And We’re Back–Now with Triptychs!

At long last! By popular demand! Bread and Magic has returned to the intertubes! After several years of living the glamorous jet-setting lifestyle of a nonprofit professional working full-time-plus, I am happily returning to the more leisurely ways of a freelancer/writer. This is good news for you, dear reader, because it means lots of Ben Francisco facts and fictions headed your way!

This year, for some hand-waving reason, I have been doing my reading in triptychs: sets of three books that go together in some way. Some are actual trilogies, such as the original Song of Ice and Fire trilogy (which I finally got around to reading), while others are more thematic, such as the “Quirky Love Story” triptych that I’m currently working my way through. Some have weird connecting threads that may be hard to follow, such as my “Nick and Norah Triptych” (dedicated to Peter Ball). All are entertaining, at least for me, and are a fun way to push myself to read outside my usual genre comfort zones and to put those intertextual-analysis tools from my comp lit degree to some sort of use. And triptychs make great blogging material, too. I may even try to put up some sort of list of all the triptychs online somewhere. Any ideas about a platform that would be good for that? Goodreads, maybe?

During my long hiatus, a few things of note have happened:

  • My short story, “The Fermi Paradox,” was published in From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction, a fab anthology made up of just what it says on the tin. Alas, despite the title, the story is not scifi, but it is full of gay geeky goodness. The antho also includes great stories by Justin Torres, Miguel Angel Angeles, and many others, so check it out!
  • I am truly nearly done with the first draft of my novel – all that remains is the epilogue. Am excited to jump into the revision phase. (As is my poor beleaguered writing group, which has been patiently reading through the novel in a drip-drip of chapters over the course of three years.)
  • I now have a puppy. Prepare yourself for adorable photos.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned!

Birthday Business, Shout-Outs, and Other Matters

Today is my 33rd birthday, and I’m celebrating by taking a mini-cation from work to write and see close friends – two of my favorite activities.  I was thinking of having a big party for myself but that sounded an awful lot like the event-organizing I’ve been doing for work lately, so I decided to postpone the party to a less busy time.  I’m thinking I may have a party some time in the summer to celebrate hitting a third of a century.

There are many other illustrious figures born on March 18, including at least two others born in 1977, the year that Star Wars was released and Harvey Milk was elected.  A very special happy birthday to Peter Ball, my birthday-brother from Australia, a fellow writer who defies categorization, writing in every genre from magic realism to pulp noir, and possibly inventing some new sub-genres along the way.  For a free online taste, I recommend this short story at Strange Horizons about merfolk, Copenhagen, love, and loss.

And happy birthday to all the other fabulous March 18ers, including Jordan, a new friend who was born only a half-hour apart from me, and Fernando, an old friend who was born a bit further apart from me than that. 🙂 

In other news, SF Signal recently asked this year’s Nebula award nominees for recommendations of other worthy stories.  I was honored and flattered to see that “Tio Gilberto and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts” was mentioned by several of the nominees.  Many thanks to Chris Barzak, Richard Bowes, Will McIntosh, and Rachel Swirsky for the shout-outs.  It’s especially nice to get kudos from those four writers, all of whom much deserved their nominations and routinely write some of the best stuff out there these days.

All right, time to get some real writing done…

E.T. Rewatch

Last night I was hanging out with my cuz, searching for a movie to watch amidst the labyrinth of on-demand menus, and he mentioned he’d never seen E.T.  And I was all, “You’ve never seen E.T.!?” and so we immediately ended our search and purchased it for the very reasonable price of $1.99.

I was probably 7 or so the last time I saw the full movie, and it was fascinatingly familiar yet new.  I remembered most of it in surprising detail, but my experience of it was through entirely different eyes – kind of like going back to your old elementary school as an adult.  To pick an obvious example, I remembered Eliot’s high-school-age brother and his friends as being “big kids,” unknowable giants to my 7-year-old eyes.   As a kid, I was completely terrified by Eliot’s first meeting with E.T. in the backyard, when they both get scared of each other and run off.  I also think I completely missed the whole divorce theme that looms over the whole story – or at least I didn’t remember it at all until re-watching.

Mostly, though, I was just amazed at the storytelling – so emotionally powerful, effective – and economical!  Not one minute of the movie is wasted: Spielberg spends a few minutes setting up that E.T.’s stranded and establishing the characters in Elliot’s family, and then goes straight to their first encounter, and while he’s building their friendship makes sure he also plants the seeds for the confrontation with the scary guys from the government.  As soon as he’s established that E.T. and Elliot have a psychic link and that E.T. wants to phone home, the bad guys show up and E.T. gets *really* sick *really* fast and we jump straight to the satisfying climax. 

They just don’t make movies that tight anymore.  I feel like if E.T. were made today, it would be three and a half hours long, would start with several scenes presenting a detailed picture of life on E.T.’s homeworld, and would also include a romantic subplot for Elliot. Plus at least three epilogues of E.T. and his buddies in space and Elliot and his family having dinner and God-knows-what-else.

In any case, this one holds up, to say the least. If you haven’t seen it since you were a wee lass or lad, it’s definitely worth seeing again – it’s a different but equally wonderful experience.

X-Ray Visions

Yesterday, I got a call from my new rheumatologist with the results of some recent X-rays he ordered.

Oh wait, some exposition first for those who are new to the show: Almost a decade ago (have I really been an “adult” for an entire decade?) I started getting severe pain and stiffness in my joints, especially my back and neck, and I was told it was most likely a rare and chronic type of arthritis.  They tried various uber-strong painkiller meds on me, which gave me lots of stomach pain and didn’t really help the joint pain at all, plus I do have a bit of a rebellious streak, so I just stopped taking them.  Swimming and stretching helped a lot and didn’t make my stomach hurt, so I stuck with that. 

Now, years later, the pain has been getting worse, so I went back to the doctors circuit (primary care provider to blood tests to rheumatologist to x-rays to more blood tests etc.) to see what was up.  And it seems these latest X-rays show that my joints have degenerated, with quite a bit of visible damage on my spine.

So in the first 24 hours or so since this news, I have experienced three reactions to this:

  1. Whoa, this is actually serious. I really do have a chronic problem I need to deal with.
  2. I feel oddly relieved to get a verifiable confirmation of the pain I’ve been feeling for almost 10 years.  I know that probably sounds strange, but a big part of me is like, hey this is not just in my head and it’s not just me being whiny, something really is happening in my body, yay.
  3. I feel hopeful, because apparently there have been a lot of advances in treatment of this in recent years (mostly involving biologics) that seem to be quite effective.  And, in contrast to the meds they tried on me before (which only put a band-aid on the symptoms, if that) these new treatments actually address the cause and can help prevent further joint deterioration and loss of mobility.  This is most definitely a Good Thing, plus I get to take part in a very science-fictioney treatment.

So mostly I am feeling pretty good about this, because I’m in the same condition and position I was two days ago, I just have some new information, and information is usually a useful thing to have. I don’t anticipate posting regular medical updates here, but for some reason this time I felt the urge to share.

Sci Fi is dead. Long live Syfy!

syfy_logo1So the Sci Fi channel is apparently changing its name to SyFy.  When I first saw the story here, I have to admit I thought, “Is it April Fool’s already?”

But then, after I read the article, it actually started to make sense to me.  Of course, it broadens their scope without losing those who already have loyalty to their brand!  Clearly, I’ve sat through far too many branding discussion meetings for this to make sense to me.

I especially like the part about how, sadly, they can’t own “Sci Fi” since it is after all an entire genre (but they can own Syfy!).  It reminds me of a story I heard once that a certain gay American institution hoped to lay proprietary claim to the word “out.”  No, actually,  you cannot own “out.”  Even gay people as a community don’t have exclusive ownership of “coming out” anymore.  You can’t turn on the TV or radio without hearing someone talking about “coming out as a Jesuit” or confessing that they’re a “closet Stephenie Meyer fan,” etc.  Gay people should be getting royalties for giving the world this apparently incredibly useful metaphor.

Okay, this has officially been your rambling blog post for the day.


Was just doing some late-night channel-surfing before going to bed, and I ran across an infomercial for the “Heatsurge Fireplace.”  Apparently, “the Amish painstakingly handcraft each Heatsurge fireplace,” which uses “fireless flame technology,” allowing you to set up a portable fireplace anywhere with an electrical outlet. This short YouTube clip will give you a taste, though it’s not quite as hilarious as the full infomercial:

I don’t know what to call this other than Amish-sploitation. On the full infomercial, there are even more references to the brilliant craftsmanship of the Amish, including a testimonial from one satisfied customer who bought it because he knows “the Amish make great products.”  The whole thing is hilarious on too many levels. 

But here is my favorite quote from the infomercial (sadly not in the Youtube clip) – and I wrote this down word for word, it was so perfect in its brilliance:

Order now while supplies last … Entire communities of Amish craftsmen are straining to keep up with the demand!

Why GoogleReader stresses me out

(For those of you unfamiliar, GoogleReader is one of Google’s many ingenious tools. It lets you sign up for all your blogs and other web sites, and it automatically sends you blog entries and other updates as messages, like an email inbox for the entire world wide web.)

So today I logged into my Google Reader account for the first time in many months, and in the upperleft hand corner it says, “All Items (1000+ Unread).”  As if it’s not enough that I have 400+ messages at my work email account, and 4797 unread messages in my yahoo account (not as bad as it sounds, mostly spam or listserv messages – I hope), now I have 1000+ unread items in Google Reader? 

This is particularly tragic, because reading blogs is primarily a tool for procrastination.  (You are procrastinating about doing something else you should be doing right now, aren’t you?)  GoogleReader takes this lovely, joyous activity of pure procrastination and transforms it into another stressful obligation: “Oh no, I’m more than 1000 posts behind on all my blog reading!” That’s just not right.  Plus, part of the fun of blog-related procrastination is the physical act of clicking on all the different sites.  Right?  Okay, maybe I’m alone on that part, but still…

Not that I’m against GoogleReader.  It’s actually a really good tool, with a really nice user interface and everything….