Michaeline: Rain Meditation Number Two

It’s been another week in the time of Corona, and let me pay my brief respects to US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died September 18, 2020, of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, according to National Public Radio. She was an icon for many, and is known for working through three broken ribs, gallbladder treatment and cancer during the last two years. An amazing woman, an amazing fighter, and an American heroine and role-model.

I can feel the grief from over here. People on Twitter barely could speak of her death and the causes, and my timeline was littered with cryptic profanity and little anecdotes of short and supreme sweetness. The Americans often did not say her name; they assumed we all knew. Rest in power, rest in peace, RBG.

People elsewhere in the world are also having a rough week, so I’m going to show another Rain Meditation from our farm in Japan. This was taken Friday morning. One of the five stray cats shows up in the beginning. Don’t get invested – Tabby leaves around the 10-second mark. There’s nothing to do, nothing to think. Just take care of yourself and breathe for one short minute, then go out and be kind to one another. What are you grateful for this week? Please leave some gratitude in the comments.

Michaeline: Meditation on Japanese Rain with Cat

It’s been a rough and rocky week — not so much for me personally, but for the people around me, and in the news, and on social media. So, here’s a nice one-minute video of cool, soothing rain on a Japanese farm . . . with guest voice cameo by Greebo, the cat.

Rain on a Japanese farm — a meditation. With Greebo doing a voiceover at the 0:17 mark. Only one minute of peaceful rain — enough to calm your mind and let ideas float to the top. (E.M. Duskova) Flowers: Blue salvia, red salvia, dusty miller. Begonias near the greenhouse in the background. Bees keep flitting, even through the pouring rain.

short-haired chonky black cat stretched out under a yew tree. Grape leaves and scented phlox are in the foreground. He's glaring at the camera.

Greebo, during sunnier days. (E.M. Duskova)

Greebo is a Grumpy-cat mix. He’s mostly black with a few orange markings that look like battle scars from a former life. He isn’t afraid of people, but he has no use for them unless they come bearing saucers of milk. (I know this because Auntie gives him a dish of scalded milk every morning, and he’ll let her pet him. Everyone else, he hisses at, then stalks away. Not runs. Stalks, with great dignity and he’s so affronted that you dared to approach him without a tribute for the conqueror.)

They say there are only two stories in the world: someone leaves home, or a stranger comes to town. I wonder what would happen if Greebo, anthropomorphized, showed up in my fictional town . . . .

Michaeline: Ghosts on the Brain

Okiku, a ghost from a well, at night. She's got a sad expression on her face, and she's blowing out a stream of cold air.

Okiku, the ghost rising from a well. Note how her body is made of plates . . . and she’s SO over 2020 and all its nonsense. Phew! (Image via Wikimedia Commons. Hokusai)

People are moaning and groaning that Halloween is going to be cancelled in North America this year, and others are vaguely annoyed by this attitude – mind you, I’m seeing this on Twitter, and most people are not even taking 280 characters to express their feelings about this, so half of what I report here may be my own imagination.

In Japan, Halloween has become quite popular, but mostly among the kids who go to English classes, and among the candy manufacturers. There’s a whole display of special orange, black and purple snacks for Halloween. Not bite-size candies to pass out, per se. And not really anything particularly scary. Just the candy company mascot dressed up as a witch, a vampire or a Munch’s Scream Guy. So, I HAVE been to a couple of Halloween parties in Japan, but they are mostly mass events where kids parade their costumes (95 percent of which are witches, vampires or Scream Guys), and then say in English, “Trick or Treat” at a booth to receive a small piece of candy.

I’ve hosted a couple of Halloween parties when my kids were small, but let’s face it. I’m not influential enough to change Japanese Halloween culture.

So, in Japan, anyway, it’s not going to be a big deal. They might have the mass events, with extra masks. It’ll be interesting to see if they tap into the horror of this year, and have more Zombie Nurses (2 percent of the costume parade) or COVID victims (obviously, this would be a debut costume), but I doubt it. Most people who celebrate will grab a bag of Scary Themed butter shoyu potato chips, and call it a season.

But anyway, I’ve got ghosts on the brain since July. August is when the ancestors are supposed to return home for a three-day holiday called Obon, and ghost stories are said to be a delightful cooling device when you don’t have an air conditioner – the chill down your spine during a session of evening stories is quite welcome.

For the first time, I’m thinking about Japanese ghosts. I have a modern story about Continue reading

Michaeline: Writer’s Fantasy #1: The Lockdown Inn

A 1920s stylish woman with a piece of paper on her desk mat, and the tip of a pen between her lipsticked lips.

An empty hotel room, a non-leaky pen, and thou, my precious manuscript! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Writers and hotels just seem to go together, both fictionally and in real life. The dad in Stephen King’s The Shining just wanted to get away from everything for a winter and WRITE. (It turned out horribly.) Maya Angelou (in an interview with The Paris Review – blurbed by google but with a broken link) said she’d rent a hotel room for a few months, leave home at six, and then write in the room (which had amenities such as a bible, a bath, a thesaurus and a dictionary, according to a Daily Beast article).

It’s alleged that Agatha Christie (who Kay Keppler wrote about on Thursday) wrote Murder on the Orient Express in Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. (Istanbul is the southern terminal of the railroad.) The hotel is also part museum, and has an Agatha Christie Room with antique furniture and Christie’s books AND the Agatha Restaurant, a smart-casual dining room.  

Scores of businesses offer writers the opportunities to retreat to a cabin in the woods, or on the beach, or in the middle of a city, to spend a weekend writing and talking with their fellow writers.

I thought Damon Knight (in his Creating Short Fiction) talked about a writer who would meditate on a story for three months then go to a hotel room and type for 30 hours straight . . . but it turned out I misremembered. I bought the book again, but this time the digital version so I could search it, and it seems it wasn’t a cheap motel, but a *specially designed cubicle, smaller than a telephone booth*. I suppose a modern hotel room would have too many distractions for that kind of writer (the bath, the Gideon bible, the cable TV and wifi).

Of course, in this Time of Corona, germophobes like me are not going to a hotel to write. I keep remembering articles that say coronaviruses survive on plastic surfaces for up to 72 hours, wood for four days, and glass for five days. Ugh.

But still, it’s fun to dream.

Heian Japanese lady peeking from under a curtain, with her manuscripts on the floor

Sei Shonagon was writing in Japan around the year 1000 — but didn’t have the luxury of an inn. She had to make do with the palace. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

My friend sent me a fun article about a Japanese inn that offers a writer’s service for real writers or for those who just want to cosplay. The staff calls themselves the Editing Department, you can book a service that holds the key to your hotel safe so you can lock your phone inside, or you can pay extra to have actors pretending to be your secret lover and your spouse run into each other – to get that olde-timey dramatic writer experience! (Debt collectors also available.)

The heroine of the article, ChieVampire, goes to get some real work done, and it’s entertaining to follow her evening and morning at the traditional hotel. The Homeikan in Tokyo has quite a few entertaining programs in their three historic buildings, and when a vaccine’s been discovered, I want to go and try out the Monster Event* or the Literary Retreat Plan. It does seem like a quite reasonable price, and I’ll be sure to pack my longest extension cord and pocket wi-fi.

On this longing note of nostalgia and yearning, have you been on a dream retreat, or do you have one that you’d like to go to some day? (-: I know Kay’s talked about creating her own writing retreat.


*I don’t know an easy way to get this link in English. If you cut and paste 鳳明館幽霊 (Homeikan ghosts) into Google, look for the “jibunmedia.publishers” link, and click on translate this page. 

Michaeline: Truth and “Truthiness”

Naked truth carries a large mirror or magnifying glass. Men cower at her feet and she tramples them. Verite est la massue qui chacun assomme et tue

The club of truth. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

OK, so I don’t know how much backstory is needed, nor can I figure out how to weave it in skillfully, so I’ll plop it right here in three paragraphs or less.

Someone was wrong on the Internet. Sylvia Woodham tweeted a critique at Adrianna Herrera’s announcement of an Afro-Latinx book set in 1880s Paris. She said she wasn’t aware of travel from Latin America to Europe in the 19th century, therefore, the book should be historical fantasy, not fiction. She accused Herrera of historical inaccuracy.

Herrera explained the historical premise to her book. People piled on Woodham. Piper J. Drake wrote a good thread on why some people got so mean about an “little” mistake on Woodham’s part. (Scare quotes – little in some people’s eyes, part of a huge pattern of erasure and historical inaccuracy and simple ignorance in others.)

This led to a big discussion on truth in historical fiction. And as you know, on the internet a discussion

The links to these tweets are at the bottom of the post. Summary: Herrera's Afro-Latinx book, Las Leonas, announced. Woodham says, "Historical fiction should have historical accuracy? I am not aware of historical record that there was much travel from Latin America to Europe in the 19th century. Happy to be proven wrong. Otherwise it would be historical fantasy? For the sake of accuracy." Herrera provides screenshot of original tweet and link her to history lesson on the accuracy of her book.

Tweets from @LaQuette Writes (night mode) and @ladrianaherrera documenting the beginning of the Twitter discussion I’m referencing very tangentially. Links are at the bottom of the page. Via Twitter.

tends to spread out in all directions with tentacles and tangents. Emma Barry tweeted, “I wrote an unmarried, super hot astronaut in 1962. No one has ever called me out for that even though it’s not historically accurate. That’s a form of white privilege.” August 21, 2020. She’s talking about Star Dust, the first book in her Fly Me to the Moon series. It was set in Houston, 1962, and published on October 14, 2015.

And that, my friends, is what sparked my blog for today. But I see we’re almost out of time, so . . . .

Nah, just kidding. True facts are not believed. Untrue facts are. What is this weird phenomenon?

Link to Tweet at bottom of page. Text: Emma Barry @AuthorEmmaBarry I wrote an unmarried, super hot astronaut in 1962. No one has ever called me out for that even though it's not historically accurate. That's a form of white privilege. August 21, 2020

Emma Barry’s tangent shocked me for a second. None of the 1960s astronauts were single? What about Captain Tony Nelson? Oh, yeah . . . he wasn’t real. Then he grew up to be a Texas oil tycoon with big dreams (whole-season dreams, IIRC). LOL. Image from Twitter.

You see, there’s no historical basis for unmarried 60s astronauts, Barry says. But the trope was well-accepted. Look at I Dream of Jeannie.

When I was a kid, my afternoons were homework with Gilligan’s Island, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie in syndicated re-runs. Extremely Continue reading

Michaeline: Obon and Japanese Ghosts

balloon flower, phlox, China asters, yellow lilies in two celadon vases

Here are the offerings for our home altar, all from our family’s gardens. (E.M. Duskova)

I’m writing a ghost story today in honor of Obon. Obon holidays usually take place in our area in the middle of August during the hottest part of the year. It’s believed that ancestors come home for a visit on Day 1, stay on Day 2, and return to the other realms on Day 3. People clean the graves in preparation, and get offerings of flowers, snacks and drinks ready for the home altars.

Usually, it’s a great time to catch up with families. Even though people are supposed to stay home during this time of Corona, we’ve had family over – opened the windows, disinfected the table and hoped for the best.

A small family altar with offerings of fruit jelly, Bireley's soda, water, and snacks. Candles, singing bowl.

This is the small altar for our family at the local temple. We brought offerings of flowers, fruit jelly, water, Bireley’s Orange Soda, and some cookies. The temple provides the candles and the incense. (E.M. Duskova)

Traditionally, ghost stories have been a popular part of the Obon season – it seems natural with the ghosts of the relatives coming home, but also the delicious chill you get down your back when someone tells a really spooky story is said to be a good way to beat the heat.

My husband has absolutely no use for ghost stories, and even dislikes dolls that look like they could rise up in the middle of the night and strangle an unwitting homeowner. So, we don’t tell ghost stories to each other. But still, ghost stories abound.

Here are some thrilling Japanese ghost stories as told by foreigners on the Gaijin Pot blog. https://blog.gaijinpot.com/true-japan-ghost-stories-from-gaijinpot-readers/ The story of the baseball boys (almost all boys in baseball club in Japan get a buzz cut) was very touching, but the last story from Nana about her hotel in Minami Senju was perfect – a fun ghost story that sent those refreshing chills down my spine, but didn’t creep me out. Which story was your favorite?

And for more about Obon, Continue reading

Michaeline: Diversity and the Hugos

A shining priestess leads a minotaur through the darkness.

Margaret Brundage did win a Retro Hugo 1945 for Best Professional Artist at the 2020 WorldCon. Here’s something from the January issue of Weird Tales. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I should have written about the Hugo Awards last Saturday when it was a hot fresh mess. But, I’d already written something, and was following the Hugo story from my car as my daughter popped into stores to get necessary items.

Now, it feels like the storm has died down. The last time there was a big SFF brouhaha, some wit on Twitter said (about cancel culture, not the SFF drama) if people would just shut up and stay off social media for four days, social media would forget and move on. It certainly seems true – I saw a lot of the villains of the last uproar commenting and getting likes this week.

From my narrow perspective, it seems like the Hugo Award show, hosted by George R. R. Martin (you know, Game of Thrones?), was executed for a mostly white, mostly old live crowd of people who can afford to travel to New Zealand. However, due to COVID-19 concerns, CoNZealand (the 2020 WorldCon for members of the World Science Fiction Society) was virtual. Which meant younger, more diverse and poorer people could afford to participate.

The interesting thing about the Hugo Awards is that they are a fan-based award. Anyone who paid NZ$75 in time could vote for their favorites in the many categories. Heck, anyone who paid that fee OR was a supporting member of the 2019 WorldCon was eligible to nominate their true favorites to the ballot.

While the awards ceremony featured some huge gaffes and awards to racist, sexist white dead geezers, it also featured amazing winners and nominees from all over the spectrum of color and sexuality. And some of the acceptance speeches, such as the one by Rebecca F. Kuang for the 2020 Astounding Award for Best New Writer.


I think it bodes really well for the future of the SFF field as a whole. Readers like these people who put the nominees on the ballot are shaping the future of SFF.

(2020 Nominees and winners list at i09 website here.)

Michaeline: Virtual Fun, Australian RRA style!

 

RKO radio pictures logo with a radio antennae on top of the globe

Calling out, around the world! Romance readers, here’s a special bulletin for you! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Just a quick update on Elizabeth’s post on July 22, 2020. The Australian Romance Readers Association’s virtual weekend has begun! Their A Romantic Rendezvous: Locked Down began releasing interviews on YouTube this morning, and by the time people in Europe and North America wake up, there should be almost a day’s worth of fun stuff up!

I spent a half hour watching the Jennifer Crusie interview; it was my first time to see her in live action! She’s just as I imagined she would be: articulate and full of good humor.

I’m tempted to spoil it and tell you what was in the interview! She talks about using collage to create characters, and why she doesn’t like to base a character on a real person. She tells us what books she’d recommend to someone new to her catalog. She adds her theory of humor. She tells us her best reader feedback, and then the conversation winds up with book talk, of authors living and dead that she likes.

I’m making the comments a spoiler zone; if you haven’t seen the interview, you might want to bookmark this to read the comments later. Please feel free to discuss and fan-squee! I’ll be checking back through the weekend (Saturday, Sunday and Monday for me).

There are a few other ARRLD events that I’ve got marked on my calendar for this weekend, but the wonderful thing is that it’s all on YouTube, so you can enjoy them any time, on your own schedule. (I’m just lucky that Australia is only one hour different for me – LOL, first time I’ve ever been first on a video.)


Michaeline: Jokes Saturday

 

Lady in a jester's costume, leading a man in a monk's costume.

“I have a joke about a priest, a rabbi and a minister, but it’s a low bar.” — Image via Wikimedia Commons

Silly season, the time when serious people go on vacation and the media is left to the frivolous folks lower on the ladder, has started early. At least, according to my Twitter timeline, it looks that way. It’s jam-packed with jokes that follow the format of “I have a joke about x, but y.”

So ridiculous. But so viral! It’s been in my brain, and I’ve been obsessed with the jokes all morning. Here are some I came up with:

I have a joke about Skype, but I’d have to phone it in.

I have a joke about plums, but it’s so cold. (But so delicious.) This is just to say hello, William Carlos Williams. 

I have a joke about school openings during a pandemic, but it’s really sick.

I have a joke about sewing homemade masks, but it’s layered.

I have a joke about a pile of laundry, but it’s not clean.

I have a joke about a two-engine plane, but it needs a couple of props. (This one is for my mom. Hi, Mom!)

I have a joke about opening bars during a pandemic, but it’s too soon – and the priest, the rabbi and the atheist are busy doing other things.

I have a joke about the post office, but I’m not sure if I can deliver the punchline.

I have a joke about a tree falling in the forest, but Continue reading

Michaeline: The World of Your Story

 

A large young woman holding a saucer of tea. On the table is a samovar, watermelon, fruitcake, apples and grapes. Next to her, a cute kitty rubs her shoulder. Affluent and full of sunshine.

Boris Kustodiev’s A Merchant’s Wife’s Teatime from 1918 shows the kind of sunny August afternoon I wouldn’t mind living in forever. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m always a bit in awe of people who write intricate, dark, depressing stories like The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. They do such a good job, but . . . they have to live inside that world in their heads for however long it takes to write the book.

I guess that’s why I prefer to write things with ultimately happy endings. I have a good real life, and I’m content, but in a story, I can stir up just a little trouble, just a little drama, and then resolve it all with cake and a brighter future ahead.

I wonder how many people set their stories in the Now. When I write these days, I studiously avoid plagues, invasions of insects, racism, floods, global warming and riots. They may creep in, but they are not what I set out to write.

But even before these wild days came upon us, I rarely wrote in the Now. I mostly wrote in the near future and far future, and a little bit in the distant past (80 years or more before Actual Writing Time). I am not sure why . . . maybe because I’m still processing the Now, and am not sure what to write about it. The distant past just needs a bit of research, and the future can be fudged. I don’t trust my perception of things enough to write about the Now.

But that’s me. I think people may want to read things about Now in the near future; they’ll have a basic set of reference, and can compare their experience with the author. They’ll have processed things. They might take joy in what the author got right, and they might have a sneaky bit of schadenfreude for what the author got wrong.

What is your Now like right now?

I saw a fun game on Twitter by Amber Sparks, who Continue reading