Giving Up on Political Discussion

After Trump was elected, I was trying to keep an open mind. Even though Mike Pence believes in gay conversion therapy, and Trump does not believe in human-made climate change. (My scientist father would be disgusted at this deliberate ignorance of fact, and I am his daughter.)

I read a lot. I learned a lot about history and why people supported Trump.

But Trump’s comments show, at best, a childish approach to race.

Then Trump appointed Steve Bannon as his chief of staff. Bannon is a white nationalist. The site he runs, Breitbart, has statements like this.

“The alt-right’s intellectuals would also argue that culture is inseparable from race. The alt-right believe that some degree of separation between peoples is necessary for a culture to be preserved”

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Snopes, checking facts. Here’s one about Bannon.

“Some headlines that appeared in the publication under his helm included “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew”; “A Short List of Black Lives Matter’s Cop-Killing Heroes”; and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”

Tom Price, nominated for Health and Human Services Secretary, belongs to an organization, American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, which believes that vaccines are harmful. They entirely miss the problem that without vaccines, we get outbreaks of disease because of one un-vaccinated child.

The Wikipedia article on AAPS describes their discredited ideas at length, and with links to their discredited ideas in the Journal of AAPS.

So I can no longer tell my friends not to panic. My black friends, my gay friends, my Jewish friends, my Muslim friends, my Latinex friends. My friends who have serious medical conditions.

I mean, how can I stop their fears? Do you, my Red Team friends, really believe that Trump didn’t mean what he said about women, Mexicans, immigrants, and disabled people? That Bannon won’t have the courage to stand by what his news outlet prints? That Tom Price belongs to the AAPS but doesn’t believe in what they stand for?

Yeah, peomy-mind-is-made-upple are scared. I think their fear is reasonable. And I have to stop looking all this material up on Snopes and On the Issues, and focus on how to strengthen the Democratic party.  Sorry, Red Team. Wish we could agree on something, anything.

I Keep Peter Beagle’s Books

book_pileWe are not only out of bookcases, we are out of walls to put them on. So I have to pick and choose the books I keep. (The ones I don’t go to Ithaca NY’s famous Friends of the Library Book Sale, where people line up the night before to get collectible bargains.)

Peter Beagle’s books make the Keeper list.

I just finished his recent SUMMERLONG. Not his best book. But a not-your-best Beagle is still better than dozens of new fantasies. I know. I read them by the gallon. SUMMERLONG is a retelling of an old myth—no spoilers, you’ll figure it out. Yes, there’s a young woman with a doomed love affair—that’s now the stuff of most fantasy. Except that she’s a secondary character. The main characters are an eccentric 60ish hetero couple, who keep separate homes even though they have been together 16 years. My kind of people.

I also just finished Beagle’s short story collection, WE NEVER TALK ABOUT MY BROTHER. When the author was about 19, he could already write wonderful old people—in A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE and THE LAST UNICORN. He still can—especially in the short story “Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel.”

tamsincatsBeagle is a master at writing in a character’s voice. Some characters are funny, some serious, some bewildered. TAMSIN (1999) has the most perfect character voice of his many wonderful ones. It’s told by 19-year-old woman reflecting on her 13-year-old self–a New York City kid transported to a farm in Dorset, England, where she discovers ghosts and what she calls “old weirdness.” I re-read this whenever life gets overwhelming. Just ordered it in hard cover because my paperback is falling apart.

Another favorite is THE INNKEEPER’S SONG. This one is told by several characters, and all of them sound different. Beagle has written screenplays; he might consider live theatre. Although then he couldn’t write all the swell descriptions. I just began hunting some out, and gave up. They rely on context. Beagle doesn’t just write to put beautiful words together. He writes stories.

He writes Who-are-these-amazing-people stories. I was going to say what-happens-next stories, but that always takes place in vivid environments, with people I’d like to know better. I hate stories and novels that are only what-happens-next.

When writing about Beagle, everyone always prefaces it with “Author of THE LAST UNICORN.” He’s done even better since then.

Another ALICE

alice-cover-399x600As you can see from the cover, this ALICE is not from Lewis Carroll. We first meet Christina Henry’s Alice in a horrid madhouse—the kind where you sleep on the floor, kept docile by powders with your meals. Object, and the sleep-inducing powders become injections that leave you drooling.

All this Alice has are her conversations with a man named Hatcher; conversations that take place through a mouse hole.

But the Jabberwock lives under the madhouse, and when the place catches fire, the Jabberwock escapes. So do Hatcher and Alice.

Hatcher takes Alice to his grandmother, who tells them that only the two of them can kill the Jabberwock, because all the Magicians are gone. And off they go. To find their way, they must visit Mr. Cheshire. Then they must deal with criminal lords named Mr. Carpenter, Mr. Walrus, and the Rabbit. Alice learns why she and Hatcher were in the madhouse, and grows from a scared girl to a tough woman.

Alice’s Wonderland was never like this.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice tales can be oddly creepy, but they’ve got nothing on this dark and bloody story. I’m not usually one for dark and bloody, but Alice and Hatcher are such strong, interesting characters, and the parallels with the original so much fun, that I enjoyed every page.

I finished this novel just in time for the sequel to be published. But I appreciate that ALICE ended completely, with a sense of more to come, but not a cliffhanger that insists that you purchase the next one. As an obstinate sort, I often just stay hanging on that cliff, rather than give in.

This time, however, I look forward to RED QUEEN. www.christinahenry.net

cheshire-cat1p.s. I prefer the original Tenniel drawings to the Disney Version.

Lolly Willowes: Old fashioned novel, new fashioned weirdness.

Written in 1926 and re-released in 1999 with an introduction by Alison Lurie, the book has now made its way to Kindle, where I found it.lollywillowesfirsted

But if you don’t like Jane Austen, where some people feel that nothing happens, you won’t like this. If you want a book made up of Important Events or and Exciting Narrative, you won’t like this.

I loved it.

Laura Willowes grows up on the family estate, where she roams around the countryside, learns to distill herbs into useful potions, is companion to her father, and does not marry. As a result, when her father dies, she must, of course, go to live with her brother’s family in London, where she becomes Aunt Lolly, or Miss Willowes. Laura disappears, subsumed in the life of a useful spinster. For twenty years.

That covers almost half of the novel. But before she, and we, are half asleep, Laura decides to go live by herself in Great Mop, Buckinghamshire. There, she wanders the woodlands, happily alone. There she meets the Loving Huntsman of the title (who is Satan, although he isn’t very evil), and learns that she’s a witch. gamekeeper

But witches have to do good, or evil, and she just wants to be left alone.

The prose is meandering, evocative, and unlike anything I’ve ever read. Although it’s a new discovery for me, it’s been through 93 editions, from London, New York, Paris, Leipzig, and Milan. In France it was shortlisted for the Prix Femina. It was the very first Book Of The Month in the U.S.. In 2014, Robert McCrum chose it as one of the 100 Best Novels in English.

I hope that students now read this as a matter of course. In my day, we didn’t.

As Alison Lurie writes in her introduction to the 1999 re-release of this astonishing novel:

“Three years later, Virginia Woolf was to make the same point , saying that if a woman wants to be more than a household appliance, if she is to have a life of her own . . . she must have freedom and privacy and “a room of one’s own.” She spoke, as we now know, for thousands of women then and in years to some.But Sylvia Townsend Warner spoke for them first.”

 

someplace-to-flyRecently, I was laid up with a bad knee and a bad cold. Sometimes I could write. Sometimes my head was too full of mucus. Then I took refuge in re-reading books I have liked. Serendipity joined me in that effort, teaching me how and what to focus my own writing on.

I began to re-read the novels of Charles de Lint. (Note: you can find all the books I mention on de Lint’s website.)

I haven’t read all of his books—there are a lot of them. Among the ones I have read, my favorite is Someplace to be Flying. Instead of jumping right to that, however, I picked up Spirit in the Wires, probably because my husband had spent the weekend fighting with his desktop computer.  Spirit in the Wires is about magical beings who hijack a website. From that, I learned that de Lint’s endless, inventive detail is what makes his books so readable and popular. Since I began as a playwright, where short and elliptical is the way to go, I needed that lesson for my novels.

Then I re-read Medicine Road, where the main characters clearly have appeared in another story–a story I only vaguely remembered. This novel takes place in the desert, which has joined de Lint’s made-up city of Newford as a location for many of his novels. Serendipity being what it is, I then picked up one of his collections of shorter works, Tapping the Dream Tree. In it, I discovered a story about pixels becoming evil pixies—precursor to Spirit in the Wires—as well as the novella that pre-dates  Medicine Road.

De Lint’s stories connect characters as well as places. The main character in one novel becomes a side character in another, and vice-versa. Because they all live in or near one of his story places, the overlaps are very satisfying.

So what have I learned? Not just to write the details, but to stick with a setting that works. For me, I think that will be The Dry Country. Stay tuned!

My arguments with Trump, or No More Clickbait

My cousin Bill just pointed out that an anti-Trump meme I posted on Facebook was mostly clickbait. I took the challenge. You’ll note that I put in the full URLS instead of making links. That’s because I want everyone to see where and who is saying things.

This time I did my homework direct. I read what Trump says about his positions, at https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions

I absolutely disagree with:

First, the wall., He still plans to make Mexico pay for a wall between our countries. He explains how he plans to do that, and I have no way to refute that. I just think that it’s a really odd, not to say crazy, idea. The border is 1,989 miles, according to https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/578/~/border-in-miles. That’s a major engineering project. There has to be a smarter way to stop illegal immigration from Mexico.

Second, he interprets the Second Amendment as permitting everyone in the U.S to own a gun. This, in my opinion, does not deal with the problems that entails. Without strong background checks and mandatory training, people use guns irresponsibly. The police agree. http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=2859&issue_id=22013

As part of that section, Trump says: “We need to get serious about prosecuting violent criminals. The Obama administration’s record on that is abysmal. Violent crime in cities like Baltimore, Chicago and many others is out of control. “

The FBI statistics note that violent crime has been dropping in the last 20 years. It also describes how their statistics have to take into account the higher crime rates in places with a lot of poverty—like Chicago and Baltimore.

https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014

https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014/tables/table-1/table_1_crime_in_the_united_states_by_volume_and_rate_per_100000_inhabitants_1995-2014.xls

So Trump does not agree with either the opinion of police chiefs, or the FBI’s statistics. To me, that means he does not care about actual facts.

Third. I find Trump’s racism and sexism a deal killer. This is 2016. Of course, the changes of the past 20 years have upset a lot of people, who find women and black people in positions of power to be scary and wrong. But those things are here to stay. Also, it will take a lot of time and money to keep every single Muslim out of the US. And it’s racist, as in all Muslims are evil.

Here are some facts about his racism and sexism. Forbes is not exactly a leftist magazine. http://fortune.com/2016/06/07/donald-trump-racism-quotes/

Okay, most European countries, except Russia, don’t like Trump, but can anyone prove he didn’t say these things? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/politics/donald-trump-sexism-tracker-every-offensive-comment-in-one-place/

Fourth, his tax plan. Essentially, he slightly lowers the rate on lower income people, which is now between 10 and 15%, to 12%. So those folks will do the math and decide they come out ahead.

Then he sets a 33% rate on everyone making over $225K.

That includes the CEO who makes $18 billion per year. (https://www.statnews.com/2016/08/24/epipen-mylan-bresch/)

Is lowering the tax rate on the 1% going to “trickle down” and create jobs? There are a lot of arguments against the trickle-down theory?

–It has created painful income inequality. https://www.thebalance.com/the-big-squeeze-3306203

–Money groups oppose it, such as the IMF and Forbes.

https://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/is-the-imf-dismantling-trickle-down-economics/

http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?/sites/georgeleef/2013/12/06/trickle-down-economics-the-most-destructive-phrase-of-all-time/&toURL=http://www.forbes.com/sites/georgeleef/2013/12/06/trickle-down-economics-the-most-destructive-phrase-of-all-time/&refURL=https://www.google.com/&referrer=https://www.google.com/#

Here’s a “pro” trickle-down argument, but I find it kind of weak. As in, just wait longer, youse guys. http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/obama-calls-it-fairy-dust-trickle-down-does-work-economist-art-laffer-says

Finally, the economy. I do somewhat agree with Trump that the NAFTA and TPP agreements have had a bad effect on middle and lower class jobs. However, that, I think, is because companies have discovered that moving their jobs overseas is cheaper.

But. He says that “Our trade deficit in goods is almost $800 billion on an annual basis.” I wanted to check that fact, because places like Snopes and FactCheck regularly report that Trump lies a lot.

The U.S. Census site is hard to follow. So I found http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/balance-of-trade  And read about them. It’s clear to me that they want to provide accurate data for businesses all over the world. They say:

“The trade gap in the United States declined to USD 39.47 billion in July of 2016 from an upwardly revised USD 44.66 billion deficit in the previous month and below market expectations of a USD 42.7 billion shortfall.”

Okay, economics is not my strong point. But $800 billion isn’t even close to $40 billion. Let me know if he’s using some other data model. Otherwise, we’ll go back to Trump lies too much for me.

 

 

Who Reads My Books?

Dry.CoverIn my own work, fantasy always appears—in my plays, my stories, and on my burgeoning reading list. I read, and enjoy, everything from Catherynne Valente  to Sarah Addison Allen and from China Mieville to Jim Butcher.

As a result, my sense of the perfect reader for my books—or any book—is not strong.

Besides, as one who is addicted to reading, I have discovered that some books are not for me, however great and well-written they are. Other books are for me, even though I can tell that they are escapist dreck. I mean, some people love artichokes, some don’t.

However, I just read a review on GoodReads that clarified my thoughts. Discussing one of my favorite books, someone wrote “This will be a 5-star book for a certain reader. This reader likes a lot of descriptions and doesn’t mind a very slow story.”

Well, I do like a slow story with lots of descriptions. I do not like books where a fast-moving, one-damn-thing-after-another plot takes precedence over character and description. So I love Robin McKinley, and dislike Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.

And, while I re-read Georgette Heyer romances every time the going gets too tough for me, the addition of steamy romance into every fantasy book leaves me cold—at least when it takes the place of the kind of character development that draws me in.

So I write books that I want to read.

Then there’s the whole YA thing. Some of Ursula LeGuin’s best books are called YA, leaving us OAs (old adults) right out of it. Good thing I’ve been reading YA well into my OA years.

Speaking of OAs, I’ve been reading fantasy and sci-fi for a long time; ever since I left college and gave up reading Thomas Hardy and Gunter Grass for Heinlein, Clarke, et al. Now that I write fantasy myself, I read it even more constantly. Some of it I love, some I hate.

I don’t much like artichokes, either.artichoke

Important subjects do not guarantee decent playwriting

This week, I have seen two plays about Jews and the Holocaust.

The first was Indecent, a new play by Paula Vogel, in a reading that was very well acted and directed. Complex, full of imagery, song, and dance, the show blew me away. After I finished blowing my nose—not because of some easily sentimental claptrap, but because the play is beautifully painful—I felt wonderful, because I’d seen something so inspiring.

Vogel is still rewriting, getting ready for a full production.

The second was Stella Dreams of Trains, by Joanna Rosenberg. Several roles were extremely well done. But I left the theatre in a royal rage.

This play was selected from 100 submissions to the Gloria Ann Barnell Peter Playwright Competition of Aurora, New York, probably because it dealt with the Holocaust. The show would make a lovely film, but as a piece of theatre, it had some problems.Playwriting.Vs.Movies

This 90-minute play required six locations. In none of the scenes did anyone say anything indicating where they were, you know, like Shakespeare’s “How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank.” Standard playwright technique—let ‘em know where and when you are without being obvious. So we had to have sets for all six scenes. On a stage about as big as my coffee table.

See, in film you can jump cut between scenes because you have a full set. Not so much in theatre, unless you want to sit around waiting for sets to change. Which I do not. I’m not sure this writer had seen many plays.

Then there were the “confrontations.” Dialogue went something like this.

  • Please tell me
  • No.
  • You have to.
  • I’m leaving. (but she doesn’t leave, and we have no idea why she doesn’t, because she is not Waiting for Godot..)

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Finally, there were the connections among the characters. The writer set up an interesting, Dickensian group of characters who were all linked. And never gave us the payoff. Either they find out, or they definitely do not find out, about their links. But this show was as daintily unfinished as one of those French or Japanese films everybody but me loves.

In film, you have popcorn, darkness, lovely editing, delicate visuals.

In theatre, you have only darkness. If the story doesn’t grab you, there’s nothing else to do except climb over all your friends and leave, noisily. Because the acting was so good, I didn’t want to insult the performers.

But I am enraged. Aurora may seem the back of beyond to you city folk, but it’s close to Ithaca, which is absolutely crammed with theatre, and only 4 hours from the Big Apple. And this competition proved to me, as if I needed it, that all those competitions where we send our plays may or may not have any idea what makes a good one.

I think I’m going to set myself up as a judge of new music, with a competition. I don’t listen to much of it, and wouldn’t bother to learn much about it, because as long as it’s about something Important, with a Strong Message, I’ll go for it.

The Girl with Ghost Eyes and the Zeitgeist

Fantasy novels Part 2.

SpiritedAwayMonstersOnce again, I’m not part of the zeitgeist.

I did not love The Girl with Ghost Eyes, M. H. Boroson’s debut fantasy novel.

Plot, no spoilers:  In San Francisco’s Chinatown, in the late 19th century, Xian Li-lin battles ghosts and monsters, even though she must remain a dutiful daughter. Boroson has studied Chinese mythology and martial arts, clearly seen Hayao Miyazaki’s brilliant film Spirited Away (pictured), and loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Along with his brilliant premise, what’s not to like?

The endless fighting, punctuated with Li-lin announcing that she’s terrified, causes the interesting relationship between a traditional Chinese father and his ferocious daughter disappears in the melee. That’s not to like. In a novel, I want character development, if nothing else.

But hey, David Gemmell’s debut novel Legend has been called “one long fight scene,’ which didn’t hurt his sales, or reputation, at all.

clan_of_the_white_lotusThat’s what I mean about not being part of the zeitgeist. If I want to experience endless fight scenes, I watch martial arts movies. Not just Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, either; I even enjoy the ones where the culture is so alien to me, so Chinese, Japanese, or Thai, that the plot makes no sense and I can concentrate on the fighting.

In a novel, along with character development, I like good writing and amazing ideas. Boroson almost delivers on the amazing ideas, but again, the background of Daoism and Chinese lore disappeared in the kung fu. And his writing is functional, but repetitive.

My takeaway: Today’s zeitgeist loves endless fight scenes. I don’t. No zeitgeist for me.

Guilty Pleasures in YA Fantasy

When get tired of the complexities of Game of Thrones #88 and life in general, I head for YA fantasy.

MairelonMy most recent guilty pleasure was reading Patricia C. Wrede’s Mairelon the Magician and its sequel, The Magician’s Nephew (1991). In them, I saw a more than passing resemblance to the romance novels of Georgette Heyer—another guilty pleasure.

And I was pleased to note that Google confirmed my diagnosis, both in an article by Mari Ness on Tor, and in Wrede’s blog.

Okay, I have now blown what few academic credentials I still possess by admitting that I read Georgette Heyer. But Mari Ness points out that Heyer started the whole Regency Romance trope, which should count for something among popular culture PhDs. Ness also notes that many fantasy writers have followed in Georgette’s footsteps.

Wrede is one of them. The two books about Mairelon borrow liberally from Heyer’s diction, and the finale of Mairelon the Magician is a lunatic scramble that goes way beyond the diving-into-the-cupboard ending of Heyer’s Cotillion. Almost too far—I soon began to lose count of the participants

Wrede also has collaborated with Caroline Stevermer to create a collection of Regency fantasies, Sorcery and Cecelia, The Grand Tour, and The Mislaid Magician. These are a little too cute and lightweight for even my degraded tastes—that is, I don’t re-read them.

But I do re-read Caroline Stevermer, especially her A College of Magics (1994). Stevermer’s other  CollegeOfMagicssolo novels–A Scholar of Magics, Magic Below Stairs, When the King Comes Home, and River Rats–are good, but A College of Magics stands out from the pack. Although Amazon calls it a book for the 10 to 14 set, the complexity of the characters and the strange ending to the queen-commoner romance might daunt fans of the silly sweetness of Sorcery and Cecelia.

I have no guilt when re-reading A College of Magics.