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Thursday, July 2, 2015 - 17:45

Some day I'll figure out how to predict how much programming any given con is likely to allot. I guess Westercon balances out the one lone panel I've been assigned for Worldcon. Here's what I'll be doing on the official schedule. Beyond that, I'll be wandering around trying to balance out introvert-overload and the desire to make connections with people.


Friday, Jul 3, 2015 12:00PM - How Does YOUR Writing Vary in Different Lengths? (Pacific Salon Three)
How does your writing change between, i.e., short story v. novel length? John DeChancie, Buzz Dixon, Heather Rose Jones, Lisa Kessler, David D. Levine, Fred Wiehe

Friday, Jul 3, 2015 4:00PM - Endangered Languages (Sunset in Meeting House)
We worry about endangered species—but 80% of the world's languages will be dead by the century’s end, often with no fossil remains. Should we be concerned? What can be done? H. Paul Honsinger, Heather Rose Jones, Katharine B. Kerr, Will Morton, Jason Vanhee

Saturday, Jul 4, 2015 4:30PM - Heroines as Catalysts (Pacific Salon Seven)
Most genre fiction features male heroes leading doughty groups against the Big Bad, whether it's a futuristic amoral megacorporation or an evil wizard-king. There are a few two-fisted female gun-toters leading the action, but there are far more heroines who act as catalysts for change. Why is that, and how do they do it? Compare catalyst heroines in all genres. Tera Lynn Childs, Dana Fredsti, Jude-Marie Green, Heather Rose Jones, Jenna M. Pitman

Sunday, Jul 5, 2015 1:00PM - Autograph Session: T. Childs, H. Jones, T. McCaffrey (Autographing in the Dealers' Room)
Meet and ask for autographs from Tera Lynn Childs, Heather Rose Jones, and Todd McCaffrey. Tera Lynn Childs, Heather Rose Jones, Todd McCaffrey [Note: well, at least I won't be contributing to any traffic jams. Shall I start a betting pool for whether anyone shows up for me?]

Sunday, Jul 5, 2015 2:00PM - No Time to create? (Sunrise in Meeting House)
You really, really want to write or film or build, but how do you find the time? Heather Rose Jones, Kirsten Imani Kasai, Deirdre Saoirse Moen, Eric Shanower

Friday, June 19, 2015 - 08:00

As part of my new blogging schedule, I've designated Friday as "review day". I don't necessarily have enough new material (books, movies, etc.) to post something new every week, but I thought I'd reprise and continue a series I started quite some time ago on lesbian-themed movies (and mini-series). I've collected enough of these in video format that if I were a more socially ept person it would be fun to hold regular movie nights, supplemented by popcorn and thematic analysis. It's definitely interesting to examine the stories through the lesbian motifs discussed in Emma Donoghue's Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature.

Back when I first posted these reviews, it was inspired by a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." As I noted in the first go-round, the standard lesbian pulp fiction plot contractually required either death, unhappiness, or "redemption" of at least one of the characters. And when Hollywood first began moving out of that slough of despond, it was primarily in the form of Standard Coming-Out Plot A.

So the tl;dr version of each review will be the answers to: "Died? Recanted? Unhappy? Came out?" This will necessarily involve some spoilers, but since I'm not reviewing any current releases, I think the statute of limitations has expired. The treatment of lesbian characters and relationships in film is still dire enough in general that I know I want to know what I'm getting into before engaging with a movie.

Many of these items are not currently in print. I'll link each to their entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

* * *

Tipping the Velvet (2002, mini-series)

Died? No. Recanted? No. Unhappy? At various points during the story, but eventually happy. Came out? Yes, incidentally, but this is far more expansive than a simple coming-out plot.

A period piece (from the novel by Sarah Waters) about the oyster-seller's daughter who falls in love at the music hall with a male impersonator and runs away to live with her in late Victorian London. Alas, the object of her affection isn't as steadfast and true as she is, and our ingenue goes through many adventures and relationships before making the key choice that leaves her in a happy and stable couple at the end. (Note: lots of sex of all sorts of types. Not a movie for the timid.) The story arc is too expansive to pigeonhole it as a "coming out" story, although that's certainly a theme, especially at the start. No main characters die. The protagonist is happy (although not all the hearts she passes through are). But given the historic setting, the resolution can't be of the sort that a modern viewer would envision for herself.

A very lush treatment with high production values and very faithful to the original material. Definitely a must for Sarah Waters fans, if you can track down a copy.

Thursday, April 30, 2015 - 12:45

I picked this novel to read for a somewhat atypical reason: I'm pre-supporting the bid to bring WorldCon to Helsinki in 2017 and thought it might be a good idea to read some Finnish SFF. Memory of Water was getting some positive buzz so I decided to check it out. The story was written by the author simultaneously in Finnish and English (rather than being an after-the-fact translation) and has a lyrical, dream-like, poetic style. The action takes place in a post-climate-apocalypse Finland where today's geography has been greatly altered by both rising sea levels and shifting political hegemonies that have brought a dictatorial Chinese-origin government to power. Safe, pure drinking water is a scarce and rationed resource and "water crimes" are addressed with ruthless punishment. In a context where sweet water is at a premium, the protagonist Noria's family profession of ceremonial Tea Master (from the Japanese tradition) might seem not merely anachronistic but oddly luxurious. The fact that their clientele include ranking members of the military occupation creates an intersection of privilege and peril. Water is the pervasive theme of the story. In the most obvious terms: the daily struggle of Noria and her neighbors to secure enough water for their needs without overtly overstepping the law. The secret that Noria's family protects that brings her into conflict with both those neighbors and the law. And then there's the mystery of what happened to the water of the past and whether the official story of scarcity should be taken at face value. But more than that, water becomes the metaphor for Noria's path through life. Not, as it turns out, the relentless force of water to wear away mountains and scour valleys, but the flow of water to fill itself into whatever container is presented. For Noria is oddly and unsatisfyingly passive as a protagonist. The ventures she makes with her close friend Sanja to explore the mysteries of the past feel accidental and directionless (and, ultimately, vain). Even that friendship doesn't feel like a driving force in her life (or in Sanja's) but rather something they have flowed into and can flow out of just as easily. Noria rarely seems to act from principle, but rather from habit and tradition and--when pushed to it--from guilt. I fear that in some ways my take on this book is poisoned by the relentless message of U.S. dystopian fiction that lone protagonists should take up direct action against the oppressive regime and make their mark on the world. (And I am concerned that this is such a US-centric take on the genre that I'm not letting the story stand on its own merits.) Noria's story is, perhaps, far more realistic than that one, but realistic stories of ordinary people who bring only ordinary resistance and come to ordinary fates don't make for gripping reading. The language is beautiful. The world-building is vivid and intriguing. But the characters and story...just didn't do it for me. I feel pity for Noria, but not sympathy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - 08:52
I've been running the "Teaser Tuesday" feature so long, it's hard to know what to do with Tuesdays on this blog! Because it's easier (read: lazier) for me to come up with blog topics if I have some sort of thematic structure, I've decided to continue dedicating Tuesdays to posts relating to my fiction. I considered briefly posting teasers from some of the short fiction I have in train, but when I took a look at them, I couldn't find short bits that seemed to work well in isolation like that. And with The Mystic Marriage just barely out, it seems a bit too early to start teasing you with what's happening in Mother of Souls. But people have asked to hear about specific topics and as long as I avoid outright spoilers, it will be fun to explore some world-building issues, like I did last week for food and dining. And I'm trying to get more comfortable with making a direct appeal to readers to support the series in various ways. So... Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Alpennia books were available in audio? Even if you aren't a dedicated audio-book listener yourself, can't you imagine the story read in some lusciously-accented voice on a long road trip? (I confess that in my fantasies it's read by my favorite reader, Karen Savage, whose versions of Jane Austen read me to sleep every night.) Bella Books has something of a loose arrangement with (I don't know the details -- just bits and pieces I've heard through the grapevine) and a few Bella books get picked every year to be produced by them. Now, in the grand scheme of the Bella Books catalog and the tastes of the majority of its readership (which revolve very firmly around contemporary romance of all stripes), Daughter of Mystery is pretty small potatoes. So the chances are pretty slim that it would be one of the few chosen for audio production without some actual expression of interest on the part of customers. But did you know that you can express that interest? I don't know how many requests it would take to get audible's interest, but knowing how these things work, I bet it wouldn't be that many. Think about it. Also: I'm going to be plugging this pretty regularly for the next month. I'll be doing a reading and signing from The Mystic Marriage at Laurel Bookstore in downtown Oakland the evening of Friday June 5. Laurel Bookstore is one of those rare glittery unicorns, the independent bookstore that's expanding rather than contracting. And they're crazy-convenient to get to by BART. If you're in the area, please support them and me by coming to the reading and buying books!
Monday, April 27, 2015 - 21:57
It is incredibly frustrating to research issues around how medieval European women dealt with the practicalities of menstruation. (Medical manuals were most commonly written by men and rather glossed over the topic.) While working on medieval Arabic sources for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project, I think I've run across a reference to the use of something functionally resembling a tampon. It occurs in Al-Muhalla by Ibn Hazm Al-Andalusi (d. 1064) in a discussion of forbidden sexual contact involving a woman's genitals. "If the woman inserts anything in her vagina that she is not permitted to insert, such as her husband's genitals or whatever she needs during menstruation, then she is not guarding it [i.e., her vagina] and if she does not guard it then she is increasingly insubordinate."
Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 10:05
The big infrastructure project this year was to remove the odd little concrete sidewalk from the back part of the yard (done) so I could finish installing the raised beds for the square formal garden (done) and then level out the trench where the concrete was (to be done) and make the yard presentable for my literary garden party in June (to be done). The formal garden still needs to have the fountain cleaned and set up to circulate, and I need to lay down some sort of covering for the pathways. (I have a few ideas of mulch-matting sorts of things that will have the effect I want.) The mainstay of the formal garden is herbs, as well as smaller vegetables. A probably incomplete list is: basil (several types) chard, sage, marjoram, oregano, thyme (a couple varieties), tarragon, summer savory, sorrel (2 varieties - very vigorous!), peppermint, garlic, shallots, bunching onions, fennel, dill, parsley, cilantro, lovage, borage, eggplant (3 varieties), kale. I just may have gotten the positioning, number, and varieties of summer squashes right. I decided that rather than scramble to try to set up the corners of the formal garden with their permanent inhabitants (Rosa gallica with alpine strawberries at their feet), I'd stick the various Cucurbitaceae there: summer squashes, one winter squash, cucumbers, and a melon. Three plants to a corner (since there's plenty of room for them to spread out over the edges of the box) including seven different summer squash varieties.The ones that are blooming are already setting fruit (4 of the 7 so far) and they all have plenty of flower buds of both sexes, so I have high hopes of being inundated. The eventual effect is intended to be "fences" of berries (rasp, black, boysen, Marion) in the outer ring which will take a few years to get established. So far only the Boysenberries are dense enough to be fence-like. Eventually I'll need to set up something more durable in the way of supports. These beds then have a wide variety of strawberries at the base. (There are also an assortment of berries along the back fence: blackberries, Boysenberries, blueberries of several types. In theory I've still got a currant and a gooseberry back there although I have a poor record at keeping them alive. Also grapes, although I've yet to bring any to edibility.) Elsewhere in the yard I seem to be making a go at starting half a dozen rhubarb plants as well as the every-happy artichokes. And having planted 12 different varieties of tomato (about a third are cherry tomato, one roma, the rest assorted standard and heirloom) I just might have enough tomatoes. The fruit trees, old and new, all look happy this year. The only one of the new trees (put in last year) not to flower is the apricot and I'll forgive it for now. The pomegranate is flowering this year, the old apple tree has set its usual abundance of fruit as has the old lemon. The quince has maybe a dozen fruits this year. Both the heirloom apples (White Pearmain & Calville Blanc) have set fruit for the first time. The Morello cherry may give me enough for a tart but on further research the Black Tartarian needs a different pollenator so I think next year I'll add a Napoleon as well as a Montmorency. There's room. And both medlar trees are setting over a dozen fruit at this point. The orangery in the side yard will be the focus of the next infrastructure project (but not this year). For now, I'm still waiting for the various citrus trees to settle in enough to start bearing. Thinking about adding a grapefruit and still looking for a standard citron (though I did break down and get a Buddha's Hand). The multi-graft espaliered apple and pear trees are coming along and flowered though I doubt I'll get any fruit yet. They're still rather spindly and are part of the long-term planning for that area rather than expecting immediate returns. So that's it for now. I'll probably plant some more salad things, especially successions of radishes, although I tend to have bad luck with lettuces. I'm not going for a big variety of vegetables, just a focus on the ones that are best home-grown (tomatoes), that I love (squashes), and where I can grow all my own needs (onions).
Saturday, April 25, 2015 - 20:11
1) Yay, the historic novel by Samar Habib was delivered today, so I'm going to do my best to get it read in time to add a review at the end of covering the two non-fiction books of hers. 2) I'm going to try to do a garden post tomorrow with lots of pictures. I'm feeling really happy about this year's garden & orchard. And it looks like I just may have gotten the right combination for Enough Summer Squash. (I.e., way more than any reasonable human can eat.) 3) I had a lovely day today at 's birthday party. The group of us hiked off to a beach near Santa Cruz (the theory was to find some tide pools as well, but we made do with some delightfully deep fern-lined sea caves). There was picnicking, sand castle building, wave-wading, and long chats with some folks I'd never talked much with before. And a fair amount of lying on the beach in the sun with a hat covering my face, just soaking up the sun. 4) and I have decided to skip Kalamazoo this year (multiple reasons, but in part not wanting to get into a rut for the sake of tradition) and instead I'm going out to NYC for the last week in May. The planned schedule includes to Broadway shows: Alison Bechdel's autobiographic Fun Home, and Hand to God (because it's what's playing at 's theatre currently, so of course I have to see it!). Other than that (and hanging out with my girlfriend, of course) I'm always interested in meeting up with people I know online but have never met in person (or barely met in person). My standard NYC trip for the past few years has been Thanksgiving week which is a really bad time for expecting people to have openings in their social schedule. Maybe I'll have more luck this time. (I'll be there Wed-Sat.)
Thursday, April 23, 2015 - 09:41

So I was contemplating a Random Thursday blog topic on my homeward commute, listening to SFF podcasts as is my wont, and what should I be listening to but Rocket Talk, which started in on the crimes against world-building committed in the name of food and feasting scenes in fantasy. The general consensus (and I’m only halfway through the episode at the point of writing this) was that nobody writing epic fantasy does any decent food-related world-building, and everyone is just repeating lazy stock tropes of Renn Faire turkey legs and whatnot. I noticed that by some strange, totally random quirk of fate all the authors they gave as examples of poor food-related world-building happened to be male writers of grim epic fantasy. Maybe, just possibly, they might have found some better examples by diversifying their scope a little, but never mind that. (Why, yes, I do take mental notes on gender balance in the spontaneously-cited authors in SFF podcasts. Doesn’t everyone?) It’s not my podcast, but this is my blog, and since I was brainstorming for a topic for tomorrow, food as world-building seemed as good as any.

I think I’ve blogged previously about hunting for historic cookbooks and references that are appropriate for Alpennian cuisine. (I envision the upscale cuisine as being thoroughly French-influenced, while the lower and middle classes would follow a variety of local regional styles that I have yet to need to develop in detail.) But here I’m more interested in the ways food and dining are used in the context of story.

The opening scene of Daughter of Mystery is a good example: we have the old Baron Saveze dining alone at home, in a formal setting of butlers and footmen, being served a succession of fancy dishes produced by his imported French chef, and complaining of his inability to enjoy them (implicitly: due to his health problems). Here is a man who takes for granted the enjoyment of the best things -- or at least access to the best things, even if he doesn’t enjoy them. One suspects the chef, Guillaumin, may be frustrated to have his talents wasted here in the baron’s exile from the court, but Baron Saveze had been a mover and shaker in Rotenek and there is no doubt that he would have been entertaining lavishly at a level that would have made such an employee an essential staff member. And the taste issue is meant to be part of the foreshadowing of just how bad his health has become.

After Margerit Sovitre inherits the baron’s household, there is one initial meaningful scene involving food. Margerit makes her first furtive visit to the mansion she has inherited and is having difficulty believing that she is truly mistress of a great estate now. LeFevre’s insistence that she permit Guillaumin to pull out all the stops for an impromptu luncheon serves to punctuate the resources she now (theoretically) has at her command. But when she moves to the capital, she allows one of her new social connections to hire Guillaumin away from her, in an act both of practicality and social economy. Margerit is in an awkward position with regard to entertaining. As an unmarried, underage woman of the middle class, it would be impossible for her to host any sort of formal entertainment. And her nominal chaperone, her Aunt Bertrut, is in little better position in the unfamiliar environment of Rotenek. So the household makes do with an ordinary cook, probably a woman (though I don’t know that I ever say), rather than a higher status male chef, just as was the case in her Uncle Fulpi’s household in Chalanz.

Food and dining are more meaningful during this period in their absence than their presence. When Aunt Bertrut becomes betrothed to the well-born but impoverished Charul Pertinek, Margerit takes note of the changes it makes in her dining-related social life:

What she enjoyed most, so far, from Aunt Bertrut’s betrothal was a new opportunity for socializing that fell between the routine of a dinner at home with only her aunt for company and the rigors of an evening out in society. Margerit had found herself missing the Fulpi family dinners in Chalanz, formal though they may have been. She didn’t mind not having the position to host elaborate events but she did wish on occasion that the rules of society made allowance for a quiet evening with a few friends—something more than the rituals of afternoon visiting. She wished even more that Barbara’s strict propriety would allow her to join them at the long empty table. Hadn’t she said that she’d shared the baron’s table on occasion when they were informal at home? But the farthest she would unbend was on those rare occasions when Aunt Bertrut went out alone and Barbara would consent to share a supper sent in to the library while they studied.

And that is the dining situation for most of the remainder of the book. Margerit’s social position restricts her to quiet domestic entertaining, though of course she is often a guest at other people's formal dinners. Dining, as with every other social ritual, is a bit of a battleground between Margerit and Barbara, with Margerit’s impulses towards egalitarian fraternization being resisted by Barbara’s strict insistence on maintaining the distance of their social roles.

When everything turns upside down towards the end of the book, that social distance still keeps them separated in the realm of dining. Margerit breaks through only by introduction of a deliberately informal (if exceedingly elaborate) picnic, carefully planned so as to be available spontaneously on a carriage ride. In this context outside of social hierarchies, the two women can once again come together over food and dine together as if equals.

When the story rolls over into The Mystic Marriage now we have three food-related economies to track. Tiporsel house has now settled down into the culinary routine of an established upper-class household. Between Barbara’s social cachet and Margerit’s money they are able to invite, organize, and implement any level of culinary entertainment they desire. But, with the exception of Margerit’s hosting of the Floodtide party at Chalanz, we rarely see the more formal entertainments. Rather we are shown the more informal, intimate dinners that Margerit still loves to use to level social distinctions and which she and Barbara--being at the upper end of the power structure--have both the ability and standing to implement. An example would be the dinner party Margerit hosts toward the end of the novel to officially welcome Serafina Talarico to Rotenek, and to introduce her to some of the scholarly women who will become her future comrades.

Jeanne de Cherdillac represents the middle ground. As a well-born widow there are no social limitations on who and how she entertains, but being of merely comfortable financial circumstances she isn’t position to host the lavish banquets and dinner parties that Margerit and Barbara could throw if they chose. Jeanne keeps a female cook who is quite well versed in haute cuisine but we never see Jeanne entertaining formally. Instead, we see her using food to create illusions, beginning with the scene where she is unexpectedly entertaining the destitute Antuniet and skillfully provides her with a filling meal without embarrassing her by taking note of her hunger.

Jeanne continues to use food to create an illusion of normal social interactions with Antuniet: the “cozy little dinner” when she is reporting the results of her attempt to find Antuniet a sponsor; the picnic meals she brings down to Antuniet’s workshop, which are not simply an acknowledgment of Antuniet’s inability to provide such hospitality, but an excuse to draw Antuniet out of her work.

We get the sense that Jeanne’s social life is largely lived in other people’s spaces--that her extroverted performance as a social butterfly is done on larger stages. There is a strong implication that Jeanne keeps her own house as an intimate space, not only to keep a close check on her spending, but to reserve some part of her life private. Her repeated maneuvering to place Antuniet within that intimate space should have been a clue to Jeanne herself long before she realized it. The details of the little menus that Jeanne offers in this space are provided to reinforce the image of offering, not just a shared meal, but the substance of that upper-class life that Antuniet has lost any other access to. Antuniet accepts it from Jeanne where she might refuse it from, for example, Margerit, precisely because she recognizes that Jeanne is peddling illusions, dreams, and memories, and not everyday substance.

Antuniet stands at the bottom end of the culinary scale and this is emphasized by the way she is repeatedly connected with “bread”. This is still an era when the basic staple of the impoverished was bread, and the quality of life depending on what quality and quantity of bread you were able to obtain. Even when her life achieves a temporary equilibrium under the subsidy of her patron, her household does not extend to maintaining an independent kitchen. The basics of life come from the bakery across the street and other foodstuffs are brought in from the 19th century equivalent of fast food joints.

But it isn’t only her financial status that equates Antuniet’s life with bread. In her interactions with Jeanne, she envisions herself as “bread, not cake”, as being able to provide nothing more than the very basic necessities of social and emotional interaction. This sets up a key metaphor in their relationship where bread is contrasted with two very different alternatives. Antuniet sees herself as falling far short of the cake that Jeanne is accustomed to in her glittering upper-class world. But Antuniet’s bread is also contrasted with the emptiness of emotional starvation--with the husks a starving man will use to trick his belly into believing it's been fed.

And in the context of a devoutly Catholic society such as we find in Alpennia, the ceremonial partaking of bread becomes far more than a matter of mere nourishment. There are points where biblical bread references start flying thick and fast, from the baker’s quip about “Man does not live by bread alone, but it’s certain he can’t live without it” to Antuniet’s agonized “I needed bread and you offered me a stone!” And I don’t think I need to say much about the key scene where Antuniet and Jeanne share and feed each other fresh bread after a night of alchemy working the Mystic Marriage.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 - 14:22
Short-lists for all categories are now complete. Daughter of Mystery is on the short-list for Science Fiction/Fantasy. Congratulations to all the other nominees!


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