Review: “Murder Feels Awful” by Bill Alive

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MurderFeelsAwfulCoverWell I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning finishing “Murder Feels Awful” so I could find out how everything resolved itself.

I did indeed laugh out loud as I read. I also snorted out loud. You have been warned.
EMPATH DETECTIVE. I had no choice but to read this.
Bill Alive did an excellent job balancing humor, pacing, and serious social issues. At turns light-hearted and at others intense (both dark and hopeful), I found this an accessible read. Some excellent dialog and snippy remarks, and over-all wonderful pacing. The plot and characters were mostly grounded and three-dimensional — complex. That is to say, the plot involves some difficult topics as dealt with by complex imperfect characters. Exactly how I like it.

The view point character, Pete, is a young man who thinks things and talks to women in a way that I would not want to normally read. Except that Pete is human and learning, and I appreciate that Bill Alive created him fully so that I could not easily dismiss him (instead, I hoped he’d keep learning and evolving).

I felt a bit guilty liking this as much as I did — it feels so light and easy to read — because not all the characters were “like me”: Pete’s more (naively) sexist than any character I’ve read in a looooong time. But I was rooting for him and Mark (Mark really helped balance Pete). Mark made Pete think, and I appreciated reading that. We’re not born enlightened (well, maybe we are and society takes that from us, but that’s a different conversation); we’re educated into and empathize into awareness and enlightenment.

Also, I like it when artists create characters who aren’t perfect, who don’t have all the money in the world to throw at their problems, who actually have to communicate with one another and who rely on one another to get by and to survive… you know, like the vast majority of us. Bill Alive has created characters who don’t have perfect lives, who are themselves flawed. Flawed and genuinely human. I appreciate that. There’s depth and history… I have questions, and it’s a damned good thing there’s more books, because I Want To Know.

I enjoyed the self-awareness of the book. I think the meta aspects work wonderfully. I am often delighted when art is aware of itself and when artists play with that awareness to create something different. This awareness doesn’t always pay off, but in “Murder Feels Awful” I feel it did.

I also enjoy interstitial works. This novel has a cozy mystery feel, but is perhaps more serious than what some people might term “cozy”. Except that I never cared for cozy mysteries precisely because of this point — someone dies and the characters of the story romp and hi-jinx their way as if someone hadn’t just died, hadn’t just been MURDERED. I could never get over that disconnect. Bill Alive bridged that disconnect beautifully.

For full disclosure, I received the book for free and I’ve met the author. I’m buying this and the whole series because I love good stories and I love the artists/authors who create them = I’m going to help them pay the rent so they can keep writing more 🙂

This post is a part of my effort to review more of the books I read. Also a part of my newly embraced “finished is better than done” mindset. That’s why this isn’t perfect. But you’re reading it and getting the idea, and that’s the point.

 

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Acceptance!

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I’m thrilled to let you know that my story, “Girl Singing with Farm”, was accepted by Reckoning!! Reckoning is an annual journal of creative writing on environmental justice. Oh yeah, you know I’m thrilled to have had a story accepted by them.

I will be letting you and everyone I see know when “Girl Singing with Farm”, and the other fine stories the good folks at Reckoning took on, is available.

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There’s so much to say, and at the moment, I can’t even begin. Therefore, I’ve been quiet lately. Not because I have nothing to say, but because I have too much to say, too much I want to point out, too much to express.

 

Story Acceptance!

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Pantheon Magazine picked up my story “Stars Reflected in Every Drop” for their Tethys-themed issue! This story is one of my favorites and I am absolutely thrilled it’s found a wonderful home at Pantheon.

tethys - Pantheon Magazine

From Pantheon Magazine’s call for submissions:
“Tethys is the Titan daughter of the sky and the earth, guardian of fresh water, mother of the river gods and sea nymphs.
Tell us stories about rivers and inland seas, about water caverns–and those who protect them. Tell us about what happens to those who trespass against Tethys. We want to read about the delicate creatures blooming in rain puddles and about the dark awareness at the bottom of cenotes.”

I’ll let you know when it’s up (the issue is scheduled to appear online this fall).

It’s that Write-a-Thon time of the year.

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it's only a gargoyle if water runs out it

Out come the words!

I’m participating in Clarion’s Write-a-Thon! These fun and productive six weeks run concurrent with Clarion’s writing workshop. While a new class of Clarion students writes, sweats, and critiques, so too shall those participating in the Write-a-Thon. Find out more here.

My goal is to draft 6 short stories and/or poems. You can check out my progress on my Writer’s Page.

 

Poster for my WisCon Reading

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All Our Favorite Nightmares, Midnight swirly text, lens flare2

Used a drawing from Andrew Lang’s “The Green Fairy Book” to create this poster. Much fun in the making. Will have much fun at the reading, too, with the inimitable Emily Cataneo, Julie C. Day, and Sarah Read!

Hope you can join us Saturday, May 27th, at 4pm (that’s Memorial Day weekend). Reading held at Michaelangelo’s Coffee Shop near the Concourse Hotel.

WisCon Schedule

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Another WisCon! This year I’m participating in two panels and a reading. The reading will be the first time a significant portion of my writing/critique group will be getting together IN PERSON! We’re very excited and thrilled that we’ll be together and sharing our work with you!

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Here’s my schedule:

Small Everyday Forms of Resistance in SF/F
Type Program
Track(s) Feminism and Other Social Change Movements (Spirituality, Organized Religion and Politics)
Description SF often presents resistance as dramatic: clear-cut choices, cinematic fight scenes, and so forth. It’s difficult to get away from that mindset, even in real life. For those of us muddling along in moral murkiness, for those of us who can’t or don’t want to commit violence, for those who cannot for any number of reasons take up protesting full time, what are examples of small, everyday ways to resist injustice and fascism in SF/F?
Location Wisconsin
Schedule Sat, 10:00–11:15 am

Tweet! #SmallResistanceSFF
All Our Favorite Nightmares, Obsessions, and Inhuman Familiars
Type Reading
Track(s)
Description The Post-Apocalyptic Writers’ Group has been working together for a few years now. Members short fiction has been published in Interfictions, Interzone, Black Static, Gamut, The Dark, the New Haven Review, and many other venues. Some members have books forthcoming with others editing magazines. As a group our fiction encompasses horror, slipstream, fantasy and science fiction, but no matter the specific genre, the stories are always rooted in the dark and the literary with a strong, feminist sensibility. As a virtual critique group that spans a number of time zones, WisCon will be the first time we’ve been able to read together.
Location Michelangelos
Schedule Sat, 4:00–5:15 pm

Tweet! #FaveNightmares
Impeding or Empowering? Representations of Mental Disability
Type Program
Track(s) Feminism and Other Social Change Movements (Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing Science Fiction)
Description The world of social-change stories in science fiction and fantasy is rapidly expanding, but those of us with mental disorders are often overlooked. There is a lot of ignorance and stigma surrounding mental disability, including the question of what qualifies as disability vs. what is simply a difference. Like all other marginalized groups, people with mental conditions seek not only representation, but empowerment. Why are characters with these disabilities rarely written into major roles? Why are mental disorders such as Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome never interpreted as powerful? Why are we so often portrayed as weirdos and villains instead of heroes? This panel discusses relevant issues, the concept of neurotypical privilege, and works of fiction that do offer representation and empowerment.
Location Caucus
Schedule Sun, 8:30–9:45 am

Tweet! #ImpedingOrEmpowering

Please stop by and say “hello” if you’re going to be at WisCon. Leave a comment if these topics interest you or are important to you in some way. I hope to be able to bring many voices to the discussions. Plus, the discussions need not only be at WisCon, right? I mean, that’s what blogs and other forums are for, after all 🙂

What’s intersectional feminist speculative fiction? It’s where the future starts.

Why is genre a dirty word

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“We do not encourage the formulaic use of popular genre (e.g., romance, science fiction, horror, thriller, etc.)” – from the Iowa State University MFA website. This summarizes the academic view of genre fiction. Formulaic. That some genres carry “more literary weight than others”. Need I state that SF/F/H is not one that carries this gravitas or merit. At least in this quote, ISU recognizes, or pretends to distinguish, that the use of “popular genre” as formulaic is what’s frowned upon; though, the implication is that genre is by its nature formulaic and therefore inferior (“We understand that there are subgenres within each of these classic genres, some of them carrying more literary weight than others” = there’s a hierarchy, and guess where “genre” fiction falls?).

Relying on stereotypes is inferior writing. It’s lazy. Not crafting sentences or scenes; not developing theme or subtext; ignoring character arc and inherent cohesion; yes, these things are a sign of inferior writing, inferior craft. But that’s not the genre, that’s the execution and the writing craft.

This is an interesting conversation to try to have–to understand that SF/F (a.k.a. genre or popular fiction–I’m dropping horror because that’s another conversation) is not inherently or by definition formulaic. What genre fiction is, is a use of speculative elements relating to scientifically or fantastically derived themes used to explore topics otherwise unseen, or unable-to-be-seen, the that which is hidden from or difficult for social and personal conversation and contemplation. Topics typically unable to be written about for whatever reason (usually involving (lack of) emotional and cultural distance) can be written about and explored in SF/F precisely because the approach is an unfamiliar one. It’s disarming. Hackles don’t immediately raise; assumptions aren’t immediately formulated. I think this fascinatingly relates to post-normal science–that you can not have an observer-free observation. How’s that for academic?! Yeah! If I had more time and energy I’d drop some links and mentions regarding utopian studies, post-colonial and feminist theory, the human need for concrete ideology–something to look toward, as opposed to things to avoid.

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The Closest Thing to Animals by Sofia Samatar |September 2015 Fireside Fiction | Illustration by Galen Dara

[Sofia’s “The Closest Thing to Animals” is a wonderful example of well-written, thoughtful, beautifully crafted science fiction, a.k.a. speculative fiction.]

But this doesn’t mean you can’t write genre fiction that’s formulaic. Because you can. You can write bad SF/F. Some authors really do just write formulaic fiction with the trappings of SF/F. That’s possible. But it isn’t inherent to the genre.

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Some SF stereotypes commonly found in formulaic fiction. May be found in non-formulaic fiction (though they’ll usually look a little different in that case)!

It’s like saying that metal or rap or country music sucks (to pick on sometimes popularly picked on red-headed step-children of the music industry). Bad metal or rap or country sucks. But good metal or rap or country music is good. There is nothing inherent in these types of music that automatically frames them from foundation to artistic-execution as inferior.

I know this is one reason people have started using the label “speculative fiction”–to distinguish well-written stories with “literary merit” from the formulaic fiction (other) people usually call SF/F. I do. But this can be problematic, putting the speculative fiction in its own genre, since it furthers the idea that SF/F is a genre of formulaic hackneyed writing.

What do you think?

Here’s the opening quote with a bit more context: “We understand that there are subgenres within each of these classic genres, some of them carrying more literary weight than others. While we do not encourage the formulaic use of popular genre (e.g.,romance,science fiction,horror, thriller, etc.), we do support writers who wish to create cross-over works that combine the energy of popular genre traditions with the greater ambition and more nuanced techniques of classic literary traditions.”

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I’ve got something better growing

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Walking through the neighborhood today I was delighted to see strong signs of Spring. There’s no turning back now: the flowers are going to bloom, leaves bud and unfurl. Before we know it, it’ll be all-get-out Spring!

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I have no crocuses growing in my yard. Along with snowdrops, they are the first flowers to bloom in this area. I was thinking I’d like to plant some so I can have color and life early in the season. Looking in my backyard to see what’s happening back there I saw something better.

I’m growing dragons!

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What’s showing  in your yard or neighborhood?

(You know I’m going to have to write about this in a story now, right?
Yeah, you knew that.)