shrew (n) :
1. "small mammal," O.E. screawa "shrew-mouse."
2. "peevish, malignant, clamorous, spiteful, vexatious, turbulent woman" [Johnson] c.1386, from earlier sense of "spiteful person" (male or female), c.1250, traditionally said to derive from some supposed malignant influence of the animal, which was once believed to have a venomous bite and was held in superstitious dread.

Synonyms: amazon, battle-ax, bitch, calumniator, carper, dragon, fire-eater, fishwife, fury, harpy, harridan, hell cat, hellion, hussy, madcap, muckraker, nag, ogress, scold, she-wolf, siren, spitfire, termagant, tigress, virago, vixen, wench

This blog features reviews of LGBT science fiction and fantasy, tales of the life of a freelance writer, the occasional meme, and pictures of cats. If any of this offends you, please press Ctrl+W.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Featured Author Fridays: Catherynne M. Valente

The author for today's Featured Author Fridays is the incomparable Catherynne M. Valente.

To introduce Catherynne M Valente, here is a review I wrote* for her book Palimpsest, which won a Lamda Award this year as well as being a finalist for both the Hugo and the Locus. Also, I thoroughly love this book.

A palimpsest is a parchment from which writing has been partially or completely erased so that it can be written over with another text. In her 2009 novel, Catherynne M Valente explores how history, community, and the human heart are all palimpsests, erased and written over again by experience. Valente’s lyrical style perfectly complements the fantastical subject, and she makes the urban fantasy genre itself into a palimpsest, erasing what went before and rewriting the genre with richer, more evocative images.

The novel explores the magical city of Palimpsest, a city where all manner of nightmare creatures live lives parallel to our own. There are fairy-sized tea shops, silent cathedrals for beast-headed beings, insect factories, living trains, canals of clothing. These unusual details might seem off-putting to the casual reader, but those hungry for unique visions will explore the city as eagerly as the characters themselves. The novel moves back and forth between Palimpsest and the real world, and Bantam was smart to mark the shift with different fonts to avoid confusion. Valente’s lush writing makes the Palimpsest sections read beautifully, capturing a city where the unusual reigns supreme. The reader is drawn into the dreamscape completely, and comes to love Palimpsest as the characters do. Like any kind of traveler, the reader explores the city, marveling at each new fantastical image Valente creates. The landscape of Palimpsest is truly a dreamscape, and Valente describes each architectural detail with a lyricism worthy of her phantasmagorical subject. The city of Palimpsest is so lovingly realized that the mundane world seems dull by comparison, a place of heartbreak, death, and missed connections.

Yet, Palimpsest is not just about the title city, but also about a group of four travelers from our world: November, a beekeeper from California; the Italian bookbinder Ludovico; a young Japanese woman with blue hair named Sei; and the Russian locksmith Oleg. Each of them runs to Palimpsest to avoid a personal tragedy. November escapes her own alienation, Ludovico the loss of his wife, Sei the death of her mother, and Oleg the ghost of his sister. By entering the dreamscape of Palimpsest, their heartaches and personal histories are scraped clean and written over with new experience. Yet traces of their tragedies remain in the fantasy realm of Palimpsest. November meets the Queen of the Insects, Casmira, the leader of Palimpsest, another sort of bee to commune with. Ludovico chases after the specter for his wife, and eventually finds absolution for his sins. Oleg likewise chases his sister’s ghost, and is forced to confront his own demons in the process. Sei, obsessed with trains, finds echoes of her mother’s ghost in the animate trains of Palimpsest. Each character, though running into the dream city to erase their pain, finds it reflected by the city, transmuted into nightmare. Their experiences in Palimpsest allow each character to work through their tragedies, transforming their lives.

In turn, Palimpsest marks each of the would-be immigrants both mentally and physically because once they enter, the travelers are literally inked with a section of the city’s map. They carry a part of Palimpsest with them forever, indelibly inked onto their skin. These map tattoos become both a badge of honor and a scarlet letter for those who have been to the city. As the characters find others with the tattoos, they get drawn farther into the world and politics of Palimpsest. These tattooed travelers need each other to enter Palimpsest not only out of a need for community, but because that is the secret way into the city: one must sleep and dream after a night with another traveler, one with the map on their skin.

*Review originally published in HUMID, the Undergraduate Literary Journal of Stephen F Austin University, Vol 2  2010.

Be sure to check out her newest novel, The Habitation of the Blessed.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quick Note: Rainbow Awards

The Rainbow Awards were given out for outstanding LGBT fiction, and there were categories for LGBT science fiction, LGBT fantasy and LGBT horror. I have not personally read any of these books, but I probably will hunt them down for reading soon. It looks like many of these titles are genre romance, so be forewarned. I have linked to Kindle editions where possible because many of these books are cheaper in ebook format.

The winners are:

Best Gay Fantasy
1) Heidi Cullinan - Hero
Heidi Cullinan - Miles and the Magic Flute
2) Becca Abbott - Cethe
3) J.C. Herneson - Spring of the Stag God

2) Jane Fletcher - Wolfsbane Winter
3) Alex Mykals - Nigredo

Best Gay Sci-Fi / Futuristic
1) Mark Alders - Light of the Body
2) Mark Kendrick - Trenekis of Hiera
3) Belinda McBride - An Uncommon Whore

Best Gay Paranormal / Horror
1) Viki Lyn - Last Chance
2) Jenna Byrnes & Jude Mason - Alex's Appeal
3) Marguerite Labbe - Our Sacred Balance

Best Lesbian Paranormal / Horror
1) Nell Stark & Trinity Tam - Everafter
2) Moondancer Drake - Natural Order
3) Gill McNight - Goldenseal

A short article at Science Fiction Awards Watch can be found here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Shrew's Obession with LGBT Speculative Fiction: The Roots

The Literate Shrew is back from her long hiatus and ready to get back to business. I started this blog not only to have a place to vent about my favorite things, but to showcase some of the amazing writing I have been privledged to read. As ever, life got in the way. Well, I'm not putting up with that BS anymore. Let me kick off my new LGBT speculative fiction focus by explaining how I fell down this particular rabbit hole.

Speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction, to the unintiated) has fascinated me since I was old enough to read. In my time, I've devoured every fantasy, science fiction and horror book I could get my hands on. In recent years, my genre reading habits have narrowed significantly. Gripping tales of the dangers of new technologies or the price of magic on mortal souls no longer quite satisfy me. I've grown up, and my tastes have grown up too.

Now I look for books that have characters who fall into a different definition of "other." That is to say, characters who are gay.

It's taken me many years to come to terms with my own identity as a queer female, and even longer for me to actively seek out stories featuring characters who, like me, don't fit into society's narrow definition of acceptable sexuality. Looking back, I can see that I was always drawn to speculative fiction with a LGBT focus, but only recently has that interest galvanized. This also has a lot to do with the fact that I just finished my first novel, which is urban fantasy with a gay male protagonist, and I realized that I had no idea if anybody else had written a book like that. Am I alone? I had to know.

Thus began the searches, the discoveries of new writers and the rediscoveries of old favorites. Before I get into a long, fan-girly list of the new discoveries, I’d like to look at some of my “root” authors, or the writers that I've been reading for years that, lo and behold, have written some excellent fiction with LGBT characters or *gasp* might even be gay themselves.

Samuel R. Delany
This author started it all. I first discovered him through my Dad’s collection of science fiction novels (thanks Dad), and, like many a burgeoning geek, devoured Dhalgren in high school. Delany’s stories and novels were opaque and different, captivating and strange. As a wee shrew, most of the speculative fiction I read was from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (way to date yourself, Shrew), and this was a time in speculative fiction where people were playing with ideas of gender and sexuality in new and amazing ways. Delany was in this vanguard, depicting fluid sexuality amidst speculations on the nature of the universe veiled in literary allusions. Delany is a certifiable genius, and also happens to be gay. Discovering this fact was a revelation for the teenage shrew, and I have been in love with him ever since.

Perhaps my favorite Delany titles are the Neveryon series, which features a bisexual (if I remember correctly) main character and many homoerotic elements. He has also written openly about his personal sexual journey in essays and most notably in the novels The Mad Man and The Motion of Light In Water. Delany is a treasure. If I ever get to Clarion, I will no doubt follow him around like a puppy.

[Sidenote: In the intellectual circles that concern themselves with literary criticism of science fiction (yes, they exist), Delany is pointed to when people talk about gay sci-fi, kind of like Ursula Le Guin is indicated when the words “feminist” and “science fiction” are in the same sentence. I won’t get into any major literary fights here, but let’s just say that doesn’t exactly mean the SF community throws pride parades. But that’s a post for another time.]

Tanith Lee
Tanith Lee is a prolific British writer who was also part of the New Age SF vanguard. She has written vampire fiction with transgendered characters and “hard” science fiction with fluid gendered characters, but my favorites are her old DAW sword and sorcery fantasies with the yellow spines. Those old DAW books had the best late 70s barbarian covers, and even if they didn’t have anything to do with the story inside, they were a joy to behold. To this day, I will scan the shelves of used book stores looking for those bright yellow spines. But I digress.  

Tanith Lee has most recently written an excellent book called Disturbed By Her Song that features stories by the Garber twins, Esther and Judas, both of whom are homosexual. Like many of her works, it is a beautiful, dreamlike book with timeless settings and fascinating characters. This book is really a jewel in any LGBT speculative fiction collection. The Shrew highly recommends it.

James Tiptree Jr, AKA Alice Sheldon
As James Tiptree, Jr, Alice Sheldon wrote some of the most intense and influential science fiction stories of all time. “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” is considered a classic of feminist science fiction, and has been widely collected, most recently in her collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. I fell in love with her works after reading some stories in my Dad’s vast Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction collection. In particular, “The Color of Neanderthal Eyes” absolutely floored me. 

The life of Alice Sheldon is as fascinating as the stories of her pseudonym, James Tiptree Jr. The fact that she chose a male persona to write under and her subsequent journey as a science fiction author is fascinating by itself. I could write a whole blog post about her, so instead I’ll simply recommend her biography: James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon.
Those are the roots authors of my queer science fiction obsession. More authors and book reviews will follow, notably a more substantial review of Lee's Disturbed By Her Song, which I recently read.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Influence of Fantasy/Sci-Fi Literature (from Something Awful)

Apparently, "Led Zeppelin loved them some hobbits."

This interesting article by Dennis Farrel @ the always-funny Something Awful (one of the progenitors of LOLcats, dontchaknow) lists some connections between F/SF literature and rock and roll. Good stuff!

Some tidbits:

1. From the Not Really Surprising Department: "The foundation for David Bowie's Space Oddity was formed at a friend's party, when Bowie came across an open copy of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey with an enormous pile of cocaine covering the pages."

2. From the "Yes, They Are THAT GOOD" Department: "The entirety of Beck's album Sea Change is a word-for-word reading of George R.R. Martin's first book in A Song Of Fire And Ice series, A Game Of Thrones."

3. From the Shrew's Childhood Favorites Department: "Bob Dylan's decision to return to an acoustic sound was inspired by a number of fantasy books, primarily Anne McCaffrey's then-new Dragonriders Of Pern series, in which a number of fantastical events take place without the use of electricity."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Saga of Short Bus



This is Short Bus. He is the Runt of the Outside Kittens, son of Molly the Tramp, little brother to Mop and Mama's Boy.

He was dead this morning.

Here's what happened. Earlier this morning, Jill did her Daily Outside Kitten Count. She counted six, one too few. At first he was hidden by the Kitten Basket, and then she saw him. Short Bus was lying behind the Kitten Basket, stiff, ice cold, and covered in ants. Jill swore he was dead. She went to get a paper towel to clean him up, and when she touched him, he twitched and cried out weakly.

"[expletive deleted] what do we do?!?"

"Warm him up!"

We put him in a bowl of tepid water and held his head up so he could breathe. The water drowned the ants and brought his body temperature up. We kept him in the water and slowly warmed it up so it wouldn't shock his system. He was so pathetic, ya'll. I swear he stopped breathing in my hands and in Jill's hands multiple times. While Jill was holding him in the water, I threw two hand towels in the dryer. When he seemed warmed up, we put him in the towel. We rubbed his little chest and belly, his little back and his little neck to keep the blood flowing. He stopped breathing again, and I fought back tears. But he was warming up. He was breathing.

Jill is a trooper and a genius. She has an old cat named Dizzy who had a terrible bladder infection. The vet had given us an IV to give her fluids while she recovered, and Jill remembered that we still had it. Jill held Short Bus, pinched the skin behind his neck and carefully put the needle in. I warmed the IV with my body and squeezed. We worked like a well-oiled machine, like two vet techs who had been working together for years. We got some fluid under his skin, where his body would absorb it. Short Bus got transferred to another warm, dry towel.

At this point, there was nothing else we could do.

I cradled him against my chest in the towel, just like he liked to be held on these cold autumn nights, and we went outside. Short Bus opened his eyes and looked around. He was mostly dry by this point, and was looking better, though he was still weak. Momma Molly came up then and started nursing the other kittens. Jill put him on her and made sure he nursed. We had to pry off several of his brothers so that he could nurse uninterrupted. Once he was done, we put him back in the towel and gave him some antibiotics we had left over from the other cats. Short Bus was steadily gaining strength, yelling at us and looking around, though the warm towel made him sleepy.

Short Bus became an Inside Kitten at that point. We fed him kitten formula; we fed him nutrient rich wet cat food. His tiny belly was big and round. We showed him the litter box. He was confused.

Now here's the cute part of the story.

At the end of our long day, I brought Short Bus upstairs to live with me. I have a small dog cage that my Persian kitten Firefly was sleeping in. I moved it out of Firefly's bathroom and set it up in my living room. I made him a tiny litter box out of a Priority Mail box, a Hobby Lobby bag and some duct tape. I gave him some food, some water and, most importantly, his warm towel. I put him in and closed the door. Short Bus promptly jumped into the middle of his food bowl, laid down, and started eating.

I ran downstairs and got Jill to show her how cute he was in his little room.

When we came back upstairs, Short Bus meowed at the top of his lungs and ran up to us. The door of the cage was still latched.

"I gotta see how he did that."

So we put Short Bus back into the cage, and watched him. He meowed a bit, then proceeded to climb up the door of the cage  (still securely latched). Then Short Bus shoved his giant head through the grate at the top of the cage, climbed on top, and tumbled, not very gracefully, to the floor.

He has been climbing all over my neck, shoulders and chest as I type this, making biscuits, chewing on my ears, and screaming. It is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This is the best possible outcome of this test.

I write like
Ursula K. Le Guin

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Friday, July 9, 2010

“Books are your crack.”

This was said by my housemate today in the car. It’s true. I admit it. I made big promises to review books on this blog recently, but that has not come to pass with all the freelance writing I am doing.  But I have been reading the hell out of some books lately. Escapism at its finest. Or industry research. Whatever.

I am currently reading Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts on my Kindle, which tells me that I’m 11% into the book. It’s urban fantasy with a lesbian protagonist. (Industry research, like I said.) I’m loving it so far.

My recent conquests, in order from most to least recently read:

Namaah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey in mass market. Finished yesterday. It’s been out for a while, but relatively recently came out in mass market. The Kindle edition is still shamelessly overpriced at $13, so I went ahead and bought the analog version. The sequel, Namaah’s Curse, is out in hardcover still, so I might spring for the Kindle edition. Then again, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series are high fantasy romance, so I like reading and owning them in paperback. Somehow the pulp version works for me. On Kindle, price aside, I just don’t know. I have the Kushiel series all in mass market already, and I love matching sets. I don’t want to get too much into how I felt about the book itself right now, as I’m still holding onto the illusion of writing reviews at some point. Suffice it to say that the main character and plotline were engaging, but the romance/erotic bits left me feeling lonely and sad for reasons that have nothing to do with Ms. Carey and everything to do with my own romantic situation at the moment.

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman, Kindle edition (which was very reasonably priced thankyouverymuch). Finished day before yesterday, maybe (whenever that is—It’s been a long week, OK?). I’d hesitate to call Vintage horror, but it is a ghost story, so call it what you will.  Love love love this book. I was charmed the whole way through. Made me very nostalgic for my goth days. Ah, the 90s. From the limited research I’ve done, Steve Berman is the  darling of the gay speculative fiction scene. He’s edited anthologies, written a passel of short stories, and been a finalist a whole bunch of times for the Lambda Award. Definitely one to watch.

Knight of Arrows, Knight of Swords by yours truly on Kindle. The Kindle edition still has some bugs, but seeing as how it’s a string and glue production by my other housemate, it’s forgiven. Some of the bugs were actually helpful. The extra line breaks between scenes (the ones that usually indicate time has passed or scene has changed) were deleted, but that gave some of the scenes a really interesting feel. There’s one chapter where a character is shifting from reality to memory, and without line breaks, it reads like stream of consciousness. In a good way. I’m no Faulkner, but it was interesting. Made me realize that I did actually write transitions in there, so I’m considering taking the line breaks out. As far as the experience of reading my entire novel… It’s still amazing to me that I did it. I made that! I get excited to read certain scenes and yell at the characters as I read (Yes, I’m one of those people) just like I do with books other people have written and… it’s not bad. Not bad at all. Sure, there were some cringe-worthy moments where I realized I definitely needed to edit, but that’s good. Anyway, it was fun.

The White Road from the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling, Kindle edition. This is the fifth in the Nightrunner series and a sequel to Shadow’s Return, which I read last week also on Kindle. (I’ve been working the hell outta my new baby.) I unabashedly love these books. They’re not-quite-high-fantasy about two theives/spies named Seregil and Alec who happen to be gay. And in love with each other, though nothing happens until book three. The first Nightrunner novel is Luck in the Shadows, if you’re interested. They’re brilliant. Ms. Flewelling isn’t terribly fancy with style, but they’re fun, fast, pulpy fantasy novels about charismatic rouges. Who are GAY. It’s fantastic. Such a breath of fresh air to read a book with gay characters that’s (and I can’t stress this enough) not about the fact that they’re gay. I’m not saying that’s bad (I loved the hell out of Vintage, which definitely had some “this is a coming out story” moments.) but it’s very nice to read a plain old fantasy novel about my people. Just like any other damn book. OK I’m done.

Moon Called  by Patricia Briggs, on Kindle. This is the first of the Mercy Thompson novels about a female shapeshifter mechanic who hangs out with a bunch of werewolves and vampires and fey and whatnot. I’ve been meaning to check these books out for a while now because they’re one of the mainstays of the new urban fantasy scene. A shit-ton of people recommended them, etc. When I bought the Kindle, I figured why not? I have to say, I’m not impressed. I mean, Moon Called was a solid supernatural potboiler. Tightly plotted, solid characters, some funny moments, engaging protagonist, but… I probably won’t be reading the rest of them. Why? They didn’t grab me. Mercy Thompson is a great character, and I feel for her, but I just don’t care to read a whole series about her. I mean, Sookie Stackhouse is hilarious and I love watching her go through a crazy life. But Mercy? There’s a little too much “I’m the girl protagonist caught between two love interests” in there. Yawn. Sookie did it better. Maybe I just like vampires more than werewolves, but something was missing for me. Briggs also laid the whole “werewolves are animals and they hunt by scent and they’ve got the whole mate for life thing and the dude wolves are all possessive of the girl wolves and….” Yawn. I know, Patricia. I know. You don’t have to beat me over the head with it. Mercy does a whole lot of standing up for modern gender roles in the face of some good old fashioned “werewolves—I mean men—are possessive assholes because they’re animals” sexism, and, frankly, it gets kind of irritating. After a while, I just want her to be a lesbian. The books would be vastly more interesting if she were.

So much for not reviewing books.

I’ve read a few more, but it’s late. Good night, internets. More book-related nerdgasms to come.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Advice for selling short stories that actually go into my brain.

Thanks to i09, I found this excellent advice from “Fantasy” magazine editor and author, Cat Rambo. Most of Cat’s advice sounded pretty familiar: pay attention to craft, be persistent, research markets, writing groups, etc. All good advice, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve heard it.

However, there were some bits that really struck a chord with me.

“One of my bugbears in speculative fiction is that, while we see good stories exploring race and gender, there’s a lot fewer talking about class. Do we really need more stories about a King (or Queen) and his/her court? What about the little people?”

This makes me happy in my soul. My last semester at SFA, I took a class called Science Fiction and Empire, which dealt with issues of imperialism in science fiction texts. Class issues? All over it. The other night while drinking Mudslides with my new roommates, I hit on an idea for a postcolonial steampunk story, sort of a twist on the explorer narrative.

Good to know my brain is where it needs to be. Now to write the damn thing.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In a new place, catching up with an old friend

And that friend is insomnia. Up late, reading all the internets. Found a new site, the Awl. It goes like this—i09 is to geeks, as Awl is to hipsters. Now I want to spend more time in Atlanta.

That is the gist of these insomniac thoughts: my new life. Life hacking. As utterly pretentious as that phrase is, it fits. Hacking into a life as a writer: freelance, creative. Freelance, meaning the web content sites that I’m setting up on my own today and tomorrow, figuring out words for which I can get paid. (See what I did there? With the preposition? Writerly!) Creative, meaning shopping around The Novel, a process which makes me feel sort of like a pimp and sort of like someone giving away a kitten. Creative, meaning making time to write short stories that will also need homes. 

I need to move into my life for real this time. Get my gigs in order and put my socks in the drawer. I think I’ve been living the last month as if I’ll be leaving any time now, or I’m not really here or something. It’s so different. I’m trapped in someone else’s life, surrounded by bucolic beauty and animals. There are five horses and a foal, three feral cats outside, three cats inside, and a dog. Not to mention the children. I’m not saying I don’t love it, but, honestly, it’s been someone else’s life recently. I’m just a visitor.

Well, not any more.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

COMING SOON: The Vixen Reviews Books!

I have recently purchased this fascinating new piece of technology called a Kindle. I hear you can read books on it. I will be doing that and reviewing them here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Thoughts for today...

I am an individual with the right to a good life. I must not look to anyone else to make a good life for me; this I must do for myself.

I pray to learn the way to see myself as a child of the Universe, bearing in my heart and mind the dignity and grace the Goddess has conferred on every one of Her children. Let me learn to live up to this.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What do I want to do today? Not worry about tomorrow!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Topped out at 2,200 words tonight, and finished the chapter! Joy! Tomorrow, intros for new chapters and onward to the next! I'm unstoppable!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Just found out....

SAMUEL R DELANY is teaching at the Clarion Workshop this year!!!!!!

I want to go so bad! But it is $5,000. I'm going to go cry now.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hey, photogs! A friend of mine is selling his cameras & equipment! Check it out -->
Dinner, TV watching, and Valentine's hat making completed, I will now commence with the writing. We'll see how that goes.
Enough fiddling with the internet! It's time for eating food.
Testing new internet connectivity. I am in the future, man!