Reflections on October

I love October. What’s not to love? The weather breaks, the long, slow, syrupy summer finally drawing to a close. Sweaters come out. Leaves die, turning the world all shades of orange and red and yellow and bronze. It’s pretty cool.

October is a month that teaches us about death. We all know that living generally results in dying. You are born, you live, you die. This is the normal order of things, when we talk about death. There is a special something about October though, and inversion of the order. In this month, we begin to recognize that death is required for life.

The leaves fall to the ground and become an insulation for bugs and mice and critters soon to be hiding from the snow. The days grow shorter, the world colder. October is the gateway to winter, and if you are lucky you make it through the holidays intact and reach January, a long, dark month where nothing much happens and you can rest and recover from all of the joys and trials of the year before. The death of the world is not an absence of life, but a gathering for it.

This weekend is Halloween. We’ll be setting the long, wild summer to rest, dancing and singing the night away wearing the faces of other things. I promise pictures of all the wild creatures we meet. Spirits will walk. Your dead might visit you in your dreams. On this long night, you might set a plate out for them. Perhaps you will visit their graveside and decorate it with flowers and ribbons. There are many ways to make your peace with death. It’s worth doing. As Emily Dickenson noted, even if you do not make time for death, he will make time for you.

On this holiday, I am reminded that all power comes from death. That sounds sort of creepy, which is appropriate. Even the power that moves our bodies comes from the death of others – the cells of plants and animals breaking down inside of us to create the energy of life. Life only keeps going because there is death to keep it going. I’m grateful for the peace the winter will bring, grateful for a chance to reflect. Reaching this month feels like crossing the finish line of a marathon must. You’ve made it in spite of yourself. Now it is time to breathe, to reflect. Smell the falling leaves, listen to them crunch beneath your boots. Take a walk in the night and listen to the songs of the crickets before they vanish for another year. The world keeps turning. All of this will be here when you get back.

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Image from Musings of a Nerdy Girl
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A Spanish ghost story

In honor of October and Halloween and all things spooky, I bring to you a wonderfully creepy poem from my travels. Some of you may know that I speak Spanish – not fluently, but well enough to get by. I actually did a few months study abroad in Spain when I was younger. Travel and languages are still something I find fascinating.

My favorite part of the Spanish language is the poetry. I took classes from a wonderful man who has since gone on to wherever such wonderful people go when they die, and he loved Spanish poetry. His favorite poet, however, was Federico García Lorca. Lorca was a young man and a prolific poet and screenwriter who was murdered by the franquistas during the Spanish Civl War for his politics and his sexuality. He actually studied in New York City for a while himself, prior to his death, and wrote a series of poems that touched on the subjugation of Black Americans. He idolized Walt Whitman, one of my favorite American poets, and created beautiful words. One of his most famous poems is called ‘El romance sonámbulo’. You can find a very loose translation, as well as the original text, here. Read it. Come back. Tell me that isn’t creepy and I’ll call you a liar.

Vamos hablar un poco de español ahorita. I promise to translate the important parts.

In the poem, we see a phrase repeated over and over. Verde, que te quiero verde. It sounds ungainly in English. Green, how I want you (how I love you) green. Green is a color of growing things, but Lorca doesn’t use it that way. Perhaps, in Spain, green is not so positive and common a color. I know when I was there that the landscapes tended to be far less vibrant with green colors than they do on the east coast of the United States. Even in spring, the colors are oranges and blues and whites, with green overbalanced by them. Another poet, Neruda, who is more famous than Lorca amongst English speakers, describes the landscape around Madrid as “Castille’s dry face: a leather ocean” in ‘Explico algunas cosas’. Federico is in that poem, already dead. They were contemporaries, you see.

So yes, green might have another meaning to a Spaniard and it certainly is used differently by Lorca. Verde viento, verdes ramas. This landscape is green not because of growing things under bright light, but for another reason. It is night. It is dark. This world is haunted.

Verde carne, pelo verde. This dreaming woman with flesh green in the night and silver, silver eyes. Eyes white with death. This is a ghost story about love lost.

The story Lorca tells is not so unusual. Star-crossed lovers feature often in our stories, after all. Romeo and Juliet are the most famous, but songs of lovers separated by death – Anachie Gordon, Standing Stones of the Orkney Isles, Annan Waters, to name a few – feature in so many cultures. It is perhaps the saddest story of all, to find love and lose it so young. To lose love, and so lose the will to live. When Lorca wrote this story, he wrote a romance, which is a ballad, a story set to song. If Halloween is about telling fearful stories, what more fearful one can there be for a person in love than to arrive at your lover’s house, mortally wounded, to climb the stairs to see her one last time – and find only a corpse, swinging on a silver rope.

Be safe this October, my dears. Shiver beneath blankets, in the light of your candles. Hold your loved ones close. Listen to the green wind blow outside your window, and think of the bitter girl who went to join her lover in death, only to find that she had left him behind.

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Writing as activism: The Ballad of Black Tom

I thought long and hard before writing this post.

This is for a couple of reasons, the principal of these being that I am white. Because of this, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that my reflections on the novella The Ballad of Black Tom are my own, and come from my whiteness, at least in part. We cannot extricate the parts of our identities, after all. That said, I am also a writer and a writer keenly interested in diverse representation and stories which get to the heart of oppression. The Ballad of Black Tom did both of these things baldly and without pulling any punches. I want to unpack that. And I want to lend my platform to this book, because it is a valuable read, perhaps most especially for white people.

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All of that said, there will be spoilers. Stop here if you don’t want those, and scroll to the end for further reading recommendations if you must. You are warned.

If you want to read this book first and come back, I encourage it. It’s a novella, so it took me about three or four hours to chomp through at most. I read fast, but it’s not a terribly serious time commitment if you want to bookmark this page for later.

No, the time commitment is in how much you’ll find yourself thinking about it afterwards.

With no further ado… Continue reading “Writing as activism: The Ballad of Black Tom”

Prioritization, the beast immortal

So I have a problem called spin-too-many-plates syndrome. Meaning I like to constantly be juggling a lot of stuff. “Like” may not be the best word, actually. Perhaps it would be better to say that I pathologically over-stuff my plate. Or that I get bored easily. Or that I am overly ambitious. Or am violently deficient at correctly estimating my resources.

Anyway.

This past weekend, I told you that the audiobook for Mother of Creation would be out. We busted butts to try to make that deadline, me and my producer both. Sleep was lost, stress was had. I cried for an hour or two when I realized it wasn’t going to happen. Part of me missing the deadline was that I was trying to do too many things at once, trying to work my day job, find a place to live, plan a wedding, write a book, and simultaneously review and publish an audiobook. It just wasn’t going to happen.

That said, we did get the book out, finally. You can get the audiobook of Mother of Creation on Audible, Amazon, or through iTunes/iBooks. If you start a free trial membership of Audible, you will get my book for free. I’m so excited to be able to offer you this opportunity and I hope that you will take advantage of it.

Focusing on one project and not deviating and meeting deadlines can be really hard for me. I’m very good on figuring out what needs to be done, but not so good on figuring out which thing should be done first. My single human form is obviously not an army, except maybe an army of bacteria. Bacteria does not write. All of this is probably the result of the fact that, like many authors, I am a creator. I am an idea person that likes to constantly be dreaming up new fluffy bubbles of magical rainbow transcendence to dazzle the world with. That makes it really hard to a) stick with one fluffy bubble to the end and b) realize which of the maintenance things need to take priority in order to preserve those fluffy bubbles so they don’t just pop and die.

I’m not apologizing for that weird metaphor. In case you were wondering about that.

Right now my list of weird half-finished projects looks like this:

  • Two projects that need edits. One needs being sent out to a beta reader group of some kind. One needs to be finalized and polished with already-received beta reader feedback.
  • A novella that needs major rewrites. This may be at the bottom of my list honestly. Another novella that also needs rewrites, final edits, and distribution.
  • Several sequels that need writing.
  • Several query letters that need sending out for various completed or psuedo-completed short story projects.
  • A short story I’ve never finished that might turn into a novella but I would like to see done regardless.
  • Several other short story ideas in the works.

That’s a lot of stuff that is floating around in my brain. Knowing which thing to work on next isn’t just about what I most want to work on next, but also about what I think I’m likely to be able to pitch successfully.

The other downside to all of this is that even when I decide on what I think will be successful and start to work on it, it’s often just as likely that I will hare off and do something else at some point that is not planned, or forget I made the plan in the first place and rehash the same tired conversation in my head a month later. I try to keep good notes, but don’t always go back through the notes that I do keep. This is general disorganization, but also a sort of pathological self-sabotage. It’s easy to point to things that you failed to do as the reason that you are failing, instead of accepting that sometimes the reason you are failing is just bad luck or lack of a complete picture.

I don’t have any tips for how to fix this, because it is something I am struggling with all the time. My only advice is to just continue forward in spite of yourself when these things happen and accept that it is a bit of who you are. Not the entirety of who you are. You are not in your entirety a being of procrastination, or you would never get anything done. Nor are you entirely disorganized, or entirely unable to follow through with projects. These are not fair descriptors any more than it would be fair to say that you always keep your work organized and complete everything you set your mind to. People are complex, life is complex, any creative work is complex.

It’s really easy to oversimplify the challenges we encounter, to see them as daunting, impossible beasts which can never be conquered. It is really easy to lose hope and never try. It can be very hard to both believe in yourself and strive to do better. After all, the first of those is a positive thing, right? Believing in yourself requires optimism and faith. Striving to do better requires some of that, but it also requires a certain self-criticism, an awareness of one’s faults. It’s very hard to hold your faults in your head and still love yourself. There are days where you might not be able to accomplish that.

On those days, I advise you to eat some ice cream, take a bath, drink some tea. And then get right back in your chair and write, write, write. Turn off the little voice that’s talking about what you can do better, and do what you can. Put another word on the page. You’re the only one who can write your story. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be yours.

Release day and the value of audiobooks

Today is the day! Celebrate with me the audio release of Mother of Creation, the first book of The Creation Saga, narrated by Michelle Marie. You can download it through Audible.

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In honor of this release, I want to take a moment to talk a little bit more about why I published an audiobook. Please bear with this. It’s important stuff.

My grandmother is blind. So was my great-grandmother. There’s a good chance my mother will be headed that way, once she hits seventy – that seems to be when the eyes go in our family. It’s hereditary. The condition is called macular degeneration. It is a deterioration of the retina, and currently there is no cure for it. You can read more about it at that link. What it boils down to is that my grandmother has never read any of my books, published or otherwise. That’s not to say she necessarily would want to read them, as I’m not sure fantasy writing is her thing. But the point is that the option is not even there.

Being blind has never been as scary for me as some things, because my great-grandmother was one of my primary caretakers growing up. Macular degeneration doesn’t happen all at once, and blindness, as with many disabilities, exists on a sliding scale. In the early years of her blindness, again probably in her seventies or so, she continued to live independently, landscaping her entire yard, keeping koi, making wine, and generally being a badass. We only moved her to assisted living when the other ravages of age started to pile on – she broke her hip, and started to forget things. It wasn’t about the fact that she couldn’t see much at all by then, but the other typical factors that put someone in a home. Honestly, if I have a hero, it is probably Lucille – not because of the blindness, mind, though that was cool, but for all the things she kept herself busy with that were just beautiful.

My great-grandmother listened to audiobooks pretty regularly. They came on these big bulky tape cartridges that you just slammed down into the player – I suspect they might have been 8 tracks. She also had this eyeglass she used to read things sometimes that magnified them exponentially, but that was only good for bills and the like. She never learned braille, so these were her only pathways to the written word. My grandmother is in a similar situation. It’s audiobooks or bust for her, and likely will be for both my mother and I if we fail to dodge this particular hereditary bullet.

Given all that, I think it’s pretty apparent where I stand on audiobook access. I can’t say I would be as aware of the need to record books if it weren’t for my family history. I like to say that I would be, but a lot of times we don’t think about the world from other perspectives until those perspectives are knocking at our door, demanding to be let in. But I am aware. And I’m lucky to be. There are so many people who deserve good stories, but don’t have the ability to access them. Oftentimes, these are the people who need those stories the most. Living with a disability in the United States is incredibly difficult. Our reliance on cars instead of other forms of public transportation is a huge barrier to people who, for one reason or another, cannot drive. Not being able to reliably get from one place to another means that people with disabilities often are isolated in their homes. Contact from the outside world comes in the form of family members, friends, and home health workers or other caretakers who come to pick them up and make sure they get groceries, perhaps take them to one or two events a week. It is definitely possible to build a healthy life in spite of these challenges, but it doesn’t change the fact that, systemically, the challenges are there. Us able-bodied folks (by society’s norms) don’t have to think about those challenges.When we go to the store to pick up a book, we don’t have to think about the guilt of asking our daughter or cousin to drive us.

Ebooks have been a great advantage, but for the visually impaired audiobooks are still incredibly important.

In any case, I hope you enjoy the audiobook if you haven’t read Mother of Creation in its print form already. And look forward to Daughter of Madness early next year. I’m almost done with the zero draft!