Jul 30 2014

Interview with Laura VanArendonk Baugh

I recently had the pleasure of a one-on-one conversation with Laura VanArendonk Baugh, whose story “And Only the Eyes of Children” is included in the Fae anthology. Laura’s story is a modern-day urban fantasy piece featuring a rather terrifyingly skilled “Robin Archer” in service to Titania, seeking stolen children. It’s fast-paced, snappy, and filled with the local color of its Indianapolis setting.

I’m posting my side of the interview here, and Laura will be posting her questions—along with the answers I gave—to her blog on Monday.

Robin’s world is filled with the kind of specific, convincing detail that makes it feel like a snapshot of a larger setting. Although your story stands alone, do you plan to explore this character further?

I wrote it as a standalone one-shot, but I have to say that the idea kind of grew on me, and now I have a few ideas jotted down for future Robin stories. And I’ve even started the next one!

References to A Midsummer Night’s Dream are woven through the story. Can you say a little bit about what that play means to you—when you first read or saw it performed, and how Shakespeare has influenced your writing and imagination?

I really can’t think of when I first saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream, except I remember it referenced when a man dressed as Shakespeare to talk to our elementary school. I remember bits and pieces of his presentation, including his explanation of a play in which a man played a wall and had to make a hole in the wall with his fingers. (Also he made a bad pun about Queen Elizabeth caking on seven layers of white makeup and a seven-layer cake. Why do I remember bad puns from school assemblies, but not that I needed eggs while I was at the grocery?)

But a more recent production definitely influenced “And Only the Eyes of Children.” One of my favorite actresses played Queen Titania, and while I’ve always thought Titania’s character a bit of a sap—let’s be honest, that subplot is one of Shakespeare’s weaker efforts—seeing Jennifer Johansen’s take made me consider her anew. What if Jennifer were free to play her like she played some other characters, from tough-as-rattlesnakes villains to gothic mistresses? What if Titania got a bad write-up in Midsummer but some unconcealable truths, like her love of children, showed through?

So I thought of a Faerie Queen in the older, darker sense, something made manageable in the reduced story of Titania’s pranking, and that became the Queen who charged Robin with watching over human children.

Both of our stories zero in on the “stolen child” aspect of fairy tales, and in a way both of our stories offer a happy—or at least hopeful—view of fairy abductions. If a fairy offered to take you “to the woods and waters wild,” would you go?

Ooh, a good question….!

I think I’d have to be pragmatic and say no. At this point in my life, I have too much here I don’t want to lose—everything from dreams come true (getting paid to make up stories!) to an awesome husband. (You have no idea how old and boring I feel, writing that.)

BUT, if we could work out a visitation deal, THAT would be a go. Then when life is getting all harried and full of hassle, I could just hop over to the fae world and wait for things to blow over. (And given the fabled slippage of time between our world and theirs, that might be a very effective solution, indeed!)

I agree with Laura: I wouldn’t go, but I’m sure the missed opportunity would haunt me forever.

What about you?

Jul 28 2014

The Fairy Queen

I wanted to throw up a quick link to the guest blog post I wrote for World Weaver Press as part of the Fae launch events. It’s on the topic of the Fairy Queen and her shifting portrayal through history.

The post before mine, “How Fairies Got Their Wings” by Kristina Wojtaszek, is good reading too!

Jul 24 2014


A few pictures from our trip to Carson City last weekend! We love seeing family, of course, but frankly the highlight of the trip was Ratchet the dwarf goat. He is possibly the cutest animal I’ve ever seen.

(My in-laws house and care for a herd of goats that does weed control and fire abatement work in the Reno area. Need some land cleared? Call Goat Grazers!)


These small creatures will not mow your lawn:



But this one will!


Jul 22 2014

Fae Anthology Now Available

FAE cover-small

The anthology Fae, including one of my short stories, was released today! I got my contributor copy in the mail and it looks really nice—I can’t wait to sit down and read the other stories.

There’s also a “virtual launch party” happening on Facebook from 7 to 10 PM Eastern time, with prizes and stuff, so feel free to pop by if you like!

Jul 16 2014


It’s summer! And lots of stuff has been happening!

Robin “graduated” from kindergarten:


And spent a week at horse camp:


And has since perfected the art of louche summer decadence:


Davy had a birthday! (It was a Minecraft party.)


And Sol has sprung up like a weed. We call him “Wreckin’ Ball Sol” because he basically spends his days destroying the house to the full extent of his abilities. His favorite activity is to climb up on the dining room table and throw anything he finds there (plates, etc) onto the floor. If there’s no crockery to smash, he’ll go into the bathroom and try pulling all the toilet paper down. Or throwing anything he can reach in other rooms into the tub. Another favorite activity is to pull everyone’s clothes out of their dresser drawers, or to toss handfuls of kibble from the dog’s food bowl about the kitchen.

Wreckin’ Ball Sol:


We still have some excellent summer fun planned, including a trip to Carson City to see Pappy and Nonna; a weekend at a beach house with Nanita and Markie; a week of swim lessons for Robin and Davy; and a couple of projects that probably deserve their own posts.

Hope you all are enjoying the summertime! I’d better go before Sol uproots all the houseplants and swallows all the Legos.

Jul 5 2014

An Oakland Civics Lesson, in Honor of Independence Day

Oakland Police Department says:

REMINDER: Stay Safe During Holiday Celebrations: Avoid Illegal Fireworks and Celebratory Gunfire

The Oakland Police Department and Fire Department are working together to plan for a safe 4th of July in the City of Oakland.

Oakland’s Police Chief Sean Whent and Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed want you to celebrate Independence Day safely and would like to remind everyone of the dangers and penalties associated with celebratory firearm discharges and the use of illegal fireworks. Setting off fireworks and shooting guns possess a great risk for injury and even death. As such, they have no place in our City.

As a part of our commitment to public safety, quality of life and vitality in our communities, OPD is focused on stopping illegal gun use. During the holiday the Department will be increasing staffing and deploying patrol officers to specific areas of the City that have the highest amount of gunshot and firework activity as indicated by ShotSpotter activation and data collection from last year.

Officers will arrest anyone caught discharging a firearm. Officers will additionally be enforcing illegal fireworks and focus on prevention and education.

Oakland says:


Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

(I took this picture—actually a composite of a few different pictures—from my back steps. No need to travel to see a light show! Neighbors got that covered. There was plenty of “celebratory gunfire” too, although that wasn’t as pretty.)

Jul 1 2014

On “The Right to Write”

The New York Times today ran an opinion piece titled “The Right to Write” by Roxana Robinson which I really want to respond to, because it’s so very shallow, self-serving, and misleading. It begins:

I sat on a panel once with another novelist and a distinguished African-American critic, to discuss Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The critic said, “Of course, as a white woman, Stowe had no right to write the black experience.” The other novelist said lightly, “No, of course not. And I had no right to write about 14th-century Scandinavians. Which I did.”

The exchange made me wonder: who has the right to our stories?

For centuries, African-Americans couldn’t fully participate in the literary conversation, since for many of them literacy was forbidden. Why wouldn’t they resent the fact that their stories were told by whites? But does this mean that, as novelists, we can write stories only of our own race, our own gender, our own subcultural niche?

Stowe used other people’s stories as sources, but what drove her to write was her own outraged response to slavery. She has the right to that response. Isn’t it better that Stowe wrote her book, instead of staying respectfully mute because the stories were not hers to tell? It was the narrative strands about the black experience that gave the book such emotional potency, and made it such a powerful abolitionist force.

Who owns the story, the person who lives it or the person who writes it?

Robinson goes on to reveal that she herself has written a novel about a subculture (in this case war veterans) to which she does not belong, and that she has received protests from readers that she misrepresented their experiences. Her essay is basically a defensive one.

But do I have the right to write about a firefight in Falluja, if I wasn’t there? Does it demonstrate respect and admiration for the soldiers, and show evidence of their importance in our culture? Or does it insult those who risked their lives, if I take literary possession of that experience? Am I exploiting other people’s experience for my own ends?

She goes on to protest that her ends are pure, that Shakespeare did it too, and she ends by retreating into a vague musical metaphor that conveniently allows her insinuate answers to the questions she has laid out without having to state her case plainly. Perhaps because it’s an ugly case:

And how does exploitation get into this discussion? Because the word suggests ignorance and deception, an imbalance of power.

Well, yes, that is what the word suggests. And it gets into this discussion because it is the central issue under discussion. Robinson’s entire piece is an attempt to dance around, dismiss, and distract from the question of exploitation, but that is the question. Not whether Robinson has the “right” to write about a firefight in Fallujah: in the narrow legal sense, of course she does. Free speech gives writers the legal right to write about anything they want.

And free speech also gives those whose stories are written the right to respond, even to respond with outrage if they feel it is warranted. Writers are not rendered immune from criticism simply because their intentions are good, or they have “radical empathy,” in Robinson’s formulation. She started by invoking Harriet Beecher Stowe: yes, Stowe had the “right” to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. James Baldwin also had every right to his critical take-down of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He calls it “a very bad novel” marred by dishonesty and prejudice. Baldwin in fact concludes that the stereotypes Stowe created or affirmed in her anti-slavery books are a continuation of the same attitudes that enabled slavery in the first place: “Below the surface of this novel there lies, as it seems to me, a continuation, a complement of that monstrous legend it was written to destroy.”

Baldwin’s essential criticism of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is that it is dishonest. The black characters are all reduced to stock types, rendered unthreatening through the denial of their essential humanity and agency. And as Baldwin says: “The formula created by the necessity to find a lie more palatable than the truth has been handed down and memorized and persists yet with a terrible power.”

So yes, I think it’s incredibly telling that Robinson reaches toward Stowe in self-defense—and then asks, with such wide-eyed bewilderment, “And how does exploitation get into this discussion?”

Go ask James Baldwin how, he told you in 1949.

In summary: of course writers may (even must) draw from beyond their own lives and experiences in their books. But when you start telling other people’s stories, you shoulder a particular responsibility to get it right. Baldwin isn’t criticizing Stowe for writing about slaves, he’s criticizing her for writing badly about slaves. Similarly, Robinson shouldn’t worry about whether she has the “right” to write about soldiers in combat. She should worry about whether, having assumed that burden voluntarily, she has fulfilled her responsibility to the truth.