Mar 18, 2018

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The death of Stronginthearm

This past week was the anniversary of Terry Pratchett’s death. He’s been a tremendous influence on me both as a writer and a person even if I never actually met him. So I’ve been listening to his books again and lamenting the fact that he’s gone and there will be no more new books. But it also got me thinking about the living, breathing worlds some authors manage to build. And because of the nature of the beast, the rest contains spoilers for the Ankh-Morpork City Watch series.

At the beginning of Night Watch Samuel Vimes comes to work to find that one of his sergeants, Abba Stronginthearm has been killed on his way home from work. It turns into a slow moment where Vimes tries to deal with the fact that one of his people is dead. For a short time reader, it’s just that; a superior trying to deal with a loss of someone who’s not close to them but who they still feel responsible for. On the other hand, for me at least the effect is somehow larger.

Stronginthearm was never a large presence in the books. He was introduced as just another hothead who got conscripted into the Watch in Men at Arms. He gets a few exchanges with various characters in Feet of Clay, Jingo, and The Fifth Elephant, never anything that actually affects the plot. He is, in other words, a bit player in the books. But somehow he manages to have a character arc somewhere in there. In fictional time, he’s with the Watch for years before he’s killed on duty (“or close enough”). He goes from being a swiftly radicalizing young dwarf into someone who takes pride in who he is and the work he does by the events of The Fifth Elephant.

This is where I start to geek out; Stronginthearm’s character arc feels familiar because Vimes goes through the same arc. I don’t know if Pratchett did it intentionally or if it was just a happy accident, but for me at least it has caused a subconscious unease about Vimes’s fate. I only became aware of it on this last re-read when I’ve been reading all the City Watch books in a relatively short period, one after the other. It’s a wonderful effect regardless. If a reader should stop to think about Stronginthearm, they’d probably wind up with an interesting story on a small scale.

It’s the details as much what happens that keep me coming back Terry Pratchett’s books. I’m drawn to Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid novels for similar reasons but that’s a post for another time.

What worlds do you, dear reader, keep coming back to again and again?

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Feb 26, 2018

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The remarkable femininity of Okoye

Black Panther was amazing! Go see it now! If you’ve already seen it, go see it again! The rest is spoilers.

Before I actually begin, I would like to note that I am by no means an expert on black womanhood. For that, you will have to go elsewhere. I am literally a white woman from one of the whitest countries in the world and as such not part of the primary target audience for Black Panther. And that’s entirely okay! I’ve never been part of the primary target audience for any Hollywood movie and that’s never stopped my enjoyment. What I do know, however, is that I didn’t know I wanted Okoye as much as I do.

I’ve never exactly mainlined Black Panther in comics. It’s Marvel, yes, but it’s not one of the more easily accessible series in Finland. Until Comixology and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s excellent run, I’d only ever read disparate issues. I knew about Dora Milaje but not about just how amazing they are. And while I was so happy to see such a variety of womanhood on the screen, Okoye is the one who stuck with me. See, while I never did mainline Black Panther, I’ve mainlined several other comics and epic fantasy on the regular and that storyline of duty vs love vs honor is such a recurring theme. Usually, it just wears a very different face.

It’s clear from the very first moments that Okoye loves her king as a friend as well as someone she protects. But when tradition states that he is no longer her king, she protects the usurper, no matter how much her own heart is breaking. While I don’t begrudge a single moment in the movie, I still wanted Okoye’s struggle to have more space. There’s a whole movie’s worth there, just happening in the background. Okoye is loyal to Wakanda, first and foremost. And when W’Kabi – her beloved – goes against honor by attacking T’Challa, she faces him on the battlefield like the badass she is, even if her heart is breaking again. “For Wakanda… No question.”


What makes Okoye as a character so revolutionary is that she always feels like a woman, not a guy who was just cast as a woman, or a plot point / throwaway joke cast into a female body (I’m looking at you Riddick). Not necessarily a woman I’d like to have a beer with – Nakia’s more my speed – but someone whose presence would not only make me feel more secure but also like things are under control. And that’s still, sadly, kind of amazing outside of fiction written by women.

Okoye doesn’t get that hero moment that Wonder Woman and Black Panther do, but she’s still a big damn feminist masterpiece of a hero to me.

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Feb 25, 2018

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Knitting under the sea

Eat.Sleep.Knit 2018 Yarnathon map

I’ve talked before about how my favorite yarn store is unaccountably in Dallas, Georgia. I love Eat.Sleep.Knit primarily because they carry all my favorite dyers and often have colorways that you can’t find anywhere else. But the other thing I love about Eat.Sleep.Knit is their yearly Yarnathon. Basically, you get yards for the yarn you buy and knit-along-projects made from yarn bought from them. Completing certain types of projects will also earn you badges and when you have enough badges you get stars for your team for the team event (GO DOLPHIKNOTS!), yards for your individual Yanrathon and store credit. It’s basically a Batman-deal for knitting (to quote Neil Gaiman: “The reward for being Batman is that you get to be Batman”) – the reward for knitting is that you get to do more knitting.

This year’s yarnathon the theme “under the sea”, which, you know, I am totally here for. Every month has a new set of new exclusive colorways by one or more of the dyers they carry. It’s only February, but I’m confident these are all going to be amazing.

I mentioned some time ago that I’m working on sweaters this year and that still holds. Inspired by this year’s theme, I’m planning to round out the year with the Embrace Octopus Sweater but there’s still 8,5 sweaters to go before then! Let’s see if I can make it! Keep on knitting!

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Feb 11, 2018

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The Refrigerator Monologues

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente is a gut-punch of a collection. As a woman who grew up with comics, I have rage for this thing that I have loved for years. I found both the rage and the love on the pages of this book and it was good.

On the surface, The Refrigerator Monologues is a collection of stories from the point of view of dead women. Women who were somehow adjacent to men who are superheroes. Some of them were the reason behind those men’s superpowers, some of them were girlfriends, some of them superheroes in their own right. But all of them, for some reason or another, are now dead and forgotten, as the name would imply. Just in case, dear reader, you’re not familiar with the trope, refrigerators refer to the trope of women in refrigerators, a term coined by the great Gail Simone to describe the tendency of comic books to kill or depower their women, usually in particularly nasty ways. The term itself refers Alex DeWitt, once Green Lantern’s girlfriend who finds her killed and stuffed in the refrigerator to provide motivation for him. There are, of course, other examples, some of them more egregious and some of them less so. Batgirl’s spine gets broken and she can’t walk, forcing her to become Oracle; Batman’s spine gets broken and he muscles his way to recovery, coming back better than ever. I love Barbara as Oracle, but there’s a double standard. A double standard that Valente’s book drags kicking and screaming into the light.

When you look deeper, however, there’s also a long-lasting love for the stories that did these things to all these women. Valente has clearly spent a lifetime among these comics and while some of the details have changed, it’s kind of exciting to see when you can guess which story, which refrigerated woman’s story she’s telling now. And it’s kind of wonderful to see all the stories that were already right there on the page if the original writers had just bothered to look a little deeper. And ultimately, it also comes down to the reader. The stories were there for any reader to find as well. And that’s where the beauty of The Refrigerator Monologues lies for me; these are all stories that I’ve known and hated because of what they did to the women. Some of them almost turned me away from reading comics altogether. But Valente managed to find the love buried deep, deep inside those stories and bring that to the light as well.

While I love a lot of Valente’s writing, this one is very close to stealing the cake. It’s at the very least a close call between this and Deathless. I think that anyone who loves Valente’s writing or loves comic books will find this an enjoyable read.

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Feb 5, 2018

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Hunting for meaning

I started writing again in 2009 when I had my first and so far, thankfully, my only burnout. The first novel I ever started writing was about two sisters drifting apart because of life who come together because the younger accidentally kills her boyfriend. This was back when I was still trying to write contemporary. A doomed idea if ever there was one. As I wrote, the boyfriend came back to haunt them and they had to pull together to get through the situation.

Anyway, I’ve been essentially trying to write this novel for almost ten years. Over time I’ve started it over and over and over again. Sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad. And somewhere along the line, I think I got used to just having this thing always be there. It’s always been perfect in my mind, even if not in execution. I feel like I have a lot of things to say about all kinds of subjects and somehow this book has become the thing that somehow needs to encompass all the things and end up being just as perfect as it always was in my mind. So while the heart of the story has always been in the two sisters’ relationship, the theme and events have kept on changing.

But, as my friend Jay Wolf pointed out, the time has come to push it out the door, whether I want to or not. And oh my is it scary. But because gamification and accountability really work for me, yesterday I sent out the latest draft of chapter one which is actually the first draft of this particular iteration, to my alpha readers. These poor, unfortunate souls are getting the very roughest of the rough drafts but I’m hoping this will actually compel me to finish this novel without me getting 40 000-60 000 words in and deciding that I need to completely restart the whole book.

It’s time to finish this thing.

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Jan 26, 2018

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Podcasts I’m listening to

Human hand touching an android hand. Digital illustration.

I listen to a lot of spoken word stuff. Audiobooks and podcasts are my constant companions and since my lists do change a bit and it’s been a while, here’s what I’m listening to here at the beginning of 2018 in no particular order.

Non-fiction

  • My Favorite Murder – Two funny women talking about murders all across the US and sometimes abroad. Their tagline “Stay sexy. Don’t get murdered.” says it all.
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class – Two women teach things, events and interesting people from history at depth from all over the world.
  • Freakonomics Radio – A team of podcasters explains the hidden side of everything through economics.
  • Iroquois History and Legends – The name pretty much says it all. American history from an Iroquois viewpoint with myths and monsters added in other episodes for good measure.
  • Making New Worlds – An astrophysicist and space travel enthusiast explores the ethics of space travel from all kinds of perspectives.
  • No Such Thing as a Fish – Four comedians share random facts for an hour.
  • Sawbones – “A marital tour of misguided medicine” a married couple talks about quackery through the ages, teaching and making jokes.
  • Talk Nerdy – Interview programme where scientist, science communicator and skeptic Cara Santa Maria scientists and science communicators about all things science.
  • The Skeptics Guide to the Universe – A group of skeptics talk science, skepticism and science fiction once a week.

Fandom and pop culture

  • All Comics Considered
  • Dirty Old Ladies – Three women making comics – two of whom write sexy comics – talk storytelling, business and all around all things comic.
  • Doctor Who: Verity! – Six smart women talk about Doctor Who. Need I say more?
  • Fangirl Happy Hour – Two smart, funny and unapologetically fannish women talk about pop culture, science fiction and fantasy literature, and fandom politics.
  • Galactic Suburbia – Three lovely Australian women talk pop culture, politics, history, comics and science fiction and fantasy literature. I’m sensing a theme here…
  • No Story is Sacred – Four siblings who grew up among stories because their parents are writers and editors take stories apart and it is glorious. (Although I may be slightly biased since my friend Pippin is one of the people on it and she is also glorious.)
  • Switchblade Sisters – Film critic April Wolfe has a woman filmmaker join her to discuss their favorite film and their own work.
  • Tea & Jeopardy – Tea, conversation and mild peril! Emma Newman interviews science fiction and fantasy authors over tea before they end in mild peril.
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Podcast – The podcast is what it says on the tin. A panel of experts talks at length about all things genre.

Fiction

  • Apex Magazine – Fantasy and science fiction with a dark twist.
  • Uncanny Magazine – Space Unicorn Ranger Core brings all good speculative fiction. Not that I’m biased or anything.
  • Clarkesworld – Science Fiction that brings you new worlds and new ways of being human.
  • Lightspeed – Science fiction (and sometimes fantasy) about humans doing amazing things.
  • Nightmare Magazine – Horror reimagined!

Writing and Publishing

  • Ditch Diggers – Authors Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace talk about the business of writing, treating it as a job among others.
  • Get to Work Hurley – Kameron Hurley talks about stories, storytelling, politics and the business of writing.
  • Print Run Podcast – Two agents who represent wildly different genres talk about the business of publishing.
  • Unreliable Narrators – Four Viable Paradise graduates discuss the craft and business of writing
  • Writing Excuses – Brilliant authors of science fiction, fantasy and comics talk craft for 15 minutes every week.

Self-development

  • Happier with Gretchen Rubin – The happiness and habit guru Gretchen Rubin talks to her sister Elizabeth Craft about habits.
  • You Need a Budget – podcast by Jesse Mecham of YNAB with short bits of encouragement and advice for budgeting.

Wow, that’s a lot of podcasts. Fortunately, I love them all and they keep me company on so many days.

What are your favorite podcasts?

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