Between the Years

I run into Vicky sometime during those limbo days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the time Germans so aptly call between the years – the old one all but over, the new one not yet begun.

I don’t know much about Vicky, other than that she drives the fanciest car in town. I do know, though, that her horse had to be put down just a few weeks prior.

I tell her I’m sorry. Tears glisten in her eyes, and I want to hug her, but we’re in the middle of a pandemic and hugging is not the done thing anymore. Instead, I do something far less substantial. I ask her if she had a good Christmas time.

“Oh, stop it about Christmas,” she demands, eyes now blazing. “I’ve been stuck inside with an indoor plant of a husband. Tell you what, husbands are really just Tamagotchis. Feed me, play with me, whine, whine. I went on a 16-mile hike yesterday, on my own, because I just couldn’t stand it anymore.”

She falters, and a little shock drags at her features, regret over the words she let escape. “Don’t get me wrong,” she continues in haste, “I love him, and I don’t want to get rid of him. But I can’t wait for the holidays to be over.”

I laugh. “Not judging you,” I promise. “Your holidays, my 2021.”

She pulls a quizzical frown.

“Lockdowns,” I explain. “Home office. Home schooling. Try getting any kind of focused work done when it’s Mom, can you help me with math, Mom, can I have an apple, every five minutes.”

Vicky closes her eyes for a second. “Oh dear.”

I laugh some more, and the conversation moves on to the new horse she’s getting soon. We part smiling.

I still don’t know much about her.

Posted in Ramblings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

New Year’s Day

Lilly texts me on New Year’s Day. “He’s hungover like shit, and god knows what else,” she tells me. “I sat in the car this morning, wanting nothing more than to go home to my mom, and the darkness was full of creepy sounds. And I couldn’t get any bread rolls for breakfast, because all the shops were closed. Weird start for the New Year.”

“Wanna come over?” I ask. “It’s comfy here, and there’s freshly baked chocolate cookies.”

“Nah, I’m good,” she replies, and even though it’s just white letters on a black screen, I can see her smile. “I’ll just wait for him to recover a bit, then give him a good talk. Schadenfreude is a real thing right now, you know?”

“Go get him,” I send back.

I close my messages, and my mind starts to drift, back to another bunch of texts exchanged, just a few weeks ago, and farther back, to a phone call that left me in tears. Resolutions, I realize. Well. Maybe one.

No photo description available.
Posted in Ramblings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Book Was Better (and other reasons why Hollywood sucks)

Right. I may be extremely late to the party, since the movie this rant is centering around came out in 2010, but for all I know nothing has changed much since then.

It’s Percy Jackson, and if you haven’t read the books yet, you should stop reading this post, because it will no doubt contain some heavy spoilers.

My family’s relationship to the series started when my son won the first book in a reading competition. We enjoyed it a lot. Okay, the main character is annoyingly slow on the uptake sometimes (like, seriously? Luke gives him those magical flying shoes which, oops, suddenly turn against their wearer and no one asks the obvious question? And that’s just one example of many?), but the mythology is solid (to the point where my daughter’s history teacher even recommended the books when they did Greek gods in class) and the story is fraught with loving detail and a good sense of dry, deadpan humor. One of our neighbors opened their own miniature front yard library during lockdown, which provided us with the rest of the series and hours spent snuggled up together on the sofa, ruining my voice and growing me into a ginger tea addict just so I could keep reading to the kids. Good times, in other words.

Then the public library opened again and we thought, hey, let’s check out the movie. Should be fun. We were so looking forward to Ares on his motorbike, and Clarisse, and…

Ares isn’t in the movie. Neither is Clarisse. Instead, they sorta seem to have merged Clarisse and Annabeth, and there aren’t even strawberry fields in what should have been Half-Blood Hill but looks like the lowest low budget version of a boy scout camp. Percy and his friends are four or five years too old, Annabeth isn’t blonde, Chiron isn’t a white stallion, and they enter the underworld without passing by Cerberus. I don’t mind Uma Thurman, and she obviously had fun playing the role, but Medusa was supposed to be an old woman. All that (and much more) aside, they twisted, mangled and rewrote the entire story to where none of the other four books would even fit anymore. Anything that could have been done wrong, was done wrong. They failed the readers, spit on the images the books created in our heads, and they failed the author. I saw a quote of him that said, “To you guys, it’s a couple hours of entertainment. To me, it’s my life’s work going through a meat grinder when I pleaded with them not to do it.” I saw an article claim that he hasn’t seen the movies and doesn’t plan on doing it, and I sincerely hope he sticks with that plan. I wouldn’t know how to stomach the pain in his shoes.

And it gets worse. Because apparently displaying absolutely no respect for a person’s creative work isn’t enough.

Griechische gott und göttin silhouette serie, zeus, der vater der götter  und menschen | Premium-Vektor
(image borrowed from de.freepik.com)

In a cast of I don’t know how many people, two roles were given to people of color – Grover, the satyr, and Persephone, wife of Hades. Two roles which were fundamentally changed from the way they had been portrayed in the books, changed into ridiculous clichés. All that remained of shy, thoughtful Grover was a loud, annoying comic relief, and Persephone had miraculously turned into a crazy bitch. Because… why? People of color can’t be shy and thoughtful? I don’t know, but to me, equality looks different. I get that Hollywood wants to be politically correct or whatever you might want to call it. I get that it might be difficult if the main characters of the source material are all white. But why on earth does it have to be done in such painfully patronizing manner? Especially since the mythological background offered better opportunities. You want plain white gods? Seek out Thor, Odin, Freya and the rest of the Norse/Germanic bunch. Since whoever signed responsible for the movie’s cast and character development had such a thing for clichés, why didn’t they jump to the most obvious? Greek gods are hardly supposed to be blue-eyed, blond and white. Black hair, olive skin, dark eyes would have been the way to go. Zeus could have looked like, hm, Jason Momoa in pinstripes? Instead we got… Sean Bean in slacks and a beige jacket. Seriously. I mean… I’m sure it was a nice change for him, not to have to die in a movie for once, but… ugh.

So here’s a thought. If you go and adapt a book for the big screen, stay true to the material. Don’t trample the readers’ feelings or the author’s bleeding heart. And especially, don’t turn people of color into comic relief sidekicks to the white heroes just to make your patronizing white ass feel better. How about adapting books by authors of color instead? You could start with Jason Reynolds, for instance. The Track series would make awesome movies.

Posted in Ramblings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Women?

First of all: Yes. It’s my conviction that trans women are women. Now for the difficult part.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue over the course of the past few weeks, ever since you know who wrote her essay. I read a lot of comments, from different angles, with different viewpoints, and one thing became very clear to me. Ovaries or no ovaries isn’t the point. Neither is menstruating or not menstruating (also, trans women can experience period symptoms, trust me or Google it). I don’t feel particularly defined by either my ovaries or my periods, and I know quite a few cis girls who’d be more than happy to get rid of both. It’s not about body parts or life decisions or society’s expectations of what a woman should be. No, what it all somehow seems to boil down to is… the bathroom question, of all things.

Hear me out.

I don’t have the slightest wish to belittle or negate any woman’s traumatic experiences of sexual assault.

When I was still living in Vienna, I spent a few years working for an international NGO. We had loads of activists and volunteers at the office. One of them was a trans woman. She was a sweet, very shy person, who spoke softly and pretty much radiated insecurity. She was also quite a bit over six feet tall, with a good set of muscles and broad shoulders. The reason I’m mentioning her is that, yes, an appearance like hers in a confined space might at first glance trigger a traumatized cis woman. Imagine yourself bowed over the basin, washing your hands, and the door opens and you don’t really look up, because why would you, and suddenly, in your peripheral vision, there’s a broad, towering shape. Of course you get a shock. Because it might be a man. Because the trauma is there, and refuses to go away, and no amount of deep breathing will calm down your frantic heart.

But.

Trans women are not the enemy. There’s a big gap between the myths and the realities of sexual assault, and one of the biggest is the gap between how many times you’ll hear the tale that men dress up as women to assault women in bathrooms, and how many times that has really happened. I don’t know why the myth persists, maybe some sort of misguided Little Red Riding Hood species memory, but we don’t “open the door to any and all men” if we allow trans women in. Men don’t habitually dress up in order to rape someone. Why not? Because they don’t need to. Repeat that, maybe more slowly, so that it gets a chance to sink in. They. Don’t. Need. To.

The real enemy are predatory men. And they are an enemy cis and trans women have in common. Because trans women are women and they, too, carry their burden of traumatic experiences of sexual assault.

What the stupid bathroom discussion really does is, it pits two vulnerable groups against each other, when what we really should do is protect one another.

EDIT: A badger pointed out to me that I really made a mess of trying to be helpful. I didn’t mean to say that a masculine shape was a general trans thing – I know there are petite trans women out there, I actually have one in the family, and as a broad-shouldered woman myself I know that a cis woman can throw a masculine shadow. Thing is, it’s the masculine shape that triggers trauma, and I was trying to address cis women’s fears with this blog post more than anything else. Sorry if I effed up.

 

Posted in Ramblings | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Everything sucks? Have a book.

I’ve been thinking these past weeks whether I should write the obligatory Corona blog post, but hey, let’s be real. I’m not a scientist, and the last thing we need is another not qualified opinion. I have a million thoughts on what’s going on, and no clue. I’m as worried about the victims of the virus as I am about the victims of this gigantic isolation experiment, and I don’t know who suffers worse. My own experiences with all the shit we’re currently going through don’t matter. My problems are first world problems only, and I have absolutely no right and no inclination to moan. What we need to hear these days is how the less privileged are doing, those who can’t work from home, the ones who got fired, whose businesses are ruined, who don’t know how to pay the next bill, or whose home is a trap filled with violence. We need to hear from the people who keep the system running on ridiculously low wages while folks like me sit comfy on our asses and complain about boredom. If you who are reading this want to share your story and experiences, please tell me, I’ll happily let you have my blog as a platform.

Thing is, what gets to me is my own uselessness. I hear I’m doing a good deed by just staying at home, but the guilty feeling remains. My neighbor is a nurse currently manning the local hospital’s Corona ward, and I don’t even remember how to do first aid. I’ve offered to do the elderly neighbors’ shopping, and I’ve signed up as a blood donor, but that’s pretty much all I can do these days.

The only thing I have to offer is the brief escape, something to read to get you through the days. All my books are available for free via Amazon Prime, and if you don’t have that kind of access, you’ll find the dates for free Kindle download below. If you don’t do Amazon at all and still would like a free book, just drop me a line. I’ll be happy to send out electronic copies in whichever format works best for you, I won’t hoard your e-mail data to plague you with newsletters, and I won’t even expect a review in exchange.

Take care of yourselves, stay healthy, and plan all the wonderful things you’ll do once this shit is over.

Free 3 to 7 April

Free 6 to 10 April

Free 10 to 14 April

Free 13 to 17 April

Free 17 to 21 April

Free 24 to 28 April

Posted in Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Out Now: Downtown Selkie

I’m just going to come right out and say it – this is the best book I’ve ever written. I know this for a fact, because even the beta reader who took it personally when I stopped writing about rats and subsequently hated every single word that I put on paper had to admit he didn’t completely hate this one.

(Mostly kidding. Love you, Chris ❤ )

The story came to life sometime last summer. I suppose I have to thank my brother for it, and also my mother. When I was, uh, nineteen I think, my mom got it in her head that she needed to move out of the city, and she bought herself a nice house and garden a few miles west of Vienna. She told us to utter wishes as to what she should do with the garden, expecting us to ask for raspberries, or lilacs, all our favorite plants or fruits…

My brother said he wanted a pool. Now, my mother is the kind of person who doesn’t swim. At all. It takes something like 45°C in the shadow before she voluntarily dips even a toe in. She still granted that wish, because that’s just the way she rolls. The kids want something, she’ll do her best that they get it. It’s a miracle we’re not all completely spoiled. The resulting pool is a small, shallow thing, but it’s still a blessing on a hot day. Last summer was a series of hot days, of the kind of heat that weighs down on you and causes pressure headache. Complete immersion in cool water felt essential. A matter of survival. And one night, paddling around in the pool with my head tilted backwards and looking at the stars above, I started thinking about what it must be like if your survival really hinged on complete immersion and you didn’t have a pool. No lake anywhere near, no ocean or river, and no money for daily visits at some sports park. What if your only chance was to secretly sneak into other people’s gardens and use their pools?

Before I knew it, I was reading up on sea creatures, real and fictional, on Greek mythology and Scottish folklore, and on a rare condition named syndactyly. And Xan was born.

That’s all I’m going to tell you before I accidentally say too much and spoil the story for you. Look here for the blurb and Amazon link. It probably classifies as urban fantasy, or maybe dark fantasy. Hope you’ll enjoy reading it!

 

Posted in Shameless Self-Promotion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Year, Traffic Jams, and Jobs No One Wants

It’s not too late for one of those Happy New Year posts, is it? Sigh. What can I say, I’ve been busy. Not with any writing related issues, unfortunately. Instead, I did all the after-vacation laundry and other stuff, built two elevated beds for the kids (the fancy type with included desk and closet; the beds, not the kids), saw Rise of Skywalker (yeah, I know), painted yet another wall, and got a pretty good head start on my current translation job. Not bad for two weeks, all things considered.

Oh, and I also drove something like 900km. Like you do as an expat. Most of my family lives a day’s journey away from me. A journey which we embark upon at least once a year. By car, because going by train would be torture for the dog. She’s not a big fan of the car either, but at least we can easily stop for a pee. Going down the highway for an entire day means you get to hear a lot of bad music, you see a lot of construction sites, and you experience a lot of traffic jams. There’s the slow-building ones, the kind where everybody gradually steps onto the brakes until three lanes are going 5km/h instead of 130km/h. There’s the sudden ones, where you hit the brakes as hard as you can and still have to sort of swerve over into the neighboring lane to avoid being rear-ended by the car behind you. There’s the ones that still move at a snail’s pace, and the ones where everything grinds to a complete halt. I’ve seen them all, and more. The kids get edgy and start complaining because an already endless drive just got that little bit longer, your gaze jerks to the dashboard every few minutes to check on the fuel, but somewhere deep inside you is a calm, quiet spot where you know that while you may be stuck, you’re actually the lucky one. You’re experiencing the symptoms. You aren’t the cause. Not today.

And then comes the unavoidable moment when you pass by the cause. The ambulance will already be gone, but there might yet be the ruins of a car on the breakdown lane, or a few innocuous shards of shattered glass. Traffic picks up again and everybody around you hits the gas to get the hell away from that scene and to make up for the lost time, while you go a meek 110km/h on the slowest lane and just breathe.

Sometimes you’ll see the ambulance speeding by, or a fire truck or three. And sometimes you still get to see the people who were called to deal with the aftermath. And you know you really, really don’t want their jobs. You don’t want to be the guy who stands on the fast lane while an entire highway worth of cars rushes by him, his only cover a flimsy shield notifying people that the lane is closed, and a broom in his hand as he sweeps up broken pieces of someone else’s life. Or the young cop who steps out into the traffic to stop three lanes crammed with impatience and anger, so that the crew can drag the crashed car from the fast lane over to the breakdown lane. I was the first in line when that cop stepped onto the highway, and even if we were only going 30km/h at that point, I’ll never forget his expression, the fear in his eyes, as he wondered whether his raised hand really had the power to stop the avalanche.

I’ve been driving those highways regularly now for about twenty years. It’s routine and it’s boring, but those moments grant a little perspective, a little gratitude. In this spirit, allow me to belatedly wish you a Happy New Year. It will be a good one, I’m sure of it.

Posted in Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Here’s to Another Decade

Recently, the notion that we’re reaching the end of the decade has been popping up all over my newsfeed, together with the invitation to reflect on what we have achieved during those ten years…

I don’t like the word achieved. There’s a certain amount of pressure riding on the meaning. Who defines what counts as an achievement? And if I didn’t achieve enough according to whoever’s definition, am I a failure? Either way, I thought I might still look back, recollect, maybe dwell a bit on all the things that happened. There were some really awesome things among them. Maybe even an achievement or two.

Here we go, in not much of a particular order.

  • Had a fun pregnancy, with drama doctors who sent me, as we say in German, from Pontius to Pilate panicking over kiddo’s size and weight and insisting I needed a C-section because such a weak, tiny child would never survive a natural birth, completely discarding the less than weak way she was kicking around inside me, or the fact that low birth weights are normal in our family. In the end I cancelled all the extra ultrasounds but accepted the C-section. Side note: C-sections make for a very interesting experience when the anesthetics don’t work. I spent a good part of that surgery hallucinating, and missed my daughter’s birth. She turned up half a kilo heavier than expected and perfectly fine, proving all the crappy measuring wrong, which was how I completely lost patience with everybody and released myself and her early from the hospital.
  • Finished writing the book my brain had been toying around with ever since something like 1991. Sent it to the one German publisher I would have liked to be published with. Got rejected. I still have the letter somewhere.
  • Thought I might do the Cambridge Advanced Exam, did a prep course, got told to try the Proficiency Exam instead, did that, somehow managed an A.
  • Realized writing might be more fun in English. Went and translated my book, rewrote it once again in the process. Joined an international author community, expected to be ridiculed and torn apart, got accepted instead. Learned a lot, made wonderful friends, polished the book up and published it myself.
  • Got a dog.
  • Lost a cat and promised myself to never, ever get another. Got two about half a year later. Did a drawing of one of them and am almost proud of it.
  • Experienced what it feels like to want to get into your car in the morning only it’s not there anymore because someone came around at some point during the night and stole it. Got a new car. Still pissed off, because some of my favorite tapes were in the glove compartment.
  • Experienced what it feels like when the emergency light starts flashing on your dashboard and the car suddenly slows while you’re doing 130km/h on the highway. Twice.
  • Saw both kids off first to nursery, then to elementary school. Saw one of them move on to secondary school.
  • Wrote and published another ten books, and three themed anthologies together with other authors. Book #11 is already written, but probably won’t see the light in this decade anymore. I’m waiting for the beta readers to get back to me, and then there’ll be another round of editing or two, or thirteen, but at least the cover is as good as done, the dreaded blurb aside.
  • Got a niece.
  • Tried to make it as an English teacher. Found that I was horrible at it, because I can only explain stuff to people whose brains apply the same off-kilter logic as mine, and I have no patience at all.
  • Started working as a translator.
  • Met my heart sister and soulmate, who takes me travelling whenever the two of us need a break.
  • Went and visited in real life some of the author folks I met on the internet. Found them to be great friends and awesome people I wish lived a lot closer.
  • Decided to stay in Germany at least as long as the kids go to school here. Don’t want them to have to leave all their friends behind.
  • Flew a helicopter.
  • Got a tattoo.
  • Aged ten years. Turned 42. Have all the answers now. Not.

There’s a good chance I forgot something, or someone, really important…

Anyway, all in all, I guess it was a pretty awesome decade, so here’s to the next. May it be good to you.

Posted in Ramblings | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Sorry I’m Writing

If you’ve been wondering why it’s been a while since my last blog post, the reason is quite simply that at some point during the summer holidays, a new story wedged itself pretty firmly into my brain, so yeah, sorry, can’t post, am writing.

For the first time in about two years, though, I don’t feel like I’m in charge. It’s more like the story is writing me, or, to paraphrase from a conversation with another writer, the characters aren’t taking me home, they’re dropping me at the edges of town, telling me to get a taxi. Which means I just let events spill onto the pages knowing full well there’ll be hell to pay in the editing. However, today I’ve finished the rough, lousy, pathetic excuse also known as the first draft, so I thought I might signal that I’m still alive. This is how the book may or may not look like. I’m still working on the cover, so don’t judge yet. Or maybe do, after all, I have to admit that I’m already rather fond of it.

It’s going to be sort of an urban fantasy/fairy tale/mythology crossover, dark and dirty in parts, hopelessly optimistic and naive in others. There’ll be bad words and futile romance, Scottish twins and a Greek diner, suburbs and the sea. The latter probably isn’t too much of a surprise when the book is going to be called Selkie…

Right, that’s it from me, I’ll be back at the writing desk if you need me. Have a glorious autumn.

 

Posted in Shameless Self-Promotion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Days in Tarvisio, or The Things We Do For Our Kids

This summer, when we asked the kids where they wanted to go, they surprisingly said “mountains.” Not that they’re much into hiking, it’s just that ever since we took them to Tyrol, Austria, at one point in the past, they’ve been associating mountains with finding pretty pebbles in riverbeds, and skulls stuffed into hidden crevices in stone walls, and they’re constantly craving more pebbles and, naturally, more skulls.

Don’t ask.

I remembered my own hiking days as a kid with my parents, and a bit of internet searching did the rest. We ended up in Tarvisio, Italy. First things first: Go there, and do it now. They’re currently polishing up the area to make it attractive for summer tourists. Skiing, thus winter tourism, is in decline, and everybody needs to make a living somehow, but as beautiful as the place is, it will soon be brimming with people, so visit it now, as it might not be as beautiful much longer. There’s already quite a large bit of evidence of human stupidity; Monte Canin, a glacier once upon a time, is now a huge pile of rubble with the occasional spot of snow. The reality of climate change becomes obvious up there.

Tarvisio is a border town, complete with a weird mix of rural Austrian and Italian architecture, and impressively quintilingual waitresses. (I’m serious. One woman I spoke to was as good as fluent in Romanian, Hungarian, German, Italian, and English.) According to the kids, they have the best pizza in the world, the best lemon soda, and pretty good ice cream. (Nothing beats Zanoni in Vienna when it comes to ice cream, so any other place can never be anything better than pretty good.)

Ten minutes from Tarvisio, down a road which accidentally runs along the perfect riverbed (where we almost drowned a raccoon, lesson learned, don’t let the toys take selfies in a river), is Lago del Predil, a lake of such perfection, it’s unreal. Nestled between craggy mountains, the water is crystal clear and turquoise. It’s like straight from a picture book. I wouldn’t have minded staying there for the entire week, but the kids needed adventures, so I suggested we try the hiking trail around the lake. Four hours, it said on the tourist information sheet. Family friendly.

Yeah, right. If you ever go there, do not, under any circumstances, follow the blue or yellow markings. They don’t show the right way. In fact, they’re probably a trap, or an elaborate prank. Because after two hours of not family friendly hiking, more like semi-professional climbing, only we didn’t have any of the gear, upwards, downwards, slipping and sliding, with on occasion a tuft of grass being the only available handhold on an almost horizontal slope above a straight drop, we finally ran into a wall, quite literally, and a Belgian family who were hoping that we’d know the way. One look at their dog and our kids and that wall which I might just about have managed to climb if I had been on my own, and we knew that turning back was our only option. Of course we managed to follow yet some more wrong markings, and ran out of water, but I have never been more proud of the kids. They hardly complained, and instead kept looking out for each other along the way, passing on warnings of slippery spots and treacherous roots, and later showing off their scratches. A double helping of ice cream soothed any remaining aches. We ran into the Belgians again the next afternoon and had a good laugh together. I still regret that we failed to swap names and contact details.

The next day the kids said they wanted a calm day, a little break from that hike’s exertion. Maybe we could go to that ropes course we’d seen on the info sheet? Yes, you read that right. The kids suggested a ropes course as a cosy, sedate activity. Weird. Off we went. Our daughter dragged me onto the hardest course there was, the one where kids weren’t allowed to climb without a parent, the one she was actually too small for and needed a bit of help to reach all the safety lines and carabiners and stuff. Now, I’m not really afraid of heights. I respect them, though, and believe me… that moment when you’re on a platform, four meters up in the air, and your kid is on the next platform, ten meters away from you, and connecting you, separating you, is nothing but a wildly swinging rope you’re supposed to walk on… that’s when you realize exactly just how much you’re willing to do, to risk, for your kids. There’s no hesitation. Any fear goes on the back burner, to be examined and analyzed later. That experience alone would have made our entire stay worthwhile for me.

Oh, and in case you were wondering… yes, Harriet enjoyed it too.

Posted in Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment