Thursday, September 5, 2019

Currently ...

I thought I would change gears this week and give a glimpse of what I'm currently ...


Reading

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2018 (edited by Rich Horton)
Clarkesworld Magazine (Issue 111)
Apex Magazine (Issue 61)


Listening to

Red Planet by Kim Stanley Robinson (audiobook)
The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy (podcast)


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Pratchett

Last night after dinner, my husband and I were talking, brainstorming some world-building and scenarios related to my current writing project, and it wasn't long before we were both laughing out loud. A really good laugh, or even better, a conversation filled with laughter, always leaves me feeling lighter. I love a good laugh.

That said, I'm not the kind of person who generally laughs out loud while reading a book (or watching a film or series). I can read (or see) something that I think is absolutely hilarious, and at most I'll probably crack a smile or give a soft chuckle. But one of the writers who can make me, even me, laugh out loud is Terry Pratchett.

I first encountered his work when I was still living in the US. I love how Pratchett can take an idea, a trope, a stereotype or a myth and turn it inside out and sideways, then stand it on its head and write about it. Hilariously. Pure entertainment with a backbone of satire and social commentary. A line from the bartender in a scene with the Death of Rats in a bar in Pratchett's Hogfather is just one of many in his books that have made me actually LOL.

When I read Pratchett's books, I could only imagine the landscape of the chalk downs. But then we moved to England and my best friend and her husband came for a visit. Eager to do as much as possible during their stay, they booked us on a guided tour to Stonehenge, the standing stones at Avebury, Old Sarum, and the Salisbury cathedral, which meant that I was actually driving (or more accurately, being driven) through the Salisbury plain, one of several areas of chalk downs in England. In other words, it was Mac Nac Feegle country. Land of the Wee Free Men.

As we rode across the plain, I was struck by how well Pratchett had conveyed the sense of that countryside to me, a reader half a world away, who had no notion what a chalk down looked like. A master of character development, and humor, Pratchett was also a master at world-building and immersing the reader in those worlds. A couple of years ago I was on my way to a conference in Winchester, eyeing the stark white figures carved into the chalk downs, and I felt once again that sense of delight at being in Pratchett country.

As with any prolific author, I like some of Pratchett's books more than others, but one of my absolute favorites is the final installment in his Tiffany Aching series called I Shall Wear Midnight. In the book (ostensibly for young readers, but I would argue it's for anyone who loves Pratchett's Discworld) the protagonist, Tiffany, is figuring out what it means to be a witch.
"She was the witch. For all the villages along the Chalk, she was the witch. Not just her own village any more, but for all the other ones as far away as Ham-on-Rye, which was a pretty good day's walk from here."
There are things she likes about being a witch, but she's also learning that it it sets her apart from everyone else.
"You were among people, but not the same as them. There was always a kind of distance or separation. You didn't have to work at it, it happened anyway. ... This wasn't just because of respect, but because of a kind of fear as well."
And the symbol of her mixed feelings about her new role as the Chalk witch is her feelings about wearing black. We know from a previous book, A Hat Full of Sky, how Tiffany feels about wearing black:
"When I'm old I shall wear midnight, she'd decided. But for now she'd had enough of darkness."
But by the end of I Shall Wear Midnight, Tiffany has grown into the role she previously felt unready for:
"And just for a moment...Tiffany stood outside herself and watched herself twirl the beautiful dress as black as a cat full of sixpences, and she thought: I shall wear midnight, and I will be good at it . . ."
There's a bit of Tiffany in all of us, at some point in our lives.

Here's to wearing midnight, and being good at it.

Old Sarum, England
Old Sarum, on the Salisbury Plain, England
photo copyright E Norton / 2019


Monday, August 19, 2019

Morrison

I guess it's a sign of how many laps I've done around the sun that so many creators whose work and lives I've admired are dying. Leonard Cohen. Maya Angelou. Terry Pratchett. Ursula K. LeGuin. And now Toni Morrison.

When someone dies, their untold stories die with them. I wrote about that in this essay, published in Skirt! magazine in May, 2017. When a creative person dies we lose their untold stories, but their life's work remains, both a comfort and a legacy, as if they haven't left us entirely.

In 2004 Toni Morrison gave the commencement address at Wellesley College. You can read a transcription of the address in it's entirety here (there's also a link to the video). Here are some of her remarks that resonated with me.
Regarding the future, I would have to rest my case on some bromide, like the future is yours for the taking. Or, that it’s whatever you make of it. But the fact is it is not yours for the taking. And it is not whatever you make of it. The future is also what other people make of it, how other people will participate in it and impinge on your experience of it. - Toni Morrison, 2004, Wellesley College Commencement Address
And besides, contrary to what you may have heard or learned, the past is not done and it is not over, it’s still in process, which is another way of saying that when it’s critiqued, analyzed, it yields new information about itself. The past is already changing as it is being reexamined, as it is being listened to for deeper resonances. Actually it can be more liberating than any imagined future if you are willing to identify its evasions, its distortions, its lies, and are willing to unleash its secrets. - Toni Morrison, 2004, Wellesley College Commencement Address
... there is nothing, believe me, more satisfying, more gratifying than true adulthood. The adulthood that is the span of life before you. The process of becoming one is not inevitable. Its achievement is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard won glory... - Toni Morrison, 2004, Wellesley College Commencement Address
The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone. It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean. But then, I am a teller of stories and therefore an optimist, a believer in the ethical bend of the human heart, a believer in the mind’s disgust with fraud and its appetite for truth, a believer in the ferocity of beauty. So, from my point of view, which is that of a storyteller, I see your life as already artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art. - Toni Morrison, 2004, Wellesley College Commencement Address