Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Review: Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner; Christian Privilege; The Walking Dead

When I was a young girl, I would lose myself for hours in old books: Jane Eyre, for instance, could mesmerize me for an entire afternoon as I sweated every moment in the orphanage with little Jane. As I grew older, and especially these past few years, I've read more "modern" books, and I'm continually looking for those books that grab you right from the start, throttle you and don't let go until the end. The thrilling reads.

With "Lolly Willowes," I had a profound return to those days when pages and pages could be spent detailing someone's daily life: the chores, the tick of the clock, what precisely that clock looked like and where it stood.

Don't get me wrong. I ultimately felt like a leaf spiralling along a merry stream as I followed Lolly's adventures, but it should be noted that for the first 54 pages, I was drowsing at the tedium of poor Lolly's first forty years. It is, I think, a deliberate choice of Townsend Warner to do so: the dust collects, and no better literary example has shown this.

The dust collects. Tiny particles that weigh a soul down, and all these particles have names: Nieces and nephews and sisters-in-law and brothers and chores and church and, and, and... There you have it. Now you are a middle-aged spinster whom no one has any real regard for, while meanwhile, the dust has obscured your early tendencies and early joys, until you seek but cannot see.

I'm not sure, from this description, if the life of women has ever changed in our thousands of years. How many of us feel the same? We want to go into the woods and find strange rocks! We want to stare at nothing across a field, or take a boat somewhere and let our fingertips slide through cold waters. We want to see if there really is a secret path in that forest, we want to smell it out for ourselves, and by ourselves.

Toni Morrison did the better job, in "Paradise" (one of my all-time favorite books), of clearly provoking the age-old fears, those nameless dreams that haunt men: that women do not need them. And thus, in their fear, do they name those females who stand apart "witch."

Lolly Willowes, in time, becomes an actual witch. Less strained reality and more fanciful, but still disturbing, metaphor, the story follows Lolly as she is like a child in the dark, until dear Satan -- the Loving Huntsman of the subtitle -- comes along to finally collect what is his.

I wish that Lolly had acted more decisively more often, but like those first 54 pages, perhaps it is deliberate. Perhaps Townsend Warner wished to turn the mirror on the vast numbers of women who are just the same as Lolly: gentle, sharp witted, and inward-turning. I, myself, am much like this, and so this may be why I wished Lolly had more backbone: because I wish that I did.

The prose is nearly flawless, and Townsend Warner has a gift for the gentle barb, the clever phrase, and the observations of class that few can astutely render on the page. I smiled often while reading, and once Lolly had made the decision to move to Great Mop (there! a reason to read in itself, for what a name for a country village), things turned strange and delightful in small ways.

"Lolly Willowes" won't grab you by the throat, but I confess it did my heart. And while "feminism and witchcraft in 1930s England" may not be the most appealing description--though valid--it is indeed an immensely appealing book.


Miss Maggie Mayhem reblogs a stunning, short essay on Christian Privilege and gay marriage. I cannot add anything more -- this is as perfectly said as it can be. Please read.


If you are keeping up with The Walking Dead comic, may I say regarding the newest, issue 86:


I was shocked to be talking to Christopher Grant about it and hear him say that this is fast becoming the worst comic ever.

And I was even more shocked to realize I was agreeing.

I stopped watching Lost after the third season. This feels... eerily similar. As similar, in fact, as Jack and Rick are appearing to become.

I'm off to work. Have a great day, everyone.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

At Eaten Alive: Princesa; This Is It

She wore a three-thousand dollar necklace and nothing more.

In the fetid heat of Miami, a new breed of socialite emerges: Princesa.

Thanks once again to Christopher Grant at Eaten Alive for allowing my putrescence to ooze onto his page.

I'll lay off the zombies for a while, but only because I've been following a Plague Artist through the dark streets of a walled-in city, and his story is nearly told. Then who knows?


We watched This Is It last night, MJ's last "performance." While interesting, it never rose to the levels we expected: Where was the pathos? The shining moments of real glory? The man behind the jacket and sunglasses? While the concert undoubtedly would've been one for the ages (and B and I would've done just about anything to get tickets), the film sort of meanders and never takes a real road or makes a statement, never living up to the opening. Like the dancers auditioning in the opening scene, we were pumped. Near tears, I confess. But then... nothing. And just as I yawned for the ten-thousandth time, it ended. We were confused. That was it?

That was it.

Despite the film, I still hold that Michael Jackson is the greatest single performer of all time (the Beatles get best group), and his death an absolute tragedy. I also feel sad for those who didn't grow up with MJ. I was 11 when Thriller came out and changed the world. I remember being at my every-Saturday haunt, Great Skate, and putting down the rubber stop in front of the DJ booth, where they'd lowered a screen to show it. Everyone crowded there. Watched it in rapt silence. Freaked out when it was done.

You can never take back that first moment you heard Billie Jean or Beat It. And I was a loyal fan, all through the scandals and bizarre rumors and even HIStory, which has its moments of brightness. :) And I'm still a fan. Just... possibly not recommending this last film, which feels like a hollow attempt to make money off a dead man, and not the tribute it should've been.

I never had my own skates, btw. I always had to rent the brown, smelly ones with the bright orange stop. My spoiled cousin had her own shiny white ones, complete with pink pom-poms. God, I was jealous. I thought that if only I had white leather skates, my life would be complete. I lusted even then!

It's a Best Buy now. I drove by a couple of years ago on a trip to visit family in CT and saw that and just about cried. B said we could go in, but I couldn't do it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Flash: Twelve Horses

I first heard about Chuck Wendig's robot flash fiction challenge this morning, and though I've been (almost angrily) very much not writing lately, I thought I'd give it a go. However, I'm over the 1000 word limit a smidge, so I'm not going to enter the comp. You should, though. You totally should. You could get one of his e-books just by entering. But hurry--slots are filling.

Twelve Horses

“Twelve horses in the field. Twelve horses,” said the robot, and waited for his son to answer. When none was forthcoming, he pointed, a spot of red appearing on the cheek of each horse. “One… two…” He counted to five and put a dot on a sixth horse, hoping his son would say, “Six.”

There was no response. He tried a different approach. No robot could allow an error to pass without correction.

“Eleven horses in the field. Eleven horses.”

His son stared mutely at the horses, only the subtle flash of light in his eyes evidencing his consciousness, or perhaps it was the midday sun.

“Eleven horses,” said the robot. “Eleven.”

His son’s head did not move. His mouth did not open. The robot put a hand to the back of his son’s neck, felt the thrum of energy.

“Eleven. There are eleven horses. Eleven. Is this correct? Eleven.”

His son said nothing.

The robot whirled, an arm snapping up, the palm of his hand sending a burst of laser at a shaggy brown horse. The horse’s skull exploded, sending the rest of the herd scattering in a screaming, pounding panic.

The horse’s body slumped to the grass.

“Eleven horses,” said the robot.

He took his son’s hand, gripping it tightly as he led him away.


The robot calculated. Perhaps the counting exercises were too easy.

“Our speed is currently four and a half miles per hour. We are walking west-southwest. If we continue this exact trajectory, where will be in twenty-nine and a quarter hours?”

His son said nothing. The robot repeated the question.

They came to a stop by a VW bus without tires or windows. The robot put his hand on his son’s heart, where the digi-compass, positioning system, and thermonuclear regulator were located.

“Where will we be?”

After a time, there was no answer, so the robot put his son on the porch steps of a nearby house, and he left them there while he began to dismantle the VW bus. As he worked, he thought perhaps his son’s silence in this issue was intelligent. For whatever had been at 29° 57' 17 N, 90° 4' 30 W surely no longer existed.

The robot worked all through the afternoon and into the night, and when he was finished, only Venus remained watching. His son’s eyes had dimmed, his body shut down as it was programmed to do each evening at ten. The robot climbed atop his creation, sitting in its fender arms and peering through modified headlamp glass at the yellow glow of the planet.

“If I continue walking at this pace for sixteen hours per day, how long until I reach you?” he whispered.

When Venus did not answer, he said, “Never. Never. Never.”

In the morning, when he woke, his son stood at the foot of his creation, staring down the long, cracked road. The robot climbed down, heated a fingertip until he could scratch his name on a hubcap, and then took his son’s hand and began walking.

Behind them, the object that was no longer a VW bus stared up at the sun and listened for Venus to appear.


There was a base inside a mountain, impenetrable to attack. There was an enormous telescope in Hawaii. There was a place to launch rockets here and here and here.

The robot had deleted each one from his list after examination. Hawaii had been a difficult journey, the most difficult of all, more arduous even than removing tons of rock. But in the end, all had proven to be as empty as his son’s circuitry, illusions of past brilliance. He sat on a low bridge and watched alligators coming together, drifting logs with some little purpose.

At his side, his son sat with legs hanging over, glinting in the sun above the dismissive gators. They had not reached the projected coordinates, but it no longer seemed to matter. There was nothing left on this planet that contained the necessary technology to send or receive intergalactic messages; he knew this now. His own capacity had been purposely diminished—cruelly, he thought—leaving him unable to do so himself.

Alone for a time, left to wander, he had almost shut himself down, put himself into permanent sleep mode, when he had come across the boy in a room underground in a facility long since abandoned.

“I am not alone,” he had said, but it was not true. He was still alone. The boy was ancient technology, discarded, defective, no better than the mammoth televisions he occasionally came across, and less useful. It had taken a month to get him to move, and no progress since then.

If only he could get his son to talk. If he could only communicate with it, re-open old directives and shunt the flow of energy into a direction he wanted: though an antique, there was the possibility that his son possessed the ability to send messages via the interplanetary radio system. When? Which generation had been given that ability?

And if not, then at least the robot would have someone to talk to.

“Alligator mississippiensis,” he said. “Repeat.”

Swamp waters lapped against the cement pillars beneath the bridge.

“Alligator mississippiensis. Alligator mississippiensis.” Nothing. He went on, lecturing on taxonomy, history, evolution. Feeding habits. Useage of skin, claws, and meat. Habitat.

And then he reached over and carefully began dissecting his son, until the first shy stars winked on the horizon.


The message went out daily.

Venus did not respond.

At first the message asked for help and transport, gave coordinates. Said that the robot was the last sentient being on the planet.

After two hundred and sixty-nine days, the message gave only coordinates.

At five hundred and four, the message transmuted yet again: Why. Why. Why.

The robot sat on the bridge with the head of his son in his arms and watched the sky while alligators and nutria and water moccasins swam below. In the dark, Venus appeared, yellow and small and brighter than the Dogstar.

On the nine thousandth, eight hundred and fifty-seven day, the robot put his son back together, but the old materials had no strength and fell to dust in his fingers.

When at last the robot left the bridge and waded into the murky waters and shut himself off, it was to a chorus of bullfrogs and the silent gaze of a hundred watchful alligators. And deep in the night, with no sentient beings left on the planet, a Jeep in Denver, a Mustang on a dirt road outside of Erie, and more and more vehicles that were no longer vehicles in places that were no longer cities, and finally a VW bus in downtown Montgomery, blinked to life as a message came: We don’t know.

We don’t know.

We don’t know.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book review: "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz

It is unfortunate that I so readily integrate a good book into myself; for the past week, I have been swearing more than usual (that's a lot), using slang that I may or may not have known before reading this book ("culo"!), and generally speaking in a terrible accent which is probably closer to Puerto Rican than Dominican. I can't help that last part. There was a large PR population where I grew up, and so my Spanish or Spanglish tends to come out as a mimicry of every PR girl I've ever come across.

How do they do this? How do certain authors manage to embed their book, their very selves, into us?

It's more than that. It's coming across observations, phrases in a book that slay us. I know that, you think. You recognize the thought.

But Junot Diaz moves beyond that. He writes beyond mirrors of consciousness, beyond world-building that is so terribly complete, so pervasive, that you argue with yourself: It's real. No, it's not. It's fiction. NO, it's real! It's NOT.

Rarely -- well, no, that's not true. Never have I come across something like this. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is singular, outstanding, and numinous. The writing, I guarantee, is nothing you've ever read before. It is perfection, every single word, down to the last.

Lord, I hate footnotes. Diaz made me read every one. Voraciously.

He made me believe, and I'm not even sure what he made me believe in. Not love, not, for fuck's sake, fuku. (You believe that shit? Tell me about it). Maybe he made me believe in stray bullets. Or the eighties. Maybe that God is an evil dictator with golden eyes. Maybe that men cheat. I already believed that one, though. God, I wish I didn't.

Oscar is every role play gaming geek you've ever known. He's fat, he's desperate, he writes space operas from sun up to sun down. His entire life is spent saying things like, "Sir, it's been an honor," to the college roommate at the end of the year as the dude's moving out. He wants to be the Dominican Tolkien; he stands in the courtyard with a sword, slaying invisible armies. He talks to strange girls on the crosstown bus. They leave. He's still alone.

He falls in love with a girl who has a boyfriend. You know where that one is headed. So he does it again. Oscar!

I'm going to take a moment to congratulate myself on recognizing the narrator of this little tale. And I'm going to take another second to say that maybe, a little bit, I didn't care for the sections on Beli's life. She's a tough one to care about. Even the hints and then outright description of reasons we should feel compassion for her don't touch me enough to make me love her. And yet, my heart tightened with sick recognition. Hey, maybe yours will too. People are like this, aren't they?

Yeah. They are. And if there is one thing I forgot that I once believed, it's this: There are people like this everywhere. Everywhere.

If only Junot Diaz could write all their stories too.

Two more things: My reviews tend to be emotional, stream-of-thought essays that are more my reaction to a book than an actual review. So read the reviews on Amazon to get a better understanding. And second: I don't cry often when reading. I outright sobbed when I got to the end of this.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Apocalypse; Lovely Day

Chris Allinotte's recent Monday Motivator struck a chord with me, so I played along:


The last lifestyle of our century included no animals, no vegetables, no begging for mercy. Just the scrabblerock existence of a dispersed population: shreds of humanity on three continents, communicating by sentient pollen that drifted along from blood wall to blood wall to the El Nino and the slightest vagaries of a planet on its last exhale.

I looked up from scraping fingernails along a cave wall and breathed out: The End. My bones already dust, my spine an inert thing, these standards playing in my head a dirge for a fallen Earth.


Oh, apocalypse. How I love thee. Also the Being Very Dramatic.

A lovely day, lovely week ahead, shame I'm working eight days straight. Mama's got bills to pay, you know. But you gotta keep a good attitude. :-)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Gangrene: Not just for breakfast anymore.

Eaten Alive is up and running, and I'm deeply decayed honored to be first out of the chute with:



Short, horrifying, sickly funny. You know you want to read it.

A special thanks to Lily Childs, whose Friday Prediction spawned this grotesquerie. I never entered it into the Prediction because I couldn't fit in the other words nor get it under the word limit (100), but all the same, I thank her. I guess you never know where inspiration will come from, eh?

Where is the last place you found inspiration? The wackier, the better. I like that kind of stuff.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Book Review: I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

Lily Childs' winning piece for the monthly challenge over at the Talkback forum, Consciousness. Stunning, lush imagery with that hint of decay beneath it all, and perhaps more than a bit philosophical in its gorgeousness. Lily has, after all, just returned from Crete. And who can resist a slipperful of mythology? Go read.


I'm reading THE MOST INCREDIBLE BOOK right now. More on that as soon as I've devoured it, then devoured it again. After all, I may end up hating it. Highly unlikely, but it's almost impossible to believe an author can keep up this level of genius for so long. Almost.

In the meantime, whilst you are awaiting that review, may I recommend this:

I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

You may recognize the name from my frequent gushing: JKP is, after all, one half of the Beekman Boys. But who was Josh before he was a Beekman Boy?

He was Aqua. Drag queen extraordinaire, with fishbowl tits and a mean vodka habit. And, as ever, a biting sense of humor. This book chronicles his time as a budding ad exec with bad habits and a host of Buy Me A Drink lines that I have, admittedly, been memorizing. Shame I can't think as quick on the fly as Aqua. Else I'd be two sheets to the wind as we speak.

This is also a memoir of his first great love, Jack, a highly successful male prostitute with a rapidly growing crack addiction.

If you're thinking, "This can't end up well," you would be right. But before we reach that conclusion -- and it starts sinking in, slowly, about a third of the way through -- we're first treated to some of the best, funniest, most sharply told tales of the City, as seen through Aqua/Josh's eyes. I rarely laugh out loud, no matter how brilliant something is, and I Am Not Myself had a bunch of parts that had me rolling off the sofa, tears streaming. Let it not be said that JKP never had a good time. In fact, I'd say he made Having a Good Time a legally taxable occupation.

Also, it's quite educational. If you've ever wondered what, precisely, a man must go through in order to become a drag queen, this is more than your primer. This is everything but the QVC Instructional Video with Josh himself. Or perhaps you've been saying to yourself, "Hey, I've got this huge ass chunk of rock; how, exactly, do I smoke this fucker?" Well, ponder no more, friends. It's all explained here.

Maybe you've thought to yourself, "You know, I may have a tiny problem here, what with the crack-smoking love of my life and this whole vodka-as-a-legitimate-meal-choice plan." If that's so, read this.

Do you want the serious review? Here it is: When I stopped laughing, I started crying. If there's one thing Josh can do well, it's find the sad joke underneath the divine pathos of life. This is handled so well, so subtly and yet so uncommonly realistically, so harshly, that all one can do is keep reading. And smile, even if it's the saddest smile in the world.

Well, fuck. That's pretty pathetic writing right there. Trust me when I say that Josh can do it a thousand times better.

I won't tell you how it ends, but if you've known me for a while, then you know that Josh and Brent are still hanging in there, up in Sharon Springs, NY at the Beekman Mansion, with their friends and goats and farm cats and one diva-licious llama. I'm not sure if you should read this before going on to The Bucolic Plague and then watching all of seasons 1 & 2 of The Fabulous Beekman Boys, but having come to it last, I can say that it's added more than a bittersweet note to my perception of them, and it's made Josh, if possible, even more "real."

And though I rarely talk about my own personal life, I will say one last thing about this book: Once upon a time, I, also, was not myself. And while I don't suppose I'll be writing a book about that period of my life anytime soon, I can say, with heartfelt appreciation, that this book has helped me immensely.

And did I mention the outrageous, uproarious laughter? :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Devil Wants a Word With You At LSQ

I kept knocking, but Blogger wouldn't let me in. :(   For some reason, today, apparently, I am acceptable. I'll take it while I can.

The new issue of Luna Station Quarterly is live, and you can find a reprint of one of my very favorite pieces, The Devil Wants a Word. Big thanks to Lily Childs for first featuring it during her February Femmes Fatales.

LSQ is run by women and features only female authors. Each issue contains some of the best fantasy, sci-fi, spec fic and general mind-fuckery around. If you're a female author -- go to their submissions page!

In other news, right now I've got two stories in anthologies coming out this fall. One is fantasy, the other magical realism. Unfortunately, I missed a deadline for two submissions last night. I spent a lot of yesterday trying to work out the kinks in one story. Huge thanks to Duni, who helped me work through the "wrong-ness", although I fell down on making it right. Here was the basic issue: My original idea was more suited to a novella. I'm not particularly a "plotty" writer, but this one actually had some twists and mystery. I found it intriguing and exciting enough to write... and then I ran up against a word count limit for this particular submission. I ended up cutting a lot, and it became confusing and all the punch went out of it.

Last night, I was incredibly depressed because I wouldn't make the deadline and couldn't "fix" the story, but today, I'm realizing two things: First, there are more submissions. Goodness, Duotrope never stops updating with possible markets. And second, a story needs to be told the way it should be told. Breaking it will not make it whole again. (er, except in some cases, which is a rambling ponder for another time)

I've also realized that I no longer accept laziness in my own writing. I've always strived to improve, and the craft of writing wholly consumes me, but there are many times when I say, "Fuck it," and send something out, even though a tiny voice inside tells me that no way is that story good enough. I no longer do that, a habit which has been creeping up on me for months. Heck, I've been sitting on a short story for a year now because the right market didn't exist. An editor-friend told me that he'd publish it, even though it went way over his word limit and wasn't exactly what he published, and that was very nice of him. But I said thanks and that I'd wait. And now, a year later, just as I was about to go to bed last night all aggravated with myself, a market for it appears. It's perfect.

So. Time, patience, and effort. Am I surprised that this is what it takes? Yeah, probably. Don't all those other writers just churn out stuff, like, with no effort?


And very clearly can you tell those who do. I don't want to be this second type of writer. I want it to be appear effortless -- but really have taken a lot of hard work. So the story yesterday, the one that tripped me up? It's already in its third or fourth draft, and if it takes six or seven, I'll get it right.

It's hard to type with a kitty on your right elbow. I don't wish to disturb Gryff's snooze, so I'm off. Have a great day.