Oct 31 2012

Hallowe’en 2012


The boys this year went trick-or-treating as an evil scientist (Robin) and a platypus secret agent (Davy), characters which may bear a suspicious resemblance to those from the TV show Phineas and Ferb. Here is Robin making his mad science face:


The device he’s holding is a ghost-inator. Originally it was a more generic raygun, but Robin decided that he wanted a weapon specifically targeted to ghosts. Maybe when he’s a little bit older we’ll let him know that there’s a whole movie about that.

Davy shed his hat and platypus beak shortly after leaving the house. His costume was never going to be particularly recognizable, except maybe to Phineas and Ferb fans, but without the props he was basically just a kid in a blue shirt. People gave him candy anyway. When they asked where his costume was, we said “he’s a platypus secret agent, and he’s working undercover.”

Oct 31 2012

All Hallow’s Read

All Hallow's Read 2012

All Hallow’s Read is a movement started by Neil Gaiman a few years ago. The idea is simple: on or around Hallowe’en, you give somebody a scary book. It’s a promoting-the-joy-of-reading kind of thing. (Gaiman himself is giving away a short story this year, as part of a charity drive for schools and libraries.)

I want to get in on the fun, so I’m going to send a gift copy of Anna Dressed in Blood to the first commenter on this blog.

I read this book because my awesome sister-in-law, The Anti-Sara, added it to her “want to read” list on Goodreads. I was all like, hey, I want to read that too! So I did. It’s an action-packed story of a ghost hunter and the bond he forges with the spirit of a murdered girl. I thought the world-building was good (I like Blake’s take on ghosts in general) and the trio of main characters were all sympathetic. I particularly liked that the blonde, popular high school girl also turns out to be nice and smart and brave. The book’s treatment of voodoo is problematic from a cultural perspective—it’s really unfortunate that the book’s only black character is a scary villain—but the sequel, Girl of Nightmares, goes some way towards providing a more balanced perspective. Anyway, I don’t think it’s great literature, but it is a fun, spooky book, and a good candidate for All Hallow’s Read.

Oct 24 2012

On Hurtful Speech

In the first draft of my novel, I had a chapter opening with this sentence: “That evening, Viv found herself scouring her limited wardrobe for something that looked effortlessly attractive in an oh-this-old-thing-I-just-threw-it-on way; or, failing that, dressy and cute in a we’re-just-friends way; or, as a last resort, somewhat acceptable in a not-completely-retarded-when-worn-with-a-beret way.” (There’s some backstory for why Viv is wearing a beret at that part of the book, but it’s not really relevant to the point.)

In the revision process I changed the word “retarded” to “ridiculous.” I resisted the change for a while, even though every time I got to that sentence the word scraped at me—but part of me felt that I was being true to the character, that Viv’s internal thought patterns are not particularly sensitive to “politically correct” speech, and that a more disparaging term made the line funnier.

Then I realized that even if all of that were true, it didn’t matter. Viv doesn’t exist, but lots of people with Down syndrome and other kinds of intellectual disabilities do exist, and many have been clear that they find the words “retarded” and “retard” to be very hurtful. I’ve heard a lot of pushback on this and maybe even felt swayed, at some point, by these kinds of arguments: that any term used to describe an intellectual disability will take on negative associations (witness the mocking use of the word “special”), or that an obsession with “politically correct” speech creates an atmosphere of Orwellian repression, et cetera et cetera.

For me, in the end, it comes down to this. There are people saying, “This hurts me, please knock it off.” I don’t want to hurt those people. In general, when I have a choice between hurting people or being decent to them, I would like to choose decency. That’s why I’m trying to eradicate the word “retarded” from my speech and my writing. It hurts people.

I don’t think Ann Coulter is particularly concerned with hurting people, but I’ve seen a lot of defenses of her language, and of similar words, that are essentially attempts to avoid confronting that central fact. It’s not about the PC mafia or whatever. It’s about real people and whether or not you want to be decent to them.

Oct 23 2012

Wuv, True Wuv

Because Sam and I celebrated an anniversary yesterday, I’ve been thinking about this whole concept of “soul mates.” On the one hand, it’s not true. People don’t have to sort through the seven billion potential partners on the planet in order to find deep and abiding love; they manage to do it with pretty much whatever selection is on hand. Widows and widowers remarry. People can have more than one great love in their lifetimes.

On the other hand, the longer I’m with Sam, the harder it becomes to imagine that anybody else could ever understand me so well or be so nice to live with. I think there’s a mechanism underlying long term relationships that kind of feeds into the soul mate myth. Basically, the longer two people spend together, the more they adapt to each other’s idiosyncrasies. They develop their own daily rituals, linguistic shorthands, cultural touchstones, in-jokes, and odd habits. They cover for each other’s weaknesses. They work around each other’s sore spots. Their lives become a shared island away from the rest of the society, and it becomes more and more difficult to imagine ever sharing that life with an “outsider.”

In short, people get weird when they spend a lot of time together. Every family is weird in one way or another. In fact families are more or less defined by their shared oddities. I think this might be part of what sustains the soul mate myth—we can look at old married couples and think, wow, it’s a good thing they found each other because nobody else would put up with that.

I guess what I’m saying is, I love you, sweetie. Let’s get weird together.

Oct 21 2012

Book Reviews: Grimspace, The Collegia Magica trilogy

First, a quick sales note: Amazon’s mysterious algorithms have priced the paperback version of my book at a 36 percent discount. I don’t know how long the discount will last, but for the time being, the price is a pretty reasonable $8.29.

Next up, a couple of reviews. Unfortunately, I haven’t really loved any of the books I’ve read lately.

I really wanted to like this book. I feel like we need more swashbuckling sci-fi with a feminine perspective, and so I was very ready to root for down-and-out starship navigator Sirantha Jax. Unfortunately, the writing struck me as lackluster, the plotting choppy, and the characterization…well, I guess I’m pretty sick of hearing about the sheer alpha-male dominance that Romantic Hero #10,567 exudes, and how Our Heroine instantly decides she hates his guts even as she is drawn to him on a primal level, blah blah blazzzzzzz…huhwah? Sorry, I think I fell asleep for a minute there.

Don’t get me wrong: I find the whole realm of male strength to be a fascinating topic, and I’m as happy as the next gal to read in-depth excavations of the subject. Particularly if the “subject” is frequently sweaty and/or shirtless. But I guess I feel like strength is more convincingly signaled through discipline and quiet courtesy than through bluff and bravado: I’d rather read about the scientist’s focus, the artist’s dedication, or the soldier’s stoicism than hear at length about how “dominant” some dude is while he stomps around the ship displaying his not-so-hidden manpain at every opportunity. I abandoned this book about halfway through.

The Spirit Lens is the first book in a trilogy, and the fact that I continued on to the second and third books is mostly a testament to the power of the “whodunit” plot. I was initially irritated by the book’s narrative style: the setting is a Renaissance-style fantasy world, and the point-of-view character tends toward a wordy, circuitous locution that only exacerbated my tendency to skim. But he’s given a mystery to solve, and I was drawn deeply enough into the plot that I was dismayed when the book ended without fully resolving the central conspiracy. I had my suspicions about the villains, dammit, and I wanted to find out whether or not I was right!

As it happened, I liked the second book (The Soul Mirror) a lot better, mostly because the narrative point of view shifted to a character I found much more sympathetic. But the third book was a disappointment again: repetitive in structure and kind of weirdly plotted out, introducing new characters to do important things while the fates of important figures from earlier books were forgotten. A love triangle was introduced, and shattered, in the book’s last twenty pages. The world-shaking conflict that had built across three books was ultimately resolved off-screen. I’m not sure if there are more books intended for the series, but I won’t be reading them. Still, I don’t want to be too harsh in my assessment: the setting was original and interesting, the pacing was strong, and at least some of the characters were likable. I can easily see how this series has won its fans, even though ultimately it didn’t work for me.

Oct 18 2012

Robin at the Pumpkin Patch

Robin with pumpkin

Isn’t this a great picture? Robin’s whole school took a field trip to a pumpkin patch, and one of the other moms snapped this photo.

This morning Robin announced: “I need to talk to the pizza man.”

“What would you say to him?” I asked.

“I would say, Pizza Man! Can you bring me some pizza?”

“You know what he would say? He would say: Little boy, can you give me some money?”

“Okay!” Robin cried, and chortled with satisfaction. “Oh, but wait, I’m not a little boy yet. I’m just a big boy.”

So there’s a flaw in the plan, I guess? But it does seem like he’s grasped the essential principles!

Oct 17 2012

Mi Pueblo In Peril

This just sucks all around:

Mi Pueblo, a Latino supermarket chain with humble roots, faces the prospect of a mass layoff, a boycott and a federal investigation — all because of questions about its employees’ legal status and right to work in the U.S.

The Northern California grocery chain imports and produces a full spectrum of foods from Mexico. Its 21 stores, and counting, pop up in urban food deserts that stores like Safeway don’t touch.


We love Mi Pueblo. It’s the nearest grocery store to our house, and I wrote about how happy we are to have it in our neighborhood. It is absolutely, definitely, POSITIVELY serving a big demographic and a vital need in our area.

At first blush this story like a straightforward, fuck-our-immigration-policy sucks story, nicely and neatly fitting into an existing liberal thought-box. But because this is the Bay Area we get an extra little piece of insanity that also reflects poorly on left-wing orthodoxy. There’s a union that’s actually calling for a boycott of Mi Pueblo…because they have been forced to follow the law.

It’s ironic for Mi Pueblo to defend itself from charges of betraying employees and siding with the federal government. The company was founded by Juvenal Chavez, a former janitor who came to the U.S. from Mexico without legal documents.

Now the grocery chain faces a boycott from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.

So there you have it. A mid-size local business, serving a HUGE local need, is under threat both from a bullying union and from anti-immigrant federal policy. And all I really know is that this is going to make my life so much worse.

Oct 12 2012

Paperback Available Now

Quick announcement: the paperback version of my book is up on Amazon now.

I’ve had people ask if there will be a hardcover version, and the short answer is “no.” The profit margins on hardcovers are too slim for POD; Amazon won’t sell them. They will allow me to special-order hardcovers if I want to, but there’s a $99 “setup fee” for this service, on top of which the per-book cost is quite high. So no, there won’t be hardcovers—but my family members can all expect to get copies of the paperback with their Christmas presents.

Oct 10 2012

A Boy and His Dog


Oct 7 2012

Our First Egg!


Robin produced this blood-curdling grimace when told to “hold up the egg and smile.” I think it’s probably for the best that we cut short his modeling career! (On the other hand, he wants to be “an evil scientist” for Hallowe’en, and I think this expression will serve him well.)

Sam discovered the egg in a corner of our yard today. I don’t know if it’s the first our hens have produced, but it’s the first we’ve found—they’ve been making a lot of noise lately, so I was wondering if they might start laying!