I made tomato pie yesterday–inspired by a post on Facebook’s “Not the NY Times Cooking Community” page. I had never heard of such a thing before, but I not only liked it a lot, but I have ideas on how to improve the recipe, which means that it will happen again. The idea is simple: make a pie shell. Put down a (fairly well-packed) layer of ripe tomatoes, followed by about a layer of caramelized onion, a scattering of crisp bacon bits, a quarter cup of chopped fresh herbs… then do it all over again. Then you top the whole thing with a mixture of shredded cheese, mayonnaise, and pimentos, and bake.
I’ve done some posts on other blogs about my new novel For the Good of the Realm. Most recently, I did a post on the Milford SF Writers blog — which is the blog for the yearly peer workshop held in the U.K. (currently meeting in Wales) — on the way different writers are using 19th century (and some early 20th century) fiction in their stories.
How to Become a Planet, by Nicole Melleby (Algonquin Young Readers)
Fourteen year old Pluto is an engaging youngster, as passionate about astronomy as she is puzzled by the changes in her life and herself. Within a short period of time, she’d gone from a happy science geek who hangs out with her best friend on the boardwalk where her divorced mother runs the family pizzeria, to a stranger in her own skin. Sometimes she’s paralyzed with the blues, unable to even get out of bed, and the next she’s caught up in senseless fury. It’s as if the mood swings of normally hormonal adolescence have been amped up to pathological proportions. Even with a supportive mother, a psychiatric diagnosis complete with medications and a recommendation for psychotherapy, and a novel way of using astronomical concepts as metaphors for what she’s going through, Pluto is drowning. Not only is she progressively alienating everyone she cares about, she’s stopped caring. Only when her rich city father ramps up the pressure for her to live with him does she formulate a desperate plan: a list of all the things she must do in order to stay at home.
Visit the planetarium with Mom.
Go to Former Best Friend’s Birthday party… and so on.
The list, Pluto believes, will prove that she can return to her old, “true,” “normal” self. But things don’t go as planned. As Pluto embarks upon her tasks, they become even less within her reach. The summer takes one unexpected turn after another. The tutor whom Pluto was sure she’d hated turns out to be a sympathetic ally, and a new friend with a checklist of their own has a secret Pluto can sympathize with.
Society tends to “other” people with mental illnesses. Historically, they were seen as possessed by devils or cursed by angry gods, as witches, or as eccentric, lazy, or selfish. Treatments ranged from trephination (drilling holes in the patient’s skull), to exorcism to locking the mentally ill in horrific prison-like asylums. Even today, when effective treatments allow many, even those with serious diagnoses, to lead functional lives, the stigma persists. All too often, the person is seen only as their illness, and their insights and contributions therefore dismissed as invalid. Young people are particularly vulnerable to public shaming. It’s hard enough for even “normal” teens to figure out who they are and what they want in life. How to Become a Planet focuses on Pluto as a sympathetic character, a person who is both resourceful and overwhelmed, insightful and confused by changes in herself. Her use of astronomy metaphors is particularly vivid and powerful. Above all, Pluto is a person whose brain chemistry isn’t working quite right, not a diagnosis, and this excellent novel showcases her journey toward a new balance in her life.
As for my personal reaction, I must confess that, although I am an older adult, I gobbled up this book. Pluto’s voice was so compelling, and her struggles so resonant, that the story connected with me on a deep level. Although I did not suffer depression as a teen, I struggled with PTSD as an adult. The times Pluto absolutely cannot motivate herself to engage with her day were chillingly familiar. And, just as Pluto took small steps toward understanding her “new normal,” that’s how it went with me. Besides skillful therapy and appropriate psychiatric medicines, unexpected acts of kindness and new friendships as well as old carried me through the dark times. Pluto comes to accept that she is now and will forever be different from who she was before. I can never go back to the person I was before my own trauma. But I can heal and grow and live a fulfilling life. I wish the same for Pluto. She’s made an excellent start.
I just signed up to participate in this year’s Clarion West Write-a-thon. Since this works as a fundraiser for Clarion West, you can sponsor me in my writing endeavors. Of course, this is also a tool for making myself write.
I’m planning to work on a sequel to For the Good of the Realm, which just came out from Aqueduct Press. I plan to do a little work on it each day. I notice in looking at the pages for this year’s Write-a-thon that there are many other things I may be doing, but that’s the starting point.
Signing up for this got me to thinking about Clarion West, past Write-a-thons, and the whole science fiction and fantasy world.
Going to Clarion West was one of the pivotal experiences in my life. The intensity of the process was crucial for me. It not only made me write, but it made me believe in my writing. But I think the key part was being a writer in community, doing the same kind of work along with others who shared my interests and desires.
I bonded with the people in my class. Twenty-four years later, I remain close friends with several of those people and can usually pick right up where we left off with most of them.
The Write-a-thon doesn’t bring that back, but it does make me remember Vonda N. McIntyre, who always participated and always sponsored other writers who were participating. Of course, Vonda was well-known for her generosity to other writers, so this was no surprise.
I grew up in a bookish household. There was a huge bookshelf and cabinet built in to the wall of my parents’ house in New York City, filled to the ceiling with all kinds of books. My father, a designer, had briefly subscribed to the Heritage Press limited editions, classic works with specially created artwork and typography. They look rather quaint now (and no one knew anything about acid free paper in those far-off days) but I had the run of those books, as well as anything else on the shelves (this led, several years later, to my 9th grade teacher responding to my book report on Candide with an A and the comment “do your parents know you’re reading this?”). Those books–and many others–filledd the house. When we moved to Massachusetts I not only had a set of bookshelves that framed my window, but when I decided I didn’t like where the door in my room was located and put in a new door, we made my former door’s space into bookshelves.
When Deborah J. Ross interviewed me for her blog, one of her questions made me reflect on myself as a writer. She asked, “[H]ow does your work differ from others in your genre?”
I reflected a bit, and came to this realization: “My stories sound like my stories, regardless of what subset of the genre they fit in.”
Then this week, I shared a couple of poems I wrote with my sister, Katrinka Moore, who is a poet. (I don’t consider myself a poet; I’ve just been playing around with poetry to learn new ways of looking at language and shake up my creativity.)
She made this observation: “Your poems are very you – as you speaking – and yet very much poems.”
I think a similar observation could be applied to my essays, maybe even my book reviews. What I write sounds like something I would write or say. The only significant writing I’ve done that doesn’t sound like me on some core level is probably straightforward journalism. That might also explain why journalism never satisfied my writing urge, even though I found the work interesting and rewarding: It didn’t have anything to do with me.
My stories, my essays, my poems, all of them have everything to do with me. I don’t mean they’re autobiographical; except for a few pieces I call “flash memoir,” most of them aren’t. But there’s something at the core that comes from me and the way I think and look at the world.
Here’s my review of For the Good of the Realm, by Treehouse Writer’s own Nancy Jane Moore (Aqueduct)
The elevator pitch for this charming historical fantasy is “The Three Musketeers With Women.” That does not do justice to the book by a long shot. The concept is familiar enough, from both the novels by Alexandre Dumas and the many film adaptations. In this swashbuckler tale, heroic, chivalrous swordsmen fight for justice and for their unbreakable friendship. The original, written in 1844, featured men in all the fun roles, with women being either weepy and weak or deviously evil. But why should the men have all the fun? I expect just about every female reader or viewer has railed at the injustice of depriving half the human race of such valorous deeds. Nancy Jane Moore, a thoughtful writer and skilled martial artist, has now set things right.
For the Good of the Realm is and isn’t like The Three Musketeers. There’s a realm like France, a royal couple divided by politics, each served by their own dedicated guard, and the head of the Church bent on cementing their own power. In this world, however, the Queen’s Guard is comprised of women, and the King’s Guard of men, and the queen’s advisors are largely women, as is the Hierophante. Add to this the existence of magic, condemned by the Church, arousing superstitious dread but freely used by the enemies of the Realm. There is no green recruit, D’Artagnan, but a pair of women friends from the Queen’s Guard – Anna D’Gart and Aramis, who fights duels as an amusement and cannot quite seem to give up her bawdy relations to become a priest. Each has a lover from the King’s Guard from whom they must keep secrets, but with whom they occasionally join forces.
The structure of this novel reflects the style to which it does homage. The point of view straddles the divide between third and omniscient, less intimate than is currently in vogue but marvelously evocative of Dumas and his contemporaries. Moore’s control of language and tone never falters as she draws the reader into not only a different world but a slightly different way of experiencing that world. Today we confuse “closeness” in point of view with emotional closeness to a character, but as Dumas and now Moore demonstrate, readers can feel very much in touch with a character through the careful depiction of actions and words. This is, after all, how we come to understand the people in our lives. “The adventures of…” implies an episodic arrangement, but here each chapter and each incident builds on what has come before and lays the foundation for what is to come in subtle, complex ways. The final confrontation between Anna d’Gart and the evil, scheming Hierophante is less a Death Star explosion than it is the inevitable showdown between two highly competent chess players.
In reflecting on the pleasure of immersing myself in For the Good of the Realm, it strikes me as a tapestry created by a master weaver. There is an overall picture but the intricate details and skill of the stitchery – the lives and relationships of the characters – are what lend it depth and resonance.
Order it from Amazon here or from your favorite bookstore.
One of my spiritual children mentioned the other day that she identified as “she/her” but was no longer certain what that really meant. She calls me Xena so there’s that. Being a real woman in our times means being willing and able to whale on anyone to defend your life and family. I know a lot of people don’t believe or understand that, but take it from Xena — yes it does.
In 2004, I began a story about a couple featuring my all-purpose guy, Gary the ergonomic architect, and his wife, a short-sighted, bossy shrew loosely based on awful women I’d known. The idea was “should parents ‘improve’ their children with gene therapy — or should they let nature take its course?” I became interested in the topic because I had become unexpectedly pregnant with my son Anthony and sought genetic counseling. Talking with the counselor inspired my thoughts about the story.
I wasn’t ready to write about this, so I left the story unfinished.
In the story, Gary has interchanges with “House” — an unbranded version of Alexa or Google Home (story initially written 2004).
A slight twist on these commercial smart home devices is that Gary designed House, presumably using tech similar to Alexa — but “House” has somewhat of a personality, as well as safety and help features. House is always offering help to Gary.
When I finished this story, which my ego-mind thinks of as my “Ray Carver” story because of its compression and language (it’s exactly 5,000 words long) I knew I’d achieved many personal goals with my short fiction.
But there is a corollary and it is waiting patiently outside my office. Ah yes, I have an office now! No-fricking-way-yes-way.
Yes, even we have a robot vacuum now. This isn’t specifically an endorsement for the brand, but “Eufy” is now a member of our household. Because we have no stairs, there’s little fear that even if Eufy goes rogue in the middle of the night, he will trip Bruce, turning him into a quadriplegic like Telly Savalas in the “Living Doll” Twilight Zone episode. If you haven’t seen that — it’s basically what the Chucky movies are — let’s say — “inspired by.” Good old Talking Tina.
You know what the most awesome thing about living in our times is?
I’m pretty good about predicting the colors for next season, thinking of things that will happen next, and imagining products of the future.
You know that “sorting hat” in the Harry Potter stories? That’s the closest metaphor for what’s coming next based on genetic profiles. People have written about it in a very negative way (used for classism, “ubermensch” etc). They can f-off and by the way anybody who’d say that or think that is by definition, untermensch trash. They’re scummy crap humans.
I know a lot of people don’t want that but not wanting that is a lot like the people who don’t want others to have anything, for the sole reason they fear somebody will — heaven forbid — get some of their stuff.
Stuff is stuff. It’s sure as hell not worth fighting over. Though I have to say, “Eufy” is somewhere between “stuff” and a living thing. I know that’s controversial but I think “Robots R People too.”
The future is great as long as we make our present moments of today as wonderful as possible.
I for one am glad that “Eufy” has come to live in our home. And I’ll put my genes up against anyone’s. That’s the point. It’s not about you pieces of trash that invest every waking moment in getting over on, ripping off, exploiting, looking down on, or presenting you are “better” than others. You’re Carolyn in “Perfect Stranger.” You’re Denny, who can’t even respect his own dad. You’re Donald J. Trump even as you tell yourself how much better you are than him. F off. Go to the lonely, sad, scared place that is your withered and black tiny shriveled heart.
Live life like a human for a change. You might learn something and enjoy yourself for a moment.
I’ve frequently observed that my high school history teacher taught us that the Civil War was fought between us and them. Since this was in Texas, you can probably guess which side was “us”.
In the past, I said this more or less as a joke. Not that it wasn’t true – it was very true – but my intention was to mock those history lessons, to point out that the small town where I went to high school was so far behind the times.
Now, though, as Texas and other states pass laws to prevent history teachers from telling the truth about U.S. history, this memory of my education makes me want to cry. While I was fortunate to grow up in a family that rejected the Lost Cause narrative and Jim Crow racism, the rest of the world in which I lived was defined by those lies at every turn.
I saw those lies for what they were, but I somehow managed to both assume that things were changing – it was the time of the activist Civil Rights Movement – and that some things, like monuments to the traitors who led the Confederate Army, would always be with us.
I turned out to be wrong on both counts. We did make some progress on racism, enough that these days there are many powerful African American voices that call it out regularly, but not enough to keep it from remaining a powerful force in this country and not enough to fix all the systemic racism that we are only now beginning to discuss.
And we are finally reckoning with the fact that the Civil War was an act of treason by those who wanted to continue enslaving other human beings. Despite the backlash going on from white supremacists and in some state legislatures, we’re talking about this horrific part of our history in terms I never expected to hear. Continue reading “Time to Learn Our Real History”…