Facebook Nations

There are always things going on outside the purview of our daily news, our daily download of statistics, that are just as real as jobs reports and presidential briefings and high level negotiations among world leaders. Such offstage movements have always been there. Mostly they intend to be secret, subversive, operating outside established channels and laws. Occasionally they bubble up into our awareness. 

Abbie Hoffman, way back in 1969, talked about the coalescing of distinct “nations” in America (my phrasing, not his). Back then, something like the Woodstock Nation had to be approached on foot, more or less. You arrived at that one via roads paved with various psychedelics, including electric roads of music. The (mostly) shared ideology was anti-capitalist and anti-racist and anti-war and (early) feminist. In the 1960s, the citizens of this “nation” gravitated not just to Woodstock itself but manifested the Nation in all kinds of gathering places all over the country. 

We’ve reached a new iteration of this kind of “nation”-building and it’s caused by the internet. I don’t mean “facilitated,” I mean “caused.” The internet and its massive social media platforms permit citizens to convene without ever leaving their homes or at least the reach of their cell service and wifi. Every once in a while I brush up against one of the alt-nations on Facebook or Twitter. Today I saw evidence of one right out here on the streets of my neighborhood. 

Lest you think this is all a wonderful manifestation of ordinary people rising up against the oppression of capitalism, be advised that to the extent that these 21st Century “nations” are rising up in cyberspace, they are highly vulnerable to co-optation by the very forces they think they’re rebelling against. Maoism? And who built this cyber-marketplace anyway? 

References:

Hoffman, Abbie. Woodstock Nation, 1969, Random House. (Yeah, Random House.) 

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Stop.

Today as I wandered through my neighborhood on my morning walk, I stopped to watch a cardinal as he flitted from bush to tree in the strip of green that marks the course of a gas pipeline. I listened as he and his mate called back and forth to one another. I never spotted her.

I stopped to examine some sunflowers going to seed, wondering if they would soon provide food for the cardinals.

I stopped again to look at the way the sun caught in the blossoms of some crepe myrtles, still heavy with the dampness of the night.

I also witnessed someone run a red light. Another driver zipped through a stop sign as if it wasn’t even there.

Why are we so afraid to stop? We’re so intent on our plans, our established course, our goals. We miss so much. We’re surrounded by this great entangled mass of life. We’re part of it, but we hardly ever stop to notice.

This is my thought for the day:

“Stop.” (Not permanently, just often.)

Join My Book Tour!

For the entire month of July, my book Song of All Songs is on a blog tour. There will be reviews and interviews and guest blog posts on at least a dozen different websites–you can see the itinerary here. Look forward to insights into both the book and the author! You can also see a lovely atmospheric trailer for the book on YouTube.

Thanks to Dorothy for arranging the tour!

What to Celebrate?

Duke of Richmond’s fireworks display. Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

I’ve never been big on secular celebrations of human achievement. It always feels a little premature. I’d rather give this whole “Independence Day” thing another couple thousand years to see whether it works out or not. At the moment, I’m not optimistic.

On the other hand, I do like picnics. I like outdoor gatherings with family and friends (when it’s not scorchingly hot due to climate change) and I kind of like fireworks.

I like the fact that so-called “gunpowder” was invented by the Chinese not for guns, but to create more impressive explosions, which supposedly were useful in warding off evil spirits. By the time the explosive mixture made its way westward, it was referred to as “Chinese flowers.” Soon it would be turned toward more destructive purposes.

As I lie in my bed later tonight, trying to go to sleep while the neighbors shoot off their probably illegal fireworks, I shall try to turn my mind toward the dispelling of malevolent influences and envisioning colorful lights blossoming among the stars.

BOOM! BANG! POW!

Giveaway!

My book giveaway on Goodreads is drawing to a close in two days! This is your final call for a chance to win a SIGNED COPY of my paperback book that won the 2020 Silver Medal from Self-Publishing Review.

Here’s what their reviewer said about my book:

“An immersive and visceral vision of the future. This first installment of the EarthCycles series plays out as both a wonderful adventure and a well-crafted prophecy. The economy of language in certain moments is striking, while the poetic flow in other passages makes this novel a delicious pleasure to consume. This rare blend of naked imagination, careful storytelling, poetic flair, and meticulous language is reminiscent of Ursula K. Le Guin at her best. Showcasing the speculative fiction of a wildly gifted author, Song of All Songs is a very special book – an enigmatic and inventive treasure, and certainly not one to be missed.” 

Covering Science Fiction and Fantasy

There's a new cover for SONG OF ALL SONGS!
There’s a new cover for Song of All Songs!

I know you’ve heard over and over that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a way of telling us not to judge people or situations on appearance. But with respect to actual books, people judge them by their covers every single day! The cover is how an author begins to tell their story, instantly setting up the reader to expect romance, thriller, cozy mystery, science fiction, fantasy, etc. The cover is a promise to the reader.
 
I reached the painful conclusion that the original cover for Song of All Songs promised too much “fantasy” and not enough “science fiction.” So I’ve changed it—commissioned a new cover that more faithfully promises what the story can fulfill.

Sometimes an author doesn’t fully understand what genre they’re writing until they’ve finished the story. This is especially problematic for anything within the category often termed “SFF”—science fiction/fantasy. When the author is an anthropologist, it gets even more fraught! 

In many nonwestern cultures, there is neither “science” nor “magic,” and neither of those terms is especially relevant to the cultures I write in my EarthCycles books. There’s only what is. What works. When you write a story set in such a world, what genre does it belong to? 

As I delved more deeply into the question of genres and sub-genres, I realized that all of my favorite books and writers can be encompassed within one (or both) of the sub-genres called “soft science fiction” or “science fantasy”—1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, almost everything Ursula LeGuin wrote, and my latest favorite—Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon. 

I’m hopeful that my new cover—and in fact the entire set of covers for the EarthCycles trilogy—will more faithfully communicate to readers what kind of story they can expect to find inside.

It’s not pure fantasy (as the original cover may have signaled), although it checks many of the boxes of what constitutes fantasy literature. The story’s setting in Earth’s far, far future is a critical departure from most fantasy tales, which tend to take place in the distant past. Most importantly—there’s no magic! There’s more than a touch of mysticism, but those who engage in it don’t call it magic. Of course…all of this depends on how you define magic

The story is also not classic science fiction—there are no spaceships or extraterrestrials, no super-duper technology. The story is firmly grounded on a post-apocalyptic planet Earth, where much of our familiar 21st-century technology has been lost. The fact that some of the operational principles aren’t what purists might classify as science makes no difference—within the context of the story, these things are facts of life. Reality. Not magic. The focus on social evolution and social relations places the story in the sub-genre of “soft science fiction,” so called because of its reliance on the “soft sciences” such as psychology, sociology, political science…and anthropology? Well, there’s another conundrum: Anthropology studies culture, society, political systems, language, religion, but also genetics and evolution and technology. You did know I have a PhD in anthropology, right?
 
I hope you love the new covers as much as I do. If you want a sneak peek at the cover for book two—Book of All Time—click HERE. It’s coming in August! 
 
And just in case you haven’t read Song of All Songs yet (what are you waiting for??) watch Goodreads for a special giveaway, going on the entire month of June!

The Woman She Was

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Self Portrait With Her Daughter.

She was a woman caught in the cultural contradictions of her time. Born in December 1913, less than a year before the start of what became known as the First World War, she was only eight years old when it ended, too young for it to have mattered much to her. She grew up in unusually happy times as her father achieved success as a building contractor in a big city. As a young teenager, she received an allowance of $1 a week, the equivalent of $15 in 2021 value.

She was only seventeen when the Great Depression began to hit her family. She graduated high school and went on to college on a plan that permitted her to begin working early as a schoolteacher. Her family needed the income.

Soon she met and fell in love with a young man who was soon to be ordained as a minister—an honorable profession, though not a lucrative one. She was slightly horrified to find that his parents still lived on a farm. On her first visit, she couldn’t bring herself to use the outhouse and nearly burst her bladder on the trip back home. She married him anyway. In 1940, it was what young women did. Working as a teacher was only something you did until you married. Until you had a man to look after you.

But… in college, this woman had adored her art history courses, and through all the changes in her life, she held onto the art prints and teaching instructions she accumulated in those classes. She also loved poetry and memorized many lovely verses, although her extreme near-sightedness discouraged her from reading for pleasure.

As the Second World War loomed, her husband tried to volunteer as a chaplain, but was refused because of his poor vision. (In his case, it was a genetic condition that could not be corrected with lenses.) They struggled through together, birthing a daughter a few weeks after D-Day in 1944. A second daughter came along in 1948, three years after the war’s end.

In the small towns where her husband served as pastor, this woman found her teaching credentials in high demand and, as soon as her own two daughters were old enough for school, she went back to work. She always projected an apologetic attitude about working outside the home. She felt that she ought to have preferred focusing exclusively on home and husband and family. But she had a secret: She loved teaching. She couldn’t claim it as a career, because women of her era weren’t supposed to have careers. Just husbands and homes and families.

It’s difficult for a woman to be a good mother when she’s made to feel guilty for wanting more. And she can’t help but be slightly resentful about that. She also can’t help feeling like life has cheated her when she’s raised to have a taste for class and little luxuries and ends up trying to figure out what to do with the sack of onions her dear husband accepted as payment for a wedding ceremony. She was fortunate that the man she married was devoted and adoring, making her feel like a beautiful princess, even though he couldn’t afford the lifestyle.

I know you did your best, Mother. I wish we could have talked about it.

“Motherhood” by Picasso.
Pieter de Hooch, A woman with a child in a basement room,
ca 1656-1660.

Silver for Song of All Songs!

It was such a delightful surprise this week to receive the email informing me that my latest book—Song of All Songs—had won an award! There are some exciting perquisites that Self-Publishing Review offers with this award—including reviews and an interview—and I’ll be posting about those soon enough. For now, I’m just reveling in a sense of accomplishment that’s been rather illusory over the strange year we’ve just been through. I’m energized and eager to move ahead with finishing book two of the EarthCycles Trilogy (Book of All Time) and launching it via some kind of in-person (okay, probably hybrid) event.

What Matters

When I look at the news–the spread of COVID-19, the national and global distribution of vaccine, the violence perpetrated against black and brown bodies, the turmoil at our southern border–I can’t help but return time and time again to Dr. Farmer’s enduring truth.

And no, it isn’t just a matter of saying “all lives matter.” We have to own the fact that our world is currently built on the unsustainable premise that some lives matter less. That is what we have to face up to and work to correct.

That’s all I have for today. I’ll let these children’s faces speak the rest of what needs to be said. Please listen with your heart.