Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2009

If you’re a curmudgeon like me, you probably occasionally run into people who are so positive and friendly and sweet and helpful that you’d just like to ring their necks.

Then there are those rare people who are just so nice you can’t bring yourself to hate them, no matter how early in the morning it is, no matter how perky their cheerleading ways are.

Silver Phoenix

Silver Phoenix

Cindy Pon is one of those people, which is why it’s nice that her writing dream is coming true.  Today is the official release date for her first novel, a young adult Asian fantasy titled Silver Phoenix.  (Now I’m a little worried about the Googling fall-out of “adult Asian fantasy,” but I’ll soldier on.)  I’d be telling you all about her book here, but I haven’t read it yet.  My local bookstore just called me last night to tell me it was in, so I go pick it up tonight after work.  In lieu of that, I’ll talk a little more about Cindy.

She’s the evil genius mastermind behind the Absolute Write Purgatory thread, where a bunch of writers have been gathering for the last year to commiserate as they wait to hear from agents, editors, and publishers.  Cindy’s initial wait is over, but she goes on being supportive and helpful to everyone else who’s still in the trenches.

Here’s how nice Cindy is: to celebrate her release day she’s holding a contest to give away one of her original framed brushpaintings (and a copy of her book) or a bookstore gift card for those who aren’t fans of her work. (See what I was saying about the niceness factor?)  So, be sure to check out her contest.  And check out her book trailer.  I used to be a bit suspicious of book trailers, but now that I know how little this cost her and how amazing it looks, I think I’ve been converted.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I’m playing along with Teaser Tuesday this week, so here’s a little excerpt from Ugly and the Beast. A rare moment in which Axyl restrains himself.

***

“Oh, things is bad here, too. The water coming out that tap right there, it don’t be fit to drink half the time,” Aquena said.

“It’s all them chemicals,” I said. “You got any idea how much pesticides and fertilizers farmers put on crops? When I was a kid, we had a whole goddamn barn full of them chemical drums, and we’d spray it on like you wouldn’t believe. Then every time it rains, that shit runs right down into the aquifer. That’s what’s in your water.”

The kid leaned over to Mervin and whispered something. Mervin smiled and said, “That just the way he talk, little man.” Seeing that I’d caught him, he said, “He think it funny you talk whiter than his daddy. You know, cuz yew tawk lack uh cowboy.”

“How come that’s funny, kid?”

“You not a real cowboy,” Wynton said.

“How do you figure? I can ride a horse and rope a steer. Can you?”

“No.”

“Well, I guess that makes me a real cowboy, don’t it?”

“But you sound funny.”

“You know what, Wynton?” I put down the rib I’d been gnawing on and wiped my hands off. “I killed guys for less than that.”

Mervin, Wynton, and Aquena laughed, but Smiley didn’t. Neither did I.

“Really?” Wynton said, his big brown eyes going back and forth between me and Smiley.

“Yeah, really.”

Still laughing, Aquena swatted my arm and said, “Don’t you scare my baby.”

“I’m just shitting you, kid. I never killed nobody for making fun of how I talk. Thought about it a time or two, but I’ma give you a pass, seeing as how you ain’t even outta grade school yet.”

I laughed and everybody else did, too. Except Smiley. He knew me. Maybe I never killed folks over that, but I sent a few guys to the hospital and the dentist.

Read Full Post »

Every time I think everyone has gotten over the ridiculous question of whether writing is an art or a craft, someone else pops up to argue.  On the one side, you have people who claim writing is art.  They’re the same people who believe you can’t plan things out or radically alter the mechanics of a novel.  The people who think you have to be born to write.  The people who think you have to have a muse or some otherworldly inspiration.  On the other side are people who claim that writing is like plumbing.  Hook the pipes up properly and the water goes here.  (Jim Butcher used that very metaphor.)  These are the people who think you can plan everything, that there is no subconscious at work, no underlying themes, just story.

And then there are the people like me, who very vividly recall that summer camp activity called Arts and Crafts.  Arts AND Crafts.  Not Arts OR Crafts.  AND.

Lovely AND Practical

Lovely AND Practical

When I was a child, my family occasionally vacationed in New Mexico, where we made several visits to the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The chapel is famous for a spiral staircase  built in 1878.  The staircase is remarkable for several reasons: it’s beautiful and it was a late addition to a church whose blueprints contained no means to get from the ground floor to the upper floor. (Oops!)  Beyond those two minor things, the staircase has no central supporting post.  It is made entirely of wood (pegs were used instead of nails) and makes two full 360 turns as it ascends from the chapel to the choir loft.

Hard work is the unmiracle

Hard work is the unmiracle

Over the years, many people have mistakenly concluded that the staircase is a “miracle,” because of its unique design.  This is silly, of course, as are most claims of miracles.  I guess it’s just easier to say, “Miracle!” than it is to do a little research and put your ignorance to rest.  From an engineering standpoint, the staircase is perfectly sensible.  The narrowness of the stairs actually allow them to serve as their own spiral support structure.  That the stairs can be explained by other than miraculous means in no way diminishes their elegance.

The design is unusual and striking.  The carpenter who built them was gifted, not only in his ability to imagine such a staircase but in his ability to execute the design.  The construction took both artistry and craftsmanship.

Just like writing.  It requires both  vision and  skills.  One without the other is a dead end.  The staircase in the Loretto Chapel has stood for over a hundred years and will likely last another hundred.  (There are so few termites in arid New Mexico.)  The same is true of good writing.  If it is both practical and lovely, a joy to read and well-built, it will endure after the person who wrote it is dead.

Read Full Post »

And I mean that in the best way possible.  I love geeks.  I am a geek.  Geeks aren’t afraid of feeling passionately about the most obscure things.  It is their glory, that passion.  Jim Butcher has it in spades.

I went to hear him read, as it was billed, at the public library in Kansas City.  I was very pleased that he didn’t read but took questions from the audience, which filled the auditorium with glorious nerd glow.  Being around so many people passionate about reading is always a pleasure.  (And here’s the pleasure of going to see a home-grown writer.  He fielded a question from one his elementary school teachers about whether he still dabbles in ventriloquism.  Oh, yes, didn’t I say he was a Nerd-of-all-Trades?  Ventriloquism.  The answer is no, but he still has the dummy for the purposes of pulling pranks on his family members.)

The added bonus was a chance to meet some online friends–fellow Purgatorians from Absolute Write: Kari Stewart (who shares an editor with Jim Butcher for her book coming out in 2010) and Kasey MacKenzie (whose book is also coming out in 2010.)

Of course I have pictures.

Kari gets her book signed

Kari gets her book signed

Kari & Kasey with Jim

Kari & Kasey with Jim

Kari, Kasey, and me

Kari, Kasey, and me

A good time had by all.  Yes, we are all wearing buttons which declare us to be JimStalkers, but not in a creepy way, because Kasey made the buttons with plenty of glitter.  And creepy stalkers would never wear glittery buttons.  Oh, and I’m reposting this pic, which Kari already had on her blog.  Because I love a photo that can readily be misinterpreted…

Kasey & Kari get acquainted

Kasey & Kari get acquainted

Read Full Post »

Writing about The City of Lost Children and little girls’ notions of romance has made me think about a star-crossed love affair from my own childhood.

I thought I was over the loss, but I wasn’t.  When what you had was a secret and what you lost equally secret, you don’t ever get to grieve.

To avoid grieving, I’d half-convinced myself I never felt the things I felt.  When I finally acknowledged it, I was like Doubting Thomas, touching the wound in my own side for proof.  I thought it would be unbearably painful, but it wasn’t.  It turned out to be a relief and full of joy.

My Secret Twin

My Secret Twin

I thought I would never be able to do justice to the story.  I thought I would not be able to reveal the Truth and have it believed.   The man I loved is long dead and defenseless, and I feared it would open him to ridicule or blame or condemnation.  As a writer, you can doubt your skills, but don’t doubt the power of your story to convey Truth to your readers.  Stories carry themselves.  The handful of people I’ve told the story to now…they understand in a way I didn’t really hope for.

I thought all secrets were bad.  They’re not.  Some are beautiful.  Some are so beautiful you want to share them with people.  Others are so beautiful you want to keep them secret.

If kept long enough, I assumed all secrets went one of two ways: dissolved like a baby tooth in cola or burst like a swollen appendix, leaking poison into your body.  Many of them do, but others turn to scars, badges of honor on your skin.  Others yet turn into fantastical things, like an absorbed twin encased within you.  Strange, yes.  Disturbing, yes.  Still, somehow wonderful: a fellow traveler you’ve carried in your flesh.

Of this secret, I have wondered if it were a little bundle of hair and teeth, sealed up inside me, my fetus in fetu.  Or perhaps it’s more that I’m a chimera.  The only thing left of that younger me is her blood running in my veins.

Read Full Post »

In the context of our current cultural attitudes, it sounds creepy to talk about little girls and romance, but the truth is that little girls like romance.  Not your standard, adult romance, with flowers and champagne.  Romance for little girls is often dark, scary, snatched out of the teeth of death.  Fairy tales are full of it: young girls being alternately wooed and terrorized by men they fear and/or long for. Take your pick: Beauty and the Beast, The Seven Swan Brothers, The Little Mermaid, who felt as though she walked upon knives, all for the love of a man. Pair them easily, not with the sugar-coated Disney versions, but with movies like Labyrinth, where a mysterious man offers dancing, jewels, glittering admiration, oh, but at a cost.

A pall of sexuality hangs over little girls, threatening and bizarre. You know that it does. Even if you want to look away, it’s there when you’re not looking.  I don’t believe the threatening nature of sex ever dissipates; it’s just that as little girls grow up, we acclimate ourselves to its dark nature.  We learn to avert our eyes and open our legs.

City of Lost Children

City of Lost Children

If you’re curious, I’ll add another movie to your roster of romantic films for little girls: The City of Lost Children.  I’m sure many people won’t approve of me thinking this is a children’s movie, just as people were horrified by my suggestion that Pan’s Labyrinth would be suitable for a certain kind of child. The things is, I remember how dark childhood was, how unsatisfied I was with saccharine family movies, how false they were.  I loved movies like Labyrinth, Legend, and The Dark Crystal, but often wished they were darker, more romantic.

The City of Lost Children, oddly enough, is the sort of movie I longed for at the age of ten.  Directed by Marco Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (the twisted pair that brought you Delicatessen), it often gets described as having a convoluted plot, even an impenetrable plot.  This is only true if you try to watch the movie in an adult frame of mind, if you grasp at all the random threads and try to tie them up into some macramé whole. Use your child mind and the plot is really quite simple.

Man loses his brother.  Man meets girl.   Girl helps him.  Girl dies.   Man is heartbroken, but wait!  Girl isn’t dead.  Reunion.   Man and Girl fall in love, form a family, save his brother.

All the other stuff is stage dressing: mad scientist, clones, a brain in a fish tank, evil conjoined twins, child pickpockets, stolen dreams, Santa Claus nightmares.  Fascinating, bizarre stage dressing, but not essential to the basic plot.

Miette and One

Miette and One

If “Man and Girl fall in love” disturbs you, ask yourself, “What are little girls looking for?”  Especially little girls who are fatherless.   The girl in the movie, Miette, is an orphan, but in this day and age, even girls who aren’t orphans are fatherless.   It affects their lives in myriad ways, but most importantly in the way they choose the men they love.  When she meets a circus strongman, named One, who is often simply referred to as “the big moron,” there is an immediate connection.  He needs her help, but why does she offer it?

It’s as simple as desire.  She desires him.   She desires what he represents: strength, gentleness, a big man crying over a lost little boy.   Who has cried over her?  If he is a man-child, enormous but not terribly bright or sophisticated, she is certainly a girl-woman, old before her time and jaded.

Perfect Man

Perfect Man

What makes it so romantic is that the movie doesn’t shy from it.   It doesn’t place a paternal Hollywood distance between the two mismatched characters, but dares to show a physical intimacy between them that is both childlike and portentous of adult physicality.   It dares to show a thing you’ll hardly see between two adults in a Hollywood film–a man giving a woman a foot massage.  Hovering in the periphery are further suggestions: during a visit to a tattoo parlor (seeking a map), One gets a tattoo of a heart reading “Miette pour la vie.”  Miette forever.  The sort of tattoo a sailor gets for his sweetheart.  As One rubs her feet, she asks what he plans to do after he finds his brother.  A job, he answers.  A house.  A wife What kind of wife? she asks. There is plenty of time, he assures her, to figure that out.  Plenty of time for her to grow up into that wife.

Radiateur

Radiateur

Miette is a dark-haired girl in a red dress, and after her alleged death, One goes on a drinking binge with a dark-haired prostitute in a red dress–an adult Miette.  When the real Miette arrives, she is alive but sour with jealousy.  On the darker side, when One turns against Miette and tries to kill her (this is part of the elaborate plot, with fleas armed with a brutal potion that produces violence at the sound of an organ box grinder), the violence has the quality of a wedding night deflowering.  One doesn’t want to hurt her, but he has to, is driven to it by a force he can’t control.  Miette simply accepts it, as though she expects such a thing or deserves it.  After one particularly visceral slap across the face, she gets up, crying, and waits to receive another.  When he begins to choke her, she hardly resists.

Ultimately, of course, he will save her.  She will save him.  Together they will rescue the little brother and be a family.  That’s what little girls want.

Happy Ending

Happy Ending

(As an aside, let me note that one of my favorite actors, Ron Perlman, plays the strongman One. His French is serviceable, any deficiencies in pronunciation nicely hidden under a Russian accent. The little girl playing opposite him is Judith Vittet, 9 at the time of filming, and she’s charming, cynical, broken, and strong by turns.)

Read Full Post »

This was sent in today’s Publishers Lunch from Publishers Marketplace:

Harper Finds Another Crichton Novel
An assistant to the late Michael Crichton found a complete manuscript for PIRATE LATITUDES in his computer files, an adventure story set in 17th century Jamaica about a plan by the Jamaican governor and a pirate named Hunter to raid a Spanish galleon. HarperCollins will publish that book on November 24. But the status of the thriller that Crichton was working on when he died (originally due to have been published at the end of last year, but postponed) is less clear.

Neither his agent Lynn Nesbit nor editor Jonathan Burnham has seen that manuscript yet, but they are nonetheless working together to select an author to complete the work, in conjunction with the author’s widow Sherri Crichton. Here’s the NYT article on it.
***
As an unpublished writer, it’s probably silly for me to contemplate this at all.  If I dropped dead tomorrow, I suspect that my various finished and unfinished projects would never see the light of day.  Not that I would care, being dead and all, but …

… but I do find that my skin creeps a bit when I read about these posthumous novels.  At least the pirate books appears to be finished, although Crichton obviously didn’t yet feel it was finished enough to send to his agent.  The other book, however, is only a third written, with some additional notes that indicate Crichton’s intentions.

Of course, Mr. Crichton’s widow is involved, so from that one might infer that he himself would have approved plans to hire a co-writer to finish the book.  One might also simply infer that once you’re dead, you lose your say in things like that.

All I know is that, for me, the thought of someone trolling through my electronic files, looking at half-finished projects with an eye to hiring someone to complete them … no thanks.

How about you?  You’re probably not planning to die any time soon, but how do you feel about the idea of a “co-writer” finishing your work after you’re dead?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: