New York, Lorca, and Movies

There are whole essays written on Federico Garcia Lorca, whose work has appeared on this blog before and who continues to be an important part of my literary education, mostly because all of my literary education of note has occurred in Spanish and El Ogro, soul of my soul, professor of the highest order, may he rest in peace, taught me most of it. I doubt this will be the last time I talk about Lorca. He influenced  Neruda, and was influenced in turn by Whitman, two of my favorite poets. He was a powerhouse, and he died far too young, victim of a fascist regime that targeted him for his words and his sexuality.

One of his most studied collections is Poeta en Nueva York, or Poet in New York, which chronicles the poetry that he wrote in and about New York City in 1929 and 1930. New York is an old city, and profoundly important historically. Yet I rarely feel the depth and vivacity of it in film. This was no less true on Thanksgiving when I watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I have critiqued thoroughly here, and critique of which brought me to reread some of Lorca to find his depictions of New York.

Lorca visited New York in 1929, as the United States was falling into the Great Depression. It was the end of the Jazz Age, which is relevant to the aforementioned Fantastic Beasts in that this movie was based in the Jazz Age. Other writers will better speak of the history and context of the body of work that he produced there, including the loss of the original manuscript in which it was compiled. I’m not your girl for that, and that’s probably not what you’re here for. I’m a science fiction and fantasy buff who also really happens to like Spanish, seeing as I got a degree in it, and reads a deal of poetry from time to time. And I’m also a person that, as mentioned, was really unsettled to see the total lack of believable, historically accurate setting in a movie meant to appeal to a wide audience of predominately young people and young adults who might not know better than to take at face value that New York was a bastion of whiteness.

There is a poem in Poeta en Nueva York called “El rey de Harlem,” “The King of Harlem.” It is not about whiteness. It is about los negros, the black people to whom Lorca writes one of the longest and most vivid odes within this work. There is, indeed, a whole section of this collection entitled “Los negros,” dedicated to the black people who lived in New York City. It is telling that a Spanish poet who visited during this time found that black life and existence within New York was so impressing, so large a portion of the fabric of American life, that he dedicated three poems specifically to them. The refrain of “The King of Harlem,”or my rough translation of it, is particularly poignant in this context, as black Americans were ubiquitous as service members in many parts of the city.

“Oh Harlem, Oh Harlem, Oh Harlem!

There is no anguish which compares to your oppressed eyes

To your blood strewn within this dark eclipse

To your pomegranate violence, deaf and dumb in the shadows,

To your great king, prisoner, within the jacket of a doorman.”

Lorca’s depictions of black residents of New York were certainly not without their problems. But he did depict them, he did not shy away from the diversity of the city – perhaps because he himself often ventured into Harlem for the more selfish reason of trysting with lovers and other such activities. This was the time of Prohibition, after all, when much happened behind closed doors. It was a messy, chaotic time that birthed “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot, The Great Gatsby, and other such classics. It was also the time of the Harlem Renaissance, a fact conveniently glossed over in many depictions of 1920s New York, including that of Fantastic Beasts.

I am not a scholar of this time. There is no way in this brief blogpost that I can effectively encompass and illustrate all of the complexity of New York in the 1920s, and I know that I have missed things a more thorough student of such things would know. But I can leave you with the words of Langston Hughes, whose New York should have shaped the setting and plot of this movie, and hope that Hollywood might remember them the next time it seeks to whitewash the seat of black urban culture. And if you’re fed up with this lazy storytelling, I recommend “The Ballad of Black Tom” or watching some Luke Cage to get the taste out of your mouth. Let’s all hope for more depictions of our history that seek to include instead of erase.

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Balance: a follow-up

Last week I talked about the importance of finding your balance. I wanted to talk about that a little more today, and also move into some more thorough updates for where I’m at with writer stuff.

My dad got me this book for my birthday this month, pictured and linked below. The first chapter talks about the importance of the blog. Apparently it’s a good idea for a new blogger to start with a weekly post, so I’ve been doing things right! My apologies for bouncing around recently on the posting dates, as I was trying to decide for sure if I wanted to keep a Friday post date. If you have any opinions on that please feel free to chime in.

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The book is really about marketing and building your platform, which any writer will tell you can be a huge suck on time and energy. Between marketing, writing, publishing, and living, I definitely find myself juggling a lot. The thing that most often slides for me is marketing. Publishing hoops can also get a little hard to jump through, sometimes becoming more like moving targets. This can be a really dangerous habit to get into as a writer, and it’s something I’m working on. One of the best ways to handle this, I think, is to set achievable goals instead of optimistic ones. If you think you could finish the book in April and get it out there, consider scheduling your release in June. Life happens, all too often. It’s better to be twiddling your thumbs than crying because you missed your deadline.

The other thing that is just as likely to slide is the cleanliness of my house and feeding myself. To help with this, my long-suffering S.O. has instituted the Chore Board. To be fair, while I get points for meal prep, the Chore Board doesn’t really incentivize feeding myself. Happily (unhappily?) the physical repercussions of not feeding myself consistently are pretty intense – I get migraines and other fun stuff.

All of this is to say that while I may talk a good game at times, I find balance is a moving target. Sometimes you hit it, sometimes you don’t.

With that in mind, the audiobook has been delayed again. I’m working with the producer to figure out exactly how long that delay will be, as it is not entirely on my end. That said, I’ve definitely contributed. Given the delay and my desire to do a marketing push around the release, I’m going to release the book on October 1st. I should have a cover reveal soon as part of that, possibly accompanied by a sale! Currently the paperback of Mother of Creation is $10.99 but I will probably be dropping that price along with the ebook price for the week of the audiobook release. If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, you may want to wait for the first week of October.

Work on the WIP continues apace. The current wordcount is around 73k. Prepare for a celebratory 3/4 post soon!

Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, I’ll be part of Roanoke Author Invasion in April 2017. You can always find information about my appearances here.

Lots going on, all-in-all. With that I’m off to adult some more. Good luck, all!

Things I’m looking forward to, Part I

I mentioned on Twitter a week or so ago that I was really excited about a couple of upcoming movie/TV adaptations of books that are supposed to be either in production, have been announced, or are coming out this year. A friend of mine asked that I create a list and I thought the blog would be a good medium for it, so here goes! This is part one of two, since I plan to do a second blog post about upcoming books and novellas that I am excited about.

Annihilation – This first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy is ridiculously good and in the process of being made into a movie! The team includes the director from Ex Machina and one of the main leads, Oscar Isaac (who I may sometimes call Oscarito because he is adorable).

I do have some reservations about this movie adaptation, though. Annihilation has minimum of six main female characters (all currently cast according to IMDB, though I’m not sure who is what yet). There are two male characters that I can think of that might be construed to have lines in a screen adaptation of the book – the Biologist’s husband and the lighthouse keeper. So far there are four men cast, three on IMDB and one which was announced on Twitter recently. The cast in general looks diverse, which is a nice change, but it does worry me that what should be pretty much an entirely female driven movie and was an entirely female driven book is going to somehow be undercut with an excess of male leads, especially since a lot of the male cast seem to be relatively famous. I’m still crossing my fingers. It helps that the author is directly consulting at least some of the time on the adaptation.

The Girl with All the Gifts – There’s already a trailer for this one, but you can read the book summary here. I loved this book – it’s a nice new take on a zombie novel with a very deep, literary focus instead of a focus on action. I am not sure how that will translate into the movie, but the trailer is good. Despite the main character being a young girl, the book is definitely adult. I see some vacillation here in the trailer on the branding, though. I expect this to be a very different movie from the book, but still good and interesting.

My biggest worry with this is how they will successfully capture in screenplay/acting the central theme of the book, which was, arguably, how adults sin against children. It’s an important aspect of two of the main characters and how they live (and die, in at least one case). It will be interesting to see how that is communicated.

Oryx and Crake – I am not tracking this one as hard, mostly because I loved this trilogy so much and I’m terrified they are going to mess it up. It’s been licensed by HBO for a television series. HBO does not have a great record for truthful adaptations (True Blood) but at least this series has the advantage of being complete, with each of the books able to function as a semi-standalone. We won’t end up with another Game of Thrones fiasco (which is literally wounding my reader’s heart every Monday. Please stop posting spoilers, internet). That said, we all know how tempting it is for TV adaptations to just keep running on and on if they make decent money, and I can see this work really suffering from that.

I am, however, very excited for the potential Netflix adaptation of Alias Grace. Netflix has a much better record for adapting clear, concise stories (I’m thinking Jessica Jones here) so I’m hoping they will bring some of that to Alias Grace if production ever kicks off. While I haven’t read this book yet, it is apparently based off of a true story and seems like it will have a gritty, cerebral crime-solving feel to it. I can totally get behind that. I’ve also heard rumors of a potential Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s apparently a great year for Margaret Atwood adaptations.

Lastly, of course people are excited about The Dark Tower and American Gods (check out the images for American Gods here). I’ll totally be sitting my butt down to watch those, but plenty of people have already said more than me about that source of excitement.

A more comprehensive list of upcoming movie/TV adaptations is available at Tor.com, so if there’s something you’re excited about that I didn’t mention leave a comment telling me why you liked the book! I’m always looking for additions to my reading list.

 

Some updates on life

It’s been a wild few weeks.

Summer is always pretty wild, actually. My mother’s birthday in June kicks off a smorgasbord of celebrations which last until my birthday in August. We have entered that time. From this point until August 13th, I have precisely one weekend that isn’t already planned out. I’m hoping to take a trip to DC to see friends.

As if that is not enough, summer is also often the time I experience major life upheavals. This summer is no exception. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I have a new job which I will be starting in July. The day job is important for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that it feeds me. Starting a new day job is almost guaranteed to cut into my writing time, but I’m afraid it can’t be helped. Summer is also the season of gardening and  community volunteering, and this is taking up a lot of my time as well. My word count has not been climbing nearly as quickly as I would like, but there is climbing happening at least.

Add to that the incredibly depressing and disheartening recent headlines that have exhausted me emotionally, and I’m afraid I haven’t gotten much done. Good thing there is sunshine and thunderstorms to balance things out some. The new job is also really exciting, and while I like to keep my employment separate from my writing career, I can say that it seems like a much better fit for me.

In other news, my signing was a highly informative and fun experience. That seems like ages ago now. And I have been reading some great things. Geek Feminist Revolution was phenomenal, as I have gushed about before, and Princess Jellyfish continues to inspire. I’ve promised myself I will run more to make more progress on The Water Knife but I haven’t done it yet. I’m thinking about finally picking up Jim Butcher’s Aeronaut’s Windlass, which I’ve had next to my bed for ages but haven’t read. It looked super interesting but I have been avoiding getting into a new series and his books tend to be long, drawn out epics. I think I’m ready for it finally, and very excited. I’m also going to dig into The Raven and The Reindeer by T. Kingfisher after reading a lovely review about it. It seems to be exactly the sort of book I need to reinvigorate me.

The audiobook has hit some snags, so may come out later than I had expected. I will keep you posted on that. I’m hoping to really dig into that project and writing more this weekend and will have more updates. Until then!

 

Wasps and kindness

I owe speculative fiction and my non-traditional upbringing for being the person I am.

Today, I got to work and found a tiny wasp had perched itself on top of my bun. I am slightly allergic to wasps, so this caused a bit of a heart-stopping moment. But it was unusually cold last  night, and the wasp was sluggish. No doubt he (or she) had been drawn to my heat.

There’s this very Western idea that I encounter a lot. It’s the idea that animals don’t have souls. Now I don’t know much about whether animals or people or anything has a soul in the classical Christian sense – an animus that continues forward after we die, taking the same shape, the same bounds, carrying the same memories and personality. There’s no way to really know that one way or the other. But it seems there are a lot of people who believe in that, and believe that it is for humans only. And the idea that another creature has thoughts and can make decisions, in whatever alien fashion, never seems to cross their minds.

When I caught my little wasp friend up in a paper towel and put it out on the front porch in the sun, my motions must have seemed alien to those people.

My dad read me a lot of stories when I was a kid, from all different places. We read Native American stories (How the Rattlesnake Got His Fangs, The Same Sun Was in the Sky, The Birth of Fire) which featured jackrabbits and yellow jackets and javelinas and willows and histories. We read African and Black diaspora stories (Brer Rabbit comes to mind. There are so many Brer Rabbit stories.) We read stories from King Arthur’s Round Table and the childhood of Merlin, the greatest wizard of British legend. We read myths from Sumeria, Greece, China, and Japan. And, between these shorter stories, we read the epics of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and so many other fantasy writers imagining different worlds. Worlds where humans were not the only thing that spoke.

I don’t think that humans are the only things that speak here either. I have always known that animals and plants had, if not a soul, then a spirit. Life imbues them. They are not merely programmed automatons anymore than we are (or, if they are automatons, bound by their natures, then so are we). They make decisions, alien as they may seem.

Western culture often does one of two things with other forms of life. It dismisses it, consigning it to a lesser status, rationalizing its abuse and degradation. Or it idolizes it, putting it up on a pedestal, arguing that it cannot do wrong things, that it is somehow more pure than human life. Neither of these approaches makes sense. Both of them reduce what life is. It is a complex dance, encapsulating both the good and the bad. A snake that bites you and kills you is not evil. The dolphin that swims with you and lets you stroke its nose is not good. Animals have personalities. They are individual. How they interact with you is largely dependent on that personality and on how you treat them. Putting your head in the right place to anticipate their choices is imperative for good relations. Respecting them for their individuality is the ethical choice. Valuing life when you can, and taking care of it when you can, is important, but understanding that you can’t always avoid death is also imperative. But when you can avoid death, why seek it out? Why kill a wasp that merely looked for shelter from the cold?

It’s hard to think of things that way if you have never been forced to look outside yourself. I know it can be hard to keep in mind even with as much of a predisposition for it as I have. But I think that this wide exposure to story, this experience of thinking like other creatures as well as other people, has helped me a great deal as a writer and as a person. It has made my stories what they are.

I can never fail to be thankful for that.

The Writing Iceberg

I follow a group on Facebook called The Writer’s Circle. Recently they posted this lovely graphic.

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It’s a good start at what it is to be a writer, but it’s not all-encompassing.

This week, my primary contributions to my writing career have included: blogging, networking, reviewing a contract, offering critique on a voice file, and reaching out to my cover designer with a couple of new projects. Writing did occur, of course – without that, the rest of the stuff becomes moot, after all – but most of my energy, proportionally, was on all of the things needed to make a finished story more accessible to readers. In other words, the stuff that makes money.

My experience as a writer is different from the experience of a traditionally published author, but not by much. The things a traditionally published author doesn’t have to worry about include: commissioning audiobooks, commissioning cover art, and other similar outsourcing. The things a traditionally published author does have to worry about includes all of those iceberg items, as well as marketing, working with a publisher’s demands, reviewing contracts, critiquing products such as covers (depending on how much creative license they are allowed by their contracts), querying….you get the picture. There is a lot going on behind the scenes of a book, and it isn’t just the hours and hours of writing the thing, or the hours and hours of editing it. It’s formatting, primping, marketing, and all of the other things that go into creating a salable product.

Unfortunately, this kind of work takes away from writing time, and a writer doesn’t really get paid for it. What I mean by that is, writers don’t get paid by the hour. They get paid by what they can produce and how quickly they can manage that production. The other stuff that it takes to get that produced work on the table of someone else is dead time between creating more works. But it’s necessary dead time – you cannot sell a book without a cover, that’s for sure.

Greater authors than I have written on this subject, but it’s something that I think gets talked about too little. No matter which path you choose, self-publishing or traditional publishing, you are going to be spending time on the housekeeping side of writing. Even if you have an amazing agent and amazing editor managing some of the moving parts, a lot of the work still falls on you. There are definitely trade-offs between pathways in terms of the amounts of work and kinds of work you undertake, but you’re still going to have to work on things that aren’t writing.

If you’re not writing full-time, but instead juggling a day job on top of your writing career, this slows new releases considerably – something that can be really detrimental to your writing career in the long-term. I’ve always been jealous of those folks who have the income or ability to leave their dayjob and write full-time. My productivity in writing a first draft with a dayjob versus without is seriously limited. It takes me a third of the time to write a new book when not juggling other obligations that it does to write a new book with those obligations.

In closing, writing is an iceberg, and an unpredictable one. The next time you are reading a book, please spare a kind thought for all of the unseen work of the writer.

Spring into summer: a recap

The end of April has passed me by, leaving us solidly in May, the last month of spring. Life has been amazingly busy.

First, I submitted several short stories to different magazines throughout April. I’m very excited to hear back from them, as I know they are some of my best work in that category to date. Responses should start rolling in over the next few weeks, and I promise to blog about any positive news.

I got engaged in April, that’s a big deal. That was towards the end of April, and I really can’t remember if I’ve blogged about it here or not! The ring is gorgeous, the man is a gentle, lovely human who also happens to be my best friend, and the proposal was adorable and involved origami. What more can you want? A lot of my spare time over the past few weeks has gone into trying to get my ducks in a row to start wedding planning. House hunting has therefore been put on hold. There are a lot of political aspects to wedding planning that have involved me trying to reach out specially to different parts of the family to express that I really can’t keep up with drama right now. That has…had mixed results. The day job has also had some recent ups and downs.

Towards the end of April, I accepted a contract to have Mother of Creation produced as an audiobook. This is a wonderful thing, to me, as it makes my story more accessible. I’m excited for the potential new readers in the Creation Saga, though I will say this whole audiobook learning curve is pretty steep. For those who have self-published or still retain their audio rights, the service I am using is ACX, and Amazon subsidiary that produces books which will be available on Audible and ITunes. I have to say, the first time I heard someone reading my words out loud in a recording, I almost cried with joy. I definitely spun around in circles until I was dizzy, proving that I am still a five-year-old at least 20% of the day. I’ll probably do a more extensive blog on this process once I have gotten through it to inform you of some of the unexpected hurtles.

All in all it has been a crazy busy season, and promises to continue to be. But the flowers sure are pretty.

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