Oh, the horror

Since I occasionally tend to lazily put things off, I’ve been sitting for months on a pile of to-be-written book reviews that just kept growing to the point where it really started to look like work. That made me feel so guilty, I decided to give a few of the authors on that pile a bit of a shout-out here on my blog, to atone for my neglective behavior.

Let’s start with Pat Black. At one point in the past, I stumbled upon one of his collections of short stories and greatly enjoyed reading them. Let’s face it, short stories are an art of their own, like a minimalist painting – not every painter can capture the moment with just a few strokes of the brush, and not every writer can draw a reader into their world with just a few lines. Pat Black is one of those who can, which is also why I invited him to contribute to the last Cake & Quill anthology, Paws and Claws. Luckily, he said yes.

But as good a short story writer as he is, there’s one thing Pat Black is even better at, which brings us back to the title of this post. Oh, the horror.

Last atumn I got myself this little novella, innocuously titled ‘Sleepover‘. Oh boy. Do not, repeat, NOT read home alone in the dark. This is a seriously masterfully scary tale. I made the mistake of reading it in bed before going to sleep, which promptly resulted in the most horrid nightmare and, when I woke up in the middle of the night, me being too scared to even go to the bathroom. There simply didn’t seem to be a safe place outside my blanket, and I wasn’t even home alone. I had the husband there, both kids and the dog, but I nevertheless felt like a child driven to almost wetting my pants based on a work of complete fiction.

Stupid, eh? Ha. You just go and read it yourself. Sleep well. If you can.

 

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Here’s To Another Year

I may be a bit late to the party, but we’re only two weeks into 2018, so I guess it’s still okay to wish everybody a Happy New Year. Hopefully it will turn out a good one for all of us.

Of course I came up with a handful of resolutions, like, um, be a little more active on my blog maybe… you can already see how well that is working out. At least I managed the exercise-and-eat-healthier part all right. I even forced to kids to eat salad last Saturday, and I’m still alive to tell the tale.

Usually on New Year’s Eve, I fall quiet around midnight, with half of me wanting to sing Auld Lang Syne, and the other half craving to hear the bells of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and subsequently waltz into the New Year like I used to do in Vienna. Living in Germany now, I get to do neither, so I just settle for watching the fireworks and let the past year’s fears and worries get born away, one colorful explosion at a time. Then I go back inside with the blessed feeling of a tabula rasa, ready to start over. This year, I somehow missed the magical moment where everything resets. Probably because it was a super stormy night, the teenagers from vis-à-vis were drunk as hell, and one could never be quite sure which way their fireworks would take off. The little girl got scared, the bottle of sparkling wine got blown off the wall and shattered before anyone had more than one sip, and in the end I went inside with an unsatisfied, pissed off feeling. One year swished off into the next, and that was that.

I’m still hopeful. The world isn’t half as going down the drain as it sometimes looks. There’s good things, and good people, everywhere. Be one of them, and be vocal. Oh, and plant flowers.

PS: Here’s a free book for you to start off… okay, maybe not exactly start… whatever.

 

 

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Kissing Santa Claus

My husband and I, we never made our children believe in Santa Claus or any other mysterious gift bearer. Quite the opposite – the kids always know precisely which gift comes from whom. We didn’t decide to go for the ‘more truth, less mystery’ version in order not to lie to them, or to spoil the magic. Instead we told them that we can’t rightly know whether or not there really is someone like Santa, and that if there is, he must have loads to do, and since we can afford to buy our own gifts, we don’t want to exploit him.

I don’t know what that makes us. All I know is, some stories insist on their existence. Some mysteries simply persist, no matter what parents say or do. Santa Claus, it appears, is one of them.

Jack is an old friend of my husband’s family. Originally from Ecuador, he spent a few years in Germany working as a surgeon. That’s how he met my mom-in-law; they worked at the same hospital, and became friends. Jack took his own family back to Ecuador decades ago, nevertheless, he stayed in touch.

Jack has always been what some people might call a character. That hasn’t changed now that he’s retired, grown a belly and a beard, and his hair has turned snowy white.

He came for a visit a week or so ago. He still speaks German, but occasionally needs to turn to his wife, Monica, to help him out with a missing piece of vocabulary – and vice versa – and he speaks with the sweetest Spanish accent.

“I went to Los Angeles, in summer,” he told us. I saw Monica briefly close her eyes and shake her head. “So embarrassing,” she muttered. Jack ignored her. “I wanted to hitchhike to New York,” he went on. I pricked up my ears. Hitchhike from L.A. to New York? At the age of 70-something? Jack’s face was perfectly solemn, but there was a twinkle in his dark eyes. “I found a truck driver,” he went on. “Guy told me he wouldn’t drive me to New York, he was going to San Francisco, so I told him, fine, take me there.”

That was probably the point where I decided that I want to be like Jack when I grow up.

“And then I thought I’d go back to Los Angeles by bicycle.”

“No way,” my husband interrupted. “That’s too far.” I said no, it’s not, Jack agreed with me, though neither of us was quite sure how far it actually is. “You can go all the way along the coast” – that much at least I knew – “and it’s a beautiful route.” Jack turned his solemn nod my way. “Very true,” he said, “it took me twelve days to get back to Los Angeles. And then I thought I might earn a little money. Here, I’ll show you.”

He dug his phone from his pocket. Monica’s eyes closed again.

The video someone made of Jack showed him sitting on a sidewalk, upturned baseball cap before him, with his flowing white hair and beard, dressed in hat and poncho like the living embodiment of every South American cliché, playing the guitar and singing some Spanish song – not too bad, actually.

My husband burst out laughing. “You look like Santa Claus on holidays.” Jack grinned. “That’s because I am Santa Claus.” My nine-year-old son rolled his eyes. My seven-year-old daughter looked skeptical.

Later, when we said our goodbyes, Jack pointed at his cheek and demanded kisses. My daughter couldn’t reach high enough, so she stood on tiptoe and he stooped, but whenever she got too close, he moved up a bit, just out of her reach. “You need to be taller,” he said. I wasn’t having that, so I lifted her up and she successfully planted her kiss. He laughed.

She was a bit jittery when she put her shoes on, so my dad-in-law couldn’t resist teasing her. “What did you do, kiss Santa Claus?” She scowled. “He’s not really Santa. He’s just Jack.”

Back home again, though, in the familiar comfort of her own bed, the question apparently ran too deep and she couldn’t sleep. “Mom?” she asked me when I came to her room for one more bit of cuddles. “Did I really kiss Santa Claus?”

 

 

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Little Red is coming home

A while ago, when I couldn’t sleep, I asked my husband to tell me a story. He was too tired to really comply, but mumbled something about an alternative Little Red Riding Hood, who gave the cake to the wolf and they all lived happily ever after. Talk about planting a seed.

Months went by, and one after the other nine alternative Little Reds popped up in my head. Some don’t stray overly far from the original story. Some are barely recognizable. Some get a happy ending. Some don’t. One of them might actually be called a fairy tale. None of them are suitable for children, but then again, neither is the original, when you think about it.

All of them are in this book. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

 

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The end of the world, and superheroes

It’s been quite a while since my last confession… no, since someone else’s confession, meaning me inviting another writer over to spill all their secrets in reply to my silly questions, so I thought I might let C H Clepitt have another go. You might remember, I got her to talk about a fantasy novel of hers once, The Book of Abisan (still highly recommended). This time around, I’ll let her tell us about something a little more realistic – the end of the world, and superheroes. Aaaaaand here we go.

Who are you again?

C H Clepitt

Where are you this time?

Right now I’m on the sofa. I may move, I may not.

Sounds reasonable. How are you?

World’s most stupid question! Does anyone actually want to know the answer?!

Duh! Would I ask the question if I didn’t want to know the answer?! Okay, which book do you want to talk about?

I’m gunna talk about Everything is Better with a Cape, the Second Part to I Wore Heels to the Apocalypse.

Why did you write it?

Because the characters still had stuff to say, and people wanted to know what happened to the badger.

Of course. Everybody always wants to know what happens to the badger. He’s not the main character, though. We want to know about that one, too.

My main character and narrator in both books is Kerry. She is a sort of hopeless every woman. We know she’s five foot six, and attractive, but I don’t go into more detail than that, as I want readers to be able to envision characters that they can relate to, and for that reason I try not to over describe physical appearance, unless it’s relevant to the plot.

If you could make up your own genre for this book, what would it be?

I would like people to look at my book and think “I might like that” without me having to label it for them. I suppose I could label it “not erotica” because eeeek!

Is there a message in your book? Do you want your readers to take something home?

There are quite a few messages in my books, but if I have to explain that then I’m doing something wrong! Read it and see!

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a fantasy novel, working title is The Smuggler’s Daughter. It will be a stand alone book, but will tie in with The Book of Abisan later on. We’ve waited a while for that series to continue.

Indeed. And we’re not happy about it. We don’t like waiting. Anyway, back to superheroes… Which target audience do you write for? What do you think makes your book especially appealing for that audience?

I write things that I would want to read, which means I write diverse characters who react plausibly to whatever situation you put them in. There is not only one type of person in the world and I try and show that through my writing. It makes me really happy when a reader tells me they found something they could really relate to in one of my books.

Do parts of you shine through? Are some characters like you, or friends, or family?

Almost all of my characters have parts of me, they’d have to, wouldn’t they? Some have more annoying parts of me than others.

Who is your favorite author?

So many, how can I choose? I will say that all through school and much of university, I didn’t really like reading, because the syllabus I was given was mainly old white, male writers, and I was yet to find a voice I could relate to. Then, for my master’s degree I read Virginia Woolf and Silvia Townsend Warner and I finally heard voices I could identify with. It was like an awakening, and I thought, yes, there are books for me out there. I think until that point I’d felt rather sidelined. Everyone deserves to love reading and find books and characters they can relate to, and the way we do that is by encouraging all different types of authors to tell their stories.

Is there an author you’d love to be compared to?

Depends if it was in a positive way or not! How about Angelika Rust??

Depends if it was in a positive way or not! 😛 What are you addicted to or can’t live without?

Writing. I need to be writing something all the time. I don’t know how I’d survive without it.

What happened to sleep and coffee? Ah, well. Not everybody needs those, apparently. What’s the most stupid question you’ve ever been asked?

I look much younger than I am, so I get asked a lot of stupid and patronising questions. Fortunately I have mastered the Paddington Stare!!

A badger with a Paddington Stare, now that’s surely a sight. I mean, Batman. But wait, you’re not really Batman, are you? Are you? Hey, where have you gone? Somewhere here, presumably:

Find C H Clepitt on Facebook, Twitter, her website, Amazon.

 

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#metoo = #toomuch?

I really didn’t want, or expect, to write another post about the whole #metoo issue, but what with the reactions I’ve seen all over the internet, and a few incidents that hit the same spot, I couldn’t help it. So here’s what happened over the past weeks.

A local shoemaker went public with a request for help. It probably was supposed to be funny, only it wasn’t. He talked about how his shop was so tiny, he occasionally couldn’t help touching his female co-worker, how flirting with customers helped business, and how it occasionally happens that when he’s had a few beer, he might kiss the lady at the bar goodbye and tell her to have sweet dreams alongside whoever, unfortunately not him. Now should he wait until he was a famous shoemaker and hope all those women wouldn’t be jealous, or should he immediately go to the police and give himself up? Congratulations, you’re part of the problem. The co-worker might appreciate it if you at least tried to move aside on occasion, just because your customers are smiling over your clumsy attempts at compliments doesn’t mean they’re not inwardly groaning, and the lady at the bar could tell you a million stories, it’s just that she won’t, because the customer is king and she relies on you to come back and not spend your money elsewhere. She has bills to pay, and she has learned over the years to shrug it all off. And as to hoping all those women won’t be jealous… I don’t even. I mean, honestly. Let that sink in. Women file charges because their jealous? Are you even real?

The guy who shared the shoemaker’s request was a close family member, someone I know as an intelligent, thoughtful, even intellectual man, with a functioning moral compass. He didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with those questions. You, too, are part of the problem.

An Austrian politician got accused of sexual harrassment by two different women – the reports mentioned everything from sleazy comments to unwelcome kissing attempts to drunken groping. He eventually stepped down, which is a bit of a political disaster – he was one of the “good guys”, you know, liberal, a supporter of social justice and environmental politics, that sort of thing. We need people like that, and we’re going to miss him. Both women are members of other political parties, which naturally makes them his enemies in the eyes of some. Now dig this: The (male) journalist who reported the facts got accused of seeking power and attention, and the women’s motives got questioned, obviously, because enemies, right? They had to have had motives other than simply being pissed off with unwelcome advances. Almost no one in my liberal, open-minded circle of friends, who believe themselves supporters of equality and justice, thought those women were telling the truth. They never stopped for long enough to even briefly wonder if they were okay. Part of the problem? You bet.

I recently sent a handful of short stories out to beta readers. One story features a case of workplace harrassment. I describe the perpetrator in question as a guy who gravitates to the woman’s desk every day around noon. He’s been doing it for months. She’s not interested. She tried subtle hints at first. He didn’t get them, so she told him plainly, and repeatedly. He still continued. She tried shouting at him, flirting with someone else, even claiming she was lesbian. He continued, unperturbed. No one in the office stepped in, because he was such a nice, charming guy, fabulous at his job, and oh, so handsome, she should be honored he’s showering her with attention like that. And now hang on, here’s the thing: a male beta reader sent the story back to me with a note saying that maybe I should make it more clear why she doesn’t want anything to do with him. I was totally baffled at this. I mean, why should she be interested in a guy like that? Is his behavior not justification enough for a woman not to be interested? By the way, that male beta reader fits the same description as the family member I mentioned earlier – intelligent, thoughtful, functioning moral compass. Part of the problem nevertheless.

An Austrian actress went wild on Facebook, claiming to never have been harrassed in her entire life, accusing feminists of rejoicing in being victims and women in general of jumping the bandwagon, of confusing harrassment and actual violence, and of being unable to stand up for themselves unless it’s in the group. In a later interview she went on to say that men have a different approach to sexuality and thus can’t understand what women expect of them or why they feel harrassed, and that the men she talked to complained about increasing insecurity, that they didn’t know anymore how to approach women at all.

No one said that every woman experiences sexual harrassment or violence in her life, and we’re happy for every single one who can honestly say it has never happened to her. The hashtag wasn’t meant to prove that every woman is a poor, poor victim. Remember the wording – “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me, too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

If all the “Me, too”s on your timeline got “too much” for you, stop for a moment and consider what drove those women to post it – not the need to swim along with the flood, not the desire to get a little personal attention. We did it because it’s happening, everywhere in the world, to too many women. Because we’re sick of it. Because we’re expected to understand the poor, insecure men, with their different approach to sexuality, who don’t know anymore how to approach women, but we don’t see a lot of understanding in return. The fact that something has never happened to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it merely means that you lack the first-hand experience to actually grasp it, and by negating it, by ridiculing it, by demanding the victims understand the perpetrators, you are – guess what? – turning yourself into a part of the problem.

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Us and Them

Sorry, this is going to be a long post. TLDR version: We’re all human. Stop thinking in terms of us and them.

Earlier today, someone mentioned something about fences, how it’s up to each of us to decide which side of the fence we’re on, but do we all even see the fence? I gave the most obvious reply – The only ones who can’t see the fence are those standing too close to it. And then I went into the basement for one hour for a simple, dumb paint job, all the while his and my comment revolved around my brain, accompanied by a line of a Gogol Bordello song

“Of course there is no us and them, but them do not think the same.”

(Side question: Would the world be better off without sarcasm, what do you think? Most of the time I doubt it, what with it being such a perfect refuge…)

The brief discussion had originated from a Puerto Rico meme – you know, one of those that tell you that all is fine there, they have all the help they need, turn off CNN, they lie. Comments below ranged from “I knew it!” to Puerto Ricans chiming in on how that was a load of crap and that while it might be true for San Juan, it’s certainly not so for the people in the mountains, who’re still out of power, have to climb across fallen trees to even check on their immediate neighbors and haven’t seen any help in all the time since Maria trampled all over them. However, talking about ‘fences’ in the middle of a humanitarian crisis seems odd, to say the least. Have we really reached the point where instead of providing unconditional help to those in need, we talk about sides and question their narrative? If you’re in favor of Trump, it’s compulsory to believe that CNN lies? Because why? Because the party is always right… Who else just felt a shiver run down their spine?

I grew up with two of my (much older) siblings working as journalists. As a result, to me, journalism meant ethics. Telling the truth no matter what, because that was how my siblings handled their jobs. But that was around 25 years ago. Over the past decades, we’ve seen a decline of journalism and a rise of opinionism. These days, I regularly read German, Austrian, British and American news, and while the first two are comparatively low on opinionism (Example: During the 2016 presidential election campaign, my more or less trusted Austrian weekly paper, for the first time ever, wrote an endorsement for one of the candidates, which almost made me unsubscribe, because that’s a journalistic no-go in my opinion. Don’t tell me whom to vote – give me the facts and let me decide.), it’s incredibly hard to find non-biased articles in UK or US media. There definitely is a fence, and it’s being constantly maintained. Both sides have their narrative, and both suppress or at least quietly leave out any detail which does not support that narrative.

The party is always right. And sadly, this appears to be true on both sides of any aisle.

Last week saw the parliamentary elections in Austria. The Green party, who’d spent the time since the presidential elections believing themselves on an all-time high (it was their candidate who won, thing is only, he didn’t win because he was so awesome, people couldn’t help but flock to his side. He won because the other guy was so horrible, people would have done virtually anything in their power to prevent him.), squabbling amongst themselves, kicking their own party youth out and driving away one of their most prominent members (who promptly ran off to found his own party). What they didn’t do was, sell their message (which should have been easy – I mean, how hard should it be to sell social justice and equality, and a healthy environment?). During the run-up to the elections, their main focus was (and I’m not even exaggerating much) on telling everybody that if they didn’t vote for them, they were sexist, racist, stupid scum. Apparently, the campaign staff learned nothing from Hillary Clinton’s defeat, and never watched Jonathan Pie’s analysis on why Trump won. Basket of deplorables! Seriously, how long did they think that voters would take being insulted? We have the answer now, and it’s: until 2017, because with a pathetic percentage of 3.8%, the Greens won’t be representated in the future Austrian parliament. Not because no one is interested in social justice, equality and a healthy environment, but because they absolutely failed to talk to the other side, and thereby managed to lose their own. What an absolute shame.

I talked to members as well as supporters of the Austrian Green party before the elections, and I always got to hear the same: “They’re evil. I don’t even want to talk to them.” Them being the people who voted for the two available right-wing parties. Who turned out to be the majority. Why did that happen? Because, due to the fact that Austria ranked pretty much on top of the countries who took in refugees over the past two years, the right-wing parties grabbed the refugee topic, rolled it out, seized people’s fears, distrust, whatever, and played the prevalent emotions like the experts they are, while the Greens had nothing in response other than labelling everyone a racist. They never considered, not even for a second, that fears and distrust can be alleviated by facts, by information, by exposure, even as the statistics told them. Your average right-wing voter in Austria has a low level of education and lives in a rural area, where they never even see a refugee, as most of them are drawn to the big cities. Not every right-wing voter is a racist. Polls tells us that they have a multitude of reasons, ranging from being fed up with the establishment to feeling overwhelmed by the future to feeling left out and not taken seriously. Engaging those people might have done wonders, but you don’t engage with a basket of deplorables. Yours is the moral high ground, right? They should simply understand that and bow to your superiority. Oh for crying out loud.

Question 1: Are we so insecure of our moral high ground that we believe we’ll lose it if we extend a hand to help someone else up?

Question 2: If that moral high ground is so high, how come the view is so bad that we don’t see other people’s needs?

The answer may be that it’s not a moral high ground after all, but a high horse. One that blindly tramples all over everyone else, and yes, I’ve been told that a sane, healthy horse would never deliberately run down anyone, but when you’re riding a horse, looking at the back of its head, can you see its eyes, how crazily they spin? Can you really tell if it’s sane?

There’s a fence, and while we might argue that it’s been built by those in power, who strengthen it by feeding people’s fears, the one who maintains it is my most favorite mythical beast: society. Which, all things considered, is just another word for us and them. Only your neighbor is one of us and his wife is one of them, and your kids’ teacher is one of us and their best friend’s dad is one of them, so where does the fence actually run? When will we, whoever we are, realize that they aren’t some abstract, negligible construct but real people, who we talk to on a daily basis?

What if the view is best if we all stepped back from the fence, the better to see it? Cut holes as and where we can, the better to see through? Or maybe just sit on it, all of us, and look for the truth each side has to offer, no matter the narrative?

Or do we need them to define us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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