Writing About Writing

I’ve been gone for so long–I can hardly believe it! Here’s what happened: I burnt out.

Its common in writers and activists, and I consider myself both. I was working on night shift, and desperately trying to be a “productive” writer, and trying to have a social life and a relationship with my family, the latter two being extremely difficult to do when working night shift. I was so tired, so very tired. Need I mention how exhausting it is to care, and to participate in political activism in the current climate of “fuck everything and everybody, me and mine got ours” in the Republican Party? Something had to give.

Then I moved to day shift. I decided I wanted to transcribe my writing journals onto my laptop–most of my novel(s) draft are in those notebooks. I wanted to see what I had. The problem was, it was too much like my data entry job. I felt like I was working the same job night and day. I hated it–I wanted to get shit done, I wanted to be productive (seeing a pattern here?) and, for some odd reason, I felt like I needed to complete that writing project before I moved to another. The result was obvious–I didn’t write.

I missed it. So very much. But. I’m a stubborn lady.

It was a cycle, a very long and unproductive cycle. Not to mention not very pleasant, eh? I don’t know about you, but when I go for a long period of time without writing, I have a bit of an identity crisis. I do believe I won the argument with what Captain Awkward calls my jerkbrain that I am, indeed, allowed to call myself a writer when I haven’t written anything for a while.

 

And with that, I am ending the cycle of not-writing. I miss seeing my novel come to life on the page in front of me, and I very much miss blogging. I’ve been around, of course, but being a lurker/occasional commenter is not the same as Being a Blogger.

 

What I know I need to do is stop with these arbitrary restrictions I place on myself. The whole “I need to do this, and then I’m allowed to write” was so not helpful. So in addition to a dead blog coming back to life, I’m expanding the number of topics I’m going to be covering here. Don’t ask, I don’t know yet. All I know is, I’m sitting in a booth at Buffalo Wild Wings, writing on a friend’s iPad, because my muse demanded I write.

And you know what? It feels good.

A Glimpse into the Future?

Amanda Ching has written a brillant short story that you need to read. It’s speculative fiction, imagining what the U.S. might look like if we keep incrementally rolling back reproductive rights.

This story answers the question that the naive citizens of a free democracy always ask: how do totalitarian regimes happen?

Go read it. Now.

As a writer, I can tell you that this is one of the best short stories I have ever read. Let me tell you, speaking from experience, writing a short story is hard. Amanda makes it look easy. I am extremely jealous of her talent.

As a feminist, this story scared the ever-loving shit out of me. It provides a hell of a lot of motivation to fight every single rollback of human rights, because this story highlights how, though human rights violations may start in one area, they always spread into other areas, until everyone’s rights are gone.

Book Review: The Whip

I’d like to say that I’m no expert of the Western genre–in fact, this is the first novel I’ve read based in specifically this location and this time. I am, however, a big fan of historical fiction, though, again, I am not familiar with much of the history of the American West.

A summary of the book:

“The Whip is inspired by the true story of Charlotte “Charley” Parkhurst (1812-1879) who lived most of her extraordinary life as a man in the old west. As a young woman in Rhode Island, she fell in love with a runaway slave and had his child.  He was lynched, her baby killed. The destruction of her family drove her west to California, dressed as a man, to track the killer. Charley became a renowned stagecoach driver for Wells Fargo. She killed a famous outlaw, had a secret love affair, and lived with a housekeeper who, unaware of her true sex, fell in love with her. Charley was the first woman to vote in America in 1868 (as a man). Her grave lies in Watsonville, California.”

Note: Spoilers will be in italics. You’ve been warned!

The book begins near the end of the story, when Charley is nearing the end of his life–then flashes back to the very beginning of her life–as an infant. This is a popular timeline to use, but it’s not one that appeals to me, personally. I prefer my stories to be laid out linearly, from beginning to end. I believe here, it wasn’t the best timeline–knowledge of Charley’s struggles with her two identities: Charlotte, and Charley, her losses, her achievements would have made the conclusion of her story, of her life, that much more moving, and her actions before her death more understandable for the reader.

The characters are complex–several, including Lee, Anna, and Edmund remind me of thus: “Pure is impure. Impure is pure. Good is evil. Evil is good.” Or something like that. Lee Colton is, in the beginning of the story, Charlotte’s protector, caretaker, and best friend. He cradles baby Charlotte on her first night in the orphanage, provides her with companionship, and protects her from the abusive headmistress and other children. However, he slowly morphs into a possessive and abusive man, murdering her family, and raping her. What was good, is now evil.

Anna, the sometimes actress, sometimes con woman, sometimes thief, initially takes advantage of Charley for a free ride, and temporary shelter in his home. However, she evolves into Charley’s companion of sorts, as well as his caretaker, morphing his cabin into a home. Impure is pure.

Edmund is a fascinating sort of character, as he moves back and forth along the so-called binary of good and evil. He begins as a gambler, and the first who guesses Charley’s secret, evolves into Charlotte’s secret lover, then into Sugarfoot, the notorious robber (unknowingly to Charley), back to Charlotte’s lover, and back again to Sugarfoot. He alternatively puts Charley at risk for exposure, then provides the sanctuary and intimate companionship Charlotte needs, and risks Charley’s life. Pure is impure. Impure is pure. Good is evil. Evil is good.

Kondazian rarely pulls punches, either. She doesn’t hesitate to show the nitty-gritty details of Charley’s life–for instance, one scene depicts Charley sneaking off to take a piss away from prying eyes. The book shows Charlotte’s struggle to transform into Charley–on her journey west, she does a lot of philosophizing on gender and gender presentation. It’s a refreshing addition to the woman-becomes-a-man-by-dressing-like-one trope in literature, making it less a “trope” and more of the essence of Charlotte’s journey. LBGTQI people may well find it familiar.

One thing that was difficult for me to read was the scenes where Lee Colton sexually assaulted Charlotte. I wondered why novels with a female protagonist always seem to have the female lead sexually assaulted. In every novel with a female protagonist that I have read, off the top of my head, does this. Why? In this book, Charlotte sort-of checks out during her assaults. They don’t factor in her desire for revenge, and after they’re over, they never come up again. Why are they there?

All in all, I loved this book. It’s so good to read about a strong, historical woman–to read about someone like me. Charley Parkhurst is a historical figure, but Kondazian takes this larger-than-life figure and makes her real. Charlotte is not supporting someone else’s enlightenment, nor serves as support for someone else’s (a man’s) journey, but stands on her own, chases after what she wants. She drifts, stumbles along something that she wants, takes it, loses it, and then sets off to reclaim her own life, her own power, and does it all on her own.

The book ended before I was ready. Partly because it was only 280 pages, and partly because of the end-beginning-middle timeline chosen.

If I had to rate this book (and I don’t like rating books–they’re too complex to be reduced to such a simple measure, but some people find them useful, alas.) I would give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Socialize The Whip, the team promoting the book, and the same that offered me a copy of the book, and asked if I would review it, is offering a free copy to one of my readers. (I’m not getting paid to do this, nor did I get paid to review the book. Ah, well. Maybe one day, eh?)

So, if you’d like a free book (who doesn’t?) leave a comment on this post before Friday at 2:00pm EST, and I’ll choose one of you randomly!