Saturday, March 28, 2009

before bed mutterings

I've just started a book which opens with a character performing a coin trick in his pocket where nobody can see it. Brilliant. Wish I had thought of that.
(book: The Magicians by Lev Grossman... I believe it comes out in August)

I'm writing a short story right now. Well, not right now. I was writing it earlier, back when there was sunlight and my brain still worked. Anyway, it's about the strange chill that falls upon you when you drink too much wine in the summertime. Or, it's about dancing. Or, possibly, it's about an old woman who guards the door to faery. Or, then again, it might be about losing things. I'm not entirely sure. It's all vague and foggy, and while I know what happens, I don't actually know what it's about, so it's hard to figure out what I need to tell and what is best left untold.

And, I have a character named B. because I can't think of a name for him. Sad.

My sister has the best taste in YouTube treasures: How Wings Are Attached To The Backs Of Angels (Comment Les Ailes Sont Attachees Au Dos Des Anges) by Craig Welch. An easy comparison of flavor would be to Edward Gorey. Also, I've always liked that Chopin nocturne.

Friday, March 20, 2009

thoughts on dancing together

Tonight, in the company of the lovely Emily, I went to see Smuin Ballet's 2009 Choreography Showcase. The performance was interesting for various reasons (more on that later), but Em and I started talking about dancing in the car, and now my brain is stuck on the thoughts we batted around.

When you're dancing with someone, and the dance is going well, it's at once the most pared down and the most textured, layered, and vulnerable kind of conversation that you can have. It's a physical thrill to crack yourself open and communicate everything inside to another person without having to confine any of it to the solid hallways of letters and words. You don't have to love them, or even like them, but for the space of a dance, you're stepping in each other, and it's a weird, vast kind of intimacy.

And, for some silhouetted, steamy goodness: The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello is pretty much wonderful.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

my favourite thing about my ipod right now

I am someone who cannot get enough of having stories read to me. I enjoy reading them myself, of course, but there is something comforting and magical about listening to the words breathed and tasted by an actual voice. It makes me see the story in a different way, if that makes any sense. It's as if hearing the story opens up little corridors in it that I didn't notice before.

Anyway, I'm currently ravenous for audio fiction. Tell me a story! I demand, and my ipod happily complies.

If you, too, long to drift to sleep with the accompaniment of fictional murmurs, or find a dull traffic jam enlivened when your car is swamped with another world, then let me suggest:

Short fiction of the fantasy genre. I highly recommend #40, "Hell Is The Absence Of God," by Ted Chiang.

Short fiction of the science fiction stripe.

Miette's Bedtime Story Podcast
All kinds of stories. Made me want to rush out and buy James Joyce, so that's saying something.

Strange stories. My friend, Damien Walter, has a story here. It's called "Circe's".

BBC Radio 7
This one isn't a podcast, but it has wonderfully read stories and radio plays (radio plays! have you discovered the joy that is radio plays?). You can listen to it online.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

the perilous towers of unread books

These are some of the ARCs that are patiently waiting for someone to rescue them from the back room of the bookstore and give them a chance to be read. Some of them turn out to be unsuspected treasures. My most recent favourites are The Ramen King And I by Andy Raskin (which comes out in May) and The Error World by Simon Garfield (which is out now).

A customer asked me a question yesterday that I found both odd and troubling, in that I had to think more about what it meant to me and my attitudes towards literature than the question itself. She (and, yes, it was a woman, which may be important) asked me where the section for "women's literature" was. At first, I thought she meant books about women, women's health maybe, or feminism in general, but she meant books--fiction, to be specific--by women authors.

I've never seen a bookstore where the books of men and the books of women are separated out and tidied away in their own sections, and I can't quite see a point in doing so. But this woman (who seemed intelligent, polite, and independent) acted like the question was perfectly normal and reasonable. Did she only want to browse books by women? Did she want to read about women? Did she, perhaps, feel that she'd been reading too many books by men and wanted to see the range and possibility in shelves that only included the work of women? I don't know, and the part that made me pause once I registered it is, I didn't actually care. My first thought was, well, that would be a stupid way to organize books.

I never make a point to read books by women authors. I don't avoid them either. But out of the three books that I've read this month so far, all of them are by men. I like to choose my reading based on what looks shiny, appealing, or delightful, but every now and then I feel guilty and wonder whether choices in reading, when multiplied many times over, add up to some sort of statement, even if it's one of inattention or indifference.

(I've just counted the books in my reading now pile and there are seven by men and two by women.)

I'm finding this interesting. The Booktrust in the UK has Patrick Ness doing a sort of online residency where he blogs about the process of writing and publishing a book (his most recent is The Knife of Never Letting Go). He's funny and direct and says interesting things, particularly about how stories eat up ideas. I'm also predisposed to like any organization that describes the location of their building like this:
We live in a lovely Victorian building between Wandsworth and Clapham Junction, wedged between a Huguenot cemetery and a traffic island.

Also, the lovely and absurdly talented Toni Lum is dancing in NY this weekend with Danceworks Chicago as part of the Ballet Builders 2009 program. Toni is a joy to watch, always, and if anyone happens to be in NY, you should go see her.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

two minds

So, apparently, the very best set of circumstances for me to come up with new story ideas are as follows:

1. tea
2. conversation with the lovely Kat, preferably silly conversation in which we discuss Rushdie's satanic eyebrows, story telling automatons, nonexistent perfumes, fight scenes that happen at the beginning and murder the story in a box, and cats.

Our collaborative powers are enough to make any sensible outline run away and incinerate itself. Yup. We are plot's worst fear.

But still. The ideas grow sparks in my head.

In other worlds, my hip flexors feel like really, super-duper, extra-strong rubberbands, which would be great, except that they're meant to be flexible. Ah well. All my muscles are rebelling, one at a time so I can pay them more attention.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

summing up February books

I've just realised that the last few posts have all been lists of books. And here's yet another. I'm pretty sure that I do things aside from read books, and look at books, and think about books...

Books read:

How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors
Edited by: Dan Crowe, with Philip Oltermann
This is a well-designed, extremely covetable book as work of art. Everything about it--fonts, images, margins, broad expanses of color or simple white space--is presented to you slow down while reading and consider the words almost as objects, which might ordinarily be distracting (or, distressing), but here is entirely appropriate. It's gorgeous, and would be something nice for sitting out and getting dusty on the coffee table except the innards are too addictive.
Mr. Crowe sent correspondance to a number of authors, mostly famous, and asked them what they can't write without. What do they need, what little habits, obsessions, and lucky talismans, are essential to getting words onto paper? They sent back miniature essays and Polaroids and confused emails. The Guardian has an extract here.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
I liked this book a great deal. I did not love it, but I think it could be the kind of book that would make people fall in love with Lanagan's writing and seek out everything else that she's written, particularly her brilliant short stories. The way that she tells the story in a whole chorus of different and distinct voices, without losing track of them or letting them blend into each other, is wonderful. It lures you along, and at the same time, makes you retrace your steps and reinterpret the same events through different lenses.
Also, Muddy Annie is one of my favourite new characters that I've met this year.

The Seance by John Harwood
I read an ARC of this, but it just came out. It's unrepentently Gothic: apparitions, possibly cursed manor houses, unsolved murders, spiritualism, gloomy paintings, and thunderstorms. I enjoyed it, and it kept me entertained over the course of two flights, even with stomach-dropping turbulence, but I found some of it confusing (it's told in alternating narratives as well, but without as strong control over the voices and time).

Museum of the Missing by Simon Houpt
My friend, Todd, knows about the my current obsession with art theft, so he picked up a copy of this when he went to the library and passed it on to me. I sort of gobbled it up. Houpt tells the stories of some of the most famous, brazen, and strange episodes in the history of art theft. He also introduces Harold Smith, who was a famous art detective and also tall, elegant man with a black eyepatch. The last pages of the book are devoted to a catalogue of a imaginary gallery of stolen works of art with miniature reproductions.
I've never been especially fond of Vermeer, but this book made me want to seek out some of his paintings and see if I've changed my mind.

Books bought:

The Lost Painting
by Jonathan Harr
About a stolen Caravaggio.

The Mystery and Lure of Perfume by C.J.S. Thompson
I bought this book used from the lovely Bell's Books in Palo Alto. It's from 1927 and has a lavendar moire cover with an amphora and roses embossed in gold on the corner. It has several engravings and is slightly ridiculous, but I'm fond of writing from the 20s and I'm making the excuse that it's for research.

So, in February:
The fascination with illicit art acquisition has yet to abate.
Genre fiction makes for more absorbing travel reading than fashion magazines.
Non-fiction is more delightful when obsessive, specific, or over the top.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Clarion reading list, part 3

I'm sure many books were mentioned in the last three weeks, but, for some reason, I don't have them written down. I think this might be a result of a brain that was getting rapidly overstuffed.

WEEK FOUR (with Neil Gaiman)

1. Drowning By Numbers by Peter Greenaway
This one is a film and not a book, but Neil mentioned it as an example of a strange and oddly structured story that fulfills the only real rules of storytelling (which are: you don't bore your audience, and when they get to the point where they're finished, they feel satisfied and not cheated).
2. Peace by Gene Wolfe
3. The Infernal Desire Machines Of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter
Also: Nights At The Circus and The Bloody Chamber
I read Nights At The Circus a couple of months ago and found it both absolutely glorious and extremely discomfiting. The ideas (a woman with wings, a humble reporter, circuses and trains, dancing clowns, snowed in wilderness, a wild musician...) fit into all of my own particular fascinations and delights; and the way those ideas are melded into a story is remarkably believable and beautiful. However, the shadows are very deep and there is no flinching away from letting bad things happen to decent people, or tidying them away into a nice balance of deserved and undeserved.
4. "The Gardener" by Rudyard Kipling
This story is enigmatic and brilliant, and I won't say anything more because it's much better if you read it for the first time all unaware of what's going to spring at you.

This interview with Alan Moore, done by Daniel Whitson was also interesting. He says some brilliant stuff about story and about plot, and how the two work together.

The next two books were mentioned in a lecture on anthropology that we had with Thomas Levy:
4. Journey To The Copper Age by Thomas Levy
5. Archaeology: Theories, Method, and Practice by Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn

WEEKS 5 & 6 (with Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman)

1. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Geoff used an excerpt of this for his lecture about plot and story. The way Roy structures her story is fascinating. She fractures the chronological order of events and presents them in a layered, circuitous fashion that propels the reader along an emotional narrative and shapes their reaction to the bare bones cause and effect of plot.
2. Adulthood Rites by Octavia E. Butler
3. "Field Study" by Rachel Seiffert
We looked at this story as an example of the use of setting. It's spare and quietly written, and even though it's about our own, ordinary world, the stillness and precision of it gives it a very foreign quality.

Geoff also told me to outline the plot of The Golden Compass and The Remains of the Day so that I could try to learn how stories get put together into functioning narratives. It's a slow exercise, and a bit tedious, but very interesting and useful all the same.

And that's all I have. I'm sure there were many, many more that I've forgotten.