What I’ve Been Reading: Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy

There are two things I have to admit before we can talk about the Southern Reach trilogy:

  1. My partner and I have a secret, special place online… a shared folder of ebooks. This magical spot includes every DRM-free file we’ve ever bought, plus all the digital books and magazines we’ve gotten free at cons, as contributor copies, or in giveaways. Between the two of us, we have hundreds of reading options, collected over a decade.
  2. Last November, he got me a tablet for my birthday. It was inexpensive, a few years out of date, and doesn’t run very quickly, on purpose, because I wanted something with a 10 inch screen that I couldn’t use for games. I wanted a reading tablet, something to help me get through that giant digital to-be-read pile. The tablet I was gifted is absolutely perfect for the job.

So, you’d think I read a lot. I haven’t been. For a couple of years, I haven’t been able to get into a headspace for reading for pleasure, so unless a book or story promised to enhance my writing techniques or was for research, I put in the “someday” pile and moved on.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, US cover.

Last week, I opened up Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, the first book in his Southern Reach trilogy. I’d put off reading it for a long time, partly because I had this idea in my head that it was going to be hard to read. Smarter than I am. Too literary for my mood. More… something, than I was ready for. It’s not.

Annihilation is so well written that it feels easy. I didn’t notice the work that must have gone into writing it at all, even though it’s my job to analyze writing, break down work into its component parts. I planned to, when I started reading, but I forgot about studying the technique as I got into the story.  Annihilation is that rare kind of beautiful epic which creates an entire world yet effortlessly flows from the page as fast as you can move your eyeballs. I tore through the first book and ended up reading the whole trilogy in two days. Continue reading

Two new fiction sales: Mad Scientist Journal and Kaleidotrope

I sold two pieces of original fiction this week, both on the 4th of July!

Since I’ve got the contracts, I can announce that “In Defense of a Water-Bound Adventure, My Dearest Fran” will be appearing in Mad Scientist Journal. The story will be published in their March 2018 print edition, and appear on the website in April 2018.

This is a sort-of followup to “On the Methods of Preserving and Dissecting Icthyo Sapiens” which Mad Scientist Journal published in 2013. It has the same “author”:

Dr. Stephen Mackle holds a Doctor of Science degree in Aquatic Biology from Cleveland College, and a Doctor of Agronomy degree from the Yerevan Veterinary Zootechnical Institute. He briefly taught at Huron Street Hospital College before leaving to pursue other research opportunities. He considers the study of Icthyo Sapiens and other aquatic cryptids to be his life’s work.

In the latest missive from Dr. Mackle, he’s tackling the biggest cryptid of his life, with a half-baked plan and a well-baked stack of apple pastries…

“Last Bus to What’s Left of Albuquerque” sold to Kaleidotrope, a new market for me, and will appear online in 2018. This story is set in one possible future which I think if you squint, you can see from where we’re standing. It’s about a man being released from prison, and the way we look at convicts as repeat-offenders who just haven’t had a chance to commit another crime yet.

I hope you’ll enjoy these stories, and I’ll keep you updated about them!

 

Free Short Story: “Tomorrow Can Be A Better Day”

I admit right now that this is not “flash” fiction. At 1727 words, it’s definitely a short story. Clarissa Ryan asked for one that included a lot of cute and happiness-inducing things, and when I’d finished drafting it, there was nothing I wanted to cut out. So, a short story it is, and I hope you enjoy it.

Tomorrow Can Be A Better Day

Jana stroked the kitten’s soft, calico fur as the elevator rose slowly. She left it cling to her shirt, held tight to her chest, as its tiny claws extended and retracted happily. The elevator stopped at the 7th floor, and Jana carefully reached down for her bags with her free hand.

“Time for you to go to your new home, honey,” Jana said to the kitten as she searched the recipient’s apartment. Spotting the right number on the door, she stopped, and set her bags down to one side. She pulled out square pink box large enough to hold the kitten, gently unhooked its little paws from her shirt, and placed it inside. “Now, shh,” she whispered. “You’re a surprise.” She grabbed a shiny bow from the bag, set it atop the box (careful not to cover up any of the air holes) and knocked on the door.

Just as Jana was about to knock again, the door finally opened a crack. An older woman, her graying hair up in a loose bun, clutched her bathrobe tightly with wrinkled pink hands. Her sandy blue eyes were red and her eyelids were puffy.

“Mrs. Margorie Hanta? Happiness Delivery Service,” Jana said in her bubbliest voice.

“I don’t want whatever it is,” Mrs. Hanta said softly. “Thanks anyway.” She started to close the door.

“Oh, but wait,” Jana said. “You’re the only one who can take this.” She held the box up.

The other woman sighed, but let the door stay open.

The kitten in the box mewed softly.

“No,” Mrs. Hanta said to the box, shaking her head. “I am not ready.” Continue reading

Art History Resources For Writers

I’ve occasionally talked about different aspects of art history here: semiotics, evolution of style, photo references, and so on. I don’t work as an art historian now, and I’m no longer pursuing a degree in that field (though I do have one and studied for another), so I’m always on the fence about how much time to devote to discussing it in this space. I think most people who read this blog are here for writing — my writing, or conversations about writing — and I’m not sure how much interest there ever was in me excitably sharing some obscure piece of history or culture that I read about this week.

But the truth is that I read non-fiction every week, in addition to fiction, and most of what I’m studying on my own is related to art history. I’ve always been a sociocultural art historian, which means I seek to understand art by  understanding the culture and context within which it was created, instead of trying to fit the art of another time and place into a framework I’m imposing. (I’m looking at you, Marxist aestheticists.) That’s part of why semiotics is an integral part of my art criticism; visual communication, including art, is an extension of linguistics, and like language, can’t be truly understood unless you know the context in which it’s spoken, and the culture of the people speaking it.

So, I think I’m going to incorporate more of that into this space. It’s a part of who I am, and that’s what you signed up for when you read my blog.

Before you go, check out these links to some previous posts that might interest you:

If you’d like me to talk about anything in particular, please leave me a comment below.

Today I’m Saving the World (A Little Bit)

 

When this posts, I’ll be lying on a Red Cross table, donating 2 units of red blood cells in a process they call “Power Red” automated donation. Basically, an apheresis machine will draw out twice as much blood as during a typical donation, separating the blood cells from the platelets and plasma. Then it returns those to me along with some saline; this keeps me from being too dehydrated afterward, and lets me give more blood cells than I could otherwise.

Donating blood is one of the most useful ways to help those in need. Unlike money (which can be spent on a charity’s “infrastructure” instead of going to those the group claims to help) or food (which is hard for food banks to manage and often a waste of time/money), donated blood can’t be “spent” on anything but saving a life.

Listen, the world in general is a cruel and uncaring place for most of us. But as individuals, we’re largely a decent group of creatures worth supporting and even saving, if necessary. Time and again we’re show definitive proof that we can’t go through the world alone — we need family, friends, safety nets, and social programs (including ambulances, emergency rooms, and fire crews) to get ahead and stay there. Everyone has to contribute whatever they can, so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed, or only the truly lucky will.

I’ve been scheduling a blood donation as often as they let me since I moved to Ithaca over 5 years ago. It’s the one thing I’ve been able to commit to, consistently, that is entirely about giving someone else a hand. There’s no glory in it, no reward, other than being selfless for 30 minutes, a couple of times a year.

I don’t have a lot of time to donate toward saving the world, and no money. I can do this, though, and so can you.