Review(ish): Winging It! Confessions of an Angel-in-Training by Shel Delisle

So, part of the problem I have with reviews is that I don’t entirely trust my initial reaction—there are books I thought I really enjoyed at the time, but I… and then there are others that I didn’t exactly like, but wound up being interesting enough that I kept thinking of it in passing later.

Watchmen is a great example of the second type—I finished reading and was fairly immediately seized with a “What the hell did I just read?” But… even now, probably a decade and a half later, I’ll still randomly start conversations with my husband about various aspects. The author’s overarching nihilism is grating and difficult to get around… but he still ended up with some interesting conceits.

As for the former… hm. Peter Grant’s Take the Star Road probably qualifies. It was a fun romp, but there was nothing that really stuck with me afterward. (I should probably still pick up some more in the series, though, because “fun, a tad forgettable” is something likely to be mended past a first novel. And again, I really liked his prison chaplain memoir, Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls.

Sometimes, it goes the other way, though. Sometimes you’re pretty sure that something’s going to be fun-but-forgettable, and then it sticks with you.

Most recently, I’ve decided this applies to Winging It!: Confessions of an Angel-in-Training by Shel Delisle. As the title implies, it’s about an angel-in-training… who manages to convince God to let her come down to earth to be a guardian angel, despite her incomplete education.

I picked it up because I was broke and bored, along with a couple of other modern-day-fantastic books out of the free section of the Kindle store. (This one, at least, is still free! Yay!) And it was a great deal of what I was looking for—a light, not-particularly-dramatic read where no one’s really bad, we just get in our own ways a lot of the time. And I gotta say—I am a  sucker for an overall hopeful view of humanity.

All of this also got to why I thought it would be a very transient read.  Nothing particularly bad happens. The human characters (the cast is about half-and-half humans and angels) can be pretty flat. And almost all of the conflict comes from our protagonist rushing into the unknown like a charging bull without thinking once, much less twice, about what she’s doing.

…except that last part is actually what makes it so endearing. Grace, the “angel-in-training” from the title, is a really fun character with a really clear voice and… well, probably the wisdom of a small lizard, but all the heart in the world to back it up. It puts a person in mind of when they were young, were convinced they had answers to all the problems of the universe if only anyone would just listen… and I only wish that I’d had the spirit and resilience that she displays when it turns out she didn’t know as much as she thought she did.

And I still feel this way, years after I last picked up the book. (Just re-downloaded it to my current device, so hopefully that won’t be the case for long.)

So… yeah. If you’re looking for a light, hopeful read featuring a character with more gumption than common sense, I recommend it.

Meanwhile, I’m not nearly as broke as I used to be. So hey.  Maybe I’ll finally pick up the sequel!

For today’s ballpoint drawing, we have a charming family scene—me, husband, daughter. (Had I thought about it more, his tail would be curling around my ankle instead of lying on top of my foot… but, y’know, being unable to change things is a weakness of the medium.)

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Toofs

The child has been teething lately.

And let me tell you, before I had the kid, I was completely unaware of what teething entailed. I had kind of thought that it was sort of this continual, low-key grumpy that lasted from when the first tooth started poking out clear on to when the last one was fully in.

Well, it’s not that continual, for which I can only be grateful–so far, it seems like kind of this sudden surprise that involves shifted behavior for maybe a week or three, but is only really acute for a few days.

Those few days are something else.

Our child is, in general, a nice, cheerful, outgoing sort. Stubborn as a mule, and capable of fixating on something she wants to do for much longer than either Daddy or I is particularly capable of remembering to keep her away from it (if we’re serious, it’s necessary to physically remove it from her ever-increasing sphere of influence)… but bubbly, affectionate and nice company.

Unless there’s a toof coming in. Then, it’s batten down the hatches.

Of course, it’s a mistake to think of it just as teething. Some of it’s the knock-on affects. For instance, when she decides she wants to stop eating solid food. So her mouth hurts and she’s really hungry.

So.

Picture, if you will, a weekend where you’ve got a small, not-quite-verbal thing that seems to want to do nothing more than scream at you. Not in anger. No, just this continual, vocal outpouring is something is wrong and why haven’t you fixed it yet!? And, of course, you’ve tried–but absolutely nothing you’re trying works, and she won’t eat, and she won’t nap, and she won’t chew on a teether, and she won’t play with her toys with you, and…

(We’re also pretty clueless with kids, so I have to assume we were missing the Right Thing. Hell, I can’t even remember what I did and didn’t try, and your brain doesn’t work right when it’s continually being off-railed by the something’s wrong! shouting. But either way, it wasn’t working.)

…so, yeah, I didn’t get a lot of writing done this weekend.

That said. There is a good end to the story!

The part I just mentioned above pretty much only happened quite like that for about half of Saturday, until my husband came back from work and decided that we were going to chill out at our friend’s house. The one with seven kids. For whatever reason, as soon as we got to the alternate location, she started acting okay again (if not like her normal bubbly self), and all was okay.

And Sunday we were invited to a birthday party for a sixteen-year-old, where no one at the party seemed to have a sibling younger than eight. So the baby, once more, acted like a completely reasonable person (though, again, still not quite her normal self) as the teenagers passed her around like some kind of neat status symbol and cooed over her incessantly.

And then, on Monday, a return to normalcy.

*phew*

Toying with mood-icons.

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Getting Your Head in the Game

I’m having hideous trouble getting into my next book. And, unsurprisingly, it’s partly because I’m having trouble getting out of the last one.

That’s the whole point of writing short stories in between first draft and edits of the novel, mind–why it was always what I’d planned to do. Because the work just finished–the one I’ve been working on since March, if I recall, which is a big deal for someone who tends to pick up a project for a few weeks and then drop it–doesn’t want to let go, and it doesn’t feel like it ought to after four months of occupying main brain space.

(Yeah, it was a long time. It was my first. I’ll get quicker.)

And it’s not as though I’m even done with pre-editing work–for various reasons, within the next two weeks I need to compile all of my book-chunks (located in as disparate places as a composition notebook on my kitchen table, the drafts folder of one of my myriad e-mail addresses, and… well, anyway, they’re scattered, and not even all typed yet) into a single file. So that’s a pretty good reason not to banish it yet.

But I do need to get into my short.

Of course, I think that an even bigger part is that my toddler is teething, I’m transitioning to a new position at a new company for work, the house is in shambles and I’m incredibly behind on my social obligations. Getting my brain onto fictional worlds at all is tough, much less a new one.

But, y’know. I’ll persevere.

Here’s a picture of my initial concept of my main characters. Mimi Medium, a 25-year-old woman who’s been able to talk to ghosts since an accident stopped her heart (temporarily) when she was a child. She runs a low-key ghost-talking business out of a yoga studio in downtown [undecided city]. And then there’s Jake, a college kid whose parents hired her after he died under mysterious circumstances. Unfortunately, he’s not talking hows and whys… and even worse, he won’t go away, even after the seance is over!

Mimi quickly realizes that the only way she’s ever going to have peace and quiet again is to get to the bottom of Jake’s death. But how can she do that when he’s doing everything in his power to keep it secret? And after getting to know him for a few weeks… does she even want to?

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I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t have much of an idea of where it’s going. But it seems like a cute idea, and if I can get to the point where I actually introduce him, I think their interactions will be a lot of fun.

…maybe that’s the answer. Just skip to when she actually calls him. Yeah…

Trusting the Experts

One of the most frustrating aspects of a lawyer’s life is that he doesn’t control his clients.
This may be a little hard to believe, given the difficulty involved in doing anything. And it’s always lawyers cited when some new silly restriction comes up–“Well, y’know, the lawyers are making us do it this way, we don’t want to be sued.”

And oh, I doubt there’s a lawyer in the country who has never wished he could make the client do what he was told. But it’s just not a power lawyers have. All they can do is advise, and then watch in horrified fascination as the client does whatever the hell he was planning on doing anyway.

I saw it in a divorce case, once, with the lawyer I interned for. I never got all the details, but I was sitting in the audience in court while the judge was hearing the case. The client had made an awful lot of money before the divorce started. He’d gotten arrested somewhere along the way, and was still serving. (Though he’d gotten changed into a nice suit for court.) And the fight, naturally, was over division of assets.

The judge spent a hell of a lot of courtroom time literally yelling at this guy.

I forget what most of it was–the guy was kind of a self-impressed jackwagon, and the judge wasn’t really much different. But the big explosion was when it turned out he’d hired another lawyer specifically for the purpose of handling (which I, and I suspect the judge, read as “hiding,”) the money.

Ohhh, that tirade lasted for ten minutes. “And instead of feeding and clothing your children–YOUR CHILDREN–you hire A LAWYER…!”

So, let’s just say that the judge was not happy with the client, which is never, ever a good way to start.

And then everyone went to chambers. Or, well, my lawyer-boss, the wife’s lawyer, and the judge. They may have even brought the wife in with them. The husband stayed outside with his guard.

And finally, after what seemed like forever, my boss came out with some terms they’d all come up with. Emphasizing how she really thought they were more than generous, and better than anything he was likely to get after a trial.

His response: She didn’t earn any of this, she doesn’t deserve any of it. I’m not giving her !@$%.

My boss tries another time or two to sell the deal. “You need to know,” she says, “that if the judge feels like any of your actions have been beyond the pale”–she used the actual legal term, I just can’t remember it–“he doesn’t have to stick with the equitable division formulas. He can force a split much more beneficial to your wife.”

!@#$ that !@#@#$. I’m not giving her !@#$@.

It was a train crash in slow motion. Given his position with the judge already well determined, and the fact that he was doing things with his assets that weren’t just paying regular daily expenses (kind of a gigantic frickin’ no-no when you’ve got a divorce in process–or even suspect one to be coming soon)… this wasn’t going to go well for him, at all.

So what did my boss do?

She nodded and brought back his refusal to the juidge.

(Final result? The decree of divorce was granted, the division of assets would continue to be litigated in the absence of an agreement. There weren’t any more court dates with that internship, so I never got to see it play out the rest of the way.)

And the thing is? I agree with this. It’s not the role of a lawyer to make decisions for his client. It’s the role of the lawyer to give his client all the options, and to pursue the client’s best interests to the best of his ability–as defined by the client. And thank God for that, because you wouldn’t believe how often lawyers get the best interests of the client just wrong.

You don’t believe me? I understand. Best interest is a really straightforward thing, and lawyers are smart people. How can they get something like that wrong?

Probation.

It seems that every criminal lawyer in the world wants to get his client a nice deal that involves however many years of probation in lieu of jailtime. Which sounds pretty sweet, right? Rather than spending six months in a holding cell, for instance, all you have to do is keep your nose clean for two years and you’re home free. Keep going to your job, hugging your kids, whatever. Who wouldn’t want that?

Well… screw-ups. (Which happens to account for a lot of the people getting arrested.)

When you’re dealing with a screw-up–someone who’s not going to stop drinking, won’t refrain from a fistfight if they feel like they’re being disrespected, or even doesn’t have reliable transportation to visit his probation officer (or enough of a clue to make arrangements)–you’re not giving him two years of restricted freedom instead of six months in a jail cell. You’re giving him two years in a jail cell after he blows his probation in two months. And I don’t know if it’s just being eager to get cases off their table or if probation looks better in their defense-lawyer statistics, but it just doesn’t seem like anyone gets that.

(Please note: I’ve actually not interacted with criminal law at this level, so I haven’t seen it myself. But I’m loosely acquainted with enough screwups to have heard the stories a lot.)

So. Here’s where I get to the point of all of this.

The Guardian–ever a bastion of respectable journalism (*ptui*)–recently posted a column called “The Charlie Gard case is heartbreaking, but society can’t shun its experts.”

And I’m not going to fisk it, because it’s an absolutely infuriating bit of writing that I don’t want to pore over closely enough to give it the treatment it richly deserves. It’s a ridiculous, toxic combination of the premise that society breaks down if we dare trust our own judgment instead of those uplifted souls qualified to make decisions for us, and the premise that sometimes it’s just necessary to kill children so that they don’t risk suffering.

(I debated between “kill” and “let die,” but in this case–where they’re actively preventing any of the several potential outcomes that result in continued life–“kill” seems more appropriate.)

And it’s bullcrap. Because that’s not what experts do. And more to the point, a philosophy that does erect experts to the level of head decisionmakers in the lives of the plenty… well. You ever wonder how you get societies with so little respect for human life that they fill mass graves with the living instead of wasting bullets on so many condemned? Or, to go a tad less extreme, individuals like Josef Mengele or Shiro Ishii? That’s where it starts, the idea that people are widgets to be moved around and controlled, rather than actors with any agency themselves.

You can call it populist all you want, insofar as the term has any meaning whatsoever. But the fact is that experts work for you, whoever it is that actually needs something done. They are facilitators. They are helpers. They get you closer to your goal.

They do not decide what your goals are for you and then dictate how you’ll get there.

Now I need to go drink heavily.

Today’s sketch is just playing with hatching and textures.

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Questions and Answers

There are way too many things on my mind, way too many things going on, and pretty much all of them are beyond my current expressing. (I actually put most of a post in the can today, but couldn’t quite come up with what it was all leading to–just a bunch of pointless meandering about Molly Norris and how sad it is that she’s still in hiding.)

So instead, I think I’d like to encourage everyone to read the national anthem.

Not just the first verse. We all know the first verse. And it is the absolute wrong verse to use. We sing it, proudly and forcefully and true, and… it’s not any of that. It’s a question–a quiet, desperate question from the bowels of an English ship from a man frightened by what the dawn’s light is going to reveal. Given the night of shelling. Given the length of the assault on Fort McHenry. Does the flag still fly? Have the Americans kept the fort?

The fact that we only sing the first verse leaves it a question, unanswered, forever. Which is appropriate, in a way, particularly if you hold with the assertion that liberty is only ever one generation from extinction. But it’s not what anybody means.

What they mean… is somewhat more appropriate to the song as a whole, with all four verses. In short: [1] Did we survive the night? [2] Hell yeah, we did! [3] We kicked their asses! [4] And we’ll do it again, any time we need to.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation!

Anyway. Read the whole thing, it’s short, it’s a good read, and it doesn’t leave the question over whether America yet lives as a continual question.

And maybe it ought to be a continual question. But not at full-throated volume, as though there weren’t a question mark within a mile.

Tonight’s pen sketch! I like MCA Hogarth’s drawings of her kid as a tiny lioness. (I don’t know where to find them anymore, since she took most of her web presence down, but you can find her at Patreon.) It seems a fine way to preserve the girl’s privacy and add a level of cute at the same time.

And it’s like… hey. I’ve got a daughter. Why not have a salamander.

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Disclaiming that I don’t have that much experience as a furry artist or anything–but I do find it ridiculously fun when I do it. (Actually, it’s funny–I was briefly trying to sell original art at sheep and wool festival shows, what with one thing and another. I had several “straight” animal prints framed and hung. And… instead, what I managed to sell was multiple anthro sketches I’d just been idly working on during the show. To normal crafters attending a fiber festival. That was kind of awesome.)

Anyway! She’s a salamander because she was born with red hair, which reminded me of fire. And salamanders (mythically) live in lit fireplaces. So that’s literally a flame on her head.

Anyway. Enjoy!

twee!

Got good news on a personal level, which I won’t go into here… but seems like the decent basis of a sketch.

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Can I say I don’t like wearing makeup? Well, for going out is fine. But putting it on in the morning and not taking it off for twelve hours… it’s itchy. And smudgy.

(And I think I’ve got the good stuff! Purely as compensation for not knowing how to work it in general.)

Scattered

I’ve started and re-started this blog post three times, and I keep running into trouble because my thoughts are insanely scattered and really, if I’m writing anything, I should be writing fiction. (The particular scatteredness of my brain indicates to me that now would be a good time for fiction.) But I’m stealing moments in between loading screens for the things I should be doing even more than writing, so… um. Anyway. Figure that it’s best to just distill all of the things my brain is running between.

I FINISHED THE NOVEL. Or at least I got to the end. YAY! I’m not going to declare the “writing pass” done until I’ve written my opening scene–as it turns out, my husband and I agreed weeks ago that I start the novel a little later than I ought to–but that’s one scene, and there’s something incredibly enchanting about writing THE END.

(Well, there may be as many as three scenes left to finish the “writing pass”–there’s a particular cult sabbath that needs to be extended, and my current opening scene is basically unusable at the moment. But I keep being torn between whether these are initial writing or editing, and thus when I should do them.)

THE FIRST SCENE IS INVOLVING A LOT OF COOL RESEARCH. It doesn’t come up much in the text, but one of the things that makes my main character appealing at all is that he’s this treasure hunter that’s explored the world looking for magical artifacts. (He doesn’t really understand that this is a draw. It’s based off of a guy I knew who devoted his entire outside-of-work life to restoring classic cars and somehow made it seem like the most boring thing in the universe because he was convinced other people wouldn’t care.) We decided the first scene needs to involve some of this treasure-hunting. Which means finding out everything I can about the Mustang Caves in Nepal.

It’s a bit of a balancing act to figure out how much work is appropriate to put into a single scene that doesn’t really mean anything in the long run… but it’s such an awesome place that I gotta admit I’m tempted to go overboard.

(Note: Yes, stealing cultural artifacts is bad. I figure the fact that I have him literally doing it on behalf of an evil blood cult means I don’t have to really go into this.)

I REALLY DIDN’T DO MUCH RESEARCH FOR THE REST OF THE BOOK. Modern-day story with a magic system I made up on the fly. (One of the things I’m going to have to put a hard eye to in editing is if I’m keeping it consistent.) Not much to look into, right? Well, more than I thought, in any case–it turns out I had no idea what happens when, say, a school faculty member runs away with one of the students. From school. After punching out the principal.

I don’t know how often this happens for everyone else writing, because while I was in the middle of tearing my hair out poring through Center for Missing and Exploited Children procedural guidelines for local police, and trying to apply their general, flexible standards to my specific situation… well. It turns out there was literally a nationwide manhunt going on for a teacher who ran off with a teenaged student. (Tad Cummins is the teacher, if you want to look it up yourself; I read through enough stories that I’m not even sure which ones were most useful anymore.)

They caught him two days after I started looking into the case, which means I got both the realtime reporting and the later-discovered information about how they actually managed during the manhunt. So. Blind luck handed me what I needed! Yay!

I CAME ACROSS A COMMENT REGARDING “THE CUTIE MAP” (MY LITTLE PONY EPISODE) THAT DESCRIBED STARLIGHT GLIMMER’S VILLAGE AS AN EXAMPLE OF RIGHT-WING CONFORMITY. Before I tell you precisely what I think about this, I’d like to show you the musical number from that self-same episode, just so you can have a background for what, in particular, I’m talking about.

Yyyyyeah. That’s, um. Totally a right-wing… communist utopia… for sure, man. Those right-wingers are all about knocking down the tall poppies to make sure no one is privileged to have an advantage over anyone else. You betcha. O_o

I HAVE BEEN FAILING UTTERLY TO DRAW ANYTHING I ENJOY. I’ve also been working from home–I tend to forget how much my whole… everything… relies on surroundings. (Also, the fact that my  daughter will try to help whenever she sees me drawing. She’s one. Hopefully by two I can just give her her own paper.)

But here’s a picture of Magica De Spell that came out less horribly than everything else.

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