Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why Do I Write?

A post inspired by Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge for this week (admittedly, not fiction this time around). He asked readers to answer "Why I write." This is all I could manage. 

Some years ago, Hubby and I were invited to an artist’s house for her annual studio sale. There, we feasted on wine and snacks, enjoyed some charming chamber music from a string quartet, toured the artist’s delightfully quirky Victorian farmhouse, and met splendid people (including the artist herself). I bought a couple Christmas gifts and a kitchen sponge holder that I’ve trucked through three moves until we finally bought our house in 2012, where it sat happily on our sink for the past three years.

The piece had broken three times before. And because I loved it, I mended it patiently each time, hoping that this break would be the last. The memories of that sweet little date night brought me a spark of happiness, and I hadn’t been able to find a replacement that functioned as well or was nearly so beautiful. So each time it broke, I picked it up, took it to my studio, and glued it back together. Then, after letting it set, I’d return it to its role in the kitchen.

Then I dropped it in the sink yesterday. It broke. Again. Finally, at the fourth break, I decided I had to be done with it. I can only mend a thing so many times before I have to accept that, no matter how much I love it, the thing is just going to break on me, over and over, and become more fragile with each mend.

And I stood over the sink where I’d dropped this stupid little sponge holder and cried. I cried so hard that I had to sit down on the floor and catch my breath.

Because I realized something awful. I realized that’s where I am as a writer right now. I’m standing over something that’s broken, and I’m not sure if I have the emotional strength to pull myself together again, mend the break, and try to make something useful of it.

You must understand. Writing is breath to me. I’ve been telling stories since I could string a halfway sensible collection subjects, objects and verbs together. I’ve probably been telling stories since before that, because as a baby, I was a babbler. I didn’t care that no one understood; I’d talk to anything that would sit in front of me for thirty seconds and listen (including my audience of stuffed animals). Stories are in me. My dad would probably say that they’re as deep as my DNA, with a cultural heritage that goes back to the Eddas and Beowulf.

So I can say what many would say when asked. I write because I must. I write because it’s how I exist.

But I haven’t written anything of consequence in months. Maybe longer.

It’s not for a lack of ideas.

I’ve begun throwing the ideas away. Sometimes I reject them with an actual gesture of disdain as they come. Because what’s the point? Whenever I indulge an idea, I get a spurt of a few hundred words of productivity.

Then, I return to it later, attempting to squeeze something more out of it, and I feel as if I’m trying to wring blood from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Or worse yet, I get something “finished” and look back at it and realize the mortifying truth: I can’t look objectively at any of my work anymore. Time away doesn’t help. Nothing helps. I can’t see my own work anymore for what it is.

A part of me blames my goddamn book.

I finished a hundred thousand word epic, a behemoth that follows a monstrously feminine demigoddess across centuries.  

But when I finished and started looking for readers, I passed a digital copy to over thirty people whose opinion I trusted.

Months went by. Years, even. No one read it.

I began to believe that maybe no one was interested. Or perhaps worse yet, maybe they had read it and it was so bad that they didn’t want to tell me how much they disliked it. Maybe I’m just that awful (on every level).

I think that’s when I started looking at my writing this way. That’s when I started disbelieving my own acuity. I can look at anyone else’s work with an appropriately critical eye and tell you why and how it’s good or inadequate. But my own work? It may as well be in Sanskrit.

Now I’m left with a gorilla of a book and a pile of half-stories sitting in the dark corner of my mind that I try to shove under the couch cushions so I don’t have to see my own inadequacies

I try to go back to the draft, but every time I open it, I can’t get more than a few pages in without drowning in hot tears. I've edited it a number of times, but it still feels as broken as the unfinished stories.

I was published earlier this year. A story I never imagined would even appeal to anyone about a squirrel and my dad that was a backwards tribute to both Dad and Bartheleme. It was adored. But instead of being overjoyed about it, I asked myself what was wrong with me. How could I have misjudged my skill so badly? I didn’t put a word on paper for weeks.

I’ve tried other avenues, and I’ve created what, some people have said, are beautiful things in the process.

They’re nice. I’m proud of them. They express another facet of passion, I suppose. But they’re not what I dreamed of doing when I would lay crosswise on my bed and stare adoringly at their spines…


…when I’d watch them like one would watch a lover, envisioning all inside them that made me adore each and every one, and think about the worlds spinning in my own brain. When I’d imagine my own name on a spine someday, inspiring a girl like me to spin her own worlds.

But I’m beginning to feel that it’s not going to happen, that my stories aren’t worth telling. And while admitting it feels like cutting off my arm, I am beginning to wonder whether I have the right to be writing at all.

So, why do I write? Because I must. Because I breathe. Because I experience. Because it's been a part of me since before I can remember. 

But I don't think I deserve to anymore. I don't think I'm worthy of the stories I want to tell. 

I’m sorry. This isn’t inspiring. But it’s all I’ve got. I’m this broken, useless thing, staring at more broken, useless things, wondering how I’m going to exist without them, ugly or not.

I have no answers. Just a hopeless pile of clay and tears and an orphaned monster left to roam the countryside in search of a friend.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What's Wrong With a Kiss?

WARNING: Spoilers for the season premiere of Doctor Who follow (though it's not TOO spoilery). But just to be safe...DON'T LOOK if you haven't seen it yet! 

Last weekend, my Twitter feed EXPLODED...all day...with the internet equivalent of "SQUEEEEEEEEEE!" as Peter Capaldi's Doctor (Twelve...or Thirteen?) appeared for the first time on Doctor Who. He was brilliant, as I knew he would be. While there have been quibbles about the episode (yes, I'm about to quibble, too), I have yet to see anyone who hasn't jumped on Capaldi's bandwagon. He was brilliant. He was heartbreaking (that PHONE CALL...BOTH OF I right!?). He was funny. He has attack eyebrows.

But there was another distinct theme to the Who-tweets and posts as fans everywhere rallied around the idea of a Vastra/Jenny/Strax Victorian whodunit spinoff series. These demands have been steadily increasing with every appearance the trio makes on the series. They've now taken on a feverish pitch that I'm fairly certain Moffatt and the BBC can't ignore. The trio were such a significant part of this episode (they even acquired a Lestrade!) that I wonder if the BBC isn't already making those plans.

Unfortunately, this episode only managed to reinforce one of my issues with the depiction of Jenny and Vastra's marriage: though they seem to be deeply committed and closely bonded, their physical relationship doesn't seem to move past holding hands. Has there even been a peck on the cheek between them? I can't remember one.

Jenny and Vastra, by all accounts, seem to have a splendid and very realistic marriage, for the most part. But their relationship has never seemed to actually be a marriage. It's always so...platonic between them. Prior to this episode, we saw Jenny more physical with the Doctor than she ever was with her spouse.

Remember this!?
And then, after years of flirtation, fans finally saw a kiss that was years in coming. But it only happened by virtue of a life-threatening situation where a kiss from Vastra literally saved Jenny's life. Does it take a life-or-death situation for these two to show any physical affection? That doesn't really jive with the character of the rest of their relationship. So, why did it take so long for us to see this gesture that takes place daily between most loving couples? And why did it seem like it needed to be "excused" in the cloak of a dire scenario?

I realize that this is Victorian England and the pair have to keep up appearances in public, but we've seen numerous instances of their private lives. Though there's plenty of affectionate banter flying between them, it's not balanced by the physical affection that's common between a couple as madly in love as they seem to be. The audience seems led to believe that these two have plenty of physical interactions off-camera. Why does Moff seem so hesitant to depict it on screen? I always had the impression the UK was more progressive in regards to accepting a variety of relationships, but the depiction of Jenny and Vastra has made me wonder. Am I wrong about that?

I'm sure I'm not the only one asking this question. Maybe it's too much to expect that any media depict a loving lesbian relationship that expresses physical affection as well. Maybe people just don't know how to write that. But we should learn. As George R.R. Martin said when asked how he writes women so well, "You know, I've always considered women to be people." One strength of the writers of Doctor Who is that they've always been able to see even the most inhuman characters as complicated people when the dust settled. It can't be too difficult to write a well-rounded long-term relationship between two PEOPLE (even if those two people happen to share the same gender and one has lizardy ancestry) that includes the typical physical contact that takes place between a couple.

Please tell me if I'm wrong. I'd love to just have missed noticing this affection, because it SHOULD be there. Why can't everyone show their affection on TV? Why is this diversity somehow "not okay" in the twenty-first century? Are we really THAT afraid of a few hateful zealots?

Friday, August 22, 2014


The START of a response to Chuck Wendig's weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. There is much more story here that I'll have to return to later. 

The sonic boom of his ships engines thrusting out of the upper atmosphere is barely a pop from the surface, the light of its warp core sparkling briefly, like a star fizzling out.

Vina sighs. She wishes her heart could feel lighter with every light year the ship puts between him and her home, but she knows this will not be the last she will see of them. There will be more, in their gleaming silver ships with their laser weapons and hypocritical directives.

She spits on the ground. Agitation quivers through her with the tension of a tairn string, though she fears nothing so sublime as its music will be the result of this pressure.

"Vina." The voice behind her is barely louder than the wind through the ferns that cling to the ground around them like girls to their mothers.

Reaching back, she pulls her ancient nursemaid to her. Age has shrunken her, darkened her skin to the color of the depths of the deepest lagoon, but the elder is still strong enough to hold her together in a crisis.

"I failed, Eeyma. I thought if we showed them a backwards and debased planet, they'd decide we weren't advanced enough and just leave us alone. I thought if we put on one disgusting show..."

She chokes back a sob.

"That's the problem," she grumbles into her elder's embrace.

"With men?" She ventures.

"No. With all of us. All of us with big brains and good intentions. We need someone to save, whether they need it or not."

Eeyma nods, sighing, and breaks the embrace to gaze into the dark pools of her charge's eyes.

"So, what will you do?"

Sides sets her jaw, hands compressing into fists.

"What I must."

Image credit: 
"Sun Spots and Solar Flares" by NASA/SDO 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Antidote to The Alchemist: 22 Books That ACTUALLY Encourage the Examined Life

Paulo Coelho’s atrocious mess of a pseudo-novel is making the rounds and wrongheadedly mislabeled as a “deep examination of the self” yet again. Just hearing this assertion makes me bristle. His poor substitute for a self-examination is not only trite; I would go so far as to consider Coelho’s book misleading and somewhat dangerous, since its materialistic ending could lead one to entirely the wrong conclusion about the point he was supposedly trying to make in the first place. But I don’t expect much more from a writer who can’t write a realistic dialogue, let alone characters, to save his life.

In short, it’s candy for people who come to the book looking for a hearty meal. It may be fun (for...someone, I suppose?), but it’s not going to give you any sustenance (and may give you diabetes).


Wait, what was I saying? Oh, yeah. Substance.

Save yourself some time and a dented wall. Because, trust me, if you have any self-awareness at all, the end of this book will make you throw it across the room (if you make it that far). If you want to read his book to become more self-aware (and more universally aware, for that matter), you might consider giving some other books a try.

Which books? Well, I’m glad you asked. I’ve assembled a “scratch the surface” sort of list to get you started. There are benchmark books, such as Plato’s Republic and other religious and philosophical source material that are also valuable, but I’ve left those more hefty books off the list in favor of books that might serve as a launching point in more accessible language and with an approach that could hopefully be an easier way to start. Once you get compelled by one or two of these, continue digging! Suspect anyone who claims to have all the answers, but keep searching anyway. The scenery on the journey is totally worth it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Who Are We as the World Falls Down?

I know I'm a few weeks late with this reflection, but bear with me. I've been ruminating on this, so there's a reason it's been a bit late in coming.

Is anyone else fascinated by the idea that while S.H.I.E.L.D. falls to pieces, the rest of the world clicks along relatively normally? In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Nothing Personal," which takes place immediately after the events of the Captain America: Winter Soldier movie, the world isn't burning. People aren't running mad. Washington, D.C. looks pretty normal as Maria Hill walks the streets.

from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Nothing Personal"

Cars seem to be following traffic laws, people are milling around and having what seems to be a pretty typical weeknight. It's astonishing to me that this could be the case. The hole left by a lack of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not leaving a wake of anarchy in the public at large, and that's a little mind-blowing as we witness the sky falling inside the organization as a whole.

While some people would write this off as an inconsistency, I don't think this is bad storytelling at all; quite the opposite, in fact. This indicates that while S.H.I.E.L.D. is the sun and moon to these people...while they believe that it's saving the may not actually be as vital on a day-to-day basis as the agents think it is. This is a subtle hint from the storytellers that chaos can be blooming for a group of people while the rest of the world clicks on without noticing. These people have to have seen the news reports of the battle only miles away from them, but they don't seem affected at all.

Mind you, Hydra is probably keeping order on the surface pretty well, too, partially because they've planned for this for six decades and partially because it's just generally good PR to put on a good face.

But this seems to me to be a really interesting parallel to the suffering of people in places like Syria or Turkey, or even in your own culture, for that matter. On a personal level, I remember when my mother-in-law died and everything in my world seemed upended. It was so disorienting to go to the grocery store and watch people do their business like nothing had happened...because nothing had happened to them. But worlds can burn for entire groups of people, and even the people who are aware of that chaos from the outside are largely unaffected by it and move on with barely a blink. Maybe there's a murmur of sympathy or a head that shakes in disbelief, maybe we even contribute money or other donations to the cause, but the world moves forward, insistent on grinding ahead mostly in business as usual mode while a column of smoke dissipates into the atmosphere in the near distance.

What does this say about human nature, for better or for worse? At best, it means we recover quickly and move on from tragedy and that we have a very strong instinct to rebuild even as things continue to fall apart, which is a part of how we've managed to survive as a species. At worst, it means that we can be massively tone deaf to the suffering our fellow human beings as cultures burn right under our noses, because on a subconscious level, we're afraid to dive in and be voluntarily exposed to that monstrosity. We don't believe it can happen, so we don't really see it. Sometimes the instinctual propensity toward survival is a horrific thing.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Falling in Love with Batgirl

I've posted briefly before about Batgirl (or, more specifically, about her roommate), but I really only got into the comics in the past couple months as I've snatched up the last few TPBs from the New 52 (a reboot DC did of most of its lineup, mostly to attract new readers). Yes, I'm behind. I'm also just now getting into Arrow, which my husband has had us consuming gluttonously on Netflix and Amazon Prime (Green Arrow was one of his absolute favorites growing up). We watched the entire first season in about two weeks, and have been steadily pouring money into the TV to consume season 2. Yes, yes, we watched six episodes in one day at one point. I won't say how many we watched in a weekend. And now we have to WAIT until FALL for more!? AUGH.

But, back to MY new favorite: Batgirl. Way cooler than Greenie. Just don't tell Hubby.

I've almost abandoned Wonder Woman right now in favor of catching up on Batgirl. I find the story compelling and  And Gail Simone is, in a word, brilliant. Batgirl is a real person, with believable thoughts and problems and dreams. The plot is compelling (almost compulsive), and her secondary characters have life and personalities beyond just the ability to highlight Barbara. Gail Simone turns Barbara's experience from a refrigerator girl into a real moment that has a definite, sometimes crippling impact on the way she approaches life and the battles she faces both in her "normal" life and in her life as a superhero, even after her body heals.

For those who are unaware, Barbara Gordon was paralyzed by Joker in Alan Moore's graphic novel, The Killing Joke (if you haven't picked this story up and read it, do it NOW. Come back when you've had the heartbreaking experience so we can start a support group together or something). She regains her ability to walk in the New 52. Unlike some of the reboots, Simone actually adds credulity to Barbara's renewed ability by explaining (at least to some degree) her regained ability. Instead of just hitting the "reset" button, she explains how Barbara came to regain her ability to walk and uses the insecurities from her miraculous cure to grapple with some serious issues as Barbara resumes her crimefighting duties under the cowl.

I'm two TPBs in. Her brother is terrifying. Also, what do you think about my acquisition from Planet Comicon? My own itty bitty Batgirl! I almost considered giving her her own Tumblr or Instagram account and posting "The Adventures of Itty Bitty Batgirl."

You're laughing again. I know. I'm hopeless. But hey, Gates McFadden has an "Adventures of Tiny Crusher!" It could work, right?


Well, at least the crickets agree with me.

Next up: Batwoman (I already started...I NEED BOOK 2!). And probably Guardians of the Galaxy. I want to be up on the current universe before the movie.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My (In)Famous Bacon Brownie Ice Cream Recipe

I've been asked for my recipe for bacon brownie ice cream a million times, and since the request has come from so many places, I decided to make it available on my blog to make it easier to share. I know this isn't a food blog, so you'll forgive me if the geekery leans toward bacon and gastronomy rather than Star Trek and Batwoman for this particular post...those subjects will be back for the next post, I promise!  

I feel like a broken record saying this, because so many chefs have said it so many times before, but the real secret to making this amazing is getting the right ingredients. Fresh, preferably local and organic milk and cream are best (especially if the cream comes in a bottle with some thick creamy goodness hanging around the mouth). The same is true with the bacon--fresh, preferably local and sliced by a butcher. I do cheat when I make the brownies, but use the best "cheat" you can find--I go with Gheridelli brownie mix if I'm making the gluten-laden kind and Bob's Red Mill for amazing GF brownies if you have guests with celiac-type issues. 

So, here it is, in all its recipe for Bacon-Brownie Ice Cream. Enjoy. In moderation. And maybe have a salad for dinner. 

What ya need: 

For the brownies: 

  • High-quality brownie mix and required ingredients (but don't put ALL the oil in! Read on!)
    • Also note: If the brownie mix makes only an 8x8 or 9x9 pan of brownies, you'll need two. This assumes you've prepared a 13x9" pan's worth of brownies.
  • 8 strips of uncooked bacon 
  • Reserved bacon drippings
  • About 1/2 cup chocolate chips, if the brownie mix doesn't include chocolate chunks

For the ice cream: 

  • 4 1/2 cups milk (We used skim. Gotta save the calories somewhere!)
  • 2 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 vanilla beans
  • 4 1/2 cups whipping cream

How ya do it: 

  1. Okay, start by making the bacon. Line a cookie sheet with high sides with tinfoil. Set a cookie cooling rack in the pan, and lay the bacon on the drying rack. DO NOT PREHEAT THE OVEN.
  2. Put the bacon in the oven, THEN turn it on to 425 degrees F. 
  3. Let the bacon cook for about 15-25 minutes (depending on how thick it is) until it's nicely browned. 
  4. Pull the bacon out of the oven and let it cool. Reserve the bacon oil. 
  5. Okay, now time to get to work on the brownies. Measuring out the oil or melted butter, START with the reserved bacon fat from the brownies, then add whatever oil is necessary to make up the remainder of the oil requirements. 
  6. When you have the brownies mixed, crumble and then fold in the cooled bacon. 
  7. Prepare the brownies as package directions dictate. 
  8. While the brownies are cooking, you can start making the ice cream. Heat the milk until bubbles form around the edge of the pan. 
  9. Remove from heat and add the sugar and salt. Stir until they're dissolved. 
  10. Then, slice open the vanilla bean and scrape out the gooky insides and add that to the milk mixture. 
  11. Stir in the whipping cream. 
  12. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes. 
  13. Remove brownies from the oven and let them cool completely (it wouldn't hurt to refrigerate them for a few minutes, too). Rip the brownies to big crumbled shreds.  
  14. Once the mixture is cooled, add to an ice cream machine and chill per the machine's instructions. 
  15. When the ice cream is ready to come out of the machine for its final chill in the freezer, stir in the crumbled brownies. I did this in three phases to keep the ice cream from melting too much. 
  16. You'll probably want to let it firm up the rest of the way in the freezer for a few hours before eating. But I know you already licked the spoon you used to fold the brownies into the ice cream, and that is TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE. You did all the hard work, after all. 

Makes about 6 quarts. And you'll need it all when word gets out what you've made.

Extra pro tip: To make this SUPER wonderful, melt two parts of your favorite chocolate (or butterscotch, or peanut butter...) chips in the microwave (GENTLY...15 seconds at a time, then stir!). Add one part coconut oil. FAST AND EASY magic shell! 

You might want to have salads for the next COUPLE days...