Horror and hope 

I’ve been reading a lot of horror recently. My reading taste tends to get darker in the winter months, I think, when the wind is blowing and the cold is getting into everything. Some recent horror titles have included Invasive by Chuck Wendig and The Family Plot by Cherie Priest. I loved both of these, though they were very different books. Unfortunately I read them after I had put out my best of 2016 post but before we officially kicked over to 2017, so I thought I’d write a special post about these two books and some of the things I, as a reader, like to see in a horror story. I’ll try to go light on the spoilers, but there may be some so stop now if you want a pure reading experience for either of these.

One of the things that makes a horror story unlikable to me, whether it be novel or movie or short story, is a blanket sense of inevitability. This is going to seem a little counter-intuitive. After all, horror is not necessarily a thing of happy endings. But whether the ending is happy or sad, horror only works with tension. And tension can only provided if either I, the reader, or the characters themselves believe that they can escape from their situation. They or I must have the hope that it is possible. That there is some way to succeed. Whether we are right or wrong has almost no bearing on whether the story is a good one – after all, being disappointed in that hope can be quite satisfying.

These are two very different books, as mentioned. One is the story of a woman who is profoundly isolated from her family, though she has friends who help her throughout the book. She sees too clearly all the ways things can go wrong, and it has left her with an anxiety disorder that verges on debilitating. She is afraid, all the time, but she is angry, too, and determined. Her name is Hannah Stander.

The other story is led by a woman who is bound entirely to her family and seeks to better their fortunes, potentially at the expense of her own. She is strong and capable and, while not overly optimistic, not fatalistic either. She believes she can conquer what life throws at her – though it is, perhaps, a desperate belief. There is stubbornness and denial in her. Her name is Dahlia.

Both of these women are intensely strong characters. Their strength lies in their competence in their chosen professions, in their compassion, and in their determination to survive. All too often, these things are lacking from horror heroines. It is what makes me so disgruntled with the genre in movies. Women are monsters or objects, as I’ve discussed previously. They are not given nuance. It was refreshing to see that oversimplification of women turned on its head in both of these novels. Honestly, I think that the hope that pushes these women along is the source of their strength. Hannah hopes very broadly. She hopes for proof of a better world. When that fails, she hopes to make the world a better place by defeating the things that threaten it. Dahlia hopes more narrowly. Her hopes are for financial security and escaping the haunted house that has trapped her and hers. The scale of their hopes are relative to the scale of their motivations. This is as it should be. We all have multiple things that move us. Many things that we fear to lose.

To be honest, perhaps the reason that I appreciate horror with hope in it is because of nothing more or less complex than good writing. Good writing means rounded characters. It means elevating the stakes. It means a certain level of unpredictability, too, that feeling of not knowing for sure what will come next.

Who doesn’t want to read a book like that? Who wants to spend the whole time in a story that is nothing but gore and screaming? That’s not the horror for me.

Anyway, read these books. Read Invasive for a near-future/current technological thriller with lots of gruesome imagery and ants. Read The Family Plot for an evocative, creeping ghost story with Appalachian charm that clings like kudzu. Just read, friends. There is plenty to escape from, and so many twisting realms to escape to.

 

 

The fierce optimism of anime 

Recently, I’ve been getting back into anime, and it’s been remarkably nostalgic. My tastes in anime are eclectic, ranging from shoujo romances to action packed horror stories. I’ve been watching anime off and on for a long time, starting as many in my generation did with an early induction via Adult Swim. Anime such as Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, Wolf’s Rain, and InuYasha were early influences, though, being a child in the early 90s, I also caught the dubbed Sailor Moon when I was only five or six. So me and anime have a long history.

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Recent anime that I have watched and loved include Princess JellyfishSeirei no Moribitoand Your Lie in April, among many others. I’m also watching Bloodivores, which is honestly a terrible title but so far a really interesting premise. There’s a surprisingly aware critique of predatory institutional systems within the world-building of this anime, even if the primary emphasis is the action. I’ve also been following Watashi ga Motete Dousunda, which, while engaging in a fair bit of bodyshaming, also manages to embrace some pretty intense nerd-culture. You take the good with the bad with anime, unfortunately, but not without being mindful of what is good and bad. There are anime I will recommend with little reservation, and then there are anime I will watch, love, and critique thoroughly if you ask me. Though to be fair I probably grant more leeway with anime than with any other medium, because it holds such a special place in my heart.

Despite the fact that some of these anime were and are incredibly problematic in their representations of race, gender, and sexuality, their fierce optimism never fails to lift me up. There is a clarity and beauty to their portrayal of the world, even if it is only the beauty of a first kiss. It seems innocent. It’s not – anime often deals with profoundly deep and dark concepts, underneath the glitter and sparkle. Take Ouran High School Host Club for example. I usually watch this one every spring, when the cherry blossoms are blooming. It just seems an appropriate time to watch an anime whose core themes are about young love and becoming the adult you will be. But Ouran also delves into dark things beautifully – bullying, classism, sexism to some extent, and, most importantly, the darknesses we each carry in all of us. That is, perhaps, the greatest lesson to take from the stories told in shoujo. Our darknesses define us, but we need not become them. We can own them, but not be lost to them.

Some of my favorite anime of all time include this theme. Movies from Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon remind me of the beauty and absurdity of life respectively. One of my favorite animes of all time, Akatsuki no Yona, walks this line like a tightrope. The main character, Yona, is a spoiled princess at first, who quickly falls into a nightmare when she sees her father murdered by the man she planned to marry. Saved from the same fate, she escapes with her childhood friend and protector and finds herself caught up in a dramatic quest to save her country and fulfill an age-old prophecy. Yona loses everything, and she is very conscious of that loss. She never lets go of it or seeks to erase or forget it. It doesn’t hold her down, either. She is strong enough to carry it with her and allow herself to be forged into something new by its weight. Still, the creators of the manga and associated anime adaptation never forget humor – amidst all the darkness, there are numerous cheeky interactions between Yona and her traveling companions which warm the heart. Those moments of levity make the tragedies all the more poignant, for me.

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Anime contains stories of improbable redemption, of clear sight, and of moving forward. We are taught to advance, to not stop laughing, to admire the fleeting beauty of life. To understand that the darkness and flaws of living make it more admirable, not less so. Sometimes I just need those stories to remind me of what matters. They give me the strength to get up and go when my spirit is flagging. I am incredibly hopeful that I might create something, someday, that has the same effect on a reader. I want to speak to someone so deeply that it helps them keep going when they are perhaps not sure why they are trying.

So, do you watch anime? What kinds of anime are your favorites? I’m always looking for recommendations!

 

2017: Looking forward

It’s a new year – indeed, it’s been a new year for about a week now. That newness has a lot of worry and strangeness caught up in it for me and mine, but also a lot of excitement and forward-looking hopefulness. There is the prospect of marriage, of maybe moving, of traveling. There is no doubt to me that 2017 will be a time of upheaval, much as 2016 was. Not all of those upheavals will be bad – some will be wonderful. But this will not be a year of placid waters, in all probability, anymore than 2016 was.

In 2016, I got engaged. I moved up in my day job. I published an audiobook, which was a weird and edifying experience. I mostly wrote a first draft, though I’m not quite done yet, and finished a few short stories. I read so many books that I’m a little baffled at how I found the time, and grew a whole mess of tomatoes successfully for the first time. I became a cat-mom, which has been incredibly rewarding. Mostly, though, 2016 has felt like paddling upstream, like fighting a current. In the last slow weeks of it, I found some peace with that. I’m ready to float downriver.

I grew up on a river that’s renowned, in places, for its rafting. I’ve canoed or kayaked it often, waded, swam, and generally frolicked in the at times treacherous waters.One of the keys to successfully navigating white water, in my experience, is to know where you are going, and to aim to go where the flow takes you. It is so important to have goals in this new year, so important to look forward – down the river, not back up it. To keep your eye on your destination, even knowing you might get shunted off to the side. You might scrape rocks, you may miscalculate. But the water will carry you down the river regardless, and as long as you know where you are going you can regroup. Don’t get thrown from your boat. If you do, float as far as you can. It’s not without its perils, navigating troubled waters, but it can be done with resolve and skill and a vision.

So, enough with fighting the river. I’ll look at where it’s taking me, and enjoy the ride.

These are my goals for the year of 2017. They’re a mix of personal and writing goals. I look forward to being able to tell you all about them in the coming months.

  1. To make this marriage thing stick. To get the wedding plans planned and then let it go to be what it will be. To continue to remember that relationships are work and require cherishing just like any other small, precious, hopeful thing.
  2. To find us a home and plant it with flowers and fruit and all good things. To experiment with growing sweet potatoes and lemon trees and mangoes, because I can.
  3. To attend all these conferences I’ve signed up for, and most especially to make it to WFC in San Antonio in October. Selfishly, I’m most excited about seeing my family there, but also super jazzed about Martha Wells being the head honcho for this go-round.
  4. To finish Daughter of Madness and get it to my readers, sometime this year, no matter that I’m behind. To not feel guilty about that behind-ness. To give you an outline of next steps with this, I need to: finish the rough draft, send it to beta readers and/or an editor for a look, and then do second rewrites as well as deep line edits. I’m also in the process of doing the cover design which will hopefully be finalized this month sometime, so be looking for that! (I am focusing on being excited, so excited, to bring this book to you and not intimidated by all the to do’s that still need doing.)
  5. To re-issue Child of Brii, taking it back to my original vision for it, before I got caught up in word counts and mess.
  6. To start something new – either the last Creation Saga book, which I’ve honestly already got about 10,000 words of from cuts from Daughter of Madness, or the Child of Brii prequel I’ve got planned, or maybe both. Ideally I’d get the roughs for both finished this year but realistically it’s probably one or the other. And maybe…
  7. To start something entirely new – it might happen anyway if I’m being honest, because I’m excited about a great many projects right now. There are octopuses and mermaids and werewolves and princesses and warriors all begging for my attention at the moment, so you’ll know as soon as I do what I pick up next.
  8. To put honest work into querying a project that I have previously referred to as ‘The Zombie Book’. This requires putting together a synopsis, since that’s the last element I’m missing, and updating my agents list for queries. I’d also like to finish the spin-off story from that novel, and hopefully find it a home, or maybe hold onto it until it’s time.
  9. To love and care for those important to me. To visit my brother finally, and to make time to travel with my soon-to-be husband.
  10. To never stop believing in myself and my work. To continue to try to find homes for my short stories. To write new ones, as the mood takes me. To write for the sake of writing.
  11. To take care of myself. To make sure I eat well and exercise, which is hard, and that I get enough sleep, which is easier but still doesn’t always happen. To climb some more mountains, and float some more rivers, and spend some time under the stars.
  12. To fear less and try harder.

It’s a hefty list. No doubt I will struggle with it at times. But I think it’s doable for the new year. I’m not worried about losing my seat in my boat, or rather, I can worry about it. But it won’t affect my resolve.

It’s 2017, folks. Put those paddles in the water, because here we go.

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Photo from Abingdon Outdoors.

Year End: Recapping 2016

It’s that time of year again! December is working towards a close, and it’s time to go over what I’ve read and tell you all about it in one dump post! This year I’ve picked five short stories, three novellas, and five novels, since I’ve been reading more widely. These weren’t necessarily published this year, just read this year.

Best Short Stories


I read so many short stories this year. In the end, I decided to pick five that I loved a lot and would love for you to read, too. They are:

What Becomes of the Third-Hearted, by A. Merc Rustard

Published in Shimmer Magazine, which does some delightfully surreal pieces, this story is short, cerebral, and heart-breaking. A meditation on the sharply bittersweet nature of love, which is also the nature of loss. Read it, weep.

And You Shall Know Her by Her Trail of Dead, by Brooke Bolander

This story is gritty-lovely, with some gender bending that I greatly appreciated. If you’re into Matrix-style crime thrillers, women crushing it, and booze, I recommend.

The Jaws that Bite, the Claws that Catch, by Seanan McGuire

I had two stories by Seanan on my shortlist here, but I ended up with this one because Alice in Wonderland is best, and also because I want to be a Jabberwock when I grow up. For a hopeful story about who the real monsters are, look no farther.

TumbleDown, by Kameron Hurley

This story was published on Kameron Hurley’s Patreon. If you’re not subscribed to that, you should be. It was delicious, carrying all of Hurley’s trademark violence and rigorous world-building in a tiny, edible package. Also the main character is a super badass disabled woman so read it if for no other reason than that.

The Key to Saint Medusa’s, by Kat Howard

So screwed up thing about my childhood – when I was little, my parents got my brother and I each a folk story on tape. My brother got Hans Christian Anderson’s “Tinderbox,” the story of a soldier who is kind of a jerk but gets a princess and a castle and a happy ever after. I got “Bluebeard.” If you aren’t familiar, that’s a story about a girl who gets married off to a very rich man who, spoiler warning, murders all of his wives. And they wonder why I turned out to be a feminist. Anyway, check out this Bluebeard re-imagining. I imagine you’ll appreciate it if, like me, you’re the curious kind of woman.

Special mention: At the Mouth of the River of Bees. I couldn’t pick one story from this collection, because they were without exception amazing. Also “The Dragon’s Tears” by Aliette de Bodard got beat out last minute by “TumbleDown,” but I still love it so check it out.

Best Novellas

I only picked three of these because I don’t read a lot of novellas. I enjoy them immensely when I get to them, though. I would recommend these three novellas at the expense of every other item on these lists, so if you’re questioning where to start, here is a good idea.

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle

I wrote a whole blog post about this novella, with spoilers. Read the novella, read the blog post, feel amazing.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson

Kij Johnson also wrote At the Mouth of the River of Bees, if short stories are more your speed. This was a Lovecraftian work of love, with awesome social critique. Very similar to The Ballad of Black Tom in that way, in fact. I’m detecting a pattern here….

The Raven and the Reindeer, by T. Kingfisher

I’m not going to lie, this is probably my favorite thing in this post. This novella is wonderful, absolutely so. It’s the re-imagining of The Snow Queen I would have liked to see go to film in place of Frozen. Fittingly, it is nothing like that movie. Yes, there is a quest, and a queen made of ice. But true to the original story, the quest is about a girl going to find a boy and save him. Unlike the original story, it’s very debatable as to if this boy deserves saving. The research into the underlying culture and mythology were rad, so if you are fans of fairytales, organic magical systems, and talking birds, I recommend. Also the romance in this book is one of my favorites I’ve read recently.

Best Novels

Okay, let the drumroll commence. This is what you have probably been reading for. In fact, some of you probably scrolled right to the novels. I don’t blame you. This is my predominant medium of consuming literature as well. So let’s hit it.


In no particular order, my favorite books from 2016 are:

The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin

It’s perhaps no surprise to you that this book makes the list. Sequel to The Fifth Season, which made my best of list last year and also won a Nebula, this book was a natural for me to read this year. It came out in August, and it was not a disappointment. I had no idea how the author was going to write a sequel given the way the first book was set up, but she surprised me in a very good way. Jemisin is pushing boundaries in fantasy convention, and doing it well.

The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi

So I mentioned on Twitter recently that I have a special place in my heart for bilingual books. The Water Knife, set in Phoenix in the near future, is one of those books. It also happens to be set in the city I was born in, and where some of our extended family still live. The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb in this case, as my extended family is predominantly Latina and of no blood relation. They are near and dear to my heart, though, and Phoenix is part of me. Reading this book was insanely hard because of that. It’s not a happy book. It’s a pretty damn scary book, actually. But it’s beautifully written, believable, and worth the damn read. Also everyone I love on the west coast definitely dies in this near-future scenario, so if I could enjoy it and admire it despite that you are probably going to be fine, dear reader.

Ghost Talkers, Mary Robinette Kowal

On the list of books that made me cry but are just awesomely researched and written, I have to add this one. Set in World War I, this book is a solid piece of literature which incorporates a very interesting magic system (as Kowal is wont to do) overlaid with dense and historically accurate world-building that nonetheless treats women and minorities as people. That’s right, folks, if you like historical fiction but dislike the bad taste it often leaves in your mouth in regards to representation, I have not one, but two recommendations for you this year! Really you can read any of Kowal’s historical fantasy works and trust that this is the case.

Fire, by Kristin Cashore

Moving further into the lighter end of things, I offer this lovely novel. It is technically a standalone, in that you don’t really need to read Graceling, the first book in this series, to enjoy it. I would recommend reading Graceling, however, though I did not enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoyed Fire. It’s one of those book that made me cry with joy and with the feeling of being understood. It has an innocence that the narrative of the first two novels on this short list lack, which is really refreshing sometimes, honestly.

FEED, by Mira Grant

Ya’ll had to suspect I was going to include this one, didn’t you? It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read in an age, despite the many people who argue that it isn’t really a zombie book. It is a zombie book, and it is a hella smart one. Grant did her research on this book, guys, and it shows. She also displays her customary acutely real portrayal of human nature and its complexities. Mira Grant, for those who don’t know, is Seanan McGuire’s pseudonym for horror and mad science, so expect a little less of her general complicated but generally happy endings and a little more of the grisly destruction.

Have you read one of these? What were your favorite stories this year? Let me know in the comments!

A Yuletide post

Happy Holidays to one and all! No matter what you celebrate, I hope you have a great time this year. Heavens knows we need it.

One of the things I want to talk about with this post is the importance of making space for yourself, of making time to be quiet and small in vastness, to be lost and still. So much of the time, especially leading up to the last month of the year, we find ourselves running around frantically. Searching for gifts, bombarded with music and lights and stimulus cutting through the dark. There is definitely a good part to this. It’s nice to have warmth and light and cheer in the face of the steadily lengthening nights, the often crummy weather, but we pay a price for that cheer. Nothing is free. The price is often in our sanity, in our time alone, in our comfort and health.

We can, if careful, balance ourselves, and use these bright moments to power us through the long, dark month of January into the snowy brightness of February and the gusting winds of March. But for many of us, especially us introverts, that requires care.

I have not necessarily been taking care of myself lately. I’ve been juggling too many things – there are a lot of things, after all, that go into a wedding, not to mention the normal stresses of a Christmas season. I do celebrate Christmas, after a fashion. It’s a pseudo-secular version – no babies in mangers or anything, just pretty holly branches and candles and shiny lights. I partake of presents wrapped up with bows and good food shared with the family, though our food is enchiladas and homemade salsa and rice and beans. Christmas to me is chili peppers and Kahlua and pine needles. I rationalize it by saying that most of the Christmas traditions were stolen ones, but you know, it’s really just easier to go with the flow on this one. The lights are so pretty, after all. The house is warm, the songs are familiar. And I don’t mind a holiday that’s about giving. One of my favorite things is to pick out gifts for people. Books are the most fun, because you get to hear how they liked it afterwards. But kitchen supplies and gourmet coffees and star maps and little rocket ships have all featured on my gift lists over the years past. It’s fun to find the things that will make a person light up. You can’t find it with everyone – we all have dud years, for sure – but when you do get it right, it’s absolutely delicious.

This year, though, much of my gift-acquisition has been haphazard. Everyone is getting small things, because between holding down a full-time job, writing, and gift shopping I have also been hunting for a dress, trying to pin down a caterer, figuring out decoration themes, coordinating with my Brewmaster Extraordinaire, contemplating a honeymoon, looking for a house, sending out save the dates and designing invitations….the list, I must admit, is long. You never realize just how long the list is, until you start marching forward with the list. Who made the list so long?

One of the things I have had to do to hold on to the bits of sanity I need to enjoy this holiday season and not set it all on fire is to schedule me-time. Now, me-time that is scheduled is not, to my feeling, quite as lovely as me-time that is unscheduled, but beggars cannot be choosers, as the very classist saying goes, so I must schedule or lose any hope of me-time. Some of the things I do to wind down include long showers, anime marathons, take out, and reading books. Sex, cuddles, and general positive partner time also help me, though mileage may vary, of course. Some people really would rather just be alone, and I certainly have those days. But the S.O. and I have date nights where we just don’t talk about any of this planning stuff, and it has been a relationship and life saver. Going to see a movie with the person I love is so much more enjoyable than bugging him about his schedule or the paperwork we haven’t filed yet. Looking for those moments of personal joy is just as important as trying to bring joy to others.

So this holiday season, do yourself an act of service, whatever kind it is. Buy yourself a chocolate, get a massage, or just take a moment to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea with the cat in your lap. It’s your gift to yourself, and it is the season for giving gifts. Your loved ones will appreciate it when you don’t burn down their house in rage, and you will feel better.

Lots of love, my dears. And Happiest of Holidays to all of you.

 

 

Creating as a woman

The other day, a friend and I were discussing the movie The Fifth Element. My S.O. loves that movie. It is ironically one of the only science fiction movies that he enjoys. I chalk this up to nostalgia – not that I don’t enjoy the movie, the opposite, but it’s not really his kind of science fiction. His speed is more Interstellar or something else vastly cerebral.

Anyway, so my friend and I were discussing this and she mentioned that The Fifth Element would have been vastly better with some gender-flipping. The trope of the woman as sacred object, the naive woman who needed a man to save her and help her navigate the world, was tiring for her. Make Bruce Willis be Leeloo, and have Milla Jovovich be the tough cab driver with a mysterious past. I suggested going one further – keep Jovovich as the mystical Leeloo, and cast some hard-bitten older woman in Bruce Willis’ role. Her name could be Kora, or Ervin. You already have several speaking male side characters, including the very prominent role of the antagonist. Why not?

In a separate conversation on one of the social media sites I subscribe to, I found this post which talked about the role of female heroes in writing. I want to talk about how it made me feel in light of the above and in light of my identity as a writer. I swear it connects to the above.

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Writing as a woman is hard, because you’re covered in sticky cobwebs of male gaze and you don’t even know it. The post above mentions male writers, but male writers, as male directors, are only part of the problem. They are a huge part of the problem, sure. But the other part of the problem is that we as female creators often perpetuate their tropes.

Unfortunately, even once you awaken to the tropes in question, it can be hard to shake them, mostly because there aren’t any mainstream models of the kind of story you do want to tell. You end up making it up as you go along. I was lucky. I found authors like Martha Wells and Laurie J. Marks early. I knew I loved what they were writing, but I didn’t really understand why. It took me years, four of them spent at an all women’s undergraduate college, to really recognize what it was that was so fulfilling about these stories for me. It was because those stories were written for me. They weren’t written for the male gaze, but for mine. The characters in them, both male and female, were not indefinably crippled by the assumptions that so often come up in our stories: the woman must be saved, the woman must be beautiful, the woman must be perfect, the woman must have volition, but not too much. She must not overshadow the male protagonist. She must be good.

Nowadays I have added a plethora of authors to my list who are writing the kinds of stories I want to write, and to read. Seanan McGuire, Catherynne Valente, Kameron Hurley, N.K. Jemisin – they are all doing amazing things, testing the boundaries of their genres, and generally rocking out. They are telling the kinds of stories that I want to tell

But it is still hard, despite that, to shake the tropes that have so often reoccurred in mainstream fiction and genre fiction. I still read through a story or a paragraph and realize, oh, I have done the thing that I did not want to do. I have reduced my character to her attractiveness, to her goodness, and not let any of the dark survive to give her flavor. Writing as a woman is a balancing act between being true to your heart and being pulled in by the assumptions you never realized that you were taught to make. You can guarantee that if you are true to your heart, someone will accuse you of being an SJW, of distracting from the story, of advancing an agenda. And if you get pulled the other way, if you give up – well, you have even more left to lose. It is hard.

But the best things in life are rarely easy. So chin up, buttercup. Write your heart.

(P.S. if someone wants to write that Fifth Element AU I will totally read it. Totally.)

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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