Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 12:43 pm
2016/77: Company of Liars -- Karen Maitland
Once, half-submerged in a sodden field, we saw the statue of St Florian, his millstone tied around his neck. Since their saint was unable to protect them from the rains, the parishioners had stripped his statue of his scarlet cloak and golden halo, beaten him and cast him out to face the elements. Many of the cottagers were no longer begging God for mercy, they were angry with him. They felt betrayed...[loc. 2898]

Set in 1348, just after the Black Death has reached England: 'Camelot', a hawker of relics, decides to head north to avoid the plague. Camelot is joined by Cygnus, a swan-winged story-teller; Zophiel, a travelling magician with a wagonful of heavy boxes; Venetian musician Rodrigo and his pupil Jofre; painter Osmond and his wife Adela, who is expecting their first child; Pleasance, a midwife; and a strange white-haired child, Narigorm, who reads runes and is given to doom-laden pronouncements.

As Doctor House says, 'everybody lies'. All of these travellers are lying, concealing their individual, desperately important, secretsvery mildly spoilery )
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 12:00 pm
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 10:52 am
Yesterday there was a discussion about which tags I used the most, and as I'm at home today waiting for a boiler engineer to give me a check-up I thought I'd have a quick play.

So I downloaded my links from Pinboard's backup page (in XML format), knocked up a quick script to split out the tags and sort them, and then dumped it into GitHub, in case anyone else wanted to play with it.

Of the 4,320 tags I've used over 30,153 links, here are the tags that have over 500 uses:

Which reminds me - I've cut down on the new tags I create, having hit an LJ/DW limit - if I hit 4,000 tags then I break things, and I have 3,377 tags over there. So I've stopped adding new Via tags for anyone who I only get the occasional link through (sorry!) and I'm not creating tags for transient events. Although I am regretting not giving Brexit a tag (it's getting "Europe UK" instead. I don't regret not giving Trump a tag though...

(Some day, when I have absolutely nothing else to do, I may look at the DW tagging system internals and work out if they can be made indefinitely extensible. But today is not that day.)

Oh, and to answer the question from yesterday, OhForFucksSake has been used 327 times, making it about the 48th most popular tag. And if you want to really depress yourself, you can see them all here.
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 10:00 am
Monday, February 20th, 2017 10:18 pm

Sleepy catten!

Ink: Robert Oster Astorquiza Rot
Pen: Aurora Optima 75th Anniversary, medium nib
Monday, February 20th, 2017 08:43 pm
  . . . . During his lifetime, Thomas Wolfe (1900 - 1938) was one of the most celebrated American novelists, in an era when this nation was graced by many great novelists.  




After the publication of Look Homeward Angel, it wasn't unusual to see critics speak in all sincerity of Wolfe as the Great American Novelist. 


I still have this book, one of the first I bought for myself when I began to earn money.

 It didn't hurt that he was a publisher's promotional dream either. Wolfe was stamped with many of the Romantic signatures of the Great Artist that this nation's intelligentsia and critical establishment still values and reveres. 


The five room house located 92 Woodfin Street in Asheville, NC where all eight children lived.  About two blocks away is the larger establishment that his mother purchased and operated as a boarding house. She took Thomas, her youngest, to live in the boarding house, away from his father and the rest of the family.  There were issues between his mother and father.

Wolfe was an outsider, the youngest in a family of eight children, born in Asheville, North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. He flamed onto the New York City literary stage, scored Maxwell Perkins, the greatest editor in our national literary history, to pull together his huge reams of text, succeeds in all his endeavours, including writing for the theater. Surely if Henry James had been alive he would have died of envy, and not only because he always failed writing for the theater. A tall and rangy, masculine man, if not conventionally handsome, beautiful, rich influential women helped him, loved him, wept for him. Best of all he then had the good sense to die young and tragically of a pneumonia provoked by a miliary tuberculosis surely acquired while growing up. Behind him he left a body of work the control of which others wrangled, and about which the critics could argue ad infinitum.


But it didn't quite turn out that way.  His contemporaries, Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Faulkner may have have had their moments of disfavor, but they've ever come near falling out of the pantheon of great American novelists.  But for Wolfe, both popular and academic interest evaporated. There was never a course that included Wolfe while I was in under or grad school. His contemporaries, as famous as he was when alive, remain in the American literary canon, and where there are still liberal arts and English departments, they are on the syllabus, with courses devoted to their work. Wolfe isn't even in the anthologies.


Yet he's at least as classically in the American vein as these this trinity of 20th century great literary novelists.


The title and subjects of Thomas Wolfe's first published novel, Look Homeward Angel (published 1929, only days before the stock market crashed, yet sold very well) is in perfect contrasting literary parallelism with his final and posthumous publication (1940), You Can't Go Home Again. This last work takes an overtly historical view of the United States and Europe, that, among many other subjects includes a jaundiced view of capitalism. 


This sense of looking back on the nation may be why Wolfe fell out of the American literary canon's favor so quickly in the years of WWII and after.  First, he wrote very large, never using a single word when he could come up with a dozen, and that over-abundant rhetorical exuberance was falling thoroughly out of favor even before 1940 as undisciplined and sentimental. And it was no longer the Great Depression, it was WWII, and there was no room to look backwards, or for criticisms of America's wartime economic juggernaut bringing back the good times in terms of employment and wages -- even after Stalin became a wartime ally.  Yet here was a novelist overtly thinking through American history, which included the national conundrum of race. This didn't hurt Faulkner's reputation. However, Wolfe's historical expression was as baggy as his prose  -- though, in my opinion, neither his historical thinking nor his text, were necessarily, if ever, saggy, and don't contain the petty, small-minded sneering at Jews or other others, or the constant anxiety about manhood, that both Hemingway and Fitzgerald's fiction exhibit.


When I look at Wolfe's novels today, they provide more than any of our other great writers do, even Faulkner, the sense that I am looking backward at a world that is so long ago that it hardly exists now, except in his prose. 




It feels that way despite for so long I have lived and walked in streets of the city where he spent most of his short adult life.  The excitement with which wrote about life in New York City penetrated my imagination that summer of my adolescence when I discovered his novels in the public library and never went away. That he wasn't a part of the American literary canon by then shows because he wasn't on the shelves of my high school library, where all the other writers were.  I found them in the public library by poking about, which I did often, drawn particularly to volumes that obviously hadn't been checked out for years. O, he lived New York very, very large, a literary legend's life, worthy of the literary center of the nation, in an age when literature had pride of place in the realms of art, entertainment and politics. 


O Lost!


I have come to think of him again, after a long period of forgetting, especially when in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  A sensitive reader can see there, how these mountains and these people would have made a Thomas Wolfe. They should be proud of their native son as much now as in his days of fame, nearly seventy years ago.


These are some of the things that roll through my mind on nights I wake and cannot get back to sleep.









Not many have read Thomas Wolfe in these last decades. From the comfort of their homes, with their devices, readers can get a sense of Look Homeward Angel on these sites:


Look Homeward Angel can be downloaded in various formats here for no fee


It can also be accessed here.  And here too, if your library participates.

Monday, February 20th, 2017 05:51 pm
But did Robot & Frank get nominated for the Hugo?
Monday, February 20th, 2017 02:45 pm

by Gideon Marcus

And the Free World exhales. At long last, an American has orbited the Earth. This morning, Astronaut John Glenn ascended to the heavens on the back of an Atlas nuclear missile. He circled the globe three times before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

It is impossible to understate what this means for us. The Soviets have been ahead of us in the Space Race since it started in 1957: First satellite, first lunar probe, first space traveler. Last year, the best we could muster was a pair of 15 minute cannonball shots into the edges of space. For two months, Glenn has gone again and again into his little capsule and lain on his back only to emerge some time later, disappointed by technical failure or bad weather. Each time, the clock ticked; would the Soviets trump us with yet another spectacular display of technological prowess?

But this morning, everything was fine – the weather, the booster, the spacecraft, and the astronaut. As I went to sleep last night, Glenn woke up. He had the traditional low residue breakfast of orange juice, toast, eggs over-easy, fillet mignon, and Postum, before suiting up and entering the capsule. That was at 5 AM his time (2 AM mine). For five hours, the patient Colonel waited as his Atlas rocket, only recently tamed sufficiently for human use, was prepared and tested for flight.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
Monday, February 20th, 2017 06:30 pm

Posted by Na'amen Gobert Tilahun

Given the choice? I’ll travel by rail, never by air.

I’ll start this dual review of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters by revealing that I don’t generally read or watch fictional slave narratives. Personally, I would rather read a nonfiction collection of slave narratives and first-person accounts than someone’s fictionalized and often sanitized story. There are three main reasons I feel this way:

  1. The attempt to center whiteness in the narrative and demonize fellow slaves and Black people.
  2. The exploitation of the pain of the slave’s experience including sexualized violence by using it to titillate the audience.
  3. The experience of Black women who, when they are present in such narratives, are often reduced to silent victims of assault (as in the recent film Birth of a Nation).

All three of these influence each other and are therefore hard to untangle, but I’ll try to take each point as it relates to Underground Airlines and The Underground Railroad specifically. What I mean by the first reason is that people do not often want to depict the pervasiveness and overwhelming nuanced magnitude of racism. Racism was not limited to slaveholders; it was and is a pervasive part of society. Many white abolitionists still believed that people of African descent were little more than children and did not deserve full rights. Instead of this being portrayed in narratives, white people's attitudes towards race are often presented as a dichotomy; they are either complete demons or absolute saints. This results in the white character's emotional story, their cruelty or selflessness or their journey to believing Black people are human, taking center stage. Frankly, in slavery narratives? I could not care less about white people’s emotional journey. I already understand how racism works, I face it in different forms every single day. When narratives of slavery focus on whiteness, it serves as a silent way of pushing Black Americans out of our own history.

In Underground Airlines the main character’s real name is never revealed. We’ll call him Brother, which was his slave name before he ran away from slavery and was free for a couple of years before being captured by the government and forced into three months' training to make him an expert slave-catcher. This is one of the choices that keeps the reader emotionally distant from him. It made me feel as if Brother were being emotionally disconnected from his own narrative. Brother spends most of his time putting himself in the shoes of white people, understanding their motivations and choices. In his interactions with Black people, though, he others them immediately. You see, Brother automatically categorizes every Black person he meets by a catalog of skin tones used to describe runaway slaves. So white characters get a nuanced attempt at understanding, while Black characters are immediately reduced to skin color. Despite being born a slave and escaping into a racist society it feels like Brother sees more humanity in whiteness than in other Black Americans.

Often it feels as if Brother himself has forgotten that he is Black. Brother has racism pointed out to him by white people and is a victim of microaggressions that he doesn’t seem to notice. Martha, the white woman who becomes the most important secondary character, points out a racist reaction about to occur as if he would not see it coming. He apparently has no feelings, as a former slave, in having racism whitesplained to him. Add to this the horrible way in which Martha describes to Brother her first meeting with the escaped slave that would father her child.

"He was so beautiful," she said quietly. "I don’t know what I was expecting. I didn’t know what to expect. Some, like, skinny, ignorant, bald … thing. Like, not a human. Like a monster or something. But he was …" She shivered a little, a shiver of memory, a shiver of awe. "He was beautiful."

It should be pointed out that she is looking at a scarred man with blistered fingers who has had an eye "burned out from six sun-bright weeks at sea." Neither the dehumanizing expectation nor the torture-porn aspect of finding this heavily injured Black body, the victim of years of white violence, beautiful is addressed within the text. These are only two examples of many moments of white privilege that pop up from characters in the text. I would love to believe that these are deliberate, except that Brother never reacts to them, even internally.

Cora, the main character in The Underground Railroad, is also born a slave and her attitude toward whiteness is born from this. White people are not to be trusted. She is wary even of the white characters who help her because she has experienced the cruelty and false genteelness of the plantation. In fact, each state that Cora visits has different ways of dealing with the "negro problem"—in this case referring to the fact that in many slave states Black people far outnumbered whites. Many who did not agree with slavery were still set against citizenship for Black people for this reason. In Cora's first stop, South Carolina, the government chooses to solve this "problem" with enforced sterilization and medical experimentation under the guise of healthcare. In the next state, North Carolina, the government simply makes being Black in the state a crime, selling off slaves and running off free Blacks. From that point onwards, any Black people found are killed in weekly shows. These two very different experiences crystallize Cora’s wariness towards whiteness and expand her personal knowledge of the many ways in which oppressors will try to keep marginalized folks from freedom or power.

Cora’s experiences of whiteness, while central to the advancement of the plot, are not central to Cora or her story. Cora cares for the white characters she encounters only insofar as figuring out their true intentions. The only white person she has an almost uncomplicatedly good relationship with is Sam, the conductor in South Carolina. Even so, when Sam disappears from her life, she worries and is glad to see him when he reappears, but he never takes up much of her thoughts when he is not around. The same can be said for the slave-catcher hunting her. Until Cora is in his presence he takes up little space in her mind, and when free of him Cora barely thinks of him. Both characters in both novels are oppressed by whiteness, then, but Brother lets it become the center of his life while Cora searches for a place outside of racism’s insidious grasp.

Whitehead uses small interludes from white characters' POVs, allowing him to explore different levels of racism from their own perspectives. He gives them voice and space and nuance to explore their explicit racism or be ignorant about their ingrained racism; all the while neither forgiving nor excusing their beliefs—from Cora’s POV, or at all. Winters, on the other hand, allows his main character's relation to whiteness—the woman he meets, his handler, the priest who he is forced to work with in the end—to inform the reader’s view on whiteness in the narrative. The result is that Airlines has little to no sense of Black community. In the real world there can often be a feeling of understanding and community among marginalized people, but while Brother fakes this sometimes it never appears in the text in any real way. Brother doesn’t make any true connections except with white people like Martha whose personal story—which is about interracial relationships, but again, only from the white person’s POV—ends up overtaking his own. Cora, on the other hand? She finds Black community in every place she travels. Cora works with Black people, she lives with Black people, spends time with Black people, and in many ways these connections are what sustain her in the dark moments of her travel.

Here is one example of the two authors' different approaches to Black community. Both narratives contain mention of slaves turning on one another and reporting to overseers. Whitehead provides reasons for these betrayals—rewards, the lessening of day-to-day misery, etc.—while Winters does no such thing. This leaves Winters's readers to assume the actions come from cruelty or vindictiveness rather than survival. Whitehead adds more nuance to the connection between slaves by also providing instances of friendships and loving relationships between them. Winters never shows anything like this except for Brother’s relationship with his own brother Castle which ends in violence (as indeed most interactions between slaves do in Airlines). In a move that feels indicative of the character of the books themselves, at the end of their trials Brother ends up rescued by a white man that betrays him, whereas Cora first refuses help from a white character and then actively chooses a Black man, a fellow runaway, to rely on for safety.

Slavery was true horror. Families were ripped apart, sexual abuse was rampant, and many of the "punishments" that slaves were subjected to were just torture. Even so, much of the violence that appears in Airlines is perpetuated by and between characters of African descent. Brother kills a Black police officer who betrays him, is beaten by other Black people to squirrel him away, is threatened by a Black woman, and of course there’s the fact that Brother murdered his own brother Castle, who hesitated to run, when they were younger. By contrast the white violence towards Brother is faceless; it happens by committee or over the phone and is only really revealed when it has been rendered powerless. In this way are the white people we are given as named characters (like Martha) compared to a faceless, racist horde so that they look heroic by comparison. In Railroad, once Cora has escaped the plantation, never is violence directed at her by other Black people. There are arguments and disagreements because Black people are never presented as a monolith but the depiction of any Black-on-Black crime is not prominent within the story.

Whitehead does not shy away from the punishments and horrors of being a slave but neither does he linger for pages on the acts. We are told rather than shown a number of horrific acts, always with enough detail to understand the severity but without dwelling on the minutiae of emotional and physical pain. Whitehead lays out these horrors as mundane and normal in the life of a slave: a tactic which ends up giving a better overview of a life lived with no true agency. Cora has no agency but she is not ignorant. She understands what happens in certain places on the plantation like in the abandoned schoolhouse or behind the shacks where she was assaulted. These are horrible things that happen within a horrible system of racism but they are no secret. Masters do not think Black people human enough to keep secrets from; within this system they are property, and Whitehead portrays this balance between knowledge and lack of control exceptionally well.

By contrast, while Winters does not rely on extensive scenes of violence, he does rely on the revelation of past trauma and the reader’s expected surprise. The problem is that none of the acts by slave-owners or other white people in power that happen are shocking to those who live with racism every day. The horror that lives at the center of Airlines is the cloning of slaves, but the attempt to control marginalized people’s fertility is not a new tactic from those in power. The controlling of Black women’s fertility is also a plot point in The Underground Railroad when Cora arrives in South Carolina. In Railroad, Cora and her companions decide to warn their friends, but are aware that this is a statewide government initiative and that many of the Black people will believe white medical authority over them (a sad and still relevant truth).

Winters spends time holding details back—like what happened to Brother’s brother Castle, the mystery of the dark shack on the plantation property, or the truth of Brother’s mission—in hope for a shocked reveal that never truly lands. Airlines wants me to be shocked by how low someone would go in a system of racist oppression, but I already know that. Most people who belong to marginalized groups are well aware of how far others will go to harm us. That’s what made me realize that Underground Airlines, despite being about my history and culture, is not meant for me. It relies, purposefully or not, on that expected shock and revelation which relies on some ignorance of the levels on which an oppressive society is founded and perpetuated. It is a narrative meant to entertain and be praised by a white audience.

An Interlude: How can you tell if a narrative is meant for a white audience?

Some things are simply not written for me; I understand that. If I don’t enjoy the genre or the attitude or protagonist, I move on. It is different, though, when the narrative is supposed to be about a community you belong to but is written by someone outside that community. Often the narratives written about us rather than by us are the ones that garner the most praise and financial success. They become lauded and adapted and so outside perception of our reality is given more weight than the things we say about our own experiences. In the case of Airlines, it is supposed to be about modern-day slavery and race in an alternate America but ends up being about whiteness and its view on my community. Martha in Airlines functions much like the half-white character added to the film adaptation of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. They are a portal for the white people to connect with the story, as if they cannot connect to characters of color. She becomes what changes the protagonist really; in many ways she becomes his savior. This also feels very absolving of the actions of whiteness in general in regards to slavery. No one from the non-slavery US states buys products from the slave states; neither do Europe, or South America, or presumably Africa. Their main client seems to be China; yet another way to shift blame to other people of color for perpetuating slavery. (This is similar to how many will point to other cultures practicing slavery in an attempt to change the subject from an analysis of American slavery specifically.) It feels as if Winters is trying to tell a PTSD story of a former slave now forced to capture people like him, without awareness that just being a Black person in America today can lead to PTSD and a whole host of other health and emotional issues. For me, the speculative part of the narrative does more to separate Brother’s issues from real race relations in the modern day rather than illuminating the true lack of difference in the two worlds. It allows a white audience to say, "We’re obviously not as bad as all that," rather than making them question the smaller instances of racism that occur every day. That’s how I knew this slave narrative was not meant for an audience of color.

My final point for comparison is the treatment of Black women within the narrative. In slavery narratives Black women are rarely allowed to be three-dimensional characters; instead they function as silent victims of white men or silent motivators for Black men. There are only three Black women total that appear and speak in Airlines. The first to appear is a clerk at a UPS-like business who is described as having rainbow nails and "expertly woven hair." I still do not know what that means. Is Winters talking about a weave? Braids? Is it woven like a basket? I just don’t know. Second is the older Black woman who leads a criminal enterprise with her sons, in the "ghetto" majority freed Black neighborhood. Her sons are large and aggressive and described using every thug stereotype you can imagine. She herself smuggles in and smokes slave-produced cigarettes and offers to buy/steal Martha’s mixed-race child. Finally, there is the Black woman running a part of the Airlines from the plantation where she is ostensibly a slave but actually runs the place. She is strictly-business and likeable except for the fact that she allowed a fourth Black woman, one we never see but hear about as the woman who made everything possible, to die. She has some remorse for this, but in the end justifies it. All three representations rely heavily on stereotypes and have very little emotional depth, exacerbated by the fact that they each appear only once and are never mentioned a second time. Their lack of voice in the novel is especially infuriating because, as I say above, the core plot point of Airlines centers around cloning and Black women’s reproductive organs.

By contrast two Black women characters take up the most emotional space in Railroad—Cora and, even though she’s largely absent, her mother Mabel. Mabel was the only slave to escape from the Randall plantation prior to Cora herself. Even though we do not get Mabel's true story until near the end of Railroad, her existence, and more importantly her absence, affects Cora during her whole life. Cora’s experience is front and center and the ways in which her experience of slavery is affected by her gender are not glossed over. Cora, Mabel, and the other woman presented by the book all experience sexual harassment and assault but it is not detailed on the page. It is acknowledged, and has repercussions, but it feels neither eroticized nor exploited. Cora’s journey is both internal and external and the reader gets to see the different ways her travels change her. Also featured are Cora’s relationships and interactions with other Black women—her grandmother Ajarry, her mother, her friend Lovey, her friend Sybil. Cora’s world is full of Black women and though their stories are not told in full, they are allowed to have stories that intersect with Cora’s own.

In the end, both books were hard to get through for different reasons. Airlines, because I felt like I was being othered by a story that was supposed to be about something I deal with every day. Railroad took me longer because I was emotionally affected by the unflinching look at racism and slavery. I’m left with one question though. This is not Winters's first book, but as far as I have been able to find out none of his other texts include main characters of color. So why does he only seem willing to write about us when we’re in chains?

Monday, February 20th, 2017 07:40 pm
I've had a good month for seeing friends I don't spend time with often enough. I managed long phone chats with [personal profile] hatam_soferet and [personal profile] lethargic_man, and [personal profile] jack and I managed to get most of a weekend with [personal profile] doseybat and her mother and [personal profile] pplfichi, and the wonderful [personal profile] angelofthenorth came to stay with me for a few days.

I feel really really blessed by having such wonderful friends, especially when they reach out to me when I'm doing badly at keeping in touch. And several other people have got in touch too and I really do want to get back to them to make plans. And I'm not doing at all well at posting or commenting here (though I'm still reading, definitely, I haven't missed a day.)

slightly angsty )

Anyway, the only way to restart the habit of posting here is to just go ahead and do so. Have a meme which [livejournal.com profile] ghoti sensibly imported from FB: suggest a category and I'll tell you my top five things in that category. Feel free to propagate it if you think it would be a fun thing to do in your own journal.
Monday, February 20th, 2017 06:49 pm

At the weekend we went to the Tate Modern - where we were underwhelmed by the current Turbine Hall thing.

However - WHY was I not told? I have not seen them there before and didn't even know that they had them - there is a Louise Nevelson room.

When I first saw that there was some Nevelson material in the Materials and Objects section I thought, well, maybe some smaller piece or two or three?


Two LARGE molto-tipico Nevelsons, one in black and one in gold.

An American Tribute to the British People is an abstract gold sculpture


Black Wall 1959.

I think I may go back just to hang out in there for a bit.

(And we may note that 'one of the most important figures in 20th-century American sculpture' was an immigrant...)

Monday, February 20th, 2017 01:45 pm
to work out the two levels of Mad Science behind the origin of a character I will likely never play, I don't want to be right.
(also, I like the idea of a super-villian dog named Deadly Sirius. He's embittered over having the mind of an Einstein in the body of a dog breed with a lifespan of a decade. Maybe a decade and a half if it's lucky)
Monday, February 20th, 2017 12:38 pm

Originally published at Juliet E. McKenna. Please leave any comments there.

I’ve always loved reading fantasy books, and a huge part of the attraction has always been the settings for these stories. The rolling hills and woodlands of Narnia. The peaks and valleys in Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series. The rugged, empty beauty of the plains and mountains in Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky trilogy. All of these and many more come to mind, sometimes brought to life on a movie screen, other times allowed to bloom unhindered within my imagination.

A story’s setting determines a lot about the direction the tale will take. Choosing to toss your characters into a scorching desert – or a howling hurricane at sea – means opting for a specific approach to the narrative. Climate and season are an intrinsic part of this choice.

When I first heard about the Journeys anthology from Woodbridge Press, I immediately knew I wanted to write something set in winter. I’d recently seen The Revenant and, all things bear-related aside, I was fascinated by the way the movie uses the snow and cold as a protagonist in the story. It had been a while since I’d read or watched a tale where the setting is such a huge part of things: almost a sentient character in its own right, and not merely a backdrop to the events taking place.

The view from Juliana’s office…

I moved to suburban Connecticut three years ago, after spending almost my entire life in the sub-tropical, big city sprawl of São Paulo, Brazil. In São Paulo, seasonal planning means figuring out new routes to escape the traffic snarls during the summer rainstorms that periodically flood parts of the city and make everyone’s life a very damp nightmare. Suddenly, here I was in New England, stocking up on ice melt and bottled water, and reading endless articles on correct winter prep in the face of incoming snowstorms. Different is an understatement.

(Today, as I huddle over my laptop writing this, we’ve already had eight inches of fresh snow since last night and more is falling relentlessly. And ‘thunder snow’? Is a thing, apparently.)

I wanted my story for Journeys to reflect some of the challenges that living through a cold winter presents. Not the temporary snow-sun-sparkles joy of a ski trip or mountain holiday, where you can quickly shake off the shivers in front of a log fire with a mug of something warm, and then fly home when you’ve had enough. But the bone-deep chill of day after day of cold weather, and the ‘absolutely done with it’ feeling you get when March rolls around, and there’s still an entire iceberg of snow plow leftovers sitting in your driveway, big enough to sink a cruise ship or two.

Winter, with a capital W, in all its blazing, white, complicated, wet, nasty glory.

So now I had my setting. I had the feel I wanted to capture – trudging through snow, cold hands, cold face, and warm breath that quickly turns to ice when it condenses against your scarf. All I needed was a cast of slightly shady characters (because let’s face it, you’re not going to be out travelling in the middle of winter unless you’re deeply motivated!), and a somewhat stabby little plot to move them forward. Everything in position? Ready, set, frostbite.

Juliana Spink Mills is the author of the short story Fool’s Quest in the Journeys anthology, as well as the YA urban fantasy novel Heart Blade, Book 1 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles (Woodbridge Press, February 2017).

“I blog about a variety of incredibly random and not very serious things at www.jspinkmills.com, and you can find me on Twitter as @JSpinkMills.”

Monday, February 20th, 2017 11:26 am
I have read Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk twice now and not yet succeeded in writing it up, but I am going to make a solid go of it now and we'll see what happens.

The trouble with trying to write up H is for Hawk is that it is such a deeply personal book, for Helen Macdonald, that I don't know what to say about it that won't sell it short or misrepresent it somehow. I often have this trouble with writing about memoirs, in a way I don't with fiction or biographies -- because as you all should know by now, the tone I am most comfortable writing these posts in, perhaps regrettably, is 'flippant,' and what right do I have to be flippant about another person's profoundly personal experience?

And the other thing that makes this hard is that I expect most of you have heard of it, or at least seen it in bookstores on the bestseller table, because it was weirdly and wildly popular for a deeply personal memoir about grief and a goshawk and the author T.H. White, with whom Helen Macdonald has no connection whatsoever except through his own weird book about grief and a goshawk. (The best review of White's The Goshawk was from [personal profile] rushthatspeaks in 2011, and you can read it here. I also read the book, but I couldn't figure out how to write about it any more than I can figure out how to write about this one, so I wrote less eloquently about Sylvia Townsend Warner's biography of T.H. White instead.) So what can I say that you won't have seen on the book cover, that this is a book about those things?

I guess I can say that I felt I understood this book better in December of 2016 than I did in January of 2016, because I was lucky enough, in January of 2016, not to understand grief very well.

And I guess I can also say that when I read it in December of 2016, it was for book club, and the thing we found ourselves talking about the most is that we're not sure after all that Helen Macdonald understands T.H. White very well -- or at least, not as well as she thinks, or at least, none of us were entirely comfortable with her understanding of him, an (apparently?) straight woman putting most of another person's troubles down to the Tragedy of Being A Gay Man. The trouble is, I guess, that Helen Macdonald's book, for the most part, is about discovery; she's learning about her hawk, and she's learning about her grief, which means that neither her own motivations nor the hawk's are entirely clear most of the time. The process of figuring them out makes the book what it is.

But she's not learning about T.H. White, or at least, that's not the way she's writing it. She tells us about him like she knows him and can understand his motivations already. And honestly, T.H. White is a complex enough figure that I don't think anybody does, or can.
Monday, February 20th, 2017 04:42 pm
Soaked urad dal is the most beautiful thing.

beautiful urad dal

When it's dried it looks black; when it's cooked it looks brown; when it's soaked I want to make it into jewellery.

I used it to make one of abrinsky's all-time favourite dishes, dal makhani, and boy have I upped my Indian food game this year. It was delicious. (Not that I wasn't good before, it's just that I've suddenly improved by an order of magnitude.)

dal makhani: mastered
Monday, February 20th, 2017 09:29 am
Happy birthday, [personal profile] dsgood and [personal profile] elekdragon!