New story up, 2016 Writing in Review, and Blog Thinky Thoughts

Bunch of shorter announcements for you today:

New Reprint Flash Story in Fantastic Stories

Back in October 2015, I wrote a flash story for the Vintage Podcastle Flash Fiction Extravaganza (PodCastle Episode 384). Well, now you can read that story in its entirety online for free! “The Summation of EvilCorp Subsidies HR Meeting Agenda Minutes, Compiled by Olivia Washington” is now up at Fantastic Stories! Not only is that the longest title I’ve ever made for a story to date, but I can vouch that the Peanuts mug mentioned in the story is real.

Okay, it’s more a thermos cup than mug, but still. Also, you have no idea how much this cup kept me sane. So did writing that story. Speaking of which…

2016 Year in Review

I barely submitted anything for 2016 other than a poem that will be printed I think later this year. So I got nothing for 2016 award eligibility. And I’ve just started reading books again, because there was a period in 2016 that I wasn’t reading at all.

But, 2016 was the most focused I’ve ever been writing-wise.  The main thing is that I made great progress on my novel, Weeping of the Willows, to the point that I have about ten chapters left to revise. I will need one more revision draft to fix some plotting inconsistencies, but I’m finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My hope is to finish this draft by April. I just need to figure out how I’ll hit that deadline.

And oh! I wrote a novella and submitted it! That sort of happened out of the blue. I had meant it to be a short story, but well, like all my stories, it just got bigger and bigger. We’ll see how far it goes.

Other blog thinky thoughts

I’ve been also thinking about doing more blog posts on faith and theological matters, but I’m not sure if this is the right place to do it. For the most part, it used to be easy to keep my writing and matters about my spiritual life separate. But the past couple of years have shown the two intertwining. I’m thinking of creating a space to process that, but I don’t know if I can do it here at the Cafe. At least, not yet.

::sips tea from Peanuts mug::

So, thinking of options. Do I hop back on LiveJournal? Filtered posts on Facebook? Is there a way for WordPress to do locked blog posts, and if so, how? Old fashioned mailing list? Thoughts and suggestions appreciated.

And oh! I’m starting to keep a bullet journal. I’ll blog more about that once I figure out what the heck I’m doing…


Review: The Summer Prince

The Summer Prince
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, this was a fun read. I love the worldbuilding: the city of Palames Tres, set in the post-apocalpytic Brazil, a city of tiers, ruled by women and defined by the young (wakas) and the old (grandes). And I loved the relationships.

This is not the normal boy/girl YA romance. Artistic June is best friends with Gil, with their share of flirtations towards each other. When Enki, doomed boy chosen to be the Summer Prince comes into their lives, it is Gil, not June, who falls under his spell and has a passionate love affair with him. June struggles with being left out and with her own feelings, for Enki is also a fellow artist. Instead of turning into a love triangle, which most books might do, it becomes a threesome. A tasteful, loving threesome in which all three care deeply for each other.

If Enki was evil or selfish, this would be potential for disaster. However, there is a reason why June and Gil are drawn to him. He is in love with everyone–though he made himself that way (in the future, there’s an app for that). He loves June, he loves Gil, he loves the lowly slums of Tier 8, which he represents and he loves the city of Palames Tres, enough to die for it, which is the fate of every Summer King.

With all the talk of sacrifice, I found myself viewing Enki as a Christ figure. He touches everyone, from the mod bootleggers on Tier 8 to the matriarchal rulers, the Aunties. He knows full well he is doomed. He is also not without his faults. But he works so that his willing sacrifice brings about true change.

I loved the complications in the story. The matriarchal society, created after a long-ago virus killed many men, is just as corrupt and political. Amid growing complaints that the Aunties are hindering technology, other cities like New Tokyo have such advanced technology, they’ve lost their humanity. June’s own conflict with her mother takes a back seat as she works with Enki to gain the coveted Queen’s Award. And slowly, June learns that her own world is not as perfect as she thought it was, and that her own ideas can’t be neatly wrapped up in a bow.

There was so much touched in this book. Privilege. Power. Politics. Technology. Relationships. Art. Leadership and Sacrifice. And all against the backdrop of a Brazilian samba atmosphere that makes me wish someone opted this for a movie. I really, really loved this book. 5 sambas out of 5, and now I must create a playlist of samba and bossa nova to read this book to.

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Omni Magazine Entire Backlog Online

When I was a kid, I was introduced to science fiction two ways: through fantasy novels, which my Grandma collected, and through Omni Magazine, which my Grandma subscribed to (though I called her to check and she said she couldn’t remember…it may have actually been my Grandpa).

Omni magazine was cool in that it introduced me to the concept of the short story. Plus it had awesome gorgeous illustrations to go along with the stories. Ask me what story I remember most–I won’t be able to tell you, but what I can tell you was that it was about an angel because there was this wonderful image of an angel in the magazine.

Omni also had neat science articles—most of them went over my head, except one. It was an article on dreaming, and there was a section that talked about how to control your dreams. Something about learning how to recognize that you’re dreaming, and then building up to changing little things in your dream, until you’re able to to make big changes like being able to fly. That article so stuck with me, I ripped it out (Don’t know if my grandma knew) and took it home. I then spent the next several months trying to follow it. I think I did get to the point that I sort realized I was flying, (though I never really flew in my dreams; at the most, I’d hover two-three inches off the ground.) But still, for those couple of seconds before I woke up, it was the most awesome thing ever.

I think my Grandma let her subscription lapse, so it was a while before I learned they stopped producing any more issues. But now, you can read the entire series at the Internet Archive. I’m going to check it out now and see if I could find that dream article again. It’s been a while since I hovered in my dreams.

Book Review: The Female Man

The Female Man
The Female Man by Joanna Russ
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m still trying to decide if I liked this book.

Being a meta lover, I dug Russ’s writing style. It had this wonderful stream of consciousness that reminded me of Virginia Woolf, particularly during Jeannine’s parts. I also kind of liked the whole breaking the fourth wall aspect, though it made for difficult reading. I remember when it came to me like a jolt that all three characters were the same person. And I felt proud for recognizing that.

But aside from the writing style, I grew bored with the story real quick. I’m sure when it first came out, it was amazing and it rattled cages and whatnot. I also got a lot of the anger Russ was expressing. But I couldn’t identify with it. Part of it is the characters. There’s no real women or men in here, just cardboard cutouts. Aside from the “J”s, all the women are either asinine or male versions of women, and all the men are chauvinistic sexaholics. It got old real quick.

The whole “get married, then stay at home and be pretty” lifestyle Russ rants about just did not apply to the black women of my childhood. My grandma did laundry for a living, put herself through nursing school and had several kids through different men (she eventually married the last one). She didn’t have time to sit around looking pretty. There was this whole educated white woman privilege theme running through the story that grew wearying after a while. There were even a couple of scenes where Russ lapses into black slave “Massah” talk. I know she was trying to show how farcical it was for women to put on a show for men, but to try to compare that with how Black people were treated in that time was very ignorant and stupid on Russ’s part.

I really wanted to read more about Whileaway. Russ told us all these details, but the story never focused on it. It was more Janet playing commentator: “I’m a visitor here! Your world is weird!” Then she sort of faded into the background. At least Jeannie’s story grew on me, simply because it was the most complete and coherent. Joanna grew tiresome after a while with all her man hate. By the time Jael came along, I was skipping more pages than reading them. Laura, the only female character not a “J”, faded in and just as quickly faded out. What I wanted was a science fiction story. What I got instead was a long diatribe dressed up in science fiction clothes.

Was Russ’s anger justified? Yes, I think so. Did this book need to be written? Yes, absolutely. Is it relevant now? Is many of the ideas in it still relevant? As I write this, everyone is talking about Steubenville. It feels like nothing’s changed. And yet there are women and men alike challenging rape culture, calling out the media for their coverage. So people are at least more aware and crying out for justice and change.

But was this a good story? I don’t think so. I think I’m going to go read When it Changed, which I believe has what I want: a story set in Whileaway, and Russ’s good writing to boot.

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Review: Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought I had read this book back in college. At the time I had thought it so-so…lots of mumbo jumbo about God and what not. I read it again this month for our book club and I can say I have not read this before. If I had, I would have remembered sitting up all night unable to sleep.

The world in PotS is a couple of steps to the side of us, closer to a probable dystopian future. Entire neighborhoods have walls around them, unemployment is rampant, no one drives because the cost of gas is too high, firefighters and police have grown more expensive and a new drug called pyro causes people to go on arson rampages. And throughout all this, Lauren Olamina is coming of age.

Prior to reading this, I had read the Wastelands anthology by John Joseph Adams, so this was a fitting endpiece to all the dystopian literature I had been reading. It was frightening to read of the rampant poverty and crime that existed outside Lauren’s neighborhood, and how it slowly seeped in. Lauren’s a bit of a prophet–she sees disaster coming on the horizon, but being a teenager, no one pays any heed to her until it’s too late. But Lauren doesn’t plan to mourn, or try to get things back to the way they used to be. She plans to survive, and more than that, she plans to transcend.

That’s what set this apart from the other dystopian stories I’ve read. In PotS, we see the beginnings of an entirely new religion, Earthseed, which equates God with Change. Very interesting idea, since in Christian theology, God never changes. The verses that spell out the Earthseed religion at times seem too zenlike and simplistic (one of the characters even point that out–a nice touch), and there were some statements I couldn’t agree with (I’m more in the God is Love camp, so I can’t full agree that God is an impersonal god, since love can’t be impersonal). At the same time, the book did make me think how change has been a huge influence throughout history. (My own realization I’ve been trying to reconcile over the past few years–God doesn’t change, but people do).

I want to read the next book, which I believe goes into more detail about the religion. I’m now certain I read that book, and now I have Lauren’s background, I think I’ll be able to appreciate it more.

Today, I picked my son up from school. We walked home, kids waving goodbye as they passed by us. We passed by the community garden, where there has been a problem of vandalism this summer, some veggies getting smashed before they’re ripe. At home, I learned my son had tossed a whole sandwich away and chastised him on it. Later on, my inlaws got into a small fender bender and a policeman came by to make a report and make sure they were okay.

Then I got on the internet and learned about a black woman who had been set on fire by three men and racist slurs scratched into her car, another mass shooting in Wisconsin, and child laborers in China.

Butler’s dystopia is a lot farther, and yet a lot more closer, than we think. Five acorns out of five and maybe I should pay more attention to the oak tree in our backyard. Just in case.

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New Poetry in Stone Telling and Dark Faith! Also, Willow Progress Update

This year seems to be the year of publishing poetry. I got two new poems out, and how fitting that both are released this week during Worldcon!

The first, “I Will Keep the Color of Your Eyes When No Other in the World Remembers Your Name” can now be read for free in issue 8 of Stone Telling magazine (you can listen to me reading it, too!). Arguably, this is the loooongest title I’ve ever had of any story. It’s one of my favorite lines from “The Last Unicorn”, spoken by the tree ensorcelled to life by Schmendrick. I wanted to see what that scene looked like in a science fiction setting, so this prose poem came out. There’s a very interesting story behind this poem which I don’t have time to relate right now, but if you’re at Worldcon, ask me about it and I’ll tell you.

I’m joined by a stellar group of poets: Amal El-Mohtar, Sofia Samatar, Alex Dally McFarlane, Julia Rios…in fact, just check out the entire issue. It’s deep, dark, and at times a little disturbing, but also thought-provoking. I’m honored to be included with them.

* * *

My other poem is no secret if you’ve been keeping tabs on Facebook and Twitter. “All This Pure Light Leaking In” will be appearing in the anthology Dark Faith: Invocations, set to debut at Worldcon this week! (Update: Just received word that it won’t be released at Worldcon after all. Publisher is running ten days behind schedule. It will be orderable through Apex website). The poem is an answer to the question, “As a Christian, what scares me the most about my faith?”

This highly anticipated sequel to the first anthology repeats the exploration of faith through a horror lens. And man, what a lineup! Jay Lake, Lavie Tidhar, Tim Pratt, Mike Resnick, K. Tempest Bradford, Nisi Shawl. To tell the truth, I’m a bit intimidated to be included here, but also deeply honored!

Dark Faith: Invocations

You can pre-order Dark Faith of the Apex’s website, and if you use the code “DFWanak”, you get 10% off the cover price! That’s right, I have my very own discount code. Eeee!!! UPDATE: And as stated above, copies won’t be sold at Worldcon, but in about ten days, you’ll be able to order it off the website, and they’re offering free shipping. Plus, you can buy Dark Faith 1 and 2 for $25.


Feels like I need to end on the Willow novel note. As of today, 1/3 of Willow has been fully edited with the word count at 50,000. I had made a vow earlier in the year saying that I wanted the book to be completed edited by the time Worldcon rolled around, but it didn’t work out that way. However, I’m not depressed that I missed my goal.

When I started the re-re-re-reedits of Willow back in March, I wanted something to toot if an agent or publisher asked me about it at Worldcon. Granted, first I need to work on actually making those contacts, but for the first time, I feel like I’m at a really good place that I actually can give a good pitch. And though the story edits aren’t finished, I am comfortable enough with the first 50 pages that if someone asks me to send it in, I can.

As for the edits themselves, I’m feeling very good about them. Not doing much adding, but more cutting out what I don’t need. And as I cut, the easier to see what needs revamping and what can stay as is. I’m feeling optimistic. I just need to keep plugging away.

So Worldcon is going to be a huge networking deal for me. If you’re the praying sort, pray that I’ll be able to make good contacts and not make an idiot of myself. And, if you’re coming to Worldcon, I would love to say hi!

Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I brought this book with me to Viable Paradise and found myself reading it at the weirdest of times (2am, between lecture breaks). It was riveting enough that I couldn’t put it down, but I can’t say I honestly liked the book.

Mainly, I struggled with the misogynist language. I can handle swear words fine, but never could stomach characters calling women c— and p—-. Hate that with a passion. I couldn’t sympathize at all with the narrator until he revealed himself halfway through the story and gave some insights into his own past (another thing I struggled with: I thought for the longest time the narrator was Oscar’s sister. The two voices are too similar for me–I had to read carefully to figure out who was talking).

Also, I had a hard time trusting all the scifi references. Being a geek myself, I got most of them, but for the first part of the book, it felt as if the author was trying really hard to show how much a geek Oscar was by throwing in all these LotR and Akira references, which felt too…general. Thanks to the movies, everyone knows LotR, and not as many people know Akira, it is the first anime movie that broke the market here in the US. It felt to me that the scifi references was more name-dropping than actually pertaining to the story…until I reached the passage where the narrator describes a cafe kitchen worker as a grotesquerie straight out of Gormenghast. When I read that, I was like, ahhhh, so he does know his fantasy books. And from that point on, I started trusting the book.

Which is good because the story itself is heartbreaking. If you ever want to learn how to write passive characters, this is a good one to read, because Oscar is passive…and what’s more, he chooses to be passive. the scene where the roommate (and thus the narrator) tries to get Oscar to work out and he gives up, actually fights to give up, is powerful. His lonely life is balanced by the stories of the people around him, which are heartbreaking in their own right. But Oscar’s was what pulled me in; I remember those days of loneliness and reading thick fantasy novels and crushing hard on guys who never returned the favor. So most of what Oscar did in the book didn’t surprise me, at least not until the end, but even then, now that I think about it, his ending was inevitable.

So the story itself is why I’m giving it three stars. Too bad Oscar didn’t hang. A couple more years and there would have been the Internet. But knowing him, he probably would’ve become those bleak, all night WoW players who don’t interact with people except through avatars. So maybe it is a triumph he went out the way he did? ::shrug::

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Goodreads Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

FrankensteinFrankenstein by Mary Shelley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was surprised that none of the “Frankenstein” mythology was really present. Frankenstein doesn’t create the monster in a laboratory by lightening. It’s more implied. In fact, I would venture to say Frankenstein was a dick. He creates this monster but doesn’t take responsibility for his actions–even after the monster endeavors to learn life on his own.

The most heinous thing Frankenstein did though was keep silent while Justine was sentenced to death for killing his brother. He was more concerned about his status than her life. I lost what little remaining respect for him. The monster had more respectability than him.

Interesting that it was a story within a story within a story. The best story was the one about the British family who helped the Arabian woman and the son and her became lovers. I wanted to see the ending to that! Of course, the monster ruined it by revealing himself. Bummer.

So, mostly this story was about Frankenstein creating a monster and then whining about for the rest of the story. Meh. Good thing it was a quick read.

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"Future Perfect" is now up at Escape Pod!

It has been an incredibly eventful week at the Café. Wednesday marked my 40th year of walking on this earth. Today, I got a belated birthday surprise: “Future Perfect“, my first science fiction short story, is now up at Escape Pod! And boy oh boy, is it ever yummy listening goodness! So what are you waiting for? Go listen! Go now! Enjoy!

Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I finished reading this book over a month ago, but it took me a while to sit down and actually type out my thoughts on it. I found this to be an intriguing book, though in some ways it was heartbreaking to read.

The Sparrow tells the story of Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest and a master of linguistics. He is the only survivor of an first contact trip to another planet. Maimed in his hands and spirit, he must give a report of what happened to his Jesuit superiors. His narrative runs parallel to a flashback several decades prior, where he first meets the people he will grow close bonds with, and eventually travel with to the new planet.

Although there are many science fiction elements to this story, this is not classified as science fiction. Probably because if you changed the storyline from aliens to, say, the discovery of a unknown people group existing in a volcano somewhere, it wouldn’t impact the story’s main theme. The book mainly focuses on relationships. We get to meet Anne and George, a older couple that made me instantly wish they were real so I could hang out at their house. Sofia Mendez, a beautiful, bright woman with a hard logical exterior. DW, ugly as sin, but a lovable priest. Jimmy Quinn, awkward but smart, who is the first to make the discovery of alien music that will draw them all to the planet. And of course, a younger, more light-hearted Emilio, who sees his friendships as God’s hand of blessing to push forward with this mission to another planet.

And that’s the heartbreaking part. We watch Emilio struggle with his attraction to Sofia even though he took an oath of celibacy, watch Sofia’s carefully placed barriers around herself melt as she grows to love these people fiercely, watch Anne argue theology, then fondly joke with DW, secure in his friendship even though she doesn’t believe. We see them debate, learn, grow, and experience joy and sorrow, all the while knowing all of them will die except for Emilio, who will become embittered, pained, ashamed, agonizing on whether the God he worships is nothing more than a cruel, heartless bastard, or if there is any God at all.

This is a good book. I would almost say it’s the best book I’ve ever read, except for one thing. The whole fiasco probably could’ve been avoided if the Jesuits had some damn sense.

The problem with the whole trip is that it’s not scientific-based but missionary based. Go in, live among the natives, get to know them relationally and by that, have them know us relationally and culturally. However, lack of knowledge can severely sets them up for disaster. This worked for regular missionaries in the field. And it certainly was the case in this book. In fact, it left me wondering if Russell did this on purpose.

That the Jesuit Order would be the first to send people to this newly discovered planet, that the mission was managed by corporate and religious figures, doomed it from the very start. Russell doesn’t explain why NASA or any other scientific based group didn’t take control of the project. But even I, a person with very little experience in space travel, could see all the errors the group did that could have been prevented. Instead of such a small team, why not a large one? Instead of going down to the planet right away, why not set up a base in orbit that could monitor the parties below, and send teams in groups of two? Instead of living among the aliens, the Runa and the Jana’ata, why not observe them from afar first?

It makes the premise hard to believe until, towards the end of the book, I found myself shaking my head at some of the decisions made. When the deaths finally came and what happened to Emilio happened (and I’m avoiding spoilers here), I found that I felt less sympathetic to him than towards the beginning of the book.  It wasn’t God who marooned the crew on the planet and got them killed. It was their own sheer stupidity.

I believe I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second half. Russell did a great job showing the complexity and the deepness of the relationships (it was especially interesting how she dwelled on celibacy and sexual attraction). But the scientific motive in the end fell a little short. I do understand there is a sequel, and I might have to read it. The Sparrow gets 3 1/2 stars out of five, and if we hear some far off music coming from space, I’d suggest you find a galactic Wikipedia to learn the lyrics first. It might not be what you think.