Book I’m Looking Forward To: Trail of Lightning

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Anglo who identifies as a Scotsman-in-exile, which is to say I come from a long line of mostly-British-descended people who came here from Scotland in the early days of the US, and I wish they’d all stayed in the UK so I could have been born there.

That said, I somehow picked up a very fierce appreciation of the American Southwest, and the native tribes that live there.  Because of this, I did several classes on Native American literature in college, and read quite a few amazing stories. But in the SFF field where my true heart lies, there’s remarkably little Science Fiction or Fantasy written by Native Americans.

One of my favorite science fiction novels is Roger Zelazny’s Eye of Cat, a story taking inspiration from Navajo traditions. As much as I love that book, though, Zelazny was as white as I am.  He did a good job, but how much better might it have been if it had been written by someone who knew the culture from the inside?

One of my favorite stories this year was Rebecca Roanhorse’s Hugo Award-nominated “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience.”  Go give it a read, I’ll wait.

Good, wasn’t it?  SO MUCH going on there.  Well, imagine how happy I was to see that she’s got a novel–first in a series–coming out this month?  She describes Trail of Lightning as an “Indigenous Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Read more about her book at this link.   (Includes B&N Preorder link at bottom)

Amazon preorder page

Rebecca Roanhorse’s website

My Struggle with Mother’s Day

My mother died when I was five.  That means I haven’t seen her, or heard her voice, for 42 years.  Truth be told, I don’t even remember what her voice sounded like.  I try to imagine it as similar to my aunt’s, but that can only take you so far.  The patterns of her voice–her inflections, her unique pronunciations and cadences–are gone forever.

My aunt was too young to take me, and was convinced to allow friends of the family to adopt me.  While my adopted dad did his best, and wasn’t terrible (more on him later), my adopted mother was a monster.  She continually ridiculed me.  I don’t sing in public, despite having a decent voice, because she told me, over and over again, that it was ugly.  Many of my problems with self-image are due to a childhood in her clutches.

Mother’s Day has always been difficult.  How do I celebrate a mom who continually treated me like the unwanted child? How do I celebrate any mom, no matter how worthy she is, when I’m so busy missing my own?

Eventually, I found a way.  And the reason is my aunt.  My mother’s sister took me in when I was 15 and had been basically disowned by my adopted family.  I arrived at her doorstep, deeply broken and completely filled with anger.

But she took care of me.  She was patient, and loving, and she made allowances for my damage even as she refused to accept excuses for my behavior.  She later told me she was terrified every day that she’d come home and find me dead–my uncle kept a pistol, and I could have easily gotten to it–but I would never have done that.  I wasn’t always kind, to her or my uncle, but there’s no way I would ever have repaid their kindness with that kind of trauma.  I knew, even from the depths of my anger, that it wasn’t their fault.  And with their help, I began to heal.

It took time, and work, but eventually I became a functional human.  I owe much of it to my aunt, and the patience she’s shown.  And because of her, I’m able to look around me and realize I’m doing pretty well.

I love you, KJ.

The Ups and Downs of my “Stage Presence”

On Fridays, I allow a few minutes for students to ask me any kind of question they wish.  Sometimes they ask about real world things they don’t understand, like the current Korean negotiations, Trump’s actions, etc.  Sometimes they’re random questions about the world (many of which could be answered with a fifteen-second Google search), and sometimes they’re about me.

Today, a fairly astute student asked if I’d ever be able to speak as an author, given that I’m shy and an introvert.

It’s a good question, but easily answered: I could do it easily, because I’m a teacher.

Of course, even if I do get published, that doesn’t guarantee I’ll ever have the opportunity to speak publicly; debut authors don’t get book tours, and few people would go to attend an event with someone they’ve never heard of, anyway.

But if I ever did get to that tier of writerly success, I could handle it.  I spend, after all, six hours a day “on stage” in the classroom, and I’m one of the more entertaining teachers on campus. My students regularly comment that they enjoy my sense of humor, my ability to make sometimes dull lessons entertaining, and my willingness to look foolish to make a point for them.

But it wouldn’t be entirely smooth.  Because here’s the thing: With an audience of fans, I’d be fine.  With an audience of authors or editors or agents, I’d be a mess, talking too fast, trying not to act nervous, and generally trying not to fall apart.  While I’m good at talking to students, I’m crap at talking to peers.  I get nervous when I feel judged, and fellow teachers judge far, far more harshly than students do.

The key is that when I’m teaching, I’m performing.  When I’m talking in front of teachers, I’m not performing–they know the tricks.  I’m trying to get to a point where I can turn that into performance, as well, but it’s difficult.

Reclaiming My Self

Shortly before I moved to Sacramento, my dad gave me brand-new cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, which I wore often at home while working in the pasture or when riding my horse.
When I moved to Sacramento, I kept wearing them, because they were a part of me, and I liked them. But I was pretty mercilessly made fun of for the first half of 10th grade, and by January I’d stopped wearing the boots or the hat.  I had also realized by then that I wasn’t going to be returning to Napa no matter how much I wanted to, and I consciously “released” the trappings of what I had been forced to consider my “old” life and got rid of the boots and hate entirely.
I’ve never owned another pair of cowboy boots, or a hat, even though I grew up wearing them and used to love them.
Now I want some cowboy boots. I have ZERO need for them, and I’m not even sure I’d wear them often, or I’d go out and buy them. But I want them.  I miss the feel of them when walking, either on a street or in a field.
I’ve been doing this with music, too.  Sometime in the mid-80s I stopped listening to the 70s-era rock and pop music I’d grown up with, because it wasn’t “cool” in the circle of friends I was hanging out with.  But now, at 46, I’ve been listening to a lot of Linda Ronstadt and Neil Diamond, Dolly Parton, Journey, King Crimson, the Mamas and the Papas… the music I remember from childhood.  Of course I’m also still listening to 80s New Wave, and even Kitaro and my beloved Scottish folk music, but I’ve been spending a lot more time with the old stuff.
The older I get, the less I care what people think about what I listen to, or wear, or like.

How’s Michael Doing? Some Good, Some Bad.

I had kind of a meltdown last night.  More on that later, but first, let’s do the categories…

Work

Work is work.  I just came back from two weeks off for the Winter Holiday Break, and yet I feel like I didn’t get any time off.  Kids are both delightful and irritating; some of them are amazing and some of them make me want to quit.  So it goes.

I’m taking an online course to revise my Hamlet unit, which will mean that next year I’ll make more money, but that’s about it on the job front.

 

Home

In early November we put our house up for sale.  We got an offer in about a week, and it was a good one, so we took it.  We also bought a house, and moved in early December.

We’re finally settled in, and I still sometimes look around and realize “This is my house.”  It’s a nicer place than the old one (which was a great house), and best of all we have a pool.  So summer will be freaking amazing, but winter is kind of a drag right now, because we can’t really use the yard at all.

I’ve also got a balcony off my bedroom, which is going to be a really nice thing in spring and summer.

Rewrite

What began as a restructuring of the first few chapters is turning into a major rewrite.  Some plot elements have been thrown right out, and others have morphed into unfamiliar shapes.  But I think it will be a stronger book when I’m done.  There’s an agent waiting for the final version; I’m trying to get it ready by the end of this month, but I’m not sure it will work out.  We’ll see.

Self

Here’s where that meltdown comes in.  Sometimes, I feel like I get so lost in my job, and my family, that I start to lose myself.  And when that happens, it adds to my stress levels.

Here’s the problem with that: I have a health issue that, while not dangerous, is exacerbated by stress.  And here I am with a stressful job, and a willful ten year old, and I’m feeling pretty much highly stressed out most of the time.  I’m very bad about getting what I need, so I tend to lose myself in my various roles, and find I have no time for writing, or doing things I love, unless I end up with the time, but in a messed-up mindspace that doesn’t allow me much creativity.

I’m working on it, but it’s an ongoing process.

Rewrite, Work, Home

Rewrite

Work proceeds.  I was done with chapter one’s rewrite, but then something occurred to me and I had to add a scene or two, so I’m doing that.  It’s going to radically change the end of this chapter and the beginning of the new one, but I think it will go a long way to making the book better.

Work

Teaching is a weird profession.  I love the time with students but I hate the grading.  I hate the endless stack of papers, and I hate the tendency of so many of my students to listen to me, but do precisely the opposite of what I am trying to teach them to do.

Home

My house is a stack of boxes.  Hopefully we sign and get the keys to the new house Wednesday, then move some carloads of small stuff over, then the movers come and help us move the rest on Saturday 12/9.  Our goal is to be completely out of the house and the house cleaned for the new owners on 12/10, but we’ll see.  We technically have until 12/20, but we’d rather not take that long, for their sakes as well as our own.

Stressed Out and Hating It

I’m stressed out.  Others notice it, too.  Some think it’s because of my job.  They’re not entirely wrong, but they’re also not entirely correct.

The truth is, I’m like the stress version of the Hulk–I’m always stressed.  Everything stresses me out.  I feel like I’m always on the verge of a breakdown, always ready to rage at whomever is nearby over everything that has irritated me that day.

It’s not healthy.  I know it’s not.  But I can’t help it.  And then I start freaking out that my stress is going to set off my arrhythmia and I’m going to feel even worse if I go into afib. You might guess that doesn’t help the stress levels.

The truth is, I wasn’t made for the real world.  I should be spending my days at home, writing, taking care of the house.  But instead I not only work (as is necessary), but I chose a career where I’m constantly dealing with teenagers who think they know everything, and who expect me to treat them like adults when they won’t behave like adults.  A career that is nearly universally hated in this country, where I’m constantly judged by people who don’t know the first thing about what I do but feel they have the right and the knowledge to critique me.

Okay, maybe it’s a little bit my job.