Review: Redwood and Wildfire

Redwood and Wildfire
Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been listening to the Carolina Chocolate Drops for the past few months now. I’ve always been a fan of bluegrass, but when I learned that blacks also did old timey music, that it was the precursor to the blues, it was like discovering a history I never knew of myself. Reading Redwood and Wildfire was also like that.

Having lived in Chicago most of my life, I never understood what my ancestors went through when they migrated from the south. I married a white man by choice; I have white friends by choice; everything I do from music to church is based on the freedom of choice. I doubt I could have done any of the things I’m doing now back then, not so openly and freely. Reading “Redwood and Wildfire” reminded of what my grandmother told me when we were watching “The Help”: In the south, you could live next to white people but you can’t be better than them. In the north, you can be better than white people; you just can’t live next to them.

Aidan and Redwood lived in the wrong time. As George says in the book: “Peach Grove is no place to be a man.” Redwood learns it’s no no place for a woman either. Neither, for that matter, is Chicago. This book deals with some hard issues: lynchings, Jim Crow, minstrel shows, prejudice. Redwood wants to live her life free, and when she finally runs of to Chicago, she has to deal with the shame of ‘cooning’ in minstrel shows. Aidan, meanwhile, is haunted from the ghost of Redwood’s mother, who had been lynched before his eyes, trying to drown out her pleas to “do right” with alcohol.

Yet, there is always an underlying streak of optimism. You have Iris, Redwood youngest sister, who is joy incarnate, You have Doc, who has a superiority complex yet deep compassion for hurt people, and Carissa, probably my favorite character of the book, an uptight Christian who becomes Redwood’s closest ally.

And there is magic. Wonderful, beautiful, wild magic. Redwood catches a typhoon in her hand, then acts as if it’s no big deal. People change into animals in a blink of an eye. There’s time travel. A wild dance with a lionness. And lots of hoodoo. And at the heart of all this magic is a love story, as Redwood and Aidan dance around each other, filled with desire, but afraid to get too close.

Being in an interracial relationship myself, this book truly nutured me. It was also wonderful to see my hometown, both painted as a city a dreams and the broken down, racially separated place it really was (and in many parts, still is). I can see why this won the Tiptree. It had me crying and laughing all the way to the end. 5 banjos out of 5, and may I ask where is the movie of this? SOMEONE MAKE A MOVIE FOR THIS. And put the Carolina Chocolate Drops on the soundtrack. It will be awesome.

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Wiscon 36 Report

Writing this now while it’s still hot in my mind.

This year’s Wiscon was unique because I volunteer as GoH Liaison to Andrea Hairston. Which is funny because she has been coming to Wiscon far longer than I have, so she had the routine down pat. So it felt at times that I was really doing much other than checking in with her occasionally. But it was a joy to get to share in Andrea’s happiness of both being GoH and the Tiptree winner, and to meet Pan and hang out with her. And man, was Andrea awesome, both in her readings and in her speech!

Also, I apparently did a good job introducing Andrea during the GoH speeches Sunday night. Which I composed 30 seconds before I went up on stage. Luckily, I’ve had experience in doing introductions on the fly from doing Chapel at work, but man, I was a little surprised at how well it came together. And I’m not boasting. Really. I had no clue on what I’d say until 30 seconds before I went up to the podium. But it went well…so….yay!

It was interesting to see how the con works behind the scenes. In a seeing-the-sausage-made way, doing the liaison thing made me appreciate all the hard work the con committee put in– without being paid, mind you–before the con.WHICH IS WHY IF YOU’VE ATTENDED WISCON OR ANY OTHER CON, BE SURE TO THANK THE CON COMMITTEE.  A good way to thank them and to even help them is to give them feedback for the con you attended. And OH HEY LOOK: Wiscon36 is asking for feedback. Go give it!

I kept my panel load real light, this year: I moderated "Religious Agenda in SF" on Friday along with Alex Bledsoe, Naomi Kritzer, and Heidi Waterhouse. Fun panel that was actually pretty civilized! I took some notes, but I should have thought to ask someone to write down all the books that were mentioned. I’ll draw up the list I got and put it at another post at some point. I also did a reading on Saturday called "Exotic Worlds", with Brad Beaulieu, Holly McDowell, Derek Silver and Michael Underwood at Michelangelo’s. I read from my short story, "Sun-Touched", which is currently in submission mode. People showed up at it, so I count it as a success.

The rest of my time was spent hanging out with writer friends, which is getting too numerous to count, and making friends with new ones, which is an awesome sign. I had a mini-Viable Paradise XV reunion with some classmates, as well as our instructors, Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch. I did some Carl Brandon Society activities, including getting more information on how to get more involved. And man…the parties…had the best time at the "Riots of Bloom" party, and I was seriously tempted to elope with the best rose petal ice cream I’ve ever tasted. Luckily my sense of propriety prevailed. Plus, the servings were tiny.

I’ll be seeing a lot of people from Wiscon at Worldcon this year, which gets me excited because I’ll get to see my writer friends twice this year, as well as make new ones. Until then, I’m be working on my novel, because my goal is to have it done by Worldcon, which will be in my hometown! Yippee!!!

Lavender & Chamomile Reprint, Wiscon 36 Schedule and Chicon 7

Way…way too much has been happening in my life. Suffice it to say, I finished my short story Sun-Touched and sending it out to markets, and I’m putting all my energy into editing Willow.  I’ll post more on that, but for now, I have a couple of announcements:

LAVENDER & CHAMOMILE REPRINTED IN A RUSTLE OF LEAVES ANTHOLOGY

I’m pleased to announce that my short story "Lavender and Chamomile" has been reprinted in the anthology A Rustle of Dark Leaves: Tales for the Shadows of the Forest, edited by Inanna Gabriel and published by Misanthrope Press. From the website:

Step among the trees and discover the tales that lurk within the shadows that fall across the forest floor. From the words of the Forest himself to the ancient gods who defend him, from those who dwell within to those who merely wander, these fifteen tales of the forest will intrigue, inspire, terrify, and enchant.

Includes stories by Alexis A. Hunter, Gerri Leen, LaShawn M. Wanak, Jenni Wiltz, Seth Drake, and many more, with an introduction by Cory Thomas Hutcheson. A Rustle of Dark Leaves: Tales from the Shadows of the Forest is sure to leave you with the camping lantern on and the tent zipped tight.

You can get the print version from their website or the ebook at Smashwords. You can also order both versions at Amazon. And when you do read it, send a review to Goodreads!

MY WISCON 36 SCHEDULE

This year’s Wiscon will be a little busy for me since I am this year’s liaison for one of the Guests of Honor at Wiscon 36: Andrea Hairston,  author of Mindscape and the 2011 Tiptree winner Redwood and Wildfire. Because of this, I’m keeping my schedule pretty light:

Friday, May 26, I’ll be moderating the Religious Agenda in SF panel in Conference 4 at 4pm. We will discuss such works as The Chronicles of Narnia, Left Behind, Battlefield Earth and other stories that have a clear religious bias.

Then, on Saturday, May 27 I’m part of the Exotic Worlds reading group at Michelangelo’s at 1pm. I’ll be reading an excerpt from the short story I just finished, "Sun-Touched". Even if you aren’t going to Wiscon, stop on by!

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Finally, just a brief, brief note that I’m going to Chicon this year! More info on that in a later post, but they just announced that the opening night will be held at the Adler Planetarium. Can you say SQUEE!!!! I knew you could.

Review: Uzumaki, Vol. 3

Uzumaki, Vol. 3
Uzumaki, Vol. 3 by Junji Ito
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The last volume of Uzumaki, where everything winds down to a close. Ha-HA. WINDING.

Let’s see. It opens with the town destroyed by a rash of cyclones. The slightest air movement, be it a handwave or someone shouting, causes twisters. Those remaining townspeople who didn’t leave at the first sign of weirdness are crammed together in old row houses, which strangely remain upright under the air pressure. Whatever isn’t destroyed by cyclones is trashed by young hooligans who have learned to ride whirlwinds like horses, Starvation is rampant, as well as the number of people who are turning into snails. Hmmm…no food, but plenty of snails. You can guess where that line of thinking goes…

In the midst of the growing insanity is Kirie. Well, there’s also Shuichi, but he’s rendered useless, okay…MORE useless..but Kirie’s still her chipper, albeit oblivious self. She doesn’t wonder why the ancient row houses don’t crumble. She has no desire to figure out the reason why Dragonfly Pond has turned into a whirlpool. And even though the town has become a deathtrap, she doesn’t question why people still keep coming from the outside. When the people in the row houses finally kick her and her family out, even though technically it’s their house, she does nothing to fight back. She is passivity personified, until her breaking point comes when her mother and father get blown away to whereever, and her brother starts showing symptoms of becoming a snail. When she sees the shell forming on his back, suddenly, it hits her that hey, maybe the town is dangerous after all. And after so many chapters, she realizes “we have to get out of here.”

The problem with having a passive protagonist is that through one, you don’t learn anything. The character accepts what’s before her eyes and shows no curiosity or interest to change her situation, much to the frustration of the audience. Now, granted, this is a horror story, so the protagonist can get away with being stupid, in which case, we can take great delight in her demise. But the entire problem I have with the series is that there is no rhyme or reason for why these things are happening, and since Kirie isn’t willing to find out, I’m left…spinning my wheels, so to speak. She loses her parents. She loses her brother. The townspeople go insane. Ito pulls out all the stops to kill everyone through…spirals. Labyrinths upon spirals upon circles until we get to an underground city that’s full of spirals…and then it ends with Kirie and Shuichi giving up and lying down and turning into spirals. Just like that.

I guess it’s supposed to mean something. Some sort of metaphor. But if Ito wasn’t willing to give us a hint to why all this was happening, then why should I care? At least the movie did a better job in trying to get in some explanation of why the town was so obsessed on spirals–not that we got any answers, but hell, it *tried* (and may I say that the truth in the movie got buried in a gruesome, but hilarious manner). But in the manga, we never know the answer. Spirals happen and then you’re dead. Or not. Whatever. I find I do not have the energy to care.

I’m rating this two spirals out of five. The second volume was the scariest of the lot. This one was just weird. But it did have some interesting ideas–and it did have the female reporter from the movie; her plotline was probably the most interesting part of the whole hot mess.

(A quick note…after the end, there was one more chapter where Kirie had long hair again and the town was back to normal and I was like OH SNAP DON’T YOU DARE TELL ME IT WAS ALL A DREAM! But no, it turns out that this as a lost chapter. Apparently, Ito wrote it but didn’t know where to put it in the narrative, so he stuck it at the very end of the third volume. Don’t know why he did it, and frankly, I was so sick of Death By Spiral, I didn’t even read it.)

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Review: Uzumaki, Vol. 2

Uzumaki, Vol. 2
Uzumaki, Vol. 2 by Junji Ito
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Volume 2 of Uzumaki continues the tale of Kurouzu-cho and the town’s spiral into decline through…uh…spirals.

You would think after the first book that Kirie gets a clue that there’s something seriously wrong with her hometown, but other than sporting a shorter haircut (which mysteriously doesn’t returned to its super curly mode–go figure), most of the chapters usually go:

Kyrie: Hey, there’s [person/place/thing] that I [know/friends with/spoon with/gives me the creeps]. but lately they’ve been acting a little odd. Wonder why?
Shuichi: That’s because they’re cursed with the SPIIIIIIIRAL. And you think I have enough of all this ever since both my parents succumbed to the SPIIIIIIIIIIIRAL. But no, I’ll just slink around looking emo and whine to you whenever you call about how much I hate this stupid town, but apparently not enough to leave it. Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to go sit in my empty house with my knees up to my chest. ::broodbroodbroodbrood::
Kyrie: I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re weird. Lalalalaaaa…
[Weird shit happens that involves red-veined eyeballs, the occasional buttcheek, and SPIIIIIIIIIRALS]
Kyrie: OMG, that [person/place/thing] became all spirally and dead and/or disappeared to be never seen again! Maybe…maybe there is…a curse?
Shuichi: So that means you’ll elope with me out of this town?
Kyrie: Elope?! No way! I’m in school! You’re so weird. I’m just going to turn a blind eye and pretend everything is back to normal. Going back to school now!
Shuichi: Whatever. ::broodbroodbroodbrood::

In this volume, the first two chapters are centered two characters that were in the movie: the boy who shows his crush for Lorie by jumping out of odd places to surprise her (because that’s how you tell someone you love them–by stalking and scaring them out of their wits.), and the slow-moving boy who turns into a snail. While the two manga character share the same demises as in the movie, the manga kicks it up a notch and expands on what happens after their deaths. I don’t know how the movie would’ve done it, but it did make their stories creepier.

In fact, as the manga progresses, it gets harder and harder for Kyrie to remain in Denial mode. The creepiest story, and probably my favorite one in the series, where Kyrie is in the hospital at the same time as her pregnant cousin, who had been infected from mosquitos who fly in spirals (yeah, it is a stretch) and turns into a pregnant vampire. Then things get extremely weird. (I am grateful, in fact, that this did not make it into the movie. If you are squeamish about birth and/or mushrooms, don’t read this book). Kyrie escapes, saying “I have no idea what happened after that. I wasn’t about to go back and find out.”

Another time, the town gets haunted by a lighthouse, which of course, Kyrie’s brother goes into and Kyrie has to bring him out. After SPIRAL SHENANIGANS, they escape. Kyrie’s words at the end: “They say they’ll demolish it someday…”

Not going to do anything about it…demolish it someday…You know what? I’m beginning to suspect this whole spiral thing …is a…a…METAPHOR.

That’s the theme of Uzumaki. Not death from spirals…but death from passivity. The townspeople are too set in their ways to notice anything strange about the town, and when strange things do happen, they don’t do anything about it until it’s too late. Kirie herself falls prey to it several times: her hair turns into long curls that try to strangle her. Her cousin attempts to drill holes in her so her baby could drink blood. She gets swallowed by a damn cyclone…and each time, she escapes, recovers and goes back to normal with the vague sense that something’s wrong, but dangit, she don’t know what…

How does this obliviousness affect her and the town? That’s answered in the last book, which I’ll review separately. But I thought out of the whole series, this one was the creepiest so I’m giving it four spirals out of five.

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