Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Am I Still a Writer?

NaNoWriMo is coming up.  For almost 20 years, now that I think about it, I've either attempted to do NaNo or thought about why I shouldn't do it.   I've finished some novels because of it, and I've tormented myself because of it.

I'm wondering if I should bother this year.  I have not written anything in months.  Part of this is my very small life -- I don't leave the house often, I don't speak to people often, I certainly don't interact with anyone other than my husband on a regular basis.  I've withdrawn from many things because the effort of fighting off panic is exhausting.  I can't battle it intellectually, and my medications only work so far (I can push myself into a social situation, I can even have a good time, but I will be exhausted afterwards, sometimes for more than a day).  And, for better or worse, I always got my stories from bits and pieces I picked up from being around people, especially people who weren't in my current carefully curated circles. 

So I feel...voiceless.  No, more than that, I feel wordless.  I have nothing to talk about really except my lacks and losses and insufficiencies, and I'm bored with that.  I'm typing this more out of an insistence that I do something than from a deep need.  I could crawl right back into my chair and speak to no one but my critters.

I'm thinking more and more about the pointlessness of my life, too.  Not suicidally, no, but how fear has so overtaken me than I do not more more than can not move, because something might make me uncomfortable.  I'm bored, I'm stunted, I'm barely living, but I'm not constantly marshalling my forces against my emotions to keep them in control.  I'm not doing that part...which is not really healthy, to tell the truth, but seems like my only choice.

So, am I a writer?  Was I a writer?  I'm not a musician any more.  I'm not a reader.  If I'm not a writer, then I'm out of identities, because that is the one I've held onto for most of my life.  I'm a non-entity.  I'm a cat (and dog) lady.  I'm a hermit.

The sun shines outside and I have the window open for the fresh air.  Maybe I can re-assume my writer identity with a little effort, like writing this blog and doing my morning pages, and maybe even doing NaNo.  It's not something I talk over with the ones I love most -- this conversation is the kind you have with people who aren't particularly concerned over your emotional well being moment-to-moment.  It's the thing you discuss with your writing group (don't have one anymore), with someone you meet on more intellectual ground (again, I don't put myself out where those people might be).

My isolation has been a long process.  I'm not sure how to walk it back anymore.  Few notice, fewer speak, and only one or two are willing to help me pry loose of my shell for a while, because that's work and I should be able to do it for myself.  But I can't or I won't or I don't.  Maybe I could use NaNo for that.

I have a week or more to think about it.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Why Can't I Read?

Reading has become spectacularly hard lately.  I pick up a book and start, but within a few pages I'm nervous, jumpy, and wanting to do something else.  I don't understand it, but it's a pain in the ass.

I'm going to make an effort to revive this blog and post more widely and more frequently.  Part of this is because Google, it its wisdom, has decided to kill G+ next year.  There are a lot of  people looking for other places that aren't Facebook to use, and  I will likely sign on to one or another in an attempt to stay connected to the people I know there.  It's my one real social outlet, so it's important.

But I've got this blog, which I've had for so many years, and I can use it as well.  There are comments, so people can talk back to me.

So, since this isn't a book review, let's revert back to the topics of former years. 

My mental health is...problematic at the moment.  I actually think I'm doing better, but it's been a difficult few weeks.  I just crouched in my corner with my tablet and played games constantly.  In part I was reacting to an overload of bad world news, the erosion of any logic or reason in the US government, and the latest turmoil which, in my opinion, ended in a very awful way, with a demonstrable liar and theocrat in the Supreme Court.  I am eager for November when I hope there will be a general voting down of the asshats and shitwaffles in charge.  We might get different asshats and shitwaffles, but that's what we've turned our political system into...

Or perhaps that's what politics has always been.  Netflix has the complete run of Monty Python on now, and I've gone through them all (very happily).  Political problems they were  complaining about in 1970 sound very much like what we are complaining about now.  That's a lot of years without a big change.

So, in short, I've gone through the usual cycle of suicidal thoughts, rotten sleep, general listlessness, and even a return to (some) emotional eating.  I'm wondering if the Zoloft is losing effectiveness (as such drugs will occasionally do) or if it is just a seasonal change/emotional change.  My brain and I -- isn't it odd how I think of myself as separate from the  particular organ that generates my thoughts?  That's peculiar, but an accurate description of my thinking.  I seem to have two different sets of operating instructions, and one has more sway because it handles all the hardware.  The other only occasionally gets control, and then mostly when there are drugs involved.

Wow, I'm remembering now why I stopped writing this way.  I feel self conscious and intrusive, and a wellspring of negative thoughts are flooding me.   I'm triple thinking everything I'm saying and trying to type fast enough to get ahead of it.  The physical symptoms of panic are starting, and I'm just sitting along in my office with my laptop.  I want to talk -- my body/brain wants me to get back in my chair with my tablet and stop bothering people.

Monday, September 03, 2018

What I Read This Summer

I missed listing a few of the books I managed to read this summer, so here goes.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco

My interest in politics, while still a bit shallow, is growing, so this was a nice entry way book.  Mastromonaco is a regular on the various Pod Save America podcasts, and this book is a short and sweet autobiography about her political life, written as a sort of rubric for young women up and coming in politics.

I won't say it's a deep read, but it's a good read in the summer sun.  The stories are mostly humorous, the advice makes sense, and there is nothing earthshaking (at least to me).  I liked it, and it will go on my shelf in my small but growing set of political books.

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown by Seanan McGuire

This is the second of the Ghostroads series, really the first official book in the series (the first one, Sparrow Hill Road, is technically a part of her InCryptids books -- another series I intend to read).  Rose is still having trouble in her afterlife, and has to call on old friends and old enemies for help.  Saying anything about it will spoil it (and I know how some people feel about spoilers) so I will just say how much I loved this book and how much I'm looking forward to the next one (Come on, Seanan, you don't need to sleep!)  I enjoy the world and its careful consistency, and how there is still lots our main character doesn't know.  I am just enthused.  Read it.  Buy copies for gifts.

Master of None by Sonya Bateman

Djinn are, in my opinion, a rich vein for the paranormal/urban fantasy writer.  I can think of only one other series where they show up.  Djinn are the magic in this particular (and all too short) series (there's only 1 more book).

Now, I can't say this was a fantastic book, but it is a book true to the tropes of this niche genre.  We have the smart ass main character, Gavyn Donatti, all the people he loves or has damaged, the trouble he's in, and his basic goodness.  We have the strange magical individual who comes into his life and kicks over everything. He's thrown into impossible situations, discovers impossible things about himself, and decides that's where his life will go.  He deals with people who start out either not liking him or outright hating him, and then reverse. We have a lot of near torture porn to give grimdarkness to the world. No big surprises.

But it's a rollicking ride.  It's fun.  It's a little thin on the  characterization, and there isn't much emotional life in our protagonist.  Oh, Donatti has feelings, but we don't get much insight into them, or into anyone else's for that matter.  There isn't much "why".  That's the only thing that bothered me while I read.  I stayed up late reading this, which is a good sign.  I enjoyed it.  What more can I say?  How much I will wish there were more books will depend on how the second book goes.

Summer is nearly over, and I have an ambitious reading list for the fall, which I'm not likely to complete, but I'll deliver my book reports as I knock 'em down.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Last book of a trilogy.  I reviewed Ancillary Sword here, but I don't think I posted a review of Ancillary Justice, at least not here.

I both like and didn't much enjoy this series.  That is, I admire it a lot, how it throws ideas like gender and language and what is human around so lightly without letting them drop.  The sort of vagueness of it, the sensation that I know but don't know what's going on, that is kind of appealing.  I like Leckie's command of language and her ideas.

I can't say I really dislike a lot so much as don't have much feeling at all.  The books all end ambiguously, on purpose, with that idea that endings are just arbitrary and there's a day after the ending for someone.  That's fine, that's a good point.  The story isn't really over, it's just that the teller is done telling.  But it does let a little of the steam pressure out.  I understand why an author wants to disrupt the usual contract between writer and reader -- it's a very literary fiction thing to do -- but it's still a disruption and uncomfortable.

Then again, it's supposed to be.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Making Choices

As I tend always to do, I make wishlists of books that look interesting.  I keep a little notebook listing them with me, another on my e-reader, and even more in my Librarything. 

So, I'm looking at a long list of new and new-to-me books, trying to decide what would be best to add to my giant mountain of books To Be Read.  Here's what I'm currently considering -- recommendations are welcome.  Tell me why I should read these books.

Theft of Swords - Michael J. Sullivan
The Beautiful Ones - Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Power - Naomi Alderman
The Tiger's Daughter - K. Arsenault Rivera
Blackwing - Ed McDonald
The Bloodprint - Ausma Zehanat Khan
Summerland - Hannu Rajaniemi
The Queens of Innis Lear - Tessa Gratton
Torn - Rowenna Miller
Good Guys - Steven Brust
The Warrior Within - Angus McIntyre
Melokai - Rosalyn Kelly
The Dragon's Legacy - Deborah A. Wolf
Godblind - Anna Stephens
Time Was - Ian McDonald
The City of Lost Fortunes - Bryan Camp
Witchmark - C.L. Polk
The Grey Bastards - Jonathan French
The Last Sun - K.D. Edwards
Afterwar - Lilith Saintcrow
The Poppy War - R.F. Kuang
Medusa Uploaded - Emily Devenport
The Tea Master and the Detective -- Aliette de Bodard
The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu
Lion's Blood - Steven Barnes
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach - Kelly Robson
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss

See why I am having problems making choices?  Ah well, I need to get back to reading the books already on my current list!

Monday, July 09, 2018

Book Review: Johannes Cabal, The Detective

Johannes Cabal, The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard

I read the first book in this series with great delight and not a little sadness when my favorite character died in it.  But I hold out hope (feh, I know he comes back in subsequent books, for which I am glad).  Horst is a necessary leven to Johannes Cabal, and I felt his absence in this second book of the series.

It took me an abysmally long time to read this relatively short book, and part of that was, despite the dark humor and interesting observations that were sprinkled in, the central concept of the novel was a sort of Christie mystery -- passengers on a ship when one is mysteriously discovered to have committed suicide -- or maybe not.  The ship board mystery portion of the book was a bit draggy and lost my interest.

But Howard is a capable author, so when I resolved to finish this book before embarking on the next, I had hope things would get more interesting.  And, they did!  A little chemistry, a little necromancy, a lot of skulking around, and another glimpse into the distant event that set Cabal upon his path to conquer death.  So, it was worth reading, even if it seems to be a divergence from the overall arc set up in the first book.

I also read a short story by an author who interests me

Waiting on a Bright Moon by J.Y. Yang

SF/F stories by people of color, people with roots in non-Western cultures, and queer people are still a bit of a rarity (I think that's just beginning to change, and yay!) which makes finding good ones a real treat.  All of that comes together in this story, set in an unfamiliar universe based on assumptions and tropes that weren't terribly familiar to me.  Revolution, the risks of being "different", the throwing off of social expectations, and the dangers of love, are all mixed into some 33 pages.    I have this author's other books on my wish list.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Book Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire


Something else NOT on my summer reading list (of course).  This novella is in the same world as Sparrow Hill Road, but stands alone, and takes us farther.

It isn't the story so much that  is special, although it is interesting, or the characters, who are well drawn but familiar types.  It is the world and the little things making it up that hook into my head and draw me in.  This is a one sitting read.  It compels you to complete it.

Jenna is, yes, a ghost, and she has a sad event and a goal that keep her in this world, but she'd looking to earn her way into the next.  It's not her story that kept me reading, but her experience of the world and how it was conveyed until I was hip deep in the water and getting ready to duck under.

I'm now eagerly awaiting the (pre-ordered) next book in the Ghost Roads series.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Book Review: Sparrow Hill Road

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire


I've known about Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant for a few years, as she is a favorite author of one of my best friends.  I tried reading her book Feed a few years back but got too creeped out -- tension being a difficulty for me, even in reading.

But I attended ConCarolina this year, and she was there, and I heard her at a few panels.  She's funny and too damn smart, and I liked her right away.  So I decided to take another run at Feed and look at some of her other books.  On a whim, as I am on a reading marathon this summer, I looked through what is available as ebooks (I had some credit to spend).  I read the sample for Sparrow Hill Road, bought it, and finished reading it within a day.  I would have finished it faster but I'm on vacation and really don't want to sleep through the days.  I put down the Mercedes Lackey book I was reading to spend my time with Rose Marshall.

Ghost stories from the POV of the ghost aren't unusual in the paranormal fantasy genre family, although they aren't as common as wizards, vampires, werewolves, and assorted hero types.  Rose is a particularly fresh character and the book unfolds as a series of interlocked short stories.  But it's the writing -- McGuire is the kind of writer who makes other writers wonder why they try.  She just opens up the world and dumps you into it like you are a loaf of bread in her grocery bag, that you just belong there, you're bought and paid for.  I've missed the feeling of submerging in a book, needing to keep turning pages and not really seeing text.  That's what reading this was like.  I know I saw words, but I remember colors and scents and sounds.  I remember names and faces,  places and weather.

That's the kind of reading experience I love best, so thank you, Seanan McGuire.  I'll give Feed another try now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: How to Be a Heroine

How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis


I have a small but insistent affection for books about what books people read, and this one is about so many books that I've either read or want to read (and one or two I'm giving a big skip).  I won't go into the details of the books -- there's a full bibliography at the end of the book -- and instead tell you a bit about the idea of being a heroine.

In Ellis's life, what a heroine is changes, and because it's important to her to be one, she considers them from many angles.  It's not something that I've every really considered, at least not consciously.  At a fairly young age I discovered that most of the book characters (and TV and movie characters) I most admired were all male, which sort of denied the whole idea of a woman as hero for me.  It was some years before I found enough female literary heroines to think of them as a thing, and I never thought to model myself on them (I was busy trying to me Mr. Spock for too many years).  But I can sort of catch onto what she's saying, that we are the authors of our lives and the heroines of our own stories. 

It sounds so pat and even trite, but in the context of the book, it isn't.  It's important and deep and a thought a lot of women (and men) don't really incorporate.

Above that, Ellis really examines these characters  -- Lizzy and Anne and Scarlett, Jane and Laura and so many more.  She digs into them within the fictional worlds they inhabit, and she digs into what their authors did with them or didn't do with them, what the authors were saying or not saying.  If you have a taste for literary analysis (in a lighter, less academic form), you'll find it here. 

I now have to read and reread a number of books to see these heroines for myself.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review - Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim (Movie Novelization) by Alex Irvine

Reading has been a struggle for months, but (quite suddenly, it seems to me) I am back to reading again.  I suspect it might be a slight change in my meds, or the coming of spring, or a change in the planetary alignments.  I dunno, but I'm glad.

First book read was this one, because I love the movie and I tend to like novelizations when I want a non-thinking read.  This one satisfied.  It's pretty much spot on to the movie (a few minor variations which are to be expected), and it filled in some background.  It isn't exactly stellar writing, but I wasn't expecting to be blown away by the prose.  It was comfortable, familiar, and easy to read, which was just what I wanted.  I'm already on to the next book, which is a bit more challenging.

In other reading news, I'm mourning the end of a favorite series, The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne.  The last book arrived.  I'm not likely to read it, to tell the truth, because for me the series really ended 3 books back when I realized Hearne was sick of his character and the world he'd made and just wanted to get it over with.  The last few books have felt rushed and a little bitter.  I've heard a synopsis of the final book and I'm content with that.  I'd rather hang on to the positive feelings I have for the first 6 books and the short stories than to have it all sink into a bitter aftertaste.

I suspect that's a problem with a good series -- there comes a point where a smart author has to end it if there is a long running arc or an interconnected series of arcs.  As a writer, I know that when I already know the end of the story I'm writing, I tend to lose interest in it.  I write as much to tell myself a story as to tell it to anyone else.  There are series I've read where the author jumped the shark bigtime and couldn't go back to fix it.  Others, the author didn't realize when enough was enough.  But the hardest ones are when the author has gotten tired of what she's writing about and is eager to get on to some other project, but due to contractual obligations or just a completionist obsession has to write the thing out to a projected conclusion.  Those are the saddest endings.

That might also be one reason I haven't finished reading the whole Dresden Files series yet, because I fear that it will have that sad ending of a author who no longer loves his characters and just wants them to be done and over.  I think it's better when an author ends a series while she still loves her characters and still has a few stories left about them, but doesn't want to get sick of them.  Better to find a nice parking spot, move on for a while, and decide later if the whole thing is really done and better left alone, or if perhaps one or two more stories might be ready to appear in the world.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Book Review: Two Old Women

Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage, and Survival by Velma Wallis

I'm struggling to read, still, and since neither the third Dresden Files book or The Fire and the Fury seem able to hold my attention, I pulled this off my shelf and finished it.  It's a short little story.  The book itself is not even 150 pages and it's a small format with illustrations.  But as a retelling of a legend, it was enjoyable and interesting.  Not much else to say about it, really.  Lots to think about, though. 

The premise is that, during a particular hard winter, an indigenous Alaskan tribe makes the hard decision to leave behind two elderly women in order to help save the rest of the tribe.  It's done with much heartache and sadness, but it's the way The People have done for a long time whenever times were particularly tough.  Usually, though, the ones left behind were near death, or unable to do much for themselves anymore and thus a drain on the tribe.  These two old women have just sunk into the complaints and peculiar stasis of their age.  So, when left behind with two secret gifts -- a bundle of precious sinew and a hatchet -- they decide to fight for their own survival with the idea that rather than sit around waiting for death, they would die trying.

Their struggle is hard, but they draw on the knowledge and memories of their long lives and push their bodies to find a place that The People have forgotten and set up camp there.  They not only survive, but flourish.  And then The People come back looking for them after a long, terrible year. hoping to find them alive, and the repair of relationships must happen.

It is a moral tale, of course, as most legends are, about the value elders are to the younger, of the problems the elderly are prey to and how they can lose sight of their own value, and about the harshness of nomadic life in the far north.  It's a sweet story, and  rests upon a solid foundation of knowledge about what life was like (and, for many, still is like).  It is the sort of story that leaves an impression.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Wow, How Do I Work This?

Yes, a very long time.  Seems that the summer in Maine was so rough this year that I stopped reading.  Indeed, not a book was finished for 5 months. A long drought.

So, because of the new year and all that, I set a goal to read a book per week.  I was stymied in the very first week by the flu, of course, but I still finished the first book.

Manga Classics: Pride and Prejudice

Ok, so I went easy on myself.  I had the flu.

This retelling of the Austen classic isn't so bad.  If I knew some very young person who liked Manga and was curious, I'd pass it along.  But for someone who is either familiar with the story or has a more complete understanding of the historic era and/or mature emotions, eh, not so much.

In short, the story has been hugely streamlined. Stacy King, who adapted the novel for the Manga, really cut and condensed, in my opinion, far too much. All the social criticism, satire, and commentary of the original book is gone.  Much of the character nuance, depth, and complexity is gone (as well as a number of characters).  Women now seek to marry wealthy men because they are golddiggers.  A man who romances women in search of a fortune is just a horndog. And everything is Elizabeth's fault.

Yes, I think that was the most annoying part of the whole story for me -- the final chapters, in which Elizabeth and Darcy apologize to each other for past behaviors, come to understand each other, analyze their relationship and how it came to be, are all compressed into a kiss and some wedding images.  Darcy doesn't even apologize to Elizabeth at all for the manner of his first proposal or for the things he did and said when they first came to know each other.  He doesn't reveal his shyness and his retreat behind his position and power.  He's just the hero with some 'flaws' taped to his side.

Elizabeth's sharp, satirical eye and  tongue are also gone from the book. She's just a very pretty girl. Yes, it preserves the occasional quote, but the color and energy that make Elizabeth a favorite heroine are removed.  We don't need her observations in part because Manga is a symbolic, visual medium and the signs and clues she saw (and therefore we saw) in the original novel are now given to us in the language of Manga (in fact, if one is not familiar with Manga, I suspect the story will appear a little confusing).

Now, as Manga, it's quite enjoyable. Po Tse's artwork isn't 100% to my tastes, but in general I liked it very much.  The clothing was fairy true to the Regency period the novel is typically seen to be set in (although there are many historical indications that the novel was written during, and perhaps imaged by the author originally, in the Georgian period).  Scenery was nicely done and often included.  I can't fault the representations of the characters just because they didn't suite me so much.  I'd guess the artist has seen the A&E/BBC miniseries at least once based on the appearance of the characters.

Last of all, as a book to read while one has the flu, it was just about on level.  It took me a while to read only because of coughing, headaches, and the constant need to sleep.  In other circumstances, it would have been an hour or two, tops.


So, I have my next book picked out -- another easy read, a reread of Jim Butcher's Grave Peril, book 3 of the Dresden Files series which I had started rereading quite some time ago to refresh myself before diving into the last few books of the series.  My brain tapped out at some point, so I parked a marker in it and put it on the pile. As a post-flu recovery novel, should be an easy read.