Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween! Random memory + a book review: The Order of Odd-Fish

We are laming out on Halloween, as usual. No costumes or parties, no jack-o-lanterns, no pumpkin guts on a sheet of newspaper, no skeleton in the window. And I like Halloween. I love the woodsmoke nights of this time of year, the dark, misty mornings, the grim reapers on porches, their eyes glowing red. And I don't mind sinking my hand to the wrist in a gigantic bowl of candy, either, but for some reason, we have no will to participate. Lazy? Preoccupied? It's so easy for life to flash past the lazy and preoccupied. I look forward to [hopefully] having young children some time in the not-too-distant future and getting reinspired to celebrate holidays like this.

But tonight we will just watch a scary movie with a couple of friends. It's John Carpenter's The Thing, which scared the bejeezus out of me -- in a good way -- when I was a kid. I have always loved scary movies, since I was a wee little twig. I remember watching Trilogy of Terror (you know, with the freakish doll that cuts its way out of the oven with a butcher knife?) when I was very small. I can't imagine why my mom let that happen, but perhaps my brain was wired to horror on that very occasion. After that, whenever it was my turn to choose the movie, I chose horror. There were plenty of options. From the age of 9 to 13, we lived in Gaeta, Italy, a small southern Italian beach town with one movie theater, where all movies were in Italian. We saw E.T. there when it first came out ("telefono, casa"), but mostly we rented movies one night a week at the video club held in the basement of the American school. Or better: we watched them aboard the USS Puget Sound, the 6th fleet destroyer-tender stationed in Gaeta.

I don't recall how often my father had "duty," which meant he had to spend the night aboard the ship, but when he did, we would go down to the harbor in the medieval quarter of Gaeta and go aboard the ship for dinner with him in the officer's mess (I only remember the terribly watered-down red drink that was called "bug juice") and a movie either with the sailors or alone in the Admiral's wardroom, which in my memory is a place of leather sofas and masculine luxury.

If you've never been aboard a Naval vessel, they're labyrinths inside; I don't know how sailors learn to find their way! My brother and I could find our way from the officer's mess to the Admirals' wardroom, and every once in a while we'd go it alone, to find the "head" or whatever. And once I didn't pay attention to some alert siren that had gone off signaling a security drill, and I got held at machine-gun-point by some poor confused young sailor for several long minutes before my father came to find me. I was probably ten, and the sailor was above me, pointing his gun down through the stairwell, so I didn't really realize what was happening, and when he told me to halt or whatever, I just sort of hung out there, leaning against the wall patiently. It was only when my dad came that I realized the sailor had a gun on me the whole time! Maybe ships aren't good places to play. . .
This is Old Gaeta, by the way, where the ship was harbored. There were great festivals here every August for Gaeta's saint day, and a fireworks *battle* with Formia, the town on the far side of the harbor. This was a great place to be a kid. Halloweens weren't great, to try to bring this back to topic, but we would have an American carnival in the school gym with candy and booths and a cake walk (man, as a kid, I really wanted to win the cake walk and have a whole cake to myself! In fact, I still want that!). School festivals are most memorable for the awesome Filipino food that the Filipino Navy wives would make: pansit and lumpia. Yum! That's something that's not so easy to find, Filipino food. I wonder why. It's so delish, and I'd wager that any Navy brat probably knows it well.

A book to mention, in honor of Halloween, though it's not exactly horror, it is squeamishly gross at the climax, like icky read-squinting-through-your-fingers gross. My lastest Cybils read. But first, do you want to see the Cybils reading list in my category, Fantasy & Sci Fi? Here's the middle-grade list, and here's the YA list. Wowza. We will come up with a short list of 5 in each category and pass that up to the judging panel. (Can you imagine the blogging prowess and powers of concentration it took to put that post together with all the links and nifty formatting?)

Okay, The Order of Odd-Fish, by James Kennedy. This book is very difficult to describe. The word "wacky" wants to be used, but I'm scooting it aside with my shoe because it's not quite right. "Wacky" is a little distasteful to me, because it carries with it a hint of "zany" and nobody likes zany, right? Or madcap? Zany and madcap are trying too hard, and wacky is kind of like a clown with a manufactured laugh. . . So let's say that this is. . . a carnival of odd. When Jo Larouche was a baby, she was found in the washing machine with a note pinned to her blanket that read, "This is Jo. Please take care of her. But beware. This is a DANGEROUS baby." For 13 years, Jo has been about "as dangerous as milk," but at her Aunt Lily's annual costume ball, an adventure is kicked off that will unveil to Jo her true provenance, and the nature of the DANGER within her. Okay, if I had to give a one-line "elevator pitch," I suppose it would be something like that, but I'd have to follow it with something like, "The imagination, whimsy, and humor aren't like anything else you've read before." Truly.

You know how it's better to watch a comedy with somebody, that somehow the humor is riper and deeper when shared? Well, the whole time I was reading this I wished I was reading it with someone, so I could elbow them at particularly bizarre moments, or chortle, or read passages aloud and savor them. I don't recall having that kind of reaction when reading a book before, at least, not so consistently.

The adventure that Jo embarks upon with her Aunt Lily, a fat Russian named Colonel Korsakov, and a giant, vain cockroach butler named Sefino, carries them (in the belly of a fish) to Eldritch City, which is not exactly of our world. I love the word "eldritch" (I think I first fell in love with it when Kelly Link used it to describe an oddly upholstered couch), and to my mind Eldritch City joins the ranks of China Mieville's New Crobuzon and Scott Lynch's Camorr for mind-bendingly imaginative, sprawling weird cities. Only, it's less disgusting than New Crobuzon and Camorr -- but not entirely un-disgusting either. To make a complex story simple: Jo finds herself a squire to the knights of the Order of Odd-Fish, and she has to hide her true identity while seeking to thwart her hideous destiny, all this while riding flying, armored ostriches to fight duels, exploring ancient, drowned cathedrals buried deep beneath the city, drinking fermented centipede milk, fueding with other squires, sneaking around through secret passages, and soothing the oft-wounded vanity of a posse of cockroach butlers. Oy!

And the villains! Ken Kiang, who has studiously shaped himself from a do-gooder philanthropist billionaire into the vilest (he thinks) of super-villains: "He devoured books about evil; he interviewed terrorists, serial murderes, and dictators; he dabbled in strange and wild diabolisms, slit the throats of shrieking beasts on stone altars in far-off lands, drank kitten blood, and sold his soul no fewer than twenty-thhee times to any supernatural being who cared to bid on it. No price was too low: the fifteenth time he sold his soul for a bag of barbecue-flavored potato chips. Ken Kiang had eaten the chips with indecent glee as the demon looked away in embarrassment."

But Ken Kiang's most industrious efforts at wickedness pale in comparison to the astonishing depths of evil of the tale's true villain, a mysterious character known as The Belgian Prankster, who dresses, if my memory serves, in goggles, a cape of furs, and a ragged rawhide diaper.

Ancient devouring goddesses; weird creatures; ritual exchange of insults; wars fought entirely with sarcastic apologies; a musical instrument that is a giant worm one climbs inside of (lubricated) and squeezes its internal organs to expel air through its 41 orifices; gods with names like "Nixilpilfi, the Gerbil Who Does Not Know Mercy" and "Zookoofoomoot, the Maggot of Dismay." And did I mention the climax is really squishy-gross?

This book is too much fun. If you read it, let me know, so we can mentally elbow each other at all the weird parts :-)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A champion for a new age

Watching Barack Obama's 30-minute commercial last night, and being so deeply impressed once again by his grace and strength, compassion and vision, a parallel came to me out of Silksinger, so I want to share a brief passage with you and explain a little bit what this candidate means to me, what this potential presidency means to me. It might seem a little overwrought to you, but I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.

So, for context, there is a character in Silksinger named Hirik, a young faerie who dreams of becoming a Djinn's champion like Magpie Windwitch. He's keeping his dream a secret as he works his way across the great Sayash mountains (the Himalayas) as a mercenary on a dragonfly caravan, trying to reach the city of Nazneen, where he plans to search for the lost Djinn called the Azazel. During the journey, the threat of devil attack looms. . .

Well, he told himself resolutely, if he wanted to be champion, he would come to know plenty of devils -- they would be his life, in large part, as he worked to rid the world of them like the Magruwen’s champion did.

But it wasn’t all about hunting and capture, being champion. A new age was dawning, and the return of the Djinn meant the awakening of wonder, as it had been awakened halfway round the world in Dreamdark. The new age would be about magic and purpose and beauty. About building. Not just clinging on to the tattered hem of the ancient world, but making a new one. And how he wanted that!

The thing is, Hirik is a lad who wants to be champion for the right reasons. He has a vision for a bright new age for his people, and he wants to help make it a reality. He's not in it for the glory or the title; he's not in it just for himself. Corny or not, that's how I see Barack Obama. He has a plan and a vision, he has the brains and the temperment and the goodness to lead this country to a new era: an age of green, sustainable energy, and a huge new economy based on green, sustainable energy; a new age of diplomacy and regaining world respect; renewed respect for our Constitution and our civil liberties here at home; a new rise of the American middle-class, like the one we saw after WWII, with good jobs created and protected here, with a move toward affordable health care and college tuition. Barack Obama believes all this is possible and more, and I believe he will fight tirelessly to accomplish these goals, to make America stronger -- "not just clinging to the tattered hem of the old world, but making a new one."

McCain belongs to the old world, Obama to the new. When you watch Obama speak, he exudes hope and strength. McCain and Palin? They exude something very different: sarcasm, devisiveness, and lies. Their entire campaign is based on lies and mischaracterizations, attempts to deceive their supporters with rhetoric. They cry "terrorist!" and "socialist!" and suggest Obama is not a legal US citizen; they've got a plumber on the campaign trail now saying that an Obama presidency would signal the death of Israel -- so egregious a claim that even a Fox News reporter finds it frightening (video #1 below). I listen to their rallies, and they spend all their time on the attack, repeating lies that have long ago been discredited. There is a nastiness to everything they say, a sneering kind of bitchiness. McCain puts dismissive air quotes around "health of the mother," on abortion issues, and mocks Obama's concern for the environment on nuclear power (video #2 below, and this one astonishes me -- he actually says, mimicking Obama, "It has to be safe. . . environment. . . blah blah blah--" He actually says "blah blah blah," dismissing the idea of environmental safety in the most belittling way, and the crowd goes WILD. Just WILD. Like they're dogs that want to rip the damned environment apart with their teeth. Wha. . .? *Laini confused.*)

I tend to be a fatalist about the environment, believing that humanity lacks the will to come together to save this planet from the greed of corrupt corporations, or to stop the merciless onslaught of poverty and population explosion that make the environmental crusade seem like such a lost cause. But I do believe that Barack Obama genuinely still believes there's hope, and how magnificent would it be to be a part of the generation that finally sets out to do what needs to be done, to try to keep Earth habitable by our undeserving selves? Because that IS what this is about. This whole "environment blah blah blah" isn't just about polar bears and spotted owls, it's about the air we breathe and the water we drink, it's about the fragile balance of all life on this planet - including US. One candidate cares deeply about it, the other mocks it.

There's nothing positive, nothing hopeful or beautiful or uplifting about the McCain campaign, just this pervasive nastiness, with its ever-present undertone of racism. "He's not like us." It's not just the campaign, of course, it's the supporters, but this is part of my point: what do you want to be a part of? Do you want to be part of "building the new age," or of "clinging to the tattered hem of the old"? Part of the movement of hope? Or the campaign of lies and sarcasm and insidious McCarthyism?

Please don't leave me a comment supporting McCain. I honestly don't want to hear it, and I don't want to spend my day being frustrated or carefully phrasing replies. Your vote is your business; I'm not telling you how to vote, I'm just identifying what to ME are the two camps one can choose at this critical point in our nation's story.

If you didn't see the Obama commercial last night, it's video #3 below. It's part I, but there's a link in the bottom that allows you to click through to the rest of it as you go. Four families are featured as a way of illustrating his plans on the economy, health care, and other issues for helping working people. It's very moving, and honestly, there was a swelling in my heart as I watched it, this unmistakably buoyancy of hope. Here's a man who understands, and who cares, and who actually wants to be president for the right reasons. It isn't often a politician comes along who has the good heart and altruism to want to change the world for the better AND the strength of character to make it happen. Such a man is before us now.

Video 1 -- Joe the Plumber with Shep Smith on Fox:
Video 2 -- McCain on "safe for the environment blah blah blah":
Video 3 -- Obama commercial:

[P.S. This still is not my post on being liberal. That's yet to come.]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bird teeth & other curiosities

So, Jim and I were having this conversation with a dear friend yesterday, who I shall call Dear Friend to protect her identity, when she made some comment about "ostrich lips," and Jim replied, in jest, "You know ostriches don't have lips, right?" I mean, I think we both assumed she knew that -- people know that, right? -- but rather than joking back, she got this flummoxed look on her face and said, "What?" Like, what do you mean birds don't have lips? And then this whole conversation unspooled on the subject of beaks and lips and teeth, concluding with the shocking assertion, made by us, that BIRDS DO NOT EVEN HAVE TEETH!

And Dear Friend asked, "But. . . how do they chew?"

This was all great fun, especially when she whipped out her phone, called a friend in Boston, and unceremoniously, without context, demanded, "Do birds have teeth?"

He was on speaker phone, and to his credit, took the question entirely seriously and said something like, "I believe fossil records suggest that they once did, but no, birds, to the best of my knowledge, do not have teeth." (which is right, by the way)

And Dear Friend promptly hung up on him. I believe she spent the rest of the day quizzing people in order to discern whether she was the only person who did not know this. I haven't heard a tally yet, but this morning she sent me the above photo as "proof" that she was right!

The whole conversation was much fun, and it serves as an interesting example of how many common everyday things we might discover one day we have just never spent a moment considering. Well, this is an extreme example perhaps, but last night, out with another dear friend, another topic came up: hypnotism.
And I realized I actually had no idea if it is real, what it really is, and if I believe in it or not. Having not yet researched it, I will say that I DO think I believe in it -- which is horribly unrigorous of me, to say "I think I believe in" something I have not looked into, but whatever -- but I am expecting it is not mind-control like in the old movies, and it is not like a direct telephone line to your subconscious either. But the sudden discovery that I have NO IDEA what hypsosis really is, it's like a conk on the head. Do you know what I mean? Does that happen to you? The realization, all of a sudden, that you've never thought about some ordinary thing?

[By the way, I had said I was going to write a post on what it means to me to be liberal, and I still am going to, I just haven't had time yet. If you care.]

Monday, October 27, 2008

Am I a dancing princess?

I woke up this morning with stiff, aching muscles in my calves, and I immediately, thought -- of course -- that I must have been whisked away in the middle of the night in a fairy boat, led down tunnels filled with silver and gold trees, to dance my slippers to tatters in a magical ballroom, before being returned to my bed with no memory of any of it. Just aching calves. Or, maybe it's just from running on the treadmill late last night. . . less interesting, more likely. Ehh, I'm sticking with the fairy tale. I am a dancing princess, and don't you forget it!

Thanks for all the votes on the Laini's Ladies book lovers quote. I loved both, but the Borges votes far outweighed the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggles. Here's the design (I'll may still redesign the text):
You can't really tell, but the books are: Grimm's Fairy Tales, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass. Those two ladies above are still semi in-progress.

And check out these lovely old photos I found. Eleanor Roosevelt (standing) reading with her daughter and some other relations:
A woman entertaining her grandson at the train station:
Reading in the garden:
A WWI-era American family in their living room:
It's awfully dull being a prince (a young Prince Charles):
A lovely day boating:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Explosionist -- a book review

You know I really only mention books I loved, and I loved my latest Cybils read: The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson. I'll describe it as "an alternate history supernatural mystery" set in 1938 Scotland. With terrorists, dynamite, seances, and creepy government secrets. Intrigued? You don't know the half of it yet.

You don't see that much alternate history. I loved Jo Walton's Farthing, an English country-house murder mystery that just happened to take place in a world in which the English had made a truce with the Nazis and changed the course of history. In The Explosionist the turning point wasn't World War II but the battle of Waterloo in 1815 -- in which, instead of losing, Napoleon won, consolidated his power in Europe, and later conquered England as well. Scotland is now allied with the "Hanseatic States" -- the Scandinavian countries and Russia -- and maintains an uneasy autonomy through manufacture of the weapons with which Europe fights its wars. So, that's the backdrop, but the author never overwhelms with exposition; the history comes in just how I like it, in small, fascinating doses where relevant, and it never slows the story.

The fun of the alternate history is in the little references to how the world is different. Small things, historical personages turned upside-down. We learn in passing that Oscar Wilde is the famous Irish obstetrician who invented the incubator; Freud is a crackpot radio-show host nicknamed "Thanatos"! Alternative energy sources have been developed, because Scotland didn't have access to oil reserves -- "You'll find a few fuel cell enthusiasts in the Americas, of course, but most of their motorcars are powered by a filthy and wasteful method called internal combustion. All very well if you're American and sitting on top of huge petroleum reserves, but that kind of reckless comsumption doesn't suggest a very sensible attitude toward the future!" And how! There's also a chilling reference to the unnamed European chancellor having a "toothbrush mustache." And aside from the historical differences, there is one major way that the world of the book differs from our own: spirits commune freely with the living in all manner of ways, notably through radio waves and photography! Spiritualism is a respected scientific field, and when 15-year-old Sophie is warned in a seance that she is in danger, she has good reason to be afraid.

But. . . what nature of danger? The city has been rocked by a series of terrorist bombings, and she can't help but suspect the teacher she has a crush on might be involved. The medium who delivered the warning turns up murdered, spirits are sending Sophie messages, and as if that's not enough, a new and sinister threat emerges from a source much closer to home: her own aunt. To tell what that is would be to spoil a very creepy revelation, but I'll say this: it raises the question of what sacrifices a country can, in good conscience, demand of its citizens, and it takes the role of woman-as-selfless-helpmeet-to-male-power to the most devastating extreme.

Only as I try to convey in some simplicity what this book is "about" do I really realize how complex the story is, and I mean that in a good way -- while reading, all the threads are woven so well that you don't feel like you're in the midst of a labyrinth of plot. To be extremely simplistic, here's what the book is about: it's the story of Sophie and her Danish friend Mikael trying to unravel the mystery of who murdered the medium, and while they're at it, who's behind the bombings in Edinburgh, and what are the political stakes. With the help of dead people, and sort-of dead people. While the country ramps up for war. Whew.

Okay. I can't do it justice. Just read it. It's a great book-group book. Much to discuss about power and resistance, armed deterrance, government abuse of power in the shadow of war, and more. I liked the way the author showed Sophie's perspective on her own country slowly shifting as she begins to see familiar things through the eyes of her foreign friend, and questions them for the first time. Like here, in response to the "suicide machines" in the public library:

"I don't see why you're getting so worked up about it," Sophie said, uneasily conscious that it had taken Mikael's reaction to reveal what was troubling about the familiar practice. She suddenly wondered whether she might be blind to other things about Scotland as well.

I think about that a lot -- the way people are blinded by their indoctrination, whatever it might be, religious, political, whatever, and with the most recent discussion on my blog, this seemed particularly appropriate. It is terribly difficult to see beyond one's own indoctrination, particularly if one doesn't travel or meet a wide variety of people. It is through connection with people of different experience that we have a chance of broadening our own vision. But first, you have to open yourself up to it, and not cling to the things you've always blindly believed.

The author, Jenny Davidson, is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia, and hey, she blogs. I have only just this second discovered her blog, andI see that she has a post about "Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures," accompanied by a photo of a vampire bat in action. Oh joy! It's like she wrote it just for me! I must go and read it. . .

Saturday, October 25, 2008

More thoughts on yesterday's post + a shwag giveaway

Here's a berry tiramusa that my mom made yesterday for my dad's birthday -- to sweeten things up after yesterday's post and comments. But I'll get to that later. First, some frivolity for maintaining that careful ratio. How about this: a Laini's Ladies giveaway!

I just got boxes of Ladies in the mail yesterday from the manufacturer -- they include four new "everday" designs and the new Christmas line of 6 designs, in cards, ornaments, and boxed post-it notes. Oh, and gift tags. I love the adorable gift tags. These will be distributed to friends, family, and colleagues, but I will still have leftovers to join the mass that is taking up space in the studio, so I think I need to thin the stash a little! So, if you are interested in receiving a Laini's Ladies shwag pack in the mail, EMAIL ME, and put "SHWAG PLEASE" in the subject line. I will do a drawing or something. (And Enna Isilee, I will already send you one, as a way-belated birthday/thank you for reading package; sorry for the delay!)

So, there's something fun and colorful. And now. . . there are some things I need to say as follow-up to yesterday's post about gay marriage.

First, thanks to the commenters. Thank you to Tone for being a consistent voice of acceptance and an advocate for love. Thank you too to the pro-8 folks who came over to voice their opinion -- it is important we hear from you, and it is courageous to own up to one's beliefs in a potentially hostile environment and not post as "anonymous." Almost everyone stayed within what I would consider to be the bounds of civility, and one who didn't removed her own comment herself. Anyway, there are two main things that I want to address.

1.) What is "discrimination"?
Though I posted the dictionary definition of it yesterday, I still feel compelled to quote Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."

Commenter Afton said, "It seems like the cry of "discrimination" is a little hypocritcal, however, because there is a lot going on in this discussion: namely, the discrimination of people who don't believe the way you do." Commenter Wyman echoed the sentiment: "Laini, the title of your post is: "To discriminate or not to discriminate?" Taken literally, the answer is you chose to DISCRIMINATE, as did virtually all commenters. Not to discriminate, would have been not to post."

And when I followed some other commenters back to their own blogs, where they had posted their own pro-8 opinions, I saw more of this view. So let's clear this up. Am I discriminating against Hwalk by disagreeing with her view of gay marriage? No. Because I am not trying to shape laws to deny her rights. I perfectly accept her right to be anti-gay; I do not accept her right to discriminate against gays. Is it discrimination to speak out against discrimination? No. It is standing up for law and liberty. Is it discrimination for Hwalk to blog or speak against gay rights? No. It's discrimination for her to vote against gay rights. See the difference? In our country, we DO have freedom of speech. Even the KKK can get permits to march. They cannot, however, ban African Americans from schools, commit violent acts, or otherwise perpetrate bigotry. Am I discriminating against the KKK by saying they shouldn't be allowed to burn crosses on people's lawns? No. Would I be discriminating if I said they should not be able to obtain legal permits to march? Yes. Abhorrent as they are, they have a right to express their views -- but not a right to act on them in violation of the rights of others. Are you seeing what I'm saying?

You can THINK what you want. You just can't actively try to prevent others from having equal rights. The Mormon church, as a private entity, can preach what it wants, and its followers can believe what they want. THAT is freedom of religion. What they cannot do is try to force their religious views on other people. That is the opposite of freedom of religion. That is tyranny.

So, it's just nonsense that protecting equal rights is "discrimination against discriminators." One pro-8 blogger wrote:

"If the law stands as it is now (meaning Prop 8 does not pass) it will have consequences. We have seen some of these happen in MA already. For example, religious leaders who speak out against gay marriage have been sued for discrimination and hate crimes. I believe that is an infraction of free speech. It is up to each person to choose their own way of life, which goes for both gay and traditional couples. Just because one holds a traditional view does not mean they should be kept from expressing their own opinions, just as those who do not hold a traditional view."

What of this argument? First of all, I am skeptical of the premise. IF someone sends me links to court cases in which religious leaders in MA have been sued for refusing to officiate gay marriages, I would concede that this violates a church's right to its own beliefs. But from what I have read in language in California same-sex marriage bills, this is very much NOT the intent. From House Bill AB-849:

SEC. 7. Section 403 is added to the Family Code , to read:
No priest, minister, or rabbi of any religious denomination, and no official of any nonprofit religious institution authorized to solemnize marriages, shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or by Section 4 of Article I of the California Constitution.

So basically, I deny the argument. I personally would support the above clause. This issue is not about forcing any church to perform a ceremony against its beliefs. It's about preventing churches from forcing people to abide by their religion. You've got it all turned around backward, discriminators. It's you against the gay community, not the gay community against you.

Which brings me to my second point.

2.) Believe what you want. But WHY do you have to make others live by your beliefs?
Freedom of religion in America also means freedom from religion. What no one who is against gay marriage has yet explained to me is: who are YOU to decide? What jurisdiction does your church have over those who are not its members? Why can you not practice your religion in private? What would happen to America if all churches expected all Americans to follow their own religious practice?

Defend "traditional marriage" by practicing it well yourself.

There's so much more I could say on the issue, but I really need to get back to work. I'll just summarize my response quickly to a few arguments that were brought up yesterday:

1.) To paraphrase: "Marriage is a social institution for the making of babies. Gay couples can not make babies, so they should not be allowed to marry." Really? Which is it, is marriage sanctified by God, or is it a social institution that exists purely for propagation of the species? I hope anyone reading this can see the huge flaws in this argument without my having to point them out. But I will anyway. Lots of married couples cannot or do not have children. My husband and I have been married for over seven years and we do not have children. Does that mean our marriage is invalid?

We know gay couples who are raising their own biological children from previous hetero relationships. We know gay couples who have adopted. We know lesbian couples who have used sperm donors, and gay couples who have used in vitro and a surrogate. We know straight couples who have done all of these things too. Are the straight couples real parents while the gay parents aren't?

My argument yesterday was that marriage is the highest expression of love and commitment one human being can make to another. This comment seeks to redefine marriage as a purely biological arrangement wherein sperm meets egg. Does anyone really think that?

2.) "The nuclear family with a mother and a father is proven to be the best kind of family." Malarkey. Loving same-sex household are wonderful places for children to thrive. Plenty of nuclear families are miserable places for children, and plenty of single parents or even grandparents do tremendous jobs of raising children. It's about the people involved, it's about love and support -- not gender, not age, color, religion or anything else. The assertion that only a man and a woman can raise a child properly, well, it simply does not square with the reality of complex human experience. Y'all need to meet more people.

3.) The "slippery slope" argument, that if we legalize same-sex marriage, then all kinds of loopy marriages are going to rain down on us. Men will marry dogs! Girls will marry their grandmothers! Life will become a pornographic circus of bestial and incestuous marriages! People who make this argument in sincerity evidently equate homosexuality with bestiality and incest, and are likely the same people who believe all gay people are pedophiles, or at the very least, lewd and wildly promiscous. These are vicious stereotypes made in ignorance (and not only ignorance, but a particularly vile brand of smirking self-righteous, willful, hateful ignorance), and shouldn't be dignified with discussion. We are talking about loving adults who are human and not related. Bestiality and incest are both illegal. Homosexuality is not. If you have even the most rudimentary training in critical thinking, you know that the "slippery slope" form of argument is an "informal fallacy." It is faulty reasoning, and is used to manipulate and mislead. The Right loves to use it to instill fear, and this whole "next they'll be trying to marry dogs or their own grandmother" is not worthy of thinking people. Period.

Oh man, I need to wrap this up RIGHT NOW. If you want to leave a comment, I ask that it be civil. If you want to defend Prop 8, please give me a very thoughtful reason why YOUR personal beliefs should govern other people. You don't have to leave a comment, you know. I respect your right to your beliefs. It is just where you try to force them on other people that I have a problem. So, go in peace.

Friday, October 24, 2008

To discriminate or not to discriminate?

After a nice, frivolous post about gigantic hats, it's time for another serious post. The election is only twelve days away (though we already voted. Yay!) and as you probably know, it's not big hats that are foremost on my mind. I'm only trying not to inundate my blog with politics. A nice ratio of frivolity to politics must be maintained! But today's a politics day. I'm going to write about gay marriage. Thankfully, this has not been trotted out as a major wedge issue in this election -- with one huge exception. Californians have to vote on Proposition 8, the "Protect Marriage" initiative which would amend the California Constitution to specify that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

I don't know that I would have written about this issue if I had not happened upon a blog post in support of Prop 8, written by an earnest young Mormon woman in California, who sincerely did not believe that what she was espousing was discrimination. She wrote:

"Please understand that I do not discriminate against same-sex couples. I feel everyone has the right to choose what they want to do. But for religious reasons, I believe that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, and nothing else."


discrimination = treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.

Anyone who is against gay marriage, it is your right to believe whatever you want, but do not be deceived by church rhetoric that this is not discrimination. It is the very definition of it. By telling yourself you support civil unions but not marriage, you might feel righteous and open-minded, like you have resolved an important conflict between civil liberties and religious beliefs, but you have resolved nothing. You are discriminating. And yes, my presidential candidate and his running mate espouse the same discrimination, and this bums me out, but the fact is: because of the pervasive religiosity of this nation, a president can not WIN who favors gay marriage. That is what sickens me most.

However, I am very proud to say that our Democratic Senate candidate, Jeff Merkley, supports gay marriage. Not just civil unions, but marriage.

I imagine that people like the young woman who wrote that post cannot understand why the gay community is not satisfied with their tremendous largesse at being willing to allow them civil unions. Why is this not enough? Why must they agitate for marriage?

I'm not going to try to answer this question for the gay community, but I am going to answer for myself, as a married person who is not religious. What is marriage to me? It is the highest expression of love and devotion one human being can make to another. It is powerful. As George Eliot once said, "What greater thing is there for two human souls that to feel that they are joined for life?" This is human and highly personal; it is powerful. To me, it has nothing to do with God. Whether you are religious or not, marriage is an extraordinary commitment of love and trust.

If you are against gay marriage: who are you to tell anyone else that their love is only worth a "civil union"? If you are voting for Prop 8, you should imagine your single vote as keeping a couple from making the ultimate commitment of love to one another. Casting a vote in privacy, it goes too easy on you. You should have to stand up and object at a wedding, perhaps a wedding between lesbian life partners who've already spent forty years together and raised a family. You should have to stride to the front of the church and stand between them, tell them they don't deserve it, and while you're at it, tell them how much better you are, how much more righteous and entitled. Marking a ballot is too easy; it's cowardly. To take away someone's rights, just like that?

Why should any potential bigot get to cast a vote on another person's civil liberties at all? This shouldn't even be on the ballot. What do you think would have happened if voters were allowed to decide on interracial marriage back in 1948, rather than the Supreme Court of California? For the record, 60 years ago the California court found in Perez v. Lippold that interracial bans on marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. But it wasn't until 1967 that the US Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia finally struck down all race-based restrictions to marriage.

As with interracial marriage, gay marriage should not be a matter of public opinion, but of civil liberties -- to be decided by courts based on the document wherein our freedoms are written and guaranteed. That document? Not the Bible, people, but the Constitution.

However, Prop 8 is on the ballot, and 77% of funding for the "Yes on 8" campaign is coming from the Mormon church. I know there has been a vocal contingent of Mormons who have opposed their church's involvment in this issue, and I commend them for their willingness to speak out. I can only imagine it isn't easy. And of course, it's not only Mormons and other religious groups who will vote Yes on 8, it's all manner of folk who think their personal beliefs should govern others. Some relevant quotes by Mark Twain:

"Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul."

"In religion and politics people's beliefs are almost always gotten at second hand, and without examination."

Marriage is a human instititution and predates Christianity. Why then should Christianity be the arbiter of all marriages? We are not all Christian, and in America, we should not be beholden to the church for our freedom. And that is certainly not to say that many gay and lesbian Americans are not Christian or do not want a Christian marriage ceremony. I would just suggest that the churches decided for themselves whether they will allow the marriages within their own institution and not try to influence laws and enforce their own beliefs on all Americans. Because when churches enforce their beliefs through law, that is theocracy. Saudi Arabia has that. Malaysia has that, and I just read that Malaysia is trying to outlaw tomboys because girls dressing like boys is against Islam. Who do we want to emulate in our liberties?

So please, if you are in California, vote against putting discrimination into the California Constitution. Vote no on 8.

By the way, immediately after reading that Pro-8 blog post, I made a contribution to the Human Rights Campaign, which works for GLBT equality.

And to lighten up the mood a little in parting, a last Mark Twain quote:

"I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him."


[Updated to add a link to this beautiful post about love and family. Which made me think. I've been ruminating on a post about what it means to me to be liberal. Does anyone else want to write a post about what it means to them to be liberal or conservative? Say, Tuesday? Anyone?]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Whatever became of the giant hats?

Whatever became of the giant hats? I don't mean: why have they gone out of fashion. I mean: what actually happened to them all? Imagine trying to throw away a hat this size! They wouldn't fit in a bin! And the quantity of gigantic millinery! Are there whole landfills stuffed with hats?
And how about closet space, back in the day? I mean, where did they keep their hats? Can't you just imagine the space these things must have taken up?

Can you imagine fitting through doorways in these? This next one, I imagine you'd have to duck a little:
And the neck muscles you had to have to support some of these! Though this one looks like maybe it had some aerodynamic quality that helped it stay afloat on its own, like a kite:
And, you know, if you didn't own a really big hat, you could always make one, out of household objects:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book lovers, a question for you:

[But first, a random picture I came across while searching for Laini's Ladies images. What do you suppose is going on here? It's kind of like sitting on Santa's lap, but instead of Santa, it's the devil.]

Okay, question. Which of the following quotes do you like better, and which would you be more inclined to purchase as a Laini's Lady?

"There is nothing as cozy as a piece of candy and a book."
-- Betty MacDonald, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic


"I have always imagined paradise will be a kind of library."
-- Jorge Luis Borges


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

random work update with quotations

I am working on a few new Laini's Ladies designs, and yesterday I went to Powell's to peruse quote books and design books and glean inspiration. I found some wonderful quotes, but not great for Laini's Ladies, which are tricky and must have wide appeal plus either humor or uplift or both.

"Old age means realizing your will never own all the dogs you wanted to." -- Joe Gores

"The world is a spiritual kindergarten, where millions of bewildered infants are trying to spell 'God' with the wrong blocks." -- Edwin Arlington Robinson

"One of the disadvantages of having children is that eventually they get old enough to give you presents they make at school." --Robert Byrne

I don't think I mentioned it, but I sent off the most recent pass of Silksinger to my editor last week. It was a light sort of last-chance pass, where I managed to weed a few thousand words out and clarify a few things. Not sure, but perhaps the next pass I get will be copyediting -- just simple corrections, commas, etc. Could it be. . . that I will ever be finished with this book? Sometimes it feels like NOT, like perhaps Purgatory is an endless process of revising one book. Hey, what if Purgatory were an endless process of revising your life like it was a manuscript. Over and over again. What parts would you cut out? Could you add scenes too? Hm. That would probably be too much fun for Purgatory. I don't think Purgatory is supposed to be fun.

Huh. I think that's all I have to say. Exciting. Oh wait, no. There's this, from Western Carolina University, where today a bear cub was found murdered,* shot in the head, wrapped in Obama flags, and dumped at the entrance to campus. A message? Lovely. Some McCain supporters have really been doing their party proud (and don't get in a huff. I'm not saying all McCain supporters kill animals to make threats.)

*in the new National Geographic, the letters page starts out with messages re: whether killing an animal like a gorilla in Rwanda is murder or "just killing." There are articulate letters on both sides, but I'm on the side of calling it murder, particularly when it is done in cold blood, not for food or in self-defense, but to send a message. Like this. I also believe sport-hunting not for food but for fun is murder. Which brings to mind another quote I came across yesterday:

"The English country gentleman galloping after a fox -- the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable." -- Oscar Wilde

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wrapped in the flag

Can someone reassure me that the McCarthy witch hunts could not happen again in America? I'd like to think they couldn't, but that doesn't mean some Republicans aren't trying to foment the same kind of fear and rage that was stirred up back in those days. Like, the heinous and despicable Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota):
Basically, what I think she's trying to do is conflate "liberal" with "anti-American," and Chris Matthews sort of goads her out into saying something truly extreme. Does she really think that members of Congress should be "investigated" to determine whether they are or are not anti-American? Well, I've seen this lady in action on Larry King a couple of times, and I think she's crazy, so I'm not going to put it past her.

I think that the vast majority of Americans do not agree with her, and that this miserable tactic of hers is going to fail, and fail big time. In fact, she just may have screwed her own chances for reelection. Since the Hardball show, her opponent, Elwyn Tinklenberg has seen an awe-inspiring influx of $620,000 in campaign contributions!!! In just a few days! I don't know so much about fund-raising, but I'm fairly sure that that is a HUGE take for a few days in the life of a congressional challenger.

I hope this response serves as a message to Republicans that Americans do not want accusations of anti-Americanism right now, but a positive commitment to change. Check out this powerful response from someone investigated during McCarthy's crusade:
This might be William Mandel; not sure, but WELL SAID.

Read the below quotes and ask yourself, did Thomas Jefferson hate America? James Madison? Huh. Who'd have thought the founding fathers were so anti-American!

Fascism will come wrapped in a flag and carrying a Bible. ~ Sinclair Lewis 1935

If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. - James Madison

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive.– Thomas Jefferson

The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders...tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. – Herman Goering (Scary, Michelle Bachmann, you sound like you've been reading from the Nazi playbook.)

What luck for rulers that men do not think. - Hitler

Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices. – Voltaire

When the government fears the people it is a democracy....when the people fear their government it is tyranny... - Thomas Jefferson

Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. - Samuel Johnson

During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism. - Howard Thurman

Patriotism is the veneration of real estate over principle. - George Jean Nathan

If there be one principle more deeply written than any other in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest. - Thomas Jefferson

The cry has been that when war is declared, all opposition should be hushed. A sentiment more unworthy of a free country could hardly be propagated. – William Ellery Channing

BEWARE THE LEADER WHO BANGS THE DRUMS of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know ? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar. - Anonymous

If you like Katharine Hepburn, here is a 10-minute speech that she gave back in the McCarthy era:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hugs to Mark Twain; a book recommendation; plus McCain goes Maori?

I love the silly sense of validation that comes from finding out a Genius Writer shares or shared my particular creative process. It is silly, because it's not like process = genius. But anything that makes me feel less cuckoo as I scritch-scratch away at my writing, I hug it. Like this, which I found via Robin Brande's blog. She links to a New Yorker article about creative late-bloomers, and it's a good read, but the part I want to hug is this:

“[Mark Twain's] routine procedure seems to have been to start a novel with some structural plan which ordinarily soon proved defective, whereupon he would cast about for a new plot which would overcome the difficulty, rewrite what he had already written, and then push on until some new defect forced him to repeat the process once again. Twain fiddled and despaired and revised and gave up on “Huckleberry Finn” so many times that the book took him nearly a decade to complete. The C├ęzannes of the world bloom late not as a result of some defect in character, or distraction, or lack of ambition, but because the kind of creativity that proceeds through trial and error necessarily takes a long time to come to fruition."

Thank you for that. Thank you. That so well describes my "process" of writing a novel, and when I am in the midst of that process, it can feel like lunacy. Like there is something wrong with my brain. But if Huckleberry Finn was written in that way. . . well, again, process does not equal genius, but this just goes to show that writers must work with the brains they have. Master your own unique brain as best you can, do what you have to do, waste no time wishing your creativity were of a different variety, but just knuckle down.

Here's a quote from Mark Twain:
"There are some books which refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written -- it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself."

Thank you. Great picture, no?

Latest Cybils read: Allegra Goodman's The Other Side of the Island. Liked it very, very much. Zoomed through it. It's middle-grade fiction as written by an erudite, National Book Award-nominated adult author, and it is clear, swift, disturbing, and beautifully crafted. Perhaps not a highly original concept, but so well-executed, and besides, what is a highly original concept? The book takes place after the polar ice caps have melted, and only scattered islands remain where once were continents. "Earth Mother" and her Corporation rule what remains, and have even (they claim) conquered the weather. It's your usual totalitarian regime, no books allowed in homes, watch towers in the neighborhoods, etc. Into this world, a small family comes: 10-year-old Honor and her parents, who were found living free on a Northern Island and have been relocated to Corporation-controlled Island 365 in the Tranquil Sea. Early on, there are disturbing hints about their memories vanishing, and it soon becomes clear that the Corporation puts chemicals euphemistically known as "Planet Safe" into everything, the water and food, the laundry detergent, the plant fertilizer, to subdue people's memories and individuality. And when people fail to fit in properly, they disappear.

"No one ever knew how parents disappeared. They would go off to work as usual, and they'd never be heard from again. Or you could go to sleep at night, and in the morning your parents' bed would be empty." What worse fear, for a child? In one horrible case in the book, a girl is trying on a school uniform in the dressing room of a store, and when she comes out, her parents are simply gone. They are taught to accept that their parents no longer are. And then, under the influence of Planet Safe, in due time, they will forget them.

Honor's free-spirited parents are making no effort to "fit in." They even do the unthinkable and have a second child, and then, even worse -- refuse to give him up for redistribution within the community. Second children are such a taboo that the words "brother" and "sister" have become insults. Honor lives in constant fear that her parents will be taken, even as she herself tries desperately to "fit in." Through the whole narrative, the title looms -- the other side of the island -- an ever-present reminder of the secret of what lies on the untamed side of the mountain. (But you'll have to read it to find out.)

Much opportunity for discussion in this book, about the nature of thought and freedom, about global warming, and what price one is willing to pay for "safety."

[On Allegra Goodman: she graduated from Punahou School in Honolulu, as did Barack Obama and. . . my sister! She then went on to Harvard and to a PhD in English Lit at Stanford. Her father was a prof of philosophy, her mother of genetics and women's studies, and her sister is an oncologist -- and was the inspiration for the laboratory of cancer researchers in her novel Intuition. Smartypants family!]

And apropos of absolutely nothing, how great are these stills from the last debate?

My personal theory is that John McCain is attempting to practice Maori intimidation:

And at any moment he might just break into a fulll-on ha-ka:
Is that not spectacular? I don't think it would quite as awe-inspiring as performed by McCain!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Inducing the fictional dream. . . with kissing!

(Yummy yummy.)

At the library conference I attended last week, I got to hear YA author Christine Fletcher give a talk on her second novel Ten Cents a Dance (which I will be reading as soon as I read the hundred and sixtyish Cybils nominees!!), and it was a treat. Not only did she dress up in World War II era costume, with a darling hairstyle, but she talked about writing historical fiction, including the sorts of delicious small details that are what I love about historical fiction (in this case, the all-but-forgotten taxi dance halls of the first half of the 20th C), and she talked about inducing the fictional dream.

I'd heard this expression, but I haven't read John Gardner, so I didn't know exactly what it referred to. It's this:

"a true work of fiction. . . creates a vivid and continuous dream in the reader's mind--"

It's the state induced by reading in which the book essentially disappears, the black and white words vanish, and the story becomes a vivid and continuous "dream" that the reader is experiencing. Lifelong reader though I am, I guess I hadn't really taken the time to marvel at this phenomenon, but have rather taken it for granted. And it is a phenomenon, right? The fact that the brain can gobble up those printed words and spin them like magic into a fluid kind of dream state, where you're actually there. Wow. Is that not the coolest thing ever? Brain, I love you.

Anyway, thanks Christine for the great talk. You should wear your hair like that all the time! (I mentioned Christine once in my blogger conference posts -- she's the one who's living my childhood dream of being a veterinarian/writer!)

So, I indulged myself in the fictional dream last night, and after a long day of putting the final futz on this last pass of Silksinger (it's hard to let go of the last pass. It's like: last chance!!! Ack!!!), I gave in to the sofa, picked up a particular book I had just received in the mail, and read all evening, and into the night. Grinning. Swooning. I read until 2 am, deep in the fictional dream. In this dream I was a teenage girl falling in love with a wonderful boy in a glorious romantic city. And you can't read it -- nyah nyah -- because it is a manuscript and only, like, three people in the world have it. We are very Special, very Privileged people! It is the work of Stephanie Perkins, mad girl-genius and blue-striped librarian of the Carolinas, you know, the one I've told you about who comes home from her job of dealing with snarky library patrons (and fishing used band-aids and other gross things out of books) and stays up until like 4 in the morning writing? Kind of like Faulkner used to do? Yeah, her. And because of all that dedication, there is a FINISHED MANUSCRIPT in the world! And it rocks. Here it is, as arrived the other day in a box weighted with goodies:
Look: presents! And cake! Raspberry lemon-curd shortbread, actually, as pictured close-up above. YUM. The book itself is in the pink binder. And because of the pink binder, I decided to make my comments in pink ink, with pink post-its. Disgusting, I know. Too much pink! But it's really the perfect color for all the hearts and smileys I drew everywhere. This book is funny as hell, incredibly romantic and sweet, and totally saturated in teen anguish and excitement and hope and disappointment and loooooovvvve. It's a romance, and an un-guilty pleasure because it's so smart and funny, and the teenager in me wanted to slip right inside and live in the story.

(Is there a teenager in you? I've been wondering lately if that is the difference between adult readers of YA and adult non-readers of YA, if there are those among you grownups who no longer relate to or care about what it's like to be a teenager. Are there such people? I genuinely wonder. Seriously: if you are somebody in whom the teenager has been extinguished, identify yourself. I remember, when I was a kid, believing that becoming a grown-up would be as clear a thing as crashing through finishing-line tape, like there was a discreet time 'before' and time 'after.' Now I know that's not true, that nobody I know ever graduated to adulthood, but that doesn't mean you're not out there. Hellooooooo? Anybody? As for me, I'm not sure why I love reading about teenagers. I didn't love actually being one, but I love being one vicariously through books. Maybe it's the intensity of emotion, the idea of a person becoming who they are, being a crazed crucible of hormone and emotion all the time and still being expected to function.)

Anyway, I love Stephanie's book, and I am so inspired by her dedication in working such insane hours to get this draft done -- makes me feel like a slacker! Must. Write. More. One thing I loved about this book is that it is a book entirely made out of "good parts." You know what I mean? Some books, you feel anxious to get to the good parts? And other books, it's just one good part flowing seamlessly into the next good part? This is like that. With a funny, loveable heroine, a delicious boy I would love to tell you about but won't, because he belongs to Stephanie, an awesome setting, powerful attraction that makes you grin and swoon while reading, believable teens talking like teens (the smart kind I wish I was more like back in the day), including cursing (future editor of this book, whoever you may be: do not touch the cursing. I will kick you).

So. Yeah. Awesome. I am absolutely certain you will all get your chance to read this book in good time. But until then, I will continue to gloat. (Nyah nyah.) If you want to congratulate Steph, go HERE and gush about the awesomeness of Finishing a Novel. It is a huge, huge, huge feat, especially when it happens to be made out of awesome. Yayyyyyyyy!!!!

That will most likely be the last non-fantasy/sci fi I read for a goodly while. It was kind of like cheating on the Cybils, but I had to do it, and I en't a bit sorry! Now, I have so many gorgeous glorious clean (band-aid free) library books stacked on my nightstand for the Cybils, it's so hard to choose which to read next!! I just started Allegra Goodman's The Other Side of the Island, while being almost through Kaimira: The Sky Village. And I'm eyeballing Savvy and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow and more more more. It's like choosing bon bons from a heart-shaped box. The deliciousness of all those fictional dreams just waiting to pull me in.

I loved The Magic Thief. Middle-grade fantasy, good for 8 - 12. And I'd tell you if it didn't hold up as an adult read (not all middle-grade fantasy does), but it does. The main character is a "gutterboy" thief named Conn who picks the wrong pocket one night and steals a wizard's locus magicalicus, the stone that is the center of his power. Doing such a thing should be the end of Conn, but oddly enough, he doesn't die. Intrigued, the wizard takes him on as a servant, and soon as an apprentice. The catch: Conn has to find his own locus magicalicus within 30 days or his dream of becoming a magician will be over. Meanwhile, very disturbingly, the magic is draining out of the city. Clever Conn has his own ideas as to what's going on, but of course, who listens to children? This is another book that moves from good part to good part. A quick and very satisfying read. Highly recommended.

And lastly last last, look at the adorableness of this painting Jim just did for a friend's anniversary:
The text reads: Bees Knees, the. You can see it better on Jim's blog. I think he is the bees knees. And oh, the Lips Touch cover is coming along, and it is going to be gorgeous!