emotional jugulars

July 21, 2014

I cry a lot while watching movies and reading books and looking at art and. . .well, I cry a lot.  It doesn’t even have to be sad, it just has to be beautiful.  If something is beautiful, emotional, and hits me right in that vague spot where my sense of wonder and heart live, I’m going to cry.  The opening credits of Lilo and Stitch, for example, make me cry.  I’ve been thinking a lot about how that works this week, because of a couple of things.

During my trip, my connecting flight out of Chicago Midway was delayed, and I was kind of miserable.  The airport was super crowded, loud, uncomfortable, and for whatever reason I just didn’t have the reserves of willpower to deal with it.  So I thought, “I’ll hide in a corner and read my favorite comic books.” (I have like 50+ comics on my iPad at this point.)  So I picked a random issue of Planetary, which I suspect is going to be my favorite comic for the rest of my life unless something really amazing comes along.  I only got about four pages in before I had to stop because I was crying.  Part of it was I was already kind of emotional and upset.  And part of it was I just love this book so much, and being with these characters made me so happy, I couldn’t contain myself.  It was this specific scene that tipped me over:

Jakita:  Angels?
Elijah: We keep angels here.
Jakita: I don’t like that I didn’t know about this, Elijah.
Elijah: I know.

– Planetary, #19, Warren Ellis.

There’s a ton of characterization in these lines.  When Elijah says, “I know,” he isn’t being snippy or confrontational.  He’s sad.  He’s made mistakes and he’s trying to amend them — he didn’t tell her about the angels before, but he’s telling her now.  Because of how much he cares about her.  They’re a team.  And I started crying because I love these characters so much.  (That thing I talked about last week, about how tired I am of stories where people in dire circumstances are constantly being horrible to each other?  Planetary is the exact opposite of that.  It’s about unironically saving the world.)

Objectively there was no reason that scene should have tipped  me over.  I’ve probably read it a half a dozen times before without crying.  But this time — yeah, it got me.

Then I went to see Jersey Boys, because sometimes I do go see movies that aren’t science fiction, and I grew up listening to The Four Seasons because that’s the kind of music my parents listened to, and I just adore their music.  So this one?  It starts, the screen is dark, and an instrumental version of “Oh What a Night” plays as the opening credits starts.  And not two bars in I started crying.

(Aside:  I really enjoyed Jersey Boys, both because of the music and because I was sitting next to my full-blooded Italian friend who completely and utterly lost it from laughing during one scene that he said happened pretty much exactly like that during his own childhood.  Indeed, I was impressed at how many people in the movie talk just like the people in his stories about growing up.)

So, for me, this emotional jugular, this thing that makes me instantly cry after just two bars of music or two lines of dialog, is as much about memory as about story or mood or wonder or greatness.  It’s something that makes me happy, something that I remember making me happy.  It’s a cozy blanket for the brain, and I love that.

 

Reminder for those attending RT Convention:  Secret Mission is go!  Find me (either at the Book Fair on Saturday, or after a panel, or some other time when I’m not otherwise occupied), recite for me some bit of poetry or lines from a play that the Master of London would have known and appreciated when he was alive, and be rewarded.  (While supplies last, I’m afraid!)

In other reading news, I’ve just finished The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, and I loved loved loved it.  It’s a turn of the century (last century) immigrant story, with fantasy — in fact, this is exactly the sort of thing I mean when I talk about wanting to expand the definition of urban fantasy as far as possible, because this is great urban fantasy:  modern setting, a familiar (though historical) New York City, with amazingly well-drawn fantastical elements.  This is the kind of book that makes me as a writer insanely jealous, because it’s so well done and I’m just staring at it, thinking, “How?!”  Catnip, people.  Word catnip.

And that immigrant story:  there’s a movie called The Legend of 1900 which is fair to middling (the ending stank), that I saw mostly because Tim Roth is in it, and it’s also an immigrant story.  There’s this absolutely gorgeous, heart-wrenching opening scene taking place on the deck of a passenger steamer:  there’s fog, and all the passengers are looking over the railing, waiting for their first glimpse — and the fog parts and there she is, the Statue of Liberty, and the sense of joy and hope at that view is fierce.  The Golem and the Jinni has a similar scene, just as powerful, and for anyone who had ancestors come over from Europe on one of those ships, with everything they own in the world in a suitcase, (my great-grandfather Linder arrived from Sweden on the Mauretania), it’s like peeking over their shoulder for a little while.  It’s like time travel.

Just a reminder:  This weekend I’ll be in Nebraska for CONstellation.  It should be a good, low key time of it!

Yesterday was the day I realized I have three conventions over the next month — busy!  I’ll be at local Denver con StarFest, but for Saturday only.  And two weeks after that is the RT Booklovers Convention, which promises to be the exact opposite of low key.  This’ll be my first time at this one, and everything I’ve heard about it says it’s huge and has a million things going on — and it’s in New Orleans.  It’ll definitely be a party!

I took a break from the Great Paperwork Purge to make some new camp garb for SCA events.  These are pieces made of light, easily washable fabric that I won’t mind getting dirty in the great outdoors.  A couple of tunics and an underdress — I have this amazing underdress pattern that I pretty much just eyeballed many years ago, and it’s still amazing, because I finished the new one out of gray linen and it’s great.  Super comfy and looks awesome.  I haven’t had new camping garb in like 10 years.  Now I just need to find time to go to a camping event.

(I’ve just read Nicola Griffith’s novel Hild, a historical about the childhood of St. Hilda of Whitby in seventh century England.  Totally inspiring.  All I want to do is wear my new garb and drink mead and make things.)

another story from AP English

February 24, 2014

It’s a wonder I ever became an English major, what with the terrible time I had in AP English in high school.  But I think part of the reason I had a terrible time was I loved the literature.  This is the class where I discovered Sylvia Plath and Tom Stoppard.  But the teacher…  I argued with her.  A lot.

So, in comments on the previous post I already told the story about this awful textbook we had that divided stories into “real” literature and popular literature, or “crap,” pretty much just like that (the book earned my eternal ire by placing Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” one of my favorite short stories at the time, in the “crap” category).  So one day as part of a group presentation I did a fake commercial with a blender where I announced “This is your brain on popular literature,” blended an apple, and said, “Any questions?”  The entire class cheered.  The teacher did not.  (I wonder, if I tried to bring a blender to high school now, would I be suspended because of zero tolerance policies?)

This was also the class where I pointed out that you can sing every Emily Dickinson song to the tune of “Yellow Rose of Texas.” (There are sing alongs on YouTube. Proceed at your own risk.)  Now, first off, you can’t sing every poem to that tune, and second, that just means it’s a popular meter and there was no reason for Dickinson not to use a popular meter.  In my defense, I would not have pointed this out to the class if I didn’t think everybody didn’t already know it.  Turns out, nobody else knew it, and I was subsequently blamed for ruining Dickinson for everyone.  (My response:  “If that’s all it takes to ruin Dickinson for you, you don’t deserve her!”)

It would have ended there, except test day came along.  The test, the big AP test that had kids puking in the bushes beforehand.  As part of the AP English test, we were given a poem cold, that day, that we had to do a close reading on and write an essay about in the space of forty minutes or so.  We cracked open our test books:  Yes, it was an Emily Dickinson poem.  And there were two dozen high school kids humming that song under their breaths.  If looks could kill, I’d have been a steaming pile of goo that day.

I, however, thought it was the funniest damn thing that had happened all year.  I could not stop laughing. And I got a 5 out of 5 on the test.

The first time I read Pride and Prejudice was in high school, for AP English, and I hated it.  I think this was because it was Serious Literature.  The teacher (who I never really got along with, long story there) was careful to tell us how Serious it is, and we talked about its Seriousness.  The whole time I was thinking, this is a freaking soap opera about people getting married.  Hell no.

Then I watched a bunch of Monty Python, as you do when you’re a nerd moving on to college.

When I read Pride and Prejudice the second time, in college, I realized it’s funny, in the same way Monty Python is funny.  It’s all caricature and satire, some of it utterly scathing.  Even Elizabeth is frequently mockable because she’s so sure she can read everyone else, but she knows herself so little.  If someone had just told me the first time around that this was supposed to be funny and we’re allowed to laugh at it — in fact, we’re supposed to laugh at it — it wouldn’t have taken me another 15-20 years to become a fan of Jane Austen.

Then I was introduced to the BBC version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, with all those beautiful clothes and settings, and I watched a bunch of the other films, and read the books, and I thought, What would this look like with werewolves?  Because of course that’s what I would think.

So I’m working on that.

In the meantime, I’ve read a bunch of Austen and I’ve even started reading other authors’ takes on Regency romance, an entire genre invented by people trying to replicate Austen.  There’s even a whole genre of sequels to Pride and Prejudice, about what happens to Lizzie and Darcy after they get married.  I have to admit:  I don’t like the sequels so far, and I stopped reading P.D. James Death Comes to Pemberley entirely.  You know why?  They’re not funny.  They strip Elizabeth of all her wit.  All the pointed social commentary and character studies are just gone, as if the world of P&P ought to suddenly be taken seriously.  It’s all tedious dialog and description of manners and nothing of the satire and the pointed zingers of Austen — which is the whole point of Austen.  (You want to know my idea for a Pride and Prejudice sequel?  “Fitzwilliam Darcy Jr., Pioneering Naturalist, and His Adventures in India.”  This must be why I’m a genre writer.)

I love the costumes when I’m watching the movies, and I’m finally making a Regency gown after years of wanting to do so.  I know there’s a level at which it’s all about the clothes and manners.  But dammit, my Regency stories are going to make people smile.

award recs

January 13, 2014

It’s award nomination season for the big genre awards!  Everyone’s posting about all kinds of stuff from last year!  I posted my own 2013 bibliography a week or so ago.  But now I’m going to talk about other stuff that I’m likely to nominate.

I didn’t read a whole lot of new stuff this year, unfortunately.  It’s just the way the cards fell.  Of what I did read and encounter, here’s what I’m likely to nominate.

Fiction:  My recommendations are heavily weighted to what’s online, because that’s what I read in the corners of my time.  But there are others.

  • “The Last Dignity of Man,” Marjorie Liu’s novelette from The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination is on my list.
  • Wild Cards stories “When We Were Heroes” by Daniel Abraham (novelette) and “The Button Man and the Murder Tree” by Cherie Priest (short story) weren’t just good Wild Cards stories, they were good stories.
  • “Sing” by Karin Tidbeck (short story) also really good.
  • YA novel The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (the follow up to Raven Boys) was excellent, as was middle grade novel Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi.  Oh, that twist at the end…
  • For the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, I think Max Gladstone is still eligible.  I still talk about his series, starting with Three Parts Dead, as demonstrating that genre boundaries are definitely made to be broken.

I was introduced to artist Aaron B. Miller’s work this year.  Kinuko Craft is an artist I nominate every year.  Galen Dara is up and coming and definitely someone to watch — she did the marvelous piece depicting Harry and Marlowe for Lightspeed.

Best related book:  Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook.  It’s such an astonishing accomplishment — a fully illustrated book on creativity.

I finally started reading webcomic Strong Female Protagonist this year, after many recommendations.  Like many of us these days, it’s picking apart superhero tropes and doing some pretty far-out things.  I described it to someone as Watchmen, but with a lawful good alignment instead of chaotic neutral.

Drama Short Form:

  • I’m still on the quest to keep Doctor Who out of this category, but if you must nominate Doctor Who, consider “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.”  Snark with love.
  • There’s astronaut Chris Hadfield’s cover of Space Oddity.
  • And then there’s the Marvel One Shot as found on the Iron Man 3 DVD:  “Agent Carter,” which broke my heart five different ways then built it back up again by the end.  I haven’t seen anyone talking about this, but I thought it was fantastic.  It’s a year after the war, and Carter is trying to make her way in a world that doesn’t want her anymore.

Drama Long Form: We have a plethora of movies to choose from this year.  Here are my choices (I only get 5 nominations on the Hugo ballot):

  • Frozen
  • Iron Man 3
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  • The World’s End
  • Pacific Rim

The movie category is going to be way interesting this year, given I left off Gravity (which I don’t think is really science fiction), Europa Report, Ender’s Game, and all those other movies I just didn’t go see.  Oh, and Hansel and Gretel: Witchhunters came out last year too!  Oh, for one more nominating slot. . .  Also the short form, what with Almost Human, Sleepy Hollow, Agents of SHIELD, and Orphan Black all starting up this year.  I don’t know where to start with those episodes.

Whew!  Meanwhile, I have a couple of weeks to catch up on some more reading.  We’ll see if anything else squeaks on to my list.

This is the post I did for Christmas Eve about six years ago, and I’m guessing some people didn’t see it then.  I like this story, and I end up telling it a lot this time of year, so I thought I’d post it again:

Right after college, I worked in a bookstore for about three years. I worked Christmas Eve all three years, and was the closing manager for two of those years. I’ll tell you a little secret.

I loved working Christmas Eve. Just loved it.

This goes against all common sense. You think shopping at the last minute is bad, what do you think it’s like for the people working retail? The people who have to put up with all those panicked last minute shoppers?

Here’s the thing, at least for me, at least in the bookstore, which is admittedly a different kind of retail: last-minute shoppers were so very, very easy to please. It was so very easy making them happy. Someone would come in the store, let’s say a guy in his thirties, nicely dressed, clean-cut. Obviously not hurting for money. But maybe Christmas shopping just wasn’t high on his list. He has this vague idea that his parents — who he is in on the way to spending Christmas with right now — like to read, so maybe he should get them books. But after that, his brain just stops. So he runs into the bookstore, finds a clerk, and manages to stammer, “You’ve got to help me.”

And we would. Because bookstores are, for the most part, staffed by intelligent, well-read people who want nothing more than to foist vast amounts of reading material onto the public. I’d ask a few questions: What do they like to do? Fiction or non-fiction? Do they cook, garden? Do they like biographies? And after a few answers I’d usually be able to pick out a nice selection. Sometimes all I’d need to do was lead him to the right section, and his eyes would light up, and he’d have an armful of gifts in a matter of minutes. And he’d look at me with a gaze full of shining gratitude and reverently murmur, “Thank you. You’ve saved me.” Then, as he paid for his stack of books, I’d say, “We also have free gift wrapping.” His expression would turn positively beatific. It would be like the heavens opened and rays of gold shone down on him with choirs of angels singing –

Or that might have been the Christmas carols playing over the speakers.

The closer to our 6 pm Christmas Eve closing time it was, the more manic and satisfying this whole process became. When our customers at 5:58 pm on Christmas Eve said, “You’ve saved me, you’re a lifesaver,” they really really meant it, and I felt like Wonder Woman.

But it didn’t end there. I’d close the store, which took about half an hour, then go straight to my parent’s house to celebrate with them, my grandparents, and brother. Now, out of this group of people, I’m the only one who’s worked retail for any stretch of time. They all believe the nightmare stories about working retail on Christmas Eve. So I’d get there around 7 pm. The kitchen would be filled with the smells of dinner cooking. There’d be an open bottle of wine. The presents under the tree would be waiting to be opened. And I’d be awash with sympathy as soon as I walked through the door.

“Oh, you poor thing, sit down, the food’s just about ready, here’s a glass of wine. Was it very bad?” I’d make sure to have a war-weary look on my face, as if I had just escaped the trenches, sigh heavily, and nod as I whispered, “Oh. It was awful.” Cue more sympathy. Pass the chocolate truffles.

Of all the jobs I’ve left behind, the bookstore is the only one I sometimes miss, and I think on this day I miss it most.

Have a very, very Merry Christmas, everyone.

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