Dinosaurs Are Cool

This week has been good, but really busy. I did manage to get some drawing in, though, which was a nice change of pace. I drew dinosaurs, because dinosaurs are cool.

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Very old drawing of mine: Velociraptor chicks in their nest
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New drawing: Mama raptor and chick

Writing days this past week: 6

The Savior’s Champion

I really enjoyed Jenna Moreci’s The Savior’s Champion. It sets a very satisfying pace, has lots of action interspersed with some real sweetness, and it kept surprising me all the way through (in good ways.)

First off, if you have an issue with words like “fuck” and “cock,” don’t even bother with this book, because you won’t have fun. Or, do give it a read, and maybe it’ll help desensitize you.* That said, if you find (contextually appropriate) dick humor entertaining, this is the book for you.

Tobias, our main dude, gets drawn into a massive tournament to win the heart and hand of his country’s ruler, the Savior. She’s the magically ordained leader of Thessen, but hasn’t been seen by anyone outside the palace for most of her life. Tobias is a former artist’s apprentice who has been forced to become a laborer in order to support his mother and sister. He doesn’t have any personal interest in the Savior, or in the power of being her consort, but enters the competition for his own reasons. The tournament consists of a series of inescapable challenges, many of which are life-threatening and violent. He struggles to survive and protect the people that he loves, but also to hang on to his sense of who he is.

The narrative style was sarcastic and fun, and a nice break from the overly stilted language you sometimes find in fantasy. Her world-building was creative and also really broke out of the typical fantasy mold. Overall, the story just frequently didn’t go the way I expected, and that includes the romance, which turned out to be my favorite part.

Tobias goes through some very understandable emotional struggles because of the disturbing situation he’s been forced into, and that was very skillfully and responsibly portrayed. Jenna did the same with consent and communication in the romantic situations, which was awesome. I really liked the diverse cast, too. There are several non-straight characters, and the women in particular have a good range of appearances and personalities. One has a physical disability and another is developmentally delayed, and neither felt like a stereotype to me, although I’m not disabled, so please take that with a grain of salt.

I’m really excited to read the next book in this series.

CW: There is some discussion and portrayal of sexual assault throughout the story, but it is strictly shown in a negative light, not tolerated or perpetrated by people we’re supposed to like. The storytelling is also fairly gory and visceral, so if violence is a trigger for you, you might want to approach with caution – though again, the violence is not glorified. Some ableist language, always used by the uncool people.

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* Regarding all the damn swearing: The thing is, limiting one’s vocabulary to avoid curse words doesn’t mean a person is better, cleverer, or even nicer. You can swear up a storm while uplifting others, and you can easily tear them down without ever stepping outside the bounds of “polite” language. In fact, one constant refrain I hear to protest swearing: “It’s just low class!” Is… You know, classist. That’s not a good thing; it’s actually an insidious form of prejudice. It’d be wise to examine your personal shit around language, whether you pick this book up or not.

Writing days this past week: 2

The Power of Thresholds

One of my favorite recurring themes in fantasy is the protective threshold that forms around homes, shielding the inhabitants from supernatural harm. An unoccupied space has no protective threshold, but a home does. It just feels intuitive, that homes would have power to them beyond the physical walls that they provide. Feeling like I have a home, verses just a place to sleep and hang my proverbial hat, is really important to me. It can be a hard feeling to hang on to when renting, never really knowing when the next move might come, and especially when living in a city that’s far away from family and friends.

I particularly appreciate magic systems with thresholds that don’t just automatically pop into place when a place becomes occupied, because that doesn’t feel quite right. Just like it takes a while for a new dwelling to become familiar, it should take a while for that special homeness of it to grow and become strong enough to protect the people inside. That sort of power feels like something that’s built by the love and care of the people living there, and I’ve noticed that a lot authors include something of that in their particular twist on this theme.

Everyone does handle it differently, which is really cool. We all know that vampires can’t come into a house without being invited, but there’s a lot of variation on the idea. Depending on the author’s magical system, thresholds might just protect against the undead, or they may protect against all sorts of supernatural threats. In The Dresden Files, thresholds provide basic protection against supernatural threats, and are also a framework onto which more sophisticated magical protection can be built, like a scaffold. Inviting someone to cross the threshold often binds both guest and host to certain ritual responsibilities to each other, which is a very old idea, deeply rooted in folklore.

Homes have, historically, been a place of refuge in a dangerous world. Family mattered, of course, because who else would protect you from outer threats? Under good circumstances, (which, unfortunately, is not a given) family creates a sense of safety that’s almost palpable, whether it’s a family of two, or a large and extended family – whether they’re blood relatives, partners, or other people that you’ve chosen to be close with. People who live together may carry shared grief, as well as good memories, and can draw comfort from that. On the lighter side, homes are ideally shared with people who won’t judge you for your goofy jokes, because you share a sense of humor. Familiarity is a form of safety that makes it easier to relax and be yourself.

Beyond family, there’s also the love and care that’s put directly into a space. A person living alone could strengthen their threshold by caring for houseplants, organizing their bookshelves, cuddling with a pet on a rainy day, filling the place with their favorite things, cooking and cleaning, or just by loving the familiar chaos of their own messy little nest. Boundaries – the ability to decide who you share your space with, and when – are fundamental to the idea of a protective threshold. A home can be a powerful place, even (or especially) if it is just one person’s cherished sanctuary.

Magic generally comes from the energy within people, and so much emotional energy is expended in and on the places in which we live.

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Writing days this week: 2

The Heart of What was Lost + The Witchwood Crown

I finally got into both of Tad Williams’s new books in his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn world, Osten Ard. For those who aren’t familiar, this is an excellent fantasy series, and very worth checking out. The original trio came out in the early 90s, and I love them.

Interestingly, they also are credited with inspiring George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Having read both, the common elements can be pretty striking, even though the stories are completely different, as is the tone. If you’ve only read Martin’s series, and aren’t a big fan of the gore and sexual violence, you should definitely check out Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Tad doesn’t go in for that gratuitously gritty feeling, and I really appreciate that about his work. His stories and characters don’t feel unrealistic – much the opposite, in fact. They’re believably flawed and interesting, and his non-human characters in particular are uncommonly rich and personable. His focus in general is just a hell of a lot more uplifting than seems to be popular in epic fantasy these days.

It took me a little while to get around to these new books, but I finally did.  I just finished The Witchwood Crown, and I’m so ready for the next book.

The first and shorter of the two that are currently out is The Heart of What was Lost. It’s set right after the climax of To Green Angel Tower, and introduces some new characters that become relevant in The Witchwood Crown, while laying some more world-building groundwork. It delves much further into the Norn culture than before, which is really cool, and even gives us some POV Norn characters for the first time. (Norns are the eternally pissed-off northern cousins of the Sithi, a race of elf-like people that share Osten Ard with humans, trolls, giants, dragons, and the changeling creatures called Tinukeda’ya.)

The Witchwood Crown is set many years after all the previous events, when the main protagonists, Simon and Miriamele, are much older. It focuses on a mix of other familiar characters, and new ones, including their grandchildren and Binabik the troll’s daughter. Overall, it feels very much like the original books, although Simon has been replaced as resident mooncalf by his grandson, Morgan.

My one complaint would be that The Witchwood Crown has a pretty slow build, and that’s really less of a complaint and more of an observation. I really like how full Tad’s stories tend to feel, even if it does make the main plot move a little bit slowly. There are a lot of different characters and stories to follow, and I found it a really relaxing read, although there were some pretty tense bits, and I was surprised by how genuinely nervous I felt when my favorite characters were at risk. He really knows how to build up that tension and toy with the reader’s expectations, and I never feel quite certain that I know who’ll make it through to the end of his books.

Depending on your preference, of course, I’d highly recommend checking out the audiobook versions of these books. I quite enjoyed the voice acting, especially for the trolls. It gets a little silly, but it’s fun.

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(Writing days this past week: 2)

Entertaining Sea Lions

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Sea Lions suck. Or at least, it should be.

No, not the graceful marine mammals, but the guys (and some non-guys) who gleefully waste the time and energy of people who respond to their willful ignorance in good faith. The more a person honestly cares about educating and helping others, the more vulnerable they become to these unmitigated trashbags. That’s the worst part, to me, at least. They specifically prey on caring people in order to drive them to completely legitimate frustration and exhaustion, at which point they turn to gaslighting. They were just asking questions. They just want to understand. This kind of behavior is why activists never get anywhere.

Ironically, they’re sort of right about that last part. Working our asses off to educate these malicious garbage cans is not productive. It’s more like cooperating with emotional vampires while they suck our lives away, but we’re required to do it because people who lack privilege are always required to assume good faith on the part of privileged assholes long past the point where it becomes painfully obvious that they’re just dicking with us.

Their tone is always disgustingly condescending to start with, and it only gets more ridiculous as conversations go on. They love to incorrectly accuse others of logical fallacies, while actually using them freely themselves. Their questions are repetitive and can be easily Googled, their super clever arguments are all exactly the same offensive and illogical nonsense, and they blatantly refuse to learn, no matter how clearly anything is put to them. Their protestations of innocence when they’re called on this are similarly cookie-cutter and blatantly insincere.

It’s infuriating that even here, in my own space, I feel obligated to explain what they’re doing and to make my case as to why they don’t deserve our time, when all that should need to be said to this behavior is “No.”

“Intriguing post about your boss hitting on you in the workplace, could you please provide several scientific studies to back up your personal experience and also a psychic to prove that he meant to be sexist in the first place?”

“No.”

“Well then, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wasn’t asking in earnest.”

“No.”

They lose their shit, I gotta tell you. Sea-lioning jerks absolutely unravel at the seams when someone won’t play their rigged game. They melt down, and desperately try to force reengagement. Their supporters flock to wail about the unfairness of such a harsh response to an innocent question and to bemoan the future of the civilized world when a random person won’t accept their challenge to a word-duel literally anytime they demand one. Truly, human intellect is dead because a woman won’t drop everything to explain feminism 101 for a completely uncooperative and demanding audience. How can her personal experiences with sexism be legitimate if she doesn’t submit to random interrogations at the drop of a hat?

I still personally feel deeply insecure about just saying “no,” because that’s how I have been conditioned to feel. I want to explain what it feels like, as a woman, to have grown up absorbing the inescapable fact that my opinions and knowledge are all subject to challenge and judgment by men. Any man, no matter his qualifications on a topic or mine, can challenge me freely, and if I don’t play, he can declare me ignorant and hysterical and automatically wrong. He can do this, and he will receive support from pretty much any bystanders, because this is totally normalized.

The thing is, though, I shouldn’t have to defend my experience of this. Other women already know the helpless rage this induces, and men just need to stop perpetuating it. Y’all dudes can just take my word for it, that this experience is infuriating and invalidating, and you really should just take my damn word. This same principle also applies to racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and more.

What if that fine inquisitive fellow was actually in earnest, though, you ask? What if he didn’t deserve this cruel treatment? What if he wasn’t literally Hitler?

So what?

“No” is still a completely reasonable answer, and one that should be respected. So is “Look it up yourself, person who clearly has access to the internet and its vast stores of recorded knowledge.”

If I say something true, and won’t explain it to you, it’s still true. Mind-blowing, I know.

If you say something ridiculously wrong, and I point it out, I am not honored bound to become your indentured teacher until you admit your mistake or defeat me.

Refusal to argue has nothing to do with the correctness of a person’s beliefs.

This doesn’t mean that many beliefs are not inherently harmful. Many are. This doesn’t mean that many beliefs should not be challenged whenever they’re expressed. Many should be. Sometimes, this shit gets complicated, but I swear that nobody owes a damn sea lion the satisfaction of a fruitless argument.

You can just say “no.” You can say it at any point in the process, too. That’s kinda how consent works, and those principles extend far beyond just sexual interactions.

Just say “no” to sea lions.

Writing days this week: 1

Educational Stalling

So, I got totally distracted by Youtube when I sat down to write this post. I don’t even remember exactly how it happened, but I started to watch something vaguely writing related – which I should have recognized as a dangerous trap in the first place – and then a couple of hours later I was learning how mincemeat pies were made in the victorian era.

Apparently, chopped tongue was a classic ingredient in mince pies, although you could use any other leftover meat you happened to have on hand. It wasn’t specified, but I gather that it’s supposed to be made with red meat, not bird meat. Some of the little details about this sort of old-fashioned cooking are really interesting. She boiled the lemons before adding their juice to the pie filling, but I have no idea why. It just seems like an unnecessary extra step to me, but maybe boiling does something special and magical to lemons that I don’t know about.

I am pretty dang tempted right now to try my hand at making some traditional mincemeat pies, so it’s probably a good thing that it is currently 2am and I can’t easily get the necessary ingredients. I doubt I’d actually be happy with the results, I would never get to bed, and it would mean making a big mess in the kitchen that I’d have to clean up tomorrow. It’s bad enough when I get a random craving and have to make late-night rice pudding. (By bad, in that case, I actually mean delicious. Warm custardy goodness with raisins and cinnamon… Yum.) Making mincemeat pies right now would probably end more like that time I tried to make flan in the microwave. As it turns out, microwaving custard ingredients is a really good way to get several mugs full of heavily sweetened scrambled eggs, but not a good way to make anything edible.

Some other random stuff I’ve learned about this evening: How kimono cloth is dyed, the art of Japanese candy sculpting, and also an incredibly expensive iced coffee that is only served in one shop in Japan. It’s barrel aged for 22 years and is served in the owner’s one-of-a-kind porcelain cup.

Oh, I also watched a fun video about annual killifish. Many species of killifish only live for about one year, because they inhabit ponds and creeks that disappear completely in the dry season. The fish lay their eggs before the water goes away, then the adults die and the eggs have to survive for weeks or months in the dirt until it rains again. Because of this cool adaptation, their eggs are extremely easy to transport. People can pick the types they want and have fertilized eggs shipped right to them in little packets of soil. These are then dumped into water, where the fry hatch and begin growing rapidly into these gorgeous little fish that basically look like aquatic butterflies.

A fish-keeper I follow ordered a bunch of different annual killifish eggs off Ebay, but they ended up sitting in his mailbox in the freezing Canadian winter for several days because of a mix-up. Recently, he was doing some spring cleaning and realized that he hadn’t actually gotten rid of the packages, so he dumped them in some water, just to see what would happen. After just a few hours, there were a handful of healthy fry swimming around in that tub, because honey-badgers apparently have nothing on baby killifish.

I choose to believe that all these random interests and distractions are good for my creativity muscles, because they’re not gonna go away anytime soon, so I might as well embrace it.

Last weekend, I went to… Skagit? I wanna say. Not 100% sure where we were, honestly, but I bought a candle that smells like antique drawers and took pictures of a cool old ramshackle building. (Edit: I was in La Conner, in Skagit County, apparently.)

Writing days this past week: 2 (I’m being generous with myself and counting extensive mental planning as writing work done. If all goes to plan, it’ll be written down tomorrow.)

Reptile Zoo Pictures

I went to a reptile zoo on Sunday, and it was awesome. It was hailing outside, and warm and humid inside, and I got to see all sorts of cute beasts.

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This albino alligator is an excellent creature, and I wanted to boop his giant nose. My boyfriend managed to capture my look of wonder.
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Monkey-tailed skinks look like wise old Star Wars characters.
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A large monitor, possibly a water monitor, but I wouldn’t swear it.
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An amiable box turtle buddy.
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African bullfrog, also known as the pixie frog. It looks like this fella may have been a rescue or caught an infection of some sort in his eye, but he seemed extremely happy and healthy in his dirt.
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The black mamba was very active. I think he wanted to come out and cuddle.
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Ornate uromastyx are gorgeous lizards.
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Gaboon vipers are super cute.
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A great and toothy boy.
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Green basilisk and his bromeliad.
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Blood python. I hold a grudge against these guys, because we had a couple at the store I used to work at, and they were snappy little jerks. Hopefully this one is more even-tempered, because she is very large.
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A savu python, I’m pretty sure. Apparently, their babies are plain terra-cotta colored, and they grow into this lovely iridescent sheen as they mature.
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Gotta have a bird-eater in any good critter collection. I’m pretty sure this one only eats roaches, though.
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This sulcata tortoise was busy contemplating his hay.
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Soft-shelled turtles have a special spot in my heart. I caught a Chinese soft-shell in a creek in San Jose as a kid, and they are really fascinating. This one was a florida soft-shell, I think.