Today’s must-read

Kat Kennedy’s Musing Muser’s post on Cuddlebuggery Book Blog: Women and Romance Novels

Is it any won­der women take refuge in a world that actu­ally acknowl­edges their exis­tence in a some­what pos­i­tive man­ner?  And one that pro­vides a fan­tasy in which they will be loved and treated as impor­tant?

I am not a romance reader, by any stretch, but her argument makes a lot of sense to me.

Edited to add: Here’s more on the same subject, from Maria Bustillos at The Awl. I have now officially thought more about romance novels in one morning than in all my years combined. Unless Longmire Does Romance Covers counts. Which I’m pretty sure it does not.

Extreme review action!

Today we’ve got it at both ends of the spectrum!

A blazingly enthusiastic review at Stella Matutina, and a genuine, thoughtful one-star review at Booktastic Reviews.

Thanks so much to both of you for your time and consideration.

To my mom

I spent the weekend giving moral support to my mother, who just got her second knee replaced. It’s a painful operation, and the rehabilitative physical therapy afterwards is no picnic, but it’s ultimately less painful than the bone-on-bone grind her knee was undergoing in the first place. She’s going to come away stronger.

She’s going to be half-cyborg, too, which is AWESOME.

One thing I admire about my mother is that she never sits still. It can be a weakness, of course. It makes lying in rehab a misery to her. I can’t imagine what she was like as a schoolgirl; I look at my son bouncing around and say, “Yup, that’s his grandma all over.”

But I don’t just mean fidgeting. She never lets herself stagnate. She is always working, always growing, always striving and reaching. One of the CNAs who was taking care of her at the rehabilitation centre kept saying, “You’re going to be running in a week!” That won’t literally be true (you’re not allowed to run much with artificial knees), but we all knew exactly what he meant. She’s going to be up and lively and chatting and into everything. She gets such joy out of life. She can find the barest glimmer of joy when there really isn’t much to be found. She takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

Seriously, as a half-cyborg she’s going to be utterly unstoppable.

She’s an artist, first and foremost, but is only just getting back to it after about ten years away. Here’s her painting webpage. I wish the scans did those paintings justice; if you click on them they expand a bit, which helps. If any of you feel inclined to leave her a friendly get-well message, you can do that on the contact page. You don’t have to, if it’s weird, but you’d make an old lady happy.

I had to think about it very hard, but I this might be my favourite of the paintings (as of right this minute) —

Orange! Blue! It's mind-blowing in person.

I’ve seen this one live, and it’s just mesmerizing. And it’s so her. She believes the world is as lively as she is, and her paintings are a view through her eyes. You get to put on her goggles for a minute and live where the trees are exciting and vital and beloved and bursting with joy. I like seeing the world that way.

Anyway. I’d end this with “Get well soon, old lady!” but she’s going to be RUNNING within a week and we all know it. I just hope we can keep up.

My breakfast with Wallace

It seems to be performance week here at the blog!

Here’s an article by Wallace Shawn that just blew my mind. I know. Inconceivable, right? The article is also about Socialism – take that or leave it, as you wish. What really interested me, what punched me right in the stomach, was this:

We are not what we seem. We are more than what we seem. The actor knows that. And because the actor knows that hidden inside himself there’s a wizard and a king, he also knows that when he’s playing himself in his daily life, he’s playing a part, he’s performing, just as he’s performing when he plays a part on stage. He knows that when he’s on stage performing, he’s in a sense deceiving his friends in the audience less than he does in daily life, not more, because on stage he’s disclosing the parts of himself that in daily life he struggles to hide. He knows, in fact, that the role of himself is actually a rather small part, and that when he plays that part he must make an enormous effort to conceal the whole universe of possibilities that exists inside him.

Actors are treated as uncanny beings by non-actors because of the strange voyage into themselves that actors habitually make, traveling outside the small territory of traits that are seen by their daily acquaintances as “them.” Actors, in contrast, look at non-actors with a certain bewilderment, and secretly think: What an odd life those people lead! Doesn’t it get a bit — claustrophobic?

That’s how I feel about writing. That’s it exactly. All these latent potentials that real life has no room for, and they have to come out somewhere. They come out in dance, too. That’s one reason I can get up in front of people and dance: because I am also that. I am also a dragon trapped in human form, and a princess, and a fretful lawyer, and a little Porphyrian boy. It’s all there.

Sometimes I fret that I’m kind of out there for thinking all arts are one art, but then I read something like this and think, no, that’s exactly right.

Dance on a Volcano

Better start doing it right…

Here’s something you may not know about me: I have belly-danced in restaurants. I’ve danced on stages, too, but I prefer restaurants to the stage.

I won’t pretend it’s not nerve-wracking. You can see your audience clearly when they scowl or laugh or look terrified. There is some danger of stepping on a fork or someone’s foot, to say nothing of trailing your veil right through their soup.

Yes, that's really me.

But it’s also less difficult than it sounds.

For one thing, the boundaries are pretty obvious. There are physical boundaries, of course – tables and chairs, sometimes columns, Christmas trees,or wandering humans – but there are also behavioural boundaries. Do not shove any portion of your anatomy in anyone’s face. Do not force anyone to stand up and dance with you (I realize some dancers break this one). Keep track of your position in space so you don’t trip up the waitstaff or tread on small children.

Secondly, though – and this is counter-intuitive – the thing that makes dancing in a small venue not-so-scary is exactly the same thing that makes it most terrifying: the audience is right there looking at you. Sometimes looking you in the eye.

And that, for me, is the entire point of dancing.

That’s what I was talking about yesterday, with that Genki Sudo video: when you’re dancing, you’re saying something. More skilled dancers than I are able to speak in more subtle and sophisticated ways, communicating through intricate choreography, athleticism, and sheer grace. Someone like myself, whose enthusiasm outstrips her native ability by a ratio of about 2:1, has to rely a bit more on charisma and personal connection.

The audience looks me in the eye: I have to be looking back at them. What magic is possible in my performance hinges entirely on this.

I’m not going to make anyone see the world in some radical new way, not at my level of skill. The best I can hope for is to convey something of what the music makes me feel, something of why I’m doing this at all, why it feels so vital – so crucial – for me to be up there, a human among humans, completely present in myself and this moment.

I love dancing because it forces me to be present in the world. I live so much in my head, usually, but performance is directed outward. Performance is for other people. It enables me to be generous in a way I’m normally not, to offer up the most elemental parts of myself as a gift: joy, sorrow, playfulness, fury, exhilaration. Love of music. Love of motion.

You have to speak your truth and be utterly convinced that it’s worth saying. Accept your own authority on the matter. That part isn’t so different from writing; it’s all one art in the end.

World Order: Mind Shift

I saw this video quite some time ago, forgot all about it, and then was just reminded of it recently. It’s Japanese martial artist (and all-around Renaissance man, apparently) Genki Sudo dancing to his own music. It is just ridiculously happy-making.

Ah, I love dance! This is dance doing the very best thing dance can do: giving us new insight into a piece of music, into the human body’s context within the world, and into the capabilities and meanings of the human body itself.

This has so many contrasting layers, man and machine, uniqueness and universality, emotion and impassivity.  Even just fast and slow. I come away with new understandings and new respect every time I watch this.


Springy updates

I proclaim it spring! We’ve had snowdrops here for the last three weeks, but I usually hold off declaring springtime until there are crocuses at least. There have been a few showing their noses in the warm sheltered cracks and crannies, but it’s only this weekend that they finally became so numerous that it was hard to keep the dog from stepping on them. So: spring! It is sprung, at least here on the balmy west coast.

You may spring vicariously through me, if your own climate isn’t cooperating. Maybe I’ll even get a wild hare to post some pictures or something. Wouldn’t that be nuts. Or, y’know, organized. It amounts to the same thing, with me.

In other news, Seraphina got a mention at The Book Zone 4 Boys, which I am very pleased about. I sincerely hope the book will find a male readership, and that this kind of mention will help. Amy Unbounded always had a lot of male fans, and that was (to my mind) a much more gender-specific work than Seraphina.

My husband likes my book. I know what you’re thinking – of course he does, he’s your husband – but no, that was never a given. I’m married to a physicist and quite possibly a Vulcan (the jury is still out). His entire interest in literature can be summed up in three titles: DuneLord of the Rings, and Sherlock Holmes (all of which he idiosyncratically insists are non-fiction).

He refused to read any early drafts of Seraphina for precisely this reason: what if he hated it? He is a spectacularly incompetent liar. He wanted to read it only when there was no chance whatsoever of his possible dislike or disinterest affecting the outcome; he didn’t want me taking his tastes into account instead of my editor’s advice. Frankly, it was the wisest approach for both of us. I don’t critique his research papers, after all. Anyway, once the book was beyond my power to change, he read it and actually liked it. We were both immeasurably relieved.

That’s a vote of confidence I take very seriously. If my hyper-rationalist husband could find something to love in this book, something to keep him reading voraciously ’til the end, then I believe it can appeal to many other flavours of masculine minds as well.

Because there is no monolithic Male Reader, right? I used to think I knew what boys were like; then I had a son and he blew my preconceptions to pieces. There will be boys who like this book (and people of all sexes who won’t!).

This book is about humans, and the boundaries of being human. I wrote it for humans. I wrote it for you.


I got all the way to the end of the draft! I’m “finished” – meaning “finished with one specific challenge and ready to move on to the next one!”

I realized I was done this morning while I was trying to write one last scene. It was going poorly, and all of a sudden it hit me why: the scene wasn’t necessary. Being finished before I realized I was finished is something that has happened at least once before. I wish I remembered which draft of Seraphina that was. One of the really major rewrites, to be sure. It’s hard to know when (or how) to stop sometimes, to be able to let it go and step away.

It’s like ending a symphony. Here’s the last movement of Beethoven’s 5th. Move it along to about the 7:30 mark, and listen to those resolving chords resolve, and resolve again, and get beaten to death with a hammer.

I’m not saying Beethoven wasn’t brilliant. A big symphony needs a big ending, and I like this one, but you can see how it could easily have gone on for another minute or two – or five – in the same vein. Ending a book is like that too. Here’s the chord! Oh, here it is even better! And one more, to make sure you’ve got it! And… I just can’t let this one go!

I’m letting it go here. Let this stew for a bit while I work on a short side project, and then go back and fix it enough that it won’t give my editor an aneurysm when he tries to read it. There’s still a long way to go, honestly, but I like acknowledging the milestones as they go flying by.


I had lunch with a friend at a Chinese restaurant yesterday. We ate massive quantities of eggplant and pork and talked about the weird minutiae of our lives. She’s also a writer, so we talked about work. I am 25-30 pages away from being done with the first draft of the sequel, and I was complaining about how ugly the draft is and how much revision I’m going to have to do.

“Well it’s just like you told me once,” she said. “You have to get all your messy obsessions and passions out in the first draft. Then you have to go back and make it into a book that other people can read.”

“When did I say that?” I said.

“Back when you were talking to me about my draft. Remember? How you have to pull out all the raw, feral parts and refine them, and layer them back in? How you’ll worry that the book is losing its heart when it loses the naked histrionics, and yet once it’s done you’ll look and everything you love is still there, not lost, but better?”

“That’s all true,” I said, “and you make me sound like an intelligent person. So how come I’m not that smart right now? Why do I forget this stuff?”

“I think that’s just how it works when you’re all up inside it. You can’t see yourself. Other people always look clearer to us. But I know exactly how you work: you’ll get all frustrated and hate everything and be convinced it’s the worst book ever, but three days later your shower will talk to you, you’ll fix it, and then you’ll be like, ‘That? That was nothing. The solution was right there the whole time.'”

I laughed, and we finished lunch. When the fortune cookies came, she opened hers first. It said:

Half of being smart is recognizing the ways in which we’re dumb.

“Dude!” I said. “I think you got MY fortune.” But then I opened up my own and it hit me so hard that my voice got stuck and I couldn’t read it out loud. I had to pass it across the table so she could read it to herself:

It’s not the end yet. Let’s stay with it.

“Yeah,” she said slowly. “I’m pretty sure that fortune is yours.”

I’m not superstitious, but the cookies were spooking me. I stuck my fortune in my wallet, in hopes that it will jump out at me when I least expect it and scare me all over again.

ALSAP #1.5: Trista Pena

I was all set to analyse you another love song today, in honour of Valentine’s Day, but I don’t feel like listening to that song today. In fact, I’m not listening to any of my Big Four. I’m writing to “Trista Pena” by the Gipsy Kings:

It’s technically a love song – a lost love song. The lyrics aren’t much, honestly; the title translates to “Sad Pain”. That pretty much sums it up, but you can tell as much just by listening. I still have reasonably good Spanish when I concentrate, but the Gipsy Kings aren’t about the lyrics for me (well, except for the occasional really interesting nonsense[?] words they include, like “Ami Wa Wa”. Those tickle me unduly). Not so much about the rhythm or song structure either: they play a lot of rumba, and they’re awesome at it, but there’s not a lot of variability.

No, Gipsy Kings are all about energy and mood, to me. If you’re in the market for an intense and specific emotion – be it joy, fierceness, nostalgia, or weepy weepy sorrow – these are your lads.

And yeah, I’m writing to a plaintive one today. Hm. Is that a spoiler?

Happy Chocolate Day to you and yours!