Friday, April 20, 2018

Ghost Stories

I've been thinking about ghost stories lately. Or rather, I was thinking about what are the kinds of books and stories I like to read (I was pulling together a list of recommendations for a friend), and as I did so I realized that I've read a lot of ghost stories.

And then I realized that a lot of my story/book ideas involve spirits of some sort. Or different ways of being haunted. Or communication with the dead. Or... ghosts, I guess. I had just never thought about it that way before. Huh.

Anyway, I thought I'd share some of my recent favorite ghost stories with you. These are in alpha order, short stories first, then books. With an essay in between!

Presque Vu - Nino Cipri, Liminal Stories
Old Habits - Nalo Hopkinson, Uncanny Magazine
Postcards from Natalie - Carrie Laban, The Dark Magazine
If A Bird Can Be A Ghost - Allison Mills, Apex Magazine
Twilight Travels with the Grape-Paper Man - Sara Saab, The Dark Magazine

How To Talk To Ghosts - R.F. Kuang, Uncanny Magazine (the essay)

I didn't offer any commentary on these because I find short stories are kind of like poetry for me in how I respond - there's either something I respond to immediately or there isn't. I thought all of these were lovely, all made me think, all of them pinged my heart.

On to the books!

Here I'm not going to comment (much) because these books give me SO MUCH FEELING and GOOD THINKING I wouldn't be able to contain myself. I'll just point out the level of romance / sexual explicitness so you know to avoid (or pick up).

KJ Charles, The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal
          Ah, I'm not sure how explicit this is? I don't remember. There is on-page sex, and there is a relationship between the main characters, but the book is not a romance, it's interconnected ghost stories. That will break your heart.

Alysia Constantine, Sweet
          Both a romance and explicit. (Warmish, not hot. Well, I suppose that depends on what you're used to.) And heart-breaking.

Stacia Kane's Downside Ghosts (Books 1-3)
          Again, I don't remember how explicit this is. The relationship develops over the course of the books but it wasn't the main focus of them, the mysteries were. For a long time I didn't realize there were more than the three books - the story line at the end of book 3 felt complete. I did later pick up book 4 but it didn't seem to be adding anything new to either the world or the characters so I stopped. But the first three were great.

Cassandra Khaw, Hammers On Bone
          Monsters meets film noir. Marvelous. Oh the language.

Amir Lane's Morrighan House Witches series
          There is also a prequel novella, Rise. Relationships, yes, sex, a little, not not not romantic. In a review I described the first book I read of these as a hot mess - but a compelling, winds around your mind and heart and throat kind of mess. I started these as e-books but then bought them in print so, mess or not, they clearly speak to me in some way.

And last but so very much not least, Jordan Castillo Price's Psycop series. Yes, a romance (and definitely sexually explicit), and also murder mysteries, and, as the series continues, possible conspiracy as well. Great characters who change and grow over the books.

Overall, a treasure of stories too good to save for Halloween.

And please pass on your recommendations!

Annie

Monday, April 9, 2018

It Must Be Spring, I'm Setting Goals

Even if it is currently snowing AGAIN.

I've gotten twitchy about setting goals publicly over the last year, especially ones to do with running, but things have been going well the last couple of weeks (slow, slow, but still improving) and I've begun to set my sights forward.

So I think I'm going to shoot for the Hot Chocolate 15K in November.

I've run this before and enjoyed the race. It's a good distance, at a good time in the year. No time goals this time around, I just want to be able to work up to that distance again and have a race on the calendar.

And in non-running goals, I've signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo this month. You may remember that National Novel Writing Month (November) is a world-wide writing challenge of 50,000 words for the month. Camp NaNoWriMo happens twice a year, in April and July, and you set your our challenge for the month, be it time spent or words or pages or even specific projects.

I've set my goal as 15,000 words for the month. I've done a lot of research and revising and transcribing over the last four months but very little new material in that time, and it's been hard to get started again. Excruciatingly hard. Then Camp NaNo came up in a couple of different Facebook groups I'm in - I hadn't even been aware of it prior to last week - and I thought this might be the challenge I need to get back into a regular writing (vs. revising/research) habit. So far it seems to be working. (Cross fingers.)

Hmm... perhaps I need to set some kind of challenge for myself for the garden?

Not happy about today's snow,
Annie

Monday, April 2, 2018

Music To Enliven My Monday

After watching NBC's "Jesus Christ Superstar" last night and having the music in my head every time I woke up, I needed to drive it out. (But Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas was amazing!)

FYI, none of these are videos, just the music.

Started with a little Jesse y Joy for the car ("Ay Doctor!")

Then, since I have the day off (one benefit of working for a church), I ran home after dropping the boys off at school and these came up on my iPod:

Stevie Wonder's "Signed Sealed Delivered" - this may be one of my favorite songs ever:

Neneh Cherry and The Thing's "Dream Baby Dream":
I used to have a playlist that I called "trance", just for long distance running, when I wanted to lose myself in something long and rhythmic. Then I realized I loved all those songs too much to just listen to them on long runs, and I mixed them into my usual running playlist. I got to see Neneh Cherry at Pitchfork a couple of years ago and it was one of my favorite performances ever. She didn't do this one, though, she wasn't performing with The Thing on that tour. This is another song that builds and builds and builds and then... just fades.

Then I finished out my run with "Despacito", but I won't share the clip for that, since I'm aware that some people have gotten tired of it by now (not me!) and there's no need to make it anyone's ear worm.

And then I wanted to share a new band for me, Bang Data. Apparently they did music for the TV show "Breaking Bad", but I'm always a few years (or more!) behind with TV. This is "El Pacino":

Now, since I'm home by myself, I can play Juan Gabriel and Lila Downs all day without anyone complaining.

With a song in my heart,
Annie

Friday, March 23, 2018

Some Good Short Things

Thought it might be time for some positive things, all short...

I've been running in the mornings again! Very short, and I have NO endurance, but even to want to get up early and run is a big deal. And oh, I love watching the sky at this time - when it's clear it's the most beautiful deep iris that slowly lightens - when it's cloudy might be even better, I love watching the clouds move across the sky, lighter streaks of blue across the dark that then catch the sun as it rises.

I've been reading some amazing short stories this winter - I'll do a list at some point with links and all - both speculative and romance. It's been hugely inspiring and has made my fingers itch - I have some ideas I want to explore that don't fit in any of the novels currently living in my head (plus right now I'm back in research mode but not writing is making me cranky).

One short grumble: After going several months of wondering why I wasn't falling asleep as well as I was used to I lined up dates and realized this had started at the same time as I started reading ebooks. Silly me, I've been careful with the kids about no screen time right before bed, and I don't get on the computer at night, but I didn't think about my tablet being a screen. So this week I've been trying out only reading print before bed and I've been sleeping better. Only problem - when the hell am I am supposed to get to those books that demand reading straight through?

Then a quick skim of the music in my head this morning:

Allen Toussaint - Brickyard Blues

Bomba Estéreo - Soy Yo


I missed Bomba Estéreo at Ruido Fest last year, but am planning to go this year - the lineup was just announced, with Panteón Rococó, Ana Tijoux, Kinky, Combo Chimbita just a few of the acts I want to see - so I am clearing my calendar for that weekend and putting together my pennies.

What's giving you life this week?
Annie

Friday, March 16, 2018

It's Been A Tough Week

I'm so glad to get to the end of this week.

Quick reminder: I did NaNo last year all by hand, and have spent the last three months transcribing those pages, researching, and editing - but I've had no new material (on that book at least). So I was excited to jump back in over my birthday mini-vacation... but no. And then not in the days after. I couldn't even get myself to try. Convinced I had nothing to offer and nothing I've written is in the direction I want to take it in anymore...

So this week I made myself start again. Just write something. Anything. For fifteen minutes at a time, that's all. I could do that, right?

Oh. my. God. So painful. It reminded me that writing truly is a muscle, one that has atrophied over the last three months, just as my running endurance has. But I made myself go on, moving pen over page. Dry, dull, though at least I ended each session knowing what was coming next... a series of sticky notes the breadcrumbs to get me started the next day. But nothing interesting or useful for a few days.

And then? Maybe a little glimmer of something interesting? Maybe only a marsh-light but still more than I had? I'll keep following it and see where I end up. But oh so daunting after having felt so sure of this in the fall.

And I need to read more of what I aspire to in my writing. Lately it's been a lot of escapist stuff (end of winter, y'all). I'm okay with that but it's not where my own writing lies.

My movement towards writing was interrupted a few days by a doozy of a migraine. Typically I get auras, maybe some pain - that's not too bad as I get older and especially not if I take something right at the start of the aura, and then a period of impaired thinking for a while after. Nothing horrible, I just can't focus well or think as easily or quickly as I'm used to. If it's a really bad one I might have some numbness around my mouth, but that hasn't happened in a while. Air pressure and hormones are the usual triggers for me, sometimes light. But seriously, my migraines are not usually a big disrupter in my life.

But Monday. Woah. Almost as soon as I woke up the aura was on me and I could tell it was going to be serious. I didn't realize it would be so trippy. Memories, memories of dreams, memories within dreams, random sense impressions all colliding together, even as I was getting myself and the kids dressed and moving towards school. As if my brain was bifurcated and all that was happening on a second level. I could focus on what needed doing immediately, but only that - no planning, thinking ahead, decision making. The kids were asking questions (and both talking at once, as usual) and I had to let them know I wasn't going to be able to explain anything to them or answer anything not relating to right in front of me, right now. Got them to school (did not drive, we took the train), and then came home to cancel phone meetings and let my boss know I would not be coming in, then spent the rest of the day on the couch reading - if I was going to be in an alternate head space I wanted it to at least be a cohesive world something one created, rather than the fragments of mine I was experiencing and didn't know if I could trust.

Things mostly cleared by mid-afternoon but I was wiped out by then and still not certain of my thinking. I went into work the next day but only lasted a couple of hours before another aura started and I headed back home, though it was nothing near as painful or strange as the day before. And the rest of the week has been trying to recover from all that, going to bed earlier, drinking more water, trying to eat well. I'm still feeling a little fragile though not horribly so.

I don't know what triggered this - it's been maybe twenty years since I've had a migraine this bad. But I'm not counting out the news that exploded in the queer romance world.

It's been awful. I suspect the majority of readers of this blog know nothing about this and I'm not going to try to explain. The rest of you either know all about it or are Russian bots, based on my stats. But it's just been... ugh. Vile behavior from an author exposed, which then led to the exposure of awful behavior from an editor and a publisher - all of whom had power in this corner of the writing world, the corner I consider home.

I have no skin in this - I'm just a little fangirl over on the sidelines who dreamed of maybe someday submitting something to that publisher because they were the first queer romance press I encountered back when I was all *starry eyed* THIS EXISTS?! Since then I'd heard enough murmurs about that publisher and encountered enough other presses to be over my hero-worship but it still feels rotten to see what's been exposed (and what's been unleashed afterwards as people find out and react all over the place). All the more so because an author I truly admire and had some exchanges with was at the center of exposing things, and my heart hurts for him and everyone else who has been hurt by Riptide and Sarah Lyons and the people going by the name Santino Hassell.

Some good is coming from this, thankfully, I've seen more lifting up of authors of color in the past week than before and there have been some amazing outpourings of generosity and effort across Romancelandia to the authors affected by all this, but... ugh. Shit shouldn't have had to happen for growth to occur.

But hey! Aren't our teenagers amazing! (Speaking of something else that shouldn't have had to happen...)

Sad and tired and wanting to put my arms around the world,
Annie


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Birthday Roundup - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

My treat for myself this birthday was two days off - no work, no kids (well, during the day at least). I should have also put, no expectations, but more on that later.

Things I was looking forward to:

  • Going running after I drop the boys off - so then I can come home and take my own sweet time cleaning up and getting dressed.
  • Re-shelving my books!
  • Reading!

Other things I had planned: Way too long a list.

What actually happened:

My first day off was mucky to start. Rain into snow, with a nasty wind coming off the lake. So no running for me. Instead I finally used the exercise bike I'd assembled 10 days before (a Christmas present from my parents).

I've been needing this for a couple of years. When we moved I lost easy access to the gym (we also cut back on spending). The first year I continued to run in the mornings, even muscling through the winter months, but as I've focused more on my writing I've found it harder and harder to keep a consistent exercise schedule, and I've missed it. Physically for sure, and mentally as much so. So it was a big deal to ask for this (and took me months to actually give them the model info).

Before I got to that point in the day, though, I had to deal with my head.

Birthdays always trip me up emotionally. I don't know why, but they do. And usually well in advance of having them. This year, though, I had been looking forward to it, so I wasn't expecting my first response once I dropped the kids off and was heading home to be a pervasive sense of "I suck and nobody likes me."

Looking back I can see what led to this but what I knew at the time was, no way do I want to sit in this all day, and, screw trying to understand why I feel this way, I just need to take action to stop it.

So I do what I do when I feel isolated and alone. I emailed friends to set up phone dates. I confirmed movie plans. I stayed off of social media.

(I've written elsewhere about my frustration that I can't easily handle impromptu social interaction, so I'm not going into that here, but, no, I could not "just pick up the phone".)

And then I had a lovely day re-shelving my books and finally using the exercise bike and reading. Just like last year. Oh, and going to see Hamilton, which was The Dude's birthday present to me this year. (Oh. My. God. I have all the feels about this musical. Don't get me started.)

Then the next day dawned bright and sunny and I could go for my run and come home and laze about and read and eat chocolate before I even took my shower and it was lovely...

Until I thought, well, it's time to look at that list of Things I Was Going To Do With My Time Off.

Never do that. Not for a birthday vacation. Not ever, really.

My problem was that almost everything on that list was writing related, so in theory I was looking forward to it all... but in reality I have routines set up for my writing and outside of those routines I find it really hard to work on it. And having two days off is WAY outside of my routines.

Plus I just finished a massive chunk of work on it and maybe should have planned to give myself a little bit of a break...?

Long story short, I spent the rest of my day trying to force myself to be productive and failing, and that's never good for my head. And not a good way to end my time off.

Next time, I'm setting my to-dos like this:

RUN.
EAT CHOCOLATE.
READ.
Maybe putter a bit if it makes me feel good.
BUT MOSTLY READ.

Learn from my mistakes so you don't make them,
Annie


Friday, February 23, 2018

On "A Wrinkle In Time" & Not Having A Visual Imagination

I am so excited to see "A Wrinkle in Time". I was excited when I first heard it was being made as a film by Ava DuVernay, I got even more exited when I heard the Murrys were being cast as a biracial family, and then I was over the moon when I saw the preview at Christmas.

These books meant so much to me as a kid, and I knew they had meant a lot to The Dude, so I assumed we would see this together. But no. Apparently as a kid he had a very clear image in his mind of these books, so is hesitant to see this adaption, at least until he's heard more from other people. (He had the same reaction to the Harry Potter and Lord of the Ring movies, but ultimately came to love them.)

I have no such trouble!

While I certainly do process things visually, I don't have much of a visual imagination or memory, and I process things best physically - through movement, touch, and spatial relationships.

It took me a long time to learn this about myself. Probably because I have some skill in making art, and could memorize things easily. And because the visual is prioritized in Euro-American culture.

Has not knowing this hurt me? Only to the extent of having the sense that I didn't quite "get" things in the same way as other people. Descriptive passages in books, for example, frustrate the heck out of me. I can picture things, all right, but it takes a lot of effort and I have to really want to. So for a long time, for example, I thought there was something lacking in the way I responded to literature, or the type of reading material I preferred. (More so because I went to school with Very Smart People.)

And it would have been helpful to realize earlier on how I do process things. Both to take advantage of that information, and, again, not to think less of myself for how I process things. Moving while listening to someone (in a meeting, or a lecture, or on a phone call), is called fidgeting. Not a good thing, right? I definitely remember lectures about this a child. Now I deliberately wear items I can fidget with.

Going back to writing, I'm aware that I have to make a point of including visual description --- something to keep in mind for editing. I'm also hyper-aware when movement in books doesn't flow right. I have one favorite author where this is a constant issue; I adore her writing in many ways but I've had to decide not to try to make sense of positions when her characters are interacting with each other or with the space.

This way of processing is also why I prefer print. I read a lot of e-books --- for convenience, for cost, and simply because a lot of what I read isn't available in print --- but I will always prefer print, I make sense of things and remember things better if I can handle the pages. The movement of turning pages, the feel of the paper under my fingers, knowing where sentences are on a page, all these things together lock the story into my head in a way I just don't get otherwise. (And forget audio books, my auditory processing is not good.) Before reading e-books I knew I would prefer print, it wasn't until I'd been reading e-books for a few months (I only started last summer) that I understood why, and that it was more than just a preference.

Back to the movie. It's one of the few times I'm grateful for not having a visual imagination - I have nothing in my head to compare this movie to. Now, will it get the feel of the books for me? I'll just have to wait and see.

Twitching in anticipation,
Annie