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[sticky post] Welcome to Cafe Nowhere

Hi! ¡Hola, y bienvenidos! My name is Lisa Bradley. I write speculative fiction and poetry. My work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Cicada, and Stone Telling. My collection of poetry and short fiction, The Haunted Girl (Fall 2014, Aqueduct Press), can be purchased from the publisher or Amazon. My agent is Rebecca Strauss at DeFiore and Company. For more information, including a list of my publications, please refer to my author website.

I'm originally from South Texas, but I've lived in Iowa for ~20 years. In addition to being a writer, I'm a wife and mother. I have chronic depression, but it's under control and I don't need medical/lifestyle advice, thankyouverymuch. (Some more labels: Latina! atheist! anarchist! bisexual!) I love horror movies, cars, gothic country, jigsaw puzzles, gin, NBC's Hannibal, whisky, dark chocolate, art journals...

I have written a series of posts, "Writing Latin@ Characters Well." I've provided links to each post below and will update this master list as necessary.
What are you?
Where are you from?
No, really. Where are you from?
But you don't *look* Latin@.
Say something in Spanish!
I LOVE Mexican food!
Putting out those fiery stereotypes
Banging down more stereotypes
Ingroup versus Outgroup conversations

Thanks for visiting. I hope we can be friends. :)

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I like to spread Halloween out for as long as I can. Podcastle has encouraged my habit, by providing an early holiday treat: my autumnal tale "Bilingual, or Mouth to Mouth" is now available as a podcast! This story evolved from a poem I wrote, "Hello Kitty, Hello Blood." It has goats and telescopes and teens, psychic mouths, magic wishes, and fey infection. If you prefer reading to listening, the entire text is at Podcastle, or you can read it in my collection, The Haunted Girl.

October will be a busy month for me. I'll have a new story at Solar Punk Press, a new poem at Strange Horizons, an author spotlight at readdiversebooks.com, and my poetry workshop at Sirens.

Less exciting but necessary nevertheless, I'll be undergoing a sleep study for my insomnia. I know these studies are pretty common nowadays, so if you've had the experience, tell me what you wish you'd known going in!

Okay, time to get back to my pumpkin-spice coffee. Happy Fall, y'all!

Resolutions, Two Months In

Am I getting the hang of this? I don't know.

My most important goal is to revise a chapter of Border Blaster every week. Mid-month, I decided I could probably handle two chapter revisions per week. Almost immediately I had a week jam-packed with "life stuff," in which I got little work done. So I ended up with four revised chapters in February, five as of today.

I sent out three story subs, which was only possible because I got a couple of rejections and re-subbed those. I haven't finished any new stories. (Total to date: 6 subs; 2 rejects; 5 pending)

Looks like I only sent out one poetry submission, and it was reprints for a non-paying antho by a publisher I admire. (Total to date: 5 subs; 3 rejects; 1 sale; 1 pending) But I wrote 1 and a half new poems. It may sound silly, but I feel really good about that half. It feels like a "big" piece, not just long, but...significant.

For my activism goal, I read and reviewed Locked Down, Locked Out by Maya Schenwar. And, incidentally, got the public library to purchase another prison-related book: Dress Behind Bars: Prison Clothing as Criminality by Juliet Ash.

Although
Tweetie has Spring Break in March, this month's schedule looks much quieter for me, and thus (I hope) more productive.

What progress have you made with your goals? What have been your stumbling blocks, and what can you learn from them?

Decarceration Book Review

Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better by Maya Schenwar

My Goodreads review, cross-posted.

The first half of this book discusses how the (American) prison system sabotages all the factors known to reduce recidivism rates among ex-inmates: family connections, interpersonal relationships, community engagement, education, and employment.

The author, Maya Schenwar, illustrates with examples from her own family's experience. Her sister was incarcerated multiple times and gave birth in prison. Schenwar explains that inmates are warehoused far from home, sometimes even out of state, making family visits prohibitively expensive or impossible for working-class and poor families, which is the majority of the affected families. If family makes it to the visitor center, long lines and short hours mean some won't get in. Phone call rates are extortionate; calls are monitored and interrupted; call privileges are subject to the whims of wardens and corrections officers. Mail, also monitored and censored, routinely goes "missing." Books are heavily sanctioned and may be taken from inmates for minor infractions. And once released from prison, a person's job prospects are dismal because their skills (if any) are out of date and few employers will accept an ex-con. Thus rather than rehabilitating, the system ensures that people leave prison worse off than they entered it, and therefore more likely to re-offend or fall afoul of parole restrictions.

Meanwhile, structural conditions that predispose people toward crime, such as racism and poverty, are fortified when the prison/legal system "disappears" millions of marginalized people for years or even lifetimes. Though the author is white, she is cognizant of that privilege and readily acknowledges how much worse the odds are for minorities of all kinds. She frequently turns over the bullhorn so those minorities can speak for themselves.

Schenwar doesn't ignore the abuses that inmates suffer from guards and other inmates, but she doesn't spend much time on it, either. This makes the book less upsetting than others in the genre.

The second half of the book focuses on decarceration, what we as individuals can do to dismantle the prison system. She encourages pen-pal programs and activism opportunities, but she also asks us to reconsider our understanding of crime (versus harm, for example) and whether we really need to bring police into situations. She also spends a fair amount of time on models of community-based justice (or transformative justice), with concrete examples of how schools and communities can address harmful behavior and remedy the underlying causes of violence without throwing people away.

This is a practical, personable book that is easy to read. A list of resources gives readers ideas for immediate action, and extensive bibliographic notes pave the way for further research.

Poetry News

In case you missed the announcements on Twitter and FB, a new poem of mine is now online: "Coffee Shop Painting" appears in Issue 16 of Devilfish Review. This poem is about painting with coffee as a magical art form. I suspect it's partially influenced by viewing my mother's sketchwork when I was a child. She used charcoal instead of coffee, but it still seemed like conjuration to me.

And since the deadline for nominating works for the Rhysling Award is coming up (February 15!), I'd like to point out that I had three poems published last year. "Levity" and "Aboard the Transport Tesoro" are eligible in the short poem category, and "glass womb" is eligible in the long poem category.

Thanks for reading!

New Year's Resolutions, One Month Later

I started the new year with a completely new daily routine, embarrassing in its simplicity: sleep as late as I fucking need, get up and get fully dressed (down to shoes & earrings), have a small meal, start knocking items off my week's to-do list. I'm still trying to understand how much I can reasonably expect to get done in a week, especially given the unpredictability of depression. But my recurring items every week are to revise a chapter of Border Blaster, sub a poem, and sub a short story.

I'm up-to-date on chapters, I've made 4 poetry subs, and I've subbed 3 stories. (I suppose technically, I could also count the 3 stories I contributed to an anthology project as "subs," but it's not like I'll get a rejection, since I was invited to participate.) I've got this week's story sub lined up, but I'm running out of poetry inventory.

I also resolved to focus my activism efforts on prison reform this year, with one signficant action every month. In January, I wrote letters, which was easy enough. This month I'll read and review a book, which has had a spin-off action: I ended up requesting that the local library buy some more books on the issue.

I still fret that I'm not doing enough. "I could do so much more if I just tried," I say when infected with brain weasels. But now I also have the agendas from previous weeks in my day planner, with all those neat lines run through the accomplished items. So I know I'm doing *something*.

Sometimes I think we get too focused on whether or not we did the Thing we said we'd do, rather than remembering the impulse behind the resolution. Eventually, I may run out of poems to send out, and failure to sub isn't something to feel bad about, not if my motivation was "be better about getting my work out there" or "stop self-rejecting." Likewise, I am not wearing real shoes today (opted for socks and house shoes) or earrings, but I have butt in chair and I'm working. It's a routine, not a requirement. And sometimes that's enough.

For those of you who made resolutions, what's your progress been like? What have you learned?

Sleep Rituals

The other night I was having bad dreams, and the second time I woke, I knew I had to do something to keep from slipping back into those dreams. My usual superstition of turning over my pillow wasn't going to cut it. I was soooo drowsy, I knew I wasn't really really awake. So I lay there trying to list herbs/spices alphabetically.

But I'd just finished reading Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria, and in the midst of allspice and anise, bay leaf and basil, imaginary spices started popping into the queue. Sadly I can't remember most of them now--perhaps they are not imaginary, only the culinary secrets of my dream space!--but I know there was "eritrea." Yes, Eritrea is the name of a real country in Africa, but that's not what it meant when I thought of it. I knew it was a roasted kind of root, darker and "rockier" than chicory.

In A Stranger in Olondria, a child wakes a man who's having bad dreams, then instructs him on how to lose them. She explains you're supposed to do it outside, near a certain kind of plant, but she's not allowed to go outside at night. As she makes him stand and follow her movements, I remembered My Neighbor Totoro and the ritual the girls learn to help their plants grow. If nothing else, by the time you've hauled yourself out of bed and gone through the motions, you're actually awake. You've "rebooted" and if you do choose to go back to sleep, you've probably interrupted the dream sequence enough to feel safe. (Interrupted the "train of thought"? Or purposely missed the nightmare train?)

Lately, I have a hard time falling asleep. Sometimes I need a hard reboot. So I get up, use the bathroom even if I don't need to, check my phone, drink some water, and then return to bed to try again. I'm curious about what other folks do. If you can't sleep, what do you do for yourself? If you have a bad dream, how do you avoid falling back into it?

On Chronic Pain and the Alchemy of Poetry

Poetry Notes for "Aboard the Transport Tesoro"

In November, my poem "Aboard the Transport Tesoro" appeared in Issue 7 of Uncanny Magazine. Now it's available to read for free online or listen to in a podcast.

The idea for the poem came to me on one of the many nights I lay awake in bed, in pain. I'd tried ignoring it, then meditating through it. I'd taken various medicines. I had my heating pad. I'd tried stretching out, scrunching up, lying on my back, belly, side. Nothing helped. To think of something other than hurting, I racked my brain trying to figure out what I could've done that day to trigger the pain. Nothing stood out. Eventually, I started to wonder what I had done, ever, in my life, to bring on this pain. Had emotion metastasized into physical ailment? Had I committed some sin or transgression? Was I being punished?

Pain makes me weird and illogical. (Or maybe that's my Catholic upbringing?)

These addled thoughts intersected with a conversation I'd seen on Twitter, about the difficulty of venerating elders (or ancestor worship) when your family is problematic. How do you overcome (or maybe just put aside) a history of conflict, or even abuse, for a continued relationship with the deceased? Can you ever trust them, let alone honor or respect them?

I wondered which of my ancestors might be inducing my suffering, and what they were trying to convey through the punishment. Only my grandmother seemed vindictive enough, but what had I done to piss her off this time? She held a grudge like a tick with lockjaw, so I supposed it could've been something I'd done in the past. But surely she knew my heart had changed over the years. I actually felt closer and more sympathetic to her than ever before. Maybe she was only acting out? Maybe she was hurting too?

And if I was so adrift, I wondered, how much more complicated could ancestor worship get in the future? With life-extending medicines and procedures, we might know our great-greats much more intimately, for better or worse. I imagined what it'd be like to have a wonderful, nurturing relationship with a great-great, and what I'd be willing to do for her when she finally passed.

Though I was still in excruciating pain, the poem came together very quickly after that. I got out of bed and wrote it down. I don't know how long it was before the pain subsided enough that I could sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I moved a couple of lines and typed it up, and it was done.

I don't see anything romantic about pain or suffering. If it were up to me, I'd have slept pain-free and never written the poem. But I do feel a grudging awe for the alchemy of poetry, which can take something as stupid and pointless as my pain and transfigure a bit of it. From lead to gold seems too self-congratulatory. So...shit to Shinola, maybe.

Uncanny Poetry

This week I had two poems published!

The first, "Aboard the Transport Tesoro," appears in Uncanny Magazine, Issue 7, alongside work by fellow poets mariness and sovay. Also, I'm pretty tickled to share a ToC with Yoon Ha Lee, a Sirens guest of honor. By chance I was invited to join him and two other Sirens for a last, con-lagged lunch at the airport. (Hope I didn't get him sick.)

"Aboard the Transport Tesoro" grew from my sickbed thoughts about chronic illness and ancestor worship. I got up and wrote it in the middle of the night, cleaned it up, and sent it out. Quickest turnaround between composition and publication I've ever had!

The second poem, "glass womb," is online at Interfictions. This poem has perhaps my longest turnaround between first draft and publication. It took me a really long time to find the poem's final form. I can't say why exactly, why it never clicked, why I never abandoned it. I think I had to wait for tumblr to be born and show me pictures from the Mütter Museum and the specimen still lifes of Frederik Ruysch.

And that's my good news for the week!

Thinky Double Features for Halloween

This isn't exactly a Friday Faves installment. I wanted to do something Halloweenie, but there's no way I can list my favorite horror movies, books, stories, or anything. I love too many things. I didn't want to randomly recommend "movies to watch on Halloween," either, since everyone's tastes are different and our moods affect what we want to watch when.

I can't remember the last time a horror movie actually scared me. Revolted, yes. Saddened, yes. Lately I've been thinking, Even if a movie were to scare me, it wouldn't be enough. I want art that makes me think. With that in mind, I've paired up horror movies into double features that excite my "compare 'n' contrast" tendencies. Maybe you'll find something in this list to satisfy your itch, whatever that may be.

1. Carnival of Souls (1962) and Donnie Darko (2001 but set in the '80s) -- Carnival of Souls is a black-and-white, low-budget, minimally-cast thriller starring the absolutely luminous Candace Hilligoss. Donnie Darko is a full-color, big (enough) budget spec film, with a star-studded ensemble cast and Jake Gyllenhaal in the title role. Both movies focus on a person out of synch with the rest of the world, but in Carnival the consequences are individual, insular; in Donnie Darko, everyone is affected. Both films are spookier than they are graphic, although there are some brief moments of gore in the R-rated Donnie.

2. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, set in 1900) and Here Comes the Devil (2013) -- In both of these films, children on a holiday outing explore a mountain and something goes wrong. The PG-rated Picnic is less forthcoming about what exactly happened, obscuring with ethereal atmospherics apropos for late-Victorian repression, whereas the unrated Here Comes the Devil graphically depicts sex and violence. And yet, neither really explains why the tragedy unfolds. Perhaps the characters offend the genius loci? Maybe some places are just bad? Either way, both films are unsettling in their ambiguity.

3. The Descent (2005) and The Babadook (2014) -- On the surface, these are very different movies. The Descent follows women on a spelunking adventure who get lost in an unexplored series of tunnels. The tunnels are inhabited by humanoid cryptids and as the women fight to get back to the surface, they die in various brutal, bloody ways. The Babadook is about a grieving woman trying to survive daily life with her acutely sensitive child, who finds a book about a bogeyman-type monster that he thereafter insists is threatening their tiny, broken family. The Descent is a hard-R, with monsters and gore, while The Babadook works up to its R rating with psychological, real-world horror. But both movies are woman-centered explorations of grief in a world where bad things happen to good people, and they keep on happening.

4. Somos Lo Que Hay (2010) and We Are What We Are (2013) -- The connection between these two flicks is clear: The latter is an American remake of the former, which is Mexican. And I'm going to have to spoil it for you, because I don't think it's fair to send you into a movie and not warn you that it depicts [Spoiler (click to open)]  cannibalism. What's interesting about this pair is how very different the movies are, despite the shared premise. Somos takes place in a city; We Are has a rural setting. The family is complicated in Somos; in We Are, it seems a pretty straight-forward, misogynist patriarchy. I think Somos is about a lot of things (economics, power dynamics, ritual and modernity, homosexuality, nature versus nurture, etc) but We Are opts for a narrower, easier to understand focus. For extra "food for thought," maybe watch Jug Face (2013), about a young woman who tries to escape her rural community when she falls afoul of its peculiar customs.

5. Pontypool (2008) and Berberian Sound Studio (2012) -- I love both these stories because they are obsessed with sound in a highly-visual medium. Former radio shock jock Grant Mazzy hates his new assignment in Pontypool, a small rural Canadian community. A mild-mannered sound engineer, Gilderoy hates his new job creating the sound effects for The Equestrian Vortex, which is not a movie about horses, as he imagined, but a gruesome giallo flick. In Pontypool, a bizarre virus infects the town and Mazzy and the other employees of the local radio station must piece together the truth from conflicting reports, incoherent witnesses, and mysterious military injunctions. In Berberian Sound Studio, Gilderoy is an innocent adrift, desperately trying to hold together his reality even as it merges with the grisly fantasy he's forced to help create. Both films interrogate the gaps between sounds and meaning, facsimiles and reality, consensus/objectivity and dissent/subjectivity.

So there you have it: some brain candy to accompany your Halloween candy. I wish you a pleasant mix of tricks and treats. Happy Halloween!

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