reading and (w)riting, no ‘rithmetic

Last night, I wrote about my hope, my not-hope, and my forever-hope, all threaded through with the discouraging guanoshow that was 2016 A.D.

Today, I turn my mind and heart to lovelier things. When it came to reading and writing, 2016 was one of my best years ever. 🙂

On Reading in 2016

In 2016, I started reading 67 books, and I finished 64 of them. (The unfinished 3, I just couldn’t get into or enjoy, but I won’t mention them by title.) That’s 17 more books than I read in 2015, and I credit intentionality for the difference. Last year at this time, I purposed to read as many women authors as possible. At some point, my to-read list and to-read stack basically exploded. When the rumblings echoed away and the dust settled, I found a SMORGASBORD BOUNTY OF WOMEN’S VOICES, and I devoured them with vigor. YUMBLY IN MY READER TUMBLY.

This was the first time in my life I’ve read so many women in the space of a year, AND IT WAS GLORIOUS.

These voices rang fresh and clear in my mind. They reverberated with beauty and sorrow, disgust and joy. They spoke things I’d never before heard. They made me laugh and cry and think. They inspired me to write more. They inspired me to write more freely.

Reading these women, I found myself living the reality that I could write as they do, unbound by shackles.

HALLELUJAH I’M FREE

But more on my writing later. First, their writings.

Books I Read in 2016

Asterisks indicate particular favorites.

  1. The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee ***
  2. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke *
  3. Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse *
  4. Journey to America by Sonia Levitin
  5. Dark Beyond the Stars edited by David Gatewood *
  6. Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1) by Sarah J. Maas *
  7. Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood, #1) by Aliette de Bodard
  8. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor *
  9. The Giver by Lois Lowry *
  10. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab *
  11. When the Silence Ends by Jade Kerrion
  12. In the Woods by Tana French *
  13. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin **
  14. Gateway to Reality (Reality Series #1) by Becca J. Campbell
  15. Kushiel’s Chosen (Kushiel’s Legacy, #2) by Jacqueline Carey
  16. “The Father Hunt” (A Flawed Story) by Becca J. Campbell
  17. The Selection (The Selection, #1) by Kiera Cass
  18. The Likeness by Tana French *
  19. Kushiel’s Avatar (Kushiel’s Legacy, #3) by Jacqueline Carey *
  20. Open Minds (Mindjack Saga, #1) by Susan Kaye Quinn *
  21. A Wind in the Door (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #2) by Madeleine L’Engle
  22. Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) and short story “Glitches” by Marissa Meyer *
  23. The Haunting of Gillespie House by Darcy Coates
  24. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess **
  25. The Three by Sarah Lotz
  26. Blood Oranges by Caitlín R. Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney
  27. Hopeful Monsters by Hiromi Goto
  28. You by Caroline Kepnes **
  29. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  30. Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
  31. The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal
  32. Sword-Bound (The Sword-Dancer Saga, #7) by Jennifer Roberson
  33. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
  34. The Wild Road (Book 3 of Karavans) by Jennifer Roberson
  35. Timebound (The Chronos Files, #1) by Rysa Walker *
  36. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
  37. The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude *
  38. Just One Damn Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, Book 1) by Jodi Taylor *
  39. Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials, a short story by Annie Bellet
  40. The Paper Magician (Paper Magician Series, #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg *
  41. The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1) by Maggie Stiefvater **
  42. Tiny Bites: A Collection by Stacy Claflin
  43. Kindred by Octavia Butler *
  44. The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl *
  45. Asylum by Madeleine Roux
  46. The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
  47. Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse, #5) by Charlaine Harris
  48. Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
  49. Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson
  50. Candles Burning by Tabitha King and Michael McDowell
  51. Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
  52. The Christening Quest by Elizabeth Scarborough
  53. Ill Wind (Weather Warden, #1) by Rachel Caine *
  54. Trey of Swords by Andre Norton
  55. Uprooted by Naomi Novik **
  56. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere, 1) by Meg Elison *
  57. The Fading Dusk (Smoke and Mirrors #1) by Melissa Giorgio
  58. The Leaving by Tara Altebrando *
  59. Jinian Footseer by Sheri S. Tepper
  60. The Kraken Sea by E. Katherine Tobler
  61. Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux *
  62. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope *
  63. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness **
  64. The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts *

Recalling these stories is like thinking back on the utter joy and satisfaction surrounding delectable holiday meals. Here’s hoping for even greater tastiness in 2017.

So…what *is* in store for 2017 A.D.’s To-Read List?

Well…lemme tell ya. The other day, during our family’s roadtrip back to Oklahoma from our Florida-panhandle Christmas, I decided to head a head start on my reading list for this year. I already had a few titles and authors in mind, but I hadn’t collected them all in one place yet. Here’s the tentative reading plan so far; the only order is “ladies first” again (with a single exception):

Currently reading: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Further reading
Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl
Sarah Maas, Throne of Glass 2
Aliette de Board, Obsidian & Glass 2
Lowry’s The Giver sequel
Schwab, A Gathering of Shadows
more from Kerrion’s Double Helix series?
Tana French on nightstand (that’s not the title, it’s where I’ve stacked the book)
Jemisin, 100k Kingdoms 2
Cass, The Selection 2
Quinn, Mindjack 2
L’Engle #3
Meyer, Cinder 2
Bloggess, Furiously Happy
Carrie Ryan 3
Walker, Timebound 2
Taylor, St. Mary’s 2
Holmberg, Paper Magician 2
Stiefvater, Raven Boys 2
Sookie Stackhouse #6
Caine, Weather Warden 2
Lilith Saintcrow, Night Shift
Delilah Dawson, Three Lives of Lydia
Ellison, Road to Nowhere 2
Harkness, Discovery of Witches 2
Kepnes, Hidden Bodies
St Crow, Strange Angels 2
The Power, Naomi Alderman
Slipping, Lauren Beukes
Wake of Vultures, Lila Bowen
Fifth Season, Jemisin
Thin Air, Paver
Copper Promise, Williams
Crosstalk, Willis

Wendig: Aftermath, Invasive, Thunderbird
Nod, Adrian Barnes
Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Hendrix
NOS4A2, Joe Hill
Versailles, Yannick Hill
Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones
Paper Menagerie, Liu
Lovecraft Country, Ruff

Well, then. There’s my 2017 reading list already more than halfway sorted, and the year isn’t even a day old yet. And so it goes.

On (W)riting in 2016

Compared to previous recent years, I accomplished quite a bit in 2016. Not as much as I’d planned — I published only one book instead of two — but I ain’t kicking myself over it.

Not too much, anyway. 😉

The Elevator

elevator_cvr_lrgIn tags list at the end of this post, please to be clicking “The Elevator” for more details about this novel. For now, I’ll just say that I consider The Elevator my best published work to-date. As of this writing, it has but one Amazon review to its name, which makes me sad for it. Completely objectively and also quite biasedly, I think the book deserves more. Apparently, others’ mileage varies. Oh well. Can’t make everypony happy, and I long ago decided not even to try. 😉

But come on. It’s a space fantasy adventure with a chaotic psychopath, a cross-dimensional traveler, a vampire, a mech-woman, and two adorable smartass street urchins, all tied up in the nature of Reality at the heart of the multiverse. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

*ahem*

Don’t answer that. Unless it’s with a resounding silence in which you fork over money for my book. In that case, BRING IT ON.

I…uh, what?

elvendeadThe Elven Dead & Other Legends of the Light-Walkers

Ohhhhh, did I ever have such plans to publish this anthology in 2016!

Alas and alack, ’twas not to be.

I just ran out of oomph, y’all. In its final eleventh, 2016 managed to plaster me with that guano I mentioned before, and I didn’t cleanse myself of the disgusting sludge in time to hit “publish.” The short story collection *is* complete, minus a couple of touch-ups. I even have the cover art, thanks to fabulously talented Sam Hunt. All that’s left is to put in some butt-to-chair time to get the book out into all y’all’s greedy little reader hands.

Come on, I know you want it. 😉

Soon, my inklings. SOON.

Writerly To-Dos for 2017

What’s next? Well, that’s an excellent question, dearies. In early December 2016, I counted up the number of projects I could possibly turn to next — after taking care of the pesky pubbing details I mentioned above, of course. The count numbered 9. I repeat, NINE.

Nine project ideas with equal potential for becoming my next completed work.

People ask writers where we get our ideas. The better question is how can we NOT get ideas, so that we have space and time enough to work with the ideas we do have.

When it comes to writers’ ideas, picture a closet with all the junk just shoved in and the door slammed shut, in which each junky-seeming object represents a story or character idea. Except that the closet is actually a warehouse the size of Montana.

That’s why we never need people to tell us *their* ideas for a story *we* “should” write. Our ideas warehouse is already filled to bursting at the seams. Dude. The roof has practically exploded off. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S GOOD AND TRUE AND WRITERLY IN THIS WORLD, DON’T STUFF ANYTHING ELSE IN THERE

*ahem* But I digress.

In trying to figure out what to work on next, I enumerated and described my options to my writer friend Becca. She listened and asked pointed questions. Simply through conversing about my dilemma and sifting through the story ideas in my mind, I realized that I kept coming back with excitement to one particular idea:

the story of Taeven Ravenhair.

Taeven makes a cameo appearance in The Dying of the Light (Legends of the Light-Walkers 3) and gets a mention in Rethana’s Trial (Legends of the Light-Walkers 2). I penned the first 12k words of her tale for NaNoWriMo back in 2004 — and promptly screeched to a halt because I had no clue which word should be number 12,001. The story’s been shelved ever since.

But in 12 years, Taeven has never left me alone. She’s not naturally a patient person, but she has exerted a monumental amount of self-control, waiting her turn. So, as I shared a bit of Taeven with a fellow writer, suddenly it all turned crystal clear:

2017 is the year in which Taeven finally gets a real voice.

Of course, as soon as I decided this, I frantically typed out four pages of notes and then started writing a completely different story.

And so it goes, right? Busy, busy, busy.

This new story, currently entitled The Flight of Elfled unBlessed isn’t part of my Legends of the Light-Walkers series, but it does take place in that universe. It promises to be a novella, so I’m hoping it won’t take up too much of early 2017. But more on it later.

Taeven’s story has gathered dust under the title The Bearers of the Stones. I never really liked it, so I tried to come up with something more suitable while I was taking those four pages of notes. As of a couple of weeks ago, Taeven’s story is entitled Sister of the Black Flame — subject to change at my writerly whim. AH THE POWER MUAH-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAA

So. 2017 shall be:

  • pubbing Light-Walker shorts collection
  • first draft of Taeven’s story, hopefully final draft
  • Elfled’s story
  • getting paperbacks prepped and on sale pages for all the longer works

Plus LIFE.

And enough.

For now. 😉

my hair is turning green and I don’t care; also, book stuff!

Once upon a time, there was a writer who bleached the face-framing portion of her hair and then dyed that portion pastel blue. pastelbluehairIt lasted a couple of weeks, then faded. And it continued fading from bluish into the bleached blonde until the blue and yellow combo looked decidedly greenish.

But it looked kind of mermaid-ish, and, in spite of the increasingly greenish tint, someone said she had a Rogue thing going on, so all was joy and frolicking, at least hair-wise.greenhair092016

YAY.

But before we can have a happily-ever-after, I must regale you with The Part Where I NEED TO PUBLISH SOMETHING.

I logged on here today to find out if my blog had imploded from loneliness, since I haven’t posted anything in 5 months. Wonder of wonders, it’s still here, languishing away all pale and tragic. After talking to the blog, consoling it that it is a pretty blog, and it is a good blog, I checked to see when I last posted about my WIP, and lo and BEEEEHOLT it’s been over a year.

Ach, du meine Güte.

So.

The WIP.

The WIP

The WIP is still The Elevator (formerly known as Elevator People). IT IS SO CLOSE TO DONE I CAN FEEL IT MELTING ON MY TONGUE Y’ALL. Just yesterday evening, I sent it over to editor extraordinaire Jessie Sanders, that she might give my final major edits a final once-over.

Once Jessie sends me back the MS, and once the talented Mr. Novak and I have finalized the cover, I’ll finally publish this novel that:

I started in November 2011
and
is probably the best book I’ve written so far.

It’s a very different story from the one I originally conceived of 5? 6? years ago. I thought the main character, Went Banning, would gain a father through the course of the story. As readers will discover, he gains A LOT more (including darker dimensions to his personality, which I certainly didn’t anticipate). The two children, Jop and Skee, informed me they are children of color and not Caucasian, thanks very much. There wasn’t going to be any time-traveling; some joker decides to build a time machine. I wanted the vampire to show up at the end of the story; he not-so-politely declined. Two characters switched gender: not gender-transitions as part of the story, but pronoun and (limited) description change throughout.

The short title got shorter.

When I penned the first chapters of Draft 1, I still thought the book would be published by Consortium Books. After the Consortium folded more than 4 years ago, I decided to shop the book to Amazon’s 47 North. But as the book progressed, it seemed less and less a fit for 47 North and more and more a fit for my self-pub catalog. So there we are.

So. My WIP The Elevator shall soon see the light of electronic day. BANGERANG. I am excited for y’all the read this one, dear inklings. I am genuinely pleased with it. I think this is the first time I have fallen so hard for characters that I felt actual pain at doing bad things to them.

But I did the bad things anyway.

nicbadman

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today so I can tell you I really love this book. I hope you do too.

And if you don’t, I DON’T WANNA HEAR IT. *grin-grin-nudge-nudge* Ha ha ha I can be an adult about this, no really I can, shut up don’t talk bad about my baby. What?

Meanwhile, in Writer Land…

In between edits and weeping and wailing and gnashing of drafts in my teeth, there has been the writing of a short novel or novella or long short story, what-hast-thou. I don’t know what these long-ish stories are called anymore. I’ll figure it out when marketing day comes. Anyway, over the course of this year I’ve written a piece that will be the longest story in my upcoming anthology of Legends of the Light-Walkers short stories. Faithful Readers will recognize some of the titles included in this collection:

“Out of the Darkness”: in which new journeyman Quylin Flint and her hapless companions get lost in a network of dragon caves. Getting chased by a dragon REALLY puts a damper on their holy quest from Shaddix Falladd, mad ruler of Jiredd Stal.

“Rethana’s Tower”: In this short prequel to Rethana’s Surrender, magic-user Rethana Chosardal finds her belltower home beset by night-time ruffians — none of whom expected a run-in with the real witch of the tower….

“Dead Reconning”: 2333 After the Return. The determined Wolf Dornsson and his beloved, Lendry Bersallir, fight their way past unstoppable enemies to reach the only safe place left in Jiredd Stal. Their adversaries? Zombie elves.

And the new titles:

“Gateway Drug”: 2016 A.D. Abby of Oklahoma City hasn’t seen her lover, Gerry, in 3 years. When he suddenly resurfaces and invites all the old gang over for drinks, she doesn’t know how to react…especially when people start dying.

“The Eater”: 2012 A.D. The woman awakens in a white room, and she can’t remember who she is. She can’t remember where she came from. She can’t remember what happened. But as her memory returns in tiniest flashes, she realizes that she’s in danger — and it’s not a danger anyone in this world is equipped to handle.
This world? Why does she think of it that way?
Is it possible she isn’t from…here? From anywhere here?
And who is that stranger who keeps appearing and muttering about how he “calculated wrong”…before he disappears into thin air?

And, last but certainly not least,

“Oubliette”: 1356 After the Return. In this long short story/short novel, heir apparent Elyria ra’Shaskalai flees her throne in Kaldoril as assassins pursue her. Together with her more-than-friend, stableboy Tam, she seeks refuge in neighboring Halaferth. But with Tam grievously wounded and Elyria’s magical powers out of control, her enemies have every opening they need for ending the young queen-to-be once and for all. To elude them and finally escape, Elyria will have to give herself over to a darkness she never could have imagined.

And voy-oh-lay, folks: That’s the collection of stories to come. And if you’re very, very lucky…or if I’m feeling very, very generous…I might even reveal to you (on this blog? in the book?) just how all these stories are connected.

Have a good week, y’all. Happy reading and happy writing. Make magic happen.

ancient egyptians get sexy for #nationalpoetrymonth

Hile, lovelies,

I’d been thinking I hadn’t blogged since January, and then I check and find that I last blogged in February.

On Valentine’s Day, to be prezact. And it was my poetical ode to villains, which is extra appropriate to look back upon today.

‘Cause this post is gonna be POETRY Y’ALL. BANGERANG.

So, without further ado or adon’t, let’s get to it.

Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry

Back in nineteen-hundred-and-none-of-your-bidniss, I was a college student. As such, I got to take such splendid classes as Western Thought & Expression Through the Renaissance. And one of the first things we read was Ancient Egyptian LOVE POETRY.

IT WAS CRAMAZING.

We were freshmen, giggly and oh so sophisticated, and we had a blast with this stuff. Here are some of my favorites. Until the writing of this post, I hadn’t read any of these texts in well over a decade. But I remembered them. Those Egyptians really had it goin’ on, y’all. 😉

These translations are by John L. Foster.

Love, how I’d love to slip down to the pond

Love, how I’d love to slip down to the pond,
     bathe with you close by on the bank.
Just for you I’d wear my new Memphis swimsuit,
     made of sheer linen, fit for a queen–
Come see how it looks in the water!

Couldn’t I coax you to wade in with me?
     Let the cool creep slowly around us?
Then I’d dive deep down
     and come up for you dripping.
Let you fill your eyes
     with the little red fish that I’d catch.

And I’d say, standing there tall in the shallows:
Look at my fish, love,
     how it lies in my hand,
How my fingers caress it, slip down its sides…

But then I’d say softer,
     eyes bright with your seeing:
          A gift, love. No words.
     Come closer and
          look, it’s all me.
_______________

MY NEW MEMPHIS SWIMSUIT. SWEET SAINT BRUNHILD.

Also…that “little red fish”?

Suuuuuuure.

‘Cause we totally go around caressing fish.

Um.

Yeah.

*fans self*

*AHEM*
_______________

Why, just now, must you question your heart?

Why, just now, must you question your heart?
     Is it really the time for discussion?
To her, say I,
     take her tight in your arms!
For god’s sake, sweet man,
     it’s me coming at you,
My tunic
     loose at the shoulder!
_______________

Hotep! Seriously, dude. PUT DOWN THAT ADZ AND PAY ATTENTION!!!

By the way, y’all, these poems were written 1100-1300 B.C.

Apparently, human nature ain’t changed a ton since then.

WHO KNEW

😉

_______________

This one’s my absolute favorite:

I was simply off to see Nefrus my friend

I was simply off to see Nefrus my friend,
Just to sit and chat at her place
               (about men),
When there, hot on his horses, comes Mehy
     (oh god, I said to myself, it’s Mehy!)
Right over the crest of the road
     wheeling along with the boys.

Oh Mother Hathor, what shall I do?
     Don’t let him see me!
               Where can I hide?
Make me a small creeping thing
     to slip by his eye
          (sharp as Horus’)
               unseen.

Oh, look at you, feet–
     (this road is a river!)
          you walk me right out of of my depth!
Someone, silly heart, is exceedingly ignorant here–
     aren’t you a little too easy near Mehy?
If he sees that I see him, I know
     he will know how my heart flutters (Oh, Mehy!)
I know I will blurt out,
          “Pleases take me!”
               (I mustn’t!)

No, all he would do is brag out my name,
     just one of the many…(I know)…
Mehy would make me just one of the girls
     for all the boys in the palace.
               (Oh Mehy)
_______________

Heavens to Betsy, it’s Mehy hot on his horses.

HOT ON HIS HORSES, Y’ALL.

OHHHHHHH, MEHY!

*SWOONS*

_______________

I think I’ll go home and lie very still

_______________

Or take a cold shower, after all that “little red fish” and Mehy business. Good gravy.

_______________

I think I’ll go home and lie very still

I think I’ll go home and lie very still,
     feigning terminal illness.
Then the neighbors will all troop over to stare,
     my love, perhaps, among them.
How she’ll smile while the specialists
          snarl in their teeth!–
     she perfectly well knows what ails me.
_______________

Mehy? Is that you?

😉

_______________

And An Original by Yours Most Coffee-dly

To finish up my little celebration of National Poetry Month, here’s a poem of my own creation. I used to write a lot more poetry than I do nowadays (my theory is that noveling takes up what creative juice I might otherwise spend elsewhere), so this one is a few years old. But I still enjoy it a lot.

And it is still the Truth. : ) Enjoy.

The Wild and I

There is wild in the air tonight.
I don’t know where it comes from, and
I don’t know where it’s going.

But I am sure I want it to take me along.

I want it to rip through my hair,
batter my skin with insistence
and its demand.
The wild shall embolden me
to abandon all my tethers
and shed my clothes and shoes as I run.
The wild and I shall skitter down darkened alleyways,
the only light a pale reflection of the moon,
glinting off rain-drenched broken steps
and curves of metal.

We shall laugh and howl songs and
climb leafless, lifeless trees as indistinct
as puffs of smoke.
The wild shall lead me over each hillcrest,
into eerie fog and witchlights,
where tiny red berries glisten, waiting.
I shall pick them with fingers clumsy
with excitement, and taste the juice on my tongue
before the sweetness plunges into me.

The wild and I shall whirl and twirl,
and it shall teach me to fly upon the lightning.
The wild and I shall surrender ourselves
to rustling leaves and earthy scents,
while the deeping darkness beckons, envelops,
and sets free.

There is wild in the air tonight.
And so am I.

Courtney Weger Cantrell
November 10, 2010

a #talesfromblackfriday short story

Hidey-ho, lovelies!

Today is so-called Black Friday here in the good ol’ USA, and I have many opinions about it. I shan’t delineate them all here. All I’ll say is that I’ve never participated in Black Friday, and I never plan to.

Also, I wrote the following short story, the tone and content of which should tell you enough plenty about my Black Friday thoughts. 😉

So. Here ya go. Happy reading!

Oh, and I wrote this story in a series of tweets. Because Twitter’s kinda my thang.

BOOYA.

blackfriday

When You Look This Good, Nobody Cares If You’re Murderous

by Courtney Cantrell

I stumble into a crowd of shoppers. They brandish hand mixers like pitchforks. Unholy light flickers in their eyes.

Atop a La-Z-Boy display, a man in Target red screams, “THE SPECIAL BEGINS NOW. MAY THE PRICES BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR.”

With yips and barks, the crowd surges forward. They carry me with them. A man goes down under a sea of trampling feet. Someone’s mixer tangles in my hair, pulling me into a nightmare aisle of pink and Barbie.

I have no mouth, and I must scream.

In their shiny boxes, the Barbies turn to look at me. “WE GIRLS CAN EAT ANYTHING,” they chorus, blood in their teeth.

Whimpering, I lunge away. A woman grabs my arm and swings me toward the Barbies. “They just want to play, dear.” Her eyes are big and blue and flat. Painted on.

Like the dolls’ eyes.

I try to pull away, but she pushes me into the Barbie boxes. A cascade of inarticulate limbs and blond hair washes over me. I fall to the floor. Inside their boxes, the Barbies claw at the clear plastic. Their fingers are razor-sharp talons, shredding plastic. Those talons slash toward my face. Toward my eyes.

“WELCOME TO #BLACKFRIDAY,” say the Barbies.

Moving jerkily, a Ken doll crawls into the mêlée. Followed by another Ken. And a third. They’re attached to each other.

KENTIPEDE.

Baring bloody, point-filed teeth, the Barbies whisper in chorus, “MEIN LIEBER DREI-KEN.”

I scramble backward. My back hits somethng solid. I look up. Life-size Santa doll stares down at me with solid black eyes.

“CHRISSSTMASSS ISSS COMING, PRECIOUSSSS,” says Santa. Maggots squirm from his lips. “I SSSEE YOU WHEN YOU’RE SSSLEEPING.”

Darkness closes in. I feel the Barbies’ teeth and claws sink into my flesh. There’s the stampede of shoppers’ feet as each clamors for their portion. “BEST DEAL,” cries the Kentipede. “90% OFF LONG PORK.” Barbies giggle.

The crazed retail vultures descend on me, slavering. “HAPPY HOLIDAYSSS,” hisses Santa. I hear discordant jingle bells.

Then, nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

THE END

i write because mirrors have voices

Hile, inkslingers, ne’er-do-wells, and sundry,

I’ve been neglecting the blog again of late. But I have good reason. A depression low-point struck, and I’ve been self-medicating with Netflix. Also, I was sick with another of my lovely sinus infections, so it’s taken me a bit to bounce back from that.

But I’m trying to get back to bouncy-trouncy-flouncy-pouncy-fun-fun-fun-fun-fun, hence my choice not to indulge in ST:Voyager tonight but wet my writing whistle, instead. (Ooh la la.)

“Here, drink this,” he says.

Last month, Herr Chuck the Wendigo (as I like to call him [read: I just made that up]) issued one of his weekly writing challenges: 1,000 words on why we write. Since I tend to drink up whatever the Wendigo hands me (and yes, this maybe should frighten all of us), I am taking that challenge and frolicking with it.

(Ooh la la.)

Why I Write

I write because mirrors have voices.

You can walk past a mirror and not even notice it. From the corner of your eye, you might catch a glimpse of movement, but it’s not enough to give you pause. You keep going, focused on wherever you need to be, whatever you want to do, whomever you intend to see. The mirror stays behind, hanging forgotten on the wall or sitting blind-once-more on the shelf or waiting silently in the windowframe.

(Windows and eyes can be mirrors, and we sometimes forget this to our peril. But that is another story and shall be told another time.)

You can walk past a mirror and barely register your own reflection.

But I write because mirrors have voices.

I walk past a mirror, and it screams at me.

LOOK.

Stop, writer, and LOOK.

See yourself. Stare into your own soul, and pull something out of there that you would prefer not to see. Turn that thing over in your hands. Feel it. Touch it the way you’ve never touched anything else. Dig your fingertips into it and feel the pain…

…because, oh yes, you might pull that thing out of yourself, but it remains connected to you as though by vital umbilical cord. That thing in your soul sends and receives, and so do you. You press that thing between your palms, and you set off an agonizing resonance. The thing in your soul that you don’t want to see, that thing is pain. But your job is to fiddle with it and poke it and prod it and see what makes it squeal.

You don’t want others to see that thing, either.

But your job is to show them, writer.

Take that resonating pain and make them feel it, too.

They might not perceive it as pain, but it’s still your job to show it to them.

That’s the only way you’ll ever write something real.

That’s the only way you will ever be real.

I write because mirrors have voices, and they tell me to pull out the parts of my soul I would rather keep hidden and bare them to the world.

Everything I write is, in some way, a reflection of myself.

Every character I write carries around a little part of me. (This maybe should frighten all of us.)

(Sometimes the voices of the mirrors sound suspiciously like the voices of my characters.)

I write because mirrors have voices, and they tell me to dig deep and unearth what makes me real and use it to craft something real for someone else.

I write because mirrors have voices, and they insist that I Make Things.

* * *

When I ignore the mirrors…when I walk past them and stare anywhere else and refuse the glimpse of my reflected movement…bad things happen.

That thing in my soul? It turns surly when I ignore the mirrors. If I’m not writing, that thing in my soul goes dark and sucks in light. It sucks away joy and interest in life. It saps motivation. It leaches me of any desire to interact with other people.

When I ignore the voices of the mirrors, what happens to me looks an awful lot like depression.

* * *

During the times in my adult life when I wasn’t writing, I didn’t like myself very much.

* * *

I write to soothe the thing in my soul.

I write to Make Something Real in fiction, in the hope of touching people I would never be able to touch otherwise.

I write to like myself.

I write to be who and what I am created to be.

I write to quiet the characters who demand I tell their stories.

I write because mirrors have voices.

 

iheartwords

________________

Why do *you* write?

Movies, books, and hobbits

Hile, my beloved inklings. I hope this finds you in fine fettle and pie.

This is yet another post that has gestated long in my Drafts folder. Its conception occurred when I watched the first of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and then read John Scalzi’s review of the same. Since that all happened a few minutes ago, I won’t go into review mode concerning that movie specifically. Instead, here are a few thoughts about Jackson’s Hobbit films, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and, in brief, my position on books vs. movie versions.

Jackson’s Hobbit Movies

I love them. Unabashedly. Radagast is ridiculous and drives me a little batty (bird poop? really?). I wanted the Beorn scene to go more like the book (dwarves arriving two and three at a time). I might be forgetting my appendices and Silmarillion, but I’m not entirely sure what Galadriel and Legolas are doing in this trilogy. The Tauriel-Kili romance seems gratuitous and far-fetched.

But Radagast isn’t there for me. He’s there to make the kids laugh. The Beorn scene as Jackson filmed it makes far more sense in the movie than would Tolkien’s far, far slower (dragging?) approach. Galadriel makes a great addition for showing us the grave, behind-the-scenes power struggle of Good vs. Evil (as opposed to the more light-hearted material we get from Bilbo and the dwarves). Legolas…well, what would a Middle-Earth movie be without our resident surfing elf, he of the subtly snarky facial expressions?

And I adore Tauriel. She’s a hero, she’s vulnerable, she’s conflicted, desperate, determined, passionate, soft, and unyielding. She’s a female character with power and influence over the course of the story, which is something Tolkien missed the boat on. Another good reason for including Galadriel as well. Two female characters with agency aren’t nearly enough, but they’re better than none.

Side note: Seeing Galadriel’s story brought to the big screen would be FABULOUS. BRING IT, JACKSON.

So, although I admit that Jackson’s movies do have their issues — both internally and from a Tolkien-canon standpoint — I still enjoy the heck out of them. Besides, Martin Freeman is the utterly perfect Bilbo, Richard Armitage is brilliant, and Benedict Cumberbatch is exactly the Smaug I’ve always pictured. It just doesn’t get any better.

Side Note II: Jackson’s trilogy is so superior to the 1977 Hobbit, it’s barely worth mentioning, but for one element. The 1977 version of Gollum terrified me at age 9 to the point that I refused to watch the movie again until I was 16. And since then, that 1977 Gollum has remained the creepiest version of the character that I’ve ever seen. I adore Andy Serkis’s performance, but that animated Gollum from 38 years ago will always be my monster in the closet.

Tolkien’s The Hobbit

I didn’t read the book — or any of Tolkien’s works, for that matter — until I was in my mid-teens. Likely, this “delay” came about partially because I was scared of Gollum and didn’t want him in my head any more than necessary. But part of the reason was that I picked the book up at age 12, found the style of writing dull, and put it down again after reading the first page. Looking back, I find this peculiar, as I maintained an advanced reading level throughout my childhood. Why I didn’t “get” Tolkien back then is a mystery to me. When I picked up LotR a couple of years later, I enjoyed it thoroughly. So I don’t know what my deal was with Hobbit.

In my mid-teens, I came across the book at a German bookstore. I wasn’t interested in reading it in German. I wasn’t interested in reading it at all. But I did wonder why the Germans shelved this book in the children’s section. I’d been a child and tried to read it without success. Silly Germans. Imagine my surprise when I followed where curiosity led and discovered that American and British publishers considered this a children’s book, as well! Stuff and nonsense!

So, at age 17? 18? I read The Hobbit, loved it, and admitted that maybe this did qualify as a children’s book. Maybe my 12-year-old self wasn’t as highbrow a reader as she’d considered herself to be.

Books vs. Movies

There is no “books vs. movies.”

It’s apples and oranges. No. Not even that, because film and print are more different from each other than that. If we’re gonna stick with food metaphors: Books are meat and potatoes, and movies are lasagna.

I heartily enjoy meat and potatoes.
I heartily enjoy lasagna.

I can’t like one more than the other. I enjoy each at different times and for different reasons.

Both are food, but their forms are different. They require vastly different ingredients. They require different seasonings and cooking times and cookware and serving dishes. They belong to different cultures. One person will always like lasagna best. Another person will always prefer meat & potatoes. (What’s taters, precious, eh? What’s taters? >>PO-TAY-TOES.) Comparing one dish favorably over the other means stating that one person’s tastebuds and brain are superior to another’s, and that just ain’t gonna fly.

I can’t sit down to a meal of lasagna and complain that there aren’t french fries in it. Well, I can complain — but everyone will peg me as a lunatic or a bumpkin. “Don’t take Courtney out to dinner — she’ll gripe that there isn’t any sushi in the center of her cordon bleu.” I can’t order meat & potatoes and then demand to know what happened to my sausage & ricotta. It doesn’t make any sense to expect the ingredients of one dish to be mixed into another dish.

In the same way, I’ve decided it doesn’t make any sense for me to compare books and movies. Characters that work great onscreen aren’t going to function the same way on paper. Pacing that is comfortable and familiar and readable in a book is going to be deadly dull in a film. Events a writer has time to portray in a 600-page novel just can’t take place in a 140-minute movie.

The recipe for a book won’t translate directly to film. Just as directly translating German to English can result in ridiculousness, so can directly translating a book to a movie. The 1977 Hobbit pretty much tried this, and the result was a cute but not fantastic movie. Watchmen suffered translation problems. (I will say it has more issues than that, though.) From what I’ve heard, The Great Gatsby did, too; I can’t judge because I hated the book and haven’t seen the movie. But I’m sure any one of you can think of great examples where a book-to-film movie flopped because it contained too many book ingredients and not enough movie ingredients.

So I don’t compare books and their movie versions anymore. If it’s a good book, great. If it’s a good movie, great. I take each for what it is and don’t expect the same from either. It makes my mental life easier and allows me to enjoy more of the entertainment available to me. I can’t complain about that.

You can’t be bad at art.

When it comes to art, even personalities that aren’t perfectionist suddenly descend into weird, nit-picky hangups.

“It doesn’t look right.” “It doesn’t look real enough.” The one who never alphabetizes her books will develop a dire need for right angles and even planes. The one who can’t keep his pantry in any semblance of order will agonize over brushstrokes that refuse his attempts at realism. “I can’t make it look the way it does in my head.”

“I can’t.”

More demoralizing, discouraging, and disheartening words probably don’t exist in the art world, whether you’re talking visual arts, writing, music, or performance. Artists in every medium and of every range of experience maintain this mental image of what their art should be — usually in comparison to someone else’s. “I can’t” — because nothing they produce ever measures up to that ideal they’ve carried around probably since childhood.

“They.” What am I talking about? This is a case of “we,” for sure, because I’m one of those artists.

Talking to Yourself

There’s this thing called the Self-Talk Cycle. Maybe you’ve heard of it; I can’t remember who first coined the term. But the Self-Talk Cycle describes:

how you talk to yourself about yourself in your head;
what emotions this engenders in you;
what actions you take based on those emotions;
what you tell yourself about yourself as a result of those actions;
and so forth.

Here’s a visual of what I’m talking about (click to embiggen!):
 

selftalk

 

So, imagine that you consistently tell yourself, “I’m bad at art. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. If I try this, I’m just gonna mess up. Besides, doing art isn’t productive. I shouldn’t waste my time or other people’s time.”

What we say to ourselves about ourselves always leads to feelings. How will you feel as a result of talking to yourself like this about your artist self? Your musician self? Your writer self?
Frustrated.
Overwhelmed.
Guilty for even thinking you could take the time for this.
Disappointed.
Angry with yourself.

What actions will you take as a result of these emotions?
Avoid your art projects.
Ignore your urge to create.
Dam up and wall off the impulses that lead to art, music, writing.
Block relationships with other artists, musicians, writers. Keep them at arm’s length so they don’t remind you of what you’re not doing. Heaven forbid they tempt you to try creating again.

What do you tell yourself about yourself as you take these unpleasant actions?
I’m alone.
I’m not as good an artist as ________, so they wouldn’t want to hang around me anyway.
I’m no good at art, music, writing. There’s no point in trying.
If I try, I’ll just waste people’s time.
I’ll just screw it up again.
I can’t.
I’m bad at art.

This circle is particularly vicious. It has teeth, and if you let it go on long enough, it will tear your spirit to shreds. (I should know.)

Don’t let that happen.

Fight that vicious, spirit-shredding monster with the Truth.

Here’s the Truth

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

Read this and let it sink in:

Art is not about talent or skill. Art is about you. Spending time with you, getting to know you. Seeing parts of yourself that you love, some that you hate, but mostly parts that scare the very breath from your lungs. Art is not about technique or style. Art is learning who you are, and being brave enough to show the world. You can’t be bad at art, unless you are simply afraid to try. Art is a terrifying pursuit, because there is nothing more frightening than our own selves.”

~J.T. Hackett, artist
(@Jay_T1313)
(emphasis mine)

…and…

“When we say we are afraid to begin a project, we are actually saying something else: “I am afraid of how I will feel as I continue.” We do not want to start because we do not know that we can continue. It is not the start, it is the finish that troubles us.”

Julia Cameron

Part of the fear of beginning is the fear of being seen as a beginner…a novice or even an “inferior.” (I can’t remember where I originally came across this idea; possibly it’s more Julia Cameron.) Another part of the fear is fear of knowing ourselves. Fear is where the cycle of art-murdering Self-Talk begins. “It’ll never look right. I’ll screw up. I can’t…”

…because I’m afraid.

But you can.

Because you can’t be bad at art.

And you don’t have to let fear rule you.

Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve

That little subtitle there is a quote from the Bible, specifically from the Old Testament book of Joshua, Chapter 24. Some might accuse me of taking it out of context (though I really don’t believe that I am), but here’s the crux of it for this post:

You have a choice.

You can choose to be subject to fear.

You can choose to immerse yourself in the negative things you tell yourself about your art.

You can choose to obey your fear of being a beginner again.

You can choose to obey your fear of failure.

You can choose to serve your fear.

Or…

You can choose to be subject to freedom. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose life. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose to immerse yourself in speaking kindness, joy, peace, love, and beauty to yourself about your art.

You can choose the courage it takes to get to know yourself.

You can choose the courage it takes to show the world who you are.

You can choose to serve your art,

following where it leads,

even if it leads you to truths about yourself you didn’t want to know.

You can choose to serve your art,

thereby serving Truth and Life and Joy,

thereby serving Good and Light and Freedom.

Sometimes, following your creativity, following Truth and Light and Freedom, means looking into dark places. This seems a paradox, but it’s one of those universal paradoxes that crop up in our existence every so often.

Look into yourself, delve into the dark places, and find in them the Light.

“I know myself, and I will know myself further. I am brave enough to learn who I am. I am good at art. I feel free and strong in my art. And I am brave enough to show it to the world.”

You are everything you need to be, but you’re not there yet.

Become what you already are.
 

grandfather: a poem

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month, so I’m finally posting a poem. Better late than never, right? ; )

I wrote this the day after I came upon my Grandpa sitting in his rocking chair in the sun room, peering toward the outside beyond the window, and quietly singing “Amazing Grace” and “It Is Well with My Soul.” It was a beautiful, simple moment in which I felt overwhelmed with love, respect, and reverence. Grandpa gave me a gift without compare. I’ll never forget it.

grandfather
by Courtney Cantrell

he is ninety-four years old
and much has changed

he has set aside the politics
he has rejected the lies
he has turned his back upon the old ways
that once told him

     grace is conditional
     deity is wrath
     love depends on the boxes you check off

          tradition becomes less necessary than Truth

he is ninety-four years old
and can barely see

old retinas give him darkening blurs
where faces used to be
and yet some Sight remains
and yet he can still recognize

     the children of God
     the house of the Messiah
     the bride of the Savior

          clarity becomes less important than Compassion

he is ninety-four years old
and the musica universalis is his symphony

his rocking chair creaks
like his voice as he lifts it in praise
“sometimes i just have to sit and sing a little”
his wavering melody weaves peace into the heart

     cruel death has no power
     he rests in amazing grace
     it is well with his soul

          proficiency becomes less significant than Passion

     simplicity is his father’s wont
     love is his father’s Word
     these are his father’s world

          and he adores his Lord.
 

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.

–Maltbie Davenport Babcock

An original poem to celebrate #NationalPoetryDay (which was yesterday)

Hile, sweet inklings,

I wanted to post this yesterday, but the blog was mysteriously down. Blahg doon! We have a blahg DOON! *ahem* Anyway, I thought it’d be fun to post an original poem in honor of National Poetry Day, which was yesterday. So that’s what this is all about, YO.

I’d be thrilled if you let me know in the comments what you think. (Note: I’ve disabled comment moderation again. More on that in a later post.)

This poem originally appeared on the delightful Laurie Laliberte’s blog in honor of National Poetry Month.

succor

by Courtney Cantrell

dont pick at that
momma said
youll make it bleed

i wont forget
curled up in the rocking chair listening
as you yearn to watch over me

i wont forget
vulnerable to your gentle hands
you knead the pain from my soul
heal my winter
break my fall
even as the black dogs of your despair nip at your vitals

i wont forget
sobbing the hollowness from my heart
into yours
and your eyes like the sky
wide
welcoming
filled with the softest storms
that cleanse and soothe

i wont forget
enveloped in your sweetest darkness
hidden held whole
heart brought back to life
raw and wild
beating mad with the knowledge of what can and cannot be

i wont forget
tinged with crimson or no
still the memories are warm
and i drink them.

Happy poetizing, people!

Three-sentence horror romance: BEGINNING

BEGINNING

by Courtney Cantrell

After my funeral, I crossed nearly two continents and an ocean to get to her.

I watched through the window as she slid out of her bra and panties, the first time I’d ever glimpsed those beautiful curves glorious and naked.

When I rapped on the pane, she rushed to let me in as though understanding that our long, agonizing wait had ended and we could finally be together…in spite of my fangs…or because of them.

THE END