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10 Books that have stayed with me

I was invited to do this on Facebook, of course, but seeing as I’ve failed to blog for *mumble3ishweeksmumble* I’m answering the meme here.

In no particular order (except for “YES! I should mention that book!”), herewith 10 books that have stayed with me.

1. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

I read this in college, and it is a book that can break you down and (eventually) build you up again. Beautifully written.

2. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

One of my childhood-ish books and one that I reread regularly (especially if I’ve had a run of bad books and need to cleanse my booky palate). I didn’t pick up on it then, but McKinley was writing the Strong Female Character before there was widespread notice of “Yanno, women in fantasy/sff often don’t do much, and maybe we should fix that.”

3. The Baby Unicorn by Jean Marzollo

I admit I had to look up the author’s name on Amazon. This is definitely a childhood book. I don’t remember how old I was when I was finally able to read this on my own. I do remember the following: **spoiler alert** Dragons, in this book, were evil, and to protect the baby unicorn from the dragons, the baby unicorn’s mother turned into a doorless house and kept the baby unicorn locked inside. I worried about what happened to the mother when the baby unicorn, chafing at being stuck inside wanting to go find its missing father, crashed through the house-mother (mother-house?) horn-first. Would she ever transform back? Would she be healed if she did, or have a baby-unicorn-shaped hole in her stomach?* (The book came out in ’87, so I can’t say if Marzollo had been watching a little too much Alien when he wrote this.)

Weirdness aside, I think my love of the fantasy genre is pretty much traced back to this book.

4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Awesome use and re-imagining of myth. I reread the book recently and thought that the main character, Shadow, didn’t have much in the way of character agency, but you know what? A lot of the heroes in myths didn’t, when you think about it. They were the playthings of fate and the gods. If I were still in college I might write a paper on that. But yay! I don’t have to.

5. On Writing by Stephen King
I’ve read other books by King, but this is the one I reread most. Fabulous blend of memoir and writing tips/inspiration.

6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I never saw the movie; the book relies the use of literary language too much for me to think the movie could ever do it justice. Another heartbreaking and heart-building book.

7. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
OK, so technically I should’ve picked one book. But I can’t. It’s the whole narrative arc of HP that has stuck with me, and you have to admire a series that has inspired a whole generation of children to read.

8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Look, I’m not one of those Darcy swooners, but I love the dialogue. And it’s impressive that Austen’s books in general and P&P in particular have inspired a whole genre. I don’t mean just Regency romance; I mean the genre of books that are about Jane Austen fansBridget Jones’s Diary being one of the most prominent (though yes, Bridget is more familiar with the BBC Colin Firth miniseries than the book), but also The Jane Austen Book Club and Austenland (which I have to admit I know of only due to the movie).

9. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I did see the movie, and it most definitely does not do the book justice. It’s another one where the prose is so much a part of the book the experience can’t be replicated on the screen.

10. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Sooo much good stuff in here. Eggers balances humor with the eponymous heartbreaking bits. Dave’s love for his younger brother, Toph, comes through despite (or because of?) the standard big brother/young 20’s jerkiness. The structure of it and randomness of it (“Here is a drawing of a stapler”) shouldn’t work, but they do. (Side note, however: I read Eggers’ You Shall Know Our Velocity! and it put me off of his fiction. Did not enjoy. But the memoir/creative nonfiction? Love.)

*I think I had this reaction many times, despite the fact that after the baby unicorn breaks out of her house-mother, on the very next page the mother is magically (yes, literally magically) safely back in her unicorn form.


Keep stretching toward the light

I’d been working on a response to the Hachette-Amazon thing, but that doesn’t seem appropriate now. So I will say:

If you’re struggling with depression, talk to someone. Go to an animal shelter and hug puppies and kittens. Talk to someone. Sit in the sunshine. Talk to someone. Read a  favorite book or watch a favorite movie. Read The Bloggess and Hyperbole and a Half. Talk to someone. Keep stretching toward the light. It’s there.

If you know someone who’s struggling with depression, don’t tell them to just cheer up; it’s not nearly so easy as that. Instead, listen. Sit with them in the darkness if need be. And help them keep stretching toward the light, because it’s there.

RIP, Robin Williams.



Those of you whose preteen and teen years were in the ’90s, like mine were, may remember this:

(source: http://gargoyles.wikia.com/wiki/Gargoyles_(TV_series) )

No? Well, how about this:

(source: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/memorable-tv/images/36844291/title/gargoyles-photo)

Yes! It is Gargoyles, which aired from 1994 through 1997, and of which I was a devoted watcher. This, of course, was in the dark days of no DVR, and so I plunked myself down in front of the TV whenever the show was on and groused long and loudly, I am sure, if some hellish after-school activity prevented me from watching it.
The first season of the show aired nearly twenty years ago (sob I’m old sob) and so it seems fitting to present 3 things I learned because of or from Gargoyles.

  1. The name Desdemona means “ill-fated one.” (And yes, the character was Demona, not Desdemona, but I used that cool new-to-me thing called the Internet to research names and came across Desdemona and thought just HOW ACCURATE and TRUE that name was for poor, poor Demona, so incredibly loyal to the gargoyle race and unable to understand Goliath’s fondness for puny, cruel humans. So I decided that her name was Desdemona and she used “Demona” as a nickname, ’cause she was all like, “I’d rather be a demon than ill-fated, yo.” [And yes, Desdemona seems to originate with Othello but I was 12 and not yet up on my Shakespeare, OK?])
  2. Trans-species romances make for Romeo-and-Juliet-esque melodrama that preteen and young teenage girls will eat up! Goliath and Elisa 4EVA!*
  3. Mixing umpteen billion different mythologies into a single story-world is not in the least confusing for young adults on account of their shorter attention spans.†

*I am only now in hindsight realizing that this concept may help account for Twilight‘s popularity. One could certainly delve deeply into the trans-species romance narrative, including Beauty and the Beast.

†Seriously, this bothered me not at all with Gargoyles, but put me off of the later Hercules and Xena storylines, and I cannot. stand. it. in Once Upon a Time. I suppose I have become a story-curmudgeon.


My passive aggressive ankle

So last Thursday I twisted my right ankle. It’s not serious; I think it’s a mild sprain. I think this because, while I have always been able to walk on it (aside from the excruciating first minute or two immediately after twisting it), it nevertheless swelled up and turned red. The swelling is gone, now, but my ankle has been giving me some minor trouble ever since–which is to be expected of a sprain, since, according to the Mayo Clinic, I think it was, even mild sprains can take three to six weeks to heal completely.

By “minor trouble,” I mean that for the first few days, even aside from the generalized pain kept at bay with Advil, there was the sensation of a ligament on my ankle popping whenever I had to go up or down the stairs and an inability to rotate the joint more than, hmm 45 degrees or so without causing discomfort. Now, five days later (I’m writing this on Tuesday) I can go long stretches of time without it bothering me–as long as I don’t move. Once I move, there is usually some tightness or aching.

However, sometimes I get a twinge of pain that, if I were to anthropomorphize my ankle and give it the power of speech, I would say is the equivalent of the following: “Stop that right now or I will cripple you!” So of course I stop doing whatever it was that caused the pain, because having my mobility reduced even this much sucks and I want the duration of this to be as short as possible. My stopping whatever it was I was doing makes the pain ease, so it’s like my ankle is all, “Oh ha ha, you fell for that? I was just kidding!”  Therefore heartened, I recommence moving, which gives me a warning twinge, the equivalent of  which is “(But I’m really not kidding and srsly, I will cripple you if you keep doing that.)

I really, really, hope I am at the three-week end of the healing time-frame.

And if you think it’s odd that I would anthropomorphize a body part and give it motivations antithetical to my own ostensible best interests, you clearly do not know me.

I’m off to appease my passive aggressive ankle with sacrifices of sweet-smelling lotions and gentle rubbing.


I’m not dead

But I am headachy from exposure to the brightly burning orb in the sky. Go find some pictures of cats or dogs with which to entertain yourself. I will get you started.

Cats that forgot how to cat

Dogs that forgot how to dog


Lone Shoe

Time to get out my beret again!

Lone Shoe
a poem by Amanda Helms

Lone shoe,
Alone shoe,
Who left you
On the highway?
Was it a child off to play?
A white-collar worker who could not delay?
A slick suspicious figure who hates light of day?

Oh shoe,
Lone shoe,
Gone is your mate!
You have no date!
You must think
You do not rate!
How can we
Your sadness sate?

Please, be not blue.
For I believe
Loved you.

Srsly. I don’t know why I don’t move to New York to resurrect the beat scene. ANY DAY NOW I am sure to be made the Poet Laureate.


Let the Kermit flailing commence!

It is with great enthusiasm and much Kermit-flailing that I announce my acceptance to Viable Paradise 18.

For those who did not click on the link above, Viable Paradise is a week-long writing workshop focusing on SFF. It pulls in successful instructors–this year’s bunch includes Steven Brust, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and Scott Lynch, among others–and has an awesome track record of its students going on to be published (N.K. Jemisin, Myke Cole, and Mur Lafferty immediately spring to mind). I am so, so excited to be accepted.

My application piece was the early pages of my novel, SECOND SUN, for which I became a finalist in the Colorado Gold last year. (I believe my blog post about that was lost when I switched my domain host last year; sorry.) It’ll be interesting to workshop it, because based on feedback I’m getting from agents, it’s “almost there.” I’ve not been too enthusiastic about working on it, however–I spent a solid 18 months on it and got burned out, and was unsure what I might do to get it “there,” anyway. So perhaps I’ll have a light bulb moment about it at VP.

In the meantime, I’m planning to work on revisions of a wildly different project, a YA comic fantasy. I’m also world-building and perhaps and may begin drafting what I think is going to be YA SF. And, yanno, I’m Kermit-flailing.



Creative State

It’s been awhile since I’ve provided any sort of writing update, and I find myself with a dearth of post ideas. So:

I’m 98k-ish into my current project (though I already know at least 10k of that will be scrapped). I’m calling it YA comic fantasy, and it is a 3rd revision of an idea I used for NaNoWriMo, twice. I’ve actually written the last scene and was debating whether to consider the the draft done or to go back and add a scene or two I already know I need, based on changes I made during the latter half of the book. I decided to add one scene that is truly a new addition, and to address another couple of scenes that would be rewrites “plus some additions” during revisions. So I should finish the draft this week, which is one week later than my self-imposed deadline. Not terrible, considering if I’d wanted I could’ve just rolled the scene I’m working on into revision territory.

Things I’ve learned during this book:

  • I will never be able to truly leave behind “discovery writing” or “pantsing” or whatever you want to call it. My best ideas usually don’t come to me until I’m in the midst of writing.
  • During writing, I will also come up with ideas that would change the whole course of the book to implement–and they’re not ideas that are necessarily better; just different. It’s better for me if I can recognize these as “subplots for another book” at the outset, so that I don’t divert from whatever plan I do have that is working. (And I’m getting better at this.)
  • I do relatively well with writing 25k or so words, pausing to reassess/brainstorm the next bit, writing the next 25k or so, and rinse and repeat until done.
  • The Magic Spreadsheet is awesome.
  • My first ideas for endings are usually pretty lousy.

What’s next after this draft: I have short story I’ve been fiddling with that I’d like to finish during the “let the book lie before revisions” period. Also some world-building and research for the next big project after this one (and in truth, this book has been a placeholder project while I try to get my act together for that).

I haven’t worked out hard deadlines for any of the above. I like to have at least a 2-week break before starting revisions (often longer), but my overall writing goal for the year was to get one book nice and fully revised, and to have at least the rough draft of one more. I’m almost halfway through the year, and that second goal is looking more difficult.

And now, a random picture:





In last week’s cop-out post, I mentioned that one of the topics I’d considered writing on before copping out was the fallacy of the notion of beginning to write once retired.

It’s perpetuated in a commercial for an investment company commercial that encourages you to think about saving your money for your retirement, when you’ll be able to do all the things you ostensibly didn’t have time for, back when you were beholden to the shackles of the old 9-to-5. One of the examples this commercial dramatizes is that of Writing the Great American Novel. We see a youngish man, sitting down at a desk and optimistically about to begin his Great American Novel. Life intervenes: marriage, and then children (signified by the man’s office being turned into a nursery), and I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but I think we’re also treated to visuals of the man’s child heading off to college and then getting married herself. At last, the child’s room is reconverted into an office, where our protagonist, now gray-haired and slightly stoop-shouldered, is able to sit down again and at last get started on his Great American Novel. It’s quite a lot to pack into 30 seconds.

Now: saving for the future is good, especially since today’s workers can’t count on social security to see them through their retirement years. But all I could think as I watched this man shoving aside what was supposedly his dream was, if writing is really his dream, it’s not a good idea to wait to pursue it until retirement. (And that applies to any dream, really.)

Even setting aside the typical caveats of “you could get hit by a bus tomorrow,” it takes a freaking long time to get good at writing. The average retirement age is now 67. If our protagonist hasn’t worked at writing, he still has his ten thousand hours or million words or whatever you want to call his “training period” before he should think about submitting his book. Let’s be generous and say he’s willing to make writing his full-time job, and he gives himself a 40-hour work week. Going by the ten thousand hours figure, he has 250 weeks, or just under five years, of practice before him. So, yay! by 72, he’ll be ready to submit to agents or publishers.

Or, by the million-words figure, if he gets in 10,000 words a week (which in my experience is entirely doable and potentially even a low word count, when able to devote 40 hours a week to writing), in about two years, he’ll be ready to submit to agents or publishers (which seems to be the route one normally expects to take, when dreaming about writing the Great American Novel).

But finding an agent* takes time.† And then having a publishing house buy the book takes time. And then having the publishing house actually publish the book so that it gets into the hot little hands or ereaders of consumers takes time. Even if submitting by age 72, it’s quite possible that our protagonist wouldn’t have a book out in buyable fashion until he’s 77, if all goes well.

Life expectancies are going up; according to Social Security’s Life Expectancy Calculator, if a man born in 1982 makes it to age 67, he can expect to live until age 84. A woman could expect to live until age 86.

That would leave, potentially, seven to nine years of enjoyment of living one’s dream. Not even a tenth of one’s life.

And that is why, after finishing this post (I draft them and schedule to post later), I am going to work on my fiction. Less than a tenth of my life is not enough.

*Or going the indie route

† Well, going the indie route should take time. That many people thinks it doesn’t need to is what leads to the loads of bad self-published books being heaped upon the populace.

  1. The nature of love
  2. Why all those “plan for your retirement when you can write the Great American Novel!” commercials are a fallacy
  3. Cheese

Clearly, I need to get in the habit of doing more* prep work.

*Or any at all, whatevs.