Sci-fi Icon, Octavia E. Butler (and we’re over Covid)

Book-lover/library-lover Octavia at home. (c) Patti Perret/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Please note: From the bottom of my heart, thank you everyone for your kind wishes for my husband and me while we were sick with Covid. Fortunately we’re well now and hope you and yours are staying safe. For anyone who thinks Covid is a simple flu, this is absolutely not the case. While it may start off mildly, it can quickly take a terrible turn. Please get vaccinated if you have the opportunity. Our doctor advises us to be as careful as ever as no conclusive evidence confirms that having been ill with it has gives us one iota of immunity, especially against the newer versions arising.

Savaged by self-doubt? Dry spells getting between you and your goals, including ones for writing your novel? You and I have brilliant company!

A first edition of Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, 1979. Huntington Library, (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler.
A first edition of Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, 1979. Huntington Library, (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Octavia E. Butler, the first African-American woman sci-fi writer, wrote herself many pep talks. She suffered through crummy jobs (potato chip quality control, anyone?) and years of crappy pay to attain her writing aspirations.

Octavia cemented her goals inside a notebook cover in 1988. Octavia E. Butler papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.
Octavia cemented her goals inside a notebook cover in 1988. Octavia E. Butler papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Talk about paying off! She was the first science fiction author to receive the MacArthur Fellowship’s “Genius Grant”! And she was a multiple Hugo Award and Nebula Award winner!

One of Octavia's many self-reminders, this note regards forging credible characters and worlds. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
One of Octavia’s many self-reminders, this note regards forging credible characters and worlds. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

All that and still she continued to work hard at bolstering herself. Proof is within her donation to The Huntington Library’s Art Collections in Los Angeles, a collection ranging from extensive drafts, notes, and research materials to more than a dozen novels, numerous short stories, essays, correspondence, ephemera, and assorted books.

Detail from Octavia’s notes for the Oankali, characters from the Xenogenesis trilogy. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
Detail from Octavia’s notes for the Oankali, characters from the Xenogenesis trilogy. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Born in Pasadena, CA, on June 22, 1947, she grew up poor. She watched her single mom endure racism and classism while cleaning homes to raise her daughter. Octavia towered over her classmates and grappled with dyslexia.

Octavia at around 15. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © Estate of Octavia E. Butler.
Octavia at around 15. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Her peers bullied her for not being more like them. As an only child most comfortable among adults, she spent her time at the public library, reading, and writing. Later she attended writing classes and workshops. Check out this cool interactive link the Los Angeles Times created regarding her stomping grounds.

In a 2000 interview for the New York Times, she said, “When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read. The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”

In 1979, with the publishing of Kindred, she chartered fresh territory for how to relay history. The protagonist is an African American woman who vaporizes from the Los Angeles apartment she shares with her Anglo boyfriend. She careens between the pre-Civil War slave era and back, a harrowing ride to put it mildly. Did Octavia dream of the present, when these days mixed couples are common and now high school teachers assign Kindred to their students?

Photo of Science Fiction novel writer Octavia E. Butler near Mt. Shuksan, in Washington state, 2001. Photographer unknown.
Octavia near Mt. Shuksan, in Washington state, 2001. Photographer unknown.

Octavia was taken from us in 2006, at a far too young 58. She was staving off depression and writer’s block to finish a trilogy that remains incomplete. Her fans continue to grow.

Her advice to writers: Keep writing, no matter how you feel about your work.

Three months before she passed away, here she chatted with investigative journalist Amy Goodman, who heads Democracy Now (a fantastic video and radio news show, by the way) and co-host Juan González.

This fellow blogger’s post features 15 anecdotes about Octavia. Within it, a video link includes an interview with another stellar African-American woman sci-fi and fantasy writer, N. K. Jemisin.

How do you reckon with self-doubt?

Books forever! Guest Blog Post: Book Art w Video by Cecilia Levy

What do books mean to you? For me, the very sight of pages bound together conjures adventure, romance, joy. A book suggests an imagined memory of what a heaven-on-earth it would be to occupy the hugest reading room ever! In such a place,  librarians are sure to work at a great library that houses fiction (like my soon-to-be-published “Flamenco and the Sitting Cat” novel) and non-fiction, both revered as sculptures as well as media for knowledge. The magic of books is such that, once published, every book should continue to live endlessly.

Artist Cecilia Levy resides in the small Swedish village of Sigtuna, between Stockholm and the university town of Uppsala. Her art ensures that printed pages are neither discarded nor forgotten. In her hands, they are reincarnated, given three-dimensional lives as exciting as their first ones!…

Cecilia Levy, artist, working in her studio, Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, 2019. Photographer: Stewen Quigley.
Cecilia Levy, artist, working in her studio, Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, 2019. Photographer: Stewen Quigley.

“Paper Art” by Cecilia Levy

Cecilia Levy creates sculptural objects in paper, using old book pages, wheat starch paste, and papier maché technique.

Her work is exhibited internationally and is included in private and permanent collections, including the Swedish National Museum.

In 2017, her public art commission, “In Fusion – Contemplation Pieces,” was installed in the main entrance to Stockholm’s New Karolinska University Hospital, NKS, twenty plinths displaying over twenty-five of her unique paper sculptures.

Her home in Sigtuna, her studio at Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, she’s a member of Konsthantverkarna in Stockholm, where her pieces are sold.

"Companion," teacup and strainer, 2018.
“Companion,” teacup and strainer, 2018.

I have a background in graphic design and bookbinding, and paper has always been my medium. I make sculptural objects in paper, using book pages. I only use old books, up until the 1960s. They have the paper quality, layout, and typography that I appreciate.

"Longing," mocha set, 2020.
“Longing,” mocha set, 2020.

Old book paper is a fragile and delicate material. It carries several narratives at the same time, both in content and regarding the passage of time. My works reflect this, the fragility of life. The pieces reflect my personal stories and memories. This is a mocha set called “Longing.” It’s a replica of a set given as an engagement gift from my grandfather to my grandmother.

"Chapter One," thistle, 2015.
“Chapter One,” thistle, 2015.

Visible traces from the passage of time, marks from previous owners and readers, paper quality, color and typography, holes in the binding, wrinkles and dog ears, olden expressions and spelling, and the (sometimes) odd content. All of these are all characteristics I value and are what determine my choice of working material. Every single piece of paper is chosen with care.

"Hobo – Homeward Bound," boots, 2012.
“Hobo – Homeward Bound,” boots, 2012.

My different pieces represent different sides of me. I often use everyday objects, those found at home, or in thrift shops. These Hobo Boots are special to me. They are appealing to the eye. They were fun and pleasing to make, yet they also have a serious underlying message about homelessness and poverty.

"Coltsfoot and Artichoke," medicinal plants for a public commission, 2017. Photographer: Alvaro Campo.
“Coltsfoot and Artichoke,” medicinal plants for a public commission, 2017. Photographer: Alvaro Campo.

My 2017 public art commission, “In Fusion – Contemplation Pieces,” was installed in the main entrance of Stockholm’s New Karolinska University Hospital, NKS. In all, twenty plinths held over twenty-five unique paper sculptures. I was inspired by folk medicine, especially plants and herbs that can be used for infusions, in other words, herbal teas.

The title of the commission is a play on words that indicates a fusion between art and folk medicine. “Contemplation” is used, in a sense, to look at/be aware of/be exposed to. It’s an essential term within philosophy and theology. People coming to a hospital are often anxious and worried. My hope is for visitors to halt for a while, and to let their minds wander.

Here’s a video of Cecilia at work.

Reach her at +46 706 54 39 65 – or at her site here – or at her Instagram here – or at her Facebook here – or here.

What do books mean to you?…

Video: Taupo, New Zealand: From a Duckling to Rafting by da-AL

Taupo Public Library.

At the risk of sounding like I’m getting paid for this (all us bloggers are wealthy, no?) New Zealand truly has everything! We loved urban Auckland, relaxing Rotorua, the stunning Redwoods, amazing Huka Falls, and astounding Craters of the Moon and Pirongia, as well as Hamilton Gardens. (Later in Australia’s Gold Coast, we visited familyand birds of Australia Part 1 of 2 plus Part 2 of 2, then we marveled at the Spectacular Views in and Around Gold Coast, enjoyed a delicious meal on the beach, saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, had fun with Rita Rigby, met the beasts of Brisbane and the beauty there, and enjoyed Sydney this much and that much, as well as the purring there!

In Taupo, we had great fun! We stayed at Sharon Drinnan’s small family farm cottage (you can reach her at DrinnanClan@Farmside.co.NZ). Sharon was so kind that she even made sure we saw this charmer who’d hatched only hours earlier!…

Can one ever get enough of looking wonderfulnesses that includes a dog as black and cute as mine? This dog belongs to our hostess, Sharon…

After breakfast, we drove into town. On the way — “Stop the car!” I yelled, intending to photograph a mamma pig with her small piggies. She, however, had other plans! Before I knew it, she’d corralled the babies into a far corner, then returned to confront me!…

Don’t mess with Mother Pig.

Anyone who visits Happiness Between Tails knows I adore libraries. Taupo has a great one! (More later about the Pūkana expression on the red Māori sculpture)…

The city of Taupo lies along the shore of Lake Taupo — where we enjoyed a river rafting adventure. We had too much fun to take photos. However, after our adventure, my husband took these photos of me with our river guide, Tau Thompson of Tongariro River Rafting when another river guide photo-bombed us. Those Pūkana expressions we’re making (same as on the library statue). Facial expressions are essential to Māori performance…

What’s your best facial expression?

Guest Blog Post: On Boy Books and Girl Books by Pernille Ripp

Books allow me to transcend my own experience of the world. In reading, I can assume the skin of people, places, times, and events that I’ll never otherwise inhabit. They make me feel more part of the world and more human.

How has reading shaped you? Blogger/teacher/parent Pernille Ripp why she believes children should be exposed to all kinds of books…

Blogger/teacher/parent Pernille Ripp.
Blogger/teacher/parent Pernille Ripp.

Pernille Ripp

White, Black, Yellow, Lime,  Free Image

I get asked for a lot of book recommendations, I think it comes with the territory when you share the love of books.  And while I love pairing books with potential readers, I have also noticed a pattern that causes me to pause, that should cause all of us to pause.

I get asked for a lot of books featuring male lead characters for male readers.

When I ask why the need for a male lead, I am often told that “they” just don’t think a boy will read a “girl book.”  That a boy will not like a book about feelings.  That a boy only wants books that have action.  That have other boys in it.  That feature characters that look just like them or at the very least think like them.

As if every single boy thinks alike.

When written like this it is easy to see the…

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How’s your public library? by da-AL

How often do you use the public library nearest to you? Books are heaven to me (I’m in the middle of writing two novels!) — but here in Los Angeles, they’re not the only reason to I love them.

Photo of spaniel dog with his nose in a book, reading.
Photo by 2Photo Pots on Unsplash
  1. Any California resident can get a Los Angeles County Public Library card.
  2. All services are entirely free!
  3. Visitors can browse, and cardholders can borrow in-person or order online — materials from hard copies, audiobooks, magazines, music, movies, and more — to downloadable ones.
  4. Los Angeles County has nearly 100 libraries, including bookmobiles. Free of charge, they’ll deliver books from one site to another.
  5. Physically challenged people can have items delivered.
  6. Vocational and fun classes are available online and at their facilities — many online ones engage real teachers.
  7. There’s live online homework tutoring.
  8. Job seekers and business owners have lots of resources.
  9. Enjoy fun events — music, crafts, reading, and workshops.
  10. Over the summer, kids get free lunches.
  11. Lonely or just want to be cozy and quiet? Come on in!
  12. Meeting spaces can be used by groups and tutors.
  13. Get help obtaining a high school diploma.
  14. Wifi, computers, and printers are complimentary. Photocopying fees are nominal.
Photo of spaniel dog with his nose in a book, reading.
Photo by 2Photo Pots on Unsplash

Share about your public library and share this post…

Guest Blog Post: Tips for Sleuthing the Past by Margaret Lossi

Who'll your search turn up? Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com
Who will your search turn up? Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire of Gratisography.com

Writers and readers alike, for times we’d like to look into our histories, author Margaret Lossi offers tips for how to get started. My two novels are works-in-progresses! Lossi says that when it comes to looking up one’s family background, be prepared for surprises…

M.A. Lossl

The Family Tree

Warning: family history can lead to emotional discoveries.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but you begin at the end! That is, you begin with you.

Check your birth certificate, verify your parents. It may seem like a given, but just sometimes people find they are adopted, or their mum is really their grandma. It pays to check.

Check your parents birth certificates, to verify your grandparents. Then work your way back through the generations, verifying birth certificates.

These first steps build the strong foundation of your family tree, so worth doing well.

It is not a case of how far back you can go, but the quality of your data

You may wish to answer a family question. I knew my parents were second cousins, so wanted to find out about this link. Set yourself a goal to work towards. Whatever your motivation, make sure you verify each…

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Breathtaking Bilbao, Spain by da-AL

The Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain
The Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, features many American artists, from Frank Geary’s architecture to Jeff Koon’s “Puppy” flower sculpture.

Sure Frank Gehry’s amazing architecture at the Guggenheim Museum helped put a failing Bilbao, Spain back on the map. Front, back, in, and out the Guggenheim Museum, Spain, turns perceptions upside down and inside out (tap or click each photo for more info)…

However, art and art-worthy architecture abound everywhere in Bilbao.

There's much notable architecture in Bilbao, Spain.
There’s much notable architecture in Bilbao, Spain.

Along the way to the museum, we stopped to see Azkuna Zentroa. Built in 1909, it now houses a building within a building balanced on unusual columns.

It’s part of the Spain half of Basque Country. That means that both Spanish and Euskara are spoken. Good food abounds, including pintxos, Northern Spain’s version of small delicious plates of tapas.

Bilbao, Spain is a beautiful city.
Bilbao, Spain is a beautiful city.

Our airbnb hostesses Iciar Ruiz (who owns her own design business) and her daughter, Alba, helped us decide what to see.

Iciar and her daughter made our visit extra nice.
Iciar and her daughter made our visit extra nice.

My love and I had just left the beaches of San Sebastián, toured the phenomenal French side of Basque Countrywonderful Huesca, pretty Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and enchanting Espelette. Our adventure started with beautiful Barcelona. There was more for us to see…

 

Let’s Make Every Week Banned Books Week! by da-AL

Persepolis is discussed by a UK teen on youtube video about Banned Book Week.

Does the threat of a book being banned ensure that it’s among the finest books written? Check out the fantastic examples cited by the smart folks in this 29-second video (and pat yourself on the back if you smile when “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is discussed — *see end of this post for why)…

Banned Book Week needs to be every week of the year! Started in the U.S., the now international event has been honored every last week of September since 1982.

* Whereas the girl in the video remembers the story as happening in South America during the 1920s, here’s how Wikipedia tells it: “The story takes place during three years (1933–35) of the Great Depression in the fictional “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama, the seat of Maycomb County.”

Once my novels-in-progress are published, I hope they’re not banned! How many potentially banned books have you read?

Guest Blog Post: What to Read When You’re Feeling Super Lazy by Orang-utan Librarian

Drawing of an orangutan reading a listLove + Compulsion… From as far back as I can remember, I had to learn to read! Once I started, I’ve never stopped. Now I’m writing two novels! Was Orang-utan Librarian reading over my shoulder?…

the orang-utan librarian

Hello again!! Yes, I’m actually posting twice in a week- you’re not seeing things! Oh you thought you’d seen the last of me for this month? Well sorry to disappoint 😉 I wanted to do a great “here’s what I’ve been reading this summer guys!” post- but let’s be real, I’ve not actually been doing much reading. Instead, I thought I’d give you an idea of what I’ve been reading/to give myself an idea of what I *should* be reading.

orangutan listLabels on food packets– ermmm yeah this is one of the things I’m actually reading at the moment- to be fair, it’s helping me practice another language, so it’s not cos I’ve become a food nut and I’m not totally weird (okay I am a little weird but you knew that already 😉 )

Road signs– same reason as above- it’s practice! (also directions probably count here, but…

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Huntington Library, Art, and Gardens by da-AL

da-AL at The Huntington, sitting on a bench in rose garden

What better way is there to celebrate a special occasion than with an all-day excursion of gorgeous weather, strolling an array of gardens that span rainforest to desert and Japanese to Australian to more, seeing the worlds’s stinkiest (and amusingly phallic) plant, eating international fare, admiring fine art museums, and ending it all with a high tea?

My honey and I spent our special day at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (a collections-based educational and research institution) located in San Marino, California. Tap photos for captions…

da-AL and her honey having high tea at The Huntington

What’s your favorite way to celebrate a special day?