Harriet

November 18, 2019

If America had saints, Harriet Tubman would be one of the foremost among them.

The film Harriet reminded me of a storybook I had about her when I was little, which means I think her story was probably where I first learned about slavery. That book is also where I learned about the North Star, moss on the trees, the Underground Railroad, all of it. It’s primarily a story about heroism and courage, so it took a little more time, and the work of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and so on, to get the full horrific story of slavery. But my first education came from Tubman’s story of resistance. And why haven’t there been more movies and TV shows about her? I mean really.

The film is pretty good. It’s uneven, I think. Some of that may be that it’s not quite the film I wanted — but it hints at a movie I really would have liked to see. Mostly, this is serious literary biopic, with all that that entails. And this is where I think it’s maybe a little bit cliche. All the scenes you expect, the heartfelt serious character moments, the standard 19th century serious historical score. This part of the film drags a bit.

But then there’s an action montage of Tubman’s activities with the Underground Railroad, with Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” playing over it. This segment is incredible, high energy, engaging, inspiring. I found myself wishing the film had done more of this, using modern music as a backdrop, going for a more impressionistic feel. Going for action and tension and immediacy. The story mostly focuses on Harriet, her emotions, her visions, her connections with her family, which were all important of course. But what if the movie as a whole had been framed as action/adventure rather than literary biopic?

I wanted the film to be more political. There’s a scene where Frederick Douglass is standing in the room. Like, that is clearly Frederick Douglass! But there’s no dialog from him, no interaction. He’s practically set dressing. I wanted more with the Underground Railroad. Harriet’s Civil War activities — she was a spy and personally led an expedition across enemy lines to free slaves — got all of about three minutes at the end of the film when really, that could have been its own movie. Those bits of engagement, where Harriet is out kicking ass like some action hero — because she freaking was one! — were the best, and I wanted more of that.

I’m glad I saw the film. But now I want a 20 episode TV show about Harriet during the war.

My historical re-enactment friends all agree the costumes were very good. Like, they got the fabric and drape right? And that’s hard to do.

 

A little context

November 15, 2019

Now that Badlands Witch is out…  That’s the reason I took that sudden quick research roadtrip to South Dakota last June. And another post here. I really like travel, I like research, and South Dakota is a day’s drive away, so I just did it.  A bunch of what I saw ended up in the story, so it was really worthwhile. Even getting the tedious drive into the story made the trip worth it.

I did the research trip to Donner Pass for Dark Divide back in 2015, which tells you just how long I was working on that story.

And I seem to be systematically sending Cormac and Amelia around to various National Forests for their adventures. Maybe for the next one I should check my list of where I want to travel and make sure to set the story there…

Here is Deadwood, from the vantage of the Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

Badlands Witch — Tomorrow!

November 11, 2019

Tomorrow, it’s Book Birthday for Badlands Witch!  This will likely be the shortest wait between books in a series that we’ll ever have.

An archeologist hires Cormac to look at a mysterious artifact that might or might not hold some ancient magic. Seems simple enough…but nothing about this job goes as planned.

Here’s the link for ordering information.

writing novellas

November 7, 2019

Have I talked yet about writing novellas, and how novellas have suddenly become a really big deal for me?  In 2019 – 2020, I’ll have published (just a sec, let me count) six new novellas. Prior to 2019, I think the number of novellas I published, in total, was three. (If you count Refuge of Dragons as a novella — it’s at about 41,000 words, which is technically novel length, but it feels like a novella to me.)

So what happened? Why am I suddenly writing a ton of novellas when I didn’t before?

Part of it is market forces. When I first started writing and submitting stories, I really only knew of three major markets that published novellas — the digest-sized SF&F magazines. And they generally printed one each month, and you’d be competing with folks like Connie Willis for those slots. So I just didn’t write novellas at all. Four to six thousand word short stories seemed to be my sweet spot and plenty of markets would publish those, so in a pure numbers game it made sense to focus on that.

A lot’s changed since then. E-books have made novellas viable on both the traditional and self-pub fronts. I look at what Martha Wells did with the Murderbot Diaries, what Lois McMaster Bujold is doing with the Penric and Desdemona stories — building a big following with these nuggets of stories put out on a regular basis — and I think that’s great. Audio has also become a huge market for novellas.

The other part of it is creative frustration. I’ve talked about the Year of Stalled Projects, when I worked on a bunch of stuff that I had to move to the back burner for various reasons. 2018 was also a bit of a creative stall-out for me. One of the things I did at the end of 2018 was go back to that list of stalled projects from 2015 — and realize that maybe some of the projects I had thought were novels were actually novellas. One of those 3/4 finished novels? I streamlined it and got Dark Divide.  “Gremlin,” which appeared in Asimov’s SF earlier this year, was an idea from my novel file that I decided might be better served as a novella.  The Ghosts of Sherwood (due out next spring) was also an idea I had tucked away for years and years until I decided if I couldn’t get a novel out of it, maybe I could try a novella. And it worked.

I don’t have a novel out in 2019, and it’s looking like I might not have one out in 2020 (but there’s one finished and in the hopper, so we’ll see).  But novellas have saved me. They’re faster to write than novels, but they still offer the satisfaction of big stories with multiple threads. It’s kind of the best of both worlds:  instant gratification and meaty storytelling.  I may be taking a break on the novel front, but I’m still working and still getting my stories out there, which feels great.

Here’s the list:

Gremlin (Asimov’s SF)

Dark Divide

Badlands Witch (due out next week!)

El Conquistador tel Tiempo (Part of The Immortal Conquistador, due out next spring)

The Ghosts of Sherwood

The Heirs of Locksley

 

two movies

November 4, 2019

It was a two movie weekend, one in theaters and one at home.

Terminator: Dark Fate. This was a lot of fun, and a return to form for a franchise that has gotten rather convoluted and unweildly. (Time travel, gah.)  This neatly cut through all that by being a direct sequel to Terminator 2 and ignoring everything else. This is Sarah Conner’s trilogy, and it feels like it was always meant to be this way.  Also manages to be super topical.  I’ll be doing a long review for Lightspeed, particularly in terms of Linda Hamilton’s/Sarah’s legacy as an iconic action hero. I will say this:  Schwarzenegger has mellowed delightfully, and while I wasn’t sure I really wanted him in this film, it turns out it was really nice seeing him return to this role one more time in a way that was satisfying.

The King.  This apparently had a limited release earlier in the year and is now on Netflix. This is a movie about Henry V.  More than that, it’s a completely revisionist version of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Once I figured out what was going on, I was astonished and completely drawn in. Guys, I love this film.  I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s like the filmmakers systematically addressed every point about the play that bugged them and then did it different. Like, Henry speaks fluent French because of course he would have.  Like, let’s say that women in political situations actually have useful observations and opinions about politics. Like, it wasn’t God and righteousness that won Agincourt, it was really good strategy that brilliantly utilized the English army’s particular strengths.  It’s also just a really well plotted and put together story. And cheeky as all get out, like there’s a moment when Falstaff just up and says, “I think the story is better this way, don’t you?” Zing.

And the fighting and battles and stuff is really good. Like, The Last Kingdom good, in that I think it should be required viewing for SCA folk. That stuff we do for fun on weekends? This is what it really looked like and it sucked rocks.

Timothée Chalamet plays Henry. He’s also playing Paul in the new Dune movie due out next year. I was not at all interested in a new Dune movie. Now, suddenly, I am, because of this actor.

 

old stories made new

October 30, 2019

A couple of stories for you! One of the great things the internet has done is made it possible to keep older stories alive. In pre-internet days, you’d publish a story in a magazine and it would often just vanish. Magazines tended to be kind of ephemeral, and it was next to impossible to find old stories, or find ways to get them to new readers.

Well, that’s totally changed. For example:

My latest story on Curious Fictions is “The Art of Fly Fishing in Low Gravity.” This only ever appeared in the 2014 FenCon Program Book. Now, everyone can read it. If you feel like subscribing to my page or dropping coffee money in the tip jar, it’s much appreciated!

Drabblecast has done a full cast recording — with appropriate music! — of my story “1977,” which first appeared in the fundraising anthology Ravens in the Library. And now it’s out in the world, in a new form, for everyone. I confess, I really like this one — it’s all about disco and time travel, and it’s just so goofy and I can just picture it all so clearly.

Enjoy!

 

the trees have eyes

October 28, 2019

In the category of “do something that scares you,” I signed up for an online nature journaling and drawing class. I’m looking for ways to be more engaged with my birdwatching, and also to practice art — I haven’t really done anything with the visual arts since I was a teenager. So, I’m dipping my toes in.  It’s been a little frustrating and slow going — the class started in early October, the same month that I had trips/conventions for three weekends and I’m on deadline for a novel revision. And the weather turned utterly crappy, so I haven’t been able to get outside to actually, you know, nature journal.  But slow going is still going, and my backyard is pretty cool. The juncos are back at my feeder, so some time this week I hope to sit by the window with a cup of tea and my sketchbook and see what I can record.

One of the points of the class is that through observing, journaling, and sketching, you’ll notice things that you wouldn’t otherwise. By taking time to really observe, and really look at and record details, you’ll see things you wouldn’t by just taking a photo and moving on.

For example, I did a sketch of some of the aspen trees in my backyard. And discovered that my aspens have eyes. This whole time they’ve had them. I can’t not see it now.