Book Promotion!


It’s Prime Week and I’ve got deals, so check out this link for My Books!

Ramshackle Houses & Southern Parables is an autobiography in poems. Starting tomorrow it is only 99 cents and No Voice of Her Own, a collection of centos is FREE! Download, enjoy, and please leave a review 🙂

This weekend I will be running a promotion on my short speculative fiction, Whiskey-Niner-Kilo, as well so stay tuned.

(Each title listed above is always free for Kindle Unlimited members.)

 

One Day At A Time, One Decision, One Step, No Room For Regret


Regret just wastes time and energy best spent on learning. I’ve made more than a few mistakes, but the best thing I’ve done so far is spend time seeking out information. That whole try try again thing in and of itself is a very rich learning experience. Most important lesson learned as of yet: I should have waited a full month before querying. I should have employed all that experience gained through years of writing poetry and fiction. Practice practice practice, edit, edit, edit.

My first six query letters were an ever-loving mess. And the synopsis … oy. I queried six agents within a week of finishing final edits on my novel. Four of those six agents have passed and every pass taught me something new. Patience may be a virtue but for me it’s a hot iron of hard learning. A long road full of pot holes and random obstacles that leave me limping and tired until finally the obvious conclusion lights up my brain. And other long-winded metaphors may apply.

Here’s the thing, though. I can’t regret any of it. Maybe apologize to those first six agents for wasting their time with messy emails, but that would take another email and who really wants that? The new query is better. The new synopsis still the bane of my existence. And I’m writing a new story in between the edits and the try try again. Lunch breaks are filled with searching MSWL, writing podcasts, Poets & Writers Magazine, and ten other websites I can’t name off hand …

I use these sources to make lists of agents seeking speculative, horror, sci-fi, thriller, strong narrative, and so on. Then I research the agent more closely, make sure I list their preferences for the querying process, and take notes on past books, editorial experience, and so on. I have filled a notebook. Yesterday I made out a list with fifteen more agents to research beyond the initial preferences listed on the MSWL page.

My preferences for this first round of queries (a total of sixteen) has been agents who are building their list. Did you catch that? I’ve only managed sixteen queries. Some prefer just a brief letter and 10 pages, some an electronic query form that asks for enough details to give me a sweaty headache, and a few request a query, synopsis, and the first three chapters. Some request a bio, some don’t care for it. Some want a mention of target audience, some don’t. I’ve decided to make a color-coordinated chart.

Through all this the naysayer in the back of my head wonders in an annoying voice if I’ll ever take on a task in the correct order and with a bit more style than dump truck with a leaky brake line. I told him to sit down and shut up.

You Could Just Tell Me, Really


Listening to so many podcasts featuring writers of every known genre that have traditionally published in the past fifty years, one would think it possible to encounter a writer willing to share the real horrors of querying agents. Oh sure, they all give some hint that it was time consuming or tough. Except for those who knew someone who knew someone and have some ridiculously giddy story of happenstance that led to a whirlwind publication. But I don’t want to hear from those people.

I want to hear genuine details. I want to hear how the people who didn’t know anyone at all managed to include a bio, a pitch, why they chose that particular agent, why they chose to write that particular story, the pertinent details of genre, word count, proof of a writer’s platform, comp titles, and don’t forget the target audience for the novel, all conveyed in less than 400 charming, attention-catching words. And I want to hear how those writers chose a significant list of agents who represent … say, 200-page, cross-genre novels, then how much time it took to send all those emails and the response time from email to offer of representation.

I also want to hear the the step-by-step process they followed to complete a 1-2 page synopsis of said 200-page novel and how in wide sky and bloody wonder they kept themselves sane and dry-eyed throughout. Is the process perhaps like childbirth? So truly shattering, terrifying, and painful, that the human mind simply can’t recall the details a year or so later? So now they just smile wanly and say in a thin, daft tone, oh, it was all perfectly natural. Because if that’s the case I’ll have a snog of rum, watch Lamaze videos or something and just get on with it.

What I have found during this process of searching podcasts, online interviews, and so on, is that so many agents confess to merely glancing at the query. Glancing. If it’s more than 500 words or so, there are a great percentage of agents that stop right there. No. If the introduction doesn’t read well, no. If in the first couple of paragraphs word count and genre aren’t mentioned, no. If the word count doesn’t seem to fit the genre, no. The entire query hasn’t been read yet, mind you. No. Therefore the synopsis and sample pages don’t even get a glance.

Now that sounds quite snide. Of course when you give it a bit of thought writers hoping to publish outnumber working agents by approximately a Gogillion to one. Very well. Huge work load recognized. But not even getting past the query? That’s stunning. Paralyzing, actually. Not one smidge confidence boosting to any writer ever. And yet, look how many people get published every year. Why are they not sharing the vital information? Tossers. What’s the possible harm?

Of course there are writing teachers who are willing to give advice on how a synopsis should look, how a query should look. But the information I’ve found isn’t a great deal different than what the agents say they’re looking for: Tell me everything quickly and beautifully or else.

Years from now I hope to look back on this rant and laugh and laugh. Silly old me, I’ll say. Freaking out about nothing. Lalalala.

First Week of July Writing, Reading, Joining, Quitting


While having a peek at Instagram today I spotted a meme shared by writer_tips. It’s an image of a guy with veins popping out on his forehead, captioned: When you’re a writer and haven’t told anyone for 5 minutes. I immediately wondered if that’s what I look like most days. Ha ha.

Since Monday last I’ve been very active in the writerly arena. I’ve joined The Author’s Guild as an emerging writer and have just barely scratched the surface of all the resources there.  It’s all very exciting! Then I linked my Goodreads site to my Amazon author page. I think. Anyway, that’s a cool feature that I had no idea existed when I first e-published my two poetry collections.

If I remember correctly, I set up a reader profile on Goodreads in 2016 then promptly forgot about it. And recently I learned that just glancing at ratings on the site is a very poor way to choose a book to read. (Ratings tell you nothing! Read the reviews at least. But most people probably already know that. Hi. My name is Kathy and I am a late bloomer.) I’ll give it a go, see how I like it. 

Next, I finally FINALLY, purchased my site domain. Making that purchase opened another basket of goodies—more resources I haven’t quite delved into. Meanwhile I am all .com and conflicted about not taking the time to make generationkathy look more profesh. Truth is though, I’ve learned the longer I spend planning something the worse it’ll turn out. Or more likely it won’t happen at all. I kept backing off making the actual purchase to make organizational changes and see how that turned out. Four years later …

Also as of Monday last a new project idea caught my attention. In fact, I am officially ankle deep in the new project as of today. I don’t know much about it yet except I like the protagonist, love her name, and I know she’s in quite a bit of trouble. 12k words in and I can only guess at this point her story will be novel length.

Jumping into a project in such a way would probably drive most people crazy but I get a glimpse of a character and start hacking away until the story reveals itself.  This is an exciting way to work. About as exciting as allowing someone to lead you blindfolded to a seat on the freakiest roller coaster in the freakiest fun park ever. Outline schmoutline. That’s for the middle of the project along with research and inventing a title.

In all this writerly wonderland of productivity that naysayer in the back of my head keeps shouting impossible questions at me. What if it takes as long to write this book as it did to write Only the Living? Why do you keep making all these writing goals when you have a day job? Are you certain you want to write a novel that contains erotica? Copy edits aren’t complete on your last project, remember copy edits? Synopsis! Where is the synopsis? Are you ever going to clean the guest room or dust anything ever again? DID YOU PAY THE DOCTOR BILLS YET?

My question to the naysayer: Is this why so many writers drink?

Meanwhile, I finished Shell Shaker, by Leanne Howe  and hope to write a review on it as well as a few (unrelated) podcasts and essays I’ve enjoyed in the past week. I’m still working on I Sing the Body Electric, by Ray Bradbury. Something about … maybe the compilation of the book … maybe. Anyway, I’m not head over heels with it as a collection. Which is inexplicable because it’s Bradbury for God’s sake. I should be having the time of my life.

This has been a week of chasing whims and making only a handful of real decisions. I’ve decided that I don’t want to do Twitter anymore. Thinking about all the social media obligations that writers are sucked into just makes me kind of tired and Twitter, while it does offer contact with writers and writerly-related folks, it’s more conducive to keeping up with who wants to share their version of political/public awareness than discovering whose book I might want to read next.

I’d rather be discovering whose book I might want to read next.

The Witch Elm by Tana French and Do You Really Know Yourself At All


Truth is there’s darkness lurking. The unmeasured capacity for pain and shame, selflessness,  self-preservation, and great voids of unanswerable questions. Or, answers that might be better left alone. People are mysteries, even unto themselves.

I’ve always marveled over that old phrase usually employed with a sheepish or dumbfounded tone: “I lost my temper”. Well, maybe the more truthful thing to say is you found it. Or, the way we tend to justify violent behavior from a person who’s been severely traumatized—cause and effect. Dire inevitable consequences. Or key meets lock? Maybe the violence or some other negative possibility was there all along just beneath the surface of a sunny disposition.

Within the plot and subplots of The Witch Elm Tana French explores this idea of self-knowledge crumbling to bits and the potentially devastating aftermath through Toby. Toby is an educated upper-middle class Caucasian hertero man living in contemporary Ireland who goes from adolescence thru his mid twenties blissfully unaware that being blissfully unaware can cause major damage to those he takes for granted are irrevocably close loved ones. Family matters, family never shakes.

Reviews of the novel in The Guardian and some other prominent magazines  (which I will link below) focus on that white male privilege, the gauzy comfy cocoon through which Toby views the world around him for most of his life. Likely the very thing that lends to the terrible sense of betrayal that Toby feels after being nearly beaten to death by burglars.

Yes, betrayal, because after waking in the hospital with major injuries, life-altering injuries, Toby feels betrayed. For the most part he’s always given even the biggest jerks the benefit of the doubt. Willing and able to withdraw from judgment when someone causes him no personal grief or offense is easy to do because no one has really made an effort to do such a thing. And then, for no reason at all, that changes. Complete strangers have attacked him, robbed him, possibly crippled him for life and the impotent rage tears at him. He wakes knowing that something fundamental, something rightfully his is gone now. Taken violently. And he can never get it back.

Struggling though physical pain, paralyzing fear, and terrifying loss of memory, loss of self-assurance … Toby wants to shake feeling like a victim but he can’t. He wants vengeance, retribution. He just wants to be himself. And regardless of the terrible fumbling doubt and gaps in memory, his inner dialogue gives details that pierce, that are  plausible, revelatory insight to what horror he’s living.

The narration of this story is an injured stream of consciousness to which the author lends her own distinctly lyrical genius of a voice. And trust me when I say it is precisely that breathtaking lovely lyricism that intensifies the eeriness of Toby’s thoughts, his questions, and insights of his mates and relations that eventually help him understand that he never understood himself at all, much less anyone else.

Despite the gorgeous, gorgeous, language Tana French employs throughout The Witch Elm, the last three chapters get a bit windy. I would have liked to see those three condensed into one so that the ending could’ve packed a bigger punch—in that last page, Toby ties in his opening comments to the story’s inescapable conclusion. It’s that question we all have to ask in the aftermath of frightening self-discovery.  The ugly kind, once we’ve bowed down to doubt and anger and loss—without that thing you always believed made you yourself … what are you? Who are you?

Whether the thing was luck or cleverness, optimism, or a flair for the romantic, that one trusted person who brought out your best, inspiration, imagination, athleticism … what if you woke up tomorrow and that thing is gone?  Would you still be you?

 

The Guardian: Review, The Witch Elm

The Guardian: Book Review, The Witch Elm 

Stephen King Reviews The Witch Elm

Los Angeles Review of Books: The Witch Elm

Good Cardio and Intuition


Yesterday as I went out to my car thunder rumbled in the distance. Just after steering onto the main road, about fifty yards or so away, what I saw coming toward me didn’t look like a wall of rain but a shiny curtain of silver pebbles falling from an almost sunny sky. Falling in such a number with such force that they bounced and scattered. In that moment between dry road and a flash flood the sky went from almost sunny to navy blue. In that moment, I wanted a good camera in my hand, to keep the inch or two of space separate for just another moment. A clean dry line of just before …

The space closed quick, the sky went black then solid white foam. Within a mile I was no longer a perfectly capable driver in a perfectly safe car, but a first time kayaker on wild white water rapids with great waves splashing and pushing and trying to pull me under. The easy going twenty minute commute became thirty-two minutes of heart-hammering guess work, too blinded by white foam to pull over to the side of the road—was the side of the road still there? Flashers on, I made it to the day job as rumbling thunder closed in all around and a parking lot tidal wave soaked me from the knees down.

Was this in the weather forecast? Of course not. But the worst that happened from all of it was soaked jeans and sandals and a few minutes docked on the time clock. I’ll count the heart-hammering as a day’s worth of cardio.

Yesterday I also started The Witch Elm, by Tana French , and found the DIY MFA podcast , featuring Gabriela Pereira and some good interviews with published writers. I haven’t yet purchased any of the offered goodies, but I have enjoyed insights from some of the visiting authors. Good advice always inspires me to take notes and get started with new vigor on a project. Yesterday’s listen, along with comments from a current reader of my recently completed novel, gave me much needed confirmation that I made good choices.

Those choices were intuitive. The intuition was borne of years of reading, of writing practice, of listening to the characters that live in my feverish writer brain. I really love being a writer, loved it before I realized the thing had indeed happened—it all came together by hard work and tenacity and by some gorgeous magic that I reached out for without knowing what exactly it was. Still don’t know what it is, but I’m comfortable with the mystery.

Now if only that intuitive magic could kick in as I continue to ride the rough waters of querying and writing a decent synopsis. If only. Four of six agents have passed. I hope the other two are reading, getting to know Holly, right now.

Reading In My Future Haven


Imagine a room with pine plank floors and inset shelves painted a lush white, nine feet tall, three feet wide, six inches apart, running the length of a room on either side of a broad picture window. On each shelf there are of course well used books from every era of modern literature, spines of faded greens and blues, golds, reds, black, and brown. Each shelf is discreetly lighted from above, and center of the ceiling is a tarnished brass chandelier salvaged from an antebellum house before it was razed to the ground.

Cozied up between some of the books are other treasures. A vintage typewriter, cameras and clocks that lost their innards before being sold at an estate sale or flea market. Carefully framed black and white portraits, dreamy landscapes, doodles that from a distance look like a study of sea life or forgotten birds. Homemade candles, jars of herbs, feathered quills next to an ink pot—not a real antique, but a nice reproduction.

This room carries the scents of yellowed pages and waning herbs, the faintest hint of tobacco and the laundry soap used on the pale yellow curtains flanking that broad picture window, the natural ingredients that give those pine planks a nice healthy sheen. In front of the window is a comfy chair, a free-standing lamp—nothing too frilly—and a round table maybe cut from the same wood as the floors. One chair for one person. One lamp. One table. This room  is mine. It can be admired from the doorway by others, but they don’t have permission to linger, to pick up a book or inspect the treasures, or sit in that comfortable chair.

This is the haven I will build sometime in the future. Decades ago the picture of it was hazy, but it gets clearer every year. The chair will be turquoise, the lamp shade a sleek pale gold drum, and there will be a rug center of the floor. Something hand woven and older than me, something woven with all the colors of all the books. When the morning light slants through my picture window and a mug of coffee sits beneath swirls of aromatic steam and there is a book in my hand, I might look down at that rug and decide to stretch out as the text inside the book of that day becomes a staircase that walks me into a new world, a new home, a new set of friends.

This week I’ve read with that picture growing ever more dimensional and richly painted in my mind’s eye. There will undoubtedly be copies of my latest reads there, someday. My compliments to Celeste Ng for Little Fires Everywhere. The transition from character to character facilitated by her third person omniscient narrator was often seamless and always lovely. The rich tone of the book, the insightful narration, the development of characters … a pleasure. The reference to This Be the Verse , relevant.

In between enjoying that read and almost finishing another, the local library took three days to notify me of a book on hold then removed the hold before I could get there to pick up the books. That was disappointing. Meanwhile I’ve downloaded a copy of Tana French’s The Witch Elm and I’m looking forward to reading this author again. Her style of writing, of piecing together a mystery is fascinating. Last year I read In the Woods , and though I was frustrated that the hints of paranormal activity never proved to solidify beyond the narrator’s imagination, I have to admit true enjoyment overall of a mystery not totally resolved. Oh, her pretty pretty turns of phrase.

For now I carry a journal full of bad penmanship plotting out my next writing project or seven. And a shaft of early morning light pooling on the plank floor of my future home library. For now I’m off to the day job.

 

 

A Week of Reading Binges & Good Customer Service


Yesterday I met a man who by way of introduction told me he was born in 1938 and his first job paid fifty cents per day. In customer service this sort of thing happens frequently. Some folks just want to stir up conversation, state their opinion or ask someone else’s to measure the contrast. Sometimes words just fall out that take them by surprise.  It’s not uncommon to pick up a few confessions, learn a new and nifty snide remark, maybe get inspiration for what not to do the next time I’m on the other side of the desk so to speak. Maybe get inspiration for what to do every day to make life better.

On my birthday two years ago I dutifully wore the birthday tiara that is passed around the office for such celebratory occasions and upon noticing the ridiculous plastic rhinestones and my goofy smile a customer says, oh, it’s your birthday! So, what’s the number? The number was 48 and with that information a cobwebby expression of nostalgia took over his face as he sighed and said he remembered his 48th all too well. That’s the year he started drinking tequila. That’s the year he lost the love of his life because she caught him cheating on her. Blew the whole damn thing up, he said, and still don’t have a clue why. In response I looked down at his invoice and muttered that’ll be $39.18 please.

Still wearing that nostalgia and with one last aggrieved sigh he paid the money and told me to behave myself, not to party too hard. Just in case. I promised him tequila had already proven itself as a friend. I’ll be fine, I assured him.  I went home that night and drank bourbon. Just in case. Since then I’ve listened to sibling arguments, marital arguments, been asked advice on everything from car service warranties to what jewelry to wear to a rehearsal dinner of a cousin’s, and how to make a good potato salad. The conversations that get stirred in an instant of customer anxiety or euphoria or rage can be interesting to say the least.

This spry fellow who brought up being born in 1938 did so after my polite instructions on how to navigate the credit card reader while submitting his payment. With the exception of some time in Vietnam he’d farmed most of his life and didn’t have to look very far over his shoulder to relatives who knew what it was like to be pieces of property rather than citizens, but his primary interest in that moment was how much change he’d seen in technology over the years. He was there when TV became a thing, when automatic transmissions and air conditioning became common place. When people out in the rural outskirts were told it was mandatory to have their houses outfitted with electricity because that’s what the county required. Progress.

From a young adulthood of coal oil lamps and milking cows every day to eighty-one years old and carrying a smart phone—a helluva span. He was offended when he was told a few years ago that his social security check wouldn’t be mailed anymore, but soon enjoyed the convenience of direct deposit and online banking. He tried to explain to me that back in the day if something broke on the farm you just figured out how to fix it and that was that. Common sense made a whole lot more sense back then he said, and by the way, the land this building is on used to be a tomato field for as far as the eye could see. My eyes are getting bad these days, he mumbled. I told him that he could download the YouTube app and watch videos on how to fix just about anything if he didn’t want the bother of squinting at instructions.

He said he’d get his grandson to show him how to do that, but he’d have to work up to it because the kids tend to complain when he asks for that kind of tutoring. He appreciated my politeness in navigating the credit card reader because every store seemed to have a different gadget that required different buttons to be pushed. I left work wanting to smell garden soil and craving fresh tomatoes, hoping that when I reach my 81st birthday I’m spry and appreciative, still willing to learn new things, and  still in possession of full-color memories.

Every now and then I meet a talker on the other side of the desk who’s voice can help me see the gloomy night his wife figured out he was a worthless shit of a husband, or, a little kid walking to school past miles of tomato plants after milking the landlord’s cows. Every now and then I get a good look at people around me … and that’s really what I enjoy about life when I take a minute from making magic tricks with the paycheck or worrying over how to make a story from a fragment of a sliver of an idea. People sometimes want to talk out loud right smack in the middle of my day. And it’s always good to listen.

You’d think such an understanding would be well grounded by now. It’s obviously why I like reading, because reading a good story is just like listening to someone bare their soul, speak about a topic no one in their immediate circle ever asked them to explain or explore. A perfect stranger can make the perfect audience. Amen.

This week I’ve read three short pieces: Superman and Me, by Sherman Alexie, Daughter of Invention, by Julia Alvarez, and The Flowers, by Alice Walker. Essays, short stories? Both? Gorgeous in their own right, every one. Quite by accident I followed the advice given by S. Jae Jones and Kelly Van Sant during one of their Publishing Crawl podcasts and read a really bad book while not writing. Apparently this is a good exercise. But I don’t want to do it again, seriously. Shadow Rider by Christine Feehan was painfully bad. I shun the Goodreads rankings from now on. Shun! But I’ll keep listening to the podcast. The hosts are otherwise very informative and generous with their expertise.

Meanwhile I’m finishing up two more novels: Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng, and Shell Shaker, by LeAnne Howe. Little Fires is chock full of some excellent storytelling, well-rounded characters, and a structure that just flows. I found Shell Shaker after my single attempt to follow some other advice given on writer podcasts including the aforementioned Publishing Crawl: if you’re having trouble finding comp titles for your novel, ask a librarian. I did just that. The first librarian didn’t understand at all what I wanted. The librarian in the next desk overheard my request, got very excited about helping out, and suggested Shell Shaker. She definitely pegged a few of the elements of my book, but unfortunately it won’t work as a comp title. The only real comparison that can be made is that my novel features a Native American grandmother. The end. I’m not giving up though. There’s a trip to the library planned for tomorrow.

Howe’s book is essentially a gorgeous history lesson in the strong, fierce magic of Choctaw women and the Choctaw culture. In between the intense shamanic lovely language used by historical figures in this one fictional branch of a Choctaw family, a contemporary murder mystery unfolds that lacks the intensity and loveliness. The effect is like reading two different books and of the two the contemporary parts just don’t jive. The dialogue is choppy and some of the characters seem to be borrowed from one-dimensional Harlequin Romance sidekicks. That’s a shame, because otherwise it’s a great concept and oh my goodness those flashback segments are breathtaking.

Two more books wait to be picked up at the library tomorrow, and after finishing Little Fires Everywhere I’ll check out another that’s only available digitally. Now that’s a fantastic invention I forgot to bring up in the conversation with my new favorite customer yesterday. Whoever came up with the idea to merge Kindle ebooks with local library checkouts … you’re a genius. Salute.

 

 

 

 

 

Reading Everything: Butler, Bradbury, Didion


The air has been sweet, breezy, and clear, the mornings cool and the afternoons bright but not the hot wet blanket that can happen this time of year in this part of the country. We’re in June’s sweet spot right now, a pleasurable time that can’t really be predicted from year to year but it is to be savored while it lasts. Even so, I haven’t taken the opportunity to sit on the porch in the evening and read at length. Last time I tried it was too easy to get distracted by the big puppy tasting the clover blossoms.

Those are for the bees, I told her in a scolding tone. She just looked up at me with a blank expression and spat out a little flower then went right on to the next. She clips the little white cap off with her teeth, rolls it around in her mouth for a minute then makes an audible paah as she spits it back to the ground.  I get the impression she’s annoyed that the little white caps keep coming back, the way she pounces in the center of one of the patches of clover each trip outside. Clip, roll, paah.

Oh well, the bees, what few I’ve seen, seem to prefer the wild strawberries this year anyway. Most of the neighbors would be appalled by so much clover on their lawn. I like the cheerfulness of the blossoms. Wishful thinking or not, I take those cheerful blossoms as a sign of a gentle summer. The sweet spot of June may just be ending today and I never got to read outside. But I did read. In the car at lunch time under a shade tree, in my favorite chair at home. The chair that I sometimes wake in after midnight with the last words of a story still playing through my head. Sometimes I read standing at the kitchen counter when I should be doing dishes. 

This week I finished Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler, three short stories in Ray Bradbury’s I Sing The Body Electric, and several pieces in We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live, by Joan Didion. All of these are physical books, two of which were borrowed from the library. The Didion collection is a book I’ve lugged from house to house for a number of years and only recently opened. God Almighty that woman can write her ass off. The landscapes she paints all around the varied pieces in this collection are breathtaking and wondrous.

Bradbury successfully mimics such an array of voices in his short story collection that I couldn’t really decipher what his intentions were. The first is so Hemingway it can only be about Hemingway, the second—if it came along a few years later—would have been thought a direct rip off of Monty Python’s style of satire. But it predates the heck out of MP.  Brilliant mimics those first two stories. The third is that voice of his alone that I went head over heels about several years ago—that matter-of-factly presented but still chilling warning against technological progress and the reliance upon it. Hubris and the future won’t mix well, he says in The Veldt, in Fahrenheit 451, and in Tomorrow’s Child.

Clay’s Ark was a great deal more brutal that my first two reads from Butler’s body of work. A different kind of brutal than Kindred. It’s violent, horrifying, and of course, Butler made it delicious. Much as I love Bradbury some of his stories make me squint and catch myself saying eh … come on Ray. Butler’s never do that. I just accept every word as truth.

Last night we sat beneath one of those skies that’s often featured in werewolf movies, eerily wispy white clouds, black sky, and big moon. Today the air is murky and promising storms. The clover has stopped spreading and doesn’t look so cheerful anymore but gardenias are blooming by the front entry. They smell dreamy.

 

Reading Octavia Butler


Like many good things, I came to Octavia Butler’s writing late in life. Two weeks ago as a matter of fact. Two glorious weeks ago. Of course, I had heard about her work, heard her mentioned by feminist writers and scifi aficionados. Taking so long to seek out her books can only be attributed to my shocking talent for making lists then losing them for months or years. Thank goodness I finally rediscovered the list that included her name among must reads!

I chose to begin with Mind of My Mind because the premise is so much like (on the surface) a story I’ve had on the back burner since 2009. In this unassuming little novella lives the tale of an immortal who’s spent centuries developing a “breeding program” from which he hopes to gain a powerful telepathic descendant. I read the book jacket and thought, okay, okay. Let’s see how she did this.

What she did left me speechless for days. I read it cover to cover in 2 1/2 days—finishing only took me that long because the pages were yellowed and the font tended to get tinier and blurrier the longer I read. I will be requesting that the library get a newer copy for the sake of their readers’ eyes. Poor original print choices aside, wow. Wow.

Most admirably, the ins and outs of Butler’s premise doesn’t need a definitive explanation. Her presentation of character, of spoken and internal dialogue is so effortless that no question of plausibility can arise. I didn’t crave a detailed origin story for Doro, in fact, giving the whys and wherefores of his abilities would have ruined the story. What the author did was create a situation, a group of characters that made me want to know what was going to happen next. Even that question of what could possibly happen next was subtle but still powerful enough to drive me on. 

Just today I learned that Mind of My Mind is a sequel. I did not need the prequel in order to understand this story. Isn’t that beautiful?

Her language is so straight forward that blurbs and reviews go on and on about simplicity. We’re so accustomed to scifi being packed with technological, ideological, sciencing science that straight forward readable language has been deemed simple. Scifi expectations aside, I’ve read enough of everything and written enough of my own stuff to know that this kind of effortlessness on the page is rare because it’s just damn near impossible to produce. The work she must have put into developing her style!

It’s easy to forget, or to not even think about, the effort an author puts into bringing their work to the world. Years of it. Practice and frustration and self-tutoring and try try again. Octavia Butler worked. And oh my giddy aunt did it pay off!

Book two for me was Kindred. (Finished in four hours.)  And again, wow. Besides the straight forwardness of language and effortless style of writing that leaves no need for questions of how or why any of this could possibly happen, the author manages to give insight into one of humankind’s own monsters.

In this story Butler depicts perfectly the mysterious dichotomies of love and hate, crippling fear and assumed power, cunning and obvious insanity that allows one group of humans to hold another captive. The slave owning, killing, torturing, loving ancestor of Kindred’s protagonist epitomizes the men who took for the sake of taking and made up all sorts of self-righteous bullshit reasons to keep on doing it.

Notice I use the word allows above. I choose that because it still happens. Men like Rufus existed long before the slave trade came to America and they exist today. The crimes they commit just change window dressings from time to time. This story is powerful on so many levels it may take me years to pinpoint each. It may take me that long just to be able to adequately describe the fierceness of the protagonist, Dana.

Besides that gorgeous straight forward language that manages to build perfectly formed, utterly plausible characters and unquestionable situations, Butler brings us fierce women capable of dealing with shit the world throws at them. In an interview back in 2000, Butler said the black feminist characters in her stories “behave as if they have no limitations”. I love that. I love that she puts together fictional situations where the real dangers of our world exist but the women in the stories react as they should, not as they could.

Fast Forward: Octavia Butler Interview, 2000