I like to make things when I am not writing. Things like this guy:
And this model I built with the husband:
I like to make things when I am not writing. Things like this guy:
And this model I built with the husband:
Hello! I’ve been working on a novel. And I’ve finished! Drafts are endless, but I’ve polished it enough that I’d like to share. Rules for sharing novels tend to argue toward an excerpt near the very beginning of the story, but this is my blog and I make the rules, so this is a passage from very near the climax.
Some background: Esther is blind, and sees through a magical connection to two spiders she calls left eye and right eye. Zinnia is her pirate obsessed girlfriend. They live in a socialist utopia that is slowly collapsing around them, because the spells that keep their empire safe are falling apart. Here’s this bit about a bicycle ride!
She ran down into the pitch black basement, rummaged for a moment, then came back up hefting a contraption of polished metal pipes and gears. I knew the idea of a bicycle, like Farmland people know that glass needs heat, but I’d never seen one up close. Hawkline Island was too small and rocky to make use of the thing and the ones I’d seen zipping up the hills on South Ballast were too fast for me to fully comprehend.
“You know how to ride, right?”
“Absolutely not.” But I was itching to play with the chain and gears. I might not know it in practice, but the bicycle’s function was palpable.
Zinnia’s teeth flashed in the low light as she patted the long flat cargo carrier bolted over its back tire. “Good thing it’s a courier bike.”
How fast are courier bicycles ridden by two people down a long narrow road to the wall that keeps our city safe from lace? I think, if I were to make a casual guess, I’d say fairly close to the speed of sound. My eyes were inside my sweater, clinging to the knit over my heart. My body was curled against Zinnia’s back, fingers laced around her belly, head buried in her shoulder blades and she was yelling something, “hole ahead!” but I didn’t catch the meaning until the wheels jarred underneath us and she nearly lost the bike.
“You gotta be loose, Esther!” The bike wobbled under us and she wriggled away from my fingers.
“Icantbeloose I’llfall” I shouted into her spine.
“The harder you fight physics the more likely we are to crash!” Her hand found mine at her stomach and she forced her fingers underneath to pry up my hands from where I was crushing her. “Keep them here. Can you feel the muscles keeping us balanced?” I shook my head, but I could feel her solid on the bike even as the wind whipped past us. “I need you to match me.”
The bike hiccupped underneath us and I cinched my fingers tight. She yelped, I had hurt her, and I drew my hands away. But I didn’t fall. I was still steady behind her, and my hands settled back in place.
“Better?” she asked. I could feel her shift under my fingers, the balance of the bike shifted and I flowed into it with her.
“This is really scary!” I shouted over the wind, ready to acknowledge my fear now that it wasn’t about to kill me.
“Scarier than discovering your whole life has been a lie?” she shouted back.
I tried to laugh at that, but the bike was slowing, and my eyes were finally ready to peek outside of my collar. We were at the foot of the wall. Fifty feet high, sheer glass, buttressed with pillars thick as houses. Deep inside the glass was a putrid ocean, a green black swirl of long dead sludge. I stepped unsteadily down from the wooden courier box and Zinnia held my hand to keep me upright. It was worse than I had expected; dead for all my lifetime but kept bright through mass hallucination. I couldn’t decide if I was queasier from the wall or from our bike ride.
Left eye stood up on my brow and I gave Zinnia a rakish grin to cover up my shaky confidence. “This isn’t scary. This is just one more thing to fix.”
I love the foody bits in stories, when characters take a breather from the crisis building and remember to keep their blood sugar up. While some might poke fun at three pages devoted to a feast, I always loved the descriptions Brian Jacques gave to all his mouse-sized recipes. And if you can track down a copy of the Redwall cookbook, do.
Cooking can also open a window into the world of your story, but I didn’t realize it’s full importance until I started thinking about what my characters might eat after an apocalypse limited them to the Kitsap Peninsula, and the islands contained within the Puget Sound.
What kind of jam will end up on Esther’s toast, and how likely is it that she’ll have flour? Could her pirate girlfriend smuggle gin, or will some other alcohol have to be stowed away in her skiff? These questions expanded further to the clothes they wore, the colors used, and the distribution of rare good among the islands. And because all of this minutia is background to the story, its importance is only seen in the absence of foods that did not survive the end of this particular world. So, rather than shove in a block of needless text about fish migration into a fairy tale, I’m going to post some of my favorite bits of food research here.
Kippered herring is split up the spine, then gutted, salted, and smoked, and they are common to the area, which makes it a pretty decent choice for a winter breakfast. So long as you aren’t like my husband, who finds the smell of herring completely abhorrent.
Gin can be made with most anything, so long as you’ve also got juniper berries to flavor the drink upon its second distillation. The strain of juniper that grows native is still about 80 miles from the Puget Sound. An insurmountable distance for the people in my story, but as luck would have it, juniper is also a common landscaping plant, and it is not impossible that some enterprising distillers might start gathering juniper berries from the well landscaped plots that overlook the sound. It would taste a little different, but it’d definitely be gin.
Some teas can be grown as far north as latitude 50, which makes my home at latitude 47 capable of hosting home grown tea parties! Coffee was an unavailable source for caffeine. 😦
Dogfish can be flavored with chives, thanks to the unkillable chive plant that lives in my driveway. While all other plants have died through negligence, flash freezing, and the occasional misplaced wrench, the chives have survived, and I trust them to live at the foot of Esther’s cabin. The for-mentioned pirate girlfriend is the one who harvests them for the fish, because Esther considers cooking to be a strange science far more complicated than engineering a bottle to hold twice the volume of its outside dimensions. Magic is easy, cooking is weird.
Another fun fact, not having to do with food: Indigo dye can be produced from the woad plant, which is currently a noxious weed in Washington. I needed to put one character in a blue linen skirt (his uniform in an ongoing battle against mermaids), and I was very happy that a natural blue dye would not be difficult to produce after the end of the world as we know it.
I used to avoid trilogies. I was an arrogant reader, convinced if it couldn’t be said in one book, why bother with three? But that was all puff and nonsense. Great story can happen in two pages or two thousand. (But not in six words, Hemingway. I can’t care in six words.)
I think my initial avoidance was out of worry that the second and third books would not elaborate the story in any meaningful way. And I’m not sorry about that worry. I’ve read a few sequels that spun their wheels in a fun way but nothing moved forward. Worse, I didn’t see anything more in the world that I hadn’t already seen in the first book. It was like taking a train ride and forty miles down the coast from Tacoma, I’m still seeing the same old view.
But it turns out trilogies, like classic car remodels, fair isle sweater patterns, and LITERALLY ANY OTHER THIRD THING, are brilliant when they’re good and boring when they’re bad. And I’ve read some very good ones recently. Now I’m going to write about them!
The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Starts out with a description of an impossible rose and relates it to the impossible fantasy city that Yeine must navigate if she’s to survive the relatives who want to kill her and the gods that want to kill Everybody. Yeine’s political outsider status is especially interesting as a world building tool, and the differences between her home country of Darr and the city of Sky make it easy to fall into the all new, all different world of this trilogy.
Picks up shortly after Yeine’s story with a new protagonist; Oree Shoth. The biggishness of the first book might make a blind main character seem like an odd choice to expand on this world, but not here. Oree’s people were almost eradicated by the god Yeine came to love and Oree’s relationships with the gods are on a level of equality rather than reverence. That perspective makes Broken Kingdoms a very different book, and Oree’s blindness forces her to navigate this world more cautiously than Yeina. (side note, I loved that Oree was realistic about her limitations, but never once did she lack agency in this story.)
Kingdom of Gods
The only way out is through. Your favorite god from books one and two heads the third. He becomes mortal, learns to deal, and discovers what godhood is missing. Also the apocalypse happens. (And Oree came back for a bit and maybe I’m in love with Oree, okay?)
the Ancillary Justice series by Ann Leckie
An AI for a ship is confined to a single body called Breq after the rest of her is destroyed. The story toggles between present Breq’s predicament, and past AI’s experience as a tool of war. And she collects music. And (in flashbacks) can sing twenty part harmony with herself spread across an entire city and I am in love with that idea so much.
Has Breq in a position of limited power, which she uses masterfully to ensure the rights of all people (not just the socially attractive ones) under her care. I like that Breq does not change very much as a character, so we can see how unerringly moral she is even when given a zero sum game. She also is excellent in stark contrast with the political games that play out around her.
While the trilogy is set inside a vast star systems reaching empire, the true momentum of the story comes to a head between a small number of very important people. And they drink tea, and Breq sings while everything fails around her, and suddenly you realize you’ve fallen in love with Skynet.
and my most recent love,
the Ironskin series by Tina Connolly
It begins looking like a fantasy version of Jane Eyre (already sold, right? hold on,) and quickly becomes a story of women’s liberation in the aftermath of a war against the fey. The protagonist Jane is cursed by the fey with anger, which she spreads to anyone around her unless she wears an iron mask to cover her scars. She starts out using that anger to govern a fey-cursed little girl, and learns to master it just as the war breaks out again. (Although, as a former baby sitter with my own serious anger problems, I might have chosen war…)
Follows Jane’s fashionable sister Helen shortly after the story in Ironskin. I thought for a half a moment that this book would lack for Jane’s little bundle of rage, but Helen’s story is so different from Jane’s that I found I wasn’t missing it. This series is like watching different feminist movements that we have lived through find themselves inside a fantasy setting. Helen comes from within society rather than apart from it, and she uses her position (and her own, self inflicted, fey curse) to fight against this world’s equivalent of MRA’s. (This is the city book to Jane’s country book, and like the sisters they feel like two sides of the same coin.)
This is a greater departure from the first two books, jumping ahead of Ironskin by about twenty years to follow the little girl Jane was first hired to govern. Dorie is a scientist, half fey, and uninterested in the traditional trappings of femininity, but the world she lives in is still Very Interested In Those Things. It’s awesome to see the seeds of those first two books sprout in Silverblind; feminism is learning interseciontality, magic is better understood but used to further the people who are already in power- all those real world ties that make fiction true. And Dorie decides for herself at the end what it means to be a woman (after hunting some wyverns, presenting as male to further her career, and attending a friend’s art show.)
And there you have it! Three trilogies that really work the advantages of three books! Omg, that’s nine reviews. I’m going to take nine naps now.
Once upon a 1909, Dr. Charles Eliot put together a compilation of literature in trustworthy forest green boards with serious gold type and called them The Harvard Classics. These were meant to provide any person who read them with the elements of a liberal education, but reading them still won’t qualify you for a supervising position at Target.
Of course, now it’s 2016 and the very idea of cannonical literature holds as much water as a sieve: Whose cannon? Why is this book important? What do you mean English 101 kids are reading Gardner’s The Art of Fiction but not Barry’s What It Is? (Both are brilliant books on writing, but I prefer Lynda Barry’s because it’s got all sorts of pictures and is less interested in academia than the occasionally heavy handed Gardner.) There are so many ways of learning, so many important books, that it is impossible to read them all. But I do like the idea that a set group of books can provide a single person with the elements of an education for… whatever, so I’ve drummed up a personal cannon that when read will give you the elements of a Megan education.
Rather than the 51 classic books provided by Dr. Eliot, I have limited this list to a ten book summer course. If undertaken, these ten books will provide you with an introduction to Megan, and you will be well on your way to all of the neurosis, excess coffee, and indecipherable reminders written at 3am that she enjoys on a daily basis. Alas, you will still be unqualified for a supervising position at Target.
Half Magic by Edward Eager: Thinking deeply about the proper way to word a wish will extrapolate itself to thinking deeply about every word said, until you’re not sure you should ever say anything! And Katherine fights Sir Lancelot, that’s fun.
Matilda by Roald Dahl: This will provide a counterpoint to Eager, when the Trunchbull gets away with her atrocities by never committing any act by half. All in, until no one will believe you, Miss Honey.
Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress: My first introduction to Hugo winning SciFi by a lady type. The sheer idea that it could be done was well formative. Likely, you will bond with your future husband over all the hobbies you’d both aquire if you never had to sleep.
Making Comics by Scott McCloud: you have already read a few comics as a prerequisite for this course, and now you will understand their language.
The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera: Story as music, explained by the son of a student of Antonin Dvorak. (Not that Kundera’s life as an expat Bohemian living in France is any less interesting than his connection to Dvorak.) All art is intersectional, all story has the capacity to be Art. Which is the excuse you’ll give when caught humming O Mangum Mysterium while you read.
The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (translated by Thomas Teal): Art as a novel.
Cruddy by Lynda Barry: Visceral and ugly, looked at so hard that it becomes beautiful. You’ll still need to take a shower after this. You’ve been warned.
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin: I loved this book so much that I made a shirt with her map of Annares on it. I. Made. A. Shirt. I expect you to make a shirt after reading this.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor: Science fiction is fantasy, fantasy is real, genre is whatever you want to make it. This book is scary and amazing, and Onyesonwu is going to rewrite your world. Extra credit: follow Okorafor on Twitter for delightful animal pictures!
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett: Read this at any age, the wee men talk funny but it’s Tiffany and her grandmother’s understanding of the world that is Real. If you want to be a witch, read the Tiffany Aching books. (Obvs you want to be a witch. Who doesn’t?)
List is reflective of the order in which these books were read. Extra credit: read Half Magic out loud while following your dad through the garage, and then read the chapter What Happened to Katherine another twelve times.
So what is your cannon? What ten books would make a you?