One Way to Spend

Tightrope Last night I drank wine and watched the first Magic Mike movie. It went about as well as one would expect. I could do a whole blog post of analysis, but who wants that? Suffice to say it’s a sports movie, has all the usual beats of of a sports movie and plot holes you could drive large automobiles through, and there are intimations of another, darker and more interesting movie struggling to get out from under the mess that never quite makes it. I would have loved the movie to star Joanna the psych major doing her fieldwork among Tampa’s male strippers. Or even something like The Wrestler, but about the Kings of Tampa.

Sadly, it was not to be. *removes tongue from cheek*

Anyway, that was one way to spend a Monday night.

Here, have the Onion reporting on Harper Lee’s new book. Trust me, it’s worth it. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.

There’s about 117 pages of Gallow 2 copyedits to get through today. If I make it, I’ll reward myself with a different movie, maybe. Or just collapse on the couch and drool my way into the evening.

Right now, either seems a good option.

REVIEW: The Siege

The Siege - Cover I finished Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Siege yesterday. His Captain Alatriste books are autobuys for me, I love that character with a fiery passion. The rest of Perez-Reverte’s oeuvre is good enough to warrant a look whenever I find it. His Queen of the South is, in my humble opinion, one of the few times a male author has actually written a believable female character, and of course The Club Dumas–with its attendant movie The Ninth Gate–is just straight-up fantastic, even if the latter is directed by Roman Polanski.

The Siege was a bit difficult in places, because even though Perez-Reverte’s written a believable woman once or twice, there is no guarantee for any of his other female characters. There’s a certain amount of brutal historical misogyny–the setting is, after all, Cadiz in the Napoleonic era–but the one female main character, Lolita Palma, is…problematic, at best. (I mean, really, you’re going to choose that name for a grown woman who’s supposed to be this serious, spinsterly paragon?) Palma’s relationship with the corsair Pepe Lobo veered into quasi-romance when it shouldn’t have; it could have been much more effective as a friendship based on mutual respect. Poor Dona Palma was sadly misused; I could have read a whole book about just her if the “ohGod gotta put a romantic subplot in here” bug hadn’t bitten the author. Also, Ricardo Marana, Lobo’s first mate, is the tubercular Doc Holliday to Lobo’s nautical Wyatt Earp, and I could have read a whole book about just their exploits, too. I didn’t get enough of Marana, the Letter of Marque corsairs, or a believable Palma.

The rest of the book is a murder mystery set during the siege of Cadiz, and it’s full of the sort of historical detail I’ve come to expect from Perez-Reverte. The French artillery captain Desfosseux is the hands-down the most enjoyable way I’ve ever read about trajectories and cannon fire; the taxidermist Fumagal served nicely in his appointed role and could have filled a whole book in his own right, but where The Siege really shines is in its sounding of the depths of Rogelio Tizon, the unscrupulous, oddly magnetic comisario of Cadiz’s police force.

Tizon is a nasty bit of work. Cruel, venal, and brutal, he’s also strangely engaging. He makes no excuses for what he does, and it’s that honesty that gives him depth and interest. He veers between offhandedly calling most women “whores” to deciding not even a “whore” should be brutally murdered–whipped to death with a wire whip, their backs flayed to ribbons and internal organs exposed. It’s those murders and the choices Tizon makes while hunting the murderer that function as the spine of the book. Tizon’s chess-playing alter ego Barrull was my initial guess at the murderer, and sometimes I think it might have been more satisfying if he’d turned out to be the actual killer instead of just a scholarly foil for Tizon and a way for Perez-Reverte to do some exposition. The added layer of mystery–the murderer invariably chooses places where a French shell has landed (or memorably, is about to land) is well done, treading the edge of believability and a chilling meditation the eerie logic of chance and instinct.

There are….problems, though. It’s telling that as well as making Dona Lolita Palma into a soapy paragon of a love interest instead of a believable character in her own right, only one of the murdered girls (because of course girls are the killer’s preferred target) is “respectable” and she is the one that ends up being “avenged.” The others are almost doll-like, their bodies only there to provide Tizon with his angst and to mark his changing (or slowly revealed) inner landscape.

There’s plenty in the book to love–the historical details, the naval battles, the picture of a city on the brink, the unblinking enumeration of all the things a siege does to human beings trapped by war, and some outright lyrical writing even in the middle of describing brutality. I’m glad I read it, but I hope next time Perez-Reverte treats his female characters as, well, human beings in their own right, as he’s sometimes done so memorably in the past.

All in all, two thumbs up, recommended, checked out from the library and would buy to keep in my personal library.

Relaxation Can’t Hurt

"Castle Romeo" atmospheric nuclear test - March 1954 I expected an apocalypse yesterday, and it didn’t happen.

Bother. Suppose I should get back to work, then.

I am told that Trailer Park Fae is having a good initial showing! Thank you very much. The better it does, the more likely I’ll be able to continue the series. (Hint hint. Nudge nudge. Say no more, say no more.) There. That’s my contractually-obligated cheap shilling for the week.

This morning’s run was slow and heavy, despite being an easy 5km. The cooldown, walking home, took me past a knot of men standing around a DitchWitch and a concrete cutter, sharing a joint while they divvied up the day’s work. I’m, um, not sure getting blazed right before handling that sort of machinery is a good idea, but I suppose a certain amount of relaxation can’t hurt. I’m also not sure the guys trying to hide the joint as I passed could tell I can still understand Spanish pretty well, even though my four years of high-school language lessons are regrettably dusty. Yes, I did know that wasn’t a cigarette, yea, I know you made a joke about me and my dog being two bitches out walking–but thanks, young dude, for commenting that my ass is just right. I think so too.

When we turned onto our street, B and I were greeted by the sight of a squirrel darting under a truck. B immediately perked up and trotted forward, stopped only by the leash, and I checked nervously to make sure I was still wearing shoes. We crossed the street, much to B’s dismay, but the squirrel made it into a neighbor’s juniper bush and began to chitter-scream something that sounded suspiciously like “Vive le Squiiiiiiiirrrrrl!

This doesn’t bode well. Later today I’m going to go talk to Emphysema Joe–he’s been hiding in the very back of the green since the Flying Gnome Disaster. I think he still feels a trifle ashamed. (And well he should, but enough is too much, as one of my grandmothers used to say.)

There’s more copyedits, too, on the second Gallow & Ragged book. *cracks knuckles* I’d better get started.

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What I Do Instead

Run Sundays are generally for my long runs. I have a number of routes to choose from including a couple loops that take me through the parking lot of a church. Generally I don’t see a single soul as I lope between cars, hearing the music from my headphones and keeping myself at an even pace despite the hill the lot’s half built on. When I can spare some energy, I sometimes feel pity for the poor souls trapped inside, especially the kids.

Yesterday, I was running through as an almost-elderly couple made their way for the doors. I moved over to give them plenty of space, and the woman, her graying hair perma-sprayed into a halo, smiled encouragingly at me.

“You’re going the wrong way!” she said, pointing at the church doors. “You should be heading in there!”

I’m sure she meant it kindly. There was no hint of condescension or self-satisfied smirking on her open, earnest face. So I didn’t say any of the things that flashed through my head like are you kidding, they burn people like me or I believe in doing good every day of the week, not just Sunday or your worship of a sky fairy and a mishmash holy book edited by half-literate dust-maddened desert ascetics that has provided people with an excuse to kill each other for thousands of years in multiple ways doesn’t interest me, thanks (okay, I may not have had the breath for the last one) but instead smiled at her as I passed, and said, “This is what I do instead.”

My gods, such as they are, are neutral on the question of how I spend my Sunday. It’s up to me to pick something that matters every day of the week to do, and Sundays are reserved for those long runs, hanging out with the children, and various household chores–watering houseplants, hoovering, washing Odd Trundles, and the like. It seems much better to do those things than waste time being preached at by men or pretending that I’m holy just one day of the week and thinking that justifies anything else I do on the other six. The long runs clean my head out, they measure my will against my body and nourish both.

I’m sure she meant it kindly. I really am. I’m just endlessly glad I’ve made different choices. I wonder what she’d have done if I stopped, sweaty and disheveled, and waltzed into that place, too. It strikes me as an amusing situation.

My current reading is Mario Vargas Llosa’s The War of the End of the World, which is based on the War of Canudos. It’s…interesting. There’s a certain masochism involved in my reading male Latin American authors. Even if they are aware of it, the toxic machismo in such books married to the historical misogyny is painful. I’ll have more thoughts when I finish the book, I suppose. Right now I’m very much in the middle of it, and pulled on by the narrative.

Over and out.

Later Morning

Matcha Summer always means I have a couple weeks of adjustment, where I get up later in the morning because I don’t have to get the kids to school, and find out (again and again) that it makes for more grueling heat on my runs. Especially since I’m training for longer distances now. Miss B is getting older, which means she can’t accompany me on as many outings as she used to. Generally she can accompany me when it’s only under 8K and it’s cool enough not to give her problems.

She doesn’t understand my caution. To her, as long as I’m going out, I need to be escorted by her doggy self. My little liver-nosed duenna.

It’s kind of heartbreaking to see her silvering around the muzzle. There’s still a spring in her step, and she still loves to run with me, but more and more on the longer distances she slows down. It gets difficult for her, but she doesn’t like being left at home either. Poor thing.

The result of running later in the morning is also that I get my coffee much later, too. Sometimes I have time to take it before and let it settle, other times the only thing that gets me through a run is thinking when I get home there will be water and caffeine. This morning’s run was no exception–6.45km, slow and sweaty, the sunlight a curse and my route chosen for shade and wind to make it tolerable. There are particular trees blooming near a honeysuckle vine, and I like to pass them and breathe in a shaded, scented calm.

I think I’ve almost run off the release-day stress. Thank you all for your support–I am hard at work on the third Gallow book right now, bringing all the threads together. The plague, the politics, the betrayals and the terror are all mixing to make something unsteady and explosive inside the book’s framework. Things never go well when the Good Folk brush up against humanity.

Why yes, I flinch every time I hear people talking about the Folk as if they’re Disneyfied, toothless, harmless flibbertigibbets. Why do you ask?

TRAILER PARK FAE Release!

I didn’t really sleep last night. Release day nerves always get to me, no matter how many books I have out. SO, this wavering, tired morning, I present to you…

Trailer Park Fae.

Trailer Park Fae Jeremy Gallow is just another construction worker, and that’s the way he likes it. He’s left his past behind, but some things cannot be erased. Like the tattoos on his arms that transform into a weapon, or the fact that he was once closer to the Queen of Summer than any half-human should be. Now the Half-sidhe all in Summer once feared is dragged back into the world of enchantment, danger, and fickle fae – by a woman who looks uncannily like his dead wife.

Her name is Robin Ragged, and her secrets are more than enough to get them both killed. A plague has come, the fullborn-fae are dying, and the dark answer to Summer’s Court is breaking loose.

Be afraid, for Unwinter is riding…

Now available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and independent bookstores!

Thanks are due to Mark S., whose dream (the elves are dying) touched off the chain in my head that would become Gallow, and to my writing partner for both telling me about it and encouraging me to write it. Thanks are also due to Miriam Kriss, who said it would sell, to Devi Pillai, who has now edited twenty of my books, and Lindsey Sterling, who did NOT strangle me when I changed things at the last minute. A significant thank-you must also be given to a certain AT3Sparky, who kindly answered all my pestiferous questions about polearm fighting.

A lot of people have asked about the cover–it’s a Dos Santos.

I am hard at work on the third Gallow and Ragged book now. If anyone needs me today I’ll be quivering in the corner, nauseous with release day nerves. This never gets any easier. You’d think it would…

Serious Grousing and 2666

Zzzzzz Odd Trundles is sitting in my office, half asleep, groaning. There wasn’t enough peanut butter in his breakfast bowl, he isn’t allowed to chase Fearless!Cat, Bandit the Cavy isn’t available for sniffing, there are never enough ear-rubs.

It’s tough, being Trundles. Pretty soon he’ll wander into my bedroom, still grousing, hop up on my bed, and proceed to nap like the cranky toddler he is.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have actual work to do. Copyedits, wordcount, and administrivia for me. The Princess painted her room this past weekend–a lovely shade of blue, one she picked out personally. She didn’t want help, wanted to paint on her own, so I bit my lip and sat on my hands. And she’s done a marvelous job, even changing the outlet covers herself. Now she’s rearranging her bedroom furniture to suit the new walls.

The Prince, of course, has serious grousing of his own to do, since he is barred from playing video games. (Long story.) He can read, or ride his bike, or occasionally visit one of his friends who hasn’t lost gaming privileges. Being thrown upon his own resources is best for him in the long run–I am hoping the lesson’s sting will be, in the end, salutary–but for right now he bitches like the furious teenage boy he’s becoming. I suppose the fact that I find this amusing doesn’t help his pride, and his sister, having been through this storm herself and come out the other side as well, is very little help.

Poor Little Prince. Poor Trundles. The world is a vale of sorrow, indeed.

I finished Bolano‘s 2666 this past weekend, too. I have a couple more of his books from the library, but have bounced pretty hard off one in first person. The other, in tight third person, is palatable. Part of the problem, I think, is that toxic machismo that permeates so much modern (and ancient) culture. Bolano’s female characters aren’t real, they’re reflections of women seen through a male lens, and it’s somewhat insulting to read them.

This is an insult I’m well accustomed to in today’s world. Although I did like Elvira Campos the asylum director. (The eternal question, “Who is truly mad, those inside an asylum, or those outside?“) She, to me, was the closest thing to an actual woman in the whole damn book.

On the other hand, a major theme of 2666 (you could even say it’s the theme) is the epidemic rapes and murders of women in Ciudad Juarez. I suppose when even a male writer takes notice of such a thing it’s suddenly regarded as very dire indeed, instead of just the way things are, just the price women have to pay for daring to be born at all.

Bolano lived, as Michael Berger notes, under two repressive regimes himself, and wrote 2666 when he was dying of liver failure. In that alone, the book is a remarkable achievement. What I liked best about it was the consistency.

So often, when a writer sets out to accomplish a massive major work, it can get bogged down in stuntwriting, or the desire to please an audience rather than to tell the truth. The massive major works that I enjoy all have what I call internal consistency, where even if the writer is mad or a hideous person (Bukowski‘s awful misogyny springs to mind, he’s a great example) they’re still true to the story struggling to birth itself through their heads. They don’t look away, and even their insanity is honest. Even the lightest digression in 2666 is consistent with everything else, it’s all of a piece. The world he’s created, whether it’s a funhouse reflection of reality or the song underlying reality itself, or even just reality, is thoroughly and completely true to itself even in detail.

It’s exhausting to live that way, let alone write. For that alone, Bolano has my respect, and 2666 was worth the price of admission.

Trundles has groaned himself into his morning nap while I write this, and the Princess is still busily dragging furniture in her room. I suppose it’s time for me to get started on other work, too. The weather report says things will get nastily hot later in the week, but for right now the window is open, there is a lovely cool breeze, and I can hear birdsong threading through the Sigur Ros playing behind me.

Summer is here.

Parenting Doorway

Road By the time this post is finished the kids will be out of school for the year. Everyone will be heaving a gigantic sigh of relief. It was a difficult year for the Little Prince, indeed, but he’s made it through. Thank goodness.

It’s kind of like the good bits of release day–all this stuff you’ve been working on for months/years is finally done–or the end of a zero draft, when all the energy focused on just finishing the goddamn thing suddenly has nowhere to go because it’s finished, and it sparks and fizzes while whipping around. The end of any huge task is a time of (sometimes explosive) decompression. Unless one is careful, it can be just as damaging and draining as the task itself.

Which means one thing: ice cream.

There’s a very old ice cream franchise tucked away on a hidden street about ten minutes away by car. Sometime today, maybe after dinner, we’ll go, and in between sweet cold bites we’ll do the analysis of the past school year. We’ll finally have achieved enough distance to laugh about some of the hard bits, and groan about some of the embarrassing ones.

Parenting isn’t all cleanup and discipline. It’s also those moments where you take a look at these wonderful creatures who blessed you by using you as a doorway. You opened the space and these amazing, unique, absolutely fantastic human beings stepped through, trusting you completely. It’s like a story birthing itself through you, only far more physically intense. It isn’t often you get to take a look at that and think, wow. Just…wow.

So I intend to use the opportunity to the hilt.

If you need me, I’ll be busy with ice cream, and my two favorite people on earth.

photo by: Moyan_Brenn

School Daze

Blue Last night’s piano practice was so frustrating I almost took the sledgehammer to the damn thing. Part of the problem is my practices have fallen off lately, what with the end-of-school-year rush. Another part was my exhaustion; my eyelids were still twitching. It takes a while to bounce back after a weekend like the last.

The kids are almost, almost out of school. The poor Little Prince has had a rough transition–going from elementary to middle school is difficult, and it’s made even more so when there are teachers who frankly shouldn’t be teaching. Like the jock teaching Humanities who picks his victims at the beginning of the year, or the math teacher who informs her students “nobody cares” about their input. Before you ask, yes, the issues were addressed with the adults in question, and there is a fine balance to be struck there. On the one hand, I will eat alive anyone who is nasty to my child. On the other, said child is the one who has to deal with the adult day in and day out. Learning how to deal with assholes is a valuable life skill–but dealing with an incredible asshole in a position of power while you’re helpless is something no child should have to face.

So that’s been going on all year. Fortunately the said Humanities jock was informed I was watching early on, so he was forced to find alternative means of getting his gratification. The upshot is, it’s only sixth grade, and next year the Prince will be better prepared and the teachers are more likely to be ones the Princess had. Which means they know me, they know the family name, and things will consequently get easier. I won’t have to make weekly visits.

Also, it’s taken everything I have not to copyedit Jock Humanities’s “newsletters” and send them back full of red ink and the helpful hint that he might want to switch to BCC next year as a courtesy to the parents involved. *eyeroll* You can tell dude isn’t an English major just by the errors he makes, and I’m a little mystified as to why he’s teaching Humanities at all, but oh well. Mine is not to question why, especially since funding’s been cut again and most of the teachers and staff are truly dedicated and marvelous professionals. There’s bound to be a few bad apples anywhere.

So that’s my week, finishing up all little pieces of business left from the school year and easing the transition into summer. Add copyedits and the fact that I’ve got to get this one character out of hitchhiking and into other trouble, and my brain is full of Swiss cheese holes.

No wonder the damn piano is giving me trouble.

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Peace, Finally

Mantra I volunteered this last weekend at the Rose City Book & Paper Fair–I always like to be around books, and it was good to help out local used booksellers. It was a LOT of people, though, and I’m still twitching a bit. My introvert tendencies have solidified; it takes a massive amount of energy to interact that way, and I don’t get an extrovert’s charge off it. So I’m still a bit worn down.

Summer besieges us on every side, green pavilions tall and fair, la-da, la-da. The garden’s doing well. We’re in that phase where it looks extremely messy right before everything comes back together. It’s always thus, in cleaning or gardening–you get to a point where everything’s spread out and you think Christ I should have just left it in its regular mess, this is even worse… But that’s right before the tide turns and everything’s well again.

I just need to tell the hostas that. They’re all up in arms over how ragged their leaves are this year.

Soon the children will be home for the summer, and I’ll be working furiously on Wasteland King and Leva’s story. For right now, though, the house is silent, I’ve a madly purring tortoiseshell cat on my lap, and there are copyedits to finish getting through. And glorious, glorious peace and solitude all day.

*sigh of relief*

Yes, that’s that stuff.

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