What I did while I wasn’t gone

I took myself on a writing retreat last weekend. It was mostly a mental trick to take advantage of physical preparations for travel to a convention I ended up not attending.

Since I had planned and prepped be away from home for a four-day weekend, I figured that meant wasn’t responsible for anything at home those fourdays. I could ignore my whole Regular Life guilt-free and wander off to my computer any time the urge hit.

I finished a short story I’ve been tinkering with for over two years and published it for my email list subscribers (I also set up that process from scratch, a post in its own right.)

I also made headway on a second short story and wrote about 5000 words in Ghost Town, my current novel in progress. I write slower than a Galapagos turtle walks, which is why I rarely post word counts (and loathe them as motivational tool)  For reference, that’s about a usual month’s worth of writing. In 4 days. Yeah. So mental writing retreat as a working trick…definitely helped. I plan to do it again. Sometime.

But writing isn’t all I did. This is a media consumption post too, so here’s what I took in.

Throne of Glass series. Sarah A Maas. Finished all the books currently published (yay!) now have to wait until at least October to read the one that’ll wrap up the current series. (BOO!)  There’s a lot I could say about her books, but I said most of it in a previous post. One thing to add: the things that bugged me in A Court of Thorns & Roses series are less overt in this one. No idea which came first, don’t care, just liking them more.

Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach. Kelly Robson. SWOON. So good. Go read it now. It’s a short book, (novella) but it will stick with you in the best of ways. I inhaled it over two meal breaks and a walk.

Yes, I read on walks. I was tripping off curbs and veering towards lamp posts long before it was trendy with Pokemon Go. Don’t worry, I’ve never run into anything, and I always pause at roadways to watch for traffic. But I digress. As usual.

Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach reminds me of Connie Willis & Kate Wilhelm ( two of my SFF favorites) at their very best. Not because it had time travel, although it does, nor because of the science, which it is ALL ABOUT,  but because of the way both those elements were presented: brilliantly, elegantly, and enjoyably.

Time travel was an essential element but not a pitfall of paradox or an excuse to wander into theoretical physics for far longer than the narrative could bear (Woo!) Science was at the center of the plot without ever stampeding over the characters or dragging the story into a slough of exposition, (WOO!!!) Plot & characters were also amazing.

Basically, if you want fresh, new classic-style SFF relevant to and written for today’s world, this is it.

A Divided Peace. Tanya Huff. Happy sigh. Always a joy to read her words.  Aaaaand now I have to go back and re-read all the Confederation novels. If I could write military science fiction a tenth as well as she does, I would do a whole novel about Mercury Battalion. But I don’t have the chops for making the Corps a realistic centerpiece. Maybe if someone with experience wanted to co-author…yeah, I would totally be up for that that.

ANYWAY. Onward.

In the viewing circle, I watched a fun season of superhero television show, Black Lightning, and a serious movie about a real world hero. Marshall. (it’s a biopic-style movie  about one of Thurgood Marshall’s early cases.)  

I enjoyed the drama of the movie, but it seemed bizarre to me that the titular character, an AMAZING human being who was part of so much civil rights history–who MADE so much history, was not even the narrative center of his own movie. (A white guy was.)  I am not surprised that was the angle Hollywood took, just angry and aggravated. They could have done so much better.

But I’m loving Black Lightning, so I’m batting over .500 in viewing satisfaction.

Still haven’t seen Deadpool 2 or Ocean’s 8, but they’re on my list. And Jurassic Park Episode whatEVER is next up in Major Hollywood Kaboom Movies.

So until then, it’s back to writing-writing-writing.

 

The Latest Doings & Goings-on

Reading:

Court of___________ series. Sarah J Maas. Three books & a novella with more on the way. I gobbled them all up like potato chips and have moved on to the author’s other series, the name of which I have misplaced.  Good, solid European/Celtic-based fantasy but with some quirks that may or may not rub a reader wrong.  (1) There’s a definite romance feel to the relationship developments and the physical descriptions, and although the books are published by YA Bloomsbury, um…there are full-on sex scenes too. Which I like but was not expecting. (2) The characters refer to people as males and females…that one starts to grate after a while. I know, the rationale is that there are Fae and fairies and arguments are made about man/woman only applying to humans, but…I respectfully disagree and dislike the reductiveness of it nonetheless. (3) There’s a subtext of “marriage & family is everything,” with romantic love complications being the only driving motivation for nearly every character’s development.

Me, I didn’t mind them, and the books are wildly popular, but…still. These are things I notice.

Viewing:

Avengers: Infinity War. (Sorta spoilers?) I enjoyed it right up to the end, which wasn’t an end OR a cliffhanger and has left me with…mixed feelings.  It’s worse than if I’d gotten to the last page of The Two Towers and was told I couldn’t read Return Of the King for a year, because reading even the most visual of books is not as visceral and immediate as viewing a movie. The choice of a total downer endpoint (and the painfully problematic nature of some choices leading to that point) pulled me out of the story, and that was disappointing. I wanted to be excited about anticipating the next part. Now I’m merely hoping it isn’t a huge letdown. Oh, well.

Winchester. A delicious old-fashioned haunted house story, complete with a cast of flawed protagonists, loads of  mysterious supporting characters, family failures and secrets, and tons of jump scares. The historical elements—including the magnificent sets & costumes—made for wonderful atmospherics. It’s beautifully produced, crisply modern, and yet it sets a retro 70’s horror movie ambiance in the best way.

Baking:

I have discovered that if I add an extra 1/2 c of greek yogurt and extra sugar to my cherry drop scone recipe, they taste a lot like cherry cheesecake. Next experiment: sub in some almond flour to see how it affects the texture.

And I’ve perfected the recipe I call “why buy teeny boxes of Boursin when I have goat cheese and yogurt plus herbs & spices from my kitchen & garden?”  It’s delicious on lots of things, and so easy I can make it in a bowl with a fork. Yum.

Yarding:

Spring has finally sprung. We’re still at half the average growing degree days for this point in the year, but with the summery days, we’re catching up fast.  I got the shrubs in need of shaping cut back just in time, before they leafed out practically overnight. And since Spouseman has enough energy back to join in the yard fun & games again this year (YAY!) the bindweed & dandelions in the beds are getting properly annihilated.

Most of the things I planted last year came back. I’ve added a few new perennials and moved around some that have been propagating.  On the annuals side, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers are in, serendipity seeds have been scattered. Still to come: basil, more rosemary & lavender plants for pots and beds (maybe I can keep the pots alive this year…) and some geraniums for color.

And I need to buy more dirt. (Just writing those words makes me giggle—buy dirt?!—but it’s true. I harvest enough from the beds each year that I need to replace biomass. Because SCIENCE!)

And since you’ve made it this far, Writing:

My last post had the mopey details. The happy big thing is, I have met some fantastic folk at a sorta-local reading series. Gumbo Fiction Salon happens on second Thursdays at the Galway Arms in Chicago. There are a couple of featured readers every month and open mic. Genre-friendly to the max, but not restricted to science-fiction/fantasy, or even to prose. Supportive, audience of other writers 7 writing adjacent folk.  Good food, good company, good times. What’s not to love?

It’s only sorta-local because I’m near Chicago, not in Chicago. Near-ish. Like, it takes an hour to get there.) ANYway. It’s well worth the public transit adventure.

I’ll be there again tonight, reading from Rough Passages if I get a mic slot. I’ll definitely be reading in July, I’m a featured reader that month.

 

 

 

The Usual Report: Post-equinox edition

The cute puppy has nothing to do with this post. I added him because I haven’t done an update in a while & thought readers deserved a bit of bonus cute.

BOOKS:

Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story. Anyone who reads this blog more than a few times knows I consider most writing advice a stinking pile of bullshit, and I’m happy to dispute most standard guidelines for plotting, character development etc. Yet here I am recommending this book. It’s that useful. If you want to write stories, you’llfind something good in it. Nuff said.

The Broken Kingdoms N. K. Jemison. Book 2 in an epic epic fantasy series. (bonus: the series is done!)  I keep meaning to recommend this to my dad, lifelong fan of phenomenal world-builders & lyrical prosemakers. The problem is, I always get distracted by other things when we’re on the phone. (HI, DAD! READ N. K. JEMISON. START WITH THE ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS)

Fluffy romances. All of the historical variety. Some Cathy Maxwell, some Sarah Maclean, some Victoria Alexander. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I read a lot of them. Most have problematic elements and some make me wince. But they’re easy on the brain, and sometimes I just want some snappy dialogue and a short, simple theme park ride of a plot.

I also got a sneak peek at Rights of Use, which is an “aliens are real” science-fiction novel you won’t want to miss by an author named Shannon Eichorn. It’s in the publishing process now.I’ll let you know when it hits the shelves. It’s a rollicking fun read.

Next up on my list (along with more fluffy romances) are the books I bought at CapriCon & Concoction. Tune in next month for updates.

TV:

Jessica Jones season 2. This show took everything I appreciated in the character and ground it to pieces under the grimy old boots of “Angry Wimmens Be Evil.”  OMFG. I AM SO DISAPPOINT. I don’t even want to talk about it. Moving on.

Wait no, that’s it on TV. My DVR caught a glitch while most shows were on holiday break, but I only recently realized none of my regular shows were recording. I’ll catch up on Madame Secretary and Supernatural later. The rest? I didn’t miss them, so I won’t bother continuing with them.

MOVIES at home:

Thor Ragnarok. Twice. And I watched all the extra features too. Hey, it was a bad day, full of joint aches and dizziness and general physical misery. Superhero action+CGI battles+ a big dose of Chris Hemsworth totally helped.

Geostorm. A plot made of stupid & frosted with obvious committee decision-making, bereft of anything resembling scientific accuracy or authentic human interaction. Not recommended. Why did I watch it? HOLY CATS SO MUCH GLORIOUS ABSURD WEATHER CGI. Sometimes I am a shallow person.

Blade Runner 2049. It deserved the visual awards and really should’ve gotten the sound ones too. Gloomy, dark, and gritty, it plowed & twisted its way into plot territory where movies rarely tread. It not only stayed true to the (misogynist, misanthropic) feel of the original but built on the foundation in unexpected, fascinating ways. I’m astonished it got made.  Glad I saw it. Don’t ever need to see it again.

THEATER MOVIES:

Black Panther. Everything I want in a movie and more. Drama, humor, fine acting, brilliant costuming & moviecraft, and ACTION.  I could quibble about the iffy subtext of the antagonist’s motivations and tragic flaw, but NO I WON’T. First off, it would require spoilers and I don’t do real movie reviews. Second of all, I’m not the reviewer to tackle that. My take starts and ends with WAKANDA FOREVER, over and done.

Tomb Raider: Some Subtitle I’ve Already Forgotten. I planned to skip this one until it hit Netflix. I was only a spectator to the original video game, and I wasn’t impressed by the Angelina Jolie versions (sexy outfits, lousy writing) Meh, I thought. MEH.

Then this review from the Philly Voice hit my Twitter feed:

“She never comes across as having an ounce of sex appeal and, at times, looks like she could be sixteen. Toss in the lack of curves and Warner Brothers could have decided to gender bend and make a film titled Luke Croft and it would have come across much the same way.”

Female protagonist in a non-sexually charged slam-bang action plot? SIGN ME UP.  It was no Black Panther, but it was well-designed, decently-acted action flock that stayed true to its videogame plotting roots. I enjoyed it.

Pacific Rim: Uprising. Wow. Three great movies in a row. This movie world has an utterly absurd premise (giant robots driven by telepathically-linked human pairs fight extra-dimensional giant monsters with super-charged hand weapons? Uh.)  BUT. If you accept “that’s how things work in this world” then you get to revel in a fantastic sports movie without the boring sports part. Plus tons of kickass giant robot action.

Side note: John Boyega (the lead) is a phenomenal actor. Action leads can get away with playing basically the same role in a lot of different movies (Ahem. Clint Eastwoood, Mel Gibson)  but Boyega was effortlessly NOT “Finn in Star Wars only in a different setting.”

KITCHEN THINGS:

I have been playing with my egg bake recipe and making scones of various types pretty regularly. Working through the last of the summer’s applesauce, blueberry & cherry stashes. As if I needed an excuse to eat fruits & drink cider.

I was going to make some whipped cream to go with apple stuff and remembered AGAIN that my stick blender is missing. I have no idea if I loaned it to someone or left it somewhere or have lost it in the kitchen, but it’s gone. First noticed its absence before Christmas, forgot, noticed around New Year’s, forgot…at this point I need to consider buying a new one.

Look for the final decision in the next report.