Celebrate Banned Books Week - Read One

This week (September 27 - Oct 4) is Banned Books Week. Various organizations have planned events highlighting our need to support both the freedom of the written word and the authors who create them. The American Library Association has materials and information available for anyone who wants to host an event. Amnesty International is encouraging people to support authors who have been persecuted for their work. Even Google is in, offering lists of banned books and links back to the ALA site for those who want to fight book challenges in their own communities.

Many times in the United States we take for granted the right to read or say whatever we wish, secure in our first amendment rights. Every day in every state, however, books are being challenged and/or removed from library shelves because some people believe they have the right to impose their moral codes on others through restricting their access to information. It's not all done through official channels either - I've personally known people who have gone into libraries and checked out books that offended them with the express purpose of not returning them, thereby "saving" someone from being exposed to the contents. It's a problem that needs to be addressed both with education and harsh penalties for people who take it upon themselves to decide what is appropriate for me to read.

Of course, those people are small potatoes compared to the threat from schools, libraries, and local governments removing or banning books. Sometimes it's a matter of public pressure or parent protest, and sometimes it's simply an elected official who decides to be the moral compass for the entire community. Whoever or whatever the reason, though, the simple fact is, it's wrong.

I'm not referring to pornography here. (Although I don't believe in censorship of any kind.) I'm talking about classics of literature. Mark Twain, for example, is consistently one of the most challenged authors. This issue is about much more than books - it's about the free flow of ideas, and it's about access to those ideas by everyone - the very definition of democracy.

So this week, celebrate. Celebrate your right to read whatever you want. Check out lists of banned and challenged books, and read something that someone, somewhere, thinks you shouldn't have access to. It's as much about freedom as the 4th of July. Even more so, I think.

30 September 2008

Autumn At Last

I can normally feel the first tiny breath of Fall. Even here, in hottest tropical Louisiana, sometimes at the height of hurricane season when the weather is hot, sticky, and miserable, a day usually comes when that smell starts, drifting down from northern parts unknown. It is subtle, only the smallest of hints, a breeze that brings with it memories of cool nights and dreams of crisp mornings. This year I smelled it in the middle of August, and I thought, that can't be right - Autumn is weeks away. The same week a swarm of love bugs, our twice-yearly scourge, dropped in. My ex-father-in-law used to tell us that when the love bugs come, a cold front is only two weeks away. It had always held true, but this year I was doubtful. A cold front, at the beginning of September? Unheard of here. Can't be.

My senses and his folk wisdom proved true, however, because during the week between Gustav and Ike when we were cleaning up, lo and behold in floated the cool air. It was a nice break, but unfortunately a short one, as Ike arrived a few days later with more flooding and another blast of hot, sticky Gulf moisture.

Since then, however, Fall is slowly but surely creeping back in. Last week a very weak cool front pushed through, not lowering temperatures but bringing in dryer air, a welcome relief here. Monday was the Autumnal Equinox, and, right on cue, yesterday the north wind picked up once again and brought cooler air this time - when I woke up this morning the temperature outside was 61F. (For Louisiana that is cool) As Fall is by far my favorite season, I am happy and my soul is at ease. Good weather for writing. Also for a big pot of gumbo.

1022 words on the novel yesterday, along with more research, thoughts about themes, and the beginnings of a new short story. I'm trying to work up to a daily average of 1500 - 2000 words, but all too often real life intrudes and I have other obligations. Still, progress is progress.

And Autumn has arrived, so it's all good.

25 September 2008

It's 'Cause of These Things...

Monday was productive with roughly 1000 more words on the novel, but Tuesday was a wash due to homestead obligations. Today looks more promising, as my schedule is cleared through the morning so I'll have several uninterrupted hours of writing time.

Another story sold! This one went to Niteblade, an online horror magazine based in Canada. That's two submissions accepted in a row, so I am overflowing with warm, fuzzy feelings and self-congratulations. The story was "Homecoming" which I'll post links to as soon as it is up.

Other news - I've finally launched my website, lynettemejia.com. It's still in preliminary stages, but at least it's there. Thanks to the LOML for hosting and general web-unbuggery. Wow. That sounded gross. At any rate, I'll be adding content and links as I ease out into the publishing world.

Spotty posting for the rest of the week as I plan to work, work, work. A first draft by Thanksgiving would be nice. By first of November, even nicer, as I want to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, but I don't want to use the current book.

Now, off to work.

24 September 2008

Review: Blue Genes, by Christopher Lukas

The story of Christopher Lukas and his brother, award-winning journalist J. Anthony Lukas, is a chronicle of mental health medicine’s evolution in the 20th century. Their family is struck again and again by bipolar disorder, a disease not yet understood or properly treated until late in the century. Unfortunately, the repercussions from misdiagnosis and lack of proper treatment echo through the lives of these brothers with shattering immediacy, starting with the suicide of their mother when the boys were only eight and six years old. Through the years one after another family member succumbs to the disease, ending finally with the suicide of Tony, the story that begins the memoir. The tragedy is in the sheer magnitude of the toll it takes on the family, but Mr. Lukas tells it not only as a memorial to what the he and his brother went through, but as a testament to the fact that, despite it all, he survived.

After relating the account of his family’s origins beginning with his great-grandparents, Lukas chronicles the heartbreaking story of his mother’s death, and how the boys were immediately shipped off to boarding school with no explanation for their mother’s disappearance or chance to say good-bye. This forced delay of grieving was to influence and haunt both men throughout their lives, an added burden to their already confusing personal battles with depression and bipolar disorder. Sadly, in the end it proved a burden too heavy for Tony.

While interesting and thoroughly well-written, this book is a difficult read, mainly due to the pervasive sadness that permeates this family’s history. Mr. Lukas does an excellent job of conveying the struggle the boys underwent throughout their lives, but he pays scant attention to the good moments he has enjoyed through the years, flying by his wife and daughter’s impact on his health and well-being. Ultimately, Lukas triumphs in the story, but his victory seems almost Pyrrhic - a survivor alone, among the ashes.

19 September 2008

Thought For the Day

If you don't feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn't very vital. If you don't feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don't have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you are not trying to tell enough.
-John Irving

By God, I'm writing a masterpiece.

Review: Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine

A few weeks ago I received a copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine for review. To be honest it has taken me a while to get through it, simply because I have a huge backlog of other review projects sandwiched in between my own fiction work which is daily crying out for my attention. Over the weekend, however, I cloistered myself off in my bedroom and read the thing. The verdict? I'm glad I did.

The magazine itself reminds me of the kinds of magazines and comics I used to read as a kid - black and white pulp pages, no glossy illustrations, no shiny video game ads. This is a magazine that sticks to its business - and I really like and appreciate that about it. It's a fat little thing - 240 pages, but it's packed with really good stories from top-notch writers, along with a few review columns and non-fiction science articles.

My favorite story was probably Steven Utley's "Sleepless Years", a moving and unsettling take on immortality, but I also thoroughly enjoyed Albert E. Cowdrey's New Orleans-flavored "Inside Story" (the accents were spot-on). And, of course, there was Stephen King's "The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates." Personally I've always been of the opinion that the short story medium is where King shines, and this was no exception.

Talk lately in the sci-fi/fantasy world has circled round and round the issue of whether or not short fiction is dead as a medium. Detractors point to falling subscription rates, claiming that anthologies will be the only remaining market for stories. Maybe that will come to pass and maybe it won't, but I will say this - I enjoyed Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, for its format as well as its content. It's certainly worth reading, and, in my opinion, that's worth enough.

15 September 2008

Monday Morning and the Grind's Still Here

Thankfully, Ike passed us by with no more than (what I consider) an interesting and beautiful weather day. (Rain, windy) Sadly, though, some to our south and west did not have such good fortune. My heart reaches out to those in Southeast Texas and even in extreme Southwest Louisiana. To give you an idea, today's Picture of the Day from Nasa shows what the storm looked like as it came ashore. Imagine that knocking at your door. Here are some photos of the terrible damage.

Woke up yesterday to learn that David Foster Wallace had committed suicide. I haven't read a lot of his work, but he was a Gen X writer, and therefore we shared a generational culture. He was considered somewhat of a genius, and was by pretty much any measure very successful. Two thoughts come to mind - I wonder first why he was so sad, to the point that taking himself out of the picture seemed like the only worthwhile solution. Second, it makes me think about the nature of genius and the mental burden it sometimes carries. It's a dangerous coin to hold, and even more dangerous to flip.

Wow. Looking back, this post doesn't seem very cheerful, does it? Maybe it's the weather that's put me in this mood. (Heavy, low, grey clouds) Seems to help in the way of creativity though, so maybe I'll have a good writing day. We'll see.

More Cool Links For A Hot Night On Hurricane Watch

Well Ike has shifted northwest over the last twelve hours or so, so it looks as though my neck of the woods is going to get some weather after all. In the interim, while we watch the pressure dropping, check out the latest round of interesting bits from around the Internets:

Tor.com has posted a cool story by Elizabeth Bear titled "The Girl Who Sang Rose Madder".

Here's an interesting article posted by Shadowhelm, otherwise known as Margaret H. Bonham: 12-15 Step Program For Gaining Good Writing Habits.

Also, Giant Penis Man needs re-chalking. Any volunteers?

Yes, I think that's a good closer. See you on the other side.

11 September 2008

Progress And Other Tidbits

1,003 words yesterday on "Passing" a new science fiction short story I started right before Gustav came to town. Kind of stuck at this point - I know what I want to say, but I'm not sure how to say it. Call it a big, fat, steaming plot hole. Yes, that sounds about right. Also, I'm trying to add in some humor, but funnies are funny things - they are by nature sort of off-the-cuff, and it's hard to craft them - takes away some of the spontaneity. Also, after reading something four million times in the editing process you start to wonder if it was ever funny in the first place. Ah, well. We'll see.

On a happy note, the day after we got power again I received an email from Claire at Twisted Tongue Magazine saying she wants to publish both my poem "Wicked" and my short story "What Goes Around." My first acceptance! Needless to say, I am totally thrilled. Lends some satisfaction, not to mention validation, to my efforts. Hope that I am improving as a writer, enough so that one day I'll actually be able to make a living at this.

Weather is nice outside - cloudy and cool, which, if you know anything about Louisiana, means A LOT this time of year. I plan to enjoy it too, as today I am eschewing the mines for a bit in order to head over to my local Friends of the Library semi-annual book sale, something that has become, for me, a twice yearly orgy of bargains and book finds. Totally psyched. Will head back home afterwards to work on THE NOVEL.

A Few Cool Links

I've run across this morning. Who knows, I might make this a regular feature -

A short history of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. A nineteenth century reform experiment with good intentions that went very, very wrong. I've always believed that the best way to reform convicts is to drive them mad!

The lost art of gentlemen's calling cards. Or maybe not so lost, as it turns out. I like this idea.

From the New York Review of Books, "A Summer of Madness" - Dr. Oliver Sacks (of Awakening fame) reviews an account of a man dealing with is daughter's mental illness.

09 September 2008

Review: The Grift, by Debra Ginsberg

The victim of childhood abuse and neglect, Marina Marks developed the skills that many children in such circumstances acquire – the ability to read people with a survivor’s instantaneous accuracy. Following a scheme set in motion by her drug addicted mother and an eerie encounter with an old woman who claims she truly has the second sight, the little girl becomes a psychic, a career she holds on to as an adult as the novel opens. After starting a new life in California, however, events unfold to completely change her idea of who and what she is.

As the cover art suggests, the word grift is only one letter away from gift, and this is the fine line Marina walks throughout the novel. From the beginning she doesn’t see herself as a con artist, merely a “counselor” of sorts who reads people instead of fortunes. She carries a sense of mild disdain for her clients, a feeling which makes it easier to relieve them of their money. Her self-definition fails, however, once she starts actually seeing ghosts and foretelling the future with frightening accuracy. In the end, Marina must redefine her notions of reality and of herself, a transformation that is not without consequences.

The Grift is a well-written story. The plot is original, the characters are engaging, and the author does an admirable job of handling a wide variety of viewpoints with accuracy and skill. The protagonist acts in ways we would expect of one who suddenly finds the world changed, seemingly overnight. It’s a touch that lends credibility to her character and interest for the reader. A good read for a rainy day.

08 September 2008

The Arrival of Gustav

Gustav is coming ashore and so far we are faring well. Wind gusts 20 - 25mph so far, and the first hard rain squall just arrived a few minutes ago. We have power for the moment, but I'm not sure how much longer that will last. I'll try to post again today with an update. Hope everyone is safe.

01 September 2008

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