Sunday Spotlight: Beware Bloggers Bearing Gifts!

I’ve been a pretty bad blogger this week – no new content since Wednesday! What’s up with that? Well, the reason I haven’t been blogging is twofold:

(i) I’ve been busy, away at the Au Contraire Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention in Wellington this weekend.

(ii) Because of this, I’ve been staying in a hotel and thus have had pretty minimal internet access for, like, EVER. Okay, so it was only two days. Shut up. Two days is forever when you’re as addicted to the ‘net as I am. Do you know how hard it is to navigate Opera on an ancient cell phone? This is what I was reduced to! It was terrible!

I had a great time at the Con and learned a great deal, although unfortunately I was sick on the third day (today) and decided to head home early, which meant I missed out on some great stuff and some great people. However! I have the internet again! Which has at least cured me of my withdrawal symptoms. And I still have a whole load of fantastic experiences to share with you guys which I’ll be writing up and posting over the next week or so. The first of which is today. For this week’s Sunday Spotlight, let me share with you some of the amazing people and pages I’ve encountered over the past couple of days.

  1. Introducing SpecFicNZ! I’ve talked about this before, I think, but now it has officially launched: NZ’s go-to organisation for Speculative Fiction. If you read, write, publish or are otherwise involved in the production of fantasy, sci-fi, horror and anything in-between, then do join up! Membership is pretty cheap and the organisation sounds like it’s going to be fantastic once it gets off the ground. Plus, I was at the launch and met some of those who have put it together (maybe this makes me a little biased, but this is my blog, so deal with it) and they are all very dedicated and creative people with some awesome ideas and I want to help them work towards the fulfillment of those ideas as much as I can.
  2. Nicholas Chrustowski’s blog, Storyteller. I met Nick at the Convention (hi!) and learned that he had self published his own anthology of short stories called Dreams and Nightmares, which has since been nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Collected Work 2010. The Sir Julius Vogels have been voted on and will be awarded tonight at Au Contraire, so good luck, Nick! Stop by and check out what he has to say about writing.
  3. Russell Kirkpatrick’s site. Technically, I was never introduced to Mr. Kirkpatrick, but I attended his seminar on Worldbuilding and it was one of the highlights of the convention. FYI, Mr. Kirkpatrick, if you ever read this: I was the one who made the comment about fairytales having a certain loose rule structure. I had a great time and learned heaps, thank you! Ahem. So, anyway. I will be posting more about that later, but in the meantime, check out some of his fantasy novels on his website!
  4. Juliet Marillier’s site. Again, I attended Ms.(?) Marillier’s writing workshop (this one on Voice) rather than talk to her much in person, but I enjoyed that a great deal too. Check out what she’s been writing and if you can catch her at WorldCon later in the year, I highly recommend it!
  5. Last but not least, Writer Unboxed, a gorgeous site about writers and writing to which Juliet Marillier contributes (and through whom I obtained the link). Another blog for the favourites list!

Anyway, I had such fun and I’m sad it’s over, particularly as I didn’t get to see the grand finale. Maybe next year. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy exploring these links as much as I enjoyed meeting the people and finding out about them.

New Beginnings Wednesday (August 25)

New Beginnings is a weekly event hosted by MizB at Should be Reading. It’s all about your New Years’ Resolutions! Everybody knows that these are really hard to stick to, so why not encourage each other in our efforts? Why not enlist the support of our online friends?

So, here it is…

  • First — post your list of New Years’ Resolutions in a post at your blog.
  • Second — every week, on Wednesday, write a new post about how you’re doing with each of your goals … you’ll have to list them, again, each week, as people won’t remember what you’re working towards, otherwise. Be brief in your updates, as there may be several blogs to visit!
  • Third — after you’ve written your update, visit Should Be Reading, and share your link so that we –the other New Beginnings participants– can stop by your blog and encourage you!

Important! … It would be absolutely great if you could visit at least ONE other participant’s blog on Wednesdays and leave a comment on their post to share some encouragement for their efforts! Show your support! That’s what this event is all about — standing by each other to finally reach our goals!

My goal: to try to be more consistent, and finish what I start. In particular…

  1. Write 1000 words or more per day. Check and check.
  2. Read at least 100 books this year. I’ve not made much progress with this so far this month.
  3. Dazzle my professors with my research essays. Working on it!
  4. Turn The Black Sheep into a functioning (popular?) blog. I’ve been a bit lax – not having anything to read at the moment, I even forgot to give an excerpt for Teaser Tuesday. Bummer!
  5. Start exercising more. Same as above. It’s still on the list of Things To Do, though.

Happy Wednesday! How are your goals going?

Monday Poem: “Women Have Loved Before as I Love Now” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Wow, long title and a long author name this week. I found this wonderful poet through a fanfiction piece, of all things, which featured some of her poetry. I wasn’t that enthused about the fic – I thought it was a bit out of character – but the poems were great, so I thought I would feature her as my Monday poet for a while, just to give myself an excuse to explore some of her fascinating verses.

Women Have Loved Before as I Love Now by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Women have loved before as I love now;
At least, in lively chronicles of the past—
Of Irish waters by a Cornish prow
Or Trojan waters by a Spartan mast
Much to their cost invaded—here and there,
Hunting the amorous line, skimming the rest,
I find some woman bearing as I bear
Love like a burning city in the breast.
I think however that of all alive
I only in such utter, ancient way
Do suffer love; in me alone survive
The unregenerate passions of a day
When treacherous queens, with death upon the tread,
Heedless and willful, took their knights to bed.

(courtesy of this site)

The lines that made me fall in love with this poem were, appropriately enough, “I find some woman bearing as I bear/love like a burning city in the breast.” The connection St. Vincent Millay makes between love and violence is intriguing, as is her idea that “in me alone survive” the passions of past “treacherous queens.” What do you think she’s trying to convey about her (or the narrator’s) current love affair? I can only imagine it must have been something illicit and tempestuous. What a lovely sonnet.

New Beginnings Wednesday (August 18)

New Beginnings is a weekly event hosted by MizB at Should be Reading. It’s all about your New Years’ Resolutions! Everybody knows that these are really hard to stick to, so why not encourage each other in our efforts? Why not enlist the support of our online friends?

So, here it is…

  • First — post your list of New Years’ Resolutions in a post at your blog.
  • Second — every week, on Wednesday, write a new post about how you’re doing with each of your goals … you’ll have to list them, again, each week, as people won’t remember what you’re working towards, otherwise. Be brief in your updates, as there may be several blogs to visit!
  • Third — after you’ve written your update, visit Should Be Reading, and share your link so that we –the other New Beginnings participants– can stop by your blog and encourage you!

Important! … It would be absolutely great if you could visit at least ONE other participant’s blog on Wednesdays and leave a comment on their post to share some encouragement for their efforts! Show your support! That’s what this event is all about — standing by each other to finally reach our goals!

My goal: to try to be more consistent, and finish what I start. In particular…

  1. Write 1000 words or more per day. Goes without saying.
  2. Read at least 100 books this year. I’ve finally broken the long drought and finished two more novels. I’m hoping to finish off the other five or so I have half finished before the end of the month, but even so I’m still woefully behind. November and December are going to be full on reading months, by the look of things!
  3. Dazzle my professors with my research essays. Most likely will not have first drafts done by the end of August. Damn. Still, am working hard and hope to finish within a couple of weeks. Fortunately the actual deadline isn’t until the end of October. So there is still time!
  4. Turn The Black Sheep into a functioning (popular?) blog. I just don’t have the time for this at the moment. It’s all I can do to keep up with my daily posts and intermittent reviews!
  5. Start exercising more. Same as above. It’s still on the list of Things To Do, though.

Happy Wednesday! How are your goals going?

Teaser Tuesday (August 17)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

—-

I’ve just finished two of the half dozen novels I’ve been working my way through, so I wasn’t really sure which book to use for this week’s Teaser Tuesday – especially as I have already featured most of them before! So I decided to go with the next book on my list; miracle of miracles, a non-fiction tome.

People with disabilities have organizations defending their interests, and they have been able to enact laws in their own interest; and yet, evidence of continuing discrimination against them is so strong that the case for some form of heightened scrutiny is strong. Gays and lesbians are in a similar situation: although they have been able to organize and engage in political action, there is still overwhelming prejudice and stigma associated with the classification, so the fact that such political action exists should not debar them from a form of heightened scrutiny.

— p.118, From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law by Martha C. Nussbaum

What are you reading this week?

Monday Poem: “Unfinished Love Theorem” by Kate Camp

This week I was torn between Unfinished Love Theorem and another poem, both of them about love and relationships; Unfinished won out because it was the more upbeat of the two, and because I have always been fascinated with poems that connect love to oceans and ships. According to my mother’s amateur dream interpretation, water is always representative of powerful emotion. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy the connection so much I once wrote a poem along similar lines.

Unfinished Love Theorem by Kate Camp

Like light
it can travel in waves
or lines
depending on the circumstances.

When I first noticed it, it was travelling in waves
and I could just see its sail pop hopefully up
on the horizon now and then
as it was keeling, or gibing,
or doing whatever brave ocean craft do
when the water is a little lumpy.

I admired its buoyancy, its neat fittings,
the way everything a person could need
was stowed in its purpose-built compartments.
I liked the way it was rigged, and aligned
with particular stars and magnetisms.

Now I’m in amongst it, I find it is travelling in lines,
the underground veins of a railway, hidden,
signposted, never drawn to scale on maps.
It is moving all sorts of things about,
taking good folk to their work, taking them out
and home to their rumpled bedrooms.

I admire its secret progress, how it can speed
or lull you on its beating window,
how it spills you out up silver
stairs and it’s unexpected sun, or night lights
shining, seeming so bright, so very surprising.

(courtesy of this site)

On the surface, the poem seems deceptively simple. The poet is telling us how she experiences love, and comparing it first to waves, then to lines. What hooked me was the story she tells in doing so, hidden slightly behind the intriguing similes and metaphors. At first, love is full of ups and downs, uncertainties, tempests. She still admires it, because it is optimistic and buoyant, facing down all obstacles (it reminds me in a way of Shakespeare’s, “that looks on tempests and is never shaken”). Then it settles in, and becomes steady (“an ever-fix’d mark”), a straight line, yet still surprising. It’s an interesting take on the whole thing, if you ask me, and an encouragingly optimistic one.

REVIEW: “A Home at the End of the World” by Michael Cunningham

A Home at the End of the World

Michael Cunningham
Farrar Straus Giroux, NY, 1990

CHALLENGE(S): GLBT Challenge, Read the Movie Challenge.

Finished 15 Aug 2010

At last! The drought is over. I have finally finished another novel! Now I have to work hard and see how much I can catch up over the rest of the month. Oh yes, and post this review.

I picked up A Home at the End of the World because, as you will no doubt know, I recently watched the movie adaptation and completely fell in love. From the synopsis:

A Home at the End of the World is the story of two boyhood friends: Jonathan, lonely, introspective, and unsure of himself; and Bobby, hip, dark, and inarticulate. In New York after college, Bobby moves in with Jonathan and his roommate, Clare, a veteran of the city’s erotic wars. Bobby and Clare fall in love, scuttling the plans of Jonathan, who is gay, to father Clare’s child. Then, when Clare and Bobby have a baby, the three move to a small house upstate to raise “their” child together and create a new kind of family.

The story is told in four different voices, alternating between Jonathan, Bobby, Clare and Jonathan’s mother, Alice. Perhaps having seen the movie added to the text for me, because before I even opened the book the characters were already real: they had faces, habits, particular ways of moving and thinking which were already understood. The movie did half the book’s work for it. Still, I agree with those who have said that there was too little character definition in between parts: I couldn’t really get a sense of each character’s voice from their internal perspective, mostly because Cunningham’s style simply overrode any attempt at individuality between sections. Too, I found the sustained bleakness of the narratives depressing and quite stressful to read, to the point where I could only read it in fragments towards the end. It was as if there was no hope or love left in the world: the sheer loneliness of each of the characters was devastating.

However. These things aside, it is worth reading for the majestic prose and insightful observation it provides on the human condition. While it may have set out to be a story of three adults and their attempt to negotiate their own complicated love triangle, to me Home is really about the end of an era, the collision between the ‘free love’ attitude of the sixties and seventies with the hard realities of the 1980s and the start of the AIDs epidemic: “They looked like a pair of beatniks, sloppily dressed in a remote, unimportant place. In their sunglasses and T-shirts and unruly hair they looked like they were standing at the brink of the old cycle: the 1960s about to explode around them, a long storm of love and rage and thwarted expectations. Bobby put his arm over Jonathan’s shoulder. They both waved.” (p.327) It’s about being lost; it’s about growing up; it’s about never quite getting your heart’s desire. It is not a happy book, but it is a powerful one, because it tackles head-on those fears shared by the majority of the human race: of illness, death, loss and failure.

It is also well written enough that I would recommend it to anyone brave enough. Some of my favourite quotes, other than those I’ve featured in previous Teaser Tuesdays:

“How are you feeling, man?” he asks me.

“Great,” I tell him, and it is purely the truth. Doves clatter up out of a bare tree and turn at the same instant, transforming themselves from steel to silver in the snow-blown light. I know at that moment that the drug is working. Everything before me has become suddenly, radiantly itself. How could Carlton have known this was about to happen? “Oh,” I whisper. His hand settles on my shoulder.

“Stay loose, Frisco,” he says. “There’s not a thing in this pretty world to be afraid of. I’m here.”

I am not afraid. I am astonished. I had not realized until this moment how real everything is. A twig lies on the marble at my feet, bearing a cluster of hard brown berries. The broken-off end is raw, white, fleshly. Trees are alive.

“I’m here,” Carlton says again, and he is.

— pp.22-23

“I’m talking about a little truth-in-packaging here. To be perfectly frank, you don’t quite look like yourself. And if you walk around looking like someone other than who you are, you could end up getting the wrong job, the wrong friends, who knows what-all. You could end up with somebody else’s life.”

I shrugged again, and smiled. “This is my life,” I said. “It doesn’t seem like the wrong one.”

— p.148

Overall, a compelling novel but a bit too much on the bleak side to be comfortable. I feel a definite need to read something light and fluffy now, just to cheer myself up! The film is much better; I think if you combined the two of them – the movie’s rich depiction of love and hope in the face of adversity, the book’s sad but still beautiful ending – you’d have the perfect story.

RATING: