Friends, Death, and Bawdy Jokes

This is going to ramble a bit. Bear with me.

The news

I received news today that an old friend of mine passed away suddenly from a short illness. I was in shock at first, and then Nic held me as the tears came.

I hadn’t seen this friend in many years. Even before she moved back to the US we’d lost touch. Thanks to FB though, we managed to occasionally nudge each other, and seeing her face always made me smile. She was one of those people who never complained though she had every right to, and she was always quick to crack a joke or check in on you. I feel the world has lost a beautiful soul.

Aside-ish.

I’m not good at keeping in touch with people. I’m not friend material. I’m too awkward, too tired, and too wrapped up in work to be what a real friend should be. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, I’m just incredibly shit at reaching out of my shell and showing it. I think about people far more than they know.

But Renee’s death has made me regret being that way. Because life…it’s so fragile. It can disappear in an instant, and it’s so terribly…final. I can’t say goodbye. I can’t thank her for the terrible cups of tea and for the fantastically bawdy jokes. She’s just gone.

Our time can come at any moment. Regrets are waiting, poised like runners at the starting line to catch up to at the first available shot. I regret not keeping in touch, not knowing if she finally found that sexual dynamo she’d been looking for, not just saying hi. I hope she knew how many people cared for her.

Another Aside-ishness.

I think the internet has changed the face of friendship. Before it, we lost touch easily. People moved, grew up, got married, got divorced… but they weren’t on our path anymore, so we knew none of it. The friends you kept were the ones you made an effort to see and/or talk to.

Now, even old elementary school people you knew are “friends” on social media. We peer into one another’s lives from a distance, “like” a post, but rarely have a real conversation. So what is real friendship now? I just know I suck at real human communication, and I also know the likes of FB friendship can be shallower than a pond in the Sahara.

My point?

I have no idea. Perhaps it’s to say tell the people close to you how much they mean to you. Make sure they know, before you don’t have the chance. Choose your friends wisely and well and don’t be an attention Scrooge (like I am). Love.

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Holding onto my tail

In just a few days, there’s a big thing happening here.

Backing up…

For the last eight years we’ve had the annual Bold Strokes Book festival in Nottingham. Every year the UK/EU authors come together for a weekend of LGBTQ fiction. This kind of thing happens often in the States, but opportunities to do it in the UK aren’t as frequent.

It’s been a great eight years. And over the course of those eight years, I’ve been nagging at the boss’s boots to join us. Then we got to talking about doing the biannual retreat here…

And here we are. At year nine, we’re doing the retreat for BSB authors/staff/family, and that will be followed by the annual LGBTQ fiction event. Twenty-eight authors, along with their family, partners, friends, etc, will be in Nottingham for an entire week. There’s been loads of planning, a zillion emails, a quadrillion phone calls, and even a three way international Skype conversation… I’m constantly telling myself the glass is half-full, and it won’t go down in a ball of literary fire… but my naturally Eeyore nature is convinced my tail will fall off any second.

eeyore.jpg

On Monday, people start arriving from all over the world for this very special week. If I said I wasn’t crapping myself about it I’d be lying. As the Notts ‘host’, and the person who begged for the opportunity, I’m praying everyone has a good time and feels the  trip was what they wanted it to be. We’ve sold a lot of tickets (nearly sold out) which is fantastic, so at least the yearly pressure of will anyone show up? is absent.  And I get to see a lot of authors I’ve now known for many years, which is always a bonus. It’s really a great group of witty, lively, kind, people and I’m lucky to be associated with them. (It’s also the second year I’ll be attending as an author, which is also exhiler-fying.)

You should join us, if you can. The event itself is May 5th-6th at Waterstones, Nottingham. You can buy your tickets here. It’s a fun, friendly weekend of books, authors, and community. The after parties are lots of fun, too.

And if you do come, remind me that my tail is still attached, would you?

 

Another label…WoC

I’ve been thinking about what it means to write characters of color, and what it means to be a writer of color. I’m in a place where I’m trying to understand where, and if, I fit.

My surname is hard to pronounce if you’re not from a country where Spanish is spoken. Hell, even my teachers in LA often got it wrong. And it’s long enough that with my first name, one of them often got cut off on ID cards and such. Sometimes I was Victor.

Being mixed race is easier when you look white. And I do. I have thick hair, but that’s about all that marks me as Latina. I was still harassed in school occasionally when people heard my last name, but more often than not, it wasn’t long before they forgot.

Except…I feel Latina. I like being Mexican. I like the culture, I like the food, I like the emphasis on family, I love the language. But…

I also grew up socially White. I didn’t face the same barriers many Latina women do because of stereotypes and prejudices, and I admit to feeling guilty about that. I’ve enjoyed an amount of privilege because of my fair skin and blonde hair, though I certainly never hid my background. And I’m distanced from really being a part of the Mexican culture because I didn’t fully grow up in it.

I think there are probably many people like me, who feel a little bit rootless. From two cultures but not entirely a part of either. So can I call myself a writer of color? Are genetics enough, or do I have to have had the lived experiences too? I write under a pen name I chose for specific reasons; is that an erasure of my Latina identity?

As writers, I believe we tell stories of humans, and remembering that there are humans of every shade is important. When I wrote a Mexican-Haitian character in my second book, she felt very real to me, and I love her. But I wonder how readers envisaged her? Did I do her justice? It’s an incredibly important question and one I don’t know the answer to.

I don’t have an answer to these questions yet, but somehow it feels important to keep wrestling with them.

Wallflower space

When you walk down the street, do you move aside when someone is coming toward you? Or do you just keep going, figuring they’ll move?

When you sit on a bus, do you take whatever seat there is? Or do you find one that won’t encroach on someone else?

I move. I find the least difficult seat.

I’ve been thinking about the way I take up space on this little planet. Mainly because I’ve been going to the pool, which is good for the pain in my hips. When I’m there, I take the lane closest to the wall, where I can take up the least amount of space. If I can’t I get anxious. I don’t want to encroach.

Often, while I’m dithering on the steps about where to slot in, or whether I should just give up and go away, someone else will pass me and just go for it. They clearly feel the right to work out like the other folks and have no compunction about taking up space.

Why do I feel like I have less of a right to physical space? Clearly there are other issues at work, and I’m having a little perusal of those. I’d say it’s a gender thing too, that women are taught to take up less space. But in the pool women don’t seem to follow that edict, so I’m not sure it holds in every case.

Maybe it’s a wall flower thing. I prefer to blend into the woodwork overall anyway, and taking up space means not doing so.

Do you take up space? Do you own it? Or do you give it up?

Just a little vitamin D

“And they will not see the sun again for four months…” (planet earth)

I think one of the most difficult things about moving from California to England is the lack of sunshine. This time of year I start to feel like one of those emperor penguins in the Antarctic. Day upon day of grey, cloudy skies letting loose droplets of water; sometimes in spits, sometimes in torrents. Jackets are still out, even though buds are showing on the trees. It rains an average of 36 days a year in Southern California. In England it rains 133 days a year.

Gods, I miss the sun.

And according to a lot of the climate research I did for my next book, England is going to see less and less sun in the coming decades. Global climate change means heat and clouds, so while it will get warmer, there will also be more rain.

More. Rain.

We’re heading to Vegas in July, and though it will be unbearably hot, I can’t wait to see the sun again.

Cultural Roots and Communal Behavior: A Discussion Between Aurora Rey and Ashley Bartlett Part 3

This is the third installment of a truly fabulous conversation between very talented, very intelligent, and very funny, authors. You should have a read.

Women and Words

As promised, here is the final installment of my conversation with Aurora Rey about the intersection of cultural roots and queerness. In part our discussion was a result of this essay at Autostraddle, which I can’t believe you haven’t read yet. If you would like some context, here are parts 1 and 2 of our conversation.

AURORA REY: I’ve been thinking a lot about how our role models growing up shape who we become, as well as what we’re attracted to. I’ve not sorted my own out completely, but I’m coming to accept there’s more underpinning it than I’ve wanted to admit. Again, it comes back to identity versus attraction, how and where those lines intersect.

ASHLEY BARTLETT: That makes sense. Regardless of how toxic the society we grow up in is, we still absorb it.

AURORA REY: And there are parts of even the worst environment that…

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Stuck in the middle with you…

When I started this blog it was meant to talk about writerish stuff. It’s taking a rather winding path in that regard, but I thought I’d jump back on that wagon briefly…

I saw a friend on FB saying she was in the saggy middle rut, and it came up today in the editing course I was running. What do you do when you hit the proverbial wall and your poor little novel loses steam?

Here is my suggestion; go back to two things. Your central conflict and your character’s goals. What is the conflict they’re faced with? Have you slowed down because they’re not doing anything about it? If they’re treading water, throw something at them to force them off their asses and back into conflict territory. Keep them focused on that conflict and overcoming it. The other thing is their goal; what did they want at the beginning of the story? How are they going about achieving it, or how are they still being blocked from doing it? A character with a goal is one with shit to do.

That goal can be personal (getting a promotion and then having to deal with the consequences of getting it) and/or it can have to do with the larger conflict (wants to find shelter during apocalypse but has to go through swamp monsters to get it).

If you’re stalled, ask your characters what they want. Ask them what the big conflict is. Then torture them with some obstacles that show the reader the kind of people they are as they work through those obstacles. That may get your pen moving again.