Archive for December, 2012

In Case You Missed My Blogs in 2012

This isn’t so much of a “my best blogs of 2012” as much as here are some of my favorites for you to check out in case  you missed them:

No More Broaddus Family Truth Times – okay, I admit, I should have known how this story was going to end.  Ironically, I wrote the father-son post Ashtrays in spite of this …

Missing Mama Bears – My dear friend Sara Larson passed away this year.

Finding the Cool Kids Table – Is there any such thing as the “cool kids table” when it comes to being welcomed into the genre writing community?

Being Creative, Christian, and Crazy – I begin a discussion revolving around mental health issues and creatives.  This has evolved into being the theme for next year’s Mo*Con.

Conflating Faith and Politics – The title says it all and I rant about my frustration with this dilemma.

Runaway Republicans – I guess this was the capper of my unintended look at the Republican Party.  This began with my review of the documentary on black conservatives, Runaway Slave, ramped up with my interview with the documentary’s creator, C.L. Bryant.

Why I’m not a Christian Spec Fic Writer – I refer to myself as a (genre) writer who is a Christian, not a Christian (genre) writer for a reason.

Putting the Urban in Urban Fantasy – I always thought urban fantasy meant something entirely different…

I never seem to have time to write – well, that’s pretty self-explanatory.  We have to make time to write.  A corollary to that is Following the Way of Michael Jackson, where we have to learn to write through even the difficult times of life.

Slush Pile Warrior, Part Deux – I recently wrote a piece for the SFWA Bulletin on things I learned from the slush pile of Dark Faith.  I figured it would be a while before I’d have anything good to share again, after all, I JUST WROTE ABOUT WHAT I DIDN’T WANT TO SEE AGAIN.  Oops…  Of course, it’s a great companion piece to Wooing the Slush Reader.  But we can still learn from our rejections.

 

A few other online notables from me:

Family Dinner – a short story that was one of the winners of Punchnel’s zombie-themed short story contest.

Writing Excuses:  Writing the Other – this was a great conversation with Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler.

A Conversation With Author Maurice Broaddus on Speculative Fiction, the Craft of Writing, Race and Science Fiction, and C.L. Bryant – with Chauncey Devega, this is what happens when black geeks get together.

The God Engines – A Review

I don’t like to review books by friends and very rarely do it on my blog.  For one thing, you never know how they’re going to take it.  Even if the review overall is good, we (people in general) remember the critical comment(s) and sometimes it’s hard to divorce yourself from your work (“don’t bring your beef with me into your review” “What beef?” “Obviously you have one or you wouldn’t have said what you did”).  Secondly, I personally don’t like to hurt anyone’s wallet.  Many of my friends are professionals and I don’t want to cost them potential sales.

Don’t get me wrong, I really love it when I read a friend’s work and I dig it.  That’s the fastest way to get me to my blog (I’m thinking of Cullen Bunn’s The Damned or The Damned: Prodigal Sons or Ekaterina Sedia’s The House of Discarded Dreams).  All of which brings me to John Scalzi.

Scalzi and I have been friends for a while and have had more than a couple conversations on spiritual topics, because I love how his mind comes at things.  I was looking for an excuse to read something of his when he mentioned his novella, The God Engines.  He gave me a two-fold admonition:  1) “You’re free to not like this book” (I’ve since co-opted this when talking to potential new readers, because there’s nothing like relieving a friend of the burden of “having” to like their book, see “you never know how’re they’re going to take it/divorcing them from their work”); and 2) “If you don’t like it, you’ll not like it in an interesting way.”

“For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” –Psalms 96:4

The thing is, The God Engines may not be the best introduction to Scalzi’s work, others warned me, as it lacks his trademark humor.  It is a work that starts in a bleak place, opening with the line “It was time to whip the god,” and then moves to darker places.

We’re presented with a far flung future where a space faring people, govered by the Bishopry Militant who serve their One True Lord, use (lesser) gods to guide their ships, like warp core deities.  A world where faith is as real and tangible as magic and a future where the faith of a crew powers the vessels, even though the gods propel the ships through space while under duress (“It was time to whip the god”).

The captain of the good ship Righteous, Ean Tephe, is pit against the ship’s high priest, Croj Andso.  It’s Croj’s job, along with his acolytes, to control their god.  The problem is that the gods throughout the fleet have been harder than usual to wrangle lately.  Tephe gets summoned before the Bishopry and told that there is a lack of faith among the True Lord’s followers which has emboldened the lesser gods.  This is where there was a bit of a leap as to the definition of faith, because you would thing with gods manifesting themselves faith might be easier to come by.  Still, there’s not faith like the white heat of a new convert, so that’s what the captain is tasked to do:  convert some new followers.

“To name a god is to give it power.”

The story started off a little uneven for me.  The dialogue seemed stiff as everyone spouted World-Building and Dialogue and Back Story.  Once everyone settled in, the story took off, with the final third being quite the pay off.  The last act basically overturned every assumption, challenged everyone, and subverted expectations in ways I don’t want to spoil.

Books, art in general, are conversations between the writer and the reader and sometimes I want to say something back.

“He says both our priest and your general would have been satisfied to make his people obey Our Lord at the point of a spear.  The headman suggests that to him this means that force may be the way such obeisance is usually made.” –Ysta

There’s an interesting critique under the surface of The God Engines as it walks the delicate line between a respect for what faith can be and contempt for an “unexamined faith.”  Not to mention the inherent problems of conflating church and state (or worse, church and military).  Scalzi deliberately echoes the world of the Middle Ages, crusading in God’s name and the idea of “assisting” Him with His plans.  Where unchecked Ecclesiastical powers controlled wealth and dictated exploration, trade, and wars.  And a religious stamp of approval on our prejudices and ambitions, so unlike the times we live in now.

There are many contradictory elements to faith.  First off, finding faith is a lot like falling in love, and there is an element of the irrational to both.  Then there are the competing compulsions faith drives people to:  fear/love, hate/justice.  Faith can deepen as we looking for answers, in the wake of the Lord’s silence, and don’t find them rather than having them handed to us.  But that’s too scary a place to be.  Faith can wither just as quickly as we find out that we have a fair weather faith, such that when a real crisis arises, it is exposed, like conversion at the tip of a spear, as empty.  Either way, you have to figure out whether your faith is worth living (or dying) for.

There is plenty a reader could be offended by in The God Engines if they are so inclined.  I’m simply not so inclined, as I don’t think Scalzi set out to make a book to offend.  Provoke some questions, definitely.  It wouldn’t be Scalzi if the story wasn’t imbued with a deep and careful thoughtfulness.  I highly dug The God Engines.  Hopefully I liked it for interesting reasons, too.

End of the Year Traditions

I was reminded recently about how this is the season of many of our family’s traditions.  Many of them started accidentally, but they’ve accumulated over time.  I knew from way back when that I wanted a few traditions or rituals that would define my family.  Something me and my wife would know and would call our own, separate from our respective families.  Something our kids could count on and remember when they reflect on their childhood later on.

The way things stand now, Halloween (and the multi-day event it has become since it is my wife’s favorite holiday) is the unofficial opening to this season.  But it’s with Thanksgiving that things get real.  We’ve always tried to spend that day with friends, family of our choosing, either by opening our home or going to others (this year we went to a buddy’s house, deep fried two turkeys, baked a ham, and did all the fixings essentially for me, my wife, kids, and him.  A glorious bacchanal of food capped off with a Magic: the Gathering marathon).

The weekend of Thanksgiving, our family makes a series of ridiculous movies (none of which shall ever hit the internet), which later serve as part of the festivities of our Broaddus family Christmas party.  That started off as a murder mystery party, but as the crowd swelled each year, it evolved into a costume themed party.  We then spend December scheduling time with our respective families so that come Christmas Eve and Day, we’re hanging out just as a family (though Christmas evening we open our home up again for friends who want to escape their families).

Last up is Kwanzaa.  We practice it as a family, a simple evening ritual between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  A quiet time as we reflect on the principles that define us as a family.  This is capped by the double feast traditions.  First is our New Year’s Eve party.  This is an example of one of those accidental traditions, that started when my sister was pregnant:  she was over one New Year’s Eve and, because she had cravings, shouted a meat she wanted me to fix a meal around.  The next hour, she shouted a different meat.  Next thing you know, we’d fixed a meal every hour until midnight.  At which point she demanded that we do it again the following year.  Second is New Year’s Day.  As Kwanzaa is supposed to end with a feast, we cheat by going over to my aunt and uncle’s house as they fix a spread of food encompassing every meat group, a mix of Jamaican and American staples.  We don’t even pretend that we’re going to lose weight during the last quarter of the year.*

To sum up, we’re all about remembrance. We, as a culture, have notoriously short memories and notoriously hard hearts and heads. We need rituals to draw our imaginations back to certain things, to stir our affections, and to serve as reminders to what is important in life. What are some of your traditions?

 

 

*If this sounds like a people intensive time, that’s because it is.  But that’s balanced by the fact that we basically cocoon from January to March:  1) that’s how my introvert side balances out all of that extrovert activity and 2) I typically write a novel during the winter months.

Using Your Platform

Jim Boeheim was honored by Syracuse Monday night for his 900th career victory when the third-ranked Orange defeated Detroit at the Carrier Dome.  But instead of basking in his incredible achievement, the outspoken Boeheim, 68, railed against the gun culture that has turned this country into a shooting gallery for deranged serial murderers who have all-too-easy access to semi-automatic weapons.

After the tragic shootings in Connecticut, Jim Boeheim felt compelled to speak out on America’s gun culture and used the platform afforded by his historic 900th victory to do so.  In some quarters he was criticized for doing so, for politicizing this non-political moment.  This comes only a few weeks after Bob Costas used his halftime report, in the wake of the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide, to also speak on the topic of gun culture and gun control.

While it’s tempting to join the chorus of debate on the topic of gun control, especially from a spiritual perspective (because guns are designed to kill people and somehow we need to reconcile our gun culture with the kingdom mindset that says “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies), one of the other things that interests me is the use of one’s platform.

Writers are told all the time to shy away from political stands, religion, race, or anything controversial.  It’s all about protecting the brand and not offending any potential readers.  We’re urged to be bland to the point of inoffensiveness, as we’re driven down the path of being more worried about not losing any twitter/facebook followers.  True, sometimes readers can’t differentiate your political positions from your work.  More times than not, they can’t separate your douchiness from your art.

I write because I have stories to tell and something to say.  I have a voice, opinions, a worldview, a perspective.  I could kid us both and not post any such views on my blog, but they will and should come out in my work if I’m true to who I am.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  What makes you unique as an artist is your voice and perspective, that special way you come at the world.  Some people will like it, some people won’t.  That’s okay, too.

There are some athletes who were criticized for being so bland and non-offensive, for example, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, because they never took a stand.  They never used the platform they had to effect any real change.  Maybe they ultimately weren’t about anything except their brand.  There were others who risked their popularity, say Jim Brown or Muhammed Ali, chancing offending some and losing fans with each stance, but being true to who they were.

Not everyone is comfortable being a political target, I get that.  I also think you’re obligated to use your or else you have squandered your gift and your opportunity, thus ultimately failing yourself and your audience.

This is 40 – A Review

Get used to hearing these words to describe This is 40:  relatable, honest, raw, intimate.  This is 40 isn’t so much a movie as much as a slice of life.  Unlike Judd Apatow’s previous three movies (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, or Funny People), This is 40 doesn’t spring from a high concept.   It’s a movie portrait of a couple, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), who turn 40 within a few days of each other while following them along three weeks of their lives together.  That’s the entire movie.

That’s so the entirety of the movie, for anyone who has crossed the threshold of leaving their thirties behind, you almost have to believe that you didn’t have to pay ten dollars to see this movie as much as pay attention to your own life and smile about it.  Which is what This is 40 does:  mines the mundane, day-to-day exasperations of life crossing into 40 for laughs.

With every Apatow production one has the feeling like he is tapping the veins of his own life and bleeding all over the screen.  With every uncomfortable argument in front of company, awkward coitus interruptus, compromising medical exam, ill-timed flatulence, or barged in bathroom times, life has been stripped to its most real moments and splayed for everyone’s entertainment.  There’s an unsettling feeling that we aren’t so much audience members as intruders on a family’s most personal moments.

The film then delves deeper, examining the insecurities of the family.  Pete runs a record company that signs and produces artists who are past their selling potential but are still believed to be relevant (a not very subtle symbol of the journey into one’s forties).  However, the company is losing money, playing havoc on the family’s finances; which aren’t helped by Pete’s freeloading father, Larry (Albert Brooks), ever-there with his hand out.

Debbie insists on telling everyone that she’s 38, runs a clothing store, and begins instituting a host of changes to keep her family healthy.  This means her stopping smoking, no more junk food for Pete, and less internet time for her daughters, Sadie (13) and Charlotte (8), played by real life daughters of Leslie Mann, Maude and Iris Apatow.  There is no single event the movie builds toward, but rather weaves all of the tensions together and rides them for the length of the movie.

“I feel bad about myself right now.” –Debbie

What the movie keeps coming back to is the pain and awkwardness of middle age.  The realization that you may have to resign to aging gracefully, or at least come to terms with your age.  That’s what makes the movie so universal:  we all have the common experience of aging.  We all have bodies that don’t work like they used to.  We all have moments where we reflect on our life, navigating the perils of a spouse, job, kids, and that existential dissatisfaction with life and how things turned out.  Wondering if you are where you were meant to be, where you dreamt of being, and trying to figure out a way to move forward anyway.

This is 40 is an anti-romance movie, deconstructing the “happily ever after” of many romance movies.  It’s a keenly observed portrait of real life and the drift of that comes with relationships as people forget how to talk to one another.  It’s uncomfortable, ribald, and hilarious all at the same time.  It manages to maintain a free-wheeling, nearly ad-libbed feel to it despite the movie’s length (clocking in at 134 minutes).