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Verily, cats are weird

My life has been on hold this week following a drastic and explosive vomiting episode on the part of my cat, Fidel, which led to him not eating or drinking for almost two days. I am using this as an excuse to postpone blogging about writerly stuff, since I honestly haven’t had a moment to think straight.

Cats are weird. My poor baby boy, who is really more of a dog than a cat in a lot of ways, is a cuddlemuffin of epic proportions, infinitely curious, and sometimes a jerk. He really, really loves ribbons, and anything stringy looking, and I can see you cat lovers wincing because you know how this story goes right? Cat loves ribbon. Cat finds ribbon in the chaos of the house post-move. Cat eats ribbon.

So Saturday night, as I lay dead to the world, I was awoken by the most terrible hurking. There is no other word for that sound. Hurk. Hurk. I shot up, to realize that my husband was gone and I was the only person in bed. The lights were all on. The hurking continued.

“What is happening?” I said groggily.

“Cat boy threw up,” said the S.O. That was…an understatement.

I didn’t take pictures, and you don’t want them, but what my poor baby threw up was nothing that should have come out of anyone’s throat. It was a hairball the size of Texas, and it had accreted around a ribbon that I recognized instantly as a wide, green ribbon I had been wondering about the past few days. Mystery solved, because this semi-digested, colorless thing was, in fact, the missing ribbon. That hairball smelled terrible, let me tell you, and my stomach is always the least stable around 3 am. I nearly brought up my dinner myself.

Anyway, gory details aside, baby boy was so traumatized that he refused to eat or drink or let anyone touch him. I can only hypothesize that he was in pain from the violent exodus of the foreign object that had been taking up most of his stomach. We had been having problems with him vomiting a little earlier in the week, and so we knew he hadn’t been eating as much as he probably should – I’d chalked it up to stress, because of the move and all, but it was now apparent that it had been his body trying to deal with the ribbon situation. Anyway, he also wasn’t grooming, and so I did what any good cat mom does and insisted we take him to the vet. The only one open on a Sunday was the emergency vet, of course, so that was buckets of fun.

Four hours and a few hundred dollars later, I had a dopey, still-not-great cat who still wouldn’t eat or drink and had a giant lump of subcutaneous fluid on his shoulder. We took him back to the vet yesterday, where they gave him antibiotics, more fluids, took more Xrays, and set him up with an appetite stimulant. He ate this morning (yay!) and is back at the vet for one more go with the Xray machine, just to make sure he doesn’t have any issues internally that could cause complications in a few days. After that it’s just feeding him and making sure he drinks.

Poor guy smells like death, and his sister is NOT having it. She keeps hissing and growling at him. Hasn’t taken a swing at him yet, at least. Between the two of them I haven’t slept much.

Anyway, here is a picture of my sweet boy looking way more awake last night, if still a bit peckish and with a terrible shave job. He followed me around the house, meowed some (though still doesn’t sound like himself) and played with his toys even! But no more ribbons for him, let me tell you what.

fidel sick

The inevitability of sexual assault

After a rather fluffy and upbeat couple of posts last week, we’re going down into the dark today. Trigger warning for sexual assault and spoilers for James Treadwell’s Advent and Anarchy. Also I’m going to slightly spoil my own book, Mother of Creation, because I can and because I feel like I can’t have this conversation without thinking about how it applies to my own work. Please read my book anyway if you can, because I’d like my writing habit to someday become more lucrative.

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Sexual assault is something that every woman experiences as an echo in her psyche, I think. It is so pervasive in our media and culture it is hard not to have that echo whispering at you from time to time, catching the edge of your attention. Many of my friends have experienced some type of sexual assault, sometimes violent. I carry their stories. I myself have been blessed enough to experience minor forms – the unwanted touches of older men, the catcalls and implicit threats, the pressure to say yes to intimacy and the uncomfortable knowledge that saying “no” was something being granted when it should have been something that was merely understood.

I remember vividly as a young woman being told by someone I loved and trusted very much that sometimes a man can’t stop, it wasn’t like it was for girls, so it was my obligation not to take it to that point. I carried this misinformation with me for years. It’s an insidious narrative, the idea that men have no choice in rape anymore than women do. That they are gripped by their overwhelming base urges. A rape is like a tree falling in a storm. It is like gravity.

Rape is the nature of man, this narrative says. You can’t blame him.

I encountered this idea very recently in the work of James Treadwell. I will hurry to say that the writing style of Treadwell is beautiful, the narrative pacing solid, the thematic content interesting. Yet I am not sure that I will finish the trilogy that this particular narrative occurred in, despite enjoying many other elements of the story, despite being solidly invested. The narrative arc in question, after all, occurred in the second book of this series, Anarchy. It had been some time since I read Advent, several years in fact, so any warning that this was the direction of the character, Marina’s, plot development had been forgotten. I remember enjoying Advent a great deal. It is, if you want to read it, probably a little bit like The Magicians, a grim approach to magic in the modern world.

Marina is the child of a siren and/or river nymph (the two mythological creatures appear to be confused in the text somewhat, not that they don’t have overlaps) and a human man. She is raised by that man, her father, in isolation. Her understanding of the world is hampered by the way that she is raised and by the fact that she is not entirely human and does not seem to think of things the way humans do. Most importantly, though, Marina is a child. She is fourteen, but seems to think more like a ten-year-old.

Early on in the book Anarchy, Marina is left alone by the men in her life, hidden for her own good, they say. It is established through reflections by other, male characters that she has inherited some supreme charisma or sexual attractiveness from her mother. Despite the fact that she is clearly an adolescent, and despite the fact that she clearly does not understand attraction or present herself in any way sexually, they are overwhelmingly attracted to her. She must therefore be kept shut away.

If you’re already getting skeeved out here, then you can join the club.

Most of the book, however, is not told from these other males’ perspectives. It is told from Marina’s, or from the perspectives of other women. Unsurprisingly, women do not seem to feel this same attraction – though the woman who appoints herself Marina’s guardian, Iseult, obviously senses that it is a possibility. The question of why this would be the case, or why, if Iseult does feel attraction towards Marina, she is able to resist it but men cannot, is never brought up. The most unfortunate part of Iseult and Marina’s interactions, however, is that it makes you feel that Marina might escape the fate the author has clearly planned for her.

She doesn’t, of course.

Why Treadwell felt the need to include the sexual assault of a child in his narrative, whether it contributed to the story, is not something I am interested in analyzing here. What does strike me so violently about Marina’s story, however, is not the rape itself, though that was traumatic enough. It is the way that it is described as natural and inevitable within the narrative. From the start, it is clear that men cannot be trusted with Marina. It takes a heroic effort for them not to assault her, in fact. This narrative so thoroughly parallels the worst and most entrenched ideas of rape culture that it is deeply destabilizing to read. It is even more destabilizing to question why a writer would include a rape in his narrative that was presented in such a way, especially of a child.

I myself have used sexual assault in my stories. I am not innocent of that. Liana’s rape was constructed as an inevitability in some ways as well. I would argue the inevitability was not, however, dependent on her nature, on human nature. Jei has a choice that is very clearly set in front of him. Yes, he is pressured and manipulated by his own power and position, among other things, but the choice always lies with him. It was important for me to explore the ways that power allows grievous crimes to become normalized. I sought to do that while making it clear that what had happened should not be normal. I can’t say whether or not I succeeded in this – I don’t have that distance from my own work.

That was not, to my reading of Marina’s tale, the way her rape was written. That is not the way that rape is often presented in narratives in our culture. It bothers me fundamentally that this is the case – that even in trying to represent sexual assault in story, to understand it, we replicate narratives that normalize it.

I call out Treadwell because his work allowed me to see clearly what bothers me most about depictions of sexual assault. He’s not alone in this, and perhaps I should be critiqued equally. It’s been a long time since I first conceived of Mother of Creation, and I can’t say there aren’t things I would have done differently. But I do know that in the future, I hope to read and create stories where sexual assault is not normalized as an inevitability, where men are decent and where women are not blamed for the happenstance of their bodies. If we don’t start telling that kind of story, we can never hope to live in that kind of world.

The Uncrossing by Melissa Eastlake

Hey, friends! It’s been a while since I’ve done a Sunday Review, but here I am with this lovely ARC and a whole lot of feelings so strap in! Considering a few of my recent posts have been less than light-hearted, this should be a welcome reprieve.

So first, let me preface this by registering my biases. Melissa is a fellow Hollins graduate and has guested on my blog. I reached out to her for the ARC in advance of her upcoming October 2nd release. It is a YA M/M Romance. You can preorder this lovely little book for $3.99 at Amazon last time I looked. This is a spoiler-free review.

On to the review!

I don’t read a lot of romances, but I always really enjoy the good ones. My favorite anime genre is definitely shoujo, though I’m picky, and I am a huge fan of urban fantasy and very aware that the line between “urban fantasy” and “paranormal romance” is often a gray one. I would, however, classify this book solidly in the paranormal romance category if it were being marketed to adults – the romance is the main plot motivator in this book, despite the magical elements. The book is also firmly young adult, with the two main love interests, Luke and Jeremy, both being in their late teens. There’s a lot to love here if you like romantic anime like Princess Jellyfish (with its awkward love comedy between a shining, magical rich boy and the traumatized but brilliant girl who is oblivious to his interest) or Yuri! on Ice (with two male protagonists and the added professional element). Jeremy is a beautiful, somewhat awkward, very anxious little princeling, and Luke is a grounded, charismatic character who can’t leave well enough alone more often than not and happens to be somewhat bound to Jeremy’s family. They both are clear, at times unpredictable, and lots of fun. The story benefits from the fact that, though Jeremy and Luke’s relationship is primary, other relationships are well-developed. These include Jeremy’s relationship with his brothers Sergei and Alexei, the heads of a magical mafia family, the Kovrovs, and Luke’s relationships with his family, who had previously served the Kovrovs and continue to be affiliated with them. There’s a strong supernatural element throughout, and a mystery that potentially threatens the lives of both Jeremy and Luke, as well as their families.

My two critiques of the book were simple. I would have liked to see more of Luke’s relationship with his sister, who he was closest to, and more of his family in general and their past. I really wanted to learn more about them, though I don’t think the book suffered. It’s more of a personal desire. The way their magic worked, for example, and the stresses of growing up in a biracial, bicultural family, were super interesting to me. I’d be interested in knowing more.

On a less selfish note, I do wish that the cover had not been white-washed – the character that I assume to be Luke on the cover does not look like the Luke I had in my head. The author often has limited input on covers, so given the specificity of the text I can’t imagine this was intentional on her part. It is otherwise beautiful, and I’m glad they didn’t flinch from showing m/m affection.

All in all, The Uncrossing was a fun, mostly light-hearted read, with high enough stakes to keep me engaged and characters I wanted to shelter from the world like the precious cinnamon rolls they are. I recommend this book if you are looking for positive LGBT representation and a cute romance wrapped up in magic.

uncrossing

Good news

Hey friends, some updates from the world of writing!

I’ve been working on getting some appearances scheduled for next year – I believe that I will be at Roanoke Author Invasion and MystiCon again in 2018, though I’m still waiting to firm some of that up, and will be looking at other local convention options that would require less investment on my part. MystiCon is super awesome in that they cover your convention expense, but RAI is a paid event and many other book events are paid as well. This inhibits me a bit, but I’m looking to get in front of some new audiences. So be looking for those announcements as they come about.

I also just recently finished a short story prompted by seeing a very beautiful pendant circulating on the internet. I did not buy it, because I have self-control and I need to make my house payment. I did, however, make a new Pinterest board (I know, my Pinterest is getting out of hand) for short story inspiration. This short story was largely motivated by aesthetics and the desire to write the backstory for another short story that I had written a year or so ago. It was one of those stories that pretty much wrote itself, which is always a nice feeling.

Now that I’ve bought a house and stuff, things are settling down a little bit. That’s allowed me to start pulling together some query packets. Very exciting stuff. Being on submission is always a little heart-pounding, but lately I’ve developed a bit of a laissez-faire attitude about it all, which is helping.

Some of my new zen is because I took a chance recently and applied to be on the program of World Fantasy Convention 2017 and guess what? Despite the fact that I almost didn’t do it because of general impostor syndrome and self-deprecation, I got on the program!! This is such a huge deal for me, honestly. I still haven’t wrapped my head around it, and it’s going to take a lot of work from me to do it right. I’m totally ready, though.

Anyway, I will be updating my events page and this website soon with more details!

The fate of pirates

How many stories do you know where a woman ends up alone?

I don’t mean happily fulfilled, with a garden and a dog but no man. I mean truly alone. Outcast, and heartbroken, and without peer. What story have you known that looks like staring into the abyss?

That story for me is Pirates of the Caribbean.

I hear you all laughing, but bear with me here.

We all know the jaunty tunes and slapstick humor of Captain Jack Sparrow, the nervous comedy of Will Turner, and the fiery deviousness of Elizabeth Swann. When the first movie, Legend of the Black Pearl, came out, I was in love. Head over heels. It was everything I wanted from a nautical tale. Undead pirates, thrilling escapes, canon-fire. I was a kid and it took me hook, line, and sinker.

And then I got to the end of the original trilogy, and I witnessed the fate of Elizabeth Swann.

elizabeth 1

I think it’s fair to say that one of the reasons I loved Pirates so much is because Elizabeth went from being a pampered, settled princess to following her heart with the flip of a coin. Now, admittedly, it was a magical coin, and there was some kidnap involved, but she was not interested in the life of what was essentially royalty, out there in the New World. She was in love with Will Turner, and then she was in love with being a pirate, and a little bit with Jack – though Will always came first. Elizabeth Swann gave up her corsets and took up a sword and never looked back. It should have been enough.

Somehow, it wasn’t. Somehow, Elizabeth was left on dry land.

Elizabeth 2

I think it’s notable the kinds of tales we tell about women. Elizabeth is shown to clearly be capable of surviving on her own. Yet, when she and Will make love at last on the shore and he gives in to his curse, Elizabeth, to all appearances, gives up her dreams. She is pregnant with his child, and that’s the end of her story. It is consolation, that she has a miniature Will Turner to raise and keep. Some piece of him. That’s what we are told.

That’s bullshit.

What was it like, for Elizabeth Turner to return, pregnant and still an outlaw, to her father’s house? To endure the scandal as her belly grew great with the spawn of her undead lover? To give up on her dreams forever – the dream of love, yes, because one visit every eight years is not a substitute for a true relationship. Her husband is not dead. She can take no other lover, can find no other love with his face staring up at her from the crib she rocks day by day. He does not age either. He cannot help her raise their child, he cannot grow old with her. He cannot hold her at night when she cries. But also the dream of adventure. She was a pirate, and it lit her up from the inside. She was a pirate.

elizabeth 3

Never once does Will offer her the choice of a berth on The Flying Dutchman, to reign eternal as his queen. No, she must keep his heart safe in its chest. She must ensure his eternal absence. She must birth his child, alone, raise that child, alone, bring the boy to see him, for whom time has stopped, and spend their one day together giving this absent father a chance to know his progeny. Surely, she loves the boy. But love can break us.

Never once does the narrative offer her a different life.

Elizabeth Swann was a pirate, and a respected one. In my dreams, Elizabeth takes her child with her and strikes out to sea, hunting The Flying Dutchman. Hunting Will Turner, who cannot step foot on land – but who has no such restrictions on water. She doesn’t mortgage all of her dreams and hopes in the world for a child gotten cruelly on her, wages of one night and one day spent in the arms of the love of her life.

elizabeth 4

Better, their single coupling doesn’t result in a child at all. She says goodbye to Will, though she loves him, and he to her because, if he will not have her with him in undeath, she deserves to live her life.

Instead, this half-life, this heartbreak, this ending that cannot end with aught but Elizabeth Swann, old and used up and dying alone, while Will Turner sails the seas forever.

I don’t think I’ll ever forgive those movies that ending for her.

 

Weird Western tales

The Weird West as a fantasy subgenre is one that I’ve really been enjoying lately, and has cultivated a vibrant readership over the past few years. I’d say my first introduction to it was R.S. Belcher’s Golgotha books, but I have read a lot of other books in the same vein since then. This post collects some of those titles with a brief overview of the salient positives and negatives for each, spoiler-free.

I grew up for a good chunk of my childhood out west, in Arizona to be precise. I also grew up reading the Sackett books by Louis L’Amour. So reading these weird western titles is super nostalgic for me, but also constantly amazing. Somehow, it seems like this genre is the one providing some of the most innovative takes on sexuality, gender roles, and race – which honestly shouldn’t surprise me, given how rich the history of the territories was in the US both pre- and post-Civil War. So without further ado, in no particular order, I give you some of my favorites.

Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman

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NPR described this book as “pure American myth” and I can think of no better description, honestly. This is my favorite of all these novels, starring the Left Hand of the Devil, Isobel, in a dreamy coming of age that sucks you down into a world that’s larger than life. Though Isobel is young and at times naive, this is not a young adult book – the themes are too large and too dark. Magic lives in the Devil’s West, and it sinks its claws in whether you like it or not. This is the true American frontier, the archetype of a time in our history that formed so much of our cultural identity. If you read no other book on this list, read this one.

The Six-Gun Tarot, by R.S. Belcher

Perhaps the best way for you to get hooked on this book is to read this handy excerpt from Tor.com. The first book in the Golgotha Series, this book draws on Mormon, Chinese, Native American, and esoteric Christian mythologies in a world tinged with steampunk. Maude Stapleton is my favorite character, and she has her own spinoff book later in the series that just came out this year which I haven’t had a chance to read yet. I’m very excited about it.

Dreadnought, by Cherie Priest

Dreadnought is a lovely little tale written by Cherie Priest, one of the big names in steampunk. This is in fact a steampunk book, one hundred percent. While I prefer her book Maplecroft, this book still is high on my list of her works. Maplecroft is set in New England, so it unfortunately doesn’t fit the theme here. Dreadnought, on the other hand, tells the story of a Civil War nurse traveling across the country, so it’s not solidly set in the West as it were. The frontier feeling of adventure remains, however, and it’s aided by trains and chemically induced zombification, so if you’re into those things I recommend this book highly.

Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen

This book is a lovely, introspective affair that spoke deeply to the little girl in me who wanted to be a boy. Basically, if you ever read the Song of the Lioness books and felt immeasurable kinship with Alanna, this book is for you. Unlike those books, however, Wake of Vultures also tackles race and sexuality, and takes the next step on the gender identity conversation that the Song of the Lioness either couldn’t or wouldn’t take. All of that is wrapped up in a wonderful odyssey to battle a terrifying monster or two.

Vermilion, by Molly Tanzer

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Speaking of gender identity and race, don’t miss this lovely installation. Featuring Chinese heritage, talking bears, and a badass genderqueer female character, not to mention vampires, this book is a galloping romp. It sets itself up for a sequel as well, which I hope it follows up on.

Jackalope Wives and The Tomato Thief, by T. Kingfisher

This is an example of saving the best for last. Also I’ve cheated a bit by including both of these titles – there are technically two novelettes here, one of which won the Hugo this year! It’s worth it to read both in order, since they are so short. You can get these two stories along with several other lovely tales in the collection Jackalope Wives and Other Stories. Ursula Vernon, aka T. Kingfisher, is one of my all-time favorite authors at this point and a  source of inspiration. And the main character of these two tales is a lovely old woman. I love reading about old women doing badass things.