Authors of the Pacific Northwest Podcast Interview

I was on the Authors of the Pacific Northwest Podcast with Vikki J. Carter, and it came out really well. We talked about publishing quite a bit, and I read from Don't Read This Book which hits store shelves tomorrow. If you like what you hear and want to read the novel, you can pre-order it now from your favorite online retailer or ask your favorite independent bookseller to carry it (I always want to encourage folks to support indie bookstores), and if you want a signed copy I'll be at Books Around the Corner on Wednesday and the Northwest Micropress Fair on Saturday. Or come celebrate the launch with me Friday night: Book Launch Party for Don't Read This Book. Enjoy the podcast and please consider supporting Vikki's work. Click below to listen!

I Wrote You a Poem

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You

When the ship capsizes

And the water is too cold and too much

And fills my lungs

I will try

To be buoyant enough

That you can hold onto my corpse

And survive



When the ground shakes

And yanks out the foundation

Pulling every beam askew

And the ceiling surrenders to its weight

And proves my skull’s fragility

I will try

To land sideways

So you can wedge yourself

In the width of my shoulders

And survive



When the brakes go out

On the city bus

And the wide white crosswalk lines

Offer no protection

I may let go of your hand briefly

And my slow wit

That can never invent the punchline in time

Will fail to alert my limbs

Thus discovering the last joke but

I will try

To be soft

And absorb

So you can rebound

And survive



When the blizzard

Of all the little cold, furious, buzzing

Distractions I employ to hide

From myself

Melt away

And my need to be the hero

And the center of the storm

Resolves into a man-shaped

Soggy pile of drowned, buried, flattened, unread books

No hero, not much of a poet, sometimes barely a person, not much, but

I will try

To say, “I love you

“I believe in you

“I do this for you

“For you

“You.”

And I will try

To lift you

To hurt with you

To hold you

So you can smile

And survive


Bethany Lee

Bethany Lee

Tonight I got a chance to go see one of my favorite poets, Bethany Lee, sing and play her harp to accompany Kim Stafford, the Oregon poet laureate. Mr. Stafford assigned us all to write poems. “A ‘great poem,’” he said, “is something we put in an anthology and force high school students to analyze. An important poem is one you give to someone that speaks to them in their time of need.” Bethany Lee is the person who taught me, many years ago, that I am allowed to write in church as an act of worship, and though I don’t know who to worship anymore, I will always be grateful to her for teaching me to give myself permission to enter that state of worship in my preferred way. So, while Stafford read his wonderful poetry and Bethany played her harp, I jotted down some notes, and they became this poem. It’s still a draft, of course. If you have suggestions, I would love to hear them. More importantly, I hope this is discovered by someone who needs to hear they are loved. I may not be much, but I can offer that, and I hope it helps someone.



This is not okay! Black lives matter!

“Six California officers fire shots at rapper who had been asleep in car, killing him”

He was asleep in his car. 
Know how many times I've worried that if I take a nap in my car (which I do from time to time), I might be shot to death by police if I roll over in my sleep too fast? 
Zero. None. And any officer can run my plates and see I have a concealed-and-carry. I could have a gun in the car (though I rarely do). But I never worry I will be killed for taking a nap.
Because I'm white.
That's privilege.
I never even had to think about the fact that I don't have to worry about that.
That's privilege, too.
And every second white folks spend denying that is a second they aren't spending actively trying to make a more just world for people who do not have the luxury to not have to worry about extrajudicial police murders. 
So step up, white folks, and scream, "This is not okay! Black lives matter!"

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Review of Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone

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I just finished Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone. I won’t spoil it, but I want to do my part to convince everyone that they should read this marvelous novel!

Adeyemi’s book is set in the kingdom of Orïsha in a world that has been stripped of magic for eleven years. An evil (but believably evil) king took magic out of the world and used the opportunity to kill all the magic users, the Magi, easily identified by the white streaks in their hair. One of those murdered Magi was the mother of the novel’s hero, Zélie. Now, thanks to some fortuitous circumstances that are just believable enough we share some characters’ skepticism about divine intervention, Zélie has the opportunity to bring magic back into the world. The hefty 525 pages whizzes by as we follow Zélie and her allies on their quest.

Yeah, I got a signed copy by winning a contest on Twitter. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty proud to own this!

Yeah, I got a signed copy by winning a contest on Twitter. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty proud to own this!

It’s tricky to compare this book to others because I don’t want to make it sound derivative. It’s very imaginative and unique, and the ways it draws on other sources don’t feel cheap or exploitative. They aren’t really homages or allusions, either. Instead, Children of Blood and Bone feels like a fantasy that is tapping into deep human archetypes while doing something very new. That, for me, was the connection that made me think of other works. It’s not that Children of Blood and Bone copied any of them, but it was unique in a similar way. For example, I couldn’t help but think of Sang Kromah’s Djinn, even though the two books have little in common. Djinn is set in our world in the modern day but tells a Buffy-esque story involving Djinn rather than vampires. So what’s the connection? While Children of Blood and Bone and Djinn are radically different, both authors are drawing on elements of their own heritage and carefully selected bits of African folklore to breathe new life into fantasy, though in radically different ways.

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Children of Blood and Bone also made me think of Mikko Azul’s The Staff of Fire and Bone, and not just because of the similar titles. Azul’s world is an expansive fantasy world much like Adeyemi’s, with a deep lore that goes back to a mythological cosmology at the beginning of these worlds’ creations. Azul also taps into elements of folklore from cultures other than the traditional European ones that tend to populate high fantasy. I love that about both books.

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As I read Children of Blood and Bone, I also couldn’t help but think of Karen Eisenbrey’s Daughter of Magic. Both novels contemplate the way a society where only some people have magical ability might navigate that inescapable power imbalance. The two novels imagine that happening completely differently. In Ayedemi’s, the Magi are feared, slaughtered, and their children repressed to prevent magic from returning. In Eisenbrey’s, the wizards become something like civil servants, healing, investigating crimes, and preventing natural disasters. Yet there’s still a distrust, and Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone makes me wonder if the wizards of Eisenbrey’s world could easily find themselves in the same situation in the universe she’s created in Daughter of Magic.

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Adeyemi’s world also made me think of Avatar, the Last Airbender (the wonderful cartoon, not the horrible movie). I’m hesitant to even mention that because the worlds are so different. But both center on a conflict between people with magic and an authority that wants to wipe them out to consolidate its power. Adeyemi’s novel is more pointed in this regard. To its credit, it made me see Avatar, a cultural product I love, in a deeper way. Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone is more explicitly a parable about the way colonial powers and white authorities in them have treated People of Color and especially Black people in our world. Adeyemi graciously avoids making the novel explicitly about race which makes more sense in the narrative of her world, but I wouldn’t have minded if she had because I read it there right under the surface and appreciated it. Not only was this novel wrestling with questions about the moral dynamics of fighting back against oppression (Outright violent rebellion? Revenge? Working within the system without aiding the oppressor? Staying loyal to a country that is clearly doing evil?), but it focuses on the human cost of that oppression, making us feel each death, each torture, each loss of a loved one. Adeyemi reveals her intentionality in her afterward where she lists some of those names we can never hear too many times, Jordan Edwards, Tamir Rice, and Aiyana Stanley Jones. The novel made me think even more about the survivors, and I was glad to read the name Diamond Reynolds in the afterward, too. She, along with her four-year-old daughter, was in the car taking the video when Philando Castile was senselessly, unconscionably, unforgivably murdered. Children of Blood and Bone, though set in a fantasy kingdom of swords and magic, give us many characters who are like Diamond Reynolds, survivors who have to figure out how to live with the horror they’ve seen. It also gives us characters who maintain that oppression and try to justify it to themselves in various ways, and that’s part of what makes Adeyemi’s novel work so well. The villains never twirl their mustaches and relish their evil acts, no matter how gruesome their behavior. They believe they are doing what they have to do to maintain stability, to demonstrate their loyalty to their country, and to subjugate the people they’ve been taught to fear. If we’re ever going to open our eyes and address the fundamental rot of racism in our country (and in the rest of the world, all of which is infected by colonialism), we have to try to understand why people maintain systems of oppression, recognizing the human frailty of the oppressors without making excuses for their (our, my) behavior. None of Adeyemi’s characters, no matter how heroic, have clean hands by the end of the novel, and that’s a powerful choice and a strong statement Adeyemi has made about oppression and the process of combating it.

So, don’t read Children of Blood and Bone because the author is Black and lots of white people are suddenly waking up to the inequities in the publishing industry that have kept too many books by too many great Black authors out of readers’ hands. That’s a well-intentioned motivation, and if it brings more equality to publishing, that’s great, but that’s insufficient for the quality of this novel. And don’t just read it because you enjoy fantasy and want to embark on a thrilling quest story in a richly conceived universe. Children of Blood and Bone will provide that, but if you just want to get to the end of a quest and see someone throw a ring in a volcano, you could read a different series. Read this novel because, like all great literature, it’s empathy practice. We learn to love people who never existed so we can strengthen our empathy muscles and use them to embrace real people we meet. This novel will make you feel about oppression and resistance, and, in the end, it will inspire you to rise.






Interview on The Writing Life

I was interviewed on The Writing Life with Stephen Long. It was a really fun talk for me, and I think it will be an enjoyable watch for folks, too. We talked about the writing process, the publishing company, and more … and I didn’t even mess with my tie too many times!

Upon Revisiting Romeo and Juliet

I suggest you try this. It’s very rewarding.

Step 1. Read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. You might not like it the first time.  That's okay. You may say, “What? They tells us how it’s going to end at the very beginning?” Or, “What? They decide to get married on the first night they meet?” Or, “What? Entertainment that doesn’t have a happy ending? How is that supposed to be fun?”

Step 2. Read the play again. And again. And again. Five or six times a year for fifteen or so years. At some point, you’ll change. And not in a good way. You’ll get old and cynical. You may find yourself saying, “This is not a play about love. It’s about lust. And teenage impulsiveness. It presents suicide in an overly romantic light.”

Step 3. Go see the play done well. This is ideally accomplished at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, but you might pull it off elsewhere.

Step 4. Reflect on something you’ve told [gets out cocktail napkin. Does some quick math] approximately 2,250 students about this play, about how it’s marvelous precisely because, even though we know how it will end, we still care about the characters and hope it will turn out differently each time. Remember all those times you’ve told a classroom full of students that every time you see the show done live, you carry some tiny suspicion that this time they’ll surprise you with a twist ending. He doesn’t drink the poison! She wakes up just a little sooner! The friar arrives and finds them both alive! When the parents and the prince show up, they figure out what’s happened, everybody forgives everyone, and they all live happily ever after. Maybe this time it will go down that way. Maybe, just maybe.

Step 5. And then, on your eightieth time hanging out with Juliet and her Romeo, you realize your cynicism is wrong. Yes, it’s a play about lust. Yes, it’s a play about teenage impulsiveness. Yes, it paints suicide in an overly romantic light. But it is a play about love. Sure, there’s the naive, innocent, stupid and pure and beautiful love between these two kids. But the experience of watching the play is about adult love, too. We know how it might end. We know, in a way these young characters can’t, that there will be tragedy and pain. We know there will be miscommunication and bad timing and family politics. We know sometimes love will be pierced under a best friend’s arm, betrayed, sabotaged by family conflict, even canceled prematurely when someone gives up or dies. But we hope it will end differently this next time. We hope no one will poison love or stab it or banish it or run away when they hear the cops coming. We keep coming back for love, not the kids’ naive, dopey, doomed love, but our own hoping-against-everything-we-know kind of love.

Choosing to re-read or re-watch Romeo and Juliet is a recommitment to falling in love. Every heartbreak you’ve ever experienced is just the prologue. Maybe this time your love will turn out differently. And if it doesn’t, you can still choose to read it again.

What was that?

What was that?


I just had one of the the strangest pipe-related encounters of my life.


I smoke a pipe. When I’m out and about, people frequently come up to share their impressions. Some used to say it was odd to see someone so young smoking a pipe. That’s increasingly infrequent as I get older. I’m growing into the part, apparently. Others tell me they like the smell. Others tell me what the smell reminds them of: Generally their grandfathers. But the conversation I just had was … new.


I was smoking in a parking lot outside a coffee shop in a small town where my family had made a pitstop on the way back from a hike. A couple parked, and the woman walked into the coffeeshop, but the man came right for me. He had a big grin on his face, and he shouted at the top of his lungs, “September 22nd, 2014!”


I bit. “What happened?”


“I died. My daughter did CPR to bring me back. I had smoked a pipe. Well, I used to smoke a lot of marijuana. Then my wife made me stop. So I switched to a pipe a few years ago. And then I died.” He dropped his voice. “But I’m a rebellious smoker.” He reached into a pocket hidden behind the breast pocket of his shirt, which opened at the side. I don’t know if he bought a shirt with that secret pocket already installed, or if he added it himself. He pulled out a little cigar. “Now I smoke these. They’re made with pipe tobacco.” And he pointed to an image of a pipe printed in white on the side of the black little cigar.


I didn’t know how to respond. I think I said, “Cool!”


He went back to shouting loudly enough that his wife could have heard him if she hadn’t left already. “So, my wife saw you smoking that pipe and told me I should tell you that story. So now I did!” And then he turned, saw she was gone, and followed her into the coffee shop while I tried to figure out what to say.


I may have said, “That’s funny!” or “Wild!” or “Thanks!” none of which would have been quite right.


I don’t understand the moral of the story. Is it: Don’t smoke a lot of marijuana or you may switch to a pipe and die and be revived to go back to smoking pipe tobacco? Or: Continue smoking marijuana because switching to a pipe is potentially fatal? Or: Tell strangers a story when your wife tells you to, but make sure you undermine the central thesis so the stranger isn’t offended? Or: Smoking too much marijuana and being revived from death via CPR can cause you to tell stories in non-traditional ways at a socially inappropriate level of volume?


What am I supposed to be learning from this story?

WattPad Vs. Smashwords: An Experiment

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I'm going to try something, and I thought it might be helpful to my fellow indie authors if I share the results here so you can test this out for yourselves. One of my students suggested I give WattPad a try in order to get more feedback. I've used Smashwords in the past, and I don't know which is better. My next novel (working title: Do Not Read This Book) will come out sometime next year. It's off to my editors now, but my publishers have generously given me permission to release the book, chapter by chapter, as a serial, in order to get more feedback and build some buzz. I'll post a chapter a week, with links added here, and I'll track the readership and provide updates on the kind of feedback each site produces. That way my fellow authors can decide which is better for them. Will either be helpful? Both? I honestly don't know, but it will be fun to see!

Smashwords

Posted here on 8/17:

Chapter 1

Results as of 11/19

37 downloads

_____________________

Posted on 8/22

Chapter 2

Results as of 11/19

31 downloads

_____________________

Posted here on 8/25

Chapter 3

Results as of 11/19

27 downloads

_____________________

Posted here on 8/29

Chapter 4

Results as of 11/19

26 downloads

_____________________

Posted here on 9/2

Chapter 5

Results as of 11/19

27 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/7

Chapter 6

Results as of 11/19

24 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/12

Chapter 7

Results as of 11/19

25 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 8

Results as of 11/19

26 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 9

Results as of 11/19

30 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/23

Chapter 10

Results as of 11/19

34 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/27

Chapter 11

Results as of 11/19

31 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/2

Chapter 12

Results as of 11/19

27 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/8

Chapter 13

Results as of 11/19

20 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/18

Chapter 14

Results as of 11/19

19 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/21

Chapter 15

Results as of 11/19

26 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/28

Chapter 16

Results as of 11/19

21 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/3

Chapter 17

Results as of 11/19

18 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/3

Chapter 18

Results as of 11/19

12 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/16

Chapter 19

Results as of 11/19

6 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/19

Chapter 20

WattPad

Posted here on 8/17:

Chapter 1

Results as of 11/19

12 views

________________________

Posted here on 8/22

Chapter 2

Results as of 11/19

3 views

________________________

Posted here on 8/25

Chapter 3

Results as of 11/19

1 view

_____________________

Posted here on 8/29

Chapter 4

Results as of 11/19

1 view

_____________________

Posted here on 9/2

Chapter 5

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/7

Chapter 6

Results as of 11/19

2 views

____________________

Posted here on 9/12

Chapter 7

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 8

Results as of 11/19

3 views

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 9

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/23

Chapter 10

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/27

Chapter 11

Results as of 11/19

2 views

____________________

Posted here on 10/2

Chapter 12

Results as of 11/19

2 views

____________________

Posted here on 10/8

Chapter 13

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 10/18

Chapter 14

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 10/21

Chapter 15

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 10/28

Chapter 16

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 11/3

Chapter 17

Results as of 11/19

3 views

____________________

Posted here on 11/8

Chapter 18

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 11/16

Chapter 19

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 11/19

Chapter 20

Open Letter to The People In On The Secret Knowledge

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Open Letter to The People In On The Secret Knowledge,

I just got "owned" in an argument, "own-the-libs" style, by this brilliant riposte from one of the members of your very exclusive club:

"Sheeple.... I don't blame you. Its[sic] the media and our government.... Hypatheically[sic] of course. Only about 30 people know the truth."

You win, dude! I can't recover from that. I'm going to go drown in my liberal tears until they melt my snowflake-ness.

...except...

I think we might want to address this figure of 30 people. I understand that you like being one of the few who has access to the secret knowledge that none of the rest of us understand. We are so deluded  by all of the media and government employees who get together in what must be a very large, dark room to collaborate on a single conspiracy upon which they so obviously always agree. I mean, I can't remember a time when members of the media or the government disagreed with one another, but I suppose if such a thing occurred it would still have been part of a clever false flag operation to trick us into thinking there is some variance of thought while actually promoting a single false narrative, right? 

As sheeple go, I'm pretty tolerant. If whips and chains and safewords do it for somebody, as long as they are getting down with consenting adults, I say, "Have a party." If somebody likes to dress up in an animal costume, either for sexual reasons of because it's how they find their community, that's fine. And if you have to think you are the only people who know the "real truth" in order to finish while you read your 4chan message boards and listen to Alex Jones shout at you in your mom's basement, I try not to yuck your yum. But we have to come to an understanding if we're going to protect your right to believe the crazy, batshit nonsense that gets you hard. 

Secret knowledge is not relevant in an argument about public policy.

Period.

Public policy needs to be made by people willing to share all the information they have with the public, and that policy should only be influenced by people who can successfully persuade the public that their perception benefits the public. 

Now, you may be saying to yourself, "Hey, I've been very open about my secret knowledge. I've been shouting to the rooftops about the world being 6000 years old, and flat as a pancake,  and run by lizard people as part of a New World Order globalist government scheme to take guns away from the last remaining human Christian white American males. It's not my fault all the various media outlets and government agencies aren't calling me to figure out what I've discovered."

Um, yeah, it kinda' is. See, the folks who convinced all us sheeple that the world is 4.543 billion years old, and it's round (actually an oblate spheroid that's 99.9967% round, but why be pedantic, right?) went to a lot of trouble to do so. As far as disproving the lizard people theories and New World Order stuff, no one had to work quite as hard, but you haven't put in nearly the legwork to get the degrees or taken on the risks those folks did in order to prove your theories to be correct. You've settled for your knowledge staying essentially private property. That's not to say that fringe ideas are always wrong. At one point notions like the world being licked out of the ice by a giant cow were quite popular in some quarters. Popularity is not a measure of accuracy. But, like it or not, popularity is a measure of how we make public policy in a democracy. So, until you convince the majority of people that we're living under the thumb of a media conspiracy run by lizards in human form, you can't dictate that we make public policy based on the imminent lizard threat, any more that you can say we need to take away old people's social security checks and put all that money into trying to catch the nefarious fairies who keep sticking your hand in a bowl of warm water to make you wet the bed each night, then whisking away the evidence before you wake up each morning. This may be the case, but it is not a public concern. 

So, henceforth, we're not going to agree to disagree, exactly. You are going to keep on calling sheeple like me names and shaking your head and feeling superior because you've cracked the big code. And I'm going to keep reminding you that your big revelation is no more or less shameful than your bed-wetting problem or somebody else's furry fetish; it's something you need to learn to keep to yourself. The roughly 325.7 million Americans get to solve the problems that actually concern us based on what we have seen and read and learned, and you thirty get to enjoy knowing the rest of us are concerned about the wrong things because we've all been tricked. Fine. But we're going to try to solve the problems we see as real, and you're going to have to convince us your theories are real or stay out of our way. We're just simple sheeple who read books and take classes and watch the news from all the people who you know are tricking us, and we want to solve the problems we experience, not the ones that you're sure are being hidden from us. 

Oh, and I suspect there are a lot more than 30 of you, but I also don't think math facts are the kinds of facts you fetishize, so I can see where that could cause problems. 

So, please, go back to your basement. And, for the love of our lizard queen, please wash those sheets.

Your fellow citizen of a democracy (or am I secretly a lizard? Bwa-ha-ha-ha!),

Sheeple #325,699,970