MAIZE, a play about Barbara McClintock

Self-producing is terrifying.

But I’m doing it. Because my play about Barbara McClintock belongs in Ithaca. She attended Cornell for all three of her degrees, ending with a PhD in 1927. Then she managed to have a stellar career as a woman scientist, in a time when focused, eccentric women were in short supply.

To get good people, I decided that I needed to pay them–even though this isn’t an Equity production. To find the money, I created a Kickstarter campaign. That meant creating a video (thank the goddess for a husband who knows how), struggling with the site (it only accepts URLs if you cut and paste them), and promoting the hellup out of it.

Did I mention that this is one scary process, this self-production thing?

However, I now have a great cast and a great production team. Risley Theatre, at Cornell, is the place I’d like to do the show–because it’s at Cornell. But it’s student-run, and I haven’t heard a word. Knowing that might happen, I have a backup–Lehman Alternative School, which has a little theatre, and who are very nice folks. Feb-March 2018, if you live near Ithaca NY.

So. If you can help fund and/or promote MAIZE, here’s where to go. Let the world know about Barbara McClintock. And keep this playwright from panicking!

Octavia E. Butler. Lilith’s Brood: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago

Read Octavia Butler, everyone says. And I finally did.

Lilith’s Brood, a.k.a. the Xenogenesis Series, is epic, gender-bending, and still politically relevant. (It was written from 1987-1989.)

A writer who can create the Oankali deserves all the respect and kudos Butler has received—which include a MacArthur award. And, reading about her, I am inspired to get some of her other works, especially Kindred.

Her point of view is painfully necessary in today’s political climate. As she said in a 2004 interview, “there must be something basic, something really genetically wrong with us if we’re falling for this stuff.”  The “stuff” she was talking about was Reagan and the possibility of nuclear war. But the “stuff” continues, with constant and scary new developments.

However, I didn’t read every word of Lilith’s Brood. I dove in and out. In trying to decide why I needed to do that, I discovered fourl things about what I like and why I like it.

One: I have read so many sci-fi-fantasy novels, as well as novels in many other styles, that I can see events unfold before they do. In the case of Lilith, I couldn’t bear to watch.

Two: I read, and watch TV shows, only for pleasure. Or to see how the author manages a problem I’m trying to solve in my own writing. The same goes for fantasy novels.( I read, and see, theatrical plays, no matter how difficult the subject, the way other people read challenging novels.)

Three: I worry that reading Facebook has destroyed my attention span.

Four: Most interesting, to me: In a 1995 review of Lilith’s Brood, Burton Raffel calls Butler’s style “crystalline, at its best, sensuous, sensitive, exact not in the least directed at calling attention to itself.” That tells me another thing about how I read. I do look for an interesting writing style. Robin McKinley, Sarah Addison Allen, and Lee Child all have a writing style that keeps me reading even when I see where the plot is going, or lose interest in where the plot is going.

Now I need to figure out how to do that in my own writing. Meanwhlie, I need to read Kindred.

Haruki Murakami, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

I have never liked short stories. And I couldn’t get through Murakami’s novels.

But I loved Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.

In each story, something odd and fantastical happens to ordinary people who live ordinary lives. The narrators aren’t very astonished by these strange happenings—because life, for Murakami characters, is full of the inexplicable, the quietly tragic, the unfinished journey.

Murakami shows how stories happen without quests, without fighting off dragons and psychopaths. I find myself wondering about the folks who want that kind of thing, and only that kind of thing. “Nothing happened for the first 25 pages,” they say. They grew up on car chases, explosions, heroes saving the world.

Murakami is meditation.

Many readers have noted the way novels change as they age. That’s one reason why I am a confirmed re-reader of novels that I love.

But our tastes also change.  Once, I could read and enjoy romance novels—a guilty pleasure. Now I only like the funny ones, and not many of those. Lately, I’ve been reading the adventure fantasies so many people love. But I’m getting tired of stories where one dammed thing after another happens. And happens. And happens. Eventually, all these explosions cease to interest me.

So maybe it’s time for me to go back to Murakami’s novels.

Who supports poor people?

Thoughts on beginning to read THE POLITICS OF EDUCATION by Paulo Freieire.

Begin by assuming that the government should not be in the business of providing benefits for people who don’t work for them.

But who cares for really poor people?

People should not be poor. Everyone should be able to go to college and get a good job.

Who pays for college?

You can work your way through college like I did.

Not so easy.

Average annual tuition and fees for students attending public, two-year colleges in their communities were just $3,260 in 2013-2014, compared with nearly $8,900 for in-state students at four year college.

At the minimum wage of $7/hour, that’s a year’s full-time work to save for one year of community college. But that doesn’t count your living expenses while working. Then you have to work while in college to make your living expenses.

Get a scholarship.

Who pays for the scholarships?

Wealthy donors pay for the scholarships.

Have you donated a full scholarship to a community college?

What if you get a catastrophic illness?

Your employer health insurance will pay for it.

How many employers offer health insurance?

“The share of Fortune’s best companies that still pay for 100% of employee’s healthcare has dropped to 9% this year from a peak of 34% in 2001.  . . Part of the move away from plush health benefits is due to the rising cost of medical care, which becomes a burden on a corporations’ bottom lines.”  Mar 30, 2016,

Only 30% of employers with 50 or fewer employees pay for employee health insurance.

So how do we help people? Can churches do it? If your taxes went down by, say, 20 percent, how much of that would you give to groups that help put poor people back on their feet? How much do you give now, to your church, to local food banks, to scholarship funds? That’s the world we’d live in if the government stopped all those benefit programs.

p.s. Our family gives to local food banks and to scholarship programs. My in-law’s church offers its space to groups like AA, but spends its money on foreign missions.


Lolly Willowes: Old fashioned fantasy

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

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.

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.”

Revenge Fantasies and Hag-Seed

Hag-Seed, the Tempest Retold, by Margaret Atwood


I love revenge fantasies. I indulge in them all the time. Makes my husband nuts; he complains about an incompetent or  psychopathic employee (he’s had both), and I’m ready to out the asshole all over social media. Turning such impulses into fantasy helps me to control my temper, which breaks out unexpectedly after I’ve been over-patient for too long. (Or just because my inner Little Judy is having a bad day.)

Atwood’s Hag-Seed is the ultimate revenge fantasy. I loved it. I loved it even more because it’s based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Although A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing are my favorite plays by ol’ Will, The Tempest runs a close third.

Felix, our hero, gets pushed out of the theatre company he founded, betrayed by his assistant, who is an up-and-coming political type. Depressed and lost, Felix hides in a run-down cabin for years, before taking a job teaching theatre in a prison. The job helps him as much as it helps the prisoners.

But then they learn that the prison theatre program is on the political chopping block, due to one of those arts-hating functionaries. Worse, the art-hater’s sidekick is Felix’s old enemy. So our hero enlists prisoners into creating a immersive-theatre version of The Tempest, with the two political evil-doers cast as the usurping King Alonso and his henchman Antonio. Insanity ensues. Revenge is sweet.

The book also serves as a a great introduction to The Tempest; if you’re teaching Shakespeare to a bunch of un-interested students, get them to read this instead of Cliff Notes. The prisoner’s notions about what happens after the end of the play are particularly enlightening.

This is the writer who created The Handmaid’s Tale, which I could never finish because it’s too awfully true. I loved her early books, The Edible Woman and Lady Oracle. Clearly I need to read the rest.


this is the cover of the version I never finished.

Two Odd Books

Auraria, Tim Westover

“Welcome to QW Publishers, publishers of fine quaint & weird fiction and non-fiction. Established in 2011, QW has a special emphasis on speculative and American Southern topics.”

Auraria is perfect for QW Publishers. It is quaintly weird. It takes place in a little Georgia town. And it’s one of the odder books I’ve read in my long history of reading stuff that will never make the best-seller lists or the New York Times Book Review.

At first, the oddness put me off. Then it drew me in.

A real-estate developer, mentored by a brilliant con artist, comes to purchase land in Auraria, Georgia. The two men plan to create one of those nineteenth century resorts—huge, luxurious inn, dainty pleasure grounds, boating trips on the lake. But Auraria’s weirdness makes their task difficult.

The rest is spoilers. Stay with it, even when the prose seems too nineteenth century (although the book was written in the 21st century) and the story doesn’t go where you think it will. No perfect  tying-up-all-the-loose-ends-with-marriages, here, only the ending that had to happen, and was, therefore, satisfying.


The Youngest Miss Ward, Joan Aiken

Oh boy, a novel about one of Jane Austen’s minor characters!  More Jane Austen! As one who has read and re-read all of Austen’s novels, always wishing that she had written more, I grabbed this.

Aiken has written other Austen sequels (, which I have read with pleasure. This one is an oddity.

Harriet’s sisters include the mother of Fanny Price, of Mansfield Park. Her other sisters are Fanny’s indolent aunt, Lady Bertram, and the horrible Mrs. Norris.

Hatty is afflicted with an interesting life. On her beloved mother’s death, she is sent to live with her stiff uncle, warm-hearted aunt, and boy cousins. Then Lady Ursula, who hates Hatty as much as Mrs. Norris disliked Fanny Price, marries Hatty’s father. As a result, our heroine becomes governess to a couple of verifiably insane young women. Etcetera.

But the ending is not the usual Austen ending, where the good get married and the evil get their comeuppance. It has a charming, if anachronistic, feminist slant. Meanwhile, however, you get all the fun of a world of Austen characters and language.

Fantasy Novels and Me

Here, I begin to talk about fantasy novels.

  • What I usually don’t like: epic fantasy full of elves and quests. Except, of course, Tolkein, who rules them all.
  • What I do like: magical realism. And books with interesting characters instead of cliché misfit heroines.
  • What I appreciate but can’t get into: funny fantasy, like Terry Pratchett.

But I’m omnivorous, especially with my e-reader, where I don’t have to purchase a print book to squash into my overloaded shelves.

I read fantasy for fun. And I watch fantasy on TV and in movies for fun. (We’re binge watching the old X-Files series now!)  For serious, I go to a lot of theatre, direct shows, and read theatre history.

Credentials: Years of reading. Degrees in theatre. Playwright. And I’ve written two fantasy novels…well, one of them is refusing to settle down, but the other can be found on Amazon: The Dry.

Here’s my first review. More to come.

Jane Linskold, Child of a Rainless Year


I love this book. It’s magical realism, a favorite style with me. And it’s a story of a middle-aged woman who has lived an ordinary life, but now must come to terms with her strange inheritance and unusual gifts. In so many fantasies, the hero is young, perhaps because publishers think that only young people read fantasy. I’ve been reading it all my life, and am happy when the heroine is someone more like me.

The book is also about a house, a house with history and opinions, although both of those emerge slowly, as in a good mystery. And it’s about finding love late in life–both romantic love, and a sense of one’s own purpose.

I’ve also read the first two of Lindskold’s Firekeeper series, now at number 6. It’s straight fantasy, about a woman raised as a wolf, who has to learn to be human and manage the politics and wars of humans.

But book series are like television series—there’s a point where I give up. Sometimes the premise wears out; that is, the idea is only good for so many books or shows. Sometimes the author wears out, repeating the same tropes and images. And sometimes I wear out—a few are fun, then I want something new.

I wondered where Child of a Rainless Year came from, because it’s so different from Lindskold’s other work. Here’s what she has to say about it:

“I have always loved in between places – alleys, dry stream beds, median strips – all those places that are neither here nor there.  . . . Child of a Rainless Year is a novel about those spaces in between. It is about the dichotomy between expectation and reality, about past and present, about parents and children, mothers and daughters, loving and the fear of love. Color weaves through these contradictions, not so much pulling them together as highlighting differences and similarities. Historical events prove to be as important as current events, and even a house has opinions on how things should be done.”

I’m one of those people who re-reads books that I love. I’ve now read Child of a Rainless Year several times. It doesn’t wear out.

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.