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All The Discomfort

All The Discomfort
  • On April 24, 2015

It’s out of your comfort zone week at Can’t Talk Media! I did two things that were challenging for me.

First, I’ve begun a new personal project (because I have time for things, I totally do). I’m tackling a series of 30 day challenges–do one thing for 30 days. I’m not doing this to form a lasting habit. Instead, I’d like to simply try something that challenges me for a short period of time (too long and I’ll give up, I’ve tried year-long challenges and repeatedly failed). What better week to get started than out of your comfort zone week?

You can follow along with all my personal challenges at my website, but I will cross post a few here, too!

My first thirty days are devoted to hand writing love letters. Mainly, I want to write love letters to strangers. There’s not enough kindness in the world, so when I encountered Hannah Brencher’s TED talk on writing love letters and leaving them all over the city, I became entranced with the idea. It dovetailed nicely with my word of the year, which is “outreach,” something that, as an introvert, I struggle with frequently.

In my first week, I wrote a love letter to you: our readers, listeners, contributors and supporters. I cannot begin to send enough love out to you guys, and since I can’t mail you all a letter, here’s the digital version:


If you have ideas for 30 day challenges I’d love to hear them! On my list so far: practicing 30 yoga poses, making 30 pieces of jewelry, and reading 30 short stories.

Second, I picked up a book in the “far outside my comfort zone” genre of fantasy. I generally do not enjoy books with: complex politics, names that are impossible to pronounce without a guide, made up words for things we already have names for, giant wars, worlds more overly built than a tabletop roleplaying game, eleventy billion different named characters, twelve billion sequels, and all things that tend to live in the fantasy genre.

I’ve read books that I love that have all these things (in particular the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey), but I wanted to give one a try that would truly challenge me. Our friend and great guest writer Ness suggested I try out Stephen Brust, so I picked up the book Jhereg.

Jhereg has all the elements I dislike, and by all accounts is a fairly traditional fantasy novel. The main character is Vlad, a young human who lives in a world dominated by various factions of taller, more long-lived beings. The world as I understand it is separated into “houses” much like a world-wide English boarding school. Each house is named for an animal that lives in the world, and apart from House Jhereg each one is fairly predictable in terms of characteristics, blood lines, etc. House Jhereg is the “leftovers” House, where anyone can buy a title and therefore many different races are represented. Also it appears to be full of criminals, and that is where we begin with Vlad.

There is magic (both sorcery and witchery which are somewhat different), there are politics between houses, and there is a lot of underhanded, back door dealing. Vlad himself is an assassin who runs a small, mostly illegal group of businesses. He’s sort of like a low-level mobster. He has a familiar who is an actual jhereg, a little winged snake, and they can communicate telepathically. (This part reminds me of the Pip and Flinx books that I LOVED as a kid, but apart from the concept the books are nothing alike.)

The plot of the book is also very traditional–start with a small town kid, and throw him into big time political wrangling. Throw in some nasty secrets and some sword fights, imply it will all lead to a huge war, and there you go–every fantasy novel I’ve quit reading.

It isn’t a bad book, and it’s focused enough to keep me interested. The story remains about Vlad despite the added elements (at least so far), and that will keep me reading long after I’ve quit other books that become more about the world and less about the people in it. Brust does a great job dropping in world building without making it the focus of the novel. For example, I feel I have a good grasp of the world’s history without feeling like I’ve read a history book. I like Vlad’s wife and his business partner, I love his little jhereg buddy, and I do love a good assassination.

My sticking point with the book so far is that I don’t particularly care about Vlad. He’s cold, and so far he’s somewhat unlikable for me. I’ve been told a lot of things about him–he’s married, he’s built his little empire of criminals, he can do some witchcraft and sorcery, he has friends and staff. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much of this in action as a reader. I’m over half way through the novel, and I’ve seen very little of his personality.

Overall, I’m glad I stuck my neck out for this one, even though I’m not convinced I’ll read the (twelve billion) sequels. I’m also pretty glad that Outside Your Comfort Zone week is officially over!

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