Goodbye, 2019. Hello, 2020.

This year was one of major changes for me, but I’m grateful for that. Because I believe all the changes were for the better. We moved house, for one thing. And I didn’t write as much. How is that for the better? Well, I spent a lot of time this year focused on home and family, and those bonds are stronger than ever now. So I think that’s a good thing.

I did at least write one short story that got published! (If you haven’t read “Origami of the Heart” yet, click on the cover in the sidebar. It’s free to read!)

There were a lot of shifts in my writing relationships as well. A group I’d once left began to meet again, if spottily, and I hope I can spend more time with them because I do love all the members. Another group I’ve been with for a few years began to disintegrate a bit, so I’m stepping away from them for the time being. Because I didn’t do much writing this year, I haven’t had as much need for critique groups or writing meetups. I still want to be there for others, but with all the demands of home and family this year, it was more difficult to make the time. Still, I did enjoy the times I got to socialize with all my writing buds.

I don’t make resolutions, but I do try to set goals. Not just at New Year’s but all year long, and with the understanding that goals can change and I need to remain flexible. For 2020, I’d like to finish my current WIP. That’s my only writing goal for the moment. Given that I only managed one short story in 2019, I think it’s a fair target to want to finish one… novel? Novella? I’m not sure yet what this one will be.

I’ll start 2020 ahead of 2019 already because I’ll be re-releasing The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller in January, as both an ebook and paperback. There’s that at least. I might also be re-releasing The K-Pro later in the year.

2019 wasn’t big for travel in that I (we) only took one major trip to Disney World (plus a Disney cruise). I know that sounds like a lot, but usually I go to a conference or something, too. I’ve got some travel to look forward to in the coming year: Disneyland and Japan. No plans for any writing conferences though, since I really have scaled back the writing overall.

Anyway, here’s wishing you a happy new year and new decade. Though a new year is not required for setting a goal or making a change—you can do that any day, week, month, hour or minute—I hope that your 2020 gets off to a good start. And that you make progress in the direction of your dreams, whatever they may be.

Tarot: The Weaver Tarot (Journeyer Edition)

I saw this deck being used by an online tarot reader and I simply had to have it. I just felt so drawn to it. It is not an inexpensive deck, and I seldom treat myself to ones this costly, but every now and then I feel it’s worth the splurge.

The cards in this deck use holographic ink for the backgrounds and gold foil stamping for the images. That means, depending on the light, they’re not always easy to read. Still, I find them very worthwhile to own. They are of high quality card stock, with glittery gold edges. They are a somewhat large size, but I can shuffle them without problem.

This tarot has a direct, no-nonsense feel in responding to questions. In fact, when I did the deck interview, it told me that it would remain detached and give me a higher perspective on things. It’s not a touchy feely deck, despite its beauty. But sometimes that’s what you need: clear, impersonal answers.

The Weaver Tarot

For those who rely on imagery when reading cards, the symbols used here are a bit different and may take time to learn. There are seeds, roots, bones, teeth, among others. What’s particularly lovely is that the deck comes with a card that gives you keywords and shorthand for reading those symbols. And the booklet is also nicely done.

Also, the creators have worked to remove gendered language from these cards. Instead of the Empress and Emperor, we have the Pillar and Anchor. Instead of Queens and Kings, we have Sovereigns and Rulers.

This deck is from Threads of Fate, which also has some lovely oracle cards and other items. I promise they haven’t sponsored this in any way; I’m just always glad to find interesting new outlets.

Tarot: Spiritsong Tarot

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah, and my gift was this tarot deck I’ve been wanting for a while. And it’s just as lovely as I’d hoped!

Spiritsong Tarot is a gentle deck of intricate, pastel images by Paulina Cassidy. Each card features an animal and a couple of keywords for the card, which makes for easy readings. The focus of these cards is on the positive, which means even traditionally “scary” cards are made kind in this deck. It’s a wonderful deck for someone who is, say, uncomfortable with a reading or having a reading done for a possibly difficult or traumatizing subject. It directs the reader and querent to look at things in a positive light.

Spiritsong Tarot

In the image above, you can see the Three of Feathers, which corresponds to the Three of Swords in a more traditional deck. But while the image for the Three of Swords is often along the lines of three swords piercing a heart, here we have a moth in sunshine, the three feathers below. The keywords are “Release” and “Recovery.” The feathers have been shed.

Likewise, the Death card becomes Transformation in this deck, and The Devil is The Shadow.

Instead of the typical suits, the Spiritsong Tarot uses Acorns (Wands), Crystals (Pentacles), Feathers (Swords), and Shells (Cups). I worried that it would take me too long to understand readings with these changes, but they feel natural and clear as I use the cards, perhaps because of the keywords. In any case, this has become one of my favorite decks already. Its kindness is reassuring, and readings with it feel less like being told what to do and more like being gently nudged in the right direction.

Movies: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Screenplay by: Rian Johnson
Lionsgate, 2019
PG-13; 130 minutes
4.75 stars (out of 5)

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There will be spoilers. I usually try to avoid them, but I don’t think there’s any way to talk about this movie without spoiling some of it, so if you don’t want to know anything prior to viewing, read this after you’ve seen the film.

Imagine there was an address that only two or three GPS systems in the world knew how to get to. Yeah, that’s what this movie starts out being about. Of course, that’s just the McGuffin. Basically, it becomes clear that Emperor Palpatine is still alive and hiding on a planet that only a few of these Sith WayfindersTM can locate. So Rey, Poe, and Finn must go find one so they can find Palpatine and, er, end him, I guess. Before he can raise a new, Final Order and become emperor of the known universe.

Palpatine, meanwhile, has sent Kylo Ren to find and kill Rey because she’s so powerful, etc. etc.

On paper it… seems to work? But then things begin to muddy as Abrams attempts to retcon the things Rian Johnson did in Last Jedi that he would have done differently. Rey’s parentage is finally revealed to be not “nobody.” And Luke (as a Force ghost) chides Rey for nearly throwing away her lightsaber, saying, “A Jedi’s weapon deserves more respect,” which seems to be a direct rebuke to Johnson having Luke toss said weapon over his shoulder in the last film. Yeah, okay, but the lack of consistency between the last film and this one leaves a viewer’s head spinning. Luke behaves one way in one film and completely differently in the next. Rey is a nobody and then she’s not. Instead of going with the flow, Episodes VII-IX feel like the tug-of-war Kylo and Rey engage in when fighting over a transport ship.

What it says, really, is that one person and one vision should have been in charge throughout. Lucas’ singular vision in Episodes IV-VI meant they were at the very least consistent in tone, if sometimes contrary in small ways. Barring being able to have the same person at the helm for each film, each subsequent writer/director should have taken the baton and run, ideally toward the same finish line, rather than hieing off in random directions.

I didn’t dislike this movie. At least, I don’t think I did? There is no star rating because I’m still trying to suss everything I’ve seen and how I really feel. There were a number of moving moments that gave me chills and just as many that felt nonsensical to me. There is a lot of fan service, some of which I enjoyed and some of which felt shoehorned in to me. But movies—and especially something as big as Star Wars, something that has spanned multiple generations and has avid, ravenous fans—are so subjective. The things I liked will be things others hate, and the things that bothered me will be things others have no problem with. From “who shot first” to now, there will always be debate and dissension.

I will probably need to see the movie one or two more times to figure out whether I actually like it. I loved The Force Awakens from the start and still do. I had mixed feelings about Last Jedi but came to enjoy it more after multiple viewings (though a few of my reservations remain). This one? I really don’t know whether I’ll come to like it more or less over time. Or if it will always be that I like some of it, but not all of it, not nearly. My niggles about Last Jedi felt small compared to my divergent feelings here, so I can’t really foresee how my heart will eventually settle.

I was only a year old when Episode IV came out. It wasn’t until much later that I used to watch Empire Strikes Back on the VCR… a lot. And sometimes Return of the Jedi, though not as often. My best friend, however, was hugely into Star Wars. She and her mother both loved Rise of Skywalker, so maybe I’m just not a big enough fan to embrace everything that’s going on in this film? Then again, I hesitate to compare fans and suggest that some are “truer” than others. There is no wrong or right way to enjoy something, is there?

And if you don’t fully enjoy something, are you less of a fan? I don’t think so. I think discernment, and thoughtfulness, are not bad things. This isn’t a “with me or against me” situation. If you don’t love something 100% that doesn’t make you a “hater.” As the Force shows, there is light and dark in everyone; it’s how you wield it that matters.

I may, after one or two more viewings, or even after some more thought and discussion, revisit this review. I may even be able to decide on a star rating. Until then… may the Force be with you, and with us all.


Fan fiction note: How many people are going to write a story in which Ben impregnates Rey with that last little bit of life force? Like, an extra life in there maybe? For all we know that’s how Anakin happened…

Movies: Jumanji: The Next Level

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Awkwafina
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Screenplay by: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner & Scott Rosenberg from the book by Chris Van Allsburg
Sony 2019
PG-13; 123 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)

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As far as entertainment goes, this one is entertaining. What more could anyone want really? Except to have an excuse to look at Dwayne Johnson for a couple hours? (Or Karen Gillan if that’s more your thing.)

The story this time around begins as our friends from the previous film, now all off in college, are planning to meet back home for the holiday break. Except Spencer is reluctant. He and Martha are on a “break” and he’s feeling like a loser compared to… her Instagram feed, I guess? Wanting the confidence he felt when being Bravestone in the Jumanji game, Spencer makes the questionable decision to go back in. (Because he apparently went and took the console from the school and secreted it in his basement.)

Of course, the game is broken, so… when his friends go looking for him, it grabs Spencer’s Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Eddie’s friend Milo (Danny Glover). The humor then becomes derived from trying to a. find Spencer in the game and b. get two old men through a video game.

I suppose the true fun in watching these movies is watch actors trying to act against type by pretending to be very different personalities. Sometimes it gets a little too close to impersonation (Johnson’s DeVito has some sketchy moments), but overall the entertainment value is consistently present.

While I still enjoyed the first one more, I think that’s surely because it was so surprisingly delightful. Once expectations are set, it’s always more difficult to meet them. I also found the premise for this one—that is, Spencer’s reason for wanting to go back into the game—flimsy at best. Although in the first few minutes of the film we do see that he’s having a hard time in general (lame job, mean boss, it rains on him and his suitcase handle breaks)… The movie fails to earn its catalyst. It’s actually the friendship between Eddie and Milo that begets touching moments, and those are totally merited.

Overall, another fun installment that leaves the door wide open for more to come.

New Story Published!

My one and only publication for 2019!

Every year on White Day in Japan, Nolan and Dane meet under “their” cherry tree. For just that day, they spend time together. The rules are that they cannot ask anything too personal. Nolan isn’t sure why he continues to go, or what kind of relationship to really hope for. When an accident sends Dane to the hospital, Nolan must make a quick decision: abandon Dane to the care of the doctors or go with him and risk learning more than he’s supposed to.

Please go have a read! Though I will warn potential readers that this one is one of my gay love stories. Nothing explicit, since I don’t write that kind of thing, but if you’re not into guys in love, maybe skip it.

Rules Need Not Apply

I have a Master’s degree in Writing, Literature and Publishing. I worked in publishing for ten years and have been writing and publishing my own work for almost as long. But today, when I posted a question about which of two names I should possibly use for a new project, a old, white man responded with: “My writing books say…”

Patronizing? Absolutely. Mansplaining? Yup. And completely useless. Because how-to writing books are for losers.

Yeah, I said it.

Let me tell you a story about when I was learning to read tarot. I bought every book about tarot that I could find, and every time I read a spread, I’d check the books to see what each card meant, trying to suss meaning from what was in front of me. I was trying to follow “rules” but it wasn’t working. Then one day I just read a spread on my own. It was intuitive. It came easily. The cards made sense. The how-to books had been a buffer between me and the natural flow. They’d been a crutch to me because I’d been too afraid to try on my own.

Grammar has rules, ones you should stick to… mostly. Writing has rules, too, but they’re better learned from actually reading than from a stack of manuals. Why? Because I’ve found that people who write based on how-to advice produce stilted, dry prose and often terrible dialogue. Writing isn’t math, despite the use of the word “formula” being tossed around now and then. You don’t learn the rules and then apply them universally, not if you want to write anything with actual heart and emotion—basically anything compelling and, well, good.

I’ve also discovered that writers who’ve armed themselves with “rules” often never get far in their projects, largely because they worry so much about whether they’re doing it “right.” That’s the problem with these books and this idea that there is a wrong and right way to put words to paper. I’d say some things work better than others, but even then that doesn’t mean if you do it differently it’s somehow incorrect. In any case, I always tell people to write first. Only after it’s written should you worry about fixing anything that isn’t working. If you worry about it being correct the first time, you’ll paralyze yourself. First drafts are meant to be edited. So are second, third, and fourth drafts. Writing isn’t about getting it right the first time. There is no correct answer to your story. YOU get to decide what’s right for it, for your characters, etc. That power can be scary, but once you learn to wield it wisely, it’s also very liberating.

Writing rules don’t account for personal writing style. And many writing books are old and don’t apply to newer, more modern methods of writing. Some things about the craft are eternal, but much of the business is fluid and ever changing. That’s why books written in the 80s sound so different from books published in the last couple years.

Going back to my tarot example, there are hundreds of various decks one can use. Mostly, they all have the same cards (there are, of course, exceptions). But a Queen of Cups in one deck might look and feel very different from the Queen of Cups in another. While some of the core meanings of the card are the same, depending on the deck (and the reader), you might intuit very diverse meanings. That is to say, not all possible meanings apply all the time. Nor do all writing rules apply universally or with equal weight to every story.

Find your voice. Find your style. Write. And only after having written, go back and figure out what does and doesn’t work and which rules to apply.

Books: Columbine by Dave Cullen

I can tell you where I was when the ATF laid siege to the Branch Davidian compound. (I lived in Texas and was in high school.) I can tell you where I was when Oklahoma City was bombed (still in Texas, freshman year at uni, was at my part-time job). But for whatever reason, I cannot remember hearing the news about the Columbine massacre. I still lived in Texas, worked a different job, was applying to grad schools… Those things were happening at that time, but as for the exact day and how I felt when I heard the news… Blank. I watched Peter Jennings every night after work, so I must have heard, but I cannot for the life of me remember any details.

Even after the fact, my understanding was sketchy. I recall “Trench Coat Mafia” being tossed around and then hearing that wasn’t actually a thing. If you’d asked me the names of the perpetrators, I couldn’t have given you an answer… not a correct one, anyway. If you’d asked me how many victims, I might have pulled out the correct answer, but I can’t promise that, and I certainly couldn’t have told you any of their names.

So did I read this book to put all that to rights? Not really. I read it because I watched a YouTube video that recommended the book. The video made me realize how little I actually knew and made me curious to learn more. So I grabbed the book from my library. It wasn’t always easy to read. I mean, it’s well written and moves at a good pace, but the specifics can be hard to hear (so to speak).

Cullen is thorough. He discusses what everyone thinks they know about Columbine and how much of that isn’t accurate. Of course, I didn’t even think I knew much, but it was very interesting to see the incongruities, how rumors became reported as “fact,” and few people ever learned the truth once the media blitz ended. There were people involved that I found difficult to like, though Cullen strives to report objectively. There is a lot of information, a lot of names, but he does a good job of bringing clarity to the morass.

That said, one has to keep in mind this book was written in 2009, so I don’t know if there is more up-to-date information available now. At the time of publication Sue Klebold had said very little publicly about her son Dylan, one of shooters. I’ve since seen a Ted Talk with her, so I know she’s become more open. Still, this is a really good place to start if you have any interest in the subject. If you like psychology or true crime, too, this is a pretty good read. I zipped through it, and it gave me a lot to think about.

IWSG: December 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

I was thinking about this the other day, and then a friend emailed and I thought about it some more. The fact is, I write very unfashionable gay fiction. (Not all my books feature gay characters, but many do. Here’s a handy guide.) That is, I don’t write steamy m/m sexy stuff. And I don’t write angsty oh-my-god-i’m-gay stuff where someone is just realizing or has to come out or has their first ever gay experience or whatever. I write gay relationships that are… normal? Average? I write them like I write heterosexual relationships, and that’s for a reason. I have a lot of gay friends, and their sex lives are not entertainment. They have a lot of the same relationship issues as any straight person I know. Being gay isn’t that big a deal for most of them now that they’re out. So… Yeah. I made a semi-conscious decision to depict these characters and relationships not as some exotic, erotic “other” but as ::shrug::

Anyway. It seems like people want to read about gay lovers as something exotic and erotic and melodramatic. So I’m way off trend. But whatever. I’ll do my own thing. (Assuming I ever write again at all. Still not feeling it.)

Still trying to place this one short story… The only thing I wrote all year, and who knows if it will ever see the light of day? Am I feeling insecure? I don’t think so. Lately I feel very zen about my lack of ability to write.