washing off the road salt

washing off the road salt

I should be writing about a fossegrim from the deep south or, at the very least, foxes, but I read something beautiful this morning and the only way I can think to undistract myself from it is by writing about it.

This morning I went for a very wet and semi-long bike ride. It was my first in awhile. I had my one and only wisdom tooth extracted two weeks ago, so I’d been taking it easy, because apparently your face needs time to heal after your mouth’s been stuffed full of fingers and sawed-up tooth. What I’m trying to say is that the bike ride would have been good no matter what, because I was out and in my head for the first time in too long. But when I woke this morning, the clouds were steady in the sky and I felt safe packing my rain jacket before heading out, which means the weather was promising that my ride would be more than good.

By the time I reached the Willamette, rain was falling hard. I stopped under the train tracks for a drink of water and to put on my jacket. My boots were soaked halfway across the bridge over the river. I could have been miserable, but I felt more euphoric than pissed off. I looked upstream and all I could see was an oceanic microcosm, a white island jagged with evergreens on a backdrop of fog, a scene straight out of Deception’s Pass at dawn. Then I was off the bridge and into forest, leafdamp, leatherdamp, hardturn close call wipeout and I fuck you not, all I could think is I’ve never been happier.

Theodora Goss got it right in her blog post this morning:

I think that beauty is an underlying order that captures and encompasses chaos…It does not make us more comfortable. What it makes us feel, I believe, is more alive.

And how could I not write about that after such a beautiful ride? Because it wasn’t just mud and prime salamander grounds and river so still you probably could have tread on it–it was also me, in my head, thinking and not thinking. Thinking about things I shouldn’t think about or feel. Thinking about shape and form and red and rune and want and ace and aro and sex and twins and unreachable gravity wells. When I’m out, alone, especially in the rain and under the trees, I just am. I am. I. Am. (Someone please take note of that reference.) And I am both fucked up and breathtaking. Not to anyone else–but maybe to myself, close to almost. I am a mess and at most myself, and that is fucking beautiful.

How to Not Know a Novel

When I was a kid, I was always writing books. None of them were ever much over two hundred and fifty pages and the first one, something about a dog, a dog thief and a girl named Jenn (hey, that’s me) written at nine years old, was twenty pages (totally still a novel). But by age thirteen or fourteen I had four book-shaped things, plus numerous projects started and never finished. In ninth grade or tenth grade I watched The Matrix for the first time. Two hours after I finished the film I started writing a book about dreams and reality. It was first called Puzzle and last called The Dream Tree. In the space of eight years, I started to rewrite it seven times and rewrote it fully for my undergrad senior project. Then I rewrote it a third time and edited that draft from 95k words down to 48k, which was probably a little drastic. After all that, you’d think I’d have learned something. But I didn’t know how to write a novel before Puzzle, I didn’t know how write one during Puzzle and I still didn’t know how after The Dream Tree.

Somewhere during the time that Puzzle became The Dream Tree, the author Karina Cooper told me to escape. Run away. Stop. Just stop beating the horse dead in the rain.(She didn’t say that, exactly; she was nicer. But let’s be brutal here.) I listened, but not really, and continued wasting my time.Compulsion is strong in me and I have a hard time letting go even when I know I need to. But it wasn’t just a matter of writing this one book over and over. When I was a kid, everything was a novel. Every idea was worth tens of thousands of words.

I don’t know why, maybe because books were it. They were big. They were better because of their greater gravity. But actually, I think it’s because they were all I knew. I didn’t read poetry or short fiction as a child, not unless it was mandatory for school, in which case of course I did (remember my compulsive compulsion?). But even though novels were all I read, I didn’t actually know a thing about them. I knew, sort of, how to read them. I definitely knew how get high on them. I wrote them start to finish, but not very well. Of course, I thought I knew them, but the further I got from them, the more I realized that, no matter how close we’d been, I hadn’t known a thing. I listened, but didn’t engage.

A month after moving to Montana, I finished that third full draft of The Dream Tree and finally listened to Karina Cooper’s good advice.I finished my 47k wordhack, realized the book was broken. I don’t think I’ve opened that file since. I read The Melancholy of Mechagirl and At the Mouth of the River of Bees, two collections that were pivotal. I started writing more short fiction and joined a writer’s group, were I met Richard, a friend full of snark and wordlove, who told me that applying to MFA programs was a shitty idea, because I already had a voice and stories, and that I knew what I needed to do to figure the rest out. Once again, I didn’t listen. His advice was good, but I think that this time I made the right decision. I ended up in a Master’s program of folklore and it’s both good and upsetting. I finished my first year in June. I don’t think I’ve ever been further from novels than during those nine months. All I wanted to do was write stories. Instead, I wrote papers and annotated bibliographies. We were long-distance lovers, novels and I (especially bad because I hate phones and it was all one-sided, anyway), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them clearer than in my first year of grad school. Distance does wonders. (Side note: Richard’s amazeballs–he’ll appreciate that word–The Flood Girls is due out from Simon and Schuster February 2016. Fuck yeah. If you’re reading this Richard, I want an ARC, hahaha.)

When I moved from Montana to Oregon to begin my folklore degree I was deep into a sword and sorcery novel about wormholes and magpies and revenge. I reached 65k words before the term started. I haven’t looked at the manuscript since. I spent the fall, winter and spring reading and writing about foxes, studying Swedish, philology, cosmogony, eschatology, and some of the stuff in between. The only novels I read were during a fiction seminar I took from the university’s MFA program and The Blue Fox, excusable because it was vulpine and relevant. I read probably a couple novel’s worth of fanfiction–sometimes when I had a little down time, but mostly when I had absolutely no time–but no intentional books.

Then summer came and I was supposed to be jobbing, and researching and reading for my terminal thesis project, which I did and am doing. But I got desperate. I read The Republic of Thieves when I was supposed to be reading Convergence Culture. I read The Name of the Wind instead of Marvels and Tales, 2015 (Vol. 29) No. 1, SPECIAL ISSUE: Queer(ing) Fairy Tales. When I wasn’t misbehaving, I did read plenty for my thesis, including Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook, which I think is what really did it. I read Wonderbook parallel to the Lynch and Rothfuss, and while I fried chicken and burritos and jo jos and yet more chicken at Safeway’s deli, I thought about writing books. I’d enjoyed Republic, but Name made me want to write (and just read, forever). But in between reading Le Guin’s Cheek By Jowl for pleasure by way of my annotated bibliography, pretend-coding a database and writing my prospectus, I didn’t actually have much time left for writing. But it turns out that frying chicken leaves you with plenty of time for thinking.

I thought about Wonderbook. I thought about The Name of the Wind. I thought about what was wrong with my magpie book. I thought a lot about wanting to write a book, but I couldn’t think of an idea wide enough and intense enough for a novel. I had ideas, sure, but were they book ideas? Before, when I was a kid, when I was in high school, when I was an undergrad, they would have been, but I wasn’t so sure anymore.

As a kid, I thought about plot and imagery. Plot because I knew that’s what stories are all about*, imagery because Tolkien. This time, I thought about character. Every time I wanted to know how the tale was going to finish, I wrenched my thoughts back to who, and the whys that defined the whos. I thought about many characters, but the ones that stuck were the ones with stories thick enough around them to warrant novels. And it was the around that really got me. I stopped thinking linearly. I thought about what came before and after the pivot point of character, not the story I wanted to write on them. I started with that seed, sure, but I didn’t cling to it. I considered the possibilities.

And that’s what’s most important, I think. I stopped flogging the horse. (It’s still raining, obviously, because I need rain for story writing, and because it’s been smoky and hot in Oregon and if I can’t get it anywhere else, I need rain in my head.) Before, I could recognize when a plot line or scene wasn’t working. So I’d rethink the scene, seeking the key that would make it work. But there’s not always a key, not when all you’re dealing with is brainplay (which is both it’s wonder and its bane). Reading Wonderbook made me realize that I was just trying to unbreak something rather than finish the break and kill it completely. And I understand why I stuck with that method for so long and will probably always have to remind myself that it’s not the only way–beheadings are hard work. Spinal cords are tough. But rather than reviving a scene back to shambling life, I’ve started to wonder what else works. What are my options that have nothing to do with the broken thing at hand? What can I do that’s completely other, unexpected, unplanned? How quickly can I give up a thing and be okay with it?

I think it’s working. After almost a year of knowing I have books in me, but not knowing what they were, I now have a trilogy and two novels to write. Maybe one, two or five of them will fail. But all I know right now is that I’m procrastinating on my thesis not because I’m subscribed to every single Buzzfeed channel on youtube, but because I’m writing.

I’ll be honest: compulsion still dogs me. I still think about The Dream Tree. I haven’t let it go, not completely. There’s something compelling about Fel, Kit and Jiiki, the book’s three main characters–I’m not relinquishing them yet. Their stories aren’t dead–but I don’t think they’re novels, either. There’s an exercise somewhere in Wonderbook, and maybe I keep thinking about it because it feels like a condolence:

Excise a scene from a trunked novel
Keep the scene, the character
Removing the context
Write something new

There, there, little novel. You aren’t dead yet.

But actually? I don’t think it’s a condolence. I think it’s an acknowledgement. I have good ideas, sometimes, but they don’t always come out right. And that’s okay, but beware: repeats might be treacherous. A rebirth might be better. Or maybe go back to the conception. Different egg, different seed, and when you do get around to squeezing that idea out, find a midwife with steadier hands. (Also, be careful around extended metaphors. [That’s probably my favorite advice from Wonderbook.])

Or burn your ideas. I hear that works, too.

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*the asterisk exists to make note of how little I know

Life Overlooked: The Western Scrub Jay

““Life Overlooked” refers to the humanistic goal of “overlooking” or shepherding animals and other life as well as the ways in which non-human species and human relationships with them are often overlooked or ignored…The goal of this project is to utilize the scientific and cultural knowledge of everyday people to create a data bank and place-based map about non-human animals and plants in the US, Canada, and Mexico as we enter an era of mass extinction.” (Life Overlooked website)

Below, you will find my transmedial journal on the western scrub jay, a microcosm of the aforementioned Life OverlookedI chose the western scrub jay for a number of reasons, but mainly because I’ve been going through magpie-withdrawal. It’s been almost a year since I moved from Missoula, Montana back home to the deeper heart of the Cascadian bioregion (though Eugene, OR is much further south than my previous home of Bellingham, WA). Though bike commuting in white-out conditions in the middle of  Montana’s winters was less than thrilling, I still have affection for its scapular yellow hills, the summer storms tumbling down the Rockies. And there are people I miss. But I found an animal-emptiness in me after the move, too: magpies.

I miss their intermittent raaks and rr-e-e-e-e, their sudden scolding paroxysms, the stutter-flight of the juveniles, the charged curiosity of their hop and head-tilt as they watch. There’s nothing like being watched by a magpie. It’s a frustrated fondness I have for them–to live in such close, but parallel proximity with something so obviously alive. I always felt…on the verge in their presence, close to something pivotal and cosmic and comic, but ultimately un-grippable.

And then I moved back and the magpies were gone. Eugene has crows, of course. And I like crows, I grew up around them–yet they aren’t the same. Colder, a bit more disdainful. But, as I soon found, Eugene also has scrub jays. I find them more crotchety than magpies, but they make me smile in the same way those other corvids do.

There’s a number of scrub jays that hang around my house, so I decided this bird journal (below) might best capture my evolving, corvic thoughts via notes taken from my garden-observatory. With the help of research, what I have here is, in its (probably) final iteration, a chronologically paced study that combines observation, poetry, sketches and scientific notes to craft a nuanced (though admittedly heavily etic) gloss of the western scrub jay.

Life Overlooked_Scrub Jay_1

Continue reading

Blood, Bathtub (Skyglass extra)

Right after my parents died, I met a girl. Her name was Sylvan—a name she chose for herself, she told me. She had silver hair, buzzed up close to the skull. Her ears were beautiful. Like her name, they weren’t her first. She’d cut off her old ones and bought herself a new pair, green pewter like grass froze by a first frost, with tiny flowers growing in their folds.

We met at a show. I don’t remember who was playing, didn’t care—that night, I was just there for the noise. The press. Something to keep me from drifting apart. If my parents hadn’t been freshly dead, I doubt I would have gone home with her that night. I don’t remember much of what happened at her place, but my bandmates were there; my singer Devin told me what happened. Or maybe I do remember, and it’s just easier to pretend the memories are someone else’s:

Sylvan crawled a hand under my shirt, to my spine. She turned me into a glove-puppet that jerked to her every command. When she invited me home—along with everyone at the show—I obeyed. I’m not sure I believe any of this; I’m human, not robot. Despite the mechanization of my day-in day-out. And she didn’t make me do anything. She was nice. I liked her. But Devin’s fond of stories.

There’s one thing I remember on my own: at Sylvan’s place, Fallin played on the exear all night long, so I left my headphones off.

And another memory, less important, but still significant because I claim the recall as my own:

After showing me some Blowup I didn’t really understand, Sylvan and I pulled at our clothes and tried to have sex. Maybe it was the drinking, maybe it was death still crawling beneath my skin (worms wanting out), but I couldn’t get hard for her. She laughed at me (not meanly), I apologized and stumbled into the bathroom, didn’t turn on the light, didn’t close the door, pissed in the toilet. Crawled in the bathtub, threw up. One, two, three times. Next, maybe I felt something cold on my forehead. A bottle. More alcohol. Exactly what I didn’t need, exactly what I wanted– For the cold, not the blur and buzz. (Right.) I took it without looking, kept it to my forehead. Glanced up and to the side. Some tall guy with wide shoulders and dark skin, pale orange hair snarling from his scalp down to his shoulder blades. (His name came later: Marko.) He lit a candle beside the tub. I think I remember being glad for the lack of electric light.

He sat in the tub with me, maybe even in my vomit. He was careful not to let us touch. He asked me what was wrong. I was quiet for a long time, but eventually gave him an answer: everything at home smelled like blood, but that was normal. Mom butchered goats. She used their skin to make drums.

The rest of the answer: everything was silent. There was blood in the air because there so much in the bed it had to go somewhere. None of it was goat’s blood. I told the guy how I ripped up the mattress just to see how far it went down.

Blood on knives. Blood gluing bodies together at the rhizome of their tangled fingers. Blood in the bathroom and on the door to the fridge. I still don’t know why.

I told my boots and the bathtub how I wanted to sleep forever, but not die—how pretending there was a difference was my pretense at weathering.

Then Marko made contact. Quick, just his fingertips against the back of my hand (which was hidden in my sleeve, cuff bunched anxiously in my grip). Then he said, please don’t die. Like my death might actually do damage. Though he’d never met me. Stupid.

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If you enjoyed the words above, consider checking out the rest of the novel (mine), Skyglass, which is currently being serialized over at Sparkler Monthly.

2014 Publishing Retrospect

Instead of bombarding people with foxes, as I have been recently, here’s a thing far less exciting and only half as fluffy, but always rather ravenous: me. My words. (If you blow-dried my hair, I might be able to compete with a fox tail.)

Things that got published:

Poetry:

Ekphrastic 22/The Drowning Girl (Strange Horizons, February)

Short Fiction:

Cinderseed (Cherry Bomb, March)
The Seaweed and the Wormhole (Shimmer, Issue 20)

Novels:

Skyglass (Sparkler Monthly serialization, ongoing)
+Chapter 1
+Chapter 2
+Chapter 3
+Chapter 4
+Chapter 5
+Chapter 6
+Chapter 7

Modest, but I feel good about it. Here’s hoping 2015 will be even stronger.

Awkward Sex Scene (Skyglass extra)

Tell me something distracting, Phoenix said.

Against my better judgment, I did:

My first kiss was drunken, and numb from the smokeless–the cold winter cigarette the girl and I were sharing. We kissed at the base of a stage. Her name was Rish. She had me up against a discarded half-stack, mouth on mine, hands flat against my ribcage, like she was trying to push me away even as we kissed. Like she was some sort of oracle.

I hadn’t expected the kiss. I was nineteen. It was my first and even though I liked her, I hadn’t really considered the possibility. But then it happened and I was half-drunk, startled–what was I supposed to do? Complain about her mouth? On mine? No, I kissed her back. Probably badly, but at the time she didn’t care. Or maybe she did and was just too nice to say.

Still, we kissed, and it was my first, and she was starbright, but I think the only reason I remember her mouth is because I could feel the music vibrate in her teeth. Months later, when I thought I was ready, we tried having sex. On several occasions. Once, we were in her yurt. It was on a roof so high up you could bury you face in the green sky. The tent was like a lung with a lantern inside; red cloth walls lit up by golden light.

We started…kissing, and…you know. When we’d lost all our clothes, she stopped. She looked at me, her stare all terrifying, and said, you’re weird. I asked why; she said I watched her eyes too much, her body not enough.

I said, but I like your eyes.

That didn’t matter, she didn’t care—she wanted me looking other places, touching other parts. She wanted my mouth on her breasts, and—just. No. They were soft and fragile and sweaty. I didn’t like it, but I wanted her to feel good.

Then she turned off the music that was playing and said, I want to hear you, just you. But the music had been the only thing holding me together. I think I actually moaned at the loss. I went soft at the loss, and she was like, really? and turned away, and then I couldn’t look at her any longer because I knew I’d screwed up. She needed someone human, and what was I? I’m like a tree, only I run on music instead of sun.

After I failed, I went outside because Rish asked me to. I stood in the dripping mist with my head in the green sky’s leaves. It was closest enough to do that. I was glad for the contact—cold, ragged, indistinct. I was choking. I forced air down my throat. It tasted of trees. Calmed me. I would try harder next time. I told myself, you will learn want, you will learn desire, you will learn lust.

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If you enjoyed the words above, consider checking out the rest of the novel (mine), Skyglass, which is currently being serialized over at Sparkler Monthly.

Storyfox update!

Updates should be coming more regularly, now that I have a month-ish reprieve from grad school. Here are a couple of ready-at-hand additions to tide the curious over until my next update, which will probably be substantial.

A couple notes:

–I’d like to do a number of interviews to accompany this project, so if there’s anyone out there who you’d like to see interviewed (or if you want to be interviewed) about fox media, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
–Thanks go to Sonya Taaffe and Sharon Goetz; both tipped me off to a number of works this time around.
–I renamed the ‘Interdisciplinary’ section to ‘Transmedia.’ The music section needed some categorical stretching room, so it is now called ‘Audio.’
–An addition of note: I’m especially looking forward to exploring Wuxia the Fox, which looks to have a beguiling story, pleasing art, and an engrossing, inventive cross-discipline narrative framework. You can find it in the aforementioned Transmedia section.

Check out all of STORYFOX: a Database of Vulpine Science Fiction and Fantasy here!

As always, if you have anything to add, you can contact me here and on twitter.

Audio

P.L. Travers
~”The Fox at the Manger” (BBC Radio 4, 1990)

~”The Fox” (traditional ballad)

Comics/Graphic Novels

Minna Sundberg
~”A Redtail’s Dream” (2011-2013)

Film/Television

Volodymyr Kmetyk
~”Mykyta the Fox” (Pershyi Natsionalnyi)

Thomas Funck and Jan Gissberg
~”Kalle Stropp och Grodan Boll på svindlande äventyr” (Charlie Strapp and Froggy Ball Flying High) (Cinemation Industries, 1941)

Räven Boll
~”Made By Räven Boll ” (Räven Boll, 2014)

Children’s Books

P.L. Travers
~”The Fox at the Manger” (Norton, 1962)

Games and Video Games

Alana Joli Abbott
~”The Choice of Kung Fu” (Choice of Games, 2012)

BioWare
~”Jade Empire” (Microsoft Game Studios, 2005)

Nintendo EAD
~”Starfox” (Nintendo, 1993)
~”Ocarina of Time” (Nintendo, 1998)
~”Majora’s Mask” (Nintendo, 2000)

Novels

Garry Kilworth
~The Lantern Fox (Mammoth, 1998)
~Hunter’s Moon (The Foxes of Firstdark) (Unwin Hyman, 1989)

Poems

Lizzy Huitson
~”Rey” (Goblin Fruit, 2014)

Transmedia

Jonathan Bélisle
~”Wuxia the Fox” (2014)