Not a Guild War, Just a Guild Spat

Ninety percent of what I know about guilds comes from the Wikipedia article I read a few minutes ago. Keep that in mind as I write about a Twitter kerfluffle from this week and what I think about it. Or what I think I think about it.

Stained Glass Window depicting a guild member.

Stained Glass Window depicting a guild member.

Guilds have a long and eventful history. They date to medieval times, and were the precursors of both universities and, in a way, labor unions. (The Catholic Church disliked them because guild members were required to take an oath swearing loyalty to the guild. Who knew the Church was engaged in union-busting from such an early date?) Their name, “guild” comes from the word for gold; obviously you paid a membership fee and obviously many guilds were wealthy and powerful. Guilds were generally local, and operated with written support of a monarch (letters of patent). They were, pretty much, what we would now call a closed shop. If you wanted to own tools, learn the craft and practice the craft, you better belong to the guild.

A craft guild. Hey, that's a woman heating up those metal rods. Want to bet.she's not a member?

A craft guild. Hey, that’s a woman heating up those metal rods. Want to bet she’s not a member?

I don’t know how you got into a guild. I suspect, because there was also the tradition of apprentices, that you didn’t just go down there on a Monday morning and sign up. You were probably sponsored by a journey-level or master-level craftsperson.

If someone starts something they call a “guild” today, what are they envisioning? The word “guild” is very popular in fantasy circles and role-playing circles. “Guild” these days probably doesn’t mean a group of people who are banding together to enhance their collective bargaining power. That would be a union. What would a “guild” provide today?

I ask because there is a guy who wants to start a group that he’s calling the Science Fiction and Fantasy Creators Guild or the SFFCGuild.  He sees the guild as a professional organization that includes all SF creators, including game developers (I think). He says the organization is about inviting everybody and getting back to good stories, not political stuff.

The SFFCGuild got off to a rocky start. Guild-guy planned to unveil his website, SFFCguild-dot-com, on February 4, but a zealous supporter put something on Twitter and then there were responses, so he had to respond to those, and it quickly got contentious. As of today, the website has a Home statement and a blog post which are the same, and everything else is “TBD.”

The first, obvious question I have, is why the field needs a “guild” when it already has a robust professional organization in the US. The Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) is strong. They assist writers with contracts, they make policy, they have an emergency medical fund for members, they provide marketing tips and craft tips and they host the Nebula awards every year. Their Writer Beware and Editors and Predators column is available to anyone (even nonmembers) and the SFWA Bulletin, a monthly trade magazine is available to everyone, even nonmembers, as a subscription. They’ve been around quite a while. You have to have made a certain level of professional-rate sales to join, which seems to make sense.

In 2017, SWFA started including game developers in its membership.

SWFA has issues, like any large organization in this society. Young writers find the emergency medical program, which by necessity is a gate-keeping program, not coverage-for-all, old-fashioned and privileging the olds. The Bulletin had a really embarrassing cover malfunction a couple of years ago. Like almost all of us, they are struggling in a society that seeks to be actively more inclusive and more respectful of everybody – and a society where social media blazons your mistakes across the internet about 1.5 minutes after you make it. They’re not perfect.

There is also Codex, which has a membership requirement too, less strict than SFWA’s. Codex is a marketing and discussion group that is quite robust which also provide information on craft.

And then there is the Locus Foundation, which publishes the trade report Locus and offers periodic intensive workshops on craft with SFF writers like Charlie Jane Anders, Daryl Gregory and Nick Mamatas.

London Guildhall, AKA the Secret SFWA Headquarters

London Guildhall, AKA the Secret SFWA Headquarters

I wasn’t sure what the Guild would have to add. A new group doesn’t have to add anything new, of course. They could differentiate themselves by how they present resources, or elevate a social focus. When I looked at the Home Page for the under-construction website, I realized right away that Guild Guy’s issue is mostly with awards. Here is a quote:

So here we are in 2018 and I find myself thinking the same thing when it comes to the state of science fiction and fantasy and those who have claimed the title of gatekeepers and leaders. For some time now they have led the two genres along a dark path. Science fiction/fantasy used to be about escaping the real world and enjoying well-produced stories of great adventure on the written page as well as the big and small screens and game boards.

Over the past decade or so a certain mind set has insinuated itself into the leadership of science fiction/fantasy – the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association and World Science Fiction Society along with a few other institutions – have steered their organizations toward a more political/social activism bent.

Oh, he doesn’t like SFWA. He dislikes them so much he got their name wrong. Okay. And this is mostly code for, “I haven’t won a Hugo or a Nebula so I’m mad.”

That’s fair. The history of the European colonization of America is largely about people groups having a snit because they couldn’t get what they wanted, and coming here so they could (and taking other people’s stuff, but that’s a different story). We invent new religions all the time here. DragonCon invented a new award recently (Guild Guy hasn’t won one of those yet). There’s no reason the Guild shouldn’t have a Guildie or a Guilda. I think, after doing a smidge of research on Guild Guy, that the contestants would be mostly self-published, and why not?

I qualify as a SWFA member and I joined two years ago. I’m barely a member, but I really like what the group offers. I really enjoy voting for the Nebula awards (and you don’t have to be a SFWA member to be nominated for the finalist list—or even to win the award. You just have to be a member to vote.) I also am dipping my toes into Codex, which is a rich resource too.

It’s probable that the Guild is aimed at indie-published and self-published writers. That would make some sense. This is a growing market. There’s no reason they shouldn’t have their own group. They would have expertise in the self-publishing field. Self-publishing is not my career goal, because it’s too much work and doesn’t play to my strengths. I’m not good at marketing, I’m not good at accounting, and it seems to me when you take on the business side as well as the creative side of the process, you have to be good at those things. So the Guild wouldn’t be for me.

There’s another reason it wouldn’t be for me. Writing and sending work out is hard, thankless work. If  I were to be cynical, I would say that it’s about digging as deep and working as hard as you can to create something true and good so it can be rejected. It’s already bad enough that most writers tend to sink into conspiracy-theory whining when they get together… I wouldn’t want to join a group predicated on whining, and the words in that Home Page statement look like whining. Big time.

The lesson I took away from this was that the SFFCGuild is probably not for me, and the really big lesson I learned was that I need to find myself a good book about the history of European trade guilds, and especially the history of the guilds in London. Those guys sound epic.

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To Go or Not To Go

I haven’t decided if I want to go to WorldCon 76.

This is kind of silly. Last year I took an airplane halfway around the globe to attend. This year, it’s driving distance (San Jose), and I’m hesitating.

The truth is, a lot of people show up at WorldCon, and I’m not always comfortable around a lot of people. Somehow, no matter how diligently I peruse the program or interact with the app on my phone, I miss the really good panels and make bad choices. This doesn’t happen with as much regularity at FOGCon for some reason. Probably that reason is fewer choices.

I will probably go ahead and register as a participating member, with the idea that I can transfer my membership later on if I change my mind. That way I’m covered.

I could also go to the WorldCon weekend, attend the Hugos, and use the hotel as base camp for other day trips in the area. San Jose has some interesting stuff, like the technology museum, and even the Winchester House again.

After a relatively peaceful MidAmeriCon, and smooth-sailing as far as I heard at WorldCon75 in Finland, there has already been an attempt at a dust-up for WorldCon 76. It is tiny and the Con Committee has handled it; the duster-upper is still flailing around trying to get attention and maybe book sales, but that’s a phenomenon localized mostly to the duster-upper’s blog, his supporters’ blogs, with a few comments from the usual folks.

The reason to go to WorldCon is for the Hugos, and the Hugos should be good this year. They should also be competitive. Lots of good books came out, and lots of good short fiction came out. I’m pretty sure that N.K. Jemisin will three-peat for Best Novel, unless as a mass-consciousness, readers make some kind of Oscar-style “she got it last year and the year before; it’s someone else’s turn” decision. The new category, Best Series, gives voters an out. They can vote The Shattered Earth as best series, which will bump my personal favorite for Best Series, The Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett. I care passionately about those books winning a Hugo, but apparently it isn’t a big deal to Bennett.

This is also the year that gave us Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders and Victor LaValle’s The Changeling, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Beautiful Ones and Elena Donnelly’s Le-Carresque Amberlough.

Over at Fantasy Literature, we put together a list of our favorites. Go take a look.

As I write this, I think I’ve talked myself into a full (participating) membership.

It’s an hour later. I just signed up. And booked the hotel.

Posted in Hugos, Thoughts about Writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency Cancelled.

BBC America has cancelled Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. The wrap-up episode (with an obligatory cliffhanger regarding the characters of Bart and Ken) of the second season is now the final episode of the show.

I’m not surprised, and I’m not that disappointed, because in most ways, Season Two did not live up to the promise of Season One. The weirdness felt forced, and the alternate dimension was too much of a reflection of better alternate dimensions on TV right now, the most obvious one being Fillory on SyFy’s The Magicians.

Dirk Gently fell into a common TV trap; it counted on a brilliant cast and intentional weirdness to fool its audience into thinking there was more going on than there was. In Season One, where there was more going on, this worked. In Season Two, it almost worked. Scissor-swords worked brilliantly, for instance. The Rowdy Three and Amanda’s evolution worked. Ken’s character arc worked. Overall, though, the villains were under-utilized and in the case of Suzy, under-developed. Once we got the shocking reveal about poor, downtrodden Suzy, she stopped being interesting. Great makeup and an actor who can roll her eyes and act diva-ish couldn’t balance the deficit. John Hannah was completely wasted, which was a shame. In retrospect, it made me like his longer run on Agents of Shield much more.

Bart, the quantum assassin. Is she more than a weapon? Evidence indicates the answer is "Yes."

Bart, the quantum assassin. Is she more than a weapon? Evidence indicates the answer is “Yes.”

The character I feel worst for, and want to follow more, is not Dirk (although Samuel Barnett is brilliant) but Bart, played by Fiona Dourif, the “quantum assassin,” a finely-honed weapon who kills people randomly because “she gets the feeling the universe is telling her to,” only she’s right. She cannot be killed. Point a gun at her and fire, the gun will misfire or the bullet will ricochet. In Season Two, another thing to love is Bart’s tense and strangely mutually respectful scene with Mr. Priest, played by Alan Tudyk. I would love to know what happens to Bart. I’ll also be watching to see what Dourif does next because she is a fascinating actor, who seems to have chosen her father, Brad Dourif’s, path of the quirky and offbeat role.

Amanda, learning to own her power.

Amanda, learning to own her power.

I loved Amanda’s growth arc and her bonding with the four Rowdy Three (yes, there are four). Basically, everything associated with Blackwing had potential and was squandered in Season Two, but I liked it while it lasted.

Anyway, happy trails to these excellent actors, and thanks for one wonderful season and a season that had some great moments. Thanks for all the fish. Oh, wait, wrong Douglas Adams reference.

The Rowdy Three, all four of them, and their van.

The Rowdy Three, all four of them, and their van.

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Update: The Rule of Five, the Rule of Four

In mid-December I posted a column on my physical health and some possible changes. It was a different kind of post for me, since it’s the kind of thing I don’t usually talk about publicly. Anyway, I think it’s time for an update.

You might remember I had two rules for small behavioral changes; the Rule of Five (walk, even if it was a short walk, five days out of seven) and the Rule of Four (skip the sugary coffee-drink four days out of seven). I had also started medication for the blood pressure.

The meds are doing just what they need to and my blood pressure is down to where the doctor wanted it. I check it (nearly) every day, and I am out of the danger zone. The first three weeks I was on it I felt physically tired nearly all the time, which is a common effect, but I’ve adjusted to that, or something, because I don’t experience the fatigue consistently. I still get calf cramps now and then, which is also an effect of the meds, but they don’t last long.

The Rule of Five. Walking has been easy. Our unseasonably dry – and until recently, unseasonably warm weather made a short walk in the park easy. Failing that, I walk to the grocery store and back, which is about a mile, or walk around in the park and then to the store, which probably clocks in at about one and three-quarter miles. Now that Brandy has opened Second Chances, I walk down there and back a few times a week. That’s a mile down and the same back; a good walk.

One of my self-appointed tasks in the store is shelving books. This is not exercise, but it is movement and it’s probably good for my whole body—except my knees. My knees do not approve of this activity.

Walking isn’t hard. It helps that I like to walk and that I stop and take pictures.I think in the past six weeks I’ve managed to do it six days out of seven for most weeks. No, the Rule of Five isn’t hard.

It’s the Rule of Four that’s kicking my behind.

It’s killing me.

You’ll remember that I ingested a lot a sugary coffee drinks, and I decided to cut back. I took it easy on myself. I cut back to three per week. This should have been the Rule of Three, but I inverted it and made it the Rule of Four; four days a week mocha-free.

I’ve managed to do it, heaven knows how, but I think about it all the time. Part of the flaw in my plan was that I free-formed it. I gave myself three days and I get to pick the days. It might have been easier to just say, “Coffee drinks on weekends only.” But no! I wanted freedom! I’m an adult. I get to choose! Choosing means planning. Planning means thinking about it. In a double-negative, though-experiment kind of way, I have to think about the mocha drinks I won’t be drinking. It becomes tempting to see those four days as some kind of terrible sacrifice. Oh, woe! Wednesday is mocha-free! That sort of thing.

Still, I’ve managed it, except for that one week where I had achieved it, and then on the last day of the week a friend brought me a mocha. Well, I couldn’t refuse, could I? I gratefully accepted. And sure, I could have cut back to two treats the following week to balance it out, right? Do you think I did? You know me, so you know the answer to that question.

This is America, and I’m female, so I will anticipate the question you all have; “Have you lost weight?”

Short answer: Yes. I’ve either lost one pound or two pounds, and I’ll get my doctor be the tie-breaker on that one, later in the month.

Longer answer: That’s fine – it would only be good if I dropped a few pounds – but that is not my goal here. My goal is general wellness, and weight loss… and a bit of toning… is a part of that but I haven’t formulated a weight loss plan, and I may not.

I’m feeling better, and I think I’ve taken a few steps away from having my brain explode. My brain is important to me, and I’ve finally gotten around to showing it.

I’ll keep you informed. Unless it’s boring; then I won’t.

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In the Redwoods

“Is that crow on the stump?” I said. I stood by the narrow six-paned window next to the wood stove in the sitting room. I had been looking at the cluster of sea-rounded stones, bits of driftwood and one crab claw on the window sill, most of the stones and woods marked by a Sharpie with names and dates, like “Happy 51st Amanda, Love Ron,” and “Kia and Joe, 4th Anniversary, 2016.” There was nothing written on the crab claw. Across the meadow a dark shape stood on an old stump. It was black, but small for a crow. “Is it a stellar jay?” I said, thinking that the diffuse light caused by the blanket of clouds were making the bird look darker, if it were a bird.

Window sill mementos.

Window sill mementos.

Spouse joined me at the window. “I don’t think so,” he said. The black shape was immobile. A crow or a jay would have preened by now, have becked or turned its head. “Maybe if you looked through your camera lens?” I went and got the camera and zoomed the stump. It clearly was not a bird, but I still couldn’t tell, then, what it was. It was hard to distinguish even though it was such a definitive flat black against  the grays, greens and tans of the stump, against the trunks of the redwood trees.

I went back to the couch and picked up To the Lighthouse.

I had promised myself that I would reread To the Lighthouse over the holiday weekend and I was keeping that promise. I love the way the book requires the reader to slow down, to sink into each line of prose, and how the book rewards the reader for that. At the same time, I could not read it through in one unbroken sitting. Sometimes the story forced me to get up. I’d go stand on our deck between the two red Adirondack chairs and stare down at the onion-spired lodge and the sparkling sea beyond. I’d listen for the raven. I’d wander our cabin, Rose Cottage, which is one of he early ones, a blend of an old fisherman’s cabin (the bathroom and kitchen) and the 1970s imaginings of Eric, with an octagonal window at each end and two skylights, one beam carved into a bird. At night, with the nearly full moon, the cabin glimmered in silvery light and the line of the ribbed skylight over the sitting room and the octagon window looked like a train terminal, someone’s grand central station, somewhere.

Rose Cottage Interior

Rose Cottage Interior

I’d walk away from To the Lighthouse because I needed to contemplate.  I didn’t want to think about the book. I didn’t want to use the top of my brain, the intellect. I wasn’t mulling over the freshman-paper questions: What is the importance of the lighthouse? Why doesn’t Mr. Carmichael like, or at least admire, Mrs Ramsay? Is it significant that while we quickly learn Mrs. Dalloway’s first name in Mrs. Dalloway, we never seem to hear Mrs. Ramsey’s? What does the animal skull in the children’s room symbolize? No, I needed to walk to way to let the prose, the rolling, looping, swooping sentences, settle, or let my brain settle around them, those repetitions, the lines of poetry, the chorus of women can’t write, women can’t paint, the recollection which moves like a virus from Mr. Bankes to Lily Briscoe of Mrs. Ramsey all in gray. Sometimes I walked up the four stairs to the elevated bedroom. Sometimes I looked out the narrow six-paned window.



We promised we would go to the bookstore on Sunday if it were fine. Actually, if it had been storming like crazy we would have gone. I got a fantasy novella. Then we talked along Highway One to see Red Stella’s new space. Red Stella is a high-end clothing and accessory shop who moved from Cypress Village into the old Post Office building. They have twice as much space and are right on the highway. That’s got to be good.

Red Stella, now in the old Post Office building.

Red Stella, now in the old Post Office building.

I admired the new roof on the Surf Market, because Spouse was in charge of that project, his final project before retirement.

Clover with dew dropsOn our way out, we had taken the drive that loops around the Meadows. Spouse slowed down and pulled in as close to the stump as we could. “Well, there you go,” he said.

A black stone Buddha on a madrone stumps, surrounded by stones.

A black stone Buddha on a madrone stumps, surrounded by stones.

Buddha close up.

It’s Buddha in the redwoods.

Posted in View from the Road | 1 Comment

The Trickster Gods Convention; 2017 in Review

It’s customary… at least I guess it’s customary… well, some people take the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve to review and reflect on the year that nearly past, and plan for the one that’s coming up.


2017 was a year for the history books, certainly. If you believe in trickster gods, they must have been having a convention in our dimension this year, and they got us. They got us good. Globally, nationally and locally it was a year of disappointments and disasters. The politics were mostly bad, with startling sparks of hope and goodness. Natural disasters filled my awareness the second half of the year. Nationalism and “nativism” clawed their bloody way to new heights of prominence and new depths of behavior, egged on by platforms like Twitter. Close friends endured major setbacks in their lives, as did people I don’t even know in places like Puerto Rico, where many citizens still don’t have electricity.

"We totally Got them! They did not see 2017 coming!" says the three-legged crow. Larry Vienneau, The Three Legged Birds, Etching 2010

“We totally GOT them! They did not see 2017 coming!” says the three-legged crow.Larry Vienneau, The Three Legged Birds, Etching 2010

We personally emerged from the devastating fires unscathed and for that I am very grateful. On the personal front, I think I dodged, not a bullet but a cannonball, health-wise. It remains to be seen, going into 2018, what kinds of changes I will need to make in my life to keep dodging it.

Personally, much of 2017 was great. My trip to Finland and Iceland was wonderful. WorldCon was the least interesting thing about it, and I still had a good time there. What I learned is that WorldCon is a little too big for me to truly enjoy myself. But I got to see parts of Helisnki, so the whole trip was a plus.

Image from behind the Central Terminal in Helsinki

Image from behind the Central Terminal in Helsinki

Reflections of Reykjavik

Reflections of Reykjavik

Iceland, an island of glaciers, waterfalls and volcanoes.

Iceland, an island of glaciers, waterfalls and volcanoes.

And the eclipse! In the middle of a terrible year, a celestial wonder that brought the nation together in a way that was positive and fun. And… how amazing!

I got to spend some time with our friend Sharon, and that is always a plus.

My September visit to Hawaii meant connecting with Linda, Marta and the writing group, and a writing workshop face to face after several years of Skype was like a breath of fresh mountain air (not an active volcano, some other mountain). It was wonderful. And our newest workshop member, Tania, brings intelligence, originality and humor to the mix.

Marta Randall at HawaiiCon, where we almost all met up.

Marta Randall at HawaiiCon, where we almost all met up.

I tend to think of 2017 as a bad writing year, but I have to analyze that because I am reacting to disappointments that are recent. In 2017, a story of mine won a writing contest. An anthology with a story of mine it in came out. And I got paid a little bit of money. None of that is bad.

Weekly writing sessions with Brandy boosted my productivity and kept me going when disappointment urged me to just stop, just give up and stick to something I’m good at, like book reviews. The Benicia crew continued to be a lifeline of support, acerbic observations about the nature of life, a bubbling spring of creativity and all-round hilariousness.

The first half of 2017 I spent finished the first draft of a novel. So it’s done. I guess that’s some kind of a milestone.

I thought I had a good book, but the reaction of my writers group was flat. One person didn’t even finish it. When you don’t finish a book after you’ve made a writers-group commitment to finish, it’s got to be pretty bad. She hasn’t told me when or why she stopped, or what threw her out. I should ask, but to my surprise, I was pretty wounded by the responses in general and hers specifically – too hurt to ask, actually.

So, one of those “plans” for 2018 is to reread it, take stock and start in on a revision.

On the other hand, I did get an invitation to submit to another anthology. That’s good.

I think my writing is improving. My attempts to stretch my storytelling style, which was one of my 2017 goals, have had some success. It’s left me in a place where it’s difficult to get feedback. Sometimes people who have known you, and your work, for a long time have trouble helping you change direction. I spent the last half of the year feeling betwixt and between.

Events like FOGCon, in Walnut Creek (a literary SF convention) and canvassing in Manteca (political activism) expanded my horizons a bit. I never would have expected to spend 2017 calling my elected representatives on a nearly-weekly basis, but I did. And I will in 2018, too, if I need to.

I didn’t get a new car. It’s part of the plan for 2018.

So is a trip to Florida, in May, just for fun.

In 2016 I gave myself an informal slogan; “2016 is the year I write for money.” And I earned about $600. I did not give myself the same slogan in 2017, and I earned $150. Maybe 2018 will be another year that I will write for money, and I will be more assertive about sending short work out. And I’ll spruce up that novel that nobody likes.

The year ended with two good things. Spouse retired! Really! He’s home, like, most of the time. This will prove interesting. And Brandy opened a used bookstore in the same location as Mockingbird. When Mark and Geronimo moved Mockingbird to Tracy, I felt the loss, and I am thrilled to drive by and see the cheery yellow Second Chances Used Books sign over the window. It’s a joy to get to shelve books and help people find just the right read again.

2018 is all about second chances. (Banner in front of store.)

2018 is all about second chances.

2017? Politically baffling. Economically awful. Physically devastating. Travel-wise, delightful. Creatively mixed. Healthwise, responsible (somewhat belatedly). Family and friendwise, one of the best years in a while. I hated about half of it. And I loved about half of it. Given what we had to work with in 2017, I’ll take that and call it good.

I’d like to say, “We survived the Tricksters Convention!” but I have the feeling they’re not done with us yet. Have a safe and joyous 2018, and take care of yourselves and each other in the new year.

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2017: The Books We Got for Christmas

Here’s my report on Christmas, 2017, and the books we got.


Two Kinds of Truth, the latest Michael Connelly mystery. This is a Harry Bosch book, not a Mickey Haller, so I think it’ll satisfy.

Since We Fell, by Dennis Lehane. This is crime fiction with an interesting female main character. And we love Lehane’s prose.

The Big Burn, Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, by Timothy Egan. Published in 2010, this nonfiction work looks at Roosevelt’s legislation to create national parks, and the devastating forest fires in the Pacific Northwest in 1910 that swayed public opinion in his direction.


City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty. I am looking forward to dipping into this newly released fantasy novel. Of course it’s Book One of a trilogy!

Mixed Up, edited by Molly Tanzen and Nick Mamatas. This slim book contains cocktail-themed flash fiction and cocktail recipes for the drinks references. I don’t know which came first here; were the invited writers given a list of drinks to choose from, or did they pick the drink for which the editors then added the recipe? Whichever way it went, it is good fun. Like any anthology, the stories are not all to my taste, and the short word count exacerbates the problem in a couple of cases, but there are several I loved, and the cocktail lore is delightful. A perfect New Year’s Eve book.

In The Wake of the Plague, by Norman Cantor. Published in 2002, this upbeat little number looks at the spread of bubonic plague in 14th century Europe. It is interesting but disappointing on several levels. Cantor introduces the concept that there were two diseases, not one, sweeping Britain and Europe during the period in question. His theory is that the other disease was anthrax, which does fit the facts. So far, though (I’m on page 60) he’s said very little about that. He also dwells on the fact that the 14th century mindset was different from the 21st century mindset, and has no difficulty judging them from his lofty perch in the ever so much more enlightened 21st. My immediate reaction is to quote an old aphorism about glass houses and throwing rocks. His prose is also somewhat less than elegant. I will continue to read it though, because his descriptions of life during the time period is interesting.

Of course we got gift cards, so more books are coming!

Have a Happy 2018, everyone!

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The Final Four: American Gods ReWatch, Season One

I finished watching all of Season One, and I find I have more quibbles with the final four episodes on a second viewing.

I still enjoy the show; I am eager for Season Two, especially since Fuller and Green tried to end on a cliffhanger, with the tour bus carrying Bilquis headed to the House of the Rock.

Bilquis is one serious god-queen.

Bilquis is one serious god-queen.

I love that Bilquis and Ostara, who were minor characters in the book, have been elevated to secondary player status here. That’s all to the good. I love Neil Gaiman, but he never did write good goddesses until The House at the End of the Lane. His earlier female gods were all bit parts, and almost all just temptresses. In Sandman, the god character who fulfills the function of Bilquis works at a strip club. This is a male view of female deities. Being stared at while you swing around a pole when your calves hurt and your breasts hurt and you hope you can make enough in tips to get the car fixed and pay the rent, and you hope nobody gets rough with you in the parking lot—again– is not worship*. It’s not new and it’s not particularly insightful. Maybe Fuller and Green are going to do a bit better with it.

Ostara in her demure aspect as Easter.

Ostara in her demure aspect as Easter.

So, goddesses, good. On the flip side, while the plot elements of “Death of a God” advance the story (finally!), the creation of the town of Vulcan is stereotypical and overplayed. I do love that we see the town from Shadow’s point of view, and there is so escaping just how scary it is. Corbin Bernsen does a great job as the lame god of the volcano and the forge.

I thought the stereotyping of “gun nuts” was overdone, but I can accept that Vulcan, who was the god of blacksmithing, would morph into the god of the gun. I didn’t like, “Every gun fired in a crowded theater is a prayer to me.”  Well, is every shot fired by a hunter bringing food home for his family, every shot a woman takes at the rattlesnake gliding along the edge of her patio where her kids play also a prayer to Vulcan? Certainly, fear is a big part of what drives a vocal group of gun-owners; many other gun owners have different views. The show tries to do a disclaimer with Wednesday’s speech as they roll into town, but it seemed too easy. And Vulcan’s casual bigotry is baffling, unless he was directed to treat Shadow that way as an insult to Wednesday. Shadow seems to think so… but it wasn’t clear to me. It felt like the showrunners were relying on the tropes they’d set up – gun nuts! Company town! Weird uniforms!—to do their work for them.

However, the ending, and Wednesday’s curse, were great stuff, and I hope we see that curse play out in future seasons.

That’s one thing I noticed; if we measure by the rate Season One moved, they’re going to need at least five seasons (maybe eight?) to get anywhere even close to completing the story? If they continue to move as slowly as Season One did, I’m not sure Starz is going to stick with them that long. I’m not sure I’ll stick with them that long, frankly.

Things I loved in the final four episodes:

“A Prayer for Mad Sweeney.” The backstory had little to do with the plot but it was sweet, sad and beautiful. This is a thing a visual medium can do that print medium cannot; by casting the same actors as two different sets of characters, it creates a connection between those sets. Thus Laura and Essie McGowan (Tregowan in the book), resonate with each other, and the episode made me like Laura better. And Mad Sweeney is confronting his conscience over killing Laura. This works, and works well, because of Emily Browning and Pablo Schreiber.

I don't think Laura's dead yet in this scene.

I don’t think Laura’s dead yet in this scene.

In “A Lemon-Scented You” I liked that we finally see Mr. World, and that, even though he is what he is, he is clumsy operating in the real world. He needs Media to, well mediate for him. Of course, this again is a traditional female role, but Gillian Anderson has risen to the challenge. I liked the strange, suspenseful face-off scene that quivered with danger. I liked the cop who interrogated Shadow and I was sad when she was killed.

(Mediated reality is what we live in right now; a world where we are bombarded by data… “information?”… that assumes no moral requirement to be accurate or honest. Our experiences are shaped, curated, edited, second hand. “Pics or it didn’t happen.” When Wednesday says, “You fill their time; we gave them meaning,” true or not, that’s what he means.)

Mr. World

Mr. World

Of course I loved Kristen Chenowith as Ostara/Easter. I loved her pastel house. And I love Orlando Jones as the spider god Anansi and I hope he continues to make appearances.

If Fuller and Green do the stereotypical thing with Selim and the Djinn, I will be vey angry. And since that will be all them (because these were minor characters in the book) I will probably stop watching.

And, it’s hard to talk at all about American Gods without taking a moment to mention the astonishing Ricky Whittle and the brilliant-as-always Ian McShane.

*No, I don’t know from personal experience, but I have talked to three different women who did exotic dancing. For two of them it was in their distant pasts. None of them necessarily hated it—except for feeling unsafe—but no one felt especially worshipped.

All images are courtesy of STARZ via

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Second Chances Used Books: The Soft Launch

[Second Chances Used Books will be open seven days a week; Monday-Saturday 10:30-6:00, Sunday, 10:30-5:00.]


I did not buy the first book at Second Chances books.  Emma, Brandy’s friend and a former Copperfield’s employee, said on Friday that she was going to get over early on Saturday and buy the first book. She had it all picked out. I wasn’t going to arm-wrestle Emma for the privilege because I would lose that contest.

This was the view coming through the door Saturday morning.

This was the view coming through the door Saturday morning.

In fact, Brandy had random customers walk in first thing, and they made the first purchase at 10:32. Emma, chagrined, made the second purchase.

 I think Emma should become the store's official photographic model.

I think Emma should become the store’s official photographic model.

I said mine was the third but I think I forgot that someone else bought a book after Emma, so my To the Lighthouse purchase was the fourth official sale.

To The Lighthouse, the fourth sale.

To The Lighthouse, the fourth sale.

I’m slipping. I did bring cake, though.

(I parked behind Rite Aid and walked over to Safeway to pick it up. I planned to walk to the store, which I did. As I was halfway across the crosswalk on Main Street, a car making a left turn shot across in front of me. I remember thinking clearly, “If you kill me in the crosswalk before I deliver the cake, driver dude, I will haunt you for the rest of your life. And your children’s lives.”  I’m serious about cake.)

"Happy Soft Launch" does not have quite the same ring.

“Happy Soft Launch” does not have quite the same ring.

Many, many people came to the store on Saturday! Some were family, some were friends, some were folks who hadn’t known that Mockingbird had moved, but who stayed and shopped and bought books.

I had been baffled about the Mockingbird thing for weeks, but finally the logic of it had percolated through. Several people who came in said they were not local, but they came up a few times a year to visit family and so on. Mockingbird moved to Tracey, California, after their last visit. I’m sure several of them will become Second Chances converts.

This was part of the Children's Section on Saturday. Lots of nice picture books!

This was part of the Children’s Section on Saturday. Lots of nice picture books!

The shelves look pretty with so many books faced outward, but Brandy is rushing to get more books listed, cleaned, labeled and on the shelves. A broken thermal ribbon in the labelling process delayed her a couple of days before the soft opening.

Second Chances Used Books is about half the size of Mockingbird, so words like “large” are relative.

Sections to check out:
— Buddhism is already a large section, with some classic works.
–In the case right next to it, Western Religion already shows a good selection.

–History encompasses General History, Military History, Classical, European and US. As the inventory grows Asian and African history will definitely become subcategories. There are some intriguing books in Political History, too.

–California and the West and Native Americans have their own bookcase, near the front of the store. This is a section that will grow, too.

–Cookbooks; she already has some great ones.
–Art; small but mighty.
–The collection of Alternative Health, Bodywork and Diet and Nutrition includes some good yoga books and some other bodywork volumes.

–Biography has some classics, some unusual selections and the promise of more works in the future.

Second Chances is in west Sonoma County, so of course there is a section on Mythology, Metaphysics, Astrology and Self-Help. There will also be a robust LGBTIQ section.

Two books from the History Section. I want both of them.

Two books from the History Section. I want both of them.

Brandy is intimidatingly well-read and the general fiction section is already chock-full of great writers you would expect. Genre is filling in, though. Take a look at:

–Science Fiction
–Horror (tiny and Lovecraftian.)
–Poetry, Essays and Literary Criticism are small but solid sections.

Children’s Books and Teen Books already look great.

There were a few technical glitches, but the weekend went great!

Second Chances Used Book Sign with the book and vase logo

Second Chances Used Books Sign with the Logo

On Tuesday, two thirds of the signs arrived. There is Brandy’s beautiful sign, capturing exactly the feeling you have when you walk into the store.

Orange chair with side table and lamp. Sit a spell, turn those pages and relax.

Sit a spell, turn those pages and relax.

Stop by, browse the books, and avail yourself of one of the Three Sisters, the comfy chairs that are not only, well, comfy, but in some way guardian spirits of the shop. They set a tone, they send a message; “This shop is a sanctuary from all the world’s craziness. Stop in, sit a spell, read a little, and take a portal to another time or place with you when you go.”

UPDATE: Wow, Friday and yesterday were busy days! The space was flooded with people. Adults and kids curled up in the chairs, paging through books, or sat on the floor. Customer after customer said how pleased they were to have a used bookstore back in town!

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Mrs. Dalloway at the Gift Wrapping Station

I volunteered for two shifts, on different days, at the library’s gift-wrapping station. Their slogan, “Buy local, wrap local.” Bring your gifts to the library and we will wrap them for you, or help you wrap them if you prefer.

My first shift started at 4:00pm on Friday. In my imagination, I was well-prepared, showing up with water, snacks and a book for slow times. I even had the book; Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. I’d been dipping into it in the evenings. It would have been the perfect book for a stint with slow spells and flurries of activity.

I spent a few hours Friday putting books on shelves at Second Chances Used Books

I spent a few hours Friday putting books on shelves at Second Chances Used Books


Here are some more books.

Here are some more.

I spent most of that day, though, helping my friend get her store ready for her soft opening, and when I arrived at the library I had only one of my three survival-kit items; water. There was some good news, though. I was in a library. They had books. And the Friends of the Library (which was where I had heard of the activity in the first place) had a big sale table with paperbacks for fifty cents. I spent a dollar—because why not?—on a copy of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. While I waited for customers, I followed Clarissa Dalloway as she left her house that lovely June morning, the morning of her party.


A confession first, that will surprise no one who knows my lowbrow genre reading tastes: My favorite Woolf book is Orlando. Naturally I love the story about a nearly-immortal character who changes sex and lives nearly four hundred years. To the Lighthouse is my second favorite. I have read excerpts from Mrs. Dalloway but never read the book.


The table was not staffed when I got there. It wasn’t staffed either day when I arrived, but it functioned as a self-service wrapping station quite well. When I showed up on Friday, an eleven-year-old girl was wrapping a present by herself. I offered to help, she politely declined. She was wrapping a gift for her teacher, she said. She was doing a pretty good job but she was using a lot of tape. I showed her the trick of folding in the sides of the paper first, then the bottom and top. “And less tape!” she said. She had picked bright red and light green paper with elves on it, and she chose a snowy white bow for the top. I think her teacher will be happy.

Food for Fines, an amnesty program.

Food for Fines, an amnesty program.

Mrs. Dalloway is a reminder of how interested in mind, in thought and in memory, Woolf was, and how deeply observant, not only of the people around her, but her own mental processes. Woolf adeptly captures that chattering mental voice (my Buddhist friends call it monkey-mind), the voice that I imagine as coming from the front of my skull somehow. In a deep third-person point of view, Woolf’s circular, discursive sentences, the repeated phrases, the pauses, the contradictory clauses all ring with the truth of the voice in our heads. And how apparently effortlessly she glides out of one person’s head –I meant to say “character’s,” but these are people—into another’s, sometimes drawing back out of all of them to give us an omniscient point of view of an airplane or a motorcar before slipping cleanly back into Clarissa’s mind, or Peter’s, or the seriously troubled Septimus Warren Smith’s.

Clarissa Dalloway, Richard Dalloway, Peter Walsh and Lady Bruton, who are all of a certain class, think in the words and rhythms of that class. They think in clichés, but this is not a failing of the writer. Woolf chooses those phrases with intent, those collections of words that imply a meaning without producing one, a mirror image to the observation that Septimus Warren Smith is beginning to give words “a symbolic meaning.” For the Dalloways and their neighbors, these phrases reassure. They protect people from real memories, real insights.  Here is one of my favorites, as Lady Bruton greets Hugh Whitbread for luncheon. Whitbread, although he has influence, is often mocked behind his back.

“… But she wouldn’t let them run down her poor dear Hugh. She would never forget his kindness – he had really been remarkably kind – she forgot precisely on what occasion.”


The gift-wrapping station is set up between a bank of self-checkout machines and the coin-operated self-serve photocopier. For a gift wrapper, this means at any given time there can be somebody or somebodies moving about doing things, right over their shoulders, out of view. If you’re mildly paranoid, this can be uncomfortable.

Hello, have we met? I’m Mildly Paranoid.


Septimus Warren Smith displays the symptoms of Shell Shock, which we now call PTSD, certainly. But there is a darker current running underneath those characteristics; the delusions, the voices. Does he have schizophrenia?


A slim woman in a bright purple sweater came up to me. Her hair was tarnished-silver gray and cut in a bob. “I have a question,” she said. “You do free gift-wrapping, but where do the gifts come from?”

“You buy and bring your gifts and we’ll wrap them for you,” I said.

She stared. She put her hand over her mouth and started to laugh. “Of course!” she chortled, shaking her head.

The golden dress. This window is dedicated to all the first responders, a holiday Thank You.

The golden dress. This window is dedicated to all the first responders, a holiday Thank You.

“Shredding and slicing, dividing and subdividing, the clocks of Harley Street nibbled at the June day, counselled submission, upheld authority, and pointed out in chorus the supreme advantages of a sense of proportion, until the mound of time was so far diminished that a commercial clock, suspended above a shop in Oxford Street, announced genially and fraternally, as if it were a pleasure of Messrs. Rigby and Loundes to give the information gratis that it was half-past one.”

Holiday Fantasy

Holiday Fantasy

I wrapped a Giant Book of Madlibs for a woman. It was for her grand-daughter. She got it at Copperfields…. I may have to go get one.

For another woman I wrapped a book of activities to do in Napa and Sonoma counties. She bought it for her mother who just moved here. She also bought a beautiful book of wildlife photography, and I wrapped that in dark blue paper with silver stars.


The library is offering a fine-amnesty program, Food for Fines, through the end of the year. Bring some canned food for the food bank, and they will expunge your fines.


Throughout the book, Clarissa orders, exhorts, pleads with people to, “Remember the party! Remember my party!” Woolf never needs to use words like “plead,” or “exhort.” The placing of the dialogue, the cadence of it, carry Clarissa’s panic nicely. Clarissa is fifty-two. Her only child is an adolescent who has been drawn into the circle of a bitter, deeply religious woman who is completely different from Clarissa. Clarissa’s husband was invited to luncheon at Lady Bruton’s, whose luncheons are said to be most amusing, but Clarissa was not included.

Clarissa is a perfect hostess. Everyone says so. Even Peter Walsh, who says it to wound her (because she could, somehow, have been so much more), says it. So why is she so anxious?


On my second-day shift a stooped, white-haired man came up to the table. He put down a tiny bath-duckie. I wondered if he wanted me to wrap it. It’s a working-class duck, with a hard hat, a safety vest and a sledge hammer over one shoulder, if ducks have shoulders, if bath-ducks have shoulders. “This is for you,” he said.

“For me?” I said, like the heroine in a 1930s romantic novel. “Well, thank you.”

A working class bath duck.

A working class bath duck.

The first day, when I left at six, it was dark. Despite my coat and the fact that the bank’s temperature sign read 57 degrees, I could not stop shivering as I walked to where I had parked my car. Main Street was lighted up, and those balls of lights that look kind of silly and even cheesy during the day looked like magic.

Main Street Lights.

Main Street Lights.




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