Friday, October 29, 2021

October Reads

 October was all about books for me…though oddly, I didn't read that many. 

I decided to take on a little project in October. I do this a lot. There's something about the combination of cooler weather and the advent of "spooky season" that bubbles up in my creativity. 

In other years, I've indulged in spooky movie marathons, participated in blog hops like Wording Wednesdays and October Frights,  or flash fiction challenges like Nightmare Fuel. One year, I wrote 31 blog posts, about 31 things I love about Halloween and all things creepy. 

This year I did 31 days of spooky reads videos over on my YouTube channel, highlighting 31 spooky/scary/creepy/eerie books that I have read and loved. 

I talked about a range of books and stories, from the terrifying to the merely odd, published as recently as last year, and as long ago as 1764.  I'd love it if you checked them out! 

Preparing those videos meant re-reading parts of 31 books, but I didn't re-read any of them in their entirety, so I don't count them as part of my reading challenge. (Now at 62 books, out of a goal of 52). 

So, outside of those, I only read three books this month: 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark was a choice by my neighborhood book club for September. I didn't get it read it in time for our meeting (because The Count of Monte Cristo was kicking my butt), but I was intrigued enough to go ahead and read it afterward. It's a quiet book in some senses, but very intriguing and full of interesting insights about teaching, learning, growing up, relationships, and betrayal. 

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, I really liked. Like Beloved by Toni Morrison (one of my spooky reads picks!), it follows a family dealing with intergenerational fallout from past trauma--the death of a son at the hands of a white neighbor, time in incarceration, and cancer. It intermixes this very realistic family drama with ghosts and witchcraft to great effect. Heartrending and beautiful. 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was a re-read for me. I was revisiting it because it's the next book for my First Monday Classics Book Club. The ideas of the book are still fascinating, and a little scary in their seeming accuracy, but the book lacks a lot on other fronts: two-dimensional characters, weak plot, jerky pacing. There's a better book in there somewhere, but Huxley didn't write it. Still, I'd recommend it if you've never read it, if only for the ideas. 

What did you read this month? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Friday, October 15, 2021

Getting There From Here

As I write this today, I'm on a train on my way to NYC with my husband and my youngest kiddo to see a Broadway play. A couple of firsts for me in there--going to NYC, seeing a Broadway play, and being on a train in the United States (I've been on one in Spain and England). 

I won't post this until I'm back home, of course, because I know better than to tell the Internet that I'm not at my house :-)

When I was young, I had HUGE wanderlust. I mean, I still do, but I'm also a pragmatist, and I picked up a really expensive hobby along the way (children), so it's been a while since I took a trip that wasn't with the grandparents or to visit family. When I was younger, I'd go almost anywhere if I could afford the gas or get someone else to chip in for. So many road trips! 

I took a fair number of road trips when my husband and I were dating, too, because we had a distance relationship and found it fun to choose locations halfway between his grad school and my then-home so that we could explore new places together while falling more deeply in love. 

But after we married and had a second child, we had to let a lot of that kind of thing go--not enough hours in the day or dollars in the bank. Kids, like I said, are an expensive hobby, especially if you want to spoil them like we do. 

So, it's REALLT nice to be traveling again, even if I have to keep a mask on the whole time. Traveling by train is enjoyable (so far…ask again in 6 hours). I have a table and wifi, and it's okay that I didn't pack all that compactly because there's a little room to sprawl. 

Across my life, I've taken a lot of modes of transport. And it's interesting how the method of transportation affects a journey. 

Day to day to I mostly travel in the little bubble of my own car, which allows me to treat it like a little house on wheels, loading it up with all the things that bring me small comfort, like a bottle of water, a plastic box full of tictacs, charging cables for all my devices, and tethers to keep my dogs from crawling over me while I drive. 

I have my first-ever brand new car now, and it seems very posh to me--with technology that all functions and some fancy stuff like heated seats and a back up camera. 

When I travel in my car, I'm in complete charge of the trip (well, except for things like highway traffic speed or delays). I choose the route, the departure time, the stops, what plays on the audio system, and what's allowed in the vehicle with me. What luxury!

We also have a decent public bus system in our area which I've used from time to time when my independence of movement felt less important or I didn't want to have to deal with parking when I arrived at my destination or I knew I could travel light (not much to carry). 

You never know who is getting on the bus with you…and cleanliness really varies from system to system. But the ride is short, so even if it's less than stellar, it's okay. 

I've only done the cross-country bus a couple of times, generally a charter bus full of kids traveling together--going to Disney with the band when I was a teenager, being a field-trip Mom for my kiddo on a class trip to Washington, DC, that sort of thing. Charter busses offer a little more room and luxuries like tables, and on-bus bathroom access, so they can feel fancy compared to a public bus or a school bus. I've yet to do the Greyhound experience so far. 

I've also flown in planes of various size, from a four-seater bush plane in Alaska to a grand trans-Atlantic monstrosity, though I was eighteen before I ever rode in one. My years in Alaska meant that I flew quite a bit, since I tended to keep living in places that weren't accessible by road. 

Smaller planes are noisier, but more comfortable in some ways. They tend to be cleaner, actually, maybe

because they're owned by individuals who care instead of being maintained by corporations who try to do the least they can to maximize profits. 

Once I rode in a helicopter, too, and I hated that. I guess I don't have much of a future as a rescue pilot. Noisy and airsickness inducing, at least for me.

Trains, on the other hand, are like busses in that you don't know who you're going to have to share space with and that cleanliness can really vary, but it can be lovely to just sit back and let someone else worry about getting you there.

Looking out the windows at trees turned into streams of green by speed until it feels like you're hurtling through an impressionist painting. Fields, houses, and city blocks go by in a blink. It reminds me of being little and riding in the back of the car, just staring out the windows while my parents drove me to Grandma's house. 

Traveling by train in Spain scared me a bit, but then I was young--20 or so--and my Spanish wasn't that great, and people kept scaring me about all the bad things that could happen to a young woman traveling alone. My fear probably wasn't really about the train. 

In England, when I was 30 and finishing grad school, I LOVED traveling by train. A nice lady came around and brought me tea and sold me snacks and I could do my work while we traveled, and my mum went with to be my Granny-Nanny for my elder kiddo. 

The train I'm currently on is a lot like that, except I'll have to walk over the cafĂ© car if I want any food or snacks. 

I have yet to travel on a train that looks or feels like the Hogwarts Express or the Orient Express, but that's probably for the best. I'm not ready for candy frogs that hop away from me while I try to eat them, or dead people in the car behind mine. 

Exciting transportation is fine for books and movies, but I'll keep my real-life travel a little on the safe and boring side, please. 

Do subways count as trains? That's going to be another first for me on this journey: a NYC subway ride. I've only done The Underground or The Tube and the The Metro, both of which were lovely and convenient, if a little nerve-wracking the first time.

I haven't had the opportunity to travel by boat much. Some few-hour excursions when I was at the beach, a few ferries (including the 12 hour long ferry ride from mainland Alaska to Kodiak). 

I don't think I'm much interested in taking a cruise on one of those giant floating hotels, but I'd love the chance to move among islands in a sailboat or something like that. 

When I have been out on the sea, I find it impossible to feel sad--the wind in my face seems to blow all my worries out my ears, and the miles and miles and miles of open water is soothing. Not to mention the likelihood of seeing something cool a landlubber like me doesn't usually get to see like a whale or a pelican. 

We used to go river canoeing or kayaking for my dad's birthday each year when I was an older kid/teenager, and I loved that. 

The combination of slow and fast, meandering miles of water with sudden exciting bits where you had to work to keep your little stick of a boat going the direction you wanted. It made me feel strong and capable like I'd really DONE something when I got to where I was going, even if there was a guide in the other boat prepared to pull me out of the water if I did something foolish. 

So, what do you like? Planes, trains, or automobiles? Boats? Public commuter transport or individual arrangements? I'd love to hear about your travel/transportation experiences in the comments!

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

IWSG: Drawing the Line


Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

October 6 question -In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

The awesome co-hosts for the October 6 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pitt, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, and Mary Aalgaard! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!

There are definitely places I haven't gone in my writing, but I haven't drawn any conscious lines. I believe in giving each story what it needs, so I wouldn't rule anything out so far as subject matter or language. It all depends on what that story needs. 

I have, however, stopped writing a story because it was taking me down a dark road I didn't have the wherewithal to travel at that time. Thursday's Children was a dystopian fantasy I was writing a few years ago, which I finally shelved because the real world was feeling too dystopian for me just then and I needed to go somewhere else in my fiction. 

I hope to get back to it someday though, so that's more about timing than about a hard no. I'll put myself through emotional struggle for the sake of a story, but there are limits. 

image source

I have more limits as a reader, because I'm reading for my personal entertainment and enlightenment, and I'm not interested in reading anything that drags me down or fills me with fruitless anger. 

I have made exceptions, but it's hard for me to read Holocaust or Slavery literature anymore. I've read a lot of it over the years, and no matter how good a books is, it's a hard sell for me if it's set in American Slavery times or during the Holocaust. 

I also don't like to read books that include rape anymore. I've read too many where it was handled badly, with no respect or sensitivity for victims or revealing limited thinking about what might traumatize a character or motivate other characters who love them. So, if I know going in that a story features rape as part of the storyline, I'm looking for a lot of reassurance that it's handled well, and doesn't venture into glorifying violence (which is probably part of my problem with a lot of Holocaust and Slavery literature, too). 

I would *never* suggest that my personal preference means that other people shouldn't read or write those kinds of stories. You should do what you need and want. I just might not agree to travel some roads by your side. 

Part of why I write is because story is how I process the world, and it can be helpful to me to write stories about things that worry, frighten, or anger me, so I will always leave the door open to consider writing anything that tugs on my soul to be written . . .but I'll also protect me from me, when necessary and say "Well, not today, perhaps." 

How about you? Are there things you won't write or read about? Topics that are taboo or at least hard sells? I'd love to hear about them in the comments. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

September Reads

Generally, I try to read a book every week. Of course, it doesn't always line up that way. Sometimes a book takes me longer than a week to read, but it generally balances out to help me meet my goal of 52 books a year. 

That was definitely the case this month. I started reading The Count of Monte Cristo in early August and only finally finished that sucker last night!  

For those unfamiliar with this classic by Alexandre Dumas, it's a VERY long book. 1200-1600 pages depending on what edition you're reading, or 52+ hours as an audiobook. It's got an intricate plot and some really fun moments, but is, in my opinion, three times as long as it needed to be to tell the story effectively. 

A few months ago, I read The Three Musketeers also by Dumas, and liked it much better. Finishing Monte Cristo felt like an accomplishment though. One of those books that ought to earn me some kind of trophy, like when I read Les Miserables or War and Peace. These tomes are the reader's equivalent of running a marathon. 

Despite its length, though, Monte Cristo reads well. The prose feels modern and it's engaging, but I think it's one of those books I'm glad I read, but would never read again. Once is good. :-)

Because Monte Cristo took so long to read, I didn't get to read much else at all!

I finished only two other books, both short. 

Domino: Hotshots is trade collection of a run of comics. My coffeeshop carries comic books and I often buy one with my Friday treat coffee.  I got the first issue of this one and LOVED it, so I bought the rest of the story. I wasn't already all that familiar with Domino, but I still was drawn right into this story of unlikely allies learning to work together to defeat the big bad. Bonus points for a story that shows a young woman learning to accept and use her own power. Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) makes a guest appearance and really facilitates a nice mentoring/meeting your heroes arc. 

2,000 to 10,000 is a practical writing advice book that had been recommended to me several times, when I complain that I am a slow writer and would like to be faster. I appreciated the friendly, encouraging tone of the book and am planning to try some of the advice when I begin my next book (I'm too superstitious to change tactics in the middle of the book I'm writing now). I'll report back as to whether it works for me. 

Given that I write alongside a full time job, I probably won't get to 10,000 words a day, but I would settle for moving faster than my typical 250-800 words a day and be happy about it! 

How about you? Did you read anything wonderful in September? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. And of course, if you read anything *I* wrote, then I love you even more :-)