Monday, September 12, 2016

Internal News: 9-12-16

Goodness, there have been an embarrassing lack of updates 'round these parts. I have indeed been working at various things, reading a lot, and still spending perhaps too much time online. Summer was also full of a fair amount of travel.

Excuses, excuses. Let me update you on what I've been doing for the past six months.

First up, Harlot went through some editorial changes and then an uncertain future, so my one post for them is all that will be up, for now.

I wrote five different Notes From Elsewhere at Word Riot since I last updated here, so do check out the WR blog for literary link goodness. Most recently, I swoon over David Mitchell (as is my wont), and Tom Cox is a recent favorite. Expect another update over there soon.

In June, Electric City Creative — the arts and culture organization run by myself and my husband, Tyson Habein — had a significant hand in Big Sky Pride. We hosted a pizza social, a bike ride, a dance party, and Tyson spoke at the rally. Here's our profuse thanks to everyone involved.

Also, during that time, I launched my new project, Queer in Montana.

I wanted to profile some of the LGBTQ+ people living in our area, partially to dispel some of the myths about living in Montana (We're a purple state, not a red state!) and also to shed some light on what it's like to be a not-straight person in a not-populous state.

I've posted five interviews so far, and there will be more to come. I chose Medium as the venue mainly because I didn't feel like the profiles fit in on this site (which is mostly full of book reviews), and also because I planned on keeping a pretty loose schedule with this project. It's open-ended and not time-sensitive, but Medium offered a potential larger audience without... Well, let's be real: Without a tremendous effort on my part, beyond sharing the links on all my online haunts. I do obsessively share all links everywhere, as you may well know.

Still, to keep up on those posts, either follow me on Medium and/or subscribe to my updates on Facebook, where you'll see everything I'm working on.

Also, I have an "official" page now that lists all my various writing/artsy accomplishments... sarahabein.com

It's sectioned off by type of work: fiction, nonfiction, social media, interviews, editorial gigs, that sort of thing. Getting that site organized gave me a tidy sense of accomplishment.

What else? Yes, my book reviews here have tapered off a lot, but I'm still relentlessly reading and rating books on Goodreads, and have at least offered a few thoughts on most of those books. There have also been a lot of Doctor Who audios this year in that mix of books.

Here are a few recommendations before I go:

After Disasters by Viet Dinh is the best book I've read so far this year. It's full of love, lust, loneliness, and longing — AKA all my favorite things to read/write about.

Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire is a poetry collection by the same woman who wrote the poetry portions of Beyoncé's "Lemonade," so you know it's going to be good. I bought this collection almost immediately after finishing the video.

Our Man in Iraq by Robert Perišić was a book I'd won through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway ages ago, and somehow I never got to it until recently. It's a short, darkly funny look at the spectacle of media cycles in the newly capitalist Croatia.

Also I finally read The Bone Clocks and Slade House by David Mitchell, and they increased my deep love for him as a writer. Number 9 Dream from him will be coming soon.

Those are far from the only good things I've read recently, but perhaps those recommendations will get you started, should you be looking for something.

Soon I'll be reading a galley of Bruja by Wendy C. Ortiz, and I'm quite excited to check it out.

Until next time, friends...

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Internal News: 3-3-16

Hello, my dears. Time to catch up on a few things I've been writing elsewhere around the ol' interwubbery. 

First off, I'm taking an indefinite break from Persephone Magazine and Friday News Bites while I work on some other gigs, both writing and otherwise. However, here's the last post I had go up over there.

I'm still periodically writing Notes From Elsewhere for Word Riot, and I had two entries go up for the month of February with lots of interesting literary links.

The bigger news 'round these parts is that I'm now also doing some work for the brand new site Harlot, and my first post went up there yesterday: "Same/Different: How Bisexuality and Queerness Overlap and Diverge." It's received a nice response so far, and although it's more personal than usual, I'm very proud of it.

They also gave me a nice illustrated portrait to go with anything that I write for them:



I have two quotes featured in SheKnows' "Ask A Raging Feminist" series: "What Would You Tell Your 13-yr-old Self?" (somewhat predictably, I mention Noel Gallagher) and "Worst Pick-up Lines."

Tyson and I are also hard at work helping to plan portions of this year's Big Sky Pride, which will be hosted in Great Falls this year. Electric City Creative is still plugging away at local events too.

Also, I finally made myself a 'pro' page on Facebook, so if you want to be 'in like' with me, please do. Thanks!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Glorified Love Letters' Top 10 Favorite Books of 2015

Despite my good intentions, I did not fully review many books this year, but I still read a lot — 70 books so far — with a mix of both brand new and pre-2015 releases. Far be it from me to resist shouting about my favorites over the past 12 months! So let's take a look at my Top 5 Books from 2015 and the Top 5 Books I Read Not From This Year, loosely ranked:

Top 5: 2015


5. The Book of Laney by Myfanwy Collins


Anyone who thinks that a YA book can't be a significant literary achievement would do well to read this and realize how very wrong they were about their reading biases.

Myfanwy Collins writes about longing, heartbreak, and survival better than so many other writers out there, and The Book of Laney continues to demonstrate her skills. Her first foray into YA territory, she imbues her teenage protagonist with such honesty, and one never feels like she is talking down to a non-adult reader. This is exactly the sort of book I would point to when others wonder if YA books can ever match the emotional heft of literary fiction.

I interviewed Myfanwy about the book for Persephone Magazine earlier this year.


4. The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch




Art is a weapon. Lidia Yuknavitch's latest novel explores the lives of people either directly or indirectly related to a photographer who has taken a very famous photo of a girl from war-torn Eastern Europe. There's a performance artist, a poet, and a filmmaker married to a writer who has fallen into a deep depression, and all the words are wrapped up in the bodily reactions people have in the face of trauma.

The narrative blurs the line between a story once told, a story repeatedly told, and the fractured fourth wall between creator and audience. It's an interesting way to approach complex themes, and though the subject matter may be tough, it's not a tough read.


3. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson




Maggie Nelson's memoir is a self-described work of "autotheory" which describes Nelson's relationship with the genderfluid artist Harry Dodge, her pregnancy, and her views on queerness and family. The book is peppered with margin notes and asides, referencing classic works of art and literature. It's a short book that's heavy with meaning, and I almost feel like I need to reread it to really get all there is to it.

I loved this bit:
Words change depending on who speaks them; there is no cure. The answer isn’t just to introduce new words (boi, cis-gendered, andro-fag) and then set out to reify their meanings (though obviously there is power and pragmatism here). One most also become alert to the possible uses, possible contexts, the wings with which words can fly.


2. Doctor Who: Doom Coalition #1 by Matt Fitton, John Dorney, Mark Platt, and Edward Collier




This is a Big Finish-produced audio adventure featuring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and Nicola Walker as the returned companion Liv Chenka (from the previous Eighth Doctor series of stories, Dark Eyes).  This is easily one of the best Doctor Who audio adventures I've heard so far. Divided into four different sections, each has a different set of challenges that all relate to the overarching chaos caused by a criminal Time Lord called The Eleven. McGann's Doctor is both serious and Romantic-with-a-capital-R, and this and the forthcoming Doom Coalition sequels will inch him closer to the changes the Time War will bring.

What makes Big Finish stories different from regular audiobooks is that you also get music, background noise, and lot more context clues that aren't necessarily reliant on traditional narration. They're like throwbacks to radio dramas of old, but acted much like they would be on screen. While I still think it's a shame that one of my favorite Doctors has had very little screen time, I always enjoy hearing Paul McGann's voice. It's as handsome as he is, really, so if you needed one more thing to motivate you finally diving into these stories, I hope that helps.


1. The Rewind Files by Claire Willett




This book is so much fun. It's breathlessly paced, endlessly interesting, and full of kick-ass women. It's a little funny to me that, although I don't read much YA, two of my favorites from this year are classified as such. My 11-year-old daughter also read this after I did, and she stayed up too late for a few nights before she finished it, which is a compliment as good as any. 

Set in the 22nd Century, Regina Bellows is a junior agent at the U.S. Time Travel Bureau who helps field agents identify and fix anomolies created from poorly executed time travel. She stumbles upon a conspiracy regarding Watergate, South Africa, and her own parents, and soon she is back in 1972 trying to fix it all. It's funny, well-researched, and I'd recommend it to pretty much anybody.


Top 5: Not-2015


5. Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss




This is a gorgeous graphic novel about Marie Curie, her work, and her relationship with Pierre Curie. Lauren Redniss' artwork mimics Curie's journals, and although this might be a bit basic for someone who has a lot of previous Curie knowledge, it's still a lovely a book. Though I received it awhile back, it got misplaced in the madness that is my bedroom, and rediscovering it was its own revelation. Ah, this. Yes, this is what I need right now. I'd love to read more biographies that merge art and facts in this way.


4. Iris by Jean Marsh




Yes, I'm hopelessly enamored with Jean Marsh's work in general, but this book was a surprise for me. I'd enjoyed her first novel, House of Elliott, well enough, and I figured Iris would be much of the same. Instead, it's a captivating look at post-war England, sex work, and how we define our own happiness.


3. Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates




This was always on my TBR list, but I'd never gotten around to it until it was suggested by a friend right before the implosion of the book club of which we were a part. Though we never got a chance to discuss it as a group (though that friend and I have talked about it a little on our own), I am still glad I finally read it. I loved everything about it — the urgency, the girls' desperation to seen and taken seriously, the interplay between fantasy and reality. Apart from some short stories, I've never really read much by Joyce Carol Oates, though I do have vague memories of seeing the Angelina Jolie-starring adaptation of this book.

Much like Iris, there is a lot of post-WWII rebuilding going on thematically. These teenagers are too young to have had direct war experience, but their lives are still searching for meaning in an environment of adults still reeling from what this new worldwide stab at domesticity means. It's violent, yes, but it's also feminist as fuck.


2. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith




If I loved everything about Foxfire, then I LOVED The Price of Salt. If you've been following this site for any length of time, you already know Patricia Highsmith is one of my favorite authors, but somehow I'd let myself go far too long without reading this book. With its adaptation Carol out this year (starring another long time love of mine, Cate Blanchett), I finally devoured it. It's so good. SO GOOD.

Originally released under the pseudonym Clare Morgan, Highsmith tells the story of two women falling in love in 1950s New York. (It's just now occurred to me how many of my favorite things this year were set in this time period. Interesting.) Carol is separated from her husband, living away from her daughter, and a feeling a bit rudderless as a result. Therese is working in a department store while trying to earn gigs as a set designer. She has a sorta-boyfriend whom she mostly tolerates until she meets Carol, and then she realizes more clearly why that relationship with him is so unsatisfying. This book has all my favorite elements — love, lust, loneliness, and longing. Read it.


1. I Loved You More by Tom Spanbauer



Briefly, I debated between The Price of Salt and this book for the top spot, but what gave I Loved You More its edge was my visceral reaction to it. This book fucked me up in the best way, right when I needed it. While Highsmith keeps a certain amount of narrative distance from the love, lust, loneliness, and longing, Spanbauer dives right in. Mercilessly.

The Goodreads plot description doesn't really do the book justice. The friendship between these two men — Ben, more-or-less gay; Hank, more-or-less straight — is intense and beautiful. For a time, they drift apart, and their reunion is full of its own complications. Because it's partially set in 1980s New York, illness and caregiving play a central part of the story as well. 

I cannot recommend this book enough. Easily, it's my favorite thing I read this year.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Iris by Jean Marsh

Steeped in post-World War II English culture, Jean Marsh’s third novel, Iris, is a straightforward, smart tale of a working class woman trying to survive — if not happily, then at least somewhat comfortably.

In 1952, Iris is a 17-year-old who is not an escort in the strictest sense — since she does not have sex with anyone that she goes out with — but gay men in London don’t mind using her as visible company when they go out to clubs. Occasionally, older straight men just want to be seen having lunch with her. Among all these men are some with ties to organized crime, and having a pretty face available is effective advertising for their restaurants and clubs. She enjoys the chance to go out, have drinks, dinner, and to feel valued, albeit in a naïve way.

When men give her cab fare home, she takes the bus instead and uses the change to help out her parents. Her mother is a headstrong woman, and though Iris is quite close to him, her father either drinks away his wages or owes them to a loan shark down Chancery Lane. Her younger brother, Sam, is mostly baffled by her frequent nights out.

Marsh draws from much of her own background, having grown up working class — “a scrubber” — in Islington and various other North London haunts, and she was also expected to leave school and earn a living at age 14. She would have been a year older than Iris in 1952, but she worked as a dancer and had just started acting, an experience reflected when Iris gets a part through one of her dates:

The set was absolutely enormous and quite nice. Lots of columns and arches and big cushions, most likely for lolling, and long tables and large candles and through the biggest arch were the baths, which were like a cross between the Turkish baths at the Dorchester Hotel and East Finchley swimming pool. As the girls weren’t friendly she tried standing next to some Roman gentlemen to see if she could find out anything. All she learned, apart from the fact that the canteen was cheap but awful, was that this was a party scene, which she’d already guessed. Then an assistant was moving her around as if she was deaf and dumb and on skates. Someone was shouting instructions, and people got into positions.

Iris spends much of her time trying to learn about politics, social customs, and the club scene, so that she has something to talk about with the people with whom she spends time. She reads poetry, but learns not to quote it in casual conversation. She admires Bébé, a woman who attends many of the same parties, but pities the desperation of hostesses who fruitlessly flirt with “the poofs.”

Her entire world is steeped in sex and secrets, but she has no desire to go bed with any of these men. She’s fond of her friend Nick, but he isn’t interested in women, and he is busy with politics. Within this environment of simultaneous inclusion and exclusion, more than anything she craves a sense of belonging, yet she doesn’t quite know how to achieve it.

The band was playing some songs from South Pacific. Maybe they’d play her favourite, one of her top favourites of all time, ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’ That’s how she knew she would fall in love with a stranger across the room. It would needs be a small room on account of her dodgy eyes, and the stranger wouldn’t fall for her if she was wearing glasses.

Marsh was also very near-sighted (until surgery later in life), and it’s that and other little details — like someone commenting on how much Iris resembles Audrey Hepburn, with her thick brows and small chest — that make it difficult for a knowledgeable reader to parse author from character. And that’s an irritating thing for a writer, I know, since while we draw from our lives while writing fiction, but that doesn’t necessarily make one’s tales autobiographical.

Considering that, when Iris encounters a group of manipulative, drunken men out on a stag do, her half-façade of naivety meets a crushing end, and the protective side of myself wants to believe that what happens is based off the knowledge of other women’s stories, and not drawn on personal experience.

Marsh’s writing examines the competition between the internal and external — the performances we give others, and how it feels to be in one’s own body. The body, the occasional crudeness of physicality, and how that affects a woman’s inner monologue is constantly at play throughout the story. Iris is strong all throughout her learning about herself, but while she may not show it to others, she’s quite in touch with her insecurity. She resents her initial lack of educational opportunity, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to stop learning to spite herself. When it comes to sex and men’s desires, she learns what is within her control.

The fear and shame of touching herself had been instilled by her mother. ‘Always keep it clean.’ It. As if it was a pet mouse kept in a cage like Sam once had. […] She touched now, carefully. It was swollen and tender like a giant bruise. The whole area was swollen. Her fingers gently pressing back the sore flesh couldn’t find the bones. The tender skin was torn in places, and as she examined her fingers, was, she could see, bleeding. The official word for it was vagina. She knew that from the dictionary.


I have a few minor quibbles on an editorial level — not enough dialogue tags, a few typos that slipped through, unnecessary head-hopping to another character's perspective — but I have no issue with the story itself. The jarring instances of racism and homophobia are reflective of their time period, and one gets the feeling that Iris is learning how to rise above any prejudice surrounding her. She learns how to be less of a sponge and more of a conduit for change in her own life. Iris is a wonderful, sometimes thematically-difficult book, and perhaps an ill-appreciated gem from the late ‘90s.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Story For Desmond by Jason Walz

A Story For Desmond 
by Jason Walz

A Story for Desmond is an excellent example of the tragedies and hopes of real life being presented in a heartfelt and simple comic book format. It's a short, simple story of a parent explaining loss and hope for the future to a very young child. In doing so, a parent often speaks as much to themselves, and to their own loss, as they do to the child.

In that regard, A Story for Desmond is as much a story for anyone who has experienced loss. However, that does not mean the comic is entirely sad, as it tends to focus on the positive things those who leave give us, and the strength of families when they come together.

A Story for Desmond is presented in a simple cartoon style. The writing is kept clean and not overly adorned. This seems to be a rarity with small press comic books. Too often, small press writers seem to be convinced they need to show you how hard they are writing, rather than simply telling a story. Jason Walz avoids this trap and presents the story in a basic, effective way. He writes as we speak, and that has its own power.

A Story for Desmond is not something that's going to change the world by any means, but its strength is in its genuine nature — Pleasant, without being saccharine.

Monday, October 5, 2015

October 5th is World Teachers' Day.

World Teacher Day infographic
(This sponsored post brought to you by Grammarly Plagiarism Checker)
Do something nice for a teacher in your life, or consider donating to an educational charity, like Teach For America or another similar program.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Internal News: 9-5-15

Oh goodness, let's spare ourselves all the excuses and jump right into things I've been writing elsewhere over the past three months.

I've decided to take a hiatus from Record Machine, so most of my posts at Persephone Magazine are now of the Friday News Bites variety. Still, I've had some other stuff go up there:

At Persephone Magazine:


And at Word Riot... I've finally updated Notes From Elsewhere! Here's the latest roundup of literary links.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Internal News as of 6-2-15:

Hello, darlings one and all. It's time for another round-up while I continue to get my writing life in order.

Now at Persephone Magazine:

And that's all for now. I've really enjoyed doing these interviews with writers and musicians, and with any luck, there will be more to share with you soon. 

Today, Florence + The Machine have a new album out, so let's celebrate with a video:



Until next time, friends.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Internal News as of 4-19-15:

I sometimes joke about how very specific outlines are one way to guarantee what will not happen in my writing, and it seems that four bloody months ago me saying that I was going to update more often made it so that I updated even less often than usual. So, I'll quit promising things; I'll just do the best I can, and it will all shake out fine in the end.

That said, let's round up what I've been writing since we last met here.

I wrote a few things for WhoCulture:


And at Persephone Magazine:

Books:

Record Machine:

I won't bother to list every Friday News Bites, but here's the most recent one. Same for Notes From Elsewhere at Word Riot. Here's the WR Blog link, and from there you can see my updates, along with a few other guest writers I brought into the fold over the past few months.

Until next time, friends.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Internal News as of 1-9-15

Happy New Year, friends! We're overdue for another Internal News update, wherein I tell what I've been doing at P-Mag and elsewhere. My goal for Glorified Love Letters is to update more regularly in 2015, like I used to do in years' past. We may even have a few more guest contributors here from time to time.

Record Machine:

Book Reviews:


Misc. P-Mag:


Also, since I've started bringing other writers into the fold over at the Word Riot Blog, we've got a few other posts over there besides my usual Notes From Elsewhere. Do check it out.

Annnnd I think that's it for now! Until next time.