Books on the Shelf 1.16

This is the sixteenth installment of my aptly-named series “Books on the Shelf,” in which I take any title or object from one of my lovingly alphabetized shelves and write a short post about it. Here’s the start of our nonfiction shelves!

Alda to Hellman
completed: 12 of 31

There are two books that have changed how I view the world and try to move through it, and one of them is on this shelf: Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s A Human Being Died That Night. The author, a psychologist who grew up in a Black South African township and who was among the leaders of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee, conducted a series of jailhouse interviews with Eugene De Kock, nicknamed “Prime Evil” for his part in committing crimes against humanity as a part of the apartheid-era government.

Gobodo-Madikizela writes about her experience, and about the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s larger work, with remarkable candor and compassion and intelligence. Forgiveness is not simple, nor should it ever be treated as such, she writes. It is, however, a choice that victims and survivors can make, one that can create a new kind of freedom for an entire nation.

I am not, as a rule, someone who does very well when it comes to letting go of bad feelings. This book changed how I think about both forgiveness and guilt. Thankfully, I have not thus far suffered anything as devastating as many of the people she quotes in her book, and I’m nowhere near as accomplished a practitioner of grace and humility and forgiveness as I ought to be. Not so long ago, when I found myself stuck on a highway that was shut down while a certain politician’s motorcade drove by, I discovered just how readily accessible my feelings of rage remain. (For the record, I stayed in my car and kept the windows up. (At least there’s that.)) However, there’s beauty and new possibility available, I believe, in the expression of grace. I will continue reaching for it.

In a season when many people are recommending powerful and thoughtful works by Black authors, I hope you’ll consider this title as well. It is remarkable.

Books on the Shelf 1.15

This is the fifteenth installment of my aptly-named series “Books on the Shelf,” in which I take any title or object from one of my lovingly alphabetized shelves and write a short post about it.

Scripts, Fry through Z. Poetry.
Completed ratio: 28 of 41

So much to mine on this shelf!

Right there in the middle is an out-of-print collection of adaptations of classical texts, Divine Fire, edited by Caridad Svich. Included in it is Karen Hartman’s play Troy Women, which doesn’t so much begin as it launches with such beautiful yet heartbreaking language and proportion, it’s caught in my memory for something like 20 years now. The stage directions:

Troy. Dawn after the fall. The men are dead and the women are captives. HECUBA lies on the ground. The sea-god Poseidon surveys the ruin.

Poseidon speaks at length, in verse, about the loss of Troy, his pet city. Interspersed within his speech are three words from Hecuba, queen of Troy.

He speaks for a page, then she says,


(he speaks again at length, and she says)


(he speaks even more, then)


The balance is exquisite. He may be a god, but her lines carry all the power.

Are there any scenes from movies or plays that stick with you as acutely?

Fireside Quarterly Sale

A couple weeks ago, I signed the contract on a story that’s scheduled to run in the January 2021 Fireside Quarterly. I’m terrifically excited to work with everyone at Fireside. All their communications to date have been clear, prompt, and professional, which doesn’t get praised enough in any field, IMO.

And that’s not even mentioning the high caliber of the work Fireside features. I’m especially enamored of this Alix E. Harrow short story, “The Ransom of Miss Coraline Connelly.” Read it! Nominate it, if you’re in a position to do so. It’s lovely.

Books on the Shelf 1.14

This is the next installment of my aptly-named series “Books on the Shelf,” in which I take any title or object from one of my lovingly alphabetized shelves and write a short post about it.

Wait, what happened to 13? Oh. Well, that shelf contains several religious texts and icons. For now, I am keeping that part of my reading life private.

Theater reference and scripts A through Friel.
Completed ratio: 14 of 21 – but some are reference works, not cover-to-cover reads.

Lotsa stuff here! We’re into my theater shelves. I highly recommend splitting your Complete Works of William Shakespeare into chunks. Otherwise, who on earth would want to read it? It’s meant to be read, marked up, dog-eared. Go ahead: go at it, give her a rip! You’ll feel better. (Yes, there’s the unripped hardback underneath. I’m unsure what to do with it.)

On top of the Shakespeare stack, however, is some genuine Fiesta dinnerware. It was a gift after my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I attended a performance of Steven Tomlinson’s lovely and touching one-man show American Fiesta (two reviews, for perspective). The teacup seems to collect more dust than tea, but I love the object and the memory of a sweet production.

That’s all. Stay healthy, stay strong.

Books on the Shelf 1.12

This is the twelfth installment of my aptly-named series “Books on the Shelf,” in which I take any title or object from one of my lovingly alphabetized shelves and write a short post about it.

How would you even count all these?

We bought Watchmen on our honeymoon, at the airport, on the way out. We both read it that week. Because we have never once done things at the right time.

Still. Pretty good, isn’t it?

Books on the Shelf 1.11

This is the eleventh installment of my aptly-named series “Books on the Shelf,” in which I take any title or object from one of my lovingly alphabetized shelves and write a short post about it.

Wallace through Woolf
Completed ratio: 6/10 (I’m not counting those reference books!)

I took all the pictures of my shelves at the beginning of the year. By now, this shelf has changed. I’m looking forward to the second round of these posts, because I switch out books quite often, and I like how my collection is growing.

Also, pandemic + mega-recession + BLM protests* have changed how we write and think about everything.

I’m left with two thoughts upon viewing this image of shelf 1.11-that-was: first, I need to go back to Age of Innocence, because it’s such a lovely exploration of complex characters. Second, Tad Williams remains my favorite of the speculative fiction writers who rose to prominence in the 1980s-90s era.

That era was without question dominated by a homogeneity of perspectives and styles. Doesn’t mean it was all bad, of course. I mean, I only know about 90s fantasy writing because I read a lot of it and enjoyed it. But it’s also true that the era was FULL of Tolkien-esque worldbuilding, from a very Anglo/male/hetero/etc perspective. Thankfully, we have more diverse voices contributing to the genre now.

I’m gonna give props to Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. Dated? Sure. It’s still on my shelf, though, unlike (nearly) all the other authors I read in high school.

I didn’t go back to read it before writing this post (it’s a pandemic and I’m not one of the bored ones without obligations). I remember, though, that Simon names his horse Homefinder. There’s lovely character growth across the books, and what resonated and still resonates with me most is that, throughout the epic, Simon is searching for home, finally coming to understand that one must cultivate a feeling of home internally.

It’s a lovely lesson at the heart of a truly enormous story.

* I write these posts in advance and schedule them. I have returned to this post in the midst of watching coverage of protests around the world, and it’s necessary to not be silent at this moment.

At the same time: I am not a person who should be claiming any part of the spotlight right now. I am not the person to offer public guidance. (Private conversations are happening.) Instead, I will simply say: as fearful as many of us remain of how the pandemic will continue to grow, I hope each of us will find a way to support efforts to move beyond racism in our lives and in our communities.

Y’all be safe, and may grace accompany us all down this hard road.

Books on the Shelf 1.10

This is the tenth installment of my aptly-named series “Books on the Shelf,” in which I take any title or object from one of my lovingly alphabetized shelves and write a short post about it.

Shields through Voltaire
Completed ratio: 12 of 24

Last October, on the day after I arrived at Viable Paradise, a handful of us walked into town to rent bikes. The man at the rental place asked what brought us all to Martha’s Vineyard. We told him we were all science fiction and fantasy writers (which is a bizarre and hilarious thing to say in a group, by the way).

“That’s awesome!” the guy said. He was well-proportioned and muscly, exactly the right sort of person to own and operate a bike rental shop. “I love science fiction and fantasy. Have you guys read anything by J. R. R. Tolkien?”

We all nodded, and everyone kept straight faces, we went off for a lovely ride.

I mean I wanted to say, “J. R. R… who? Mmm, no, sorry. Never heard of him.”

I didn’t, because it’s not nice to be a jerk, and, I mean, we’ve had enough snobs and assholes in sf/f. Better to be polite to people as a general rule.

It was funny, though, right?

Books on the Shelf 1.9

This is the ninth installment of my aptly-named series “Books on the Shelf,” in which I take any title or object from one of my lovingly alphabetized shelves and write a short post about it.

Seth to… well, Seth, I guess (plus some mass markets)
Completed ratio: 6 to 8

The mask in the center of the picture, the one with the eyebrows painted on, was created specifically for my face out of plaster. There was a cast and there was lying on the floor very still for like 30 minutes and it was a whole thing. I wore the mask in a production of Oedipus Rex several years ago, when I got to play the very best role I’ve ever played and will likely ever play: the Shepherd.

For real. The Shepherd. Hear me out.

The larger play about the tragedy of King Oedipus is a foundational work of Western literature in which we see the gradual tightening of the screws until Oedipus breaks. It begins with a plague. Someone suggests that the plague has struck because they’ve never caught the man who murdered their former king, Laios.

The Shepherd gets one scene. One. Oedipus summons him to explain his part in the mysterious tale of Laios’s murder. The Shepherd resists and resists and does everything he can to give Oedipus a way out from hearing the truth. Oedipus insists, though. He has sworn to find the murderer and cut out his eyes, and he won’t stop until the murderer is found.

What’s so brilliant about the Shepherd is how efficient and tight an arc the character has. In my copy, he appears on five pages. In those pages, he goes from being no more than a powerless old man playing up his unreliability, to a captive who’s been cornered and is scrambling for way out, to a vengeful actor who strikes down his king, knowing that it will cause the only society – the city – he’s ever known to collapse.

When it becomes clear that he must either tell and watch his world collapse, or keep his secret and be killed now, the Shepherd makes a choice. If he’s going to die, at least he’ll choose the manner of his death. Then, for once in his life, he rises up. He takes down a whole city with his words.

I pitied the baby, my King,
And I thought that this man would take him far away
To his own country.
He saved him – but for what a fate!
For if you are what this man says you are,
Then no man living is more wretched than Oedipus.

It’s a glorious moment to play.

I’d love to hear about other great turning points in the stories you love. Movies, plays, novels, all of it.

Masks and Words

In April, I set aside my writing work* to make room for my sewing machine, and I sewed a bunch of masks for family and friends. Making masks seemed like one of the few things that those of us who are not healthcare or grocery workers could do to help, and I’m glad I did.

If you still need a mask, may I suggest that you do not order one online right away? Instead, look for local businesses and individuals who are making masks as a way to keep themselves afloat. I know of some house cleaners who are sewing masks to make ends meet, and at least locally, Zips cleaners franchises are doing everything they can to keep their people employed by selling handmade masks.

I’m glad to make way for these folks – and also to spend what little spare time there is with the stories I’d like to tell.

*This was an option for me because I’m currently fortunate to have gainful employment apart from my writing.

Books on the Shelf 1.8

This is the eighth installment of my aptly-named series “Books on the Shelf,” in which I take any title or object from one of my lovingly alphabetized shelves and write a short post about it.

Polk through Scalzi
Completed ratio: 12 to 20

Would you like your very own Hedwig baby owl?

Here she is, up close:

Hello, I have a letter!

I recommend a nice boucle yarn for the body, for some floof.

Also, about that Cursed Child script. Did you know that the first thing actors and directors do when they get a script is to ignore the stage directions? Okay, occasionally they pay attention to things like “she exits,” or “he pukes,” or something like that.

But “His face goes white,” like in Cursed Child? Nah. If the dialog doesn’t communicate it, then it’s not there.

I understand why they put stage directions like that in here. It’s mostly prose readers who are buying this “script,” and they needed to give folks a little something to hold onto, to make it feel like a fun reading experience as opposed to studying a map, which is what scripts kind of are.

As a theater kid who’s crossed over to prose, though, I snobbishly wanted less of that stuff. Oh well. Maybe I can send someone an owl or something to complain.