Fall is come! Sort of.

We’ve had some lovely pre-fall days recently and I am feeling it. My heart keeps fantasizing about apple picking. There is nothing like the smell of cooked apples on a brisk day with the windows open. Luckily the apples are beginning to come into season, so I imagine I’ll get my wish once this latest heat wave dissipates.

In honor of the upcoming smorgasbord, I wanted to share my favorite apple recipes and couple of delicious fall stories, visual and legible. Fall for me is about creepy, atmospheric thrills and dying leaves, sweaters and spicy honeyed chai. So my fall stories hold a similarly special place in my heart.

Practical MagicSpiced Apple Cider

You can’t have fall without this most traditional of drinks, and in my house you can’t have fall without the movie Practical Magic. It is my favorite witch movie, which is saying something, and my favorite fall watch despite the fact most of it takes place in the summer. I hope you get to snuggle on the couch with sweater and a warm drink and enjoy your favorite movie soon. I know I’m looking forward to trying this lovely recipe from bon appétit.

 

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or DayStuffed Pumpkins

This novella is, for me, a comforting Thanksgiving ghost tale. It’s about family, found and otherwise, and mirrors and dastardly deeds. I think it goes great with a stuffed pumpkin. Apples are a key to this dish, which is appropriate because the root of the jack-o-lantern tradition lies in apple carvings, pumpkin being a thing that wasn’t really around in Europe until recently. I’m a vegetarian, so my modifier to this recipe from Local Milk is to sub out the gruyere and bacon and replace them with smoked gouda. It goes over swimmingly as my Thanksgiving centerpiece every year.

The Graveyard BookApple Pie

You can’t talk about apples without talking about apple pie, and you can’t talk about fall without talking about graveyards and spirits. Happily, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman takes place almost entirely in a graveyard. This book contains a lot of endings, so I think it’s a good place to talk about dessert. Accordingly, I provide this basic apple pie recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I myself usually end up making Rosemary Apple Pie, which might be more appropriate, but unfortunately that recipe is not available online to share. Also not everyone likes rosemary as much as I do.

It’s the holiday season! Ghosts and crunchy leaves and loveliness await!


Want to support this blog? Buy books, make a Paypal donation, or subscribe to my Patreon.

A work-life balance, also trees

Authors are human, and most of us are barely chipping away at things. I know that’s what it has felt like for me for a long time – that no matter how fast I write, I can’t write fast enough.

Last week, I took the week off of the dayjob and off of writing. It’s the first time I’ve had a full vacation for…..you know, I really don’t know the last time I wasn’t doing one of those things. In April, I went on “vacation” but that meant flying across the country for a writing workshop. In November, once more, “vacation” meant flying myself to Texas for a conference. There were some delightful moments and experiences packed in there, but none of those substitute for rest.

And rest is definitely something we need. Without it, we start losing focus.

Ironically, I’m not good at resting. Even though I didn’t have any writing or working planned, I still spent a good chunk of my week off doing chores. When we bought the house last September – another vacation that doesn’t quite count, where I took three days off of the dayjob to paint walls and move – the lot featured large swathes of invasive volunteer trees. They were quick-growing elms that have come over from China or somewhere. The trees are beautiful when they get big, but boy do they get big. The biggest one I’ve seen was at least 50 feet tall – a large canopy tree for sure. It took several days for our neighbors to have that one taken out after a storm split it down the middle, luckily missing their house.

So these are not the trees we wanted growing in the yard, obviously. Don’t get me wrong, I love trees. But most of our backyard is already taken up with a large, established maple, an ailing scarlet oak, and a lovely black walnut. There is no room for invasive elms in that picture.

While there are still a few volunteers that were too big for me to take out with the tools I had, I’m happy to say I have mostly cleared the small forest that had popped up. You may be surprised to hear that I’m happy about that. I did mourn the trees, who were doing the best they could. But I have plans. Specifically, plans for shorter bushes and medium sized trees that can produce buckets of delicious fruit. I’ve already procured elderberry and haskap starters. My goal was to plant those last week, but unfortunately the only things I got into the ground were two dwarf peach trees. I’m hopeful they survive the winter.

As you can see, I’m not good at resting. But sometimes rest just looks like doing something different – changing things up. For the first time in a long time, I got a lovely idea for a story last week and felt excited. So I must have done something right. I scribbled down the outlines of that story in a notebook and spent most of a day tasting it on my tongue. Then I went back to digging.

There’s never enough time to write all the stories. There’s never enough time to rest, either. Sometimes, you have to simply decide to make the time you need.


Want to support this blog? Buy books, make a Paypal donation, or subscribe to my Patreon.

Photo by Markus Spiske (temporausch.com) from Pexels.

Eek! I missed a week!

Sorry for my silence last week, friends. It was my birthday, and I was off gallivanting. I ate a bunch of good food, planted peach trees and moved iris bulbs, killed a bunch of invasive elms (hopefully) and poison ivy, destroyed some boxwoods because boxwoods don’t DO anything, and climbed a mountain. Overall it was excellent. I alternated between being incredibly sore and being so full of food you could roll me home. An ideal week.

Random cool announcement: This Saturday I will be participating in the downtown Roanoke Sidewalk Sale with Book No Further, visible to the public in full author regalia at 1 pm. Come see me!

Back to regular programming on Friday!


 

Escaping the Matrix: On “Nanette”

I spend a lot of time referring to movies and analyzing them in part because they are so accessible. Movies take a much shorter amount of time to consume than books or television shows, and often are more widely viewed. And in the science fiction community, there are few movies more widely viewed than The Matrix.

But the story of the Matrix is a story of speaking truth to power, and it’s a sort of insidious one. The morals of the first movie are very different from the morals of the series when taken as a whole. Most people are only familiar with the first of the films, but very few stuck through the mess that was the second film to find out the ending. Despite this it is, arguably, one of the greatest metaphors for systems of hegemony in our world that exists.

I began to compose this blogpost in my head after watching Nanette late one weeknight. The Netflix original begins as a comedy routine and becomes something more. It is a clear example of speaking truth to power, of the raw perseverance and loss that such a path requires. Hannah Gadsby thoroughly examines the illusion of choice in one memorable moment in this show, when she says: “There’s only been two options for a little girl to grow up into, a virgin or a whore. We’re always given a choice.”

nanette.jpg

At what point does a choice within a system that allows only two outcomes cease to become a choice?

In the Matrix, Neo is given two options. The blue pill allows him to live compliantly in the system set up to contain him. The red pill, however, requires awareness, requires the loss of safety for freedom.

(If I speak nicely, if I am quiet and soft and sweet, then I can stay safely in this role that society has created for me and never need question. But if I become aware, if I speak out, if I take up space, if I am myself, I give up my safety.)

The safety of the blue pill is an illusion. We know that, in the Matrix, the blue pill means that our bodies are being farmed for energy, for meat, for whatever our overlords require. The things that ruin us happen at a whim, and it’s not ours. We have no control over them.

But there is no safety in freedom, either. Less of it. Now the machines target you. Now they fight against you. We know, because the Matrix tells us, that we are a danger to the system. Our existence, once we have swallowed this red pill, becomes a threat. That’s a good thing, though, right? If we are a threat, we can change, we can resist.

The reason the Matrix is so insidious as a narrative, however, is that if you watch that third movie, there was never any hope at all.

Look, I know what you’re thinking. Neo was nearly all-powerful in the first movie. How could he lose? But he does, he loses everything. He was a product of the Matrix all along. All of the red pill society is wiped out, to start again at some predetermined time, when the Matrix decides it needs to release the pressure of those rebellious members of its population. The Chosen One was an illusion. He could never lead those like him to a new life. The only path for those taking the red pill was to die.

There is a disturbing trend, amongst holders of power, to point to freedom and say that it looks a certain way. There have been many writers who discussed the nature of power and the many flavors it can take, but there is only one narrative where certain kinds of power are concerned. Absolutist systems construct choice on their terms. The dichotomy is a loaded one. As in the Matrix, there is no safety in it even when you are being told otherwise.

In Nanette, we learn the truth of that choice for those who cannot fit into either option is violence, but if you’ve been paying attention you should realize that the truth of that choice is always violence, no matter who you are. Whether it’s the violence against the “pure” woman who submits entirely to her partner, who is quiet and demure and voiceless even if he beats her, or the violence of the “sullied” woman whose rape and abuse are justified by her choices, the choice is merely how you want to negotiate your own subjugation. Whether it’s the option of living life as a withered shell addicted to dreams of possibility or as a starving, dirty refugee in the bowels of the world, your options aren’t glorious. As long as the Matrix exists, you have to live with its power over you.

And that’s a lie.

Oh it may be true for individuals. It may be true for Neo. But one day, the Matrix crumbles. One day, the machines fail. It may not be forever. It may not be soon. But all things end. As Ursula Le Guin said so memorably:

Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.

Those who hold power would like for you to believe that there are only two options: to submit, and to be ostracized. But we can change the options on the table. Indeed, change is the only constant. Until you believe that, there is no hope.

Once you believe that, there is no chance of failure.


Want to support this blog? Buy books, make a Paypal donation, or subscribe to my Patreon.

 

Three stories about dogs

I recently read “Mother, Watch Over Me,” over on Mythic Delirium’s website and I enjoyed it immensely. It made me realize that I have a special spot in my heart for dog stories, so here are three free stories sourced on the internet with main characters who are dogs. They are heartbreaking, as might be imagined, so enjoy!

Mothers, Watch Over Me – Maria Haskins

“Even in the dream, Maya knows her pup is dying.”

A dog who weaves baskets and a race against time across a post-apocalyptic landscape. This story is hopeful and tragic all at once.

Sun Dogs – Brooke Bolander

Witness the final moments of Laika, the first dog in space. Be prepared to weep. This story is a bitter indictment of the cruelty of mankind and a loving epitaph for a brave soul.

“In the real world, the catch-men had taken everything. In dreams, they are fooled as easily as rabbits.”

This Chance Planet – Elizabeth Bear

I was early for my train. As I waited, my friend the ovcharka trotted up and sat down beside me. Her black-tipped, amber coat was shedding out in huge wooly chunks, leaving her sleek guard hairs lying close side by side. She looked up at me and dog-laughed, tongue lolling.

If you need something uplifting after that read, consider this lovely tale about a woman and an unlikely alliance. This, my friends, is how women become witches.

I hope you enjoy these three stories, because they’re some of my favorites! If you’re looking for more dog stories, I would recommend Kij Johnson’s “At the Mouth of the River of Bees” and the rest of that eponymous collection. It’s not free, but it’s worth the download.

Until next week!


Want to support this blog? Buy books, make a Paypal donation, or subscribe to my Patreon.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑