My review of the gentle and sweet The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart is in this issue of The Drink Tank. There might also be some thoughts about Elizabeth I and her entry into the Tower.
Category Archives: Writing
On Writing: 2019 Book Commentary
“The creative life is not linear” – Austin Kleon
2019 by the numbers.
Random thoughts about the madcap year that was 2019 reading. Some events were so glorious as to be unrecognizable as anything I’d ever dreamed could happen to me. Others predictable and necessary (day job). In addition for my own blog, I now write for Hugo award-winning fanzine Drink Tank, and M. Todd Gallowglas’ Geek’s Guide to Literary Criticism.
- In Toni Morrison’s Beloved Paul D’s story about learning to read and being beaten for it just leaves a hole in my heart. He kneels on the ground with a bit in his mouth and notices the rooster named Mister doing whatever he wanted.
“I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.”
- I’m not qualified to review Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power. How does one speak to a tragedy caused by differences in pigmentation?
“Barack Obama [governed] a nation enlightened enough to send an African American to the White House, but not enlightened enough to accept a black man as president.
Trump, more than any other politician, understood the valence of the bloody heirloom [slavery] and the great power of not being a n*****.”
- As Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution brought me to myself in 2018, so too did Feminisms and Womanisms edited by Althea Prince & Susan Silva-Wayne. The taste of seminal feminist works from Emma Goldman, Simone de Bauvoir, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem made it easier to understand big parts of my life.
It is truly amazing how long we can go on accepting myths that oppose our own lives, assuming we are the odd exception.” – Gloria Steinem
The need to be noticed and liked, the need to be listened to and accepted, the need for encouragement and praise; all became sources of shameful, rather than normal, neediness in my mind. Especially the need for affection.” – Nancy Graham
Susan Sontag’s essay on women and aging made me want to throw the book across the room in a fit of rage.
The rules of this society are cruel to women.” – Susan Sontag
- Stealing: Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete, sent to me for a review by Adelaide Press. Her essays are powerful as she relates the stories of a life lived right, doing everything she was supposed to do and still needing to steal food to feed her children. Her triumph over that and the particular experiences of being “other” really sang to me.
- Stopwatch Chronicles, M. Todd Gallowglas’ collection of flash fiction bowled me over. He is sharp, witty and fun. His insights are dead on and I love his wordplay. Ditto Bard’s Cloak of Tales.
- The Killing Light, the triumphal conclusion to Myke Cole’s Sacred Throne trilogy. I’ll just quote myself here, “Heloise remains the hero we need for today..”
- How Fiction Works by James Wood . I will forever be grateful for the phrase “flaneurial realism.”
- Literary Theory by Sarah Upstone – this little book packs a lot into it and is one of my go to reference books.
- The Art of Fiction and Moral Fiction by John Gardner
“… in order to achieve mastery [they] must read widely and deeply and must write not just carefully but continually.”
“… the temptation to explain should almost always be resisted.”
“Art, in sworn opposition of chaos, discovers by its process what it can say. That is art’s morality.”
“…art can at times be baffling …”
- Wizardry & Wild Romance by Michael Moorcock. Each reading enriches my understanding of the genre I live and breathe.
- Better Living Through Criticism by A. O. Scott. Scott’s commentary helped give voice to the questions I’d been asking about what criticism is and why it has value. His outstanding thoughts on art and criticism as a conversation resonate deeply. As does his insistence criticism is a way to seek out the excellent as a foodie demands excellence from their favorite chef or restaurant.
“… our understanding of art emerges from our experience of it.”
Writing for Drink Tank led me to works I might never have read. Chris’ unbounded knowledge of books and themes kept me busy.
- Challengers of the Unknown by Ron Goulart led me to one of the cheesiest books I’ve ever read. (Drink Tank #414)
- Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov, From the Earth to Around the Moon by Jules Verne, and First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells were fodder for thought about Antique Space. (Journey Planet/Drink Tank Crossover)
- Drink Tank #410 gave me a reason to join the Alexander Hamilton party.
2019 in Review – By the Numbers
Total Books Read: 34
Total Pages Read: 12,456
Total Books Procured: 83
Publication Dates: 19 (1953 – 2019)
Author Count: 28
Written by Women: 8 books (4 authors)
Most read authors:
Myke Cole (4)
N. K. Jemisin (3)
M. Todd Gallowglas (3)
New (to me) Authors I Would Read Again:
Stephen F. Knott
Michael R. Underwood
A. O. Scott
Stealing: Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete
Stopwatch Chronicles by M. Todd Gallowglas
The Killing Light by Myke Cole
Beloved by Toni Morrison (2nd reading)
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
How Fiction Works by James Wood (2nd reading)
Literary Theory by Sara Upstone
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
On Moral Fiction by John Gardner
Wizardry and Wild Romance by Michael Moorcock (2nd reading)
Better Living Through Criticism by A.O. Scott
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Feminisms and Womanisms edited by Althea Prince, Susan Silva-Wayne
“An Open Letter to Stubby the Rocket Concerning the Guns Of Fantasy” – THE GEEK’S GUIDE TO LITERARY THEORY
From the Earth to Around the Moon by Jules Verne / First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells / “Jameson’s Satellite” by Neil R. Jones in Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov (Journey Planet)
Challengers of the Unknown (Drink Tank)
The Killing Light
Euridyce (City Lights Theatre)
Alexander Hamilton (Drink Tank)
Literary Theory: An Introduction
The Sprawl Trilogy
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Mortal Word
Stealing: Life in America
On Writing: Journey Planet #48 Antique Space
My review comparing Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, and the short story “The Jameson Satellite” by Neil R. Jones is in this issue of Journey Planet.
It’s 3:30ish on a Saturday afternoon. Headphones firmly in place, I’ve been listening to my Writing playlist. It’s rain and ocean and babbling brooks, mostly to block out the every day noise around me. Including the occasionally noisy visitors who speak loud raucous Spanish next door. My desk is about the way I want it, enough room to spread my journal and books out to review notes.
I should be writing. There are two deadlines this weekend and I am right up against both of them. But I’m procrastinating. Because … that’s what I do. It’s what people do, especially writers.
I could explain it away as having my weekly routine disrupted by Thanksgiving and having to work last Saturday to make up hours. Or I could say that I’m so beat when I get home from the day job that the literal weight of writing tires me out more. Or … I need to do chores, the laundry, run errands, etc.
Those excuses don’t work today. There’s no reason to leave the apartment, chores are almost done and I slept in. I even started a canonical spreadsheet for a ginormous writing project. Then I found this:
“Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.”
That’s from Megan McArdle’s 2014 article in The Atlantic titled, “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators.” Yep, there I am. Among other things, she addresses imposter syndrome. Lots of interesting and good things are on the horizon, and people I respect a great deal praise my work, but deep down I’m afraid I don’t deserve it. Compliments get lapped up greedily because they might go away and no one will call me brilliant ever again. Or they’ll find out everything I’ve done is a fluke.
So instead of writing, I’ve done the dishes and watched The Simpsons and contemplated going back to sleep because my day job kicks me in the ass some days.
Maybe, I should just start writing and see what happens.
On Writing: Drink Tank #414
My review of Challengers of the Unknown by Ron Goulart is in issue #414 of Drink Tank.
Superheroes! Aliens! Nazis! Brought to you by the color GREEN!
What’s Auntie Reading Now?: Drink Tank Shenanigans
I really like Austin Kleon’s take on creativity. His weekly newsletter is filled with bits and pieces which give insight and stir creativity within myself. This fairly recent issue goes into the many options for pens and notepads and index card systems and … I get breathless reading it all.
By the time I got to his notebook turducken, I thought I was going to need a bit of a lie down. I’m surprised he doesn’t have a notebook to keep track of all his notebooks!
Reading articles like this often causes me to fixate on my own tools and how I use them. Many of the systems he describes are things I’ve tried, thought about trying, and almost always given up on. Even my bullet journal has turned into something less than it was designed for.
It’s not the systems, it’s the fancy notebooks and pens. And being a school supply nerd myself, I can get into all the fanciness. But I don’t have the money to be spending on those things anymore. And, what’s more, I don’t feel like my creativity is missing out.
I do have a preferred style of notebook, they’re usually the type which can be found in museum gift shops. And I loved this sampler set of pens from JetPens (where I also bought this great pen case, which also stands up). Those are my preferences.
But what it comes down to is having a stack of composition books, blank journals, etc. I’ve accumulated over the years, that’s what I’ll be using. Nothing fancy, just something I can throw in my bag with the pens and current book.
I don’t begrudge Austin or anyone having preferences for tools which are more than I can afford right now. I love learning what others use. And I’m extremely comfortable knowing that whatever I use and how I use it will still get the job done.
When I have two day weekends, Sundays have become the day for beating back the clutter. Last week it was finding my desk amongst the stacks of books so I can read and write more comfortably. Today I’m beating at the overflowing email filled with a few requests for reviews, links to stories I’m following, and the daily ephemera which creeps in reminding me there are adulting things to be taken care of.
My day job affords me the opportunity to make up hours for days I’m forced to miss (as a contractor I don’t receive pay for company holidays). I’m also afforded overtime to help keep the finances in better shape. Of course, this cuts into time for my own work, which includes finding a balance for it all. But I have to have my #moneyhoney.
Yesterday, I took colorful pen in hand and opened my book journal to make the somewhat definitive list of projects and writing I’m working on. It is a lot. With deadlines. I’m not here to join the chorus of every writer saying it’s hard. That much is obvious. But when I dedicated myself to this work nearly a year ago, I knew going in it would be tough to keep up and get it done. That commitment remains foremost in my mind.
As my work on the Three Books continues (not writing, reviewing), I have taken some side steps into womanism. The woman’s studies reader has some of the classic essays from founding mothers, making this an opportunity to explore my own feminism. I was probably in my mid-fifties when I started recognizing feminism as a thing in my life, and the sexism which is so rampant in every woman’s life. I want to learn more in order to continue my own healing process.
Attacking the clutter is another way I’m taking care of myself. I can’t nap myself through it.
The best piece of advice I’ve received is, “Just finish the thing.” So that’s where I am.
Writing: Almost a Year
Uncle Buck’s Grill and Diner is a uniquely updated version of a bowling alley food counter. It’s part of the monstrosity called Bass Pro Shops, a sporting goods store which takes up the entire side of a strip mall filled with big stores. The draw to Uncle Buck’s was their underwater theme for the bowling alley. I knew we wouldn’t bowl, but I wanted to see the place anyway.
So late on a warm Sunday morning, my friends and I descended on this spectacularly overdone place for lunch. Entering, we walked past the statue of Uncle Buck with the dumbest “I caught a grrrrrrrl” look on his face holding a mermaid cuddled up to him as if to say, “My hero!” Through the small alley filled with families eating pizza and playing on the black light lanes, decorated under the sea with shark heads on the ball return. The balls themselves were reptilian eyes. On the way out Henry, who is from Florida, pointed out one set was alligator eyes. To which I retorted, “That’s Godzilla! What are you talking about?”
The three of us were the only ones in the restaurant proper. Deep fried gator, a boar cheese burger, and a shared dessert were talked over. I was so full I figured I wouldn’t be able to eat for a couple of days. I was pretty close to right. Gone are the days when I could have eaten that, not shared the dessert and gone home to another meal later.
Joy is my emotional intellect partner. We drill down into our feelings and sort through them. She has talked me through many anxiety and imposter syndrome attacks. Always understanding, empathetic and loving, she shows me I matter.
Henry, my book benefactor, is my intellectual jack of all subjects partner. We’ve drilled down into feminism, religion, books, emotional trauma, art, etc. He is my museum partner, come hang out and help me get stuff done friend. He also helps me remember my past has shaped me, and the struggles I fight are almost always because of childhood trauma.
The day before my birthday I asked Henry to come over because I didn’t want to be alone. I was all kinds of freaked out about turning 60. The number didn’t bother me so much as reflecting on what I thought I should have and didn’t at this point in my life. The dream had always been a house, a husband and a career. None of which were ever a possibility in my non-dream state.
The realization I was ill-prepared by my parents to face the world had come earlier in the day, but it was Henry who helped me drill deep and figure out why I was feeling like 60 was some sort of doomsday marker for me.
Watching my mother handle money was a master class in what not to do. But it didn’t teach me the things I needed to do to attain a house I could make a home. Things like saving and using credit judiciously in order to secure a mortgage.
Which brings us back to the weekend after my birthday when the three of us sat in Uncle Buck’s Diner and Grill and talked. My writing, the books I’ve read, the plans I have. And, somewhere during the S’mores skillet Joy and I shared, she looked at me and said, “Look how far you’ve come.”
Stunned into silence, my thoughts reviewed what we’d talked about. Henry and I taught Joy about genre appropriation, #LitFic vs. genre, ways of looking at the text. As I spoke, I felt the voice of authority creep through me. I actually sounded like I knew what I was talking about, and was thankful for the practice of explaining it to someone who doesn’t read genre.
Underneath all of this is a layer of anxiety which has caused procrastination which has led to guilt and paralysis. I keep taking deep breaths, reminding myself what it’s about, that being a critic is why I put up with the shenanigans at the day job. All the things, I have planned, scare the bejesus out of me if I let them
And when I stumbled over Black Leopard, Red Wolf, I panicked. I circled that review like my life depended on it. The perfectionist in me held me back, while my imposter taunted me. Who was I to think I could do any of what it would take to reach such lofty goals? I would come home drained from the day job and stare at the blank page. WTF did I have to say?
None of the conversations I’ve had with encouraging friends made it better. While talking to someone who’s also read Black Leopard, I bemoaned my inability to just write the review. “It’s dark, violent, and complicated.”
“Why can’t that be your review?”
Uhm …. Back to the blank page. I typed those words, and then I typed some more. I referred to Moral Fiction, which led to more typing. My imposter was laughing hysterically at me by this point. Jumping up and down and pointing at me in ridicule. I was an anxious, guilt-ridden mess. Then one weekend, “Oh fuck it I just want it to be done.” More words on the page. Still doubting myself, I wrote. I referred to my notebook, and thought about why I didn’t like this book, and about the conversations I’d had about it.
I got through a shitty first draft. And then I left it. I spun through the emotional cycle. Anxiety, guilt, fear. During my breaks at work I breathed deeply, and while reading another book, thought about Black Leopard as though it was a career defining review.
But I also thought about why I want to do this work, and what it would feel like if I stopped. What would happen if I just went back to reading and writing Reader Response? That thought didn’t make me happy at all. “No, I’ve come too far, learned too much to ever just go back to that.” Forward, onward it is then.
Why then am I following this path which has the possibility of taking me lofty places I’d never dreamed of? It’s easy to answer, and it’s not. The kind of conversations I have with Henry and Joy are the kinds of conversations I want to have with others. I want to cut through the chatter and get to the meat of a book. I want to stand in a hall at a gathering of geeks and talk about the way Marlon James thinks he can read Game of Thrones and then write the African version.
I want to talk about the way Alfred Bester took a noir crime thriller and turned it into a cyber-punk story with SJW overtones and bad feminism. Further, I want to write the critical reviews that almost no one else is writing. I’m not sure I’m up to saying I want to inspire others to dig deep and demand better from our genre, but I do want to hear those conversations. I want to see a LitHub for genre, a place where serious discussions are being had. Selfishly, I want to have more people in my life I can talk to the way I do Henry and Joy.
And what this means is I have to fight through that emotional cycle. I have to remember that getting the thing done is more important than getting it perfect. There’s no going back for me. I’ll never be able to read in the same way. My book journal will always be out with the book I’m reading. It’s scary. But I can’t give up, I just can’t.
And so, in not quite a year, I’ve gone from wanting to learn the better way to read and write about what I’ve read, to actually doing it. I’ve gone from just wanting to do it to amuse myself to wanting to do it for the community. From reading whatever came off the pile to reading with purpose, and writing about it with purpose.
I’m still stunned when publishers send books at my request for review. But I’ve gone from hoping I’d win a copy on LibraryThing to asking the publisher directly. This work fulfills me, even when my anxiety leads me to near paralysis.
It’s also led me to understand I just need a day job, not a career. It’s easier in some ways to shrug the nonsense off and move on. I may be drained when I get home, but I know there’s more for me than trying to carve a career out of yet another place made of jello and bandaids.
That sunny day at Uncle Buck’s will serve as a marker in time. It’s the one that reads, “I made 60 and am thriving.” It also reads, “We were together in congenial company and I was lifted up by the reminder of how much I’ve grown.” And that’s the difference a year makes.
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