Star Wars, episode … yeah

So. There’s a trailer online for The Force Awakens, aka Star Wars episode VII. And I have thoughts.

Those thoughts begin in the summer of 1999, on the release date for The Phantom Menance, I was hiking through Capitol Reef National Park, miles from any movie theater. And at some point, staring out at a 360 degree panorama of some of the most stunning geology out there, I found myself thinking that I was missing something amazing, for all that I knew I was surrounded by things even more amazing that I’d consciously chosen over opening night of Star Wars Episode I. Still, I wondered if I’d made a mistake, choosing to go camping instead of waiting in line that week.

I hadn’t made a mistake. When I finally saw the movie a few days later, I knew that.

Still, I was an optimist. I saw both of the remaining prequels. The second time, I genuinely hoped I’d see something better. The third time … well, the third time, I saw the movie at a local drive in theater some days after release, mostly for the sake of completeness, but also “just in case” that something amazing might turn up after all.

Because the first three Star Wars movies, episodes IV through VI? Pretty much changed my life.

Teen me imprinted on The Empire Strikes Back hard, and from there there was no turning back. I practically memorized that movie. I practically memorized the novelization of that movie. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words of self-insertion Star Wars fanfiction. Han Solo became at once my hero and my crush object. I did wait in line for Return of the Jedi, and while by the end of the movie my teen self was just beginning to understand how that movie–and the trilogy–weren’t perfect, I did not regret it. At all.

For me, the first trilogy was always about characters, not special effects. In many ways, although I was a voracious reader, it was the screen-based Han, Leia, and Luke who occupied the space for me that for later readers would be occupied by Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I loved their interactions and interplay, I loved the whole good-boy/bad-boy vibe of Luke and Han, I loved Han and Leia’s romance, did I mention I especially loved Han? (Later, I would think about the problems of Leia’s becoming an increasingly non-character over the course of the trilogy, and my decreasing engagement with her. But I was young, and my understandings were still growing, and I was unsubtle in my expectations. Characters who were larger than life and cast in broad–if problematic–strokes were still what I was looking for.) I loved, too, the sense of epic struggle, and being able to straightforwardly hate Darth Vader with all his straightforward villainy. (The flip side of this being that I was never sold on his redemption … but that’s a subject for another post.)

When Leia told Han she loved him, I cheered.

Years later, when Amidala told Anakin she loved him, I looked at the friends I was with, and we all mouthed the same word: WHY? (Jedi mind tricks, we later decided. Only Jedi mind tricks could explain that romance.)

It wasn’t just that I was no longer my younger, less subtle self by the time the prequels came along, though a couple decades of idolizing and being shaped by the original trilogy did mean that any new movie would have struggled to live up to the originals.

But the prequel trilogy, it didn’t even come close. For me, the heart wasn’t there, the soul and the characters weren’t there, and if the effects were pretty, well, unlike many the effects had never been what drew me to the Star Wars universe. Like I said, I enjoyed the novelizations as much as the movies. I was looking for character, and I was looking for story, and I’d probably have found those somewhere else if I hadn’t found Star Wars when I did–would probably have happily obsessed over something else instead–but Star Wars came along first and filled that space for me.

Star Wars shaped me as a fantasy reader (you didn’t think those movies were really science fiction, did you?), and it shaped me as a fantasy writer.

So. There’s a trailer for a new trilogy online. And it sure looks pretty.

I don’t care about pretty. It looks like it has characters too, but I can’t tell much about them from the trailer. And it looks like it has the Millennium Falcon too, which of course makes me smile, but the Millennium Falcon is not, by itself, enough, not unless I knew I’ll care about whoever’s piloting it now.

And maybe I will. The trailer, it doesn’t give me enough to know either way. And while I know there are in-depth analyses of every last detail of that footage out there, I haven’t read them.

Because I’m not getting my heart broken again. I’m not waiting in line opening day or opening week or … probably ever … for this one. I’m not thinking of it as the start of–or a return to–something amazing this time.

Unless. If enough people who I respect and whose story buttons are similar to mine tell me it actually is amazing–and not just visually amazing or tech and battle scene amazing–I’ll … think about it. But this time around, you all can take the opening day/week/month/maybe-forever hit for me.

I’ll be here at home with a novelization of The Empire Strikes Back, and several hundred thousand words of fondly remembered fanfic.

On recent events

I haven’t had the time to post much these past weeks, and so I haven’t said much in the wake of events in Ferguson–instead I’ve been listening, thinking, listening some more.

But here’s one thought I had: Donors Choose, a site for funding classroom projects at schools around the country, allows one to sort projects by city/town. Wouldn’t it be awesome of we could get all the Ferguson school projects funded? I think it would be. Amazing numbers of people have turned out to support Ferguson’s library and buy books for its shelves this past week. Helping support the community’s schools seems the next logical step, to me. Especially since public school funding has always been more about economic privilege than we like to admit.

And here’s another, less comfortable thought: I’m grateful that I haven’t been seeing the same degree of outright racism on my social media feeds that some of my friends have seen on theirs in the wake of the Ferguson decision. But I have seen something else, and so I feel this has to be said: Saying or implying that because you see some degree of (very different, non-equivalent) bad behavior on all sides this means that either 1) no one is right or wrong or has any moral high ground, or 2) that we all need to just stop all this uncomfortable disagreeing and just behave / get along — are ways of, intentionally or not, to shutting down debate and discouraging the speaking and hearing of uncomfortable truths about racial inequalities that still very much exist in American society, at a very high cost.

If you find yourself instinctively doing this — wanting to say either “let’s not argue” or “everyone’s acting badly” I recommend stepping back and working to listen for a while instead.

If you’re white that means (if hearing race mentioned at all makes you instinctively uncomfortable that means) especially listening to voices from the black community and other communities of color.

There’s more than one reason I’m trying to listen more than speak right now.

And finally what seems to me a very relevant quote:

“Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results.

“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

–Martin Luther King Jr.

And now, back to listening.

Buy Nothing Friday, Small Business Saturday

I will, once again, be celebrating Buy Nothing Friday this Black Friday, and actively avoiding both the crowds and the idea that the more we buy, the better, or that we need as much “stuff” as so many would have us believe.

Saturday, I’ll be supporting the idea that when we do buy (less than we think we need), we can try to do our buying locally as part of Small Business Saturday.

Specifically, from 2-4 p.m. Saturday I’ll be at Tucson’s Mostly Books, recommending books to YA-inclined customers, as well as signing my own titles.

If you are out shopping, come find me there!

But, you know. If you choose to take the whole weekend off from consumerism, I respect that too. But when you do whatever holiday shopping you choose to do, do keep your local bookstores in mind. Most will even let you order online these days, just like less local booksellers do.

Join me for TusCon 41!

From October 31-November 2, I’ll be Author Guest of Honor at TusCon, one of Arizona’s longest standing science fiction and fantasy conventions! Here’s where to find me there.

Friday, October 31

7 pm: Mingle with The Guests
Ballroom (Copper Room)

9 pm: Doing What You Love – Professionally (solo talk / q&a)
Panel Room 2 (Garden)

Saturday, November 1

10 am: Is YA trapped with teenagers in a dystopia?
Panel Room 1 (St. Augustine)
Yvonne Navarro, Janni Lee Simner, Sharon Skinner, Jill Knowles

1 pm: Hour with Janni Lee Simner
Ballroom (Copper Room)
From coffee cans to Faerie Bones, get to know our Guest of Honor

5 pm: Mass Autograph Session
Ballroom (Copper Room)
Janni Lee Simner, Sarah Clemens, Ernie Reyes Jr., Geoffrey Notkin, and more

9 pm: Congratulations! You finished your book – Now the hard work begins
Panel Room 1 (St. Augustine)
Frankie Robertson, Janni Lee Simner, Catherine Wells, Bob Nelson

Sunday, November 2

9 am: Should adults be embarrassed to read YA?
Panel Room 1 (St. Augustine)
Cynthia Ward, Janni Lee Simner, Jim Doty

11 am: Don’t quit your day job – The struggles of making/creating a profession
Panel Room 1 (St. Augustine)
Eric Schumacher, David Lee Summers, Janni Lee Simner, Liz Danforth

3 pm: Character Conflict
Ballroom (Copper Room)
Anna Paradox, Thomas Watson, Catherine Wells, Frankie Robertson

See the complete TusCon schedule here!

And Arizona makes 30

When I got married, just a few years after moving to Arizona, I took doing so rather for granted. To say my spouse and I were happy to be together would be a vast understatement–we were overjoyed, giddy, beyond-words about being together–but the actual act of marriage, the filling out of paperwork to make official what we already knew, that we took rather lightly. We were going to be together forever, after all, whether or not we had a piece of paper saying so.

I don’t take that piece of paper for granted any longer. Not because anything above is any less true now than it was the day we got married, but because along with the rest of our country we’ve witnessing couples fighting for that piece of paper I once so easily dismissed. I know there are those who worry that marriage equality will lessen the sanctity of existing marriages, but to me it’s a reminder of how valuable and worth fighting for the right to marry is–something that makes marriage more precious, not less.

But before and ahead of any of that, marriage equality is a fundamental civil rights victory. And that’s why I’m thrilled that today, Arizona has lifted its ban on same-sex marriages, and that right now, downtown in my own city, marriage licenses are being issued.

“It shall be a year of complete rest for the land”

In Jewish tradition, not only is every seventh day a day of rest, but every seventh year is a year of rest–for the land, anyway, which is supposed to be allowed to lie fallow for that time. This year, it turns out, is a seventh year, a Shmita.

I only recently realized this, and I’ve been thinking about what it means, not only literally but also metaphorically. I do take Saturdays off from writing (though not from speaking or from many other things that are also considered work), and this has been a good decision for me on many levels. Yet I find I’m not willing–not brave enough, perhaps?–to take a year off from writing, even outside of the business concerns that brings up. Writing’s defined me and been a part of how I process this world and this life for so long, after all–though I can see how good things could likely arise out of stepping back for a time, too.

So instead I’ve been thinking about this: if I can’t let everything go, what are the things in my life that could be allowed to lie fallow this year, that could benefit from a rest, from some time away, from my giving myself permission to let them lie, without guilt and with deliberate intentions, for a time?

I don’t have any quick or easy answers to that. But it’s an interesting question to contemplate, and one worth, I think, keeping in my sights for a bit.

I do know this: it’s not only Jewish tradition that’s found that planting the same seeds in the same soil, year after year, isn’t good for the land or the harvest. Do the same thing over and over again and eventually, nothing will grow. If we can’t bring ourselves to give our work a complete rest, I still think it’s worth remembering to–and finding creative ways to–rotate our crops.

That’s something worth thinking about in the year ahead, too.

On why I won’t be doing much mommy blogging

There’s so much I want to tell you about our daughter. Small things, big things … for more than two decades I’ve been sharing and processing life experiences online. Doing so has become pretty instinctive for me, and becoming a family is pretty much as huge a life experience as there is.

I could probably do a pretty decent job blogging about this new journey. Writing is, after all, the thing I’ve spent the past couple decades living and breathing and learning. If I chose to tell our family’s and our daughter’s story online in the years ahead, I would do it well. A part of me wants to do just that.

But there’s one thing I can’t do well: tell that story in my daughter’s voice. This journey isn’t just my journey, after all. It’s hers.

There are parenting bloggers out there doing a good job, bloggers whom I’ve read and learned from, so I can’t quite take a hard and fast stand against all parent blogging. Many of these blogs work hard to maintain anonymity, too, which I think is the very least one must do when talking in any depth about children too young to give informed consent. I also know that there’s a difference between sharing trivial surface observations about things common to most children and sharing the intimate details of of a specific child’s specific life, and I’m not drawing so firm a line as to say I’ll never do the former.

It won’t be often though, and when I err, I hope to always err on the side of protecting my child, rather than of entertaining or bringing insight to readers. This post is, on one level, a simple reminder of that commitment. A young child can’t weigh in about what she does and doesn’t want shared, so it’s up to us to hold her experiences close and safe for her.

There’s also a larger issue here that’s more adoption specific: that adoption journeys are already too often framed in terms of the perspectives of adoptive parents instead of those of adopted children. I see this in adoption picture books that emphasize parental longing over the child’s emotional journey. I see when people tell adoptees they’re “lucky” to be in a family (as if complete strangers have the right to tell them how to feel or where their gratitude should be placed), or worse, that they’re “lucky” to be loved (as if adopted children don’t have the right to take love as much for granted as any other child, and also as if they didn’t receive and give love before they ever came to their final families). I see it, as I work to become a better and better listener, in the communities where adoptees are speaking up with increasing frequency about feeling like their own voices are far too often considered the least important voices in discussions of their own lives.

There are so many reasons to err on the side of protecting all our children and their stories until they can tell them for themselves, especially when speaking in public places–and a blog is just about as public as it gets. For more than two decades, I’ve been living a part of my life here and in other online places. Now, I’m reminded that there are parts of life that need to be lived offline, too.

So that’s what we’ll be doing.

While posts about writing, the Arizona desert, and any number of other things will, of course, continue as they always have.

“‘Cause you can’t jump the track / we’re like cars on a cable”

Dear Recently Promoted Secondary Character,

No, I’m sorry, but you can’t have All the Things.

Mad fighting skills: denied.

Mad healing skills: denied.

We’re going for interesting here, not unrealistic.

Seriously, most people would be content with the mad flying skills. I promise you’ll get to use them, by the end.

Me

P.S. What? No. Promotion to protagonist denied with prejudice!

That moment you suspect the story’s just fine, after all

So a few weeks ago, I was truly hating this book I’m working on now, and wondering if I ought to just give up and work on something else. I did give up and work on something else–several something elses–and along the way got the opening of at least one future project just far enough along that I can now let it simmer in the subconscious for a while. But I’m back to my original new project this week, and today, I found myself writing this bit of dialogue:

“The universe is larger and more wondrous than we know, yadda yadda yadda.”

“You used to take this story more seriously,” I told her.

“Yeah, well, my personality is shifting,” she said. “We’re all still figuring out who we are. This is the first draft, after all. Anyway, where was I?”

And that is so utterly like what I would expect from the exploratory rough first draft of any of my books that, well, I’m beginning to think that this story–which I’m no longer hating at all–just might be exactly where it’s supposed to be at this stage of the process.


Dear Formerly Tertiary Character I Haven’t Seen in Fifty Pages or More,

I always thought you were more interesting than your minor role in the story had room for. I just didn’t know how interesting. Until now.

You’ll be getting a retroactive upgrade to Secondary Character, effective immediately.

Just don’t tell the other Tertiaries. They’re totally going to be giving up speaking lines to make room for you.

Welcome to the story,

Me