Some More from CLOUD ATLAS, plus a bit on the film

October 30th, 2014

Do you have that thing, writers, where you keep something you want to write about nearby as a reminder, and then it lurks, and lurks, and eventually you forget what you wanted to write about?

I’m pretty sure I was so full of geek joy when I finished Cloud Atlas that I wanted to share ALL the quotes that I’d flagged. We’ll see if they still resonate months later.

But first, my husband G Grod and I watched the 2012 film Cloud Atlas, though it was generally trounced by critics. It was a collaboration among the Wachowski sibs and Tom Twyker (Run, Lola, Run) so even if was bad, we knew it would bad in interesting ways. But it wasn’t bad. It was ambitious, missed the mark a couple times, and was super long as you would expect a compression of 6 novellas would be. But I enjoyed it nonetheless, in spite of putting some actors in Asian face, some over-tidy re-interpretations, and the worst, IMO, casting adult Tom Hanks in the role of boy Zachry.

Two things that might have improved the watching: 1. splitting it over two nights. 2. Possibly watching the extras in front of, or instead of, the movie. They were many but the interviews with directors and cast plus clips was at least as fascinating as the movie, and made me like it more.

Now, some quotes:

Implausible truth can serve one better than plausible fiction.

(49)

A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.

(64)

And I marked a few others, but those were my favorites I think. And now I will shelve Cloud Atlas, which enters the home library as one we like well enough to have his n hers copies.

“Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” by Susannah Cahalan

October 30th, 2014

This was recommended both in Entertainment Weekly and by a friend, plus I’m on a memoir tear lately, so thought Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan would be a good fit.

Cahalan was a young, successful newspaper reporter when she started having mental and physical problems. She was tested, hospitalized and declining until a team of doctors worked to test a diagnosis for something new.

Cahalan has carefully reconstructed details of her decline and hospitalization both from tapes, patient records, interviews and more. She herself remembers little to none of the worst month of her illness.

Her story was intriguing, and soundly written, but by the end I didn’t fully engage with it. There was something about it that lacked a depth of insight, or humility, or some element that would make this resonate with me on a deeper level.

“Through the Woods” by Emily Carroll

October 30th, 2014

woods

For my most recent, fifth book group, Beer + Comix held at Wild Rumpus bookstore in the Twin Cities, I read Through the Woods by Emily Carroll a graphic novel collection of short story/fable-type things.

Carroll’s work reminded me strongly of Angela Carter’s reimagined, feminist retelling of old fairy tales. They felt hauntingly familiar even though they are Carroll’s own work. The art and interplay with text were lovely to read.

The collection has four stories with young women as main characters. The central story is “His Face All Red” which is available online. The stories made for a good discussion, as they are open to interpretation, and all the spookier for it.

THE WITCHCRAFT OF SALEM VILLAGE by Shirley Jackson

October 30th, 2014

I visited Salem, MA earlier this year, and was excited when I saw that Shirley Jackson, author of the famous short story “The Lottery” and the recently re-read and loved Haunting of Hill House, had written The Witchcraft of Salem Village as part of a history series. It was well reviewed, so I was disappointed not to find it in the historical center’s gift shop, but later thrilled to find it for $1 at a used bookstore. And then disappointed again when I found it a slightly stylized but straightforward accounting of the trials, which might have engaged me as a child, but made me question its use of quotes and details in this creative account.

Each time I read about the witch trials, it seems largely explained by a mean-girl syndrome combined with rebelling against their parents and the repressive town in general. I find it weirdly timely, but depressing.

Not nearly as depressing as the memorial to the victims of the trials, though. It is a narrow path with seats on either side, each inscribed with the names of the hanged, who weren’t accorded proper graves. Thus, Salem is apologizing to these victims by inscribing their names on something for people to put their butts on.

Shameful. Disgusting.

img_20140402_143848_393

Behind on Book Reviews

October 30th, 2014

Am I behind on blogging, or do I just READ TOO MUCH?

“The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Haunting” (1963)

October 30th, 2014

hill_house

October’s book for the book group I lead, Gods and Monsters was Shirley Jackson’s classic psychological haunted house story, The Haunting of Hill House.

I read it last year for the first time, and liked it even more on re-reading. It actively terrified me at different points, and its main character, Eleanor, is now one of my favorites. Jackson makes me care for her deeply as she develops and reveals her over the course of the novel.

Written and set in the 50’s, the book couldn’t work today–witness the critically reviled 1999 movie remake The Haunting. Cell phones, any phone, really, would ruin it.

What I loved about the book is that it inspired terror in me, but wasn’t graphically horrifying, as in the work of Stephen King (a huge fan of Jackson’s), or The Shining Girls, which I recently read.

Like Henry James’ classic Turn of the Screw, this is a psychological work, putting the interpretation in the mind of the reader. Is the house haunted by a ghost? Is it inherently evil?

I followed the re-reading with the well-reviewed 1963 film The Haunting directed by Robert Wise (West Side Story). It took interesting departures from the text including the re-routing of a love interest that didn’t work well for me in the book but was a good interpretation of the work with excellent acting. It was a genuinely spooky movie, and fun to watch before Halloween this week.

Both book and 1963 move: HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

“The Orchardist” by Amanda Coplin

October 30th, 2014

orchardist

A selection for what I call my “women’s” book group, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin seemed like it wanted me to really, really love it. I just couldn’t.

It’s written in lush, slow prose, about an aging man, Talmadge, who owns orchards in Washington state. When two wild, pregnant teen girls wander onto his property, he tries to take them in, and the novel unfolds from there with violence and a great deal of tragedy, but some joy.

As I read it, I was strongly reminded of Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, as well as Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. Both also had the lovely slow pace, unconventional families and a deep sense of place.

In the end, though, The Orchardist didn’t touch me on a deeper level as those other books did, though it’s an extremely promising first novel from a young writer.

“The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes

October 30th, 2014

shining-girls

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes was the October selection for one of my growing number of book groups (six and counting…), Books and Bars.

How’s this for a hook: A time-traveling serial killer visits Chicago over the decades, targeting strong, smart women. I found it a devourable book, and gulped its 375 pages down in about 24 hours.

The book jumps around in time and perspective, including characters Kirby, “the one who got away”, Harper the killer, Dan the journalist, Harper’s many victims, a very creepy house, a drug addict, and even Chicago itself. Beukes is from South Africa, but the Chicago setting is thoroughly and engagingly done.

What I loved about the book were the portraits of the complex, amazing women, and this made it all the more wrenching when Harper took them down.

By contrast, Beukes chose to make Harper non-complex, and I appreciated her efforts to make the killer non-fascinating and less dimensional than his victims. Mysteries that inadvertently glorify and romanticize serial killers are sadly frequent. In fact, almost all the male characters in the novel (save for an amazing male dog) are pale shadows compared to the female characters.

The violence in the book is extensive and graphic. Whether it was gratuitously graphic was a key point in my group’s discussion of the book. Does graphic violence automatically glorify or fetishize it? The author states in her afterward that she was writing in part as a reaction to the violent death of a woman friend, and so the in-your-face presentation was a deliberate provocation to see the ugly truth that exists in the world.

A protest I had before the discussion was that only two of the women were able to defy Harper and fight back. I wanted ALL the women to have the opportunity. Another woman at the Books and Bars discussion noted that fighting back isn’t always a choice, and isn’t always in the victims best interesting in surviving. I was abashed to need to be reminded of this so soon after finishing Patricia Weaver Francisco’s Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery.

I was ambivalent (i.e. pulled in both directions) about the time travel in the book. Time travel is hard to pull off, fraught with inconsistency, and in this case, depressing in its fated-ness. Beukes had friends of hers make a chart about different types of time travel.

What definitely didn’t work for me was the relationship between Dan and Kirby. It felt creepy and weird in a way that I’m not sure was intended.

Reaction from friends differed widely. Some hated it, some liked, some loved it. I thought it was enjoyable as a reading experience, but not without its troubling aspects.

“Who Bombed the Train?” by Judith Yates Borger

October 30th, 2014

train

Who Bombed the Train? is by my friend Judith Yates Borger, so I am admittedly biased in writing about it. I’m so proud of anyone I know who manages to put in the blood, sweat, and tears on the way to publication. It’s a hard, long process not only to write a book but to follow it through to publication.

This is the third book in the Skeeter Hughes series. You can read the three books in order but each can also stand alone. In this outing, someone bombs the commuter rail and soon after Skeeter is embroiled in the search to find out who did it. The book features a nice cast of possible suspects to keep you involved to the end, and has an interesting character reveal at the end that was both surprising but made perfect sense in context.

Most interestingly for me, it dealt with racism and prejudice against the Somali community, something that is unfortunately timely, and depressingly likely to remain so.

Skeeter is an interesting flawed character, trying to juggle a demanding job in a declining industry, a wobbly marriage and two daughters. It was fun to spend time with her again.

“Fables v. 20: Camelot”

October 29th, 2014

Like Unwritten, Fables the comic series is coming to a close. In this collection, Camelot, we have tension between sisters Snow White and Rose Red. Snow is being fierce while Rose is being stubborn about what is probably a bad idea. Leigh Duglas is up to no good, and what’s going to happen with Bigby Wolf? I enjoyed this collection a lot more than I did the previous one, Snow White, and especially the issue set in something like the afterlife.

The Unwritten v9, 10: Fables & War Stories

October 29th, 2014

As the comic-book series The Unwritten closes in on its ending, I read the two latest collections, Unwritten: Fables and Unwritten: War Stories, back to back.

I had a moment of panic when I started Unwritten: Fables, which crosses over with the Vertigo series. The Fables-verse seemed in a very strange place from where I remembered it. Quick answer: don’t panic. This is like an elseworlds, it doesn’t fit into strict continuity, things are weird in the Fables world of this book because the Unwritten world has de-stabilized all stories. Just go with it and enjoy it, and appreciate the many similarities and differences. As always, I liked spending time with Frau Totenkinder.

The Unwritten: War Stories
has Tom recovering from the events in Fables. All the war stories begin to come alive, and Pauly Bruckner has some more tough times.

These were tantalizing reads as the series is about to end, and I’m hoping the creative team can stick the landing. As I’ve mentioned before, this series is full of geeky goodness, and fans of Sandman, Fables, and other mythic literature will likely enjoy it.

“Saga v1″ by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

October 29th, 2014

The Saga comic-book series has quickly developed a rabid fan base. Vaughan is a popular writer, but I had problems with his former series Y the Last Man (too static art), and Ex Machina (hated the ending). Saga, though, reminded me of his earlier work on Runaways, which I enjoyed a lot more. Saga volume 1 collects the beginning of the series.

Vaughan describes it as “Star Wars for perverts” and that’s not inaccurate. It’s not for the weak of stomach, and has graphic violence, horror, and sex. It also has a great sense of humor, a winning cast featuring star-crossed lovers Alana and Marko, a ghost babysitter, a sidekick cat who can tell who is lying, a living tree spaceship, and more, more, more. And Fiona Staples’ art is entertaining as all get out.

“The Shadow Hero” by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

October 29th, 2014

I liked Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew’s The Shadow Hero as I read it, then even more when I read the back matter detailing the admittedly sketchy history of the actual Golden Age comics hero The Green Turtle.

Yang (American Born Chinese, Boxers, and Saints) writes and Liew illustrates, and it’s a good partnership. Like American Born Chinese, this mixes myth and the struggle of Chinese Americans. The main character is Hank, a young man who works in his father’s Chinatown grocery. The balance of realism, superhero tropes and Chinese myths drew me in quickly. This is a fun read with serious undertones, historical echoes, plus, perhaps my favorite part: Turtle God!

“Rat Queens v1: Sass and Sorcery”

October 29th, 2014

A friend recommended Rat Queens volume 1: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch. The premise had promise: “Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!” Plus, the back cover was plastered with promising blurbs.

Alas, it came off to me more as male wish fulfillment: women are boozy and foul mouthed and want sex with women, men and orcs!

Hey, I’m all for boozy, cussin’, sexy strong chicks. But Rat Queens just didn’t ring true for this girl geek. I did laugh at the bluebirds in the healers’ beard, though.

“The Gate to Women’s Country” by Sheri Tepper

October 22nd, 2014

womens_country1

Yet another of the books my husband G has recommended that I’ve put off for a long time is The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper. What moved it off the shelf was reading Patricia Weaver Francisco’s excellent Telling, a memoir of Rape and Recovery, which got me thinking about rape, and rape culture, and how fed up I am with Violence Against Women as a staple of media entertainment.

I freely admit, G. was right. This was a terrific book, a compelling read with strong women characters, interesting philosophy, good men, bad men, and a nice plot twist at the end which I didn’t see coming but made perfect sense when it did.

Women’s Country is a gated community. Warrior men live outside and protect the gates. They’re let in twice a year to drink and have sex at carnival. Any boy children that result are taken to the garrison at 5, but allowed to return to Women’s Country at when they’re older if they choose. Most don’t. Outside of the women’s cities there are swaths of wasteland, and a creepy religious community.

What I loved about this book was the main character Stavia and her mother, and the details of what a post-nuclear world and establishment of matriarchy would look like. The creation of this admittedly reductive, sexist future world highlights the ongoing sexist struggle that’s shown in the repetitive representation in popular media of violence against women, as well as its continuing reality.

Less successful for me was the interspersing of a community drama of ghosts after the Trojan war, which is supposed to be satire, but doesn’t always read as such, some of which is the point, but other parts of which didn’t jive for me.

(ghost of)ACHILLES: How can I force obedience on this? In other times I’ve used the fear of death to make a woman bow herself to me. If not the fear of her own death, then fear for someone else, a husband or a child. How can I bend this woman to my will?
(ghost of)POLYXENA: I think I will not bend.
IPHIGENIA: You see, it’s as we’ve tried to tell you, Great Achilles. Women are no good to you dead.

What didn’t work, and was especially troubling to me, was the quick dismissal of homosexuality as simply genetic, and something to be “corrected” in vitro. Yikes. Everyone was male or female and supposed to be heterosexual. Reducing these complex realities, and dismissing the complex people they represent from the real world, is a major disappointment in an otherwise stirring work, and dates it.

“The Sandman” Winter Readalong

October 20th, 2014
Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

My friend Jeff K, who leads Twin Cities’ Books and Bars, and I have talked about doing a readalong of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman for a while now.

The original series was 75ish issues. They’re most commonly collected in 10 graphic novels; full-price retail is about $20 each though they can be gotten for less at Powells.com and other retailers including your local, independent comic shop. Digital copies are available for $12.99 each at Comixology. Most libraries have the ten volumes as well as some of the other collections (Absolute, Annotated, and Omnibus). They are also fairly easy to find used.

We’ve decided to do the readalong online, with weekly posts here at Girl Detective on Mondays, plus both Jeff and I will be tweeting about each week’s issues starting Monday, too.

On Twitter, Jeff is @jefe23 and I’m @kjboldon. We’ll use the hashtag #SandMN for our discussions.

We’re reading over December 2014 and January 2014. The dark of winter will be a great time to read or re-read this intricate, atmospheric work.

You can start reading anytime, or wait till the beginning of December. The first post and tweets will be on Monday 12/8/14 to discuss Preludes and Nocturnes (volume 1), which is issues 1-8.

Below I’ve listed the “Read by” dates, and the volume and issue numbers.

Are you interested in reading along? Do you have questions, or need advice? Email me at girldetective (at) girldetective (dot) com, or ask in the comments, or tweet at me.

My first piece of advice if you’re thinking about this: read through issue 8. Sandman is often categorized as fantasy, but it spans many genres. The early issues tend more toward horror than fantasy. Some people start and think it’s not their thing, but like any series, it took some time (only a little) to find its way. Issue 8, in my opinion, is where things really started to cook. So stick around till then. If you’re new to comics, or not so much into horror, perhaps don’t invest in the whole series right away. Start with volume 1, and go from there.

Without further blather, the schedule, which takes a week off over the end of December. I hope you will join us. The Sandman was my gateway comic into geekdom almost 25 years ago. I’ve re-read it several times, but never in a group, and I’m very much looking forward to this.

12/1/14 start reading Preludes and Nocturnes v. 1 (issues 1-8)

12/8/14 Preludes and Nocturnes v1, #1-8 (8 issues)

12/15/14 A Doll’s House v2, #9-16 (8 issues)

12/22/14 Dream Country v3 #17-20 and Season of Mists v4 #21-28 (12 issues)

BREAK for holidays and to catch up

1/5/15 A Game of You v5 #32-37 and Fables and Reflections v6 #29-31, 38-40, 50, Special #1 (14 issues)

1/12/15 Brief Lives v7 #41-49 and World’s End v8 #51-56 (15 issues)

1/19/15 The Kindly Ones v9 #57-69 (13 issues)

1/26/15 The Wake v10 #70-75 (6 issues)

“It All Began with ‘Jane Eyre’ or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman” by Sheila Greenwald

October 18th, 2014

When I was searching for books from my childhood to recommend to my 8yo, after I found The Mariah Delany Lending Library Disaster by Sheila Greenwald, I saw she had another book entitled It All Began with Jane Eyre or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman. Since Jane Eyre is one of my favorites, I checked this out from the library too.

Oh my goodness, what a bizarre, clever, and entertaining relic of a book this is! Published in 1980, its mindset is definitely 70’s New York and the era of Ms. magazine.

Franny is chastised by her parents on two counts. One for hiding in her closet reading and eating potato chips. The other is that she took her favorite book to such an extreme that she began to see echoes of Jane Eyre in real life, going so far to believe the headmaster at her school had a mad wife at home. When one of her friends ratted on Franny, everyone thought she was beyond weird, since the wife of headmaster wasn’t mad and in the attic, only getting her masters at Columbia.

Franny’s mother gets her a new set of books, all about so-called real life, including divorce, abortion, affairs, and diabetes. Franny is urged by teachers and her family to journal about real life, not about Jane Eyre. But Franny starts to read rather too much into the people around her. Is her father having an affair, is her sister’s friend pregnant?

Franny is funny, and smart, and I especially loved her single-minded passion for Jane Eyre:

How she hated the idea of Authors and Authoresses. She could hardly bring herself to look at their photographs on the backs of books. She didn’t like the thought of them meddling in what she believed to be Real Life.

and

don’t talk to me about Bronte again. I read Jane Eyre, not Bronte.

I was utterly charmed by Franny, and could relate so much to her attempts to lose herself in literature, and I liked the satire of the 70’s young-adult problem novels.

But I didn’t urge this one on either of my sons. Satire and 70’s NYC and the Equal Rights Amendment were a fun fascinating read for me but I’d be hard put to explain it to them.

“The Mariah Delany Lending Library Disaster” by Sheila Greenwald

October 18th, 2014

As part of the recent attempt to get my kids reading novels, my 8yo son Guppy discovered and devoured several of my husband’s old McGurk mysteries by E. W. Hildick. This got me poking around, trying to remember some of my favorites from when I was his age and one of the books and titles that stuck with me all these decades later was Sheila Greenwald’s The Mariah Delany Lending Library Disaster.

This book was a delight to revisit. Mariah is the odd one out in a family of bookish nerds. She’s an entrepreneur, constantly being told to quit her scheming and read a book. In a lovely a ha moment, she realized she can combine both those things: her schemes and her family’s love of books:

Mariah tripped on a stack of unshelved volumes. She flopped on the sofa and picked up one of the tumbled books and looked around her at the piles and piles and shelves and shelves of them. She was surrounded. And then it hit her. The best idea she had ever had in her life…

ThiS new idea had everything. It filled a crying need…It involved practically no investment. She had the market and she had the goods. (13-14)

Mariah is a smart and funny main character, and I winced at the affectionate swipes at bookish families with piles of books around. Our house resembles that, and given Guppy’s resistance to reading novels, it was very timely.

Alas, Guppy wants nothing to do with this book. It has a girl in the title, a girl on the cover, and I suggested it to him too many times. It was a lovely flashback for me, though, plus it led me to another, very interesting and surprising book, which I’ll write about next, It All Began with Jane Eyre, or The Secret Life of Franny Dillman, also by Sheila Greenwald.

“Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery” by Patricia Weaver Francisco

October 18th, 2014

A friend in the MFA program at Hamline knows I’m writing some non-fiction-y memoir stuff and strongly recommended I read Lit by Mary Karr and Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery by Patricia Weaver Francisco who teaches at Hamline.

Telling
impressed and moved me. In it, the author braids several strands together: an account of her rape and the aftermath, information on rape and trauma and assault, modern scenes with her young son to who she is reading Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, and her continually accruing insights and aha moments from the ten-plus years after the assault.

Francisco gets into nooks and crannies of meaning and emotion that surprised me, jarred me, and kept me thinking and feeling long after I finished this book. It’s an extraordinary book.

The Path to Publication

October 14th, 2014
Beginning-of-summer draft

Beginning-of-summer draft

And so it begins. Or rather, has begun. I could throw a lot of words at this, but it’s better to simplify, I think.

November 2002, while pregnant with first kid, participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote 50K young adult novel draft about a teen girl with synesthesia. This draft had no plot and no conflict. Sometime after that took 2 novel writing courses at the Loft, found a critique group, and was told it was ready to send out.

I sent it out to 2 editors, plus used it to apply to several writing contests.

*crickets chirping*

I inferred that it actually wasn’t ready to send out.

Around then I had a second child followed by an extendo-dance-mix version of post-partum depression. Things got really jumbled for a while. I started another non-fiction-y memoir thing, I participated in another NaNoWriMo with what seemed like the sequel to the first book. I put both the YA and non-fictiony thing down when Guppy was 1.5 because it was just too much, already.

When he started kindergarten I picked up the YA book again and realized that the first NaNoWriMo combined with the second, the supposed sequel, could actually be one book with a plot and conflict. I took 2 years to merge the two ideas and write my way to an ending I liked.

I took one more year to get a 120,000K word sloppy messy draft to make the beginning and middle match the ending.

I took a summer to edit the 120K behemoth (see photo above. I had it printed out to read and edit in hard copy) down to a svelte 72K word less sucky draft, had 3 beta readers read it to assure me it didn’t suck and was really truly close to sendable.

I made some MORE changes based on their feedback (honestly, I can’t count the drafts) and now it’s at 73K words.

The next step now that I’ve written the best manuscript I am capable of writing is to seek an agent. Back in the day, Young Adult authors could often skip the agent step. Not very often, now.

The order of operations is:

1. Get an agent who then 2. Tries to sell your book.

Last month, I pitched an agent at a conference. She asked for the first 50 pages which I sent, and I haven’t heard from her, but she notes on her site that she takes up to six weeks to read partials, so we’re still in that window.

Last Friday I sent my first cold query to an agent. Yesterday I sent my second.

Every single step of the this new venture makes me feel slow and slightly nauseated. I can’t figure out how to get formatted text into email (apparently, I need Word, which my husband is philosophically and morally opposed to), and was wrestling with the Query Tracker website this morning.

According to all available info, I have years ahead of me of rejection, and am perfectly likely to have this book (on which I’ve worked for nearly 12 years, gah) be rejected and either self published (which is a fine option, though very work intensive) or put away so I can work on the next thing.

As with many moments, I have to remind myself there are really only 2 choices: give up, or keep trying. So for now, I’m going with trying. In spite of the stupid feeling and nausea.