Thoughlet on 20 Seconds of Joy

Watching 20 Seconds of Joy, about BASE jumper Karina Hollekim, I understood more than I thought I would that urge to jump off cliffs, sometimes metaphorical, sometimes not, in an effort to feel or not feel the terror of living.

I wrote that and I thought, Did I mean the terror of dying? But no, I mean the terror of living. I mean those last two lines of the Mary Oliver poem that I love, The Summer Day, which I am going to totally spoil for you if you haven’t read it yet (go read it—the last lines were like that first plunge of a roller coaster for me: equal parts instinctual terror and excitement. My chest still clenches like I’m having an asthma attack when I read it, but not as scary because I can still breathe.):

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

The terror of living is that it will end in dying and I won’t have done anything worthwhile with my one wild and precious life. That so much of life passes in a boring haze of work, or worse, being wished away, faster to 5 pm, faster to the weekend. That I haven’t been kind enough to my mother, haven’t had enough sex with my husband, haven’t finished writing this book yet…

On Killing | Myke Cole

On Killing | Myke Cole.

Killing is a chain.

Fan­tasy seems to iso­late the act to two bel­liger­ents, the slayer and the slain, at least as far as the con­se­quences go. But the truth is that, in law-enforcement, coun­terin­sur­gency, and war, the ulti­mate act is the result of the efforts of dozens if not hun­dreds of people. Each is a par­tic­i­pant. Each owns the expe­ri­ence. Each is changed by it. Permanently.

Those changes are rarely positive.

I thought about the treatment of killing a lot while I was writing The Desert Wall and The Red Fortress, and how casual it can seem for the character who is doing the killing. I didn’t think that seemed very realistic, but rather a product of casual killing on TV, in the movies and in video games.

More things to read (besides Mike Cole’s post in its entirety): What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes and On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by David Grossman

Valen from Flesh and Spirit & Eugenides from The Thief

SPOILERS

I recently recommended Flesh and Spirit by Carol Berg to someone on Twitter who said her favorite characters included Eugenides (The Thief), Miles (all the Miles books by Bujold) and Tremaine (The Fall of Ile-Rien books). I answered with Eugenides (The Thief), Ista (Paladin of Souls, also Bujold), Tremaine and Valen.

The more I think about it, the more it seemed Valen was an awful lot like Eugenides would have been if he hadn’t had a loving home life. They are both irrepressible, thieves and rascals. Of course, Valen is also a drug addict and a deserter.

FleshAndSpiritTheThiefI seem to be having more of this bite sized ideas for posts, so I might try that for a while.

Best Books of 2013

Best of the Best: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. OMG, you guys, this book! It’s gotten a lot of (deserved) buzz all over the internet, so you’ve probably already heard that everyone in the book is referred to as “she” even when the narrator (gender unknown) knows the person is male. That’s pretty cool, but even better is the fragmented narrative that takes place in pieces–all pieces of the same entity–and that eventually start making sense. Not at first, but I love me a book that makes me work. The author has said that Ursula Le Guin‘s Left Hand of Darkness was a major influence, and you can see it. I love LHD, but I’ll be the first to admit that some aspects have not aged well. Reading Ancillary Justice is like getting to read LHD for the first time all over again.

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson. I’ve gushed before about this book, and I know some people with more familiarity with Brazilian culture had problems with the book, but oh, I loved it. I loved unlikeable June and the bad decisions she makes while she struggles with her ambition relating to her art, her love for the different people in her life and the social activism that is at the heart of the book. I also love that there is sex and masturbation and a bisexual love interest. By the end I was thinking, I don’t know how Johnson is going to salvage this in a way that makes me content, but she did.

Best Ugly Cry: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. I wish I could re-read this book to see how the author did the things she did, but since I woke up sobbing in the middle of the night after reading it the first time, I just don’t think that’s going to happen. Among all the other things to admire, I loved that this book was about female friendship without romance.

Best Ongoing Series: Untold, sequel to Unspoken, by Sarah Rees Brennan. I loved Unspoken last year when I read it. Kami is outspoken, tenacious, smart, a writer and biracial. The pacing is runaway train, and amazingly it was even better when I re-read it in preparation for Untold and noticed details I missed when I raced through it the first time. Untold was as good as the first book and Kami’s friends Angela and Holly play a vital part and get a good chunk of the narrative.

Best Surprise Favorite: This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales. I had read Past Perfect in 2012 for my book club and it was charming and funny and light, so I picked up TSWSYL expecting to have a fun read, but not to fall in love with everything about it. I don’t fall in love with contemporaries, but Elise, who just wants some friends and acceptance and loves music really got under my skin. Plus girl friendships, totally understandable bad decisions and good parents.

Best Classic: Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. A friend put this book in my hands, saying it was one of her childhood favorites, a phrase to strike fear into anyone’s heart. But, oh, it holds up. Think I Capture the Castle in the 1960s without the genteel poverty, in the US and a MC who doesn’t know what she wants. But something of the voice is very similar to Castle and the ending, which I was afraid would suck a la 1960s expectations, was PERFECT.

Best New to Me Author: Jaclyn Moriarty. I had never heard of her before Alison Cherry introduced me to her but after I started with The Year of Secret Assignments, I went on to read four more of her books.

Best Re-read: Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells.

Best I’ve run out of topic headingsBest of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord. I hugely enjoyed this book for precisely the reasons it will drive some people crazy: it’s episodic, it’s intimate, it is not what you expect of an after the end of the world plot, there’s consensual sex and none of the non-consensual kind, there’s a love story, and it’s social science fiction. Caveat: I’m still not sure about the ending eight months later.

Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear. I wish I had written down what I liked about this book, but all I can tell you is that I enjoyed it immensely. And that is really enough, isn’t it?

Best Non-Fiction: Sadly I didn’t read any good non-fiction that was published in 2013. But I read Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed, which was amazing and heart-breaking in the best possible way.

State of the Writer

Hello! I haven’t been around here much.

I was struggling with my WIP that I’ve been working on, on and off for the last two years. I have a full plot arc for the main characters but the subplot involving a third character just hasn’t been gelling into anything. A few weeks ago, Tam challenged me to write a short story with a writing prompt of strange place names and I wrote the big climax for my WIP in a fit of inspiration. I thought maybe that would get the rest of it going too, but instead I wrote the short story, which turned out to be a chapter of a book I wrote the opening chapter for two years ago.

Since then I haven’t been able to stop writing the shiny new YA biopunk* science fantasy thingy that I started. Words have been coming like they haven’t been coming for months. 1000, 2000 even 3000 at a time, when I’ve been lucky to get 100 lately.

*Apparently this is a thing, but it’s not the thing I mean. I’m thinking more how Kameron Hurley talks about her God’s War books as bugpunk.

I think I’ve been working on the wrong thing. Or the shiny new project has been sitting in the back of my brain for long enough that I’m ready to write it. And the WIP, which I made a lot of progress on before grinding to a halt (like my first car, which leaked oil like a severed artery until it ran out, seized up and blew smoke all over the highway) needs to sit in the back of my brain.

I just hope it’s not for another two years, but I begin to detect a pattern. Two years here, two years there. I fight against it. I don’t want to be a slow writer. I don’t want to wait and flounder around wondering what I should be writing and not writing, which makes my unhappy and cranky. On the other hand, I love the feeling of flow, of the knowing what should be next, without having to strain so much for it. My subconscious has obviously been doing the work while I went about life.

And this one feels different (what a joke, each novel I’ve written or attempted to write has felt different), like it’s less of a rough draft than it usually is, with more of the details there. With maybe, dare I say it? slightly better writing than I usually have at this point in the process.

Everyone says don’t compare yourself to other writers. It’s hard not to when it seems publishing is speeding up exponentially and writers are writing two books (or four) a year (though not necessarily publishing them). But I’d have to say don’t compare yourself to yourself either. Just because the last book was hard doesn’t mean this one will be. Just because the last book was easy doesn’t mean this one will be. And maybe I was reaching too far beyond my capabilities with that WIP and I have to wait to grow into it (which isn’t a bad thing). Sherwood Smith told me once she is still waiting to grow into a story she wants to write and she’s been writing for decades.

Meanwhile, I’ll just chant my litany of other writers who have said they are slow: Franny Billingsley, Libba Bray, or um, that’s the end of my list. Who else has said they’re slow?

And a question: Anyone have a favorite scene from a book or movie where one character threatened another? It’s for the shiny WIP. I’m trying to figure out how I want a scene to go.

ESCAPE

Hey, this post was supposed to go up weeks ago!

 

As a kind of antidote to my last post.

Serious literature focusing on social and individual problems is good and necessary. But it should not be the only type of reading that’s available.

From a post by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown on who gets to escape, on Kaleidoscope, which starts out with that famous quote by Tolkein about prison and escape and just gets more awesome as it goes on.

When I clicked on the link, I didn’t realize this:

Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy stories. Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios are co-editing the anthology, which has a planned release date of August, 2014. Currently we are fundraising on Pozible to make this project happen.

And from Jo Walton, who says things I want to say, but about 50 million times more eloquently, Fantasy, Reading, and Escapism on Tor.com (also referencing Tolkein):

I don’t feel defensive about what I choose to read. I don’t feel proud of some pieces and ashamed of other pieces. It’s all reading, and I do it all for fun. I don’t do it to escape, I’m not in prison. I like my life. But when I was in prison, excuse me, boarding school, and when I was stuck in hospital (which is even more like prison except without time off for good behaviour) of course I wanted to escape and of course I was delighted that books were there for me to escape into. If your life sucks, escaping it makes a great deal of sense. If your life is bounded and restricted, seeing that more options exist helps, even if they’re all theoretical and imaginary. Escaping doesn’t mean avoiding reality, escaping means finding an escape route to a better place. Seeing those options can be the file to get through the bars. Anyone who thinks this is a bad thing is the enemy.

Rose Under Fire meets Scatter, Adapt, and Remember

A few things came into my head tonight that I thought might be interesting to others.

First, I recently read the Book Smugglers’ review of Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein because Code Name Verity was so good and because I have no intention of reading her new book, but at the same time I also wanted to know more about it and readers’ reactions to it. (I don’t read Holocaust fiction. If I read about the Holocaust, my preference is non-fiction because the actual events are so horrific I cannot immerse myself in fiction without thinking about the real people who survived or did not survive what other people did to them. Actually, I generally can’t read fiction about war, US slavery, genocide, ethnic cleansing, famines or rape for the same reasons. I read non-fiction on these topics judiciously and sparingly and only when I have enough spoons.) This is what Thea of the Book Smugglers had to say at the end of her review (bold mine):

Rose Under Fire is one hell of a book. It’s a powerful, emotionally resonant historical novel about remembering and about surviving, and I truly appreciate and value that. That said, it’s also a story about a war that ended nearly 70 years ago. It’s also a story narrated by a beautiful, young, privileged, white girl who literally flies into a terrible situation. Please understand that I am not disparaging or arguing against the value of the rich canon of literature about the Holocaust, or the set of circumstances facing heroine Rose. I am simply saying this: there are so many wars, atrocities, even genocides that have happened in the last 70 years, and that are still happening now. Those truths and those stories are hardly represented today – much less in YA literature. And perhaps this doesn’t belong here in this review, but it’s something I am acutely conscious of, and I vow to do as much as I can to change this. Because I am inspired by Rose’s story and by this book, because I think it’s important to talk, to remember, and to experience that truth through storytelling, I vow to read and review books from other, more contemporary wars, from characters and authors other than that of the white, the privileged, the American and Western European. (I think I’ll start with Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick, or A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah…)

So, there’s that, which I totally agree with.

I’m also reading Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz. I’m up to the section on famines. The author brings up the Irish Potato Famine, the famine of the Great Leap Forward in China, and the famine in Greece during Nazi occupation in WWII. And I’m conflicted. Why those three famines? One very well known to Western readers, one less well known (to me, China) and one slightly obscure (again to me, Greece), and all also 70 years behind us. What about the North Korean famine and the ongoing food aid the country receives to this day? Or Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia? (Like Thea, I feel I have to make the disclaimer. Just apply hers here, too.) The author does not tell us the reason she picked those three famines to discuss.

She goes on to say that mobility, food aid and sustainable use of agricultural land are essential to preventing famines and that “Famines and their accompanying pandemics are problems that we’ve been trying desperately to solve for hundreds of years.” (p 113). And that last part is where I disagree, where I think she dodged her own thesis. Famines are created. They are created by political will, either as the intended objective (as I understand it: North Korea, Stalin’s Great Famine, the Greek famine mentioned in the book) or as the unintended but acceptable (as collateral damage) effect of a different objective (The Great Leap Forward, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Irish Potato Famine). Some people may have been trying desperately to solve the problem of famine; others have deliberately pursued famine as a means to an end.

These two reading experiences came together for me and reminded me, once again, that it is SO hard for us to confront the atrocities that are happening right now, in our lifetimes, and it is especially easy when the people suffering Don’t Look Like Us, for a value of “us” that is the dominant one.

How many movies and books have been made in the US about the Holocaust? Compare that to how many books and movies, with the same popular appeal and reach, have been made about US slavery? We in the US live with the after-effects of slavery every day. It is inherent in our gun laws, in who can easily vote, in whose bodies are a battleground, who has access to education and health care, in every aspect of our laws and social institutions. The Holocaust was a terrible thing. Many people continue to live with its after-effects. But it is easier to say it’s over, the Nazis lost, besides, they were German anyway and that’s far away and long ago. If we looked, really looked at the legacy of slavery in this country, we would have to admit it’s not over and it’s not long ago.

I don’t have answers. I have questions. I struggle almost every day with the knowledge that my electronics, clothing and food were produced by slave labor–much of it the labor of children. I struggle with sexism and racism and so many more issues.

Like Thea I want there to be more books about all these things. Even if I personally am not going to read them, because at least they’d be part of our world view, part of the discourse, part of what’s in the public eye.