Out of the dark days into more

It’s Santa Lucia Day again.

Around August I started saying, “2017 months are like dog years.” It’s been a long year, it’s felt like a long year, there are all sorts of things that make me blink and say, what, that was only last month, how can that be. This year has wedged a lot of dark in. A lot of people have found ways to disappoint us, and some of them were new and creative ways, but most of them weren’t. Most of them were old tired ways, the “really? this again?” ways, the ways that take a lot out of the people trying to make things better without providing anything the least bit diverting in return.

But that’s not why I’ve been saying that about dog years. No. The dog years comment keeps coming up because of my hoodlum friends. Because while some of the people I’ve been leaning on, some of the people who have been leaning on me–some of the people being ridiculous together and laughing together and trying to keep creating together and pointing at the horrible things and saying, “you see that? I see it too, let’s not stand for it” together–are old, old friends, some of them are brand new. A lot of them are brand new, actually. A startling lot. And a lot of the brand new ones are people that I specifically started liking and trusting because of their reactions to very dark things. It’s not just the year of me too, friends, although thank God it is finally that. It’s also the year of hell no.

Some of these friends are so brand new that they’ve never read a Santa Lucia Day post of mine before. How can this be, something so fundamental to me? and yet it’s true. Some of the people I honestly don’t know how I could have gotten through the last six months without have never read me talking about the saffron bread and the songs and the candles, about the ritual of light that comes not at Solstice but before it. Canonically before it, ritually before it, ritually heading into more darkness before there’s any hope of light. Some of the people who are suddenly right here in the middle of my heart making sandwich puns and jokes about dryad skulls, hey, don’t you go anywhere, you’re staying, I’m keeping you–some of those people were fine, cordial acquaintances the last time there was snow on the ground, and some complete strangers.

Well, here we are, then. Again or for the first time: this is how the year turns, this is what we do: we make the bread, we light the candles, we sing the songs. We kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. This is the work of the world, and we do it together. And when we find someone else who’s willing to do it next to us, we don’t let go.

This year there’s homemade Meyer lemon curd for on the lussekatter, because someone else likes it. I like it too. The combination is amazing, the saffron and lemon, wow. But I would never have said, “I think I’m going to make myself lemon curd, because I like it.” It’s easier for me to be good to other people sometimes. The more that’s going on, the more that’s true. And sometimes it can spill over. I will try this new patisserie because you’re meeting me there, I will read this classic of the English language I always wondered about because you’re sharing it with me, I will make this lemon curd for you and maybe keep the last of it that doesn’t fit in your container and eat it myself. And it tastes so good, and it looks so golden on this beautiful golden bread.

I haven’t lost the lessons of the past years, the long knead, the early preparation. I know how this goes. This year asked all of those things of me, and it’s going to ask more. It’s going to ask more of all of us. Because last year I knew we were still before Solstice on Lucia Day, still going into the dark of the year, but oh, friends, I didn’t know how much. This year I think I have some clue. I got some good national news with the rest of you last night while I was beginning to write this, and some bad family news. I have cried over my Christmas cards the last two days, one from my first best friend’s father writing about the loss of his wife and the letter I wrote him about her in October, one from a friend who stood up and was a voice for justice when I most needed him to be in June…and knew just how to be silly on the Christmas card. I cried. It was a good cry. I tried not to get it in the lussekatter dough. You tip your head back when you’re crying and kneading, you see, and you sing, and you keep going.

It doesn’t balance out, it coexists. It all coexists, and we’ll just have to get through it all together, good news and bad, happy crying and…not. It’s the first morning of Hanukkah this morning for some of you, as well as being my Santa Lucia Day, and maybe we can sit together, my candles with yours, my songs with yours. We need all of it. We need all of us. It’s a long haul, old friends and new, and it’s not even close to over. At least we’re doing it together.

Happy Santa Lucia Day.

2006: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/380857.html
2007: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/502825.html and http://mrissa.livejournal.com/503100.html
2008: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/596214.html
2009: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/688906.html
2010: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/751599.html
2011: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/798532.html
2012: http://mrissa.livejournal.com/842565.html
2013: http://www.marissalingen.com/blog/?p=260
2014: http://www.marissalingen.com/blog/?p=659
2015: http://www.marissalingen.com/blog/?p=1141
2016: http://www.marissalingen.com/blog/?p=1566

Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 7-9

Written by Liz Duffy Adams and Delia Sherman, Joel Derfner, and Karen Lord. Review access provided by Serial Box.

The trend of identifiable style among the Tremontaine writers continues. If you want mysticism in the woods in this world, apparently you bring in Delia Sherman, because Episode 7 was the most like The Fall of the Kings of any Tremontaine episode so far. (I am here for it. Any time. I love that book.) Deer in the woods and everyone slightly addled…yep, I know who wrote this episode.

This season continues to expand on holidays in the worldbuilding. It also continues to ramify. The school is actually starting, maybe; the murder mystery is collecting evidence; the relationships are relating, and that doesn’t mean everyone is returning to season 1 configurations like swallows to Capistrano.

There is a lot less chocolate in these episodes. I don’t want the chocolate to get repetitive, but…there’s a bunch of sex that is not particularly my thing, there’s only a little swordplay, I’m leaning heavily on academic politics and investigation and woodland woowoo here because the chocolate is substantially absent. Sigh. Well. I’m told one can’t have everything. But usually one can have chocolate.

Books read, late November

Desirina Boskovich, Never Now Always. Sometimes knowing people gets you reading things that are outside your wheelhouse. Desirina’s novella is far more horror-skewed than I usually pick up, but the writing is beautiful as I expect from her. The children in it are trying to recover their memories, trying to figure out who they are and why they are there, what it is they’re struggling toward. The cover makes the horror look visceral, and there will be a certain amount of needle-and-blood, but the main horror element is strongly existential. Skillfully done, very much recommended to those who are fond of that…and even those who aren’t and want to push their limits a little.

Laurence Gonzales, Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. A strange and interesting book, not entirely satisfying. Gonzales would desperately like for there to be a “true survivor” personality type and/or skillset, people who had the knowledge and grit and so on to survive fire and flood and blizzard and, well, anything. And he interviewed people who had done so, and he correlated traits. Problem: the universe was not written by Laurence Gonzales. So while there were tendencies that helped with survival, and while of course some skills are useful in some conditions, he had to keep admitting that “true survivors” sometimes died, that people who did everything wrong sometimes lived. Still, there were fascinating tales of people just making dreadful decisions, and of people managing to keep their heads when all others etc., and if you write about humans in extremis, this may well be of interest.

Tessa Gratton and Paul Witcover, Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 5 and 6. Discussed elsewhere.

E.K. Johnston, That Inevitable Victorian Thing. This felt very rushed, from the title on. It’s a charming title, but it doesn’t fit all that well with the book, which…is not actually Victorian, it’s neo-Victorian alternate history near future SF. It’s the sort of title that sounds like a working title that everyone can easily fall in love with but…as fitting the actual book? Eh. There is a truly essential character for the first third of the book who completely disappears for the rest. There’s all sorts of interesting worldbuilding that is literally in the author’s note at the end, which…frankly does not count, sorry. And having talked to the author a couple of times I’m pretty sure what the shape of the ending was aiming at for a love triangle resolution, and…I think it could have gotten there with another draft or two? I was really glad that the main characters were not forced into being nasty within their private relationships, but their relationship with the public…I felt could have used some development. This was a book that was there when I needed something fun and fluffy, but the farther I got from it, the more I said, “Wait a minute.” And I wish it had waited a minute, because it’s not a book that I felt was terminally broken.

Naomi Kritzer, Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories. I had read many or most of these. I was happy to read them again. Having them collected in one place is charming and useful, and they have emotional range as well as genre range. A really great collection, highly recommended.

Fonda Lee, Zeroboxer. Mixed martial arts in space, with genetic engineering, the YA version. If that pitch makes your ears perk up, this is definitely for you. I’m not the target audience, and I still enjoyed this book. I would have liked a little more denouement, but even without it, this was entertaining and fun, and I’ll be interested in the rest of Lee’s work, which looks widely variable in topic.

Kari Maaren, Weave a Circle Round. Discussed elsewhere.

Robin McKinley, The Door in the Hedge. Reread. There is a lot of metaphor repetition here, and the characterization is often extremely shallow, and yet…and yet these stories manage not to make me furious, they manage to be interesting and gentle and fairy tale-ish and themselves. I should probably wait longer before another reread, but there was another short story collection that was a slap in the face on page one, so…this was a good antidote.

Paul Preston, The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain. I picked this up because I wanted to understand more of the roots of the Catalan independence movement, and I didn’t feel I could do that without more about the Spanish Civil War. Preston gives a master class in how to destroy both-sides-ism here, saying, sure, yes, there was violence on both sides, let’s look at how much violence, let’s look at what kinds of violence. This book was shattering to read, and he did an amazing job with intersectionality for a book that was not “about” any particular subgroup of the Spanish population. He started in the introduction talking about the anti-Semitism of the Spanish Right and went straight on from there; the complex relationship with Catholic faith, both using it and attacking it; sexual violence against women (including nuns as a specifically addressed sub-category). Harrowing. Awful. I had to take lots of breaks. Extremely, extremely well-done.

Robert Sheckley, Untouched by Human Hands. Reread. I wanted this to hold up well, and…it really didn’t. The women were nearly nonexistent, the men barely better, the satires…I think I was most disappointed in the satires, actually, because of gaping mental holes like: the satire of consumer debt had consumerism and militarism as opposing forces. What? In Sheckley’s lifetime, what? How did that even, you lived through the rise of the phrase “military-industrial complex” for a reason, dude. The prose was better than a lot of the people who are touted over Sheckley from this era, but as idea fiction goes, the ideas were…not where I hoped I had left them, alas.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. Fascinating as a study of social and economic life in Maine in that era, with all its intricate concerns. Courtship customs are handled here, debt, cloth manufacture, rape trials, all sorts of things. One of my old teachers used to say, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you, it’s what you know that ain’t so,” and there’s a lot of debunking of that sort of thing here–for example, the assumption that the day that you get married and the day that you move in together are necessarily the same day. Apparently not in this culture, usually they were separated by about a month. Fantasy writers take note, this is great stuff.

Another bit of progress to reckon with

This week’s writing-publishing news that has already gone on the more rapid social media is that I sold a story, “The Shale Giants,” to Reckoning for their second issue, which will be coming out soon in ebook form, then more slowly as linkable stories and in a print copy. I loved their first issue, and I’m really excited to be part of their second.