hails as "murky" and GCE calls a "sweaty hot mess"! (The town of Sixes, that is.)  And if you like the sound of a slightly-wrecked Dark Tower-esque fantasy world with a funky, multicultural Deep Space Nine aesthetic, cowboy up and get you some.


(And if your gunnysack is coming up short on folding-money, hit me up. One Night in Sixes e-scholarship program available for a limited time.)

Okay, but anyway. Stories. Recs. Give them to me! And lest you think I'm completely helpless, here are the gems of 2014 I've already got jockeying for top spot on my TBR pile:
 Russ Linton - Crimson Son 

"Because when the Black Beetle invades your ice-hole, you grab your multi-tool and GTFO." I'm actually angry I haven't read this yet.  SUPERHERO BILDUNGSROMAN, GET IN ME.
Chuck Wendig - Blightborn

Because his dystopia is cooler than your dystopia. Because evil corn, that's why.

Beth Cato - The Clockwork Dagger 

Clerics and airships and murder and semi-rescued puppies and I KNEW HER BEFORE SHE WENT MAINSTREAM, dammit!
J.K. Cheney - The Seat of Magic

Her fishmen are sexier than mine. Her covers are colorier than mine. And her research - oh, let's not even talk about mine. Look, it's gaslamp fantasy with sirens in Portugal. Don't act like you're not excited.
Cixin Liu - The Three Body Problem

Confession: I don't know what this book is about. I don't WANT to know what this book is about. All I know is, 85% of my favorite people are completely over the moon about it, and I cannot wait to sit down and have the most amazing blind-date ever.

Okay. So those are my starter Pokemon. Think yours can compete with mine?  Prove it!  Put up your recs - my TBR pile can take anything you can dish out!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

How Not to Finish

You guys.  I seriously have no idea about this blog.  Has it turned into some kind of bi-monthly zen koan with pony pictures, now?  Should I rename it from "The Tex Files" to "Tex's Pithy Navelgazing Emo Jams?"  I don't know.  TAKE WHAT I GIVE YOU AND LIKE IT.

Okay, but seriously.  We're still less than a week past New Year's, which means y'all are all probably still freshly resolved.  Not gonna eat the donuts!  Not gonna smoke the smokes!  Not gonna finish things!

Yeah, you heard me.  See, it's like this: I spent the weekend having a nice little staycation at an Undisclosed Location, and while I was there, I did PHENOMENAL amounts of nothing.  Let me tell you, it was a rigorous, back-breaking regimen of zilch, nada, and bupkis.

Not to be confused with Blanko, Nawt, and Bupkus, et al.

Anyway, but there was a puzzle.  I did a puzzle.  Well, sort of.  It was one of those things that sounded SO FUN in my head, and I was so excited to finally do something *completely* self-indulgent and unproductive, and it was, and I did!  For about an hour, and then the next day for a couple of hours, and then a couple more.  At the end of five hours, this is all I had:

No, you don't get to see the picture. My Lisa Frank fetish is mine alone.

I know what you're thinking: "Oh Christ, please, not a puzzle metaphor." 

Nothing like that, I promise (cuz if you want heavy-handed literary analogies, you'll have to buy my books).  It could just as easily have been a ship in a bottle or a stained glass painting or a macrame dickey.  Anyway, I started to realize that finishing was going to take way longer than I thought.  And I was only there for the weekend.  And there was no way I was going to get it all done without turning idle fun into serious work, and how silly would that have been?

But here's the thing: the prospect of crumbling it up and putting it away was seriously, irrationally daunting.  Maybe this is only because - while I am a master-class partier, socializer, and all-purpose enjoyer of things - I am horribly out of practice at solitary and deliberate fun-having.  Maybe this next bit will be as massively obvious to you as... as a massively obvious thing.  I hope it is!

But I doubt I'm the only one who's forgotten how not to finish things.  And it occurs to me that all our moral programming - well, all of mine, anyway - has been geared towards Achievement, Accomplishment, Commitment.  Clean your plate.  Finish what you start.  Go the extra mile.  Just do it.  Growing up, we are taught that the worst thing you can be is a quitter.  Look, even the Tick says so, and he's basically the soul of America:

Seriously, don't.
And I guess it's good that we get the message, because you sure do need that grit and git'r done to learn what hard work and accomplishments feel like, and grow a foundation for your self-esteem, and become a self-motivated person and all of that. 

But like... you know, as we grow up and take on heavier loads - hella college, serious jobs, home-havership, parenting, etc. - that soft, wholesome coal gets compressed into this harder, sharper edge, doesn't it?  We share around all these tips and tricks for maximizing your efficiency, and figure out innovative new ways to choreograph our days around the almighty to-do list, and write splashy horseshit magazine articles about how you can do a whole workout in seven minutes or get almost-as-good-as a whole night's sleep if you nap for exactly 18.3 minutes, like Homer Simpson compressing five pounds of spaghetti into one handy little granola bar and then downing it in a bite.  It's productivity porn, and just like actual porn, it leaves us exhausted, addicted, and unable to enjoy the real thing.  

In other words, we learn to always finish whatever we start (which leaves a lot of us terrified to start, and a lot more ashamed of not failing to finish), because we've let ourselves believe that any time spent on an unfinished thing is time wasted, and anyone who doesn't finish things is a gormless flake, and anything finished is an achievement - even if all we got out of it was the grim satisfaction of finally having the damn thing done.  (For the try/fail version of this vicious mentality, go read Hyperbole and a Half's This is Why I'll Never Be an Adult.)

Isn't it grand, though, the way little kids live?  Wouldn't it be nice to have that back again - to remember how to leave food on your plate, and how to stop watching a movie or reading a book or building a Lego-castle when you aren't having fun anymore, and not even worry about whether or when you might go back to it?  I kind of want to find my way back there again - to enjoy the actual doing, not just the having-done, and to finish just the important things, not ALL of the things.

Anyway, so that's my New Year's resolution: this year, I'm going to practice not finishing.  In fact, I'm going to stop writing this right now, and go play with my kitty.

Michael, I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

And the Award Goes To...

Y'know, one of the nice things about getting older is that you get a lot more leeway with your holidays.  Sushi on Thanksgiving?  It's all good.  Christmas in October?  Smoke if you got 'em.  Sleeping right through V-Day?  It's YOU-Day, baby.

So since I'm a big grown-up lady who can do what I feel like, I'm ditching all that 'goals' and 'resolutions' New Year's stuff and throwing a big 2014 awards party right here on my couch.  (Spoiler alert: all the winners are me.)

That's not creepy in the slightest - don't you agree, Madame Le Flour?

So without further ado, here are the 2014 Texies.  And the nominees are...

Best Thing, Personal: My sister's wedding, hands-down. Well, more like hands up, turn down for what?  I can still remember when she moved out in high school, and I was so sure that that was it - nuclear family over, happy days done. But she stuck around, and her adventures have brought so many fabulous people into our lives that we would never have known otherwise (including one especially dapper dan!), and every time I think the family can't get any bigger, cooler, or funner, it mutates again.  This year, it blew right the hell up - and I blame her for that.

Best Thing, Professional: The big book launch, of course!  Not just cuz it happened (book published, in stores, real deal, yay) but because it was nothing less than a giant literary barn-raising, with more terrific people than I ever imagined.  It's a weird feeling, signing a book for somebody you are almost positive won't actually like the story, but that just makes the moment its own kind of wonderful.  It's kinda reassuring, knowing that this person can be thrilled and proud of you for doing the thing, no matter what they think of the thing itself.  An author can have a million fans of their actual work, but there is a hard cap on the number of people who can love you like that - and I'm pretty sure I'm already pushing the limit.

Worst Thing: Well, my father in law died unexpectedly earlier this year.  It was kind of a first-time experience for me and the Dude, though obviously way harder on him than me. He is terribly missed. 

Hardest Thing, Professional: There's a feeling that's hard to nail down, which I talked some about last week. And I think what it boils down to is this: putting your first book out is kind of like getting out into the world after high school or college. As long as you're in development, you get all those soaring speeches about your limitless potential, bright future, etc. etc. etc. - but the fact is, as soon as you get out there and choose something, do something (however awesome it is!) you are no longer the great exciting wild card.  You are officially a Known Quantity.  And I don't think there's any way to avoid being a little bit sad about that.

Though cake usually helps.

Hardest Thing, Personal: Being married. And before anybody's monocle drops in the champagne, no, we're good. Nobody is sleeping in the car or shacking up at the Val-U Lodge. But this year really whacked us upside the head with the realization that you seriously do have to keep working at this marriage thing all the time, because the two of you are changing all the time. Sometimes it's just really fuckin' hard. And if that seems like a weird thing to admit on a public blog in front of God and everybody, you might check out a great article about this very phenomenon - it's called Facebook's Last Taboo.  (I kinda think we might do better if we DID talk about this stuff more, to be honest. Moving our collective business online is great and all, but it makes it deathly easy to start believing that you are sailing your lonely failboat through a sea of unbroken perfection, and that's true whether we're talking about mommy-crafts on Pinterest, author news on Twitter, or relationship issues anywhere.)

Luckiest Thing: Being married. Yep. There's a million decent guys in the world, but to date, only one who's saved me from total enchilada meltdown, makes me laugh 'til I cry, and chivalrously cleans the cat's eye-boogers on the regular.  It's a hell of a job, and I'm so lucky he keeps turning up to do it!

Dumbest Thing: Staying up all night trying to beat a deadline... twice.  Truly, mine is the dumbest of asses.

Most Epic Thing: Going to WorldCon.  Seriously, y'all: I was not prepared for that level of fun.  I had a three-day endorphin hangover after the fact.  Maybe it just felt way more intense because it was the capstone for a whole summer of wild extremes, but it was such a feeling, to start some relationships and Pokevolve others, and to spend a long weekend in a seething mass of people who were all there to enjoy something.  It was every con I've ever been to, dialed up to 19, and I can't WAIT to do it again.

And that's our show! I'd like to congratulate all the winners, and tell myself how much I earned all of these wonderful accolades.  Thank you, me: you are truly the light of our times.

Oh, but in seriousness: I do want to finish by taking a moment to remember some of the people who aren't making the trip into 2015.  This has been a big year for hashtag tragedies - you know, for the people who should still be here right now, and whose stories I hope you've already heard and acted on. But I also want to remember the people who didn't make the news - ones we tried our hardest to keep with us, and couldn't hang on to. Join me, if you would, in pouring a digital libation for Jay Lake, Eugie Foster, CJ Henderson, and Spider Robinson's daughter, Terri Da Silva.  Better yet, read their books and their blogs, so that we can keep their words and ideas with us.

And actually, if you have somebody you'd like to add to that list, please feel free to include them in the comments here. The way I see it, we've got an exciting new year right around the corner, and more than enough headspace to bring our dearly remembered along for the ride.

And now I think of my life as vintage wine from fine older kegs
From the brim to the dregs - it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Biggest Deal Ever

Y'know, when you're a kid, everything is THE BIGGEST DEAL EVER.

Not getting a cookie = biggest deal ever.

Christmas when you're four = biggest deal ever.

Middle school crush = biggest deal ever.

High school breakup = the catastrophic, world-ending bigness of this deal cannot be overstated.

And part of that's because your brain hasn't pupated yet, and you're still working on things like impulse control and executive function.  But I think a lot of it's because everything just feels SO MUCH MORE EPIC when you're experiencing it for the first time - you know, there's no precedent to fall back on, no "well, this is like that other thing that happened that other time" to help you put things in perspective.  (This must also be why we unabashedly LOVE the stuff we read/watched/listened to when we were kids, back when everything was brand-new and there was no such thing as a cliché.  I love many things, but nothing will ever match the savage virginal ferocity with which my 15-year-old self loved Sailor Moon.)

Except maybe for Youkai Yume's Sailor Ponies.  Be still, my throbbing ovaries.

I kinda feel like we don't make enough allowances for that in adulthood.  There's this prevailing opinion that by the time your prefrontal cortex is fully up and running (when you're about 25), you should pretty much have all the emotional training you need to deal with your life.

The thing is, though, the first-time stuff keeps rolling off the line.  First marriage.  First real job.  First kid.  First major illness in the family.  First death in the family.  First kid leaving home.  And even though you're trying so hard to do a good job piloting your grown-up mecha, it all still feels like the biggest deal ever - because it's all still totally new.

All of which is to say, I'm sorry for falling off the planet over these last couple months.  No, no dire secret tragedies here - I just got into this weird, nasty funk, and it's taken me awhile to discover the source of the River Angst.

See, when we were launching Sixes this summer, I tried REALLY hard to get it all right.  Guest blogs, con appearances, Twitter things, Facebook things, launch party, the whole nine yards.  It went great - better than I could have ever expected.  I didn't manage to do everything, but I had a fantastic time. 

Things got kind of backed up in fall.  Commitments and deadlines piled up, and I fell off the promotional wagon altogether.  Sales and mentions nose-dived.  By winter, I was totally wiped out - and then the "best of 2014" lists started rolling out, and I came down with this awful cocktail of bitterness and exhaustion and guilt.  Bitterness because my book had disappeared without a trace, exhaustion because I was too dang tired to contemplate another round of the "look at me, aren't I wonderful?" schtick, and guilt because A) I knew I hadn't done everything I could to help myself, and B) it is incredibly stupid and petty to get bent out of shape about stuff like this.  (I have a book that is published and in the actual bookstores, and another one on the way.  I AM the 0.00001%.)

The funny thing about these biggest-deals-ever is that you can KNOW that they are really the smallest of the small stuff - lepton-like in their #firstworldproblems insignificance - and still not be able to get past it.  The best you can do is keep your mouth shut and try really REALLY hard not to channel your inner Dudley Dursley, throwing a fit because you only got 36 presents this year. 

But then a happy thing happened last week.  Sixes got a great mention on SFsignal's latest Mind Meld (thanks, J! You are the queen!) Then a couple of days later, 4 out of 5 stars from the San Francisco Book Review.  And yesterday - this one's totally lighting up my life right now - a place of pride on a book blogger's Best of 2014 list.

And that just, like... I don't know, totally parted the clouds.  I realized that it was never really about wanting the big prizes or winning All of the Buzz.  Almost without exception, the people in the running for those are people who've invested years - decades - in the craft and the community. I might still throw my name in the ring, but I have not put in NEARLY enough hours to be a serious contender.  That's all right.  That's really as it should be.  I think more than anything, I just wanted assurance that I don't have to keep pushing every single second in order to keep my name out there, that I wrote something that can stand on its own - you know, that people who don't know me at all can still pick up my strange, dense, offbeat little book and find good things in it.

And I almost didn't post this, because for all that we praise the inner child, you're really not supposed to show the world your inner two-year-old... but I've talked to several other writers lately who are all in different stages of the process, and all going their own special kind of crazy.  It's a wonderful, peculiar business that we're all lucky to be a part of, but the thing people don't talk about much is that there really is only one way to stress-test a submarine... and you don't know where your weak spots are until you go deep enough for something to spring a leak.  That's normal - all part of growing into a big strong grown-up author - but you can't fix it until you figure out where the water's coming in.  I expect that's true for other things, too.

So all of this is to say that you, upstanding sophont that you are, are almost-certainly doing a great job of adulting - but if you ever do catch yourself feeling massively, disproportionately irrational about something, and can't implicate any of your usual suspects, it might be worth checking to see if maybe you aren't having a first-time-induced biggest-deal-ever.  They sneak up on you long after you've taken charge of your own juice and naptimes.

--"I don't mind dragons THIS size," said Mother.  "Why did it have to grow to be so BIG?"
--"I'm not sure," said Billy, "but I think it just wanted to be noticed."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Retweeting is Not Enough

Well, this really hasn't been a banner week for race relations in America.

Marissa Alexander took a plea bargain to avoid a potential 60-year prison sentence for firing a warning shot when her estranged husband assaulted her.  Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler thought it would be funny to make watermelon jokes when presenting Jacqueline Woodson with the National Book Award.  Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old boy, was killed by police who mistook his toy gun for the real thing.  And then, of course, a St. Louis County grand jury made the statistically exceptional decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of Mike Brown.  EDIT: And manslaughter charges have just been dropped for the officer who killed 7-year-old Aiyana Jones during a botched police raid. 

So really what I should be saying is, this has been a god-awful week for black people in America.

I should mention that my Twitter feed blows up pretty reliably for every social shitstorm: Wendy Davis' filibuster, the Israel-Gaza conflict, #YesAllWomen, GamerGate, and so on.  And thanks to the magic of the retweet function, it's an eye-opening education every time: I get to hear from the most amazing, eclectic assortment of people - folks I never heard of or would have known to follow - because their voices have been signal-boosted around the world.

I don't tend to say anything myself.  Partly because I find social media tediously stressful whenever I use it as anything besides a newspaper.  Partly because Author Training School teaches you to play nice and get along, because the Internet is forever and the world is watching.  And partly because I'm either worried about appropriating victimhood within a group I belong to (for example, what right do I have to shout about sexual harassment when I've never been sexually harassed?), or else - as this week, when it's about a group I *don't* belong to - anxious not to speak out of turn.

We feel that a lot, don't we?  Whenever we are members of the dominant/majority group, there is always that urge not to be seen as insensitive, bigoted, or tone-deaf.  Maybe you don't want to be attacked for saying the wrong thing.  Maybe you don't feel qualified to render an opinion.  Maybe you are worried about speaking over the voices of the people who are most affected by the issue at hand.  Regardless, in this age of "like", "share", and "retweet", it is easier than ever before to let a one-click "yeah, what s/he said" do the talking for you.

But the National Book Award foul-up last week let me hear a really interesting case against that.  Here, let me re-blog-tweet it for you (and then advertise this post on Facebook for a veritable turducken of media incest):

(Please note that I have curated this page above - for the unabridged version, I recommend following @djolder himself.)

It's a hell of a proposition, isn't it?  Maybe it's just surprising to me because I've steeped for such a long time in the 'Hippocratic' school of social activism: don't tone-police, don't concern-troll, don't speak for, over, or above marginalized voices, and definitely, definitely don't make your feelings their problem.  "First, do no harm" sounds good until it turns into doing nothing, which is actually harmful.

But at the same time, this conversation up here was also a big relief to read, because it says so explicitly what maybe I should have realized a long time ago.

That EVERYbody struggles with this stuff, first of all.

That getting it wrong is as inevitable as it is survivable, secondly.

And most importantly, like... you know, doing the right thing is not like making a box of mac 'n cheese.  There is no such thing as a clear, unvarying, universal set of instructions to follow.  Doing the right thing is uncomfortable, messy, and different every time, because the issue at hand is different every time.  In fact, the only place where consistency seems to congregate is in the act of doing the *wrong* thing - that is, in saying little and doing nothing.  Maybe consistency itself is at the root of the problem, via those pattern-hungry urges we have to make everything fit into a reliable narrative - to treat everything we experience according to the same set of four-legs-good/two-legs-bad mental protocols.

So from here on out, I aim to do a better job of speaking up.  And here is my first exhortation: resist the pattern-spiders, people.  Fight them as hard as you can.

Love the NRA?  Ask yourself where their open-carry fervor went when Tamir Rice and John Crawford were shot for even appearing to exercise their 2nd-amendment rights.

Think this Ferguson mess would be better if we'd voted in more Democrats?  Gotta deal with the fact that the prosecutor on the Darren Wilson case (not to mention the state governor and the president) is a Democrat.

Big on men's rights?  Can't sit this one out: the overwhelming number of black boys and men who are incarcerated or killed by police, *especially* for appearing 'threatening', makes the problem of gender profiling incredibly clear.

Feminist at heart?  Definitely can't sit this one out: not only does a movement advocating equality for everyone need to stand up when it's men's turn on the institutional chopping block, but it also has to acknowledge that those deaths and convictions above are still being perpetuated by white feminine finger-pointing.

I'll stop here, because snark is unbecoming, and you wonderful people have almost-certainly done more than I have (which is again, shamefully close to nothing.)  But you get my point: we are biologically programmed to look for patterns, build a worldview around them, and then sort out everything we encounter in a way that fits that vision.  Making changes to that framework - demolishing bits we've realized were wrong, making new additions, remodelling the existing parts to fit together in a different way - is uncomfortable, messy, and different every time. know, kind of like doing the right thing.

Anyway, I'm going to do a long-overdue right thing, chip in for Ferguson, and get me one of Daniel José Older's books.  Good luck in your own striving for rightness, y'all: it's a hell of a challenge, but one we can't afford to sit out on.

"The worlds within and without the Veil of Color are changing, and changing rapidly, but not at the same rate, not in the same way; and this must produce a peculiar wrenching of the soul, a peculiar sense of doubt and bewilderment."