the “normal” you seek isn’t normal

HI, all.

Hope everybody made the best they could out of the holiday season.

I think I might actually be more fortunate than a lot of people out there, since for the past 15 years or so, the vast majority of my friends are folx who live at great distances from me, and we’ve spent most of our time communicating via email, text, phone, snail mail, and other messaging services for years. So when the pandemic really cranked up, I didn’t miss “hanging out with my friends” because they’re all elsewhere. We continued to just do what we’d been doing and communicating like usual.

I also didn’t miss going out to restaurants or bars because prior to the pandemic, I lived in a small city for years with limited dining options (that I liked) and limited bar options (again, that I liked). I spent most of my time hanging out with my neighbors, as we shared a driveway and had more fun grilling out and shooting the shit than going anywhere.

So I didn’t really “miss” anything except being able to go to movies on a regular basis and hang out in a coffee house. And I do miss being able to be in a public space without a mask, but the reality is, that’s just not what the situation offers, so you make adjustments to circumstances. In this case, it’s a matter of survival. I’m in decent health, but I don’t even want to dare gamble with covid-19. I mean, read this about how covid pneumonia destroys your lungs.

No fucking thank you.

And here’s the thing. This virus is here to stay. It’s out of the box and will most likely never be eradicated. We will eventually have better treatments for it in addition to vaccines, but this thing will end up endemic, like the flu, and hopefully with lesser symptoms so that it ends up being like the flu, that the majority of people are able to survive.

That’s years away.

In the meantime, this pandemic has ripped open the realities of life in the US (other countries, too, but let’s stick with the US). It’s exposed how fragile our infrastructure is, how fragile our allegedly democratic institutions are, how fragile our healthcare system is, how exploitative our employment system is, how fucked our climate is, how gutted our education system is, and how capitalism has created and perpetuated gross inequality. It has also exposed the absolute vindictive corporate banality at the heart of US politics. And the pandemic has provided opportunity and cover for theocratic (in particular) right-wing extremism to further burrow into all these systems to ensure that inequity continues and to tear down whatever institutions we have that provide any modicum of support to make everything privatized and thus rife for further exploitation.

Grifters, politicians, and assholes of all backgrounds have capitalized on pandemic mis- and disinformation, which spreads even faster than the omicron variety of covid, and thousands of people in the US have been radicalized into extremist ideologies through the rampant misinformation and disinformation on every social media platform there is.

This IS America. It was built on systemic inequality/inequity and corporate interests, on empty consumerism and white-centric institutions. THAT’S the “normal” people want to “go back to.” What they mean is, they don’t want to have to think about others in their communities (by getting vaxxed and masking up); they don’t want to think about anybody beyond their own noses. They don’t want to think about anything beyond their own comfort, and it probably scares them that things are really screwed up and they don’t have the wherewithal or social/relationship tools (on any level) to deal with any of it. Bravado is often a mask for the fearful, and there’s a lot of that spreading across social media.

The godawful inequity/inequality in this country shouldn’t be “normal.” The continued exploitation of workers shouldn’t be “normal.” The destruction of public education by right-wing corporate interests shouldn’t be “normal.” The constant buy buy buy of craptastic shit that you think makes your life better shouldn’t be “normal.” We shouldn’t be filling landfills with mountains of trash and call that “normal.” We shouldn’t be okay with fucking the hell out of our healthcare system because we want things to be “normal.” The continued buttressing of racist systems that have placed horrendous burdens on BIPOC shouldn’t be “normal.” The continued policies and legislation against LGBTQIA+ people shouldn’t be “normal.” The further demotion of cisgender women, in particular, to nothing more than walking incubators shouldn’t be “normal.” The attempts to further normalize extremism shouldn’t be “normal.” And the constant rhetoric of violence and threats circulating across social media and even in the real world shouldn’t be “normal.”

But that’s what “getting back to normal” means. It means no longer having to think about all the stuff that scares us, no longer having to look in the mirror at what we’ve become, and we can just go self-medicate with whatever to make ourselves feel better and keep on ignoring the fact that shit is really fucked up and the US looks more and more like a failed state.

I don’t want that as “normal” anymore.

Change is painful and scary and fucking hard. But it’s necessary, and I want a world that does better. I want a country that does better, a political system that actually gives a shit about people, and institutions that actually give a shit about people. I’m hella over this corporate/capitalist bullshit. If that’s “normal,” no fucking thank you.

So it’s on us — those of us who do still have the capacity for empathy and sympathy, who try to do what they can for their communities because it’s the right thing to do, not because there’s anything in it for them. It’s on us to take care of ourselves and each other so we can bring about a normal that benefits as many people as possible in every way possible. Hell, yes I’m scared. I’d be an idiot not to be. This is new shit for me, too, this failed state stuff. But there are lots of people in the world who have gone through similar and worse and persevered and did the right thing even in the face of insurmountable odds.

So instead of “normal,” I like to envision “better.” And that’s what I’m working toward.

Everybody stay safe out there and take care of yourselves and each other. We’re all we’ve got.

It’s okay to have boundaries with your family of origin

Hi, friends–

Andrea Grimes, journalist and columnist extraordinaire, just did a piece at Dame Magazine titled “This is How to Survive the Holidays.” Part of that is having boundaries and not buying into the “cancel culture” bullshit that right-wingers are now slinging around if you deign to avoid your family because you don’t want put up with their toxicity.

This is particularly palpable this time of year because of all the holiday stuff going on, and all the expectations that you’ll spend time with your family of origin.

Or not. What’s important here is not that you feel forced into or pressured into a crappy situation with a toxic family/toxic family members but that you feel like you have a choice to do either.

Here’s Grimes:

And yet now, those with complex feelings about their families—especially people who’ve set boundaries to mitigate those feelings and the behaviors that precipitate them—might just be members of the bloodthirsty “woke mob” trying to inflict “cancel culture” on their loved ones.

The idea that family estrangement is a new phenomenon caused by “cancel culture” is freshly popular among “cancel culture’s” critics—those who believe “cancel culture” has run amok. –Grimes, from her piece.

Give me a damn break. “Oh, families are now being cancelled by the left!” I am eyerolling so hard right now. People have been avoiding toxic families for CENTURIES. Ask any living LGBTQIA person, many of whom limit contact with or are estranged from their families of origin because said families refused to accept them and/or booted them out and/or continue to belittle them even if a queer person decides to maintain some contact. Those of us who are queer have threaded this needle for years. Decades, even. Especially if those families are conservative and/or religious.

Yeah, yeah, I know. “Not all religions.” But the fact remains that the vast majority of conservative families are also right-wing religious. And in those right-wing/theocratic religions is a whole lot of anti-LGBTQIA sentiment. I can’t count how many queer folx I know who barely have a speaking relationship with their families of origin, if they have a relationship at all. The common denominator? The families are conservative/religious. Others escaped toxicity that involved abuse (all kinds) and wasn’t necessarily tied to anti-LGBTQIA sentiment, but being queer sure didn’t make it easier.

Point being, it’s healthy to have boundaries around people who cause you pain and harm.

Grimes continues:

The gist seems to be that if you abandon your family the good old-fashioned way, that’s fine. But if you tell Grandpa not to crack racist jokes around your kids, or you’re not looking for another shouting match about vaccines, or you’re tired of answering nosy questions about when you’re having kids or why you’re still single, you’re a “cancel culture” snowflake looking for a safe space. Nobody has any hard data on whether family estrangements are actually on the rise, but hand-wringing articles blaming young adults for inventing the idea of cutting off their families certainly do seem to be proliferating. 

She rightly calls it a “boneheaded premise.”

Because it fucking is. People cracking racist jokes around you and your kids is toxic and harmful. People refusing to use your preferred pronouns and not calling you by your preferred name are actively harming you. People refusing to accept your same-sex partner at gatherings are harming you. People spouting Qnoise and other conspiracy craybuckets are toxic. Conspiracy theories are often antisemitic and racist; Qnoise has antisemitic roots. And people who refuse to be vaccinated could potentially cause you, your partner(s) and your kid(s) (if applicable) harm.

Here’s Grimes again:

Eliminating or reducing contact, or resetting the terms of engagement, are sometimes the only ways in which people can establish real consequences that spur healthy changes in how we relate to each other. And yet the defining characteristic of “cancel culture” critics is their dogged entitlement to other people’s time and attention even and especially when it’s hurtful and harmful; the same can be said for problematic relatives who won’t stop their bigoted screeds at the Thanksgiving table, or the abusive boss who demands emails be answered at 3 a.m.  

“Cancel culture” framing of trying to keep yourself away from family harm denies you agency and denies you the right to advocate for yourself. Grimes notes the entitlement toxic/cancel culture people claim when they demand your time at family gatherings while carrying on with whatever bigotry and then calling themselves victimized when you tell them to stop/limit contact.

Grimes also notes that the freak-out over “cancel culture” with regard to family relationships emanates largely from conservative parents toward their non-conservative kids and relatives and though not limited to strictly right-wing families, it is indicative of authoritarian values of conservatism writ large. These values seek to silence dissent and do not facilitate healthy conflict.

So the issue is not people who are tired of dealing with toxic relatives and those relatives’ inability to navigate relationships in healthy ways setting boundaries to protect themselves. It’s the toxic family members and the unhealthy structures they’ve created and that they refuse to deal with. It’s not “cancel culture” to avoid your family or set strict boundaries with your time and energy as to how you choose to interact with them or interact at all. It’s self-advocacy and self-care.

And no, you don’t need to “prove” you were abused or assaulted in your family to “justify” your boundaries. And no, you don’t owe anybody your time or energy. Nobody is entitled to you or your time.

So ignore all the wackadoodle screeching about “cancel culture” with regard to your family boundaries and do what makes you feel safe and loved, not just during the holidays, but all days. You get to determine how much or how little contact you have with your family of origin.

And I also understand that for some people, not spending time with families of origin is not an option. In those situations, survive as best you can and have a lifeline available if possible. For young queer folx, for example, the Trevor Project offers chat/call/text capability 24/7. Make sure you have a contact via social media that looks fairly innocuous so you can get a dose of validation and love. DM’ing through the Tumblr app, for example, might be a good option. And if you don’t have a device available for that, try stepping outside for a few moments/petting a household pet/taking a quick walk and reaching out when you can. I know shit sucks in the moment, and families of origin can be intensely cruel, but you are resilient and you’re loved and needed beyond the boundaries of your household. And hopefully, you’ll soon be able to set the boundaries you need to.

The holidays can be really hard for some. Made harder by the pandemic. Try to offer a helping hand as you can, and if you know of someone who won’t be spending time with a family of origin for whatever reasons, give them a call and spread some cheer. We’re all in this together, so let’s do what we can.

Stress sucks

So, I have realized that I am under an intense amount of stress and I am taking steps to address that and figure out how to bring my levels down because stress can make you sick in a lot of different ways and could eventually kill you.

Everybody is stressed. I get that. Some people are better at dealing with it, and unfortunately, I used to be one of those people but I’ve sort of backslid and now I’m trying to reclaim some zen for myself. The last 2 years have been years of major change in my life, and that brings stress. Also, watching the world slide into authoritarian horrible-ness is also keeping me up at night, especially as I watch it happen in this country. What passes for media in this country does nothing but doom-scroll, basically, and instill fear and horrible into every day.

Which is why I don’t watch news on major networks or cable news. Nor do I spread disinformation or misinformation, which has completely taken over most of social media.

I’m one of those people who takes on more than I should; I’m a “fixer,” which means I try to fix everything but myself. I have a long history of this, and it’s tied to dealing with chronic depression all of my life. When I’m in a healthier headspace, I have much better boundaries.

The last 5 years, especially, have made it hard to maintain those boundaries and left trauma among thousands of people in this country, given the proto-authoritarian who was in power here and the gutting of institutions that happened during that time and then the pandemic that continues to kill thousands — especially those who have been radicalized into extremist ideology.

There’s no talking to these people. And families and communities are suffering as people who have been radicalized deny the existence of covid, or deny that it’s anything worse than the flu, and continue to wallow in and spread conspiracy theories that endanger thousands more. This is also fueling authoritarianism and theocratic nationalism in this country, and it’s affecting every community, as the extreme right develops even more strategies to undermine democratic institutions. Those people across the country threatening public health officials and then showing up to school board meetings screaming about critical race theory? They’re probably the same people. And they’re dangerous to democracy and to the physical and emotional well-being of the people they’re attacking.

And then there’s the lack of resolve in this country to address climate change, which is exacerbating inequities just as covid has and will destroy a whole hell of a lot.

Everything is a shitshow and everything is uncertain, even as rights are being rolled back here as a result of Christian nationalist court rulings and legislatures.

So yeah. I’m stressed.

But I’m trying to get back into a healthier headspace. I went back into therapy last year and I do work out 5-6 times a week. I’m also trying to be more mindful about meditation (which I suck at, but I’m doing short guided meditations almost every day with the help of an app).

It’s hard, getting back into a better space. But if I don’t — well, let’s just say I had a bit of a wake-up call regarding managing stress better.

So, y’all, remember to do self-care. Try to find even a sliver of joy in every fucked-up day, and look beyond the media for stories of people surviving and thriving and working to build community rather than tear it down. Get involved in being one of those to feed your soul.

And please stay safe. This is a shitshow, but humans are remarkably resilient. I’m remembering that as I work on getting my shit better handled.

Cheers, all. Hope you have a good rest of the week.

Oh, and here’s an easy way to take a couple of minutes and do nothing. 🙂

Happy Halloween!!!!

And for those of you who commemorate/acknowledge, Días de los Muertos, which is more my jam because I like throwing props to the departed.

Regardless, hope you had a safe and fun Halloween. And in case you wanted some Halloween music to keep on rockin’, I made a playlist. You can check it out on Spotify.

Also, here’s another cool Halloween playlist on Spotify via a Twitter acquaintance! So go get your groove on!

Hope you’ve been having a Happy Halloween.

Covid-19 IS our new normal, y’all

Hey, friends–

I was talking to a friend the other day. Both of us are vaxxed and we both continue to mask up when we have to leave the safety of our caves and my friend said: “COVID’s with us from here on out. People need to get used to it.”

I’ve been thinking that since the first year of this latest pandemic — yeah, LATEST. Because pandemics are part of human history (see this timeline), and, because humans can also be colossal dicks, there have always been anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists and the whole bag of squirrels that goes along with that.

Here’s a nice piece from Scientific American that gives you the denialist playbook. No doubt a lot of that is going to sound familiar if you’ve been paying attention. And these movements can cause a lot of damage. (if you’re interested, an intrepid Redditor collected several images of articles and flyers over the past century that are eerily prescient for what we’re dealing with today)

I’ve been reading up on pandemics and different historical eras and I’m struck by how widespread disease interacts with sociopolitical structures. Pandemics have, indeed, changed the course of human history and like others before it, COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) has exposed the underlying rot and rifts in countries (including the US) and systemic inequalities and tensions. So everything feels out of control and like a train wreck — for good reason. It is.

[Depiction of the great plague of London, 1665, from Origins at]

Professor of Italian history Paula Findlen at Stanford talked about 14th-century Italians dealing with bubonic plague in a 2020 interview and had this to say:

For Italians in the 14th-century, plague at first seemed extraordinary, then it became ordinary, even endemic. People responded creatively to the initial waves of plague. They thought about life and death, love and friendship, sickness and health differently. They took the moral pulse of their society, while getting down and dirty in the political struggles of the age. Once people got used to the idea that plague would periodically return, it became an economic annoyance, a catalyst for social negotiation and an administrative problem to resolve. The arc and duration of each outbreak became a measure of the success and failure of public health, rather than a subject of great reflection. Hospitals and charitable institutions benefited from the ongoing need to experiment with how to care and cure, and how to tend compassionately to the poor in the midst of the horrors and fears of a major pandemic.

[SOURCE: “For Renaissance Italians, combating black plague was as much about politics as it was science, according to Stanford scholar,” by Melissa DeWitte, Stanford News (May 12, 2020)]

Speaking of Italy and plagues, I discovered that some of the things that continue today put in place to deal with widespread disease can be found in Italy hundreds of years ago. Quinto Tiberio Angelerio was a doctor in the Italian town of Anghero when a plague swept through in 1582. Alghero is on the island of Sardinia and this plague outbreak killed almost half the population.

Angelerio had survived an earlier plague in 1575 in Sicily and thus had developed some practices to help combat transmission. So when three people died after developing symptoms in Alghero, Angelerio went directly to the city leaders and told them to start isolating other people with symptoms. Most city officials balked, but the viceroy prevailed and soon the town was locked down and guards patrolled its borders to ensure compliance.

And because people are dicks (and have been forever), some of the population freaked out about the measures and called for the lynching of Angelerio. But when the plague swept through the city, Angelerio was entrusted with taking further measures, and he would later list those in a 1588 pamphlet.

Some of the recommendations are wackadoo by today’s standards (I mean, the understanding of disease was rudimentary), but others are basically common sense: forbidding meetings, dances, and gatherings; disinfect (using heat) anything that had been in contact with someone with plague; and house lockdowns except for necessities (like food shopping; one person at a time and you had to get permission). And if you had to go out, you had to carry a six-foot cane and it was necessary, Angelerio said, to keep that distance between yourself and others.

So humans have been dealing with pandemics for centuries.

[Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Triumph of Death,” 1562. Thought to be a statement about a (the) plague. Hit this link at to dissect it and think about different elements of society and politics with regard to disease.]

The truth is, you can’t put the genie back into the bottle or, in this case, the virus back into the original vector. COVID-19 is now among humans, after making the leap from its previous hosts and, like viruses do, it mutates and lays waste to us, its new hosts, who don’t have any natural immunity to this disease. It doesn’t mean we won’t eventually get some immunity, or that more effective treatments won’t be developed. It just means that right now, our systems don’t have the hardware or virus protection to combat this threat. In a few years, perhaps, this particular COVID manifestation might actually end up being “like the flu”

But until that happens — better treatments, better vaccines, possibly the development of immune responses that are more effective against this damn thing — it behooves us as a species to take care of ourselves and each other in our communities and we do that by masking, keeping our distance, vaccinating (if possible), and using common sense: wash your hands effectively and often (and show kids how to do it, too); eat right, exercise, try to engage in self-care. Also, check in with people who might not have access to basic hygiene products to do that and help provide them, whether in your community or through donation sites to populations that don’t have them. Build some community if you can, and also, see what lessons you can glean from history.

The point is, humans have weathered plague storms before, detractors and assclowns included. And we’ve done it with a lot fewer resources and a lot less knowledge. But take measures to help you and others weather this storm. Such things have been in place for centuries, after all. And maybe use this “new normal” to start making some real change in your life and in your community. But please take precautions and stay safe.

10 cool things to check out

HI, friends!

Hope everybody is doing well (or as well as can be). Here are 10 things to maybe get your mind off the hellscape all over the place. There can still be good in the world. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder.

1. Okay, so over at BoredPanda there is a super-cool article with photos about a French artist who creates 3-D art on icky/boring urban structures. Pierrot (Scaf) does some awesome work. Check it out. Another cool element he incorporates into his art before he photographs it is he includes himself in the piece, so it looks like he’s part of the art.

2. And speaking or art, during the lockdown, people found interesting ways to amuse themselves. Including recreating famous artworks at home. LOL See some here. The idea may have originated from a Tweet sent out by the Getty Museum asking people to do it using household items and then post the photos on Getty’s Twitter thread. Like this one.

3. Parkour. I dig watching people do this. If you’re not familiar, parkour is the sport of moving rapidly through an area — typically urban — negotiating obstacles by running, climbing and jumping. Suffolk-born Shane Griffin is a BOSS at this. Check this link for some background on him (includes some vids, too). And here’s a vid of Griffin in action:

Shane Griffin, via YouTube

4. Otters. OMG WHO DOESN’T LOVE OTTERS. You can find great photos and vids on the Twitter account @In_Otter_News_2. And the person who runs that account also created an otter meme library last year. Find it here.

5. Carmilla, the web series. Let’s be real, here. I binged this web series when I discovered it a few years back (OMG WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO FIND IT????). It’s a lesbian vampire web series loosely based on the 1872 gothic novella of the same name by Irish author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (find it at Project Gutenberg). It pre-dated Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years, y’all. The novella is told from the POV of a young woman preyed upon by a female vampire. Anyhoo, the Canadian web series of Carmilla launched in 2014. Episodes average 2-5 minutes (some longer, some shorter) and they’re told from the POV of college student Laura Hollis (played by Elise Bauman) who is a vlogger wanting to document her college experience. So it’s told in single-frame format, but it’s really well done. Laura’s roommate — Carmilla (played by Natasha Negovanlis) — turns out to be a vampire. There are 3 seasons and a short “zero” season which is kind of a prequel. Here’s the first episode:

S1.1, Carmilla web series

6. And how about some gaming? June’s Journey by Wooga is a hidden object game that has you solving a mystery during the 1920s. Romance! Intrigue! Available on apps for all the devices you could need. Find out more over at Wooga.

7. Or maybe board games are more your thing. Try this cool historic-ish train board game, Ticket to Ride, in which you and other players are collecting cards to build your cross-country railroad routes.

8. And since Halloween is on the way, howsabout checking out some horror/spooky podcasts? Find a short list here. One of those is “And That’s Why We Drink,” in which co-hosts Em and Christine bring you a true crime story and a paranormal spooky story.

9. Candles. Y’all, let’s make some candles! If you’ve got a few extra bucks, maybe invest in a DIY candle-making kit and create some cool candles for your house, your friends, your family, or whatever. I’m partial to soy candles (they tend to burn cleaner), so here’s a kit you might dig. Maybe make some spoooooky Halloween candles!

10. Libraries. They always have programs going on and so many other things. My local library has a jigsaw puzzle collection where you go and take a puzzle and bring it back when you’re done. My library also allows you access to Kanopy, a movie and documentary platform for public libraries. I can watch up to 7 movies/documentaries a month. Just create an account with your library card and start streaming! I’ve got Kanopy set up on my Roku and I’ve watched several documentaries already. Also, many libraries have access to Overdrive, the ebook lending service. Download the app, create an account with your library card, and boom. Point being, libraries are a God(dess)send. Treasure them, support them, and support librarians, too! Run for the library board and help keep your libraries going! Get involved in civic awesomeness!

All right, friends. There you go. 10 things to get your mind off the cray (hopefully). If you know of something cool/awesome, just leave a comment to let us all know.


5 things: 5 books I recently read


omg I have a confession to make. Here it is: I don’t read much romance. And by that, I mean I probably read maybe 1-2 of those a year, but if I’m being really honest, I don’t think I’ve read a romance novel since the end of 2019. (having said that, I am currently reading a cute queer graphic novel romance)

I like writing romance (when I’m writing lol; see last week’s post), but as I’ve gotten older, I find it’s not the most interesting thing about characters or narratives or plot arcs or stories. It can add some spice to the mix, but a driving factor of life isn’t necessarily romance. I mean, who DOESN’T have a fuck-ton of other things going on? Seriously — who is able to spend every waking moment doing nothing but pursuing a romance? Must be nice if that’s you.

Also, the other thing about reading romance that frustrates me is that the characters involved spend a lot of time trying to please this other person or pining for someone when the real deal is that you can’t truly love others in unselfish/non-needy ways until you love and care about yourself in healthy ways.

Sorry, but there is no other person on the planet who can fix your issues and “complete” you. Only YOU can do that. Sure, another person (or people, for the polyamorous among us) can be a really good match for you, and you can complement each other and be great support systems for each other, but if YOU can’t complete yourself, then you’re probably trying to fix some of your own inner workings by using other people/relationships to do it, and that’s a huge burden to put on another person. Sorry. Truth bomb for you. It took me a long time to learn that, and a long time to get to a point where I liked being me and I liked who I am as a person. When I got to that point, romance was a hella bunch better, and so were my relationships. Both romantic and non-romantic.

All because I got my own shit together.

Anyway, that’s why I don’t read much romance. I want the character who’s been through all kinds of shit, gotten therapy, worked on their issues, and has come to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and who refuses to indulge in potentially toxic situations. Characters like that tend to be older and (hopefully) wiser, and there’s not much market for romances with characters like that. Or maybe publishers just haven’t thought about it. And where are the stories for those who are Ace? Romance and meaningful relationships don’t need sex to be soulmate-ish. More of those stories, too. *side-eyes publishers*

Caveat: I’ll read a fluffy graphic novel queer romance (see below) because fluffy.

But on the list of 5 books I’ve recently read listed below (in no particular order), there is zero romance. It’s not my go-to and never has been (because I’m WEIRD, okay? LOLOL). HOWEVER, I am currently reading a graphic novel queer romance (see below in “currently reading”). Regardless, I read across genres and I read a lot of nonfiction. And I highly recommend doing that, because you can get a lot of different perspectives, which is always good.

1. War Girls, Tochi Onyebuchi (2019): young adult science fiction and omg, the world-building. It’s 2172 in Nigeria, in a world ravaged by climate change, nuclear war and perpetual battles. Two sisters torn apart by war — can they find their way back to each other? Onyebuchi also notes that he based the conflict in this book on the 1967 Nigerian Civil War. This is a beautifully written and deeply personal tale about the wounds and wreckage of war and the survival within. Read more about War Girls here.

2. The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars, Paul Collins (2012). I’m a true crime buff (yes, I’m a Murderino, too), so books like this are right up my alley, given that and my academic background in history. Here, a grisly murder (headless torso and then legs that match the torso) serves as the backdrop for the absolutely nutso media/tabloid wars in New York City around the turn of the 20th century. Fascinating look at how early police work often intertwined with tabloid journalism. Newsflash — tabloid stories and the yellow press are nothing new in this country’s history, and you’ll probably recognize the roots of current “media” cray.

3. American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century, Maureen Callahan (2019). Yeah. More true crime. This one is about the serial killer Israel Keyes. We honestly don’t know how many people he killed and after his arrest before his trial he committed suicide in his jail cell. Keyes had “kill caches” stashed all over the country — kill kits — and he traveled extensively all over the U.S., selecting victims completely at random, which is why it’s been so hard to track his activities. His background includes growing up in an off-the-grid cult-like situation and hanging out with white supremacists. This was one scary dude. Don’t read this at night. Callahan frames the book around the horrific kidnapping and murder of a young woman in Alaska, which begins the unraveling of Keyes’s killings.

4. A Study in Scarlet Women, Sherry Thomas (2016). This is the first in Thomas’s Lady Sherlock Series and OMG so enjoyable! Most excellent take and interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. Here, Charlotte Holmes ends up “losing her place” in society due to a calculated dalliance with a married man so she could be pushed out of high society and basically be more free as a woman in Victorian London. Charlotte has always been different (and I’m suspecting Thomas wrote her as neurodivergent), but she uses the name “Sherlock Holmes” to help with police matters through a Lord friend of hers. Great re-imagining of Holmes, and fab writing. Fun fact: Thomas immigrated to this country from China when she was 13. English is not her first language. But damn, she wields it well.

5. Ring Shout, P. Djèlí Clark (2020). OH. MAH. GAWD. Run, don’t walk, and get yourself a copy of this ASAP. Here, Clark does an alt-history (OR IS IT) of the 1915-era Klan. That was the year the racist film Birth of a Nation swept the country and burrowed into the most horrible thoughts of white people, creating literal demons — Ku Kluxes — that spread fear and violence across the country. But there is resistance, and Maryse Boudreaux and her crew hunt and fight them, taking them out every chance they get. But something’s brewing in Macon, and it could unleash hell on earth. I am a HUGE fan of Clark, and this will stay with you long after you finish it. (also, in case you wondered, here’s what a Ring Shout is).

And I’m currently reading:

Historian Lisa McGirr’s excellent analysis of Prohibition as a tool to increase state power: The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State (2016). McGirr has done a lot of work on the American right, and I’ve always been fascinated by how the Christian Right, in particular, drove Prohibition (and continues to drive theocratic policy and laws — want to know why this country is such a fuck-up? The Christian Right plays a huge role in that since the country’s founding, basically). This addresses the role of the Christian Right in Prohibition, along with how Prohibition was used by law enforcement to police race, class, and gender.

And wow, I never actually thought of Eliot Ness outside that whole Prohibition thing, but in Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher: Hunting America’s Deadliest Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology (2021) I’m getting a look at Ness as a lawman outside that, on the trail of the perpetrator responsible for the Cleveland torso murders.

AND OMG A CUTE QUEER HOCKEY ROMANCE (SEE????? I sometimes read romance!) in Check, Please, by Ngozi Ukazu. This started life as a super-popular webcomic and now is available in graphic novel form. Follow Eric, a former junior figure skating champ, co-ed hockey player, who is also an excellent baker and food vlogger. He starts playing for the Samwell University hockey team that has a really attractive captain, Jack.

Share your own reads in the comments if you want. I know folx out there are always looking to expand their book lists. 🙂

Happy weekend, all.

Writing is weird, in a pandemic

So y’all know that the pandemic basically derailed writing in my world. Which is fine; a lot of other things took priority. Like, for example, staying alive.

[lol some of you no doubt have no idea who these dudes are or the year this song was released…anyway, here’s the direct YouTube link in case anything disembeds.]

I tend not to kick myself over not writing because whatever, life happens and what are you gonna do?

I have, however, been doing a bit of writing here and there, and I feel like I’ll be able to be more regular about it, but I’ve got a lot of demands on me still and I’m working on carving out some time each day to do some of said writing. It’s not that I feel uninspired. It’s that I have other responsibilities that have taken precedence and I’m learning how to organize those and get used to my new normal, which is not at all what it was when the pandemic lockdowns started in 2020.

I used to think that I’d be making a living of some sort from writing, but the pandemic has made me re-think a lot of things, including the role writing takes in my life. I don’t write the kinds of things that gajillions of people are interested in, so I’m not ever going to sell enough to support myself without other jobs, but I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I thought maybe — just maybe — that could be a thing though I am pragmatic and realistic about it. Heh. Hope springs eternal!

At any rate, the last 18 months have involved a fuck-ton of change, and I’m rolling with it. So I’m re-calibrating my reasons for writing, and really thinking about what, when, and why in that regard. I ain’t no spring chicken anymore, and time is precious and I’m really thinking about what makes me happy and how to spend that time. I’m fortunate in that I have the space and privilege to do that, which means I spend some time thinking about people who don’t, so I also still try to make myself useful in a community sense.

We won’t know for a few years the extent of the societal impact the Covid pandemic created, but I do know there’s a lot of trauma circulating out there and everybody is dealing with it in their own ways (some less healthy and dangerous than others, but there you go).

For me, it completely shut down my writing as I worked to ensure that family was okay, that we were able to get supplies and that we were safe. When vaccines became available, I got my elderly relatives signed up and vaxxed, and then went to get one for myself as soon as that option became available for my age group. At my house, we still live, however, for the most part like it’s pre-vax era, and that’s okay. It is what it is.

The vax did make us relax a bit, but we know that the world is not going back to pre-pandemic happy fun times. Covid is here to stay, and until our immune systems develop natural responses to it and medical science develops better treatments for it, this pandemic will continue to be a danger for years, made worse by people who have succumbed to conspiracy theories and who do not care about anybody beyond their own noses.

The pandemic also exposed a lot of percolating shit beneath the surface, and the effect of that won’t be known for years, either. Basically, this pandemic has changed everything and it’s healthy to acknowledge that the change is not only on an individual level, but a community and global level. Trying to pretend otherwise and go about your business like no big deal, everything’s fine is a gambler’s (fool’s?) errand.

Point being, writing is important to me, yes, but not so important that I gave it primacy over other very important things that came up during the last 18 months. We all cope in our own ways, and an interesting thing for me during Covid is that writing was not an escape as it normally is. Other things were, and I went with them. When writing isn’t an escape for me, then I back-burner it. But slowly, I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of it.

At any rate, if you have any Covid coping strategies that you found worked for you, share in the comments for others. We could all use fresh perspectives and suggestions.

And stay safe, everyone.

Don’t forget our peeps down South

Hi, friends–quick post tonight; I’ll probably do a longer one in a few days.

Just wanted to remind people that Hurricane Ida hit the Gulf Coast really super hard including communities like Houma (HOME-uh) in Louisiana.

Here are links to organizations that are helping on the ground; please consider donating if you can; spreading the word helps, too. Let’s not forget that people will be without power for weeks and another storm is bearing down on the area.

Foodtank has links to orgs you probably didn’t know existed, like House of Tulip (which helps trans and gender nonconforming people in Louisiana); Cajun Navy (geared to help rescue and provide relief supplies); Mercy Chefs; Another Gulf is Possible (led by WOC).

I’m partial to local orgs, but some big orgs are doing good work (though I’m side-eyeing Salvation Army and Red Cross rn). Here are other sources with links, including to those:

Accuweather how to help
USAToday how to help

Share the luv as you can, and help as you can if you’re so inclined. Thanks, all.

yes, bad books get published by the big houses

So. Look. There are lots of things about publishing and editing and writing that I still don’t know even though I’ve been doing all of that for…um…over 20 years. YES I’M OLDER. WHATEVER. AND I AM CRANKY ABOUT THIS BOOK. DOUBLE WHATEVER.

And I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when I read a book published by one of the big houses that leaves me wondering “how the hell did this even get accepted in the first place?” because well, shit gets through. That’s the nature of the game. And maybe somebody out there read this thing that I ended up skimming and thought it was great. Thoughts and prayers to that person.

Anyway, there are so many indie authors out there, for example, who write really good stuff but maybe couldn’t get a book deal with a big house (presuming that they tried and wanted to) but then a serious case of WTAF gets published by a reputable big house and it just makes me wonder. Like, who thought publishing this was a good idea? And clearly, experts were not consulted to read the manuscript and ascertain whether it worked or not.

I’m not going to name this book or the house; no point to that. It was published around 2014, so we’re not talking back in the day, when our present context makes reading some older books cringe-inducing. And this isn’t about all the white supremacist presses currently operating that are re-printing horrendous racist and antisemitic crap and publishing new horrendous racist and antisemitic crap. Or about the big conservative houses that are pumping out pseudoscience about LGBTQ+ people and abortion and publish crap by white people freaking out about critical race theory. I mean, stop it with that.

This is about a book that’s trying to be a mystery/thriller set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I checked it out at the library because I’m from Albuquerque, and I like to read books set there. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy reading this one for many reasons, and a lot of those have to do with the mechanics of writing. Here’s what I mean:

  • This book needed a (better?) developmental editor. Which means it needed somebody to help the author work on plot and make sure that the elements therein made sense, that the characters made sense, that the arcs all worked. As it stands, this book was not developed very well and after 40 pages I literally couldn’t take it anymore and had to skim the rest of it. Why did I bother? Because I wanted to see if maybe it tightened up later. Spoiler: it didn’t.
  • Character development. Everybody in this book felt interchangeable, which is a sign that your characters need work. Describing a character’s physical attributes does not character development make.
  • Dialogue. Only one character had a dialogue quirk. The rest were interchangeable with the same affect. Dialogue is an extension of a character. As a reader, I need to believe that a particular character is saying a particular thing, and I will “hear” the character in their dialogue if the character is well-developed.
  • Setting is a major factor in books like this; it’s another character. As it stands, descriptions were either barely there or something like a room was described in excruciating and wholly unnecessary detail. This is supposed to be a mystery/thriller. You need to pace it a certain way, and you don’t need a lot of grocery list details about mundane things unless it’s playing into some larger element of the plot or playing a role in grounding the characters in their overall setting.
  • More about that setting thing. This is supposed to be set in Albuquerque, but it seemed the author had never been there from the writing. Vague references to streets that do exist and a couple of specific places that do exist, but overall, this was Generic-land, USA. Goddammit, if you’re going to set a book in a specific place, then give it local flavor. Otherwise, what’s the point of setting a book in a specific place? And a specific place with very specific local flavors like Albuquerque? I know that city and I know New Mexico and this book pissed me off with its lack of attention to setting. That’s something the publisher should have done, is gotten someone familiar with New Mexico and Albuquerque to assess it. There are plenty of readers and writers based in that area who could have done it. And now I’m wondering if they did do that and the reader was all WTF, offered corrections and suggestions, and the publisher was all “nope” and went ahead with the manuscript. (caveat–there is a possibility that the publisher axed many Albuquerque and NM details)
  • Sensitivity readers. A main character was allegedly Diné. But if I read this manuscript without knowledge of the writer’s name or background, I would assume it was written by a white person stuck in a “noble Indian” interpretation of Diné culture, regardless of the author’s actual background. This book is not written for Indigenous people. It’s written for white people, most of whom have stereotypical views of Indigenous cultures if they even think about Indigenous people at all. (Reminder: publishing is a majority-white industry; so, no surprise about the representation in this book) Maybe the author thought they were educating white people and maybe the publisher didn’t allow much along those lines. Regardless, it didn’t work for me.
  • Plot issues. Basically, the book’s premise is that a couple of dudes end up buying a small business in Albuquerque and end up doing a homicide investigation in conjunction with law enforcement. It seems to just sort of happen, that they’re involved and they have a friend who is cop who feeds them information as they’re all going behind the lead detective’s back. So many problematic things there. Police procedure? What’s that? And why are these two guys allowed to do whatever? How did the inside cop not lose their job or get reprimanded? If you’re going to incorporate a law enforcement element like this, then make it realistic and make it work. Make me, the reader, believe that it COULD happen.
  • Clunky writing. This feels like an early draft; a lot of “as you know, Bob” and telling and not showing. These are things that happen usually with a beginning author. I know. I was one. And I did those things, which is why I’m sensitive to them now.

The point is, even books that need a lot of work get published by big-ass houses, aside from my having gripes about the lack of true ABQ and NM rep. What comes out of a book like this is I have no desire to read follow-ups in this series, even if the writer improved because my experience reading this one book just turned me off to the rest of them.

Writing is a craft and an art form. Most of us suck at it when starting out. We can all learn things to get better at it, and we have to work our asses off to do it, and most of us do. But when a book like this gets published by a big house, a little part of my soul withers because there are so many talented writers out there who aren’t getting the recognition they should or the resources a big house can provide (should a writer want to go that route with their career). It didn’t have to be that way. Maybe the author wasn’t edited effectively. Or maybe the author refused to accept edits. Maybe there was a huge fight about it. Who knows. The point is, this could have been a much stronger and well-constructed story and it wasn’t. And we sure as hell aren’t richer for it. Boo.