Some Thoughts on Tiffany Aching: A Hero for Young Bookish Girls Part 1

In the light of the terrifying conflict that seems to be once more looming in the horizon, I decided I would return to one of those series that reminds me we have the power to make our own good in the world. Since the new-year I’ve read The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett.

I cannot stress enough how Tiffany Aching and Sir Terry’s absolutely lovely bildungsroman shaped the way I thought about the world. When they came out I was growing up with Tiffany.  Tiffany Aching was exactly what small, bookish, bullied, young-me needed. She had read the entire dictionary back to front and was a bit annoying with this information, but no one was cruel to her for it. She liked things to be correct. She read stories and thought things like:

“She couldn’t be the prince, and she’d never be a princess, and she didn’t want to be a woodcutter, so she’d be the witch and know things.”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

I also wanted to know things. And from that moment I was hooked. These books were a cornerstone of my growing up. They feel particularly timely at the moment. They breathe hope back into my disenchantment with the world. These books really equip you in just a few short words with all the grit that you need to face down nightmares with nothing but a frying pan.

THE WEE FREE MEN

Title: The Wee Free Men

Author: Terry Pratchett

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication date: 2003

Rating: 9/10

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For those unfamiliar in the Wee Free Men, Tiffany at 9 years old discovers the Queen of the Fairies is trying to bring her court of nightmares into her home, the human world, the Chalk. After beating an evil water spirit in the head with a frying pan and staring down the headless horseman her little brother is stolen away by the queen, and with the help of the Wee Free Men, little blue pictsies, and a frog that was once a lawyer, Tiffany has to save him.

I think my biggest takeaway from the book today is that you can’t wait for someone else who will know how to do the job better. You have to do the best you can with what you’ve got, even if that’s just a frying pan and a book about diseases of the sheep.

You have a duty in the face of evil. In the words of Sir Terry:

“’All the monsters are coming back.’

‘Why?’

‘There’s no one to stop them.’

There was silence for a moment.

‘There’s me,’ she said.”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

The second thing I learned from this book, which has stuck with me all my life, is that humans are not intrinsically good or kind, in fact we are largely selfish. But we can choose not to let this tendency make us terrible people. There is tremendous power in intentionally deciding to be good and kind to those around us.

 “All witches are selfish, the Queen had said.

But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!

I have a duty!”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

I still weep reading these lines. The world today makes it so easy to curl up against the endless stream of terrible news and do nothing, to lean into cynicism and pettiness, but there is so much more power to be had in standing up against it, and choosing to do what’s right, even if it will only help in the smallest way.

On that thought let me leave you with this, where Tiffany tells Miss Tick about an old woman who was burned out of her home because the people thought she was a witch.

“I bet Mrs Snapperly had no teeth and talked to herself, right?” said Miss Tick.

“Yes. And she had a cat. And a squint,” said Tiffany. And then it all came out in a rush: “And so after he vanished, they went to her cottage and they looked in the oven and they dug up her garden and they threw stones at her old cat until it died and they turned her out of her cottage and piled u pall her old books in the middle of the room and set fire to them and burned the place to the ground and everyone said she was an old witch.”

“They burned the books,” said Miss Tick in a flat voice.

“Because they said they had old writing in them,” said Tiffany. “And pictures of stars.”

“And when you went to look, did they?” said Miss Tick.

Tiffany suddenly felt cold. “How did you know?” she said.

“I’m good at listening. Well, did they?”

Tiffany sighed. “Yes, I went to the cottage next day, and some of the pages, you know, had kind of floated up in the heat? And I found a part of one, and it had all old lettering and gold and blue edging. And I buried her cat.”

“You buried the cat?”

“Yes! Someone had to!”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

A HAT FULL OF SKY

Title: A Hat Full of Sky

Author: Terry Pratchett

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication date: 2004

Rating: 7/10

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In A Hat Full of Sky Tiffany now 11 goes away from her home on the Chalk to study witchcraft with Miss Level, in the mountains, she learns that real witching is mainly just helping folks. Unfortunately she is pursued by a Hiver, a creature which takes over the minds of the powerful to hide in their bodies, slowly driving them mad. After she is taken over, with a lot of grit, the power of the land, and the help of the Nac Mac Feegal she is able not only to free herself from the Hiver, but to save the monster from its eternal fear.

In this book the theme of community is stressed, while we are reminded, up close and personal how not pleasant that community can be. But that

“someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

and

“You can’t not help people just because they’re stupid or forgetful or unpleasant… If I don’t help them, who will?”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

I think the American mindset in particular can get very hung up on people needing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and that you are only responsible for you, and individualism and forget that we are each of us part of a community and we have a duty to those in our communities who struggle.

In A Hat Full of Sky you are reminded

“There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

In a world that so often doesn’t seem fair or right, there is something so important about this reminder that we can all do something about it, that every little step in the right direction helps.

Because

“Even if it’s not your fault, it’s your responsibility.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

It is also a story of belonging and power and respect. Tiffany is becoming a young witch to be respected instead of a child who has stumbled into a situation with no one else to lean on.

After all,

“ Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Right now I have The Wintersmith on hold on my library app, so until part 2 then… be kind, even when you don’t want to. Do what you can because you are there and you can help, even if only in a small way, and never give up hope.

P.S. if any of you lovelies want to get me a shirt or mug with

“Be the witch and know things.”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

Printed on it, I think it’s so much better than the GoT version.

Buba’s Book Reviews: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

Title: Tempests and Slaughter

Author: Tamora Pierce

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Publication date: February 2018

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After literally 8 months on hold, I finally got my hands on my library’s audiobook copy of Tamora Pierce’s Tempests and Slaughter. (I spend nearly two hours of my workday commuting. Most of my reading these days, that isn’t for CPs, is in audiobook form) I cannot tell you how hyped I was about getting back into the Tortall universe. I re-read the Song of the Lioness and the Wild Magic Quartets several times a year. I’m pretty sure I sold my heart and soul to Pierce as a kid. The magic and adventure in her worlds were a favored refuge to someone who was an ugly duckling for years. So let me tell you finally getting to see baby Numair Salmalín, i.e. Arram Draper before he gets his fancy new proper mage name was the best Christmas treat.

I want to start with the fact that you in no way need to have read any other Tortall books to jump right into this one, but knowing the end of the story added a richness to the experience. I wondered if Pierce would be able to make the Empire of Carthak with all the rich history we know from all her many books come through without feeling like an info dump, but as always I should never have doubted Pierce. The many cultures and traditions of Carthak, even the problematic ones like the realities of empire, and slavery, really come alive through the eyes of Arram Draper a precocious young mage from Tyra, sent to study at the school of mages in Carthak after he sets fire to one too many of his parent’s workshops.

The knowledge that this small, awkward maglet becomes one of the most feared black mages on the continent, and a steady teacher for our heroine Daine was fantastic. You can see threads of the honorable man he becomes in a child who is sick with fear for his gladiator friend, Sarge, who is forced to fight in the arena.

Everything about Arram’s early struggles to make friends as the youngest student ever admitted to the school really resonated with my experience as a gifted kid who was put through a lot of grade skips and advanced classes growing up. Right down to those nerve-wracking ones where they’ve given up trying to find other students to teach with you and it’s just you and the master. I was really happy that, unlike me, Arram soon finds a pair of other gifted kids Prince Ozorne (the leftover prince who becomes the emperor Mage), and Varice (A gifted mage and self-proclaimed kitchen witch whose affection both boys vie for).  Both Ozorne and Varice challenge Arram in different ways and one can see the effect all three have on each other as they grow through the book

The main focus of the book is on the boys Arram and Ozorne, who are roommates, and for a long time nigh on inseparable. But as the pair experiences different tragedies and triumphs there is always the foreboding sense of knowing, how it all ends, the yet unknown betrayal, the run into exile and Numair’s student bringing about the end of the reign of the Emperor Mage. It’s like when you’re watching the star wars prequels and the imperial march starts playing. It was exactly the shiver down your spine you needed while enjoying what is otherwise a very fun book about 3 kids in a magical school full of delightful things such as lightning snakes, crocodile gods tricking you into caring for mystical firebirds, mysterious yet benevolent old mages muttering cryptically, and of course baby mage disasters such as flooding your classroom and uncontrollable fireballs.

I was also very interested to see Arram taking an interest in healing, in my memory of adult Numair, he was the slightly mad scientist and Alanna was the healer, learning that Numair actually has years of healing training and is bowing to Alanna’s greater affinity and skill was a fascinating insight to their relationship.

In Tempest and Slaughter, there were times when it almost felt like one of the Emelan universe books, which have so much more focus on magic and mages. Rather than on the kind of sword and adventure stories, Tortall focuses on. Now that I say it I know Arram with his fascination with wild magic would kill for a day in Winding Circle, he and Tris could even take their noses out of books for a moment to play in the lightning together. Oh boy, if I’m not careful that will be a whole fic I need to write, so back to the book review.

Read Tempest and Slaughter, it’s a fantastic romp through another one of the rich cultures Pierce has so lovingly crafted. I am on the edge of my seat waiting for the next book so we can see what great betrayal awaits our star-crossed pair, the Emperor Mage and his best friend and advisor, destined to be each other’s doom.

Rating: 8/10 

If you are new to Pierce’s work or also a life-long fan tell me about it! I’m dying to gush about this book some more, and need only the slightest encouragement.

 

Burned Bridges: Novel Progress

It had been cold, a kind totally out of place on one of maybe three flirting-with-the-the freezing-point nights that Houston ever saw in January. A bitter air that made it hurt to breathe. The type of cold that paralyzes your limbs in arctic water.

Maura Byrne remembered the cold more than anything.

She remembered the horrifying tug like having her intestines pulled out through her navel when the witch ward had activated, and the last of the safety sigils—carved by her grandmother, Chi-An Pham, into the timbers of their home—lighting up with copper fire before bursting, like fist sized flash bangs, when the last of the power Chi-An Pham could push into the material world burned out.

She remembered her confusion and blinking away the spots dancing in her vision.

###

So while my Epic Fantasy AND THEY CALLED HER STORMBRINGER is out to Beta Readers,  I’ve decided to do an overhaul on my urban fantasy wip from last Nanowrimo BURNED BRIDGES. Here’s a taste of the current opening lines. My brain decided to be super helpful while I was wrapping up edits on AND THEY CALLED HER STORMBRINGER by flinging me fun new head cannons for Burned Bridges when I desperately needed to focus on cleaning up side character arcs. Consequently, I actually have a very good idea of my big changes for Draft 2.

  1. Witches become Bridges an in-universe explained kind of magical entity. Witch was always a shorthand for magic user that never really fit
  2. Sorcerers become warlocks, they make pacts with supernatural beings for power, fits better with current fantasy lore.
  3. I’m tired of police/law enforcement aggrandizing media, my FBI agent is going to become a warlock member of the council of magical entities that work to ensure the human and magical accords are not broken and that the magical creatures present a united front to humanity
  4. Every character that can be turned into a woman is going to become a woman. I need more strong relationships between women in my life.

Really hoping to get back to positing semi-consistently here. I swear I keep writing, I just get stressed and sit on the work like a dragon guarding my hoard. Besides that life happened. I moved, I got engaged, I got a promotion that required me to move again, I bought my first house,  and now I’m two months out from my wedding, which may just kick off a family feud so of course this is a great time to revitalize my writing blog!

Cheers

G.A. Buba

Real

Is it real if it doesn’t leave it’s mark?
Like my first real pet, a black and white kitten, the runt of the litter
Who left white scratches on my knuckles and passed away two years ago
Like the family trip to Canada, and the string of lakes like pearls and falling rain
And the slight pitting on the front of my right shin that will never go away
Like my grandmother who passed away last summer
And left her dark skin and fine cheekbones on my face
Like you, and our love, and these tear tracts on my face
It was real.

Character Snippits Part 1

She had small ears. Small, delicate looking and very nicely round, but small. Nestled against strawberry blonde hair that fritzed off in many directions fine as feathers and bright under the florescent light

–A vignette of a girl I briefly loved during an lecture that overran my lunch on Monday.

G.A. Buba

The Red Hound

I remember coming home from school in the red van. Mom was driving. The puppy was huddling in the ditch beside the road leading to our house. I remember how red he was, short, soft fur russet and gold in the sun. I remember how his hipbones stuck out wide like the knobby ends of grandpa’s back massager, and how his soft red coat hung over his ribs.

I don’t remember the color of his eyes, but they must have been big and trusting, because he always played very gently, even with the mean old tomcat. I don’t remember, but he was so meek and quiet I don’t think he even growled when mom and I ripped fat ticks off the soft skin inside his floppy ears and from between his over sized paws, with metal tweezers that dripped blood when we were finished. I don’t remember but I think he was only with us for two Tuesdays.

I remember how we found him, coming home from school, skull all misshapen. I remember dad had to scrape the deflated red coat, no longer shiny, off the summer hot concrete with a shovel. I remember the roses, yellow as egg yolks and big as my head that hung full and heavy from the bush we buried him beneath.

And I remember when we watched the Yellow-Blue-Green pot of boiling water in the cracked salt crusted ground and I read a park sign.

Yellow Stone National Park

Emblazoned above a newspaper clipping about a collie who’d fallen in, just here, and the owner who jumped in to save him. I remember the article described how the man’s skin had peeled off all together when they took of his shoes, and how they both died, dog and boy, a day later.

xxx

Creative nonfiction essay written as part of a “Primary acts of Imagination” and association assignment for my creative writing workshop- intended to explore personally important moments

(photo is from http://snapper119.blogspot.com/2007_06_01_archive.html)

Writing Exercise 1

Prompt: Describe a place you lived in two paragraphs, brainstorm before writing.

Selected Location: A ranch 6 miles outside of a small Texas Town along I-45, South of Dallas

  • 3 landmarks known to the community-

The water tower that marks the exit off I-45

The big curve of the road before the abandoned farmhouse that cuts through the corn

The yellow corrugated steel church just before the turn for our house

The split of the road towards India, TX that grandma once took by accident for 20 miles before she realized

The karaoke bar that is a gas station without gas and sells sushi only on weekends

  • 3 clichés/ quirks of language or people outsiders know about the area

Pecan Pie

Riding horses to school

Y’all’all

Curly blonde haired women

Ten churches per square mile

  • Insider knowledge about the area

The girls who wear flowers in their hair are part of the gangs

The sushi bar gas station has a line out the door on weekends

The best place to go for cheap, beautiful cut flowers is the funeral home on main street, not the florist across from them

The little barber shop on the corner where the lady doesn’t speak any English and ignores any and all of your suggestions, still gives the best haircuts I have ever received to this day- for $5

###

               The water tower with the yellow jacket marks the exit for the Farm to Market Road leading away from town, 4 curves, one big one, just beyond the school, 180 degrees through corn and wheat, cotton and soybeans, then past the abandoned farm house, wooden, and once blue, up the hill past the red gas station, selling sushi on Sunday nights, but no gas, while the pastor sings karaoke music from the 80’s loudly, over the dip where irrigation flows in spring, past the church of yellow corrugated metal where “Y’all’all are always welcome you know”, and a too small parking lot, a black cat fireworks shed that is never open, with staring yellow eyes and a red tongue, and then the turn down the row of mailboxes and ranches, 10 acres, 50, the landing strip, where donkeys graze, the vet who never tells you he went to the same school twice, down the big hill under a green glowing bower of trees, goliath, and oak, and redbuds flush with hearts to the sharp turn and the three bar gate that’s never closed, where sits a stone farm house, two stories with the western edge sheltered beneath the spreading boughs of a  paper shell pecan tree, green shells splayed open like half popped corn.

The tree drops 75 pounds a season, but my father hates pecan pie. We sit inside, around a dark wood table, that is in both the kitchen and the living room at once, away from the 110 degree Indian summer cracking shells with mallets or fists. Snacking on chilled omelet slices made from garden fresh onion, zucchini, and tiger skinned tomatoes, with cubes of queso fresco, while we plan which Czech Christmas cookies we will make from ground pecans instead of almonds. The baking will have to wait till after the sun sets.

Some Housekeeping

Life happened and this personal project of a blog set to moldering while life hit me like a train wreck, several times. However! This semester (my last praise all the listening gods) I am taking a creative writing course for funsies- and the GPA boost, so I have decided to store any interesting writing exercises and other tidbits that are created but not good enough for class here.

Over the winter break I traveled the coastline of the entire Iberian peninsula in 13 days, and also spent time in Germany and France. It was intense and I saw so much- so I will be using my collection of some 6000 photos to produce both a travel write up and place specific writings over the next couple of weeks/months. I am lucky and the writing workshop I am enrolled in is based around an exploration of how place grounds writing and I have permission to use this travel blog/thing as my weekly place journal. I will be posting first each rough piece with its accompanying visual fodder and interesting historical/geographical facts, and then at the end the pieces will be made into some sort of coherent project- I’ve been toying with the idea of an interactive map.  Ideas/feedback is ever welcome.