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.

news and snow

December 4, 2013

SNOW!  Current count on the ongoing snowstorm:  3″, which is moderately less than predicted, but it’s not over yet.  I have the great good fortune of getting to stay home, and I’m hoping to get enough work done this morning that I can take a break this afternoon, maybe pop some popcorn, mull some cider, and sit with the Georgette Heyer book I’m reading. (I’m reading Georgette Heyer right now.  Because once you’ve read all of Jane Austen you’ve got to do something.  Also, I maybe be planning a Regency story.  Maybe.)

Yesterday was the release day for DANGEROUS WOMEN, the giant cross genre anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.  There’s an audiobook version as well, that I kind of can’t wait to get my hands on, because Stana Katic reads a couple of the stories. (Not mine, alas, but that’s okay, because my story is read by Inna Korobkina, a Russian actress for my story about Russian pilots.  Yay!)

Monday at 7 pm is the big launch party for the anthology at the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe, NM.  The editors and many of the authors — including me! — will be there for a panel discussion and readings and other good stuff!

And One More Thing!  On December 17 at 6:30, I’ll be doing an online Q&A about short story writing through the Delve online workshops and the Pikes Peak Writers.  This is free and open to all, but you must RSVP at this link, because numbers will be limited.

And with that:  Snow, snow, snow, snow….

on not cloning myself

November 20, 2013

My vacation reading was Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata, another wonderful fun read in the Culture universe, though a bit melancholy:  the story revolves around an entire civilization moving on to a new plane of existence, and I kept overlaying that with knowledge of Banks passing away earlier this year, and the whole thing took on the feeling of a long farewell, which made me very sad.  But still a great book.

One of the sub-themes/plots is about what happens when people back up their minds and then transmit/manifest versions of themselves in artificial bodies in order to travel more quickly to different parts of the galaxy and so on, a process that it turns out is relatively simple and common in the Culture (note:  this is a vast oversimplification of the whole thing. Read the book to learn more!).  Existential questions arise:  is your copy still you?  When your copy goes out and has a bunch of experiences, it returns and reintegrates those experiences into your original self, but then you have two sets of experiences/memories for the same period of time — is one of those more “real”?  Does it matter?  If we are made up of experiences, doesn’t that copy somehow become its own person after enough time and experiences have passed?  Good meaty stuff here.

So, I had this thought, of how lovely it would be if I could make copies of myself so I could write all these things I want to write:  the next Kitty book, the Voices of Dragons sequel, the subversive epic fantasy, the screenplay, and so on and so on.  A different copy of me to write each of them!  But then I realized — no, I don’t think having multiple versions of myself to write things would work at all.  Because those clones would, eventually, be different than me, and the books they would write would not be the books I would write.  What we write is made up of our experiences, and those experiences include everything I learn and think and gather up as I’m writing each book.  The next Kitty book written by the me who has written the Golden Age books and the YA space opera and all that would be different than one written by a hypothetical me who had not written those other books.  I really want all the books I write to be my books, and I want the experience of writing each thing to contribute to the writing of the next thing.  I want the cumulative benefit of writing all those books!  Even if it takes more time than I would like.

So, on that note, I wouldn’t mind taking part in some of the Culture’s life-extending technologies…

How about that Captain America: The Winter Soldier trailer?  Yeah, I’ll just be watching that a couple more times today.

Agents of SHIELD is still stumbling along.  I really liked that bionic eye episode — good story there.  My favorite thing is the relationship between May and Coulson and how she’s trying to protect him without looking like she’s protecting him, because she knows something’s wrong.  But gosh, the rest of the cast, the rest of everything — still entirely milquetoast.  So much potential, but the show can’t seem to bring itself to push beyond adequate.

Then I watched Sleepy Hollow because of all the buzz it was getting.  And I was shocked, because I really like it.  Interesting characters, different characters, Clancy Brown, cute scruffy men in period clothing, clever secret histories, actual horror (I think it was the second episode with the witch?  Actually scary!).  It’s another urban fantasy TV series and it’s doing things right.  I’m engaged.  Did I mention cute men in period clothing — speaking Middle English?  (A for effort on including spoken Middle English in a prime-time TV show — especially not calling it “Old English,” which is actually Anglo Saxon.  B minus for accuracy, since there were multiple distinct dialects of Middle English — none of which were spoken in 1590, when the community ostensibly existed, and which was well into the Early Modern period and would have been mostly understandable to modern English speakers.  But hey, Middle English on prime time TV!)  iO9 talks about how to make ridiculous stories great, in reference to Sleepy Hollow.

The time traveler episode of Castle was about my favorite episode in a long time.  Arrow has also started up again, and I’m loving it as much as ever.  Favorite quote so far:  “Mom, will they shoot us if I try to hug you?”

I’ve finally started mainlining the third season of Lexx.  Still loving it, especially because the “Fire and Water” storyline is so very steampunk.  Actual airship pirates!

What I’m reading:  The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater.  Of all the YA books I read last year when I was on the Norton Award jury, many were “Book 1″ in a new series.  The only “Book 1″ I read where I had any inclination to pick up the sequel was Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, which is one of the best examples of a multiple p.o.v. ensemble cast of characters I’ve ever read.  I could learn, reading that book.  After reading a bunch of non-fiction and slogging my way through several problematic novels, I really wanted to read something I could dive into and swim around in and play.  The Dream Thieves is it.  This time, I’m loving the language.  She can really put a sentence together.  Deep happy sigh.

I’m saving Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata for my vacation in a couple of weeks.

And that’s what’s on my mind lately.

more from the trip

September 6, 2013


Avenger Field and the WASP Museum

There isn’t much of the original air field left.  Some hangars burned awhile back, and there’s now a community college on the site.  But the WASP Museum is housed in one of the original hangers, and there’s a replica of the old Wishing Well along with a monument to the pilots.  Mostly, I really appreciate the whole thing as a celebration of the accomplishments of this group of women during a difficult time.

Darrell K. Sweet

The Artist Guest of Honor at Worldcon was Darrell K. Sweet — in memoriam, since he sadly passed away a couple of years ago.  I have a confession:  I haven’t really been a fan of Sweet’s cover art.  It’s everywhere — for a long time, he was the go-to artist for epic fantasy.  He did the covers for Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  But at the Worldcon art show, I got to see many of his original paintings — and I loved them.  Seeing his art printed on book covers flattens them, but in person they absolutely glow.  He also has a lot of western-themed paintings, in the Remington and Russell modes.  Great stuff.

But the painting in the show that stopped me in my tracks was the cover he did for Robin McKinley’s The Outlaws of Sherwood.  Because I’ve owned that book for 25 years and didn’t realize he’d done the cover for it.  I love this cover, and seeing it in person was one of the highlights of the con for me.  I’m reading the book again now, because how could I not?



August 7, 2013

My niece Emmy and her parents came to visit last week.  I got to read with her for a bit — I introduced her to Richard Scarry, because that baby animal book was boring.  (We are reading my old copy of Busy, Busy World.  My favorite, Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, is over to the side.)  She likes the boat pictures best.  She’s nineteen months old this month.  And yes, we appear to have exactly the same hair.  Those Swedish blond genes my brother and I got are pretty darned strong.

Also, it is my brother’s birthday today.  Happy Birthday, Rob!

reading with Emmy - Copy

working, working

June 19, 2013

So I’m reading this book,which is something of a prequel to another series by this same author.  I know from having read the series that all these characters turn into gods and dragons by the later books.  That’s right, they all turn into dragons!  But this prequel is just the first in a trilogy, and I’m close enough to the end that it’s becoming clear that nobody’s going to turn into dragons in this book.  Which totally bums me out.  I want dragons!  Now!

Here’s a sneak peek of the Kitty in the Underworld playlist:


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