What I’ve Been Watching: The Everybody Dies Edition

I haven’t done a movie review post lately, so this list covers a couple of months of watching. These should all still be available to watch streaming on Netflix and other services. As always, my reviews are mainly about the writing; though of course a film with a great script can still be shot poorly, the writing shines through, while a poorly-written script will still be obvious no matter how much money is thrown into the production. (See below, World War Z.)

Starting with the best:

 

MV5BMTU4NTg4NzgzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTU1NTMxMDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_

HOW I LIVE NOW, 2013. Saorse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay. Director: Kevin MacDonald

5/5 stars.

Originally a novel by Meg Rosoff, published 2004 (winner: British Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the American Printz Award for young-adult literature). I haven’t read the novel but from what I can tell, the movie doesn’t diverge from it much, only cutting out scenes/people to get it down to a 1h41m runtime.

This is a beautiful, haunting, and — most importantly — organically logical story of a teenage girl who naively chooses to stay in England on the eve of a war rather than go home to her American father and stepmother, who’d sent her away in the first place. It’s the story of kids who are left stranded when their mom gets called away and isn’t able to return, who are separated, conscripted, and ultimately have to fight their way back to each other. It’s about making a family, making choices, taking risks, and doing so while the adults around them either ignore what they need or actively try to hurt them.

The kids can’t possibly make all of the right choices, even though for a moment it seems they’ll be okay in their country home, away from the mess of the world. That summer paradise is ripped away by the advancing army, and serves as a dreamlike reminder of the innocent joy they’ll never have again. Truly, they never will: some of the kids are killed, and the rest are changed forever. Daisy, the MC, isn’t nice or likeable to begin with, but neither is she cruel. She’s an unhappy teenager, simple as that. She grows over the course of the film, becoming a mother and protector, but the change isn’t capricious. She fails in a lot of ways as she learns to get the important things right.

There are consequences to everyone’s actions. The characters have motivation and agency and needs, and while displayed subtly, they’re also obvious in the context of the story. The director manages to keep the pace moving without rushing too fast or dragging behind. There are no montages; there is nothing shown outside of the Daisy’s experience, yet the story is complete and bursting with detail. It’s tight 3rd person, excellently scripted, and I highly recommend it as an example of how YA storytelling should be done. I normally avoid anything with teenage main characters because it doesn’t speak to my life now, and I don’t get terribly nostalgic for my own past since what I have now is so much better. But I’ve seen this twice now, and would watch it again, because it’s not about “teenagers”. It’s about real, textured, people who just happen to be kids.

(more…)

New Lakeside, New Publication, and Readercon

We launched the second issue of Lakeside Circus over the weekend with a brief Letter From The Editor, followed by the outstanding short story by Fran Wilde, “The Naturalist Composes His Rebuttal”. We paired it with a podcast — our first — read by Don Pizarro, who’s not only contributed a story to this issue but has been working tirelessly with me as our audio producer.

Fran said, “Bravo, Don BRAVO. This sounds exactly as I’d imagined it,” so take a moment and listen to it here.

You can see the full issue Table of Contents and publishing schedule here, along with links to subscription options. Please do consider subscribing if you haven’t yet; the more readers we have, the more podcasts and stories I’ll be able to fund.

My story, “How to Recover a Relative Lost During Transmitter Shipping, In Five Easy Steps“, is now online at Unlikely Story, for their Cartography special issue. Though it is technically about a map, for me the story is more about the idea of a map as a description of the places you’ve been along the way to where you’re going. The map you draw for others isn’t always accurate, even though you may think it is. The path is bent as you react to obstacles along the way, or filled in from hazy memories and half-guesses. Looking back, you’re tempted to see the past as the whole of the map, when it’s only your perspective on display. It may be true. It might not.

“How to Recover a Relative Lost During Transmitter Shipping, In Five Easy Steps” is told as an interview with a woman who accidentally became part of something enormous, when she thought she’d lost someone whose impact was only enormous to her. Here’s an excerpt:

Interviewer’s note: Amrita Chakrabarty agreed to this meeting only after several concessions were agreed to. First, that we wouldn’t discuss the contentious court battle she and her family had only recently settled; second, that we wouldn’t discuss the theoretical science in more than a passing way, as it applied to the events themselves; and third, that I didn’t ask about her relationship with her younger brother, Shikhar, beyond what she was willing to disclose on her own. The reader, no doubt already familiar with the hundreds of other articles on what’s now called “The Chakrabarty Wormhole Map,” can piece together for themselves why that might be the case.

Q: Let’s go back to the very beginning. What was your first hint that your brother and his friends had done something monumental?

AC: Nothing feels monumental until after it’s over and you realize what’s happened. This thing, which is so huge and impossible to escape now, was annoying to begin with. Frustrating, and then scary, but looking back, I can see why it’s been painted as something of an adventure. That sounds fun, right? A grand escapade.

The title of your book, which comes from the first set of instructions you wrote, makes it sound simple.

Yeah, that was a marketing thing. It wasn’t simple at all.

You can read the rest of the issue here. It also includes work from Sarah Pinsker, Rhonda Eikamp, Kat Howard, James Van Pelt, and Shira Lipkin.

I don’t have the schedule yet, but I’ll be on a panel at Readercon discussing imaginary cities and invented cartography, along with other folks from the Unlikely Story issue. Last version of the description I read was:

This summer, Unlikely Story will publish their Unlikely Cartography issue, featuring stories by Shira Lipkin, Kat Howard, Sarah Pinsker, Carrie Cuinn, and others. Together with editor A.C. Wise, these authors will discuss their stories, and other authors (historical and modern) who similarly explored the cartography of the fantastic. Influences and discussion topics may include Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Eco’s Legendary Lands, Post’s Atlas of Fantasy, Mieville’s The City and the City, and more.

I can’t wait!

Coming back around to Lakeside Circus again: I’ve update the website to include a main page button for podcasts (like we already had for short stories, flash fiction, and poetry), included the Issue Two information, and added rotating news posts to share important information on the front page. We’re keeping the design simple to translate well to your mobile devices, but still want it to be useful, easy to navigate, and aesthetically pleasing. Take a look?

#SFWAPro

Chinoiserie is just another way that racism sells fiction.

I saw a comment on a Facebook thread which asked, “why do we have so many Japanese and Chinese science-fiction protagonists and authors featured, and fewer Indian ones?”

My response, built off my many years studying the history of art, and speculative fiction, along with my experience in the industry as a writer and publisher, and conversations I’ve had with many, many, authors and readers:

Because Chinese/Japanese authors and stories fall into the currently acceptable version of the same recurring Chinoiserie* that Western audiences have been buying since the 1600s. It’s Orientalism, really; the idea that certain kinds of Asian culture/fiction or writers of specific Asian descent share an aesthetic which is more “delicate”, more “refined”, more “exotic”, than Western styles but not too much so. We’re allowing an archetype (of that highly educated, polite, non-politcal, poetic, Asian, the one who would have counted up on your gold on his abacus or played soft music for you while another one poured a perfect cup of tea) to be bought, promoted, and win awards because it makes us (the Western, white, “us”) feel more diverse, while still not being threatened. Some Koreans or Singaporeans are okay, depending on the tale. That’s why only a certain kind of story is being bought by most publishers right now. The other type of Asians, the ones writing about the culture and stories of people from the Philippines, Vietnam, India (especially outside the cities), Laos, and so on — well, that feels too “tribal” to most Westerners. Too “other”. Too much like Mexican or African stories, and so it doesn’t get published.

Look at the award lists for the Hugo, Nebula, Andre Norton, Campbell, or even the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards… where Asians are nominated or win, what percentage are Chinese/Japanese? Can you think of an author of Asian descent who’s won a major SFF award who wasn’t Chinese or Japanese? (The few Asian authors we’ve lauded, that I can think of, are either Korean, which most Westerners think of as China-lite, or are women, because we expect them to be more delicate, more respectful, more graceful, more Oriental, and so, more acceptable.)

The long-form winner of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Award was translated from Chinese in 2013. And 2012. Including it’s inaugural year, 2011, no Asian work was even on the long list that wasn’t Chinese or Japanese. No Asian author has won, or made the shortlist for, the Best Novel Hugo, but we’ve recognized white authors writing about China: McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang, Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt, for example.

Look at the sort of stories we read, buy, and will only accept from even authors who aren’t of Chinese or Japanese descent: retold Chinese myths, dragon/carp/phoenix tales, Emperors, concubines and geisha, martial artists… We buy imagery that includes tea ceremonies and lotuses, cherry blossoms and samurai swords, jade, silk, kimono, brush-painted letters, origami, rice paper screens. Set it in the future, set it in space, retell it in the Singularity, sure, but it’s got to hold on to that classic Chinese sensibility. (Firefly, anyone?)

As the objects which were originally prized made their way, as descriptions or depictions of those objects, into art and literature, that commodity fetishism eventually (and now) implied cultural and historical significance into the imagined lives of those objects — and by extension, those people. After all, Chinoiserie was about collecting the “curios” of a place when importing the people (as servants, slaves, exotic mistresses) wasn’t always affordable.

I’m not saying that those authors don’t deserve to be recognized. Of course they do. It’s so rare we give out the big SFF awards to anyone who isn’t white that pretty much every one else is a victory for diversity. Yay! But let’s not kid ourselves that we’re truly celebrating the range of humanity.

I can’t blame the Asian authors, who try to write other things and get told it won’t sell, or who submit other types of stories only to have them rejected in favor of the “popular” tropes. I can blame the readers who don’t look for anything more, or worse, don’t realize their error when they assume this is what all Asian fiction must be like. I can blame the publishers who profit off racism by catering to this illusion.

But instead of looking for who to blame, I’d ask you to seek out those who’re getting it right by writing and publishing more than the expected/accept tropes. Find stories about American-born Asians who’re struggling with the disconnect between their middle-class life here, and their grandfather’s upbringing in a jungle. Find stories about Mongolian settlers raising lizard-horse hybrids on a faraway planet, or Cambodian techs programming a new utopia. Seek out Sri Lankan authors, and Filipinos, and Laotian. (Start here. Or here. Or here. Or here.)

They’re out there, and they’re amazing.

* Not sure what Chinoiserie is? It’s defined as “a style in art (as in decoration) reflecting Chinese qualities or motifs; also :  an object or decoration in this style” and “reflecting fanciful and poetic notions of China”. This is a Google image search on the term; here’s the Getty’s 2004 exhibit “Imaging the Orient“. Read “Chinoiserie is Clearly French for ‘Hella Tacky’“, this post about Anna May Wong/Chinoiserie in 1920’s Film, “Imperial Glaze on China“, for a quick perspective. For a longer read, check out Ma, Sheng-mei, Deathly embrace: Orientalism and the Asian American identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

“A key point: chinoiserie as not just a european appropriation and adulteration of chinese imagery and artistry, but also a form that is produced by chinese people/chinese-americans to appeal to and satisfy the palates of whites. chinoiserie also relies on stereotyping china and on racializing art forms.” – notes in a diasporic tongue

Writing Process Blog Tour

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam invited me to join this blog relay on writing craft. Her post is here.

1. What am I working on?

I’ve got three big projects right now, as well as a couple of short stories I need to revise, and my editing work. I’m concurrently writing two novels and compiling a mosaic novelette of SF poetry. The working titles are:

  • Sonnets for the Rocket Queen – 144 Shakespearean-style sonnets about love, loss, and space ships.
  • Shades of Gray – first person, female protagonist, modern day, ghost story. Urban fantasy without the tramp stamp. Miéville noir with a female lead.
  • Caudal Ballad – third person PoV, multiple protagonists, surreal/interstitial. Borges meets Nabakov, with traces of Burroughs and Poe.

Shades and Caudal are set in the same universe, same town, at the same time, and explore a series of events from very different perspectives. They don’t need to be read together.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

No one else has read what I read, in exactly the same way, or lived my life, or shares my exact sense of humor. That’s true of all of us. For that alone, I’d like to think what I write is different. When you add to that mix that I write because I have a story in my head I want to get out — instead of for fame, money, respect, or notoriety — and that if I’ve read the same story elsewhere I no longer want to write it, then what I do produce fits into a small space occupied by not much else.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Have you ever read something and thought, “Oh, yeah, that is true”? You learn some fact you didn’t know before, but based on everything else you know, this thing makes sense. I love to read fiction that has that resonance of truth, and I don’t want to put any of my own writing out into the world unless it speaks to me in the same way. It has to answer a question, or provide a viewpoint which clarifies a confusion you didn’t even know you had. I want to feel more alive, more knowledgeable, when I’ve finished a piece of reading. Even if the knowledge is sad.

I’m also interested in mixes of genres or the places where multiple genres lean against each other. I think that when you work in solid, simple, mainstream, genres, whether it’s literary or epic fantasy or hard science fiction, you’re more likely to be retreading the same old ground. There are stories which slip between the cracks, tales that don’t quite fit, and are therefore told a lot less often. Those are the stories I want to tell.

4. How does my writing process work?

My current writing process was developed over years of failing to produce consistent work. Ideas, I have. Ideas are easy. They’re everywhere. I’m lucky that my subconscious, what I call my lizard brain, is strong enough that I can decide I want to work on a story, spend a little time thinking about it, and then move on to another task, another piece of writing. Meanwhile, my lizard brain will keep writing, until one day, it taps me on the shoulder and says, “Here you go.”

The hard part is always writing it down. I’m chronically overbooked, overworked, and exhausted. I don’t have time to read for pleasure, be with my family the way I’d like. So, how do I find time to write?

I carefully manage what I have, and the rest I need, I steal. The managing comes from being organized — two white boards at home, online spreadsheets, Field Notes books in my bags to scribble down thoughts, post-it notes on the wall, documents saved to Drive so I can work on them anywhere. I manage my time like I structure my writing, so I’ve got spreadsheets for how much time is spent on each freelance project, to do lists, and even my daily word count.

Doing that means I’ve got everything I’ve written down whenever I want it, and knowing whether I’ve spent enough time on other projects that day tells me how much I have left for writing. If it’s not enough to get out the part of the story I’m ready to write down, I take what I need from other places. I write instead of going out. I write instead of getting to bed on time. I write on my lunch breaks, before work, while watching tv, during dinner. Not all of those times every day, but whatever I need to make sure that every day, I am writing.

I’m a better writer because of it, and I think that I more fully enjoy the times I spend with my family, partner, friends because I know what I give up to write, and what I give up to be with them. I cherish everything. To me, making time to write feels like having it all.

* I was supposed to tag two more writers who’d then complete this meme and pass it on. Instead, I am tagging all of you. Write your own posts, and leave me a comment with the link so I can go read yours too.

#SFWAPro

#YesAllWomen, Because

When the UCSB shooting happened on May 23, and it became clear that the Elliot Roger acted not because of racism, or political terrorism, but out of misogyny and hate which no one else successfully cured him of, people began to use the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter to talk about why not all men are awful, but yes, all women experience some form of sexual harassment.

I didn’t join in, not at first, even though it’s a subject we should all talk about. I have talked about it, a bit, in posts like this one, but that’s not enough. As long as there are still big groups of people, men and women* both, who think a woman owes something to the men around her simply because she’s female, this is a conversation that we need to have.

And, it is dangerous to have this conversation, when you’re in a female body. For the last week, men have stood up and said, “No more”, and whether the people around them agreed or not, they generally were insulted but not threatened. When women have said, “No more, and here’s my experience,” they have often been not only insulted, but threatened with violence, and with rape. Because, how dare they, some men think. We should be so flattered, so lucky to have men find us attractive, that complaining is offensive to them. When I posted last year about sexual harassment at cons, some of the reactions included people talking online about how I must have invented my experiences, because (those men thought) I wasn’t nearly attractive enough to be the kind of girl who got sexually harassed. My friend Mercedes wrote this post about the reaction threats she got after using the hashtag to make two comments on Twitter last week.

Two comments. Two.

I won’t link to everyone else who’s written eloquently about their own experiences. You should go find them, and read them, and see a little more clearly how our world works. This post is about sharing mine, because I respect the others who have spoken up, and I don’t want them to be standing up alone.

I’m putting the next part behind a cut, and warn you that it’s triggering, for all the things you can imagine might be next. 

(more…)