Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Today I’m going to share a secret: I’m not writing. 

It’s not much of a secret, really, but I’ve been avoiding it all the same. Not writing means no NaNoWriMo, no new short stories, no new crazy ideas for novels, at least none that have made it onto the page. The day job is still busy and I’m active on other fronts, but when it comes to writing I’m just… taking a break. 

That should be ok, refilling the well, letting the fields lie fallow and all that, but I’ll be honest, it doesn’t always feel that way. That’s a big part of why I haven’t posted here. But here’s the thing. You can’t be super productive all the time, or I can’t, anyway. Sometimes I need time to step back, take a breath, and get ready for the next round. 

Part of that is admitting when I need a break to refresh. The other part is remembering that despite all the not-so-awesome in the world, there is also magic:)

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A Sunset Night Sky over the Grand Canyon Image Credit & Copyright: Robert Q. Fugate Explanation: Seeing mountain peaks glow red from inside the Grand Canyon was one of the most incredible sunset experiences of this amateur photographer's life. They appeared even more incredible later, when digitally combined with an exposure of the night sky — taken by the same camera and from the same location — an hour later. The two images were taken last August from the 220 Mile Canyon campsite on the Colorado River, Colorado, USA. The peaks glow red because they were lit by an usually red sunset. Later, high above, the band of the Milky Way Galaxy angled dramatically down, filled with stars, nebula, and dark clouds of dust. To the Milky Way's left is the planet Saturn, while to the right is the brighter Jupiter. Although Jupiter and Saturn are now hard to see, Venus will be visible and quite bright to the west in clear skies, just after sunset, for the next two months.

A post shared by Astronomy Picture Of The Day (@astronomypicturesdaily) on

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The folks over at Boing Boing have listed last night’s 2019 Hugo award winners, complete with links:

Best Novel: The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
Best Novella: Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells (Tor.com publishing)
Best Novelette: “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” by Zen Cho (B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, 29 November 2018)
Best Short Story: “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2018)
Best Series: Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)
Best Related Work: Archive of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works
Best Graphic Story: Monstress, Volume 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)
Best Professional Editor (Short Form): Gardner Dozois
Best Professional Editor, Long Form: Navah Wolfe
Best Professional Artist: Charles Vess
Best Semiprozine: Uncanny Magazine
Best Fanzine: Lady Business
Best Fancast: Our Opinions Are Correct
Best Fan Writer: Foz Meadows
Best Fan Artist: Likhain (Mia Sereno)
Best Art Book: The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, illustrated by Charles Vess, written by Ursula K. Le Guin (Saga Press / Gollancz)
Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book: Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt / Macmillan Children’s Books)
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Jeannette Ng
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman (Sony)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: The Good Place: “Janet(s),” written by Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, directed by Morgan Sackett (NBC)

So excited to see my favorite Murderbot and the Wayfarers series get some love, and I’m looking forward to checking out some of the others on the roster. For more reading material, check out Tor.com’s full list of nominees. Enjoy!

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Hooray, my space pirate draft is complete! At almost 18,000 words, it’s the longest “short” story I’ve written to date. Ok, fine, it’s a novella and I’m ok with that.

I’ll need to go back over it, check a few things, get a degree in orbital mechanics (not really) and answer that age-old question, “Do donuts stay fresh longer in space?” Inquiring minds want to know! In the meantime, the draft is on its way to beta readers.

I like it, hope they do too!


Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson


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Looking for new reading material? Good news! The Nebula Award finalists have been announced, so it’s time to pad those To Read lists, people. Here is the complete list, some with links to reviews, previews, and full text where available (and I felt like it:).

What looks interesting to you?


2018 Nebula Award Finalists
The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor) [review]
The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US; Harper Voyager UK)
Blackfish City, Sam J. Miller (Ecco; Orbit UK)
Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Witchmark, C.L. Polk (Tor.com Publishing)
Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga) [review]

Fire Ant, Jonathan P. Brazee (Semper Fi) [preview]
The Black God’s Drums, P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing) [review]
The Tea Master and the Detective, Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean) [preview and review]
Alice Payne Arrives, Kate Heartfield (Tor.com Publishing) [excerpt]
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing) [review and review]
Artificial Condition, Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing) [excerpt]

“The Only Harmless Great Thing”, Brooke Bolander (Tor.com Publishing)
The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections”, Tina Connolly (Tor.com 7/11/18)
“An Agent of Utopia”, Andy Duncan (An Agent of Utopia)
The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births”, José Pablo Iriarte (Lightspeed 1/18)
The Rule of Three”, Lawrence M. Schoen (Future Science Fiction Digest 12/18)
“Messenger”, Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi (Expanding Universe, Volume 4)

Short Story
“Interview for the End of the World”, Rhett C. Bruno (Bridge Across the Stars)
The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”, Phenderson Djèlí Clark (Fireside 2/18)
“Going Dark”, Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear)
“And Yet”, A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 3-4/18)
A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”, Alix E. Harrow (Apex 2/6/18)
The Court Magician”, Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed 1/18)

Game Writing
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Charlie Brooker (House of Tomorrow & Netflix)
The Road to Canterbury, Kate Heartfield (Choice of Games)
God of War, Matt Sophos, Richard Zangrande Gaubert, Cory Barlog, Orion Walker, and Adam Dolin (Santa Monica Studio/Sony/Interactive Entertainment)
Rent-A-Vice, Natalia Theodoridou (Choice of Games)
The Martian Job, M. Darusha Wehm (Choice of Games)

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
The Good Place: “Jeremy Bearimy”, Written by: Megan Amram
Black Panther, Written by: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole
A Quiet Place, Screenplay by: John Krasinski and Bryan Woods & Scott Beck
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Screenplay by: Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman
Dirty Computer, Written by: Janelle Monáe and Chuck Lightning
Sorry to Bother You, Written by: Boots Riley

The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book
Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt; Macmillan)
Aru Shah and the End of Time, Roshani Chokshi (Rick Riordan Presents)
A Light in the Dark, A.K. DuBoff (BDL)
Tess of the Road, Rachel Hartman (Random House)
Dread Nation, Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)
Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword, Henry Lien (Henry Holt)


Let’s see if embedding my Goodreads list works here… Why yes, I believe it does. If the list isn’t showing for you, find it here.


2018 Nebula Finalists (Many, Anyway!)

The Rule of Three
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
A Light in the Dark
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
Fire Ant
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
And Yet
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
Alice Payne Arrives
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
The Only Harmless Great Thing
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
Tess of the Road
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
Children of Blood and Bone
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach
to-read and 2018-nebula-finalists
Aru Shah and the End of Time
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
The Tea Master and the Detective
to-read, in-progress, on-hiatus, and 2018-nebula-finalists
Dread Nation
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
Blackfish City
2018-nebula-finalists and to-read
The Poppy War
to-read and 2018-nebula-finalists
Artificial Condition
it was amazing



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Right now I’m all about WIPs, or works in progress, in writing and other arenas. (Ironically, I started this post days weeks a while ago and then skipped over it to wrap up November with the NaNoMakeMo post. Now we’re back to this post in progress:)

I haven’t wanted to post much here because my day-to-day isn’t necessarily all that interesting, so I like to have something interesting to say. And the middle of anything can feel… well, just average. It can be tough talking about works in progress.

For example, what did you do today? Got up, hit the treadmill, worked on a story, did some research, switched from the treadmill desk to the standing desk and worked on the day job. Periodically took breaks to do things like make a bunch of sous vide egg cups, wash a million plastic bags**, or hit the workshop.

Speaking of the workshop, part of why my writing project is taking longer than I’d like is that I’m dividing my attention. You may remember I put up a post about the “exciting creative synergies inherent in cross-media productivity” or something like that;) Still true, at least for me, but spreading one’s attention does tend to slow things down, at least that’s how it’s working out for me. It’s like doing a dual major instead of just one. The prep takes forever but in the end, it will all be worth it (right? here’s hoping!).


In writing:

I’ve been working on a longer-form piece and don’t have much to say about it, honestly, except “Hey, still working on that novella!” and “It’s going to suuuuper great when I get it done but, well, it’s not done yet” “Yep, this is taking freaking forever!” and “I’m past the bit with the donuts but now I’m stuck at the part with the walk-in freezer. Honestly, who has a walk-in freezer in space, anyway?” (answer, me:).

I was going to put up a shot of my writing file, but I don’t want you to see all the highlighting and bold text meaning “this word choice is terrible and/or completely out of place and/or if she was wearing a spacesuit in the last scene, how can she be rubbing her face in this bit?, fix it or else!”*

Here’s a shot of a lake in winter instead. From inside, because it was -29C, people!


In wood:

I made a handle for a friend’s fishing pole (you may remember my adventures in deepwater lake trout fishing from a ways back; it involves metal line and requires a sturdy handle, and his wasn’t). Well, I’ve actually made two so far and I’m finishing up a third. Practice is good for skill development, of course, and I want to keep going until I have a product I’m happy with. The proportions of the first version weren’t quite what I wanted (Mr. Man likes it, but I wanted to try again), the second has a potential weak spot (and again), but the third looks just right.


Maybe there’s value in sharing the tedium as well as the highs, the work that goes on behind the scenes so that you know it’s not just you. I’m just a regular Jolene, plugging away at something that makes me happy (most of the time, anyway:). If you think a thing is worth doing, and you’re learning and improving and it’s helping you be the person you want to become (unless that person is unpleasant and/or criminal, just saying), go ahead. Make the effort. I’ll do my best to enjoy all the days, average or not.

So let’s rewrite this experience of “in progress” or the “dreaded middle.” I’m not done yet, but I am rounding the corner. What’s my goal? What’s in the way? How can I break it down to make what’s left more manageable?

I love crossing things off a list. So satisfying! To that end, I’ve started listing each project on a piece of paper and break it down into component parts. Like so:

The big stack on the left are completed goals. Everything else is in progress, including “The Secret Life of Henchman #3” and “make a bed of nails.” Because that’s how I roll:)


(interjection from the future, which is now, but was later, then)

The space pirate story has a beginning (two, actually, must fix that) and an end, and it’s ready for next steps. No one died.


Allow me to rephrase.

No one died who didn’t absolutely deserve it.


Here’s hoping your year is starting off well. Or at the very least, better than Henchman #3’s!



* Still, here’s a bit I find amusing: “The difference between us is that I will actually call you a ride. The fact that they’ll come bearing handcuffs is your own damn fault.”

** I hate washing plastic bags. I like the fact that it keeps waste out of landfills and encourages a reuse mindset, but the process of washing and drying bags is just ridiculous, awkward, messy and inefficient. The whole time I’m chanting to myself, “There has to be a better way.” If you know of one, feel free to share!

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Ahem. It’s not you, it’s me.

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted much lately. Part of that is the inevitable press of other work but before November 2016 I managed. The last couple of years have been harder. Too many distractions. Too much uncertainty. Too much crazy.

Something had to give, and you’ve seen the results in my absence here. (Sadly, I’m not alone.)

That said, I’m still working, still thinking, still writing. Still coming up with things I’d like to post, if I could just find the mental space and time.

When it comes to this blog, I’ve realized something important. The more it helps me do my work, the more I’ll write, here and elsewhere.


New plan. Let’s see if I can siphon off the ideas and thoughts that are spinning around in my head. If I can put them down here, I may be able to focus more on work to be done, and on new projects for the future.

“I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.”
— Albus Dumbledore


Buckle up, it might get weird:)

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So, November.

Yeah. Like that.

November is (of course!) National Novel Writing Month. I’ve taken part for the past however many years, and it has been fun. I laugh, I write, I cry, I win. Then I collapse in a mostly useless heap for the next many weeks. The holidays don’t help post-NaNo productivity, of course, but I don’t know that a draining push to write write write write does either. I’m looking for sustainable output.

I’m also distracted this year. As mentioned, I’ve taken up woodworking and it’s fun. I like the challenge, I like the creativity and idea generation, the inevitable roadblocks, problem-solving, and the triumphant conclusion.

It’s a lot like writing, actually, only with more finished product and results that don’t depend on the vagaries of editorial preference.

So this November, I decided to do something a little different. Instead of NaNoWriMo, I opted for NaNoMakeMo.

Me, one month, making stuff, with the definition of “stuff” being flexible. Words, wood, whatever. I’m one of those people who can be well and truly stuck on one project but super productive on another. As long as I’m working on whatever my secret brain wants to pay attention to, much gets done.

I decided to use this quirk to my advantage. It’s a classic productivity trick called structured procrastination. I may have mentioned it here before.

The first rule is there are no rules.

Write, turn, bake, sew, whatever. The goal is what’s important, not how to get there, and for November the goal was simple: Make more stuff.

I pulled on my big girl work clothes and got to it.

/insert 30 days of work work work work work.
/ok, fine, I didn’t work all 30 days
/some days I sat inside by the fire and read, because winter and cold and snow, people!

* * *

So how did the first inaugural NaNoMakeMo go?

My original plan was to post updates (with photos and witty commentary even!) as I went along, sharing each and every project through the twists and turns of the creative process. When that didn’t happen, I decided to make an awesome advent calendar-style image map linking all of the awesome into one aesthetically-pleasing package.

Yeah, that didn’t work out. Images and updates take time. Thinking about how to frame a project takes time. Stepping back from the desk or workbench or computer takes time and also the sort of mental space I don’t always have when I’m mid-stream. And the interweb informs me that image maps have been out of style Like For Ever.

Too bad, I was going to use this fun image. It pretty much sums up my month.

Instead you get this uber post. Also, I made this list.

(Yes, that’s my list handwriting. It is both teeny tiny and impossible to read, or so I’ve been told. I have no trouble with it at all. Let me just get a magnifying glass;)*

* * *

So how did it go? Pretty well, actually.

I got a lot done on a lot of different projects, which I find very satisfying. Rather than feel I’ve ignored much of life in order to focus on one dimension, writing, I’ve made progress on multiple fronts.

For evidence of same, please see Exhibit A (note: some projects have been excluded in the interest of maintaining holiday-related surprises;)

I made things, I broke things, I learned more about what to do and what not. Yay:)

* * *

What would I change? Next time I might plan a bit more. Fifty thousand words is a little nuts but having a target helps your aim, you know? Goals and also alternatives, for when the old attention span is minimal and absolutely everything looks interesting except the work on the desk. Maybe I’ll list the different possibilities on little pieces of paper and keep them in a jar for when I need to pull out a new project.

(Teeny tiny lists on teeny tiny scraps of paper, in a Swedish glass jar. Because that’s how I roll, and if there’s one benefit to the passing years, it’s figuring out new ways to work around my own crazy:)

In sum: NaNoMakeMo may be a less dramatic way to approach creativity than NaNoWriMo but it’s also, at least for me, more sustainable. And in the end, a productive, constructive life is the true goal.

And so I declare the inaugural NaNoMakeMo a pretty not-bad success. Here’s hoping you enjoyed your month too!

* * *

* The point usually isn’t the reading. It’s about thinking, and the process of sketching out an idea or problem helps me think it through. I find that works best when I’m scribbling on the back of some envelope, or a scrap bit of paper or the corner of a random flyer. Who says no one uses the mail anymore?

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Today is Mother’s Day. I’m not home to bring my mother flowers or make her breakfast in bed, but I do have a present for her. For Mother’s Day, I’m going to ask my mother what cause she’d like to support, and make a donation. I also decided to share this story. It’s not about me and it’s not about her (she’s still with us, thankfully!), but it is a piece about mothers and daughters.

I hope she likes it. I hope you do, too. 

. . . . . . . . . .

Why I Don’t Kill Spiders
by J.R. Johnson


My editor leaned back in his chair as I looked at anything but his face. A flash caught my gaze, eyeshine from a wolf spider perched on a lily by the window. The spider waved at me. I ignored it; grief does strange things to the mind.

My boss frowned, his lean face lined and serious.

“I’m sorry about your mother, Jo, but you’ve got the weekend to decide, no more. Stay in research if you want, but Kristof’s retiring and I’m offering you his job. True, investigative reporting is high profile. You’d have to get out from behind your desk, but your stories would matter. Take it.” His fingers rested on the old-school sheets of half-edited copy scattered across his desk.

“Do you need someone to check on your apartment, feed a cat, water plants?”

The small kindness surprised me.

“No,” I said, not sure which of his offers I was answering. “Thank you, but no.”

The overnight bag nipped at my heels as the heavy glass door swung shut behind me.


Tired from the flight, I tripped coming out of the baggage claim area and heard a loud guffaw from the service entrance. I didn’t look over in case it came from someone I knew. I peered into thick evening fog, searching for a taxi. Already, home felt like an enemy camp.

We ordered pizza for dinner, pepperoni and half olive, like she liked it. I sat with my father at the kitchen table, both of us trying so hard not to see the empty chair that we had no strength left for conversation. Memories of my mother caught in my throat, bright stories I couldn’t bring myself to tell on such a somber night. Instead I finished my last slice and left the crust on my father’s plate.

“I’m going up, see if I can make a start on the vault.”

He nodded without looking my way, eyes lost in shadow.

I slipped through my parents’ bedroom to the cramped little door for the attic. The vault, I called it, overflowing with my mother’s treasures. Her memories. I left the door wedged open with the superstition of the child I once was.

Each bare riser flexed, precarious, and the attic air harbored a parched smell of rafters and horsehair plaster and cobwebs. I left the occupied webs alone; my family has never killed spiders. Stiff and reluctant, my legs resisted as I forced them to collapse onto the wide-planked pine floor.

Dozens of boxes filled the big room, coated with a thin dust of neglect. Most overflowed with old toys, clothes so out of date they were stylish again, and my mother’s memories from college. She never talked much about her degree in folklore, but from the delicate handwriting and care with which she copied her notes I could see she loved it. Faded binders cracked with the suddenness of bone when opened. They went into the discard pile.

I kept her rings. Two solid bands of gold that weighed thick and heavy in my hand, their surfaces marked by years of wear but still lovely. “For us,” my father said when he drifted upstairs and handed me the little velvet box. “She wore one for each of us.” I turned away so he wouldn’t see me cry.

There were other boxes, too, filled with carefully wrapped lengths of hand-woven cloth. They were prettier than I remembered, even the icy white fabric rich only with texture. Each piece incorporated subtly different colors and the patterns never repeated. They were exquisite. They were useless. I saved the best, the ones that reminded me of summer days and warm laughter, and put the rest in the pile for Goodwill.


When I was young my mother wove stories. An oak floor loom occupied most of the front room in our house. She sat on a wide wooden bench and talked while casting the shuttle left, then right. I watched her work the long foot treadles to craft elaborate patterns, shot through with every color of the rainbow. In sharp contrast, the room’s walls held monochrome pictures of blackbirds in trees and sable-limned landscapes. Why keep such stark images?

“Black is beautiful,” she would say. I didn’t believe her, of course, but that is how the story always started.

My parents are white. When they decided to expand their family they did it in a non-traditional way. “You didn’t come to us from a stork,” she would say, my mother. “A spider brought you.”

I did not find this comforting. My parents’ lackadaisical housekeeping habits and love of arachnids only reinforced my fear of crawling things. If there had been a local spider-hating club I might have applied. Not that they would have accepted me.

Small and sleepy, our town was a peaceful little hamlet where everyone knew everyone else’s secrets. That sort of stalemate makes for a successful détente, until some new element comes along to upset the balance. I was that element.

I am not white. Not pale, not pink, not blonde haired or blue of eye. I am black, and despite all my mother told me, not everyone thinks that is beautiful. The nice part was that the town banded together across old wounds. The not as nice part is that they put me on the other side. The first time I came home with a swollen lip my father patched me up and my mother made sure I had an ice pack and consolation cookies. They assumed I lost the fight, and I didn’t say otherwise.

“Johari, have I ever told you the story of how we met?” That’s how my mother liked to put it. She didn’t use the word adoption. I nodded, of course she had, but she smiled and kept speaking, her voice falling into the almost rhythmic cadence of a well-traveled tale.

“Trust me when I tell you, black is beautiful. I know, because here you are, the most beautiful thing in all the world. When you grow up you will be a great storyteller.” My mother liked to exaggerate for effect but I knew better than to interrupt. I settled for rolling my eyes.

“It was a cold day at the end of Fall. The nights came early and winter lurked around the corner. It was the time of year when many creatures become slow, weak. Spiders are like that.” She bit into a cookie.

“I sat in this very room, here by the window,” she said, “when there came a booming knock!” She threw her hands up in mock surprise, spraying cookie crumbs across the floor. I sighed and waited for her to remember that I wasn’t a baby anymore.

“It was night and we weren’t expecting anyone. Afraid in the dark, still I opened the door. What if someone needed our help? And I was right.” She smiled with a tenderness I still felt years later.

“Anansi stood on the threshold. Can you imagine? A giant black spider, weaver of tales, singer of stories, right there on our doorstep. He held a little bundle in two of his arms, wrapped with the finest spider silk. That was you.” The melting ice pack sent a cold bead of water running down my arm.

“‘I cannot care for the child,’ Anansi said. ‘Orphan of my favorite storyteller, she will grow to have the same spark. If you take her, I promise riches beyond imagining.'”

I always winced at this part. My parents were teachers and anything but rich.

“Of course we agreed,” my mother said. “The only thing Anansi asked is that I use this loom to weave the stories of your life, so that someday he might return and know you. And so that you would not forget where you came from.”

Finishing the cookie and putting the ice pack back in the freezer for next time drained the last of my strength. I was tired of being the one thing all the kids agreed on. Tired of standing out, tired of pretending to believe that a talking spider from African legend left me on a doorstep in Iowa.

“It’s ok that I’m adopted,” I said. My mother frowned, perhaps not understanding. “I just don’t want to pretend that I’m something special. I get enough grief in school as it is. Let me be normal. Ok?” Troubled eyes followed me as I climbed the worn carpeted steps to my room.


Hours later I reached to the back of a deep shelf and felt polished wood rather than cardboard. A box the size of a photo album sat nestled in cobwebs and labeled with my mother’s handwriting.

“Johari, my jewel,” it read, ink faint after years of storage. Inside, sachets and sheets of tissue made sure that whatever this was, it stayed safe. Protected. I peeled the layers back, wondering what she could have hidden away all these years.

A letter lay inside, dated on a Sunday in November, the year of my birth. I took a deep breath, thinking I knew what this was but not certain I was ready. Still, I opened the delicate envelope and slipped out several pages of frail blue paper. Airmail stationery, thin and light from the days when connection required such things.

“To My Beautiful Child,” the letter began. “Trust me when I tell you…”

I couldn’t keep myself from reading it through. With this letter she’d woven the story of me for the first and now last time, her voice echoing through the years. I saw myself sitting at the foot of her loom as if nothing had ever happened between us.


Like some adoptees, I went through a period of wanting to know where I came from, who contributed the genetic material necessary for me to exist. And I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t above using that most awful of lines to win fights: “You’re not my mother, you can’t tell me what to do!” I cringed to remember how her face crumpled, and at the hot spike of triumph in my gut.

We fought about my friends. It turned out that the best way to protect myself from other kids was to despise my difference as much as they did. The day in junior high when Toby Miller made some vicious crack about my skin and I laughed was a turning point. No more bruises, no more ice packs in the freezer. All I had to do was give up who I was. My mother didn’t see it as a good trade. I saw it as survival.

We didn’t talk as much after that. No more languid afternoons in the front room, sharing stories by the loom. Her mood was dark but, strangely, her weaving lightened. No more colors, just white upon white upon white. I learned later that white is the color of mourning in some cultures, but at the time I felt relieved. It seemed less peculiar than a mother who made cloth the color of gemstones, of rainbows, of tacky clothing stores at the mall.


The letter was not alone in the box. Beneath the envelope a final fold of tissue protected one last gift, a swaddling cloth of the softest silk, with gossamer filaments woven in a pattern of unimaginable complexity. My fingers’ rough skin caught at the fabric but the threads did not break.

I knew it then, with a certainty as inexplicable as the story in that fragile blue letter. Spider silk.

My mother wanted me to be a teller of tales, the rightful heir to Anansi. Instead she gave me the gift of normalcy, allowed me to lead an unremarkable life. I let the exquisite fabric cascade across my lap and cried.

Darkness clung like the spiders to bare windows, but neither sent chills up my spine. Surrounded by the stories of my life, I was possessed by a conviction stronger than my fear. I would take the job. Stop hiding. I would become something… more.

The house shook as a booming knock rang out on the door.

© J.R. Johnson
. . . . . . . . . .

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Happy Mother’s Day!

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It’s International Dark Sky Week, and we’re celebrating some of the public lands that are awesome stargazing destinations. Some of the last harbors of dark skies, public lands provide unspoiled views of the stars glittering above. Named the first International Dark Sky Park in 2007, Natural Bridges National Monument in #Utah contains three beautiful natural bridges. At night, the bridges form a window into the sky, giving visitors a view of thousands of stars that are bright enough to cast a shadow. Visitors here can see up to 15,000 stars throughout the night. Photo of the #MilkyWay and Owachomo Bridge by Manish Mamtani (www.sharetheexperience.com). #usinterior #findyourpark #travel #nationalpark

A post shared by Department of the Interior (@usinterior) on

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It may be Monday but here’s a bit of good news: I’ve got a new story out, yay! Inspired by a trip to the Montreal Symphony at the Maison symphonique, “A Needle Pulling Thread” is free to read and available now from the excellent (and Canadian) Agnes & True.


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My bird feeder is half full.

It’s an extra large “squirrel proof” version that almost lives up to its name. It’s tall and has a red metal cap and four weight-sensitive perches designed to give smaller birds a chance against the jays and cardinals and squirrels in the neighborhood, and mostly it works. Watching birds come into the yard is fun and satisfying for both humans and felines. Except that there’s a lot less to watch these days.

I haven’t refilled the feeder since last year. And it’s still half full. Where are the birds?

I’ve been wondering this every time Mr. Man and I are out and about. We live in an established suburb and when we first moved into our house the yard hosted raccoons and rabbits and groundhogs and once, a fluffy orange fox. Now only the squirrels and a few birds remain. The city is going through a burst of expansion, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the decline in surrounding farmland is taking a toll on the wildlife. Still, this shift feels new.

* * *

A New York Times article* brought this to a head for me. It’s not the first report I’ve seen on the topic, unfortunately, but we do (with apologies to The Day After Tomorrow) appear to be reaching a critical de-avian-ization point. Agricultural practices in particular have done a number on the insect population. Is it any surprise that birds will follow?

Insects and birds are all part of that delightful staple of elementary school classrooms, the food web. The next obvious questions are, “What’s next?” and “How long until it affects us?”

Public policy is one way to improve the situation. For example, the Farm Bill helps preserve habitat on private lands and provides an often much-needed economic buffer for farmers and other land owners. Don’t have acreage at your disposal? You can still make a difference by creating bird-friendly (and pollinator-friendly) yards.

But before we can make a better world, we need to envision that world.

* * *

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
― J.K. Rowling

One of the best things about speculative fiction is that it allows us to test drive ideas, to spin them into the future, to weigh the potential positives and negatives without actually having to live through that AI or medical or environmental apocalypse.

It reminds me of something I said to a friend facing a life-changing decision: “Whatever you decide, do it on purpose.”

* * *

“We are our choices.”
― Jean-Paul Sartre

Some of the most terrifying words in the English language are “unintended consequences.” Fiction, particularly of the speculative variety, can help steer us through those dangerous waters, between Scylla and Charybdis.

Have a goal, consider the consequences. Then act on purpose.

Making sure that we aren’t on the list of species in decline by protecting the species around us? That seems like a terrific goal.

And maybe next year I’ll have to refill my bird feeder more often.

. . . . .
* tl;dr: Bird populations in France are experiencing “precipitous declines in agricultural regions, even among common birds well adapted to human activity” and scientists point to “the loss of insects, the major food source for many birds, as a likely result of pesticide use.” And before American and Canadian readers breathe a sigh of relief, “A report two years ago said that the problems for about a third of North American birds were urgent.” Ruh-ro!


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