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(Review) Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #1-6

Reading 150When Marvel resumed their regular universe in the wake of Secret Wars last November, they released a really great line-up of diverse comics under the “All-New, All-Different Marvel” banner. I wrote a little about the titles I was most interested in here, and it’s taken me a little time to get to most of the titles. Still, they’re in my pull box and I’ve been steadily making my way through. So, how are they faring eight months later?

Not well, I have to say. Red Wolf, Howling Commandos of SHIELD, and Weirdworld have been cancelled already, and a lot of the other fledgeling comics aimed at diversifying their line-up in either character or tone have been consistently soft-sellers for your local comic shop. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the diversity initiative is a failure; with a more diverse readership comes way more diverse ways of reading, so while a lot of the audience for these books might not be heading to the LCS to pick them up they might be getting them somewhere else — digitally through the Marvel or Comixology app, or in graphic novel form through their local bookseller or on Amazon. Still, the Diamond sales figures reported from comic shops is essentially the Nielsen rating that comics titles live or die on, and the big two publishing houses still use that as a key figure of success.

So let me preface this review by saying that if you’re a comics fan who has been championing more diversity in superhero stories, it’s vitally important to offer feedback to the companies giving it to you in a way they understand. Visit your local comic shop, pre-order the title or buy it off the shelf. A lot of these businesses are locally owned and operated, and they can certainly use the patronage (and the proof that broadening the tent of the superhero story is bringing in new and diverse fans).

MG and DD

One of the titles I was most intrigued by is Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, which wrapped up its first arc last month and released its first graphic novel collection. Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare have been doing some great work here, establishing Lunella Lafayette as a next-generation Peter Parker who just so happens to have a supernatural dinosaur as a best friend. Lunella’s story is relatable and engrossing, even when the more ridiculous elements dominate the scenery. It’s grounded in street-level concerns, coming off a bit like Netflix’s Daredevil — a look at how the high-minded heroics of the Marvel universe affect the working stiffs who have to deal with the fallout.

Lunella, for example, is a ten-year-old super-genius whose parents simply can’t afford to send her to a school worthy of her intellect. Worse, her repeated applications to the prestigious Future Foundation are rejected. So she’s stuck at her local elementary school where she fights off crushing boredom and disconnection by working on a problem that’s complicated enough to engage her and personal enough to motivate her: finding a way to keep the Terrigen Mists making their way around the globe from turning her into an Inhuman. She knows she has these dormant genes locked up inside of her, and exposure to the Mists will activate them, turning her into a different person. Of course she doesn’t want that; she just wants to be a normal girl. So, she tries to hunt down a Kree artifact in the hopes that it will tell her how their experiments worked. Maybe if she gets an explanation, she can reverse-engineer a cure.

Meanwhile, both Devil Dinosaur and a tribe of early hominids called the Killer Folk are displaced through time after a fight; when Lunella finds the artifact that sent them into the modern day, she becomes the Killer Folk’s new target.

This is my first exposure to Devil Dinosaur, though I’ve seen his name pop up here and there in various Marvel cartoons and games. I suspect I’m not alone in this, especially if this particular comic book is meant to draw in readers who would have never gotten into the Marvel universe some other way. I’m intrigued by his back-story, even though I don’t think we’ll get much explanation of it here; the first arc is all about Lunella making sense of her world and the crazy things she gets caught up in and DD is very much a sidekick. But it feels like his fight against the Killer Folk reaches back across the eons, especially since the inciting incident involves a ritual that the Killer Folk perform a blood sacrifice and the dinosaur’s original companion — Moon Boy — is *also* an ancient hominid. What’s going on here? And how does it tie in with Lunella’s life beyond the Kree connection? Maybe that will be answered in future arcs.

MG and DD coverThis one, though, is a lot of fun. We’re introduced to Lunella, her family, her school, her neighborhood and problems through these intensely disruptive influences that reshape them quite a bit. We see Lunella’s fearlessness as she draws her strength in the face of adversity; how she gets that from a mother willing to do what it takes to protect and provide for her family; and how her work ethic comes from a father who sacrifices his time and attention to make ends meet, but still does his best to be present for a daughter he doesn’t really understand. Lunella, on some level, recognizes the good intentions of her parents even while she knows they can’t possibly get what she’s going through. That tension between love and isolation is well-drawn here; and it informs so many of her decisions. She puts up with the teasing from her classmates, the impatient hostility of her teachers, the dismissive ignorance of the world at large — not because she thinks she’s better than they are, but because she knows how her differences sets her apart from just about everyone. If her own family doesn’t understand her, how can she expect anyone else to?

I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but it is. Lunella is a great heroine because she doesn’t let this fundamental disconnection get her down. She still believes in the people around her, she still wants to be a part of the world. The first arc of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur establishes that desire while also showing her that she can embrace the full oddity of who she is and how she relates to the world around her. Seeing that is a true joy and ultimately inspiring.

We don’t see black heroines who are smart, fearless and devoted to excellence all that often. Most of the time we see them as tough powerhouses who don’t take shit from anyone (see: Zoe Washburne, Amanda Waller, Miss America, etc.). And while that’s awesome, Lunella is in a class all by herself. She gets by on her brain, and her strength comes from her ability to stick through a tough problem until she finds a solution. She just doesn’t give up. That willpower is her birthright, and she’s applying it to the problems that we face in the 21st century. Ours is a complex, interconnected and quickly-changing world, and just when you think you’ve got things down the landscape shifts under your feet. Lunella is simultaneously firmly rooted in who she is and adaptable to whatever the world lays at her doorstep. She’s incredible.

The art from Amy Reeder and Natacha Bustos is a big part of this comic’s appeal. It’s bright and dynamic, capturing the lightness of childhood perfectly blended with the hard edges and long shadows of living in a big, dangerous city. They’re able to run the gamut of grounded scenes at the family dinner table, the primary-colored chaos of an elementary school classroom, the neon-and-shadow contrast of a city at night, and the traditional craziness of big superhero action without sacrificing their style; it’s consistent and balanced, simple but extraordinarily capable. This book isn’t only a pleasure to read, but so many of the panels are a joy to look at as well.

I really love this comic, and I think a lot of you out there will, too. And, as much as I hate to say this, it’s important that you find it. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur debuted in November 2015 with nearly 39,000 copies sold; sales figures have since dipped into the 12K range — beneath Contest of Champions, Star-Lord and Hyperion. It’s not quite into “automatic cancellation” territory, but it’s close. The most recent issues of Weirdworld and Red Wolf have only pulled 9K and 7K copies, respectively; Marvel’s top ongoing comics generally pull around 75K copies.

I’m not going to pretend Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur will ever pull that many numbers, but it’s important for us to show Marvel that there’s room in their universe for heroes like Lunella Lafayette. Now that the first collection is out, go to your local comic shop and pick it up. If you like it, make it a point to grab individual issues every month. I know that the feedback model is bogus — digital and bookstore sales absolutely need to be given more weight — but let’s deal with things as they are. Now that Marvel has listened to us and given us diverse and compelling heroes, it’s up to us to show our appreciation with our wallets and words.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2016 in Comic Books, Reading, Reviews

 

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(Comics) A Wolf for the People: Sam Wilson’s First 100 Days as Captain America

Reading 150Sam Wilson has not had an easy time of it during his short stint with the shield. He’s basically operating on a shoestring budget out of the basement of a neighborhood church, with only two (testy) people on his staff and no resources. He’s on the “wrong” side of an ideological difference with his best friend and former mentor, Steve Rogers; that same difference has caused most of the public to turn against him. And, for four issues, he was transformed into a wolf/human hybrid against his will by a mad doctor.

Fortunately for us, Sam’s trouble is our delight. The first six issues of Sam Wilson: Captain America makes a bold statement about how he handles the responsibility of being a symbol; writer Nick Spencer positions Wilson as a superhero in an intensely divided country, so no matter what he does he’s going to piss off half the population. Still, Wilson takes a stand even though it’s unpopular, because he’s learned the only lesson worth knowing from Rogers. In order to be worthy of the costume, you have to live up to your morals unflinchingly.

What makes Sam so interesting as Cap is that his morality is so different from Steve’s. Their big rift comes from the fallout of learning that SHIELD has been working on a Cosmic Cube that has the power to reshape reality. The person who leaked this information, an Edward Snowden-type known only as The Whisperer, was nearly caught until Sam helped him — he believed that blowing the whistle on SHIELD’s activities is a public service that he shouldn’t be punished for. Rogers, on the other hand, thinks that though The Whisperer did the right thing, he should still be brought to trial for his actions. Wilson doesn’t believe it’s possible to trust due process in this case, but Rogers does. It’s the difference between Lawful Good and Neutral Good.

That rift deepens when Wilson takes on a militia appointing themselves as border patrol to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, and it’s there he discovers people are being taken and experimented on by Dr. Malus. On the run from SHIELD and Rogers, Wilson is captured and turned into Cap-Wolf, which is the real reason you folks should get these issues. Of course.

Wilson’s investigation takes him through the business world, where Serpent Solutions is making a power-play on behalf of other corporations. The commentary on the current state of corporate politics is a little more ham-fisted, but Sam’s resolution of the arc is surprising yet pragmatic; what I love about the way the story winds down is his realization that ideals don’t happen in a vacuum. Choices have far-reaching consequences, because at this point of American life everything is connected. You can’t advance your morality without stepping on a political landmine, and those politics are deeply influenced by gigantic corporate interests whose success and failure affect the livelihood of millions. If you shut down one thing, you begin a cascade that quickly spirals outside of your control.

Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson have different ways of reacting to the system. Rogers’ Captain America was wholly inspirational; he wanted to be the physical embodiment of the best principles America was founded upon. He believes that the system works, but only as long as the people within it strive for the ideals they serve to the best of their ability. Wilson’s Captain America isn’t so sure; he believes that the system is rigged and leaves out a lot of people who can’t defend themselves against it, and those are the people he wishes to serve.

The Whisperer is the embodiment of that difference in opinion. Since Steve believes in the system, he believes that he can convince people to do the right thing and justice will prevail. But Wilson understands that even if they win in the courtroom, other connected threads will act to preserve the status quo however it can. The system will protect its own, and Steve is inextricably tied to it. Sam has always been an outsider, so his morality doesn’t depend on that allegiance.

So who IS Captain America these days? What interest does he serve? As our understanding of the government shifts and our ideas about what it should and should not be doing changes, every once in a while we need to step back and check on that. I love that Nick Spencer is really diving into that through Sam’s turbulent first days on the job, and I’m really curious how Wilson’s journey continues. There is going to be a lot more fighting for him coming up — Avengers: Standoff is getting into full-swing, and there won’t even be time to take a breath before Civil War II lights up comic stores this summer. Somewhere in all of that, Steve Rogers will don the mantle of Captain America once more, giving us two versions of the hero serving two different visions of America.

Maybe, at this point, that’s the best we can hope for.

 

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(Review) Why Black People Don’t Time Travel

Reading 150Edana Peterson is a writer who works temporary jobs to make ends meet; during one of these jobs, she meets a white, blue-collar worker named Kevin Franklin and falls in love with him. Kevin rejects his racist family in order to marry Dana — not something that’s easy, but it was especially so back in 1976. As the newlyweds move into a small place together, Dana gets dizzy while having a conversation with her husband. The room begins to spin; her vision blurs. And suddenly, she’s in a river with a drowning child. She saves him, and in reward for her trouble she’s attacked by the boy’s mother and nearly shot by a white man wondering what she’s doing off of a plantation.

This is the first of a half-dozen incredible trips back in time and across the country for Dana, the protagonist of Octavia Butler’s seminal work Kindred. Over the course of the novel, she learns that she’s being pulled back through time to save a young man named Rufus Weylin, who turns out to be an ancestor living in slavery-era Maryland. However, Rufus’ calling her have massive and long-lasting effects on Dana and Kevin; the first-hand experience of American slavery leave deep and lasting scars on both of them that they struggle to deal with.

Kindred is essentially a fictionalized slavery narrative that does something vital — it recovers the true extent of the slave’s experience and contextualizes it for modern-day audiences. One of the greatest disservices that have been done to American history is the sanitization of this period. So many stories set during this period are “lightened” so that audiences don’t lose their stomach for the tale while still hopefully learning how difficult it was. But what that does is distance ourselves from the very thing we need to be connecting to — no matter how difficult it is, knowing exactly what happened to black Americans during slavery and who perpetrated these horrors is essential in understanding the social and psychological impact it had on the people and institutions of modern-day America.

Both Dana and Kevin see themselves as progressives of the time, but the forced confrontation of the reality of their history is still hard to take. Their experience gives them no choice but to re-examine the idea they had about slavery and the choices that people under that brutal regime had to make in order to survive. Kindred illustrates just how people could possibly come to accept the abuses they endured and why they did it; it gives shades to those “Uncle Tom” and “contented mammy” characters that were caricatured in stories like Gone With The Wind; and it restores agency to so many other people trapped in the huge social ecosystem of the Southern plantation. The slaves that Dana meets when she’s transported through time don’t belong to merely a few stereotypes; their rich inner lives shows us the vast array of responses to their enslavement and how those decisions came about.

Perhaps more than anything, Kindred makes me understand just how much black women in particular suffered under white patriarchal supremacy in the antebellum South and how much they continue to do so today. They were perceived as nothing but property by all of society, and were subject to the base desires and whims of their masters. When all of the world was arrayed against you, you had to think very carefully about how you rebelled; it wasn’t simply a matter of worrying about your own life, because you had to think about the lives of your children and family as well.

One of the most fascinating things about the novel is how the shared experience of Dana and Kevin affects their relationship. Even as they become separated across time and space, what they have to endure changes them. Kevin has to disabuse himself of several notions about the struggle of black Americans in both the slavery South and the more “enlightened” times of 1970’s Los Angeles. When he returns to his “world”, it’s clear that he can’t really absorb what happened and move forward. Combined with Dana’s trauma, the couple must struggle to build a life together as best they can. The novel ends on that difficult, unresolved, yet hopeful note.

I think that’s the ultimate lesson of Kindred; fully facing a difficult history will change you in ways that are irrevocable and possibly damaging, but ultimately necessary. We can no longer go on as a society thinking that we don’t have the scars we do. If we don’t pay attention to our collective wounds, they will continue to fester and grow infectious, poisoning the very life-blood of our society. This unwillingness to look at the legacy that was left for us by our ancestors results in the continued abuse against minorities of those in power; the persistent inability of our legal system to properly recognize how those abuses have been perpetrated, largely unbroken, to this day; and the unchecked, raw anger and resentment that so many of us black Americans feel for our brothers and sisters with different ideas, lives and stories as well as the broader society that we’re all struggling to integrate into.

Kindred teaches us that clear understanding of our history is difficult but also healing. We are not whole people; we’ve done and endured terrible things. Facing that teaches us to better grasp the decisions of others within that system, see how its consequences are still baked into our society and have more compassion and empathy for our ancestors and each other. Realizing the hell we were all in simply gives us better orientation to get ourselves out of it.

So, if you can, read Kindred. Precisely because it is difficult, and will change you.

 

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(Personal) What’s Up in February?

Self Improvement 150Now that January has been put to bed, it’s time to look ahead into the next month. What does a successful February look like for me?

For one thing, I’m glad that this month should be a lot quieter than the last one. It gives me time to take a breath, regroup and figure out a few things for the spring and summer. Looking further ahead, there’s a lot to prepare for: the dearest husband will be going out of town in April, and I’d like to have a revamped Oak’s Home campaign ready and waiting for him when he comes back; I’ll be taking a number of trips later this year, though I really need to decide where — Wisconsin for an annual gathering of friends, or WorldCon in Kansas City, or Rainfurrest in Spokane, or my sister-in-law’s wedding (assuming I’m invited) in Arkansas? Dates, expense, time off and all kinds of other things need to be sorted out and hammered down. Making sure I’ve taken the time to prepare for this makes it easier to plan for everything else down the stretch.

But that’s later; this is now. So here are my biggest priorities for the month.

The Jackalope Serial Company
My Patreon for serialized erotic fiction got off to a shaky start last month, and I’d like to work hard on it to make sure that doesn’t happen again. With any sort of regularly-updating story, communication and engagement with your audience is key, so I’ve bundled that in to my weekly task list for the JSC now — every Monday, there’ll be a brief note about what my patrons can expect in the week or two ahead.

There’s also the matter of making sure The Cult of Maximus is written. Last month (and most of this one), I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants. I’d like to take the time to really plot out the next couple of chapters and write as much as I can so I can build a small buffer. This cuts down on interruptions, and being ahead of the curve means that I can double back and edit the weekly parts into a chapter a bit more easily. Having lead time to get things done is never a bad thing, right?

Beyond that, I need to sign up for a streaming service and buy a webcam in order to make writing streams or Internet hangouts a reality. And it would be nice to come up with polls for patrons contributing at the “input” level while The Cult of Maximus is going. Since this particular serial was designed to take us through 2016, it’ll be a little while before anyone gets to vote on the next one.

So: write as much of The Cult of Maximus as I can to get ahead of the release schedule, and work on making the patron rewards more consistent and clear. That’s what I hope to have accomplished by March 1st.

Other Writing
The People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction deadline is THIS MONTH, and so I need to write “The Tourist” and have it critiqued for a revision edit quick and in a hurry. Frith willing, the short story will be finished this weekend, sent to the writing group for notes and revised by right after Valentine’s Day. This is the fastest turnaround for a story I’ve ever attempted, but I would kick myself if I didn’t submit something — not just a story, but something I felt had a chance of getting in.

Once that’s done and my stomach is in knots waiting for a response, I can move on to the commission for a generous donor to last year’s Clarion Write-A-Thon. That’s been a long time coming — not as long as the commissioner for “A Stable Love” thank goodness — but still long enough. I’d like to have that work take me through the back half of the month, with an eye towards finishing a rough draft by early March.

So: biggest priority is making sure “The Tourist” is submission-ready by the Feb. 19th deadline, and I’ve at made progress on short story #4.

Reading
JM Horse convinced me to double-back and re-read Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, and I’m excited to jump into that. I’d like to have that (book 3 of 20 to read this year) knocked out by the end of the month. I’d also like to write reviews for the Apocalypse Triptych and Kindred by Octavia Butler, to go up here, Amazon and GoodReads.

My friends loaned me Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition a few months ago, and I’d really like to start in on that so I can decide whether or not to buy my own copy of the hard-covers. I’ve been considering changing my Oak’s Home Pathfinder game to a system that feels like it’s fighting me less (like D&D5e or FATE), but any shift in system feels like a dealbreaker to at least one of my players.

Of course, there’s also my growing stack of comics to run through — I’ll start taking a few with me to work so I can read a few pages while waiting for queries or processes to finish. Most importantly, I want to cultivate a habit of reading; it’s not something that I’ve prioritized for a long time, and I want to change that as much as possible.

So: read Steppenwolf, catch up on my comics, and dive in to D&D 5th edition.

Other Things
Writing and reading take precedence right now, but I’d also like to re-dedicate myself to taking better care of my body. I’ve had a…distant relationship with it and that needs to change. I’d like to be more mindful of it — I’m not just a brain floating through space, and the body isn’t just there to support my thoughts and make sure I continue to think. Eating better, exercising, grooming and looking after my health are all things I’ll be trying to do a better job with, though it’s not quite with the same focus I’ll be trying to tackle everything else.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2016 in Comic Books, Reading, Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Personal) What Happened in January?

Self Improvement 150January 2016 was an extraordinarily busy month; everything just took off like a rocket, and it was all that I could do to hold on. Most of the work was anticipated, but I think I under-estimated the effect of a lot of it, and of course my still-developing organizational skills weren’t quite up to the task of keeping everything in order so I could get stuff done. I spent the last day of the month traveling from New York back to Silicon Valley, so exhausted I didn’t even realize how tired I was until I got a good night’s sleep.

Even still, I can’t say it was a bad time. I did a lot of stuff that was fun and enriching, and now that I made it through the worst of it I can take a breath, look at what went right, what went wrong, and how I can use the momentum of the month to propel me through my projects for this one. Here’s a brief rundown of the major events last month:

The Jackalope Serial Company
On New Year’s Day or thereabouts, I launched the Jackalope Serial Company. It’s an idea that had been brewing through the last six months of 2015, and I felt I was finally in a good position to make it happen. The JSC is basically the label through which I tell serialized erotic stories, one chunk every week, until it’s finished. The idea is to put up parts of 1500 – 2500 words a week on the Patreon, then edit those parts into monthly chapters that get released to SoFurry, Fur Affinity and Weasyl at a later date. The first serial is The Cult of Maximus, which I’m expecting to be a 100K-word story when all is said and done. That should take us through the first year of the JSC’s existence.

Launch was reasonably successful; to date I’ve got 17 patrons donating just over $100/month for the cause. I appreciate every single one of them! John Cooner did a bang up job on the launch poster/wallpaper, business cards and other assets that will be rolled out in the next month or so. And I’ve put up the first three parts of the story in January, with parts 4 and 5 coming (hopefully) this week to close out chapter 1.

I wasn’t as regular as I would have liked to be starting out, for reasons that I’ll talk about below. I’ll be spending much of this month and next trying to build up a small buffer so I can make sure the schedule is regular even if something unexpected happens. For now, though, I’m flying by the seat of my fluffy white tail. Thanks to my patrons for the patience they’ve displayed and the feedback they’ve given so far; really looking forward to having things settle into a routine this month!

Further Confusion 2016
This is kind of the biggest furry event of the year for me, and this year was no exception. I took part in five panels this year: “Power and Privilege in an Anthropomorphic World”, “Furries and the Other”, “Write Now!”, “Brainstorming in Real Time” and “Mindfulness and Transformation Workshop”.

The first two were the biggest surprises and fulfilling experiences I’ve had at a convention in a long time; there’s a real receptiveness to the idea of exploring our differences and power dynamics through furry fiction, and the audience was lively, insightful and wonderful. This is definitely a keeper; I’d love to be involved with it next year. The second two were awesome mainly because I just got to hang out with members of my writing group and talk with other writers about ways we can push ourselves past our blocks or think about constructing stories in a different way. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as I did in those two panels.

For Mindfulness/Transformation, my friend Kannik and I tried a structure to make sure we went over the most important ideas we wanted to transmit and I think that went over pretty well. The exercise portion of the panel could still use some work, but we talked about how to adapt that depending on the read we get from the audience; next year, I think we’ll have a pretty good handle on things.

Away from the panels, having conversations and meals with a few people I don’t get to talk to that often were the highlight. This fandom is full of such a varied mix of interesting, passionate and unique people, and cons are one of the ways we can plug into that directly. I love talking to people and seeing their perspectives on all kinds of things; it makes me fall in love with the community all over again.

The Day Job Summit
This was a bit of a wrench. My company had merged with a similar one in Europe after being bought by a holding company last year. Initially, the plan was to bring everything together slowly and carefully, making sure the customers for each side didn’t feel spooked by what was going on. Apparently, the executives discovered that was no longer a concern and ordered a giant event for the merger kick-off this last weekend in January.

So, this was the first work trip I had ever taken, which is another milestone in my professional development. Thankfully, my husband came with me to hang out and be a tourist, so I was able to enjoy the vacation side of things through his eyes. We also know quite a number of people in the area, and we were able to visit with a few of them.

The overall effect of the summit was building a sense of community between two very different sides of the company; I’m not sure how well that came off, but I know that my particular department (Technical Support) grew a lot closer through the experience. I got to meet a lot of really neat people in European tech support, and we traded war stories. But for maybe the first time, I feel like a fully-accepted member of the team I work in, and that’s just incredible. I can legit say I love the company I work for, and the people I work with.

We also saw our first Broadway show while we were out there — the runaway-smash musical Hamilton. If you haven’t listened to the soundtrack yet, do yourself a favor and pull it up on Spotify or your music-streaming service of choice. You will NOT be disappointed. It’s a hip-hop/rap musical about a founding father whose story almost never gets told, Alexander Hamilton. The inversion of race (Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson and other major characters are black) really punches up the drive of the Founding Fathers, brings their tragedies home in a way I had never considered, and makes me empathize with them in a way I never had before. It makes this old, distant history alive and personal. It’s so good.

New York City is a hell of a town. We visited Wall Street, saw people fondling the bull outside of the NYSE, visited Trinity Church and Fraunces Tavern; we went to Brooklyn and had brunch at Flatbush Farm with a major sci-fi/fantasy author (!!); and partied pretty hard at Celsius in Bryant Park, The Eagle on the lower west side (?) and Grand Central Terminal. We saw subway dancers who were amazing, listened to cellists and jazz ensembles, saw the knock-off mascots threatening people in Times Square. All in all, a hell of a trip.

Writing/Reading
I started out strong in January, finishing my first short story of the year for MegaMorphics (“New Year, New You”) and wanted to have “A Stable Love” done but the JSC work sucked up all the oxygen in that room. I started The Cult of Maximus, but didn’t get as far with that as I’d like, so this month will be a bit of righting the ship as far as that’s concerned.

I did read an awful lot, though. I’m catching up on my backlog of comics — I’m finding “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” to be a singular delight, and I’m really digging “Sam Wilson: Captain America”. I finished Kindred by Octavia Butler, and that has been a life-changing book for me. It fundamentally changes my idea of black women for the better, and I’ll need to let that cook for a moment or two. I started The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin, and I’m looking forward to finishing that, and I finished the third collection of the Apocalypse Triptych, called The End Has Come. It features (mostly) post-apocalyptic stories, many of them continued from stories in the other two collections. It was a neat idea that had a satisfying and surprising set of conclusions, and I’m looking forward to talking about that later.

Meanwhile, my reading stack grows all the time. 🙂 Since it’s Black History Month, I feel like I should be reading something theme-appropriate, and there is no shortage of books that fit that bill. I’ll talk a little bit about that tomorrow.

So that was my January in a nutshell; incredibly busy, full of wonderful and enriching experiences, as well as a lot of opportunities for growth and learning with various personal projects. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about my plans for this month and what I hope to have achieved when looking back on it sometime in March.

How was YOUR month? What were your highlights? What stories did you complete or make progress on? What things did you notice that you could do better?

 

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(Writing) New Year’s Resolutions, 2016

Writing 150It feels like I swing back and forth with resolutions from year to year. One year, I’m all business with concrete resolutions that have a pass/fail success condition. Write 6 short stories. Read 10 novels. That sort of thing. The next year, having been beaten down by life and the unexpected, I ease back to more vague resolutions that have more subjective measurements of success. Be kinder to myself. Run more. Things like that.

This looks like it’s going to be a year where I have soft and fuzzy resolutions. It’s not necessarily that I don’t trust myself to make big goals and keep to them; it’s more that I just don’t know what’ll happen this year to take my eye off the ball. The more I settle in to the shape of my life and who I am, the more I realize that planning for November in January is just something that leads to disaster.

So I’d like to make resolutions that help me to refine my focus and habits towards a single goal this year. Instead of promising myself to hit a certain concrete measure of success, I’d like to make promises that help me fulfill my purpose. What is that purpose? To become a better writer, reader and person this year of course.

Finish what you start. This is a big one for me. I’ll often jump into projects easily with grand plans about what the end result will look like, with a vast underestimation of the time and effort it will take to achieve them. Sometimes, I just don’t have the space in my life to do what I would like to do; so it’s better to pick my projects carefully and devote time to making sure they’re finished before moving on to something else. If something that initially grabbed my fancy is really something I should do, then it will wait its turn in line until I get to it. It’s more important that I do what I set out to do. You don’t learn anything from a project until you have a finished one to look back on.

Be more organized. The ADHD diagnosis last year helped me realize that my brain just works in a certain way and I’ll likely never get it to be as clean and straight-forward as other people’s. Thankfully, I can rely on external tools to pick up the slack — notepads to write down bits of information that I need to remember; to-do apps that help me keep track of projects and deadlines to provide structure for my day; rituals that prime me to do certain things in certain spaces. Writing stories isn’t a science, or a project that lends itself to concrete and significant planning. But finally providing structure that allows me to focus on the important work will really help me to be more productive.

Read a LOT more. There are so many great stories out there you guys. SO MANY. As a writer, it’s really important to read. Period. You have to discover the stories you enjoy and the way you love for them to be told to learn more about your craft. A writer who doesn’t like to read is someone who has no idea how to create stories with an audience in mind. Besides, in order to come correct to the broader science-fiction/fantasy community, I’m going to need to know a lot more about what’s out there. In order to be a part of the conversation, I need to know a lot more about what it is. I’ve got a reading list of short stories and novels prepared, and I’ll be working on it throughout the year. I’m really excited to dig into books, comic books and other stories again.

See the spiritual in the mundane. The draw of Buddhism for me is the fact that its entire purpose is to push the mindset of the temple out into the world. For Buddhists, there’s no distinction between the you that’s on the meditation bench and the you that’s answering customer calls at work. Every aspect of your life deserves your complete attention; every interaction you have with someone else is a chance to worship the Divine. As I’m running through my day trying to meet deadlines or do the things I need to, it’s vitally important to remember this. Sometimes, that means slowing down, centering yourself, and doing the best you can to live up to your principles. It’s something I forget in the thick of things, and I’ll try to find ways to remember them this year.

Don’t forget to take stock. This year I’d like to save concrete goals for weekly and monthly check-ins. This week, I’ve set goals to make sure that something goes through the Writing Desk three times; that the first two parts of my serial will be written; and that a review for a furry anthology is finally edited and sent off to another blog for posting. I’d also like to make sure I get in a couple of runs and I keep a tighter leash on what I spend. We’ll see how that goes when I take my pulse for the week next Sunday.

So that’s it: this year, I’m focusing on seeing things through, putting myself in the best position to do that, reading and connecting with people more earnestly, and making sure I’m mindful of who I am and what I’m doing. Concrete goals will be set every week; project updates will happen every month. That’s the plan.

How about you fine folks? Have you set any resolutions for yourself this year? What does a successful 2016 look like for you, creatively?

 

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Kwanzaa 2015: Kuumba (Creativity)

Myth 1502015 has been an amazing year for me in a lot of different ways, but one of my absolute favorites is learning about the wonderful people who are putting themselves out there with their stories. This year I got to meet Nora Jemisin (author of “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms”) at Writers With Drinks in San Francisco; I saw “Danger Word”, a short film put together by Tananarive Due at WorldCon — and I got to speak with her for a long time about black horror, writing and storytelling; I learned about Afro-Futurism and its history from Ajani Brown at WorldCon as well; I was introduced to Mark Oshiro, Arthur Chu, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Troy Wiggins, K. Tempest Bradford, Daniel Jose Older, Ta-Nehisi Coates, G. Willow Wilson and so many others who are shaping the discourse of what it means to be a minority in the science-fiction and fantasy space. There is a community of people out there working hard to show the world the power of a distinctive voice. It really has been amazing to discover this; it’s instituted a shift in my thinking about what I can do with my own writing, what I should be doing.

The principle we focus on today, the sixth day of Kwanzaa, is Kuumba or Creativity. I took this to mean that today we celebrate the different perspectives we have in viewing the world and how that translates to our stories, which I can totally get behind. Telling stories to make sense of our environment is one of the oldest and best things we do as humans, and I don’t think that its given the proper appreciation.

However, in researching up a bit on the theme for today, Kuumba can also mean “continuous improvement”. It’s not enough to just “get by”, or to “do all right”. We must keep striving for the ideals we set for ourselves — there’s always a purer, uncomplicated expression of it that we can aim for. Kuumba is having the insight to see the many different facets of Nia; to see the shapes and sides it can inhabit. How can we stretch our purpose even further to be better people, to encourage our communities to be better?

Ryan and I watched the final few episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” yesterday, and there was an exchange that blew me away. One of the characters is having a crisis about what to do in life, and someone asks her what she wants her life to be about. She says, “I want to end poverty,” and her friend says “Well, every choice you make in life should be in service to that.” It’s such a simple idea, so powerful, but so incredibly difficult.

Applied to myself, I have to think about how every decision I make serves my purpose — to connect people to each other, to make them feel more comfortable with their world, to be OK with the fact that change is constant and they can weather it. How do my stories serve that purpose? How do my blog entries? How can I creatively refine my actions to make sure they achieve that?

My favorite protagonists in stories are the paladins — not the people who sit on a mountain and reflect upon some ideal without having to make the attempt to engage it in the real world, but the people who come down off that mountain, who struggle to be the living embodiment of those ideals, who have to find ways to uphold it in the complicated and messy struggle of life. I believe that being an idealist means becoming intimately connected with failure. We’re imperfect creatures moving through an imperfect world, giving ourselves over to a perfect idea that we’ll never attain. But the struggle to achieve it means that we accomplish amazing things in the meantime.

Creativity is about so much more than telling stories, but that’s one of my favorite expressions of it. It requires creativity to make it through life, simply to improve yourself when there are restrictions and road-blocks in front of you. Creativity is one of the best expressions of intelligence, making connections that aren’t readily apparent, improving our understanding of life by viewing it from a radically different perspective. Creativity is a requirement for empathy; you can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes without it.

It allows us to take ancient lessons and apply them to modern, more complicated times. It allows us to replace the lessons that don’t work anymore because our understanding of the world has changed so much. It allows us to accept the tragedies in life with the hope that we can move past them and become better people. It makes us better thinkers, more compassionate people, more connected and sensitive to what’s around us.

Over the next year, I will try to strengthen my creativity — I will do my best to find creative ways to deal with the challenges in front of me, and to deal with people I might find challenging as well. I want to live and breathe the stories I create, and the stories I take in. I will use my creativity to sharpen my purpose, to make my actions precise and efficient, to trim the fat in my life. I will use my creativity to make myself lean, powerful and focused.

I would just like to thank all of you for reading these essays this week; your response has been amazing and much appreciated. I was very nervous about tackling this — Kwanzaa does not have the best reputation among the people who know about it at all, and while I really wanted to make this holiday my own I was also sensitive of the history it comes with and the possibility that I wouldn’t understand or explain the principles well at all. This has been a wonderful learning process, and I’m so glad we got to go through it together.

Have a joyous Kwanzaa today, folks, and a wonderful New Year. I’ll check in with all of you tomorrow — probably after I’ve recovered from my hangover!

 

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