Between the Lines Book Club: The Dodds and Their Books

between the lines book club logoThis month we are reading In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson. We’ll be discussing the book in person at Arden Dimick Library, at 10:30AM on August 26, 2017.

The Dodds had fascinating lives in diplomatic circle, but they were also authors. William Dodd was a historian who wanted more time to write. He wrote Expansion and Conflict about how economic regional competition influenced the outbreak of The Civil War. He also wrote biographies of Jefferson Davis, Nathaniel Macon, and Thomas Jefferson, among other papers and books.

Martha Dodd, William’s daughter, wrote novels and memoirs. She wrote a memoir called  My Years in Germany and another one called Through Embassy Eyes. Her novel Sowing the Wind, published in 1945, is about life in Germany under Nazi rule. The Searching Light, which was published in 1955, deals with American paranioa and persecution of those suspected to be Communists.

After the war, Martha Dodd became a spy for the Soviets. Be sure to check out her wikipedia.org entry for the details!

Action Check-In Part II

candles
I write my blog posts ahead of time, and this time around my blog post about taking political action popped up today, when we as a nation are still reeling not only from the terrorist attack in Charlotteville but also from our president’s failure to confront it.

Yesterday I went to a candlelight vigil which turned acrimonious (but remained non-violent) when two liberal groups conflicted over how to address white supremacy. Both groups were against it, but one group wanted to have a vigil with mainstream speakers including, controversially, Sacramento’s current mayor and Assemblyman Jim Cooper, both of whom have a spotty record at best when dealing with Sacramento’s homelessness problem and with police aggression towards black and brown people.

So there we were, with one group waving candles around and listening to the same speeches that we always listen to, and anther group wearing bandanas and yelling at the top of their lungs. It was tense. It was rude. It was somewhat scary especially to those of us there with kids. But a day later, I think the loud group was right, at least in their insistence on pushing for more than candles.

White Supremacy doesn’t rear its ugly head only on occasions when a bunch of poseurs have a march. It happens every day in macro and micro aggressions. If you want to fight white supremacy, then by all means have candlelight vigils – but also raise your voice when Black people are killed by police. Raise your voice on behalf of LGBTQIA people. When mosques and synagogues and Black Churches are burned or defaced call it what it is, which is domestic terrorism. Support tax initiatives that increase access for the disabled. Use your phone, your wallet, and/or your feet to make your support for all marginalized groups known consistently.

Above all, if I’ve learned anything in the last few years, it is the importance of discomfort. Don’t be afraid to confront your own baggage. We can do better.

Action Check In

Vot logoHello, my dear fellow geeks. As you all know, on November 8, 2016 I had a terrible dream that Trump was elected president. Any minute now I shall awake and we will be freed of this terrifying vision. Alas, it seems I’m still asleep so today is check in day. How is everyone doing? Y’all OK? Everyone keeping up with their phone calls? Remembering to be active with local politics as well as national? Are you staying hydrated and wearing comfortable shoes?

I made a New Year’s Resolution to do 365 actions on or before New Year’s Eve 2017. Here are my rules for myself:

  1. An action can be a single phone call or email, although I have stopped counting signing petitions. Sometimes I count “call your reps” as a single action. Sometimes I count each call separately. I live on the edge.
  2. A big action, like several hours at a march or bottle feeding a kitten (which is a think I did! You have to help them poop! It’s weird!) counts for more than one action. Acts of community service and kindness count as political actions. So does making a donation.
  3. Sometimes I do an action a day and sometimes I crank out a lot of them at once. Whatever.

By my wacky accounting system, I’ve done 235 actions as of August 3. I have noticed that when I keep up with them my levels of anxiety and depression are better. Today I’m emailing Trump to tell him to knock it off with the hate speech, so that should be all sorted out as soon as he reads my email. You’re welcome.

The happy trick to my system is that it is MY system. Make your own! It really doesn’t matter how you get your activism in. Maybe you help old ladies across the street. Maybe you share stuff on Facebook (fact check it first, please)! Maybe you focus on educating yourself by reading about political, social, economic, or environmental issues and about our crazy political history. Find something you care about and speak out about that thing.

By the way, this previous Friday (Aug 4) we had a visit from the amazing Bonnie Burton, author of Crafting With Feminism. Be sure to check the post out!

Between the Lines Book club: Interviews with Erik Larson

between the lines book club logoOur selection this week is In the Garden of Beasts By Erik Larson. This book tells the sotry of the american Dodd family, who lived in Berlin in the 1930’s and witnessed Hitler’s consolidation of power and the pre-war years of the Third Reich.

Larson specializes in non-fiction books that read like novels. For instance, Dead Wake told of the sinking of the Lusitania, while The Devil in the White City is about serial killer H.H. Holmes, who murdered women and children during the 1893 World’s Fair. Over the years Larson has given many interviews describing his process, which includes Oreos and coffee.

In this npr.org interview, Larson talks specifically about In the Garden of Beasts. Speaking of Martha Dodd, he says:

“One of the things that drew me to her as a character is she follows this very interesting personal arc — almost like the kind of thing you would expect from a novel,” Larson says. “That’s not to say it has the satisfying end you might get in a novel — like maybe she would start an underground operation and start shooting up Nazis; that didn’t happen — but she does come to a realization that this is not the benign revolution she had first thought.”

In this interview for readitforward.com, Larson talks about his research process and the importance of primary materials:

In the case of correspondence, even an envelope is important, because you never know what’s going to be on that envelope. Or on a calling card for instance. When I was researching In the Garden of Beasts, one of the first files I came across were letters and papers from Martha Dodd, the young woman who was the ambassador’s daughter. At first I just kind of passed over these cards—she had three files full of calling cards, which were literally calling cards to announce the fact that you had arrived to somebody’s house—and there were hundreds of cards in each of these files. At first, I went past them, but then thought, Wait a minute. I should go through these. So I went through them, piece-by-piece, and I got a lot of interesting stuff from those cards. One of the cards was from Nazi official Hermann Göring. So you’re holding his card, and it’s like, wait a minute. This was held by him, and also held by Martha Dodd. This card is—it’s electric.

He also says that the only book he’s written that really got to him was In the Garden of Beasts (he’s asked if he was terribly disturbed by writing The Devil in the White City)

I didn’t find anything disturbing. I mean, this sounds a little odd, ‘cause the guy was this weird serial killer who killed people, and dissolved them in acid baths in his hotel.

But to me it was just like, seriously? This is great stuff. You know, people ask me, “Well, did you ever have any sleepless nights after working on The Devil in the White City?” And I answer, “No. It was perpetual fascination.”

But I’m a trained journalist and I see things in two ways. I see the emotional power of something, and then I also realize that some things make great material, so it doesn’t cause me any sleepless nights. The only one that started to get into my head was In the Garden of Beasts, because of Hitler, and the Nazis. You read about that enough and it really drags you down.

 

San Diego Comic-Con 2017

San Diego Comic Con logoThis year was my fourth year at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) and while it was a good experience overall, I’m getting a little cranky about it. Here’s the highs and lows of my personal experience. For SDCC news, I recommend io9.com.

My experience this year was very much affected by my physical state on Saturday and Sunday, especially Saturday. SDCC is all about attitude and my attitude was grumpy. The lines seemed longer and the atmosphere more tense. Every time I tried to sit down or even stand still some staff person told me to move, which was infuriating (credit where due – when people did NOT keep moving the resulting bottlenecks were horrific). Having survived Saturday, when I was in rocky shape, I advise one and all to keep careful track of your energy levels and be kind to them. Have an exit plan ahead of time. Eat some fiber and protein. One thing SDCC does do well is provide a lot of free water. DRINK IT ALL.  This is your vacation, for God’s sake. You should enjoy it, even if that means that you miss some stuff because you are taking a nap.

 

me, looking fed up an exhausted, sitting under a "no sitting" sign

 

Even though I spent this year in an extremely cranky fibro fog, I still had some wonderful experiences. My daughter was able to get into an autograph session with the cast and creators of Steven Universe and later we went to a panel with Rebecca Sugar, the creator of Steven Universe, and the show’s co-developer, Ian Jones-Quarty. I loved hearing about the background of the show, but more than that as a parent was so grateful to cast and creators for being incredibly warm and kind towards my daughter. I am also grateful to the creators of the show for making something so incredibly positive, feminist, and inclusive.

I heard a lot of people give advice about succeeding at visual arts, at comics, at cartoons, at acting careers, and at writing, and all the advice was the same regardless of the medium. Keep going. Work every day. Practice. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Engage with your audience. Above all, remember that an idea is no good if you keep it in your head. Rebecca Sugar told us that she writes her doodles for new show concepts on scavenged paper scraps so she won’t have to feel bad about messing up a nice sketchbook with bad first drafts. Whatever it takes to give yourself permission to get those awful first drafts after you, do it and then finish your work!

the meeseeks from Rick and Morty!

Can Do! Pic is blurry because we couldn’t stop laughing long enough to hold the camera steady!

You’d think it would be hard to make friends in a crowd of 100,00+ people, but personally, over the years SDCC has become less about the panels and more about the friendships. I had so much fun hanging out with people know and love. I think the greatest benefit of conventions, whether large or small, is that they help people form smaller, intimate communities of support, understanding, and a lot of laughter.

The most mind-blowing aspect of my SDCC experience has been growing from an observer to a participant. I was honored to moderate the panel “Embracing the Romantic.” Rebecca Zanetti, Jessica Cluess, Stephanie Perkins, Anna Todd, Christina Hobbs, and Lauren Billings. We had so much fun talking about the importance of romance, our favorite couples, what makes a romance compelling, and how much science fiction and fantasy fans and romance fans have in common. Thank you, ladies, for a delightful experience!

It's Cosplay Repair Guy!

And thanks, Cosplay Repairman, for the bobby pins!

San Diego Comic-Con is what you make of it. It can overwhelm you unless you set up strict self-care rules for yourself. You can have a feminist, inclusive experience that celebrates people of color and LGBTQIA readers and creators. I come away from SDCC heart warmed and inspired and ready for battle every year, but I deliberately choose the panels that will foster those emotions. You can have a thrilling experience centered around big budget movies or you can have a slightly more calm, but still thrilling, experience centered around comics, authors, and artists.