Behind the Scenes – Summer 2022

Wow, wow, wow, I’ve had a lot going on recently, last quarter I was fretting about not having enough reading to make a post, now I have… almost too much. That is because I’ve picked up a number of epistolary substack stories being done like Dracula Daily and I took an online course on Tolkien and the Ancient World! So, for this quarter I’m going to be breaking things up a little differently as well as sticking this under a read more.

A pile of books and papers. The bottom later is the D&D books "Ghosts of Saltmarsh" and "Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft," only the titles can be seen. The middle layer is, from left to right, "A Rainbow Thread," "Jews in Old China" and "Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation" volume 2. The top layer, from left to right is "Tolkien: On Fairy-stories," Deborah Sabo's article on archaeology and history in Tolkien, and "The Fellowship of the Ring."
Continue reading “Behind the Scenes – Summer 2022”

Spring 2022 Behind-the-Scenes Reading

[Image ID: A pile of books spread out on a desk. On the bottom, from left to right, there is the trade paperback of "The Trial of Magneto" and a single issue "Xena: Warrior Princess" comic. On top, from left to right, there is "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett, "Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out and Empire in the New Work in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom–and Revenge" by Edward Kritzler" and "Dracula" by Bram Stoker. End ID]

For March to May, I began making a concerted effort to chip away at the pile of books that have been sitting on my dresser for far too many months, two of those books can be seen in the above image and with any luck there will be four more gracing next quarters list.

Finished:

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett- An excellent read. I already loved the movie and the Sam Spade radio drama, so it was sort of a guarantee that I was going to love the book too. Some older books you have to take with a very large grain of salt, but this, though it was clearly dated, really didn’t have too much to complain about. Even Joel Cairo’s homosexuality wasn’t as offensively written as I thought it might be. Was it stereotypical? Yes. Is Cairo a criminal? Also yes. But Hammett also gave Cairo a boyfriend who wasn’t the same sort of gay stereotype, you don’t even really know he’s gay until he’s revealed as Cairo’s boyfriend at the end, which was surprising and also kinda cool, in my opinion. 

I knew Cairo’s textual queerness had been cut from the film, but I was surprised at how much I unironically enjoyed how he was portrayed in the book. I would have loved him even if I wasn’t already a simp for Peter Lorre. It almost makes up for Hammett’s insistence on describing women as “erect.”

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean by Edward Kritzler – This is an interesting look at the history of Sephardic Jews in the “New World” as they fled the Spanish Inquisition and how they used piracy to move against against the Spanish and secure their freedom from persecution in the New World. Ranging in period from 1492 to 1675, the book is incredibly thorough both in providing the stories of the Jews (who were openly practicing) and conversos (who were not) in Portugal, Spain, Holland, Brazil and Jamaica as well as providing the surrounding context, which was incredibly helpful for me who is decidedly not familiar with this period of history. 

There is also the tantalizing mystery of Columbus’ Jamaican gold mine and some documents unearthed that hint at its possible existence. That said, the author does a decent job of separating speculation and conjecture from what we can prove as fact, reminding us that tracking the history of conversos can be difficult as they were often intentionally trying to obscure their ancestry. The one thing I will say is that Kritzler does tend to conflate privateering and piracy, but it is a fascinating read regardless.

Xena: Warrior Princes, issue #0 – I picked this up on a whim at my local comic shop because it was the only Xena comic there and it was an issue 0, which I assumed would either be a one-shot or the start of a story. I was half-right. There is a one shot story in this issue: “The Temple of the Dragon God,” written by Aaron Lopresti, which is a short, fun Xena story featuring zombies and a soul stealing dragon. The second half of the issue, however, was part three of the story “Theft of the Young Lovelies,” written by Robert Trebor. I do not know what a “part three” is doing in an issue 0, but it’s not a particularly good story anyway (uncomfortably heterosexual with racistly drawn villains). 

“The Temple of the Dragon God” is by far the better story, and any heterosexuality is forced and unwanted as it should be, though Xena is unfortunately not exempt from 90s comic artists deciding to draw women tits and ass first with limited regard to anatomy and physics. I will say that it is somewhat mitigated by the fact that they are very clearly drawing Lucy Lawless and therefore can’t get away with Rob Liefeld-level art crimes. 

The Trial of Magneto written by Leah Williams – First off, I refuse to acknowledge the “Wanda and Pietro aren’t mutants” retcon. There’s no reason Wanda’s abilities with magic can’t be influenced or part of her mutation. Barring that, this was actually a really great self-contained story and it gave Wanda the catharsis and healing that she has desperately needed for a very long time, although, ironically, the five issues the story covers revolve around her death. While it does play off other storylines, you don’t necessarily need to have read them in full, though certainly being aware of them and/or knowing the gist of them is helpful.

I also really love that we got to see Hope, another telepath, being highly critical of Xavier’s messing around in other people’s heads, comparing his manipulation of Magneto’s mind while he is unconscious to torture. I love a good in-universe calling out of Charles Xavier. 

In Progress:

Sealed with Honey by the Magpie Artists’ Ensemble – Continues to be a delight. We got our first extra, non-letter bits, including pressed flowers and a “sketch” by our Parisian artist Gabriel, which was done as a print by the incomparable Marlowe Lune, who is providing all the artwork for the story. 

Dracula by Bram Stoker – I have read “Dracula” many times. It’s one of my favorite books, but I, like so many, have signed up for Dracula Daily, which emails you the novel chronologically based on the novel’s epistolary structure. It started on May 3rd and has been sending out a chapter/section every day there is journal entry or letter in the book. The novel isn’t written wholly chronologically, so this is a fun new way of experiencing the novel if you’ve read it before and also an easily digestible way to experience the novel for the first time. 

You can still sign up as it will be running until November, and all the previous entries are archived on the Dracula Daily website for easy catch up!

Different Loving edited by Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame and Jon Jacobs We’re back on the kink research train. I feel like this book is probably going to stay down here for a while as I read it alongside other books, since it’s rather chunky and also, based on past experience, I find that reading books that are predominantly interview compilations can be a slog to read cover to cover with no breaks.

I’m a couple chapters in now and I really appreciate that they have paired the interviews with additional context and discussion. Chapter two in particular was right up my alley with a discussion of early sexology and how that has influenced modern views on sex and what is deemed “perverse.”

No progress has been made with The Wild Beyond the Witchlight due to our game being on hold, but I hope that will change soon.

Winter 2021/2022 Behind the Scenes Reading

Hello, hello! I have returned with another recommended reading list, this time covering what I read behind the scenes from December 2021 through February 2022. 

Finished: 

SM 101: A Realistic Introduction by Jay Wiseman – In progress last time, now finished! This is a really, really excellent introduction to the basics of BDSM. It goes into thorough detail without being overwhelmingly technical and discusses a wide range of practices while also acknowledging that it is only the tip of the iceberg. If this book interests you, there is plenty more reading out there. The back of the book has several lists of organizations, books and other publications where a person could get more information. 

That said, this second, revised edition was published in 1998, so contact information has likely changed in the 20+ years since. My general recommendation is, if something in the resources looks interesting, google it, because chances are it may still exist in some form, even the old urls. Other areas of the book impacted are the chapter on meeting people, discussions of internet resources, and HIV/AIDS safety. This revised edition came out right at the advent of online dating and chat rooms, so they aren’t covered in depth, and long before the advent of PrEP and PEP pills for pre- and post-exposure to HIV. 

Eat Prey Love/“Bambi” is Even Bleaker Than You Thought by Kathryn Schulz – This article is a really interesting look at the original “Bambi” story before Disney butchered it, now rediscovered as it entered the public domain this year. It caught my attention because, as I was skimming the article, it mentioned that there was a reading of it that saw the book as an allegory for the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe prior to World War 2 and that was more than enough to get me to read the whole thing. It wasn’t quite enough to get me to pick up an English translation of the book, but it was a fascinating read nonetheless. 

Marauders, issues 26-27, by Gerry Duggan and Marauders: Annual by Steve Orlando – We reach the end of an era with a major team swap. Bobby and Christian are going off for a romantic vacation, Pyro’s got a book tour and a horrible mullet (I still can’t get over Pyro as a romance novelist), and there’s a corporate shake up at Hellfire Trading. That’s said, while I’m sad to see my faves leave the team, I am excited to see that the new team isn’t going to be any less gay, as we’ve got Daken and some dude named Somnus who I’m not familiar with, but is in love with Daken, so I will be continuing to subscribe to the series. 

Harley Quinn The Animated Series: The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour issues 4-6 by Tee Franklin – There’s so many wlw y’all, just oodles. On top of Harley and Ivy, these three issues give us Livewire and Nightfall, who are admittedly broken up atm, but still were a thing; Vixen and her girlfriend Elle, who is disabled and has a prosthetic leg; and Peaches, the stripper with vitiligo who gives Harley a lap dance and would really like to give both Harley and Ivy a private show. Anyway, from the queerness to the general diversity of background and side characters, I’m utterly thrilled and sad to see the series end, as I will not be watching the animated series anytime soon. 

Tut-Tut/Why King Tut is Still Fascinating by Casey Cep – An interesting article about the history of King Tut and the field of Egyptology, why King Tut still captures the imagination of people around the world, and how to grapple with the colonialist origins of Egyptology and decolonizing the field today. I would love to read something, article or book, that goes more in depth, because the colonialism inherent in the discovery of Tut’s tomb always horrified me, even as I was interested in learning more about the history. What Carter did to Tut’s mummy always makes my stomach turn.

Close Encounters/A Holocaust Survivor’s Hardboiled Science Fiction by Caleb Crain – I was fascinated by the conceit of Stanislaw Lem’s “Solaris” when I saw it used as an au setting for a fanfiction and further fascinated when I started reading it properly. It was dark and haunting, which is how I like my science fiction, frankly, and discovering that Lem was a Holocaust survivor made an awful lot of sense in terms of the book’s themes and musing on humanity and this article digs even more into that. This is a really great biographical sketch of Lem and his works and if you have even a passing interest in Lem’s books I’d recommend it. 

In Progress: 

The Wilds Beyond the Witchlight – My players have made it through the first chapter! We have left the Witchlight Carnival and moved into the Feywild, specifically the first splinter realm within Prismeer, Hither. This chapter is more complicated than the first, but is also a bit more guided, which is good for me the DM, because it means that I can actually make proper session plans now. The first chapter was very much a free for all exploration time at a carnival, so there was minimal prep I could do, which drove me a bit bonkers.

Sealed with Honey by the Magpie Artists’ Ensemble – This should have been included with the last list too, but it completely slipped my mind, due, in part, to it’s nontraditional story telling method. “Sealed with Honey” is a completely epistolary queer romance set in the 19th century. Simon Ward and Gabriel Shaw, two young men, one in England and the other in France, strike up a correspondence after an introduction from Simon’s sister. The story is entirely told though letters that get mailed out on a twice monthly basis. The first letters went out late last year and it’s been a delight getting the letters in the mail and seeing new and tantalizing details revealed. 

There’s no way to pick up the story at the moment, but I believe there was talk about offering the story as a bundle once the initial run was completed. Information about the ongoing story can be found on the “Sealed with Honey” Kickstarter page.  

Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance & Submission edited by Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame and Jon Jacobs – This book is an interview collection about, as the title implies, more BDSM stuff. It’s another older one, so, as with “SM 101,” certain aspects have changed. I’ve only just made it through the introduction though, and it does look promising, but I have had to put the book on hold while I do some other research reading for a short story I’m working on. 

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett – A classic detective novel that I have long wanted to read. I love the movie and I love the old Sam Spade radio drama. I wasn’t prepared to be punched in the face on page four by the line “Her body was erect and high-breasted, her legs long, her hands and feet narrow.” I was expecting some sexism because it’s typical of the genre and of 1929, but this really just sent me.