04 Feb 2016 Leave a Comment
No, not that one, not Star Wars Ep. IV, though it qualifies.
I’m talking about the feeling that comes from experiencing a story with a Happy Ending™. Not even a Happily Ever After™ ending, but simply the heroine-prevails-in-her-quest ending, whatever that quest may be. It brings satisfaction that wrongs have been righted, justice prevails, and the worthy find love. In other stories, something intrinsic to the human condition endures, and we, or those important to us, will be able to partake of it.
I remember how terrible the last half of 2001 was. The US was attacked on September 11th, and then we took war to the Middle East. So much pain and national anxiety. At the end of the year, for the holidays, Warner Bros. released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was a fun movie, I’ll grant you, full of good performances by actors I enjoyed. But what hit me like a blow was how much hope it instilled in me at the end. I wept as the credits rolled. It was all out of proportion to the movie itself, but I felt that if Potter could overcome his trials and tribulations, then we, as adults and as a country, could surely emerge from the pain and hatred and fear we were snarled in. I felt hope again for our world.
That’s some good, heart-tugging storytelling.
Maybe at that time, I just needed to believe in the possibility of happy endings, and that–like young Skywalker, and the hope he embodied–the sunset would be followed by a new, better day.
Happy Endings aren’t an American invention, but we do tend to eat them up. I sort of blame Disney–or maybe Frank Capra–and I’m sort of not kidding. They’re hard to get away from, and I sometimes wonder if we do ourselves a disservice by not embracing more ambiguity as the curtains fall. Ambiguity makes us dig for the hope we want, makes us examine possibilities. Ending with uncertainty is less like hot chocolate and Milano cookies on a cold winter’s night, and more like a meaty borscht–complex and nourishing, but we have to work to get it in the bowl, and we often are unsure of the ingredients. Ambiguity makes us wonder what’s next? Happy Endings rarely do.
All this is to say that I wonder about the stories we, as a people, tell. I wonder in our communal psyche demands the reassurance and certainty of a Happy Ending, even when we know they’re rarely “real”. I wonder which stories give us the tool to find our way through this crazy world, and if it’s simply a matter of having our Milano cookies along side our borscht.
What kind of endings do you crave? Which ones satisfy you? What do you want from your stories? Inquiring minds wanna know.
21 Jan 2016 Leave a Comment
If this post was a car, imagine that I started it up, and while I left it to do its engine-warming thing, someone hijacked it and drove it clear out of town. The hijacker was Life … or really, her necessary-evil brother, Mortality.
Last week was rough, and not just for me. The world lost two icons, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, and I lost a dear friend. Almost lost my dog, too–no joke–but Alistair Rocket Dog is one very lucky pooch.
Everything that lives dies. We all face it. Parents, lovers, friends, children, strangers, pets. The deserving and undeserving. The old and the young and those in between. We who are left behind–and everyone has someone who is left behind–struggle with survivor’s guilt, tangled in the darkness pouring through the gaping wound in our lives. We combat the darkness with only stardust and memories. Fragile, intangible things.
But this is the truth I hold to: We all get one life, whether it’s brief as a flickering candle or as long as a century. We don’t get to know in advance what our allotment will be, but we all get a portion of feeling air in our lungs, and hearing the susurration of blood through our veins. Sometimes life sucks. But we get one, and if we’re lucky enough to make it to some semblance of adulthood, we get a say in how ours goes.
We have choice. Sometimes it’s not much of one, but it is choice. And this is the question of all our lives: What do you choose?
To quote part of my favorite poem, “The Summer Day” by the sublime Mary Oliver:
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Read the full poem. Go ahead. I’ll be here.
I think of Bowie and Rickman and my friend. Their day-to-days were very different, and yet all were full of creativity and courage. Despite whatever fears crowded their minds, whatever limitations were placed on them by others, they stepped into who they were from minute-to-minute and year-to-year. They did what they loved, and surrounded themselves with the people and work which gave them joy. Then they shared that joy with the rest of the world. What a fantastic legacy!
I hope that’s what we do–step into our joy, and share that joy with others. We only get a brief time on this amazing ball of rock in this splendid galaxy, and there’s only one of each of us. Whether you’re a butcher or baker or candlestick maker, you’re the only you that will ever be in the entire history of the universe. Live your life as richly as you can, with all the love and pain and wonder as you can hold.
I know it’s easier said than done. I do, I know. But when my life is over, I don’t want to sigh and regret and think, “I could have, but I was too afraid.” I don’t want to have merely existed, trapped in the shell that fear wrought.
Fear lies. It tells us we can’t. It tells us we shouldn’t. It feeds us reasons to not.
We don’t have time to “not”. Don’t let fear win.
Shine on, my lovely, glorious friends. Be brave with yourself, be bold. Remember that everything starts small. Take one step, then take another. Shine your unique, weird and wonderful light, and I’ll do my best to shine mine. I hope together we light up the sky for whatever time is given us.
My small step is to write every day, regardless of depression or mood or subject. What’s your small step? What will you do with your one wild and precious life?
Put on your red shoes. Let’s dance.
08 Jan 2016 2 Comments
Heaven and Hell. When I was younger, I believed.
I had a friend, Erica, raised on fire and brimstone. Erica would come to school with terrifying stories from Sunday school about deluges, eternal damnation, glowing castles in the clouds, and people with wings. We decided to go see these things.
After long discussions (including diagrams), we determined Heaven was out of the question. Being up in the sky, we would need stacks of ladders, tied together one atop another. Ladders weren’t practical to acquire or hide from the recess lady. But for down, all we’d need were a few sandbox shovels and pails. Hell it was.
Unable to convince the sandbox kids to give us their shovels and unwilling to explain to the teachers that we needed shovels because we were digging to Hell, we used sticks.
The site of our dig was behind the school lunchroom in a chain-link enclosed area where the grass never grew. Back in the corner, away from tree roots, we dug in peace.
Occasionally we’d measure our work. I’d lay down in the hole, and wiggle around a bit. Then Erica would lay in it and tried it on for size. Satisfied, we continued our frenzied digging. As we dug inches deeper and deeper, we discussed what we thought Hell looked like and what we’d do once we got there.
Once we got there, we needed special flame-retardant outfits to protect us from Hell’s fire. On rainy-day recess, we designed paperdolls to model our patchwork asbestos jumpsuits. We talked strategy for hiding from demons (the jumpsuits had chameleon powers). We made demon paperdolls for identification.
At first, our activities went unnoticed. We were happy, content, and staying out of trouble. Two little kids digging in the dirt, no big deal. Then one day Cindy with her blond pigtails and pink jumper showed up at our hole. “What are you playing? I want to play.”
We lied. “We’re digging for dinosaurs. Don’t need help. Go away.”
Erica and I received a stern lecture about sharing, having more than one friend, and playing nicely together. With the recess lady watching we let Cindy play with us as we pretended to dig for dinosaurs.
Cindy talked constantly about her dinosaur. “Look at mine! It’s the biggest one! Bigger than yours! It’s a new dinosaur. No one knows about. It’s purple. My dinosaur is the best dinosaur. Better than all the other dinosaurs. I’m going to be famous.”
That was it. This was our hole. Not hers. She didn’t get to be the best. So we told her the truth.
“We’re not digging for dinosaurs. We’re digging to hell. Yeah. HELL. And you’re helping. When we get to HELL, we go first because we know how to fight demons. We’ll try not to let them eat you, but they might. Your job is to close the hole behind us, so the demons, from HELL, don’t come through and EAT EVERYONE YOU LOVE!”
Cindy’s lips quivered. “Hell? Demons? Eat me?”
Cindy ran crying to the recess lady. “They’re digging to HELL and demons are going to eat everyone I love and Idon’twanttogeteaten!”
Suddenly, half a dozen teachers stood around the hole staring down at as.
This was a semi-Catholic Montessori school. They couldn’t have their kids digging to Hell! We could read about it in the Bible, learn about it in Sunday school, but we couldn’t actually try and /get/ there! They immediately stopped all excavation.
At least at school.
Hell Excavation Site #2 at my house was a great success. But after a couple months we realized Hell was a lot deeper down than four feet and neither one of us really wanted to dig that far. So we filled the hole with water and played in the mud instead.
31 Dec 2015 Leave a Comment
I was 14 when Star Wars: Episode IV came out in May of 1977. My father took my brother and me to the now-demolished Valley Circle Theater in San Diego. I remember being disgruntled at having to go to a movie that Saturday, as I had a book I wanted to finish! I had no idea what the movie was about. Star Wars? I didn’t want to see a war movie. Whatever! It wasn’t even a mystery or a musical!
The Valley Circle was a huge venue, and it was packed. We stood in line for tickets, and stood in line for popcorn. The seats we found were about 3/4th of the way back in the center section, and over to the left. I was cranky about that, too, because all the seats were on one level, and I was very short. Naturally, a veritable pillar of a man sat right in front of me.
The lights went down. The now-familiar fanfare started. The opening titles rolled. The guy in front of me slouched, and I sat up straight, eyes riveted to the screen as a spaceship–A SPACESHIP–flew by, tiny lasers pew-pew-pewing backward at …
An ominously dark behemoth hove into view–a Star Destroyer!
That was the moment my world changed.
Like many of my generation, Star Wars ignited something in me. A passion for science fiction, fantasy, and orchestral music lit up, and never left. What’s more, there was a BAD ASS PRINCESS!!!! I’d never seen a girl kick-ass and take names the way Leia did.
Star Wars changed what I believed possible. A girl could be a princess and a spy and a rebel leader and a senator and someone who shot Storm Troopers with the best of them! With one defiant look, Leia Organa redefined the roles women could have in any world!
The rest of the original trilogy brought good fun, good adventure, and more of my favorite Princess, even though the ewoks made me a little crazy. Then came the long, sorrowful years of the prequels. Okay, some of I and II were okay, but for the most part, wow, truly terrible. I honestly tried to forget III altogether as the ending made me furious.
And now we have Star Wars, The Force Awakens.
Say what you will, I loved it. Was it a great movie? Hell no. Was there great acting? Mm-no, not so much. Were there any amazing plot twists? Sorry, nope. Worse, they used some old, crappy tropes that could have been avoided with just a little writing.
So what did it have?
SW:TFA had a galaxy worth of nostalgia. It managed to conjure up that old Star Wars magic despite (or because of) being mostly unoriginal. It brought back old friends, and it set the stage for new adventures. A woman and a person of color were the main characters. The casting was more diverse than in almost any other recent American-made show. The CG wasn’t egregiously used, and I liked the action scenes (we can debate why in the comments, if you want). More, it didn’t take itself too seriously. It was FUN.
And this time, a girl is having the adventures: a non-whiny, capable, intuitive, kick-ass, Force-sensitive, pragmatic-yet-compassionate GIRL. This is huge.
I adore the character of Rey, and I’m delighted that she held center stage–right after Han Solo. She’s been given the central mystery as well as ample room to grow, and I’m looking forward to discovering the secrets of the galaxy right along with her. Thanks to writers Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt for giving us a young woman to go adventuring with, and for someone a new generation of girls can embrace as their own.
Now just give Finn his due, and we’ll be good.
For the rest of you, go see it, if you haven’t already! Then come back and tell me what you loved or hated about it. I want to know what you think!!
SPOILERS MAY BE IN THE COMMENTS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
But please, do tell!!
24 Dec 2015 Leave a Comment
Title: The House of Shattered Wings
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Elevator pitch: A mysterious young man of unknown magical origin, stranded in Paris and captured by the most powerful fallen angel faction, is forced to hunt a supernatural killer.
Why did I pick this book up? Typically, I don’t read angel books. But I was willing to give fallen angels in an alternate reality 1930s Paris a chance.
Main Characters: Philippe is foreigner stranded in Paris trying to survive without calling too much attention to himself. Then he gets caught trying to mainline fallen angel blood, a highly addictive a powerful magic-inducing drug.
Isabelle has the most recent, but fading, connection to Heaven. She is the newest fallen angel who hits the pavement in the first chapter and nearly becomes savaged for her potent blood.
Selene inherited a broken faction when their great leader went for a walk and never came back. She is in over her head and is desperately trying to hold her faction together.
Madeline is the most capable alchemist in the city, but also a tormented angel-drug addict trying to forget the horrible things that have happened to her during her service to angels.
Thoughts and Musings
Have you ever watched a movie where the two hours leading up to the ending credits feel like prologue, and you think “This is where the movie should have started. Right here. This would be really interesting to see what happens next.” This story begins after The End.
The House of Shattered Wings is an aftermath story. It’s set in an alternate Paris during the 1930s where the fallen angels of Heaven have set up an empire, nearly destroyed themselves and everyone else in a civil war between factions, and their greatest leader has disappeared. The main events leading up to the story have already happened, and now the characters are dealing with the fallout. It’s like reading about Rome in the immediate years after its collapse.
Starting here is a big risk for the author to take. Whatever comes next has to be at least as compelling as all the backstory. I think against the odds, it works.
At its core, The House of Shattered Wings is simple who-done-it mystery. Someone/something is killing people and the characters have to find and stop the killer. Compared to the backstory, this doesn’t sound nearly as interesting. However, Bodard surrounds the mystery with layers on layers of complicated politics, questions of faith, conflicting relationships, and intersecting world mythologies. And as the mystery begins to unravel, it intersects with several pre-novel plotlines. This intersection helps keep the main storyline as compelling as the pre-book storyline.
House of Shattered wings is the first in a series, but it works as a solo novel. The ending has a satisfactory conclusion. When the next book comes out, I’ll pick it up.
17 Dec 2015 Leave a Comment
December is a rough time of year. In Seattle, the days are dark and the nights are long. It’s damp. It’s cold–not cutting like Midwest- or Canada-cold, just brisk enough for me to complain about. It’s a time when digging enthusiasm and impetus out from the basement is a brutal proposition. My creativity grumpily crawls back into bed, telling me to fuck off until February. Suffice it to say, we’re deep into my least favorite time of the year.
It’s the light I miss most. A quaver of panic squirrels through me come August when the sunshine shades away from bright gold, and casts the world in a crisp silver light. That’s how I know the season has truly changed, when the quality of light alters. I struggle to convince myself that the slowly rising dark is not a sign of imminent doom, and it will all turn out fine. It’s not that bad. No big.
Eh. My optimistic self is a liar. It is that hard. Every year.
With my deep and abiding antipathy for our night-filled months, I find it odd my most powerful feelings of nostalgia are stirred by something that only occurred in deepest, darkest Decembers.
My family celebrated Christmas when I was growing up, and we were lucky enough to always have a tree. This was a real tree, that gave off a piney, foresty scent for days after we brought it home. Our lights were the big, fat, translucent ones of gold, green, red, and blue, that came out before safety regulations and energy conservation was the norm. Some flashed, some glowed steadily, all burned hot and bright. Tinsel, paper chains and gold garland decked each bough, and the old glass ornaments gleamed even in the daylight. We didn’t mess around.
When I was small (and even not so small), I used to wrap up in my bathrobe and sneak back to the living room in the middle of the night. I remember hugging the wall as I descended the stairs–I’d read in a spy novel that the middle of the treads were what squeaked–and extreme quiet was called for, you see, or I’d wake up the dogs, who would then wake up my mom. My pre-teenaged brain was certain that would be bad. Navigating the black-on-dim silhouettes in the living room, I’d find the switch to the Christmas tree lights. Then, when they were shining like sunlit jewels in the darkness, I’d curl under the tree, nestling amid whatever presents were already there. I’d look up through the boughs at the dance of colors and shapes. I’d smell the resin, and feel the warmth of the bulbs, and gaze in sleepy bliss for what felt like a small forever.
And that was it. It wasn’t anticipation of Christmas Day and its various celebrations. It was the sensation of being cocooned in warmth and color, light and shadow. That was the magic. That’s what I remember.
So now, though I don’t celebrate Christmas, per se, we still find a way to get a tree. We haul out the flashing lights along with the memories that come with thirty-years worth of ornaments. Every now and then this ritual conjures the childhood magic of wonder and comfort, beauty and light in the darkness, driving away the gloom beyond the windows–and in myself–just for a little while.
Or maybe it simply proves that I’m more like my cats than I want to admit. At least I don’t knock the ornaments off the tree.
What is your brightest memory of Decembers past?
12 Dec 2015 Leave a Comment
I have a theory.
The holidays at end of the year are like the universe washing a cosmic load of laundry.
Projects that stalled, ideas never executed, stories unfinished, high emotion encounters.
Everything becomes an immediate priority simultaneously. You didn’t think you were going to have to deal with it, but here it is in your face, and it needs your attention right now.
This is a good thing.
It’s the opportunity to resolve the year and start fresh in January. All this dirty chaos laundry will finish its washing, but right now it may feel like you’re caught in the spin cycle.
How do you rebalance when the universe is trying to spin you senseless?
One: Quiet your immediate space
Sit in your quiet place.
If you don’t have a quiet place, find one.
Your quiet place should be someplace comfortable where no one will bother you for 2-3 minutes.
Close your office door. Sit in your car in the driveway. Step into the nearest closet.
Maybe your life is so crazy right now that the only place you can escape is the bathroom.
Whatever your quiet place is, go there.
Two: Close your eyes and breathe
Close your eyes.
Inhale through your nose to the count of six.
Exhale out your mouth to the count of six.
Do this ten times. Breathing is good.
Three: Open your eyes and look at a kitten picture
Open your eyes.
Look at the kitten picture below.
Say to yourself, out loud five times, “This kitten is okay, and so am I.”
Leave your quiet place. Go back into the world. Rinse and repeat as necessary.
03 Dec 2015 Leave a Comment
It takes a village to raise a child. We’ve all heard the proverb. I think it takes a village to do almost anything, whether that village is defined by geography, passion, bloodline, profession or adoption. Our creations always require the touch of others somewhere along the line, whether it’s raising a small human or putting a new story into the world. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
So why is it that one of our deepest myths is that of Single-Person-Makes-Good? What is it about that story which turns isolation into an anointment, and the solitary figure into some kind of demigod?
The individual as savior/fixer/developer/creator is a story old as time, but it’s one that is inherently untrue. Its roots can be found in entitlement and isolationism, and it’s a paradigm the U.S. has embraced wholeheartedly. It’s the same “go it alone” machismo which birthed the myth of the Starving Artist, the Lone Wolf, and the Man With No Name.
Some downsides to the stoic isolationist story are that the Lone Wolf remains a broken man–I’m looking at you, “Outlaw Josey Wales”–unless he accepts the community gathering around him, the artist almost always dies of tuberculosis (or madness), and the Man With No Name always leaves a trail of dead bodies in his wake.
As an artist, neighbor, and countryman, I’m all for embracing a more flexible model, one that makes it acceptable to ask for help, to lean on and learn from those across the aisle, to acknowledge the contributions others make to what we build, and to help them in return, as equals. I want my country to learn the gift of collaboration, not simply dictation. My hope is that we–especially the succeeding generations–ditch the toxic, fearful concept of “other” and embrace being an open and equal member of our global village.
Here at Ink in the Veins, we’re trying to be the change we want to see. I’m unwilling to accept the struggling, lonely, tubercular writer in the freezing garret as my paradigm. Our tribe–other pen monkeys, gamers, artists, dreamers, visionaries–stretches up the West Coast and extends around the world. We embrace a global family. Sure, the act of putting words on paper is often solitary, but frequently (and in Simone’s and my case, repeatedly) creation is collaboration. No artist exists in a vacuum. I don’t think any creative person does.
Our stories–the ones we tell and the ones we take in–are how we connect to our world. They’re our bridges, our exploration, our way of opening the door and letting in something new. They’re our way of embracing life’s differences. They’re also our invitations to you.
Ink in the Veins is our village. We hope you’ll join us, sit by our campfire and share in the storytelling. Our village is your village, our yurt your yurt. Please share your thoughts.
03 Oct 2012 5 Comments
The first evening of Writers Police Academy, I was lucky enough to draw one of the limited spaces for the tour of Guilford County Jail. It’s a new facility, and much needed. The previous facility experienced extreme overcrowding, to the tune of two hundred-plus inmates who were bunking on the floor.
The new jail is clean, bright, state-of-the-art, but grim. That last surprised me, though I’m still not sure why. I haven’t spent much time in prisons (read “any”), and what I’ve seen in the movies and on T.V. didn’t seem to touch the reality. Hollywood builds with an eye to viewer reaction. Real jails are built with an eye to security–bottom line–and you can feel the loss of options the further you go into the facility. It’s there for only one purpose: to house potentially dangerous people securely.
One of the first things I learned–and again, it’s something I thought I should have known–is that jails are for people awaiting trial or who have been sentenced for a short duration, typically less than a year. Prisons are there to hold people with longer sentences. Jails are run by county sheriff’s departments. Prisons are run by by the Prisons and Corrections office in each respective state, or by the federal government.
Another thing I hadn’t considered is the type of work the officers handle as part of their assignment to the correctional facility. There are no “light duty” assignments, per se. You’re processing people in or out, or walking the levels, or overseeing the inmates during their “free” time. It’s a full-time, on your feet, always-on-the-alert gig. The only person who gets to sit a desk is the officer assigned to the Control Room.
From there, the entire jail is monitored, the elevators are controlled, and the cell doors can be operated. As you can see, the walls are made of security glass. It’s a fishbowl in there.
The population isn’t housed according to what they’ve been charged with. They’re housed based on behavior or need. So the candy bar thieves are cheek to jowl with the child pornographers and the murderers. Four to a room. All just waiting for their court date, or their sentencing date, or for the case to be dropped, or to be transferred to a prison.
It’s clean. Spotless, actually. It needs to be. With an enclosed population, disease spreading would be a disaster. For all of the off-white paint and bright overhead lights, it’s bleak. The sense of waiting is palpable. It’s full of the passing of time. Time weighs heavy, presses against the walls. It’s an accumulation you can feel, and not only because of the prisoners gathered in the common room, or pressed up against their cell doors watching through narrow windows, but it’s also carried in by the families and friends in the lobby, waiting for their 15 minutes of glass-partitioned visiting time.
Sheriff BJ Barnes graciously allowed us to tour the facility as part of WPA, and I’m grateful he allowed us to disrupt his exceedingly professional staff for an hour. As a writer of crime fiction, it was a invaluable experience to see the officers working on the various levels, learning the intake process, hearing an inmate hoot and holler and bang cloistered behind one of the “incident room” doors, and seeing how direct contact supervision worked in reality. As a citizen, it was even more valuable to learn the realities of correctional facilities. It’s not something we, as a general population, know anything about … outside of fiction.
I will admit to being glad when we left, relieved to step outside into the fresh, soft North Carolina night. It felt good to look up and see something other than stark white ceilings, to smell the dense green vegetation and not the faint-but-layered aroma of old gym socks, bodies and disinfectant.
The outside is a good place to be.
25 Sep 2012 Leave a Comment
What do Greensboro, human trafficking and forensic investigation have in common? The always awesome Writers Police Academy, that’s what!
Last week, I returned to the southeast to learn what it is cops, EMTs, and forensic anthropologists do. Research, research, research. And what fabulous research it was! The sun was shining, unlike this time last year when we had the fallout from a tropical storm and a veritable deluge. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, or better people.
Friday’s seminars included:
- Human Trafficking
- Cold Cases and the Realities of Investigation
- Building Searches (we got to suit up for this one)
- Interviews and Investigation
- Forensic Identification, by Dr. Elizabeth Murray
And in the evening:
All of this is on the first day.
Saturday’s seminars included:
- A re-enactment of a felony stop complete with car chase and shoot-out.
- Suicides, Hangings and Auto-Erotic Death Investigations
- Police Gunfighting
- EMS and the Crime Scene
- Crime Scene to Court: Evidence Handling and Chain of Custody
- Working the Courtroom into Your Thrillers, by Marcia Clark