Greetings from the end of the world!

Okay, maybe things aren’t quite that bad. But there are certainly days when it feels that way.

So it turns out it’s been nearly a year since I posted an update or review here, and there’s a simple reason for that: I got bored. The truth is, my blog has never exactly caught fire, you know? I’m no Bloggess, after all. And I’ve decided that’s okay. For a long time, it wasn’t okay, but as I approach nearly 60 winters on this planet (if I’m lucky!) a lot of detritus has begun to fall away. Like competitiveness and jealousy. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this blog is also one of the things falling away.

I started the blog to promote my fiction and freelance writing, and since I’m no longer doing much writing for public consumption, a lot of the motivation is gone. Publishing two novels was a disillusioning experience, to put it mildly. Writing fiction for a very small publisher is even less lucrative than it is for the big pubs. And even freelance journalism is a hard gig these days, at least as far as income generating work goes. So I moved sideways into working in libraries. There’s a lot good in libraries, but much of what makes them good is also what makes them a germaphobe’s nightmare. There will be a lot more to worry about in libraries in the post-CoVid world when it finally gets here (and despite what all you fools frolicking on beaches without masks think, we’re a long way from POST-CoVid). I, for one, do not envision myself trying to sanitize books (assuming any libraries will even have the budget to do something like that). Nor do I want to be the library associate who hears a customer utter those words I so often heard in the pre-CoVid world: “She was too sick to go in to school, so I brought her to the library!”

My other recent gig has been acting as communications coordinator for a small defense contractor. Since most of our business involved traveling great distances to facilitate meetings and present workshops on information too sensitive to be shared via conference platforms like zoom, that biz is a lot less active now too.

So what to do next?

I’ve thought frequently about writing a new book, and that may yet happen. But in two months of semi-quarantine, it has yet to make it to the top of my things to do list. So don’t hold your breath waiting for that next chick lit suspense novel from me.

What have I been doing instead of writing? Here are a few things that have been keeping me busy. Maybe you’ll want to check some of them out.

  • READING. In the beginning of this semi-apocalypse, I truly could not concentrate well enough to read anything. It’s still a bit of a struggle. I found that revisiting some old favorite books was a great solution to Quarantine Brain. Short stories have also been a great option, since they don’t require sustained concentration. Two wildly different old faves I reread were: The Crystal Cave, the first in Mary Stewart’s absolutely stupendous retelling of the legend of King Arthur, from Merlin’s POV; and Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney’s masterful example of second-person narration, ending with one of the two* best lines in all of fiction: You will have to go slowly. You will have to learn everything all over again.
  • WATCHING YOUTUBE. But not just any YouTube. There are so many good free things on YouTube, especially right now. You can watch all the great theatre companies of the world for FREE! Take your pick from Shakespeare’s Globe, the National Theatre of Great Britain, or Canada’s Stratford Festival. You can watch The Solitary Rambler, an adorkable salt-of-the-earth British guy who takes you on tours through small towns and scenic rural bits of Great Britain. All free. Oh, and there are great workout videos there too!
  • PAINTING! Yeah, no one is more surprised than me that this made it onto the list. Blame Jim Parsons. I follow him on Instagram, and he casually mentioned he was keeping busy by doing an online drawing class via zoom. Two months and four courses** later and I’m actually producing stuff like this:

* The other great last line in literature is this, of course.

**If you too need a new hobby that makes a tremendous mess and gives you an excuse to spend money on a whole new category of stuff and say things like, “I think I need gesso for this,” visit The Art Studio NY. They have wonderful teachers who are doing an amazing job of teaching art from a distance.

So that’s all the news from my tiny corner of the universe. I hope those of you still sticking around to read these very occasional posts are all  keeping safe and healthy, and I hope we will all still be here on this messed up, wonderful, infuriating planet a year from now, when I might get around to updating again.

These days, everyone is saying “Stay safe, stay healthy,” but I prefer the Vulcan version of this. Live long and prosper, everyone.

Going Political

Image of airport protests over the weekend from Reuters
Image of airport protests over the weekend from Reuters

Yep, going political on the blog today. So if you think that might bug you, move along…

An open letter to my pro-Trump friends (and yes, I do have several) who have said, “This isn’t a ban on all Muslims. It’s only a ban on the seven countries that pose the greatest threat.”

You are partially correct. It’s not a ban on all Muslims.

However, it also does not ban immigrants from those countries which history shows us pose the greatest threat to the United States with regard to domestic terror attacks. The nations included in the ban are as follows:

Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Where is Saudia Arabia, home of most of the 9-11 hijackers? What about Pakistan, birthplace of at least one of the San Bernardino shooters? How about Kyrgyzstan & Russia. birthplace and previous home of the Boston Marathon bombers?

Nope. None of them are on the list.

So you are indeed correct, it is NOT a ban on all Muslims.

However, this ill-thought-out, sloppily executed order has banned many already thoroughly vetted refugees from coming into this country. Many of them are coming from places like Syria, countries we have frankly helped to destabilize with our many years of half-hearted war in that region, our short-sighted diplomatic policies there, and our apparent complete lack of understanding regarding the various sects of Islam in that part of the world and how they do (or more often, don’t) fit together. 

Basically, we helped break a number of these countries. Surely the least we can do is to help clean up the mess by allowing those desperate to escape to come here and live with us.

You may say, “Well, my president isn’t the one that created their mess.” But yes, he was. The previous president was your president, whether you like it or not. Just as, although the majority of voters in this country did not actually vote for Donald Trump, Mr. Trump is in fact their president now. Either every U.S. President is the president for all of us, the spokesman for all of us, the man we employ to implement our will; or he has no authority at all and this great experiment in democracy is at its end.

If, as I believe, each president is the president for all of us, then each president carries the burden of all his predecessors. That’s essentially the definition of the job: volunteering to come in and clean up the mess you think the previous guy made in the office.

Banning refugees who have already spent years having their credentials checked will not clean up that mess. Handcuffing Iraqi interpreters who worked with our soldiers won’t help clean up the mess. Separating a five-year-old child from his parents while checking his paperwork won’t clean up that mess. Sending a Cleveland Clinic doctor back to her homeland, where she had the nerve to go and visit family for a vacation – that will not clean up our mess in the Middle East. Detaining those who have Green Cards and other thorough documentation of their right to be here – that does nothing to clean up our mess in the Middle East.

In fact, nothing about this policy will clean up the mess made by the Obama, Bush or any other previous administration in the Middle East. It will merely add to the series of mistakes we’ve made in that region, mistakes which scream how little we understand the groups active there, the issues at play, and why the hell we are there in the first place. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world and gives a new recruiting tool to groups like ISIS.

Worst of all, this ban will do nothing to make any of us here in the United States safer.

Blogging About Books

Flying Books © Sergei Razvodovskii/Stockfresh
Flying Books © Sergei Razvodovskii/Stockfresh

For those of you who wonder where the hell I’ve been – I’ve been asking myself the same question. Froghammer has turned out to be an interesting place to work, some of it good-interesting, some of it bad-interesting, most of it just weird-and-chaotic-but-will-make-great-stories-in-books-someday-kind-of-interesting. However, I hate catty, bitchy people, so I’ve resolved to just keep mum about Froghammer in the all-too-public realm of the Interwebs.

Meanwhile, this post has been making the rounds on Facebook in which someone lists their ten favorite books and challenges a group of friends to do the same. Of course, a few people decided to tag me, which is fine. But TEN?! Seriously? I need a list of at least one hundred to even make a dent in my list of favorite books. My whole living room is filled from floor to ceiling on all sides (except the one with the bay window) with just a few of my favorite books. Be that as it may, I decided I would answer the challenge, but the only way I could do it is to set some kind of limit. So I’m going to limit it to favorite books I’ve read in the last year or two. With maybe a little side note on a few all-time favorites.

MY RECENT FAVE RAVE BOOKS:

  1. Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty – maybe there was a murder, maybe not. definitely there was adultery. also, insightful thoughts on the complications of being a modern career woman and mom and how you can never be quite good enough at any of it. check out my earlier review here
  2. Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett – Jincy Willett is so funny she makes me laugh ’til I cry. This companion book to her equally brilliant The Writing Class follows Amy as she gets mildly concussed, says some very strange things and suddenly finds herself a media sensation. Brilliant wisdom about the state of publishing and entertainment, and a great dog companion too. Here’s my previous review.
  3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Because Neil Gaiman. Review here.
  4. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – Teen angst + Time Travel. Fabulous. I actually read this one more than a couple of years ago, but it’s still a fairly recent find, so it goes on the list. Because it’s my list. And yes, here’s my earlier review.
  5. Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer – a wonderful teen coming-of-age novel about a misfit girl who befriends a gay couple just at the start of the AIDS crisis in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. Brought back vivid memories of that era and moved me to tears. An excellent book. No previous review from me, I’m afraid. You’ll have to form your own opinion!
  6. The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters – Just magnificent. A stupendously original take on the entirely overdone “Life After the Apocalypse” genre. My review here.
  7. The Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch – another promising young writer of SF/Fantasy and another Ben. Fresh out of the police academy, Peter Grant gets recruited into a special unit of the Metropolitan Police, one that handles supernatural phenomena and also those troublemaking river deities that still populate London. If a young, British Harry Dresden fell into the world of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere,  it might go a bit like this.
  8. Mrs. Dalloway – Because Virginia Woolf. And no, it’s not a new book and not a recent read, but one I re-read over and over again. I spent a lot of years trying to be Virginia Woolf, writing-wise, and to me, this is her masterpiece. The economy of style, the smoothness of the narrative as she travels through one day in one ordinary woman’s head, the love and hope and regrets that make up that woman’s life. The older I get, the more I understand and love this story.
  9. The Crystal Cave Series by Mary Stewart – often dismissed as a mere author of “gothic romance,” Mary Stewart was way more than that, and if her series about Arthur and Merlin had been written by a man, I’m sure it would get a lot more recognition and respect. But that rant about the lack of respect accorded “women’s writing” is a rant for another day. Instead, let me just commend this wonderful series of stories to you. There are five books in the series, but I confess the first three are really far and away the best. This is the legend of King Arthur told from the point of view of Merlin, filled with excellently researched detail on the mythical and historic origins of the tales. No, also not new. But it’s my list and my chance to get a few people to notice some overlooked masterpieces!
  10. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – Magical Realism before there was Magical Realism. Also not new. But possibly my all-time favorite novel. Yes. If I had to pick only one book to take with me to Mars. If I lived in that world Ray Bradbury created in Fahrenheit 451 and I had to “become a book” to keep the story alive, this is the book I would become. Also, for those who are interested in such things, the book that famously inspired The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Try to get the Mirra Ginsburg translation, unless you’re lucky enough to read Russian.

And now, I conjure you all to go forth and make your own list. If you can’t think of ten books right off the top of your head, you’re living your life wrong. Also, for my many good friends and family members with learning disabilities and other reading problems – remember that audiobooks count too. Don’t ever let anyone say you haven’t “read” a book because you listened to someone read it to you instead. That’s the oldest and best way to tell a story!