Sunday, December 22, 2013

Kindle Markdown Event: The Breast of Everything

My version of a post-Holiday sale! 

Whether you're breaking in a new device or just wanting to make the most of that pre-New Year's slump with a cool read, please note that starting on December 26, with a one-day-only bargain basement price of 99 cents, I will be running a special markdown promotion on the Kindle edition of The Breast of Everything on Amazon

I know, I know!  What says post-Christmas better than a book about a talking breast that might's just say She is that She is. Maybe you've been curious, but didn't want to risk the regular price on something that sounded so odd. Maybe you've read the book and liked it, but were leery of recommending it to a friend. Here's your chance to buy or spread the word! 

Those who miss Day 1 will still have two days to practically steal a copy for only 1.99!  That's right: less than the cost of a ride on the NYC subway--and surely equally entertaining! Starting December 29, the price starts inching up: first to 2.99, then 3.99 (12/30) and 4.99 (12/31), before returning to the regular low price of 5.99 on January 1. Shop early for the best price!

Mark your calendar and be sure to share widely! 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas in Whoville

Five more days til Matt Smith's final Doctor Who episode. Notice I didn't say "appearance." 'Cause, since Day of the Doctor, and even moreso Night of the Doctor, I'm not ruling out the possibility of any Doctor or Companion somehow reappearing down the road. Still, this will be the last substantive view of this particular Doctor and I am sad for it.

Part of the joy in a good continuing series is that you get to hold onto characters you've come to love. Then the evil day comes that either the actor leaves or the series ends.

If you're lucky, the writers are able to orchestrate a graceful exit. This is something that Doctor Who does especially well. I still miss any number of characters, but I can enjoy subsequent episodes without feeling (for example) a Donna-Noble-shaped hole in the proceedings. Perhaps Julian Fellowes should take a few pointers on transitioning characters; decisions around the actor attrition has Downton Abbey jumping more than a healthy number of sharks.

When it comes to closing an entire series, it's best when the creative team began the show with an exit strategy in mind and then were allowed to see it through. We're always going to miss living in these worlds with these characters, but at least we feel a sense of ... damn, I hate the word "closure" but there's no better way to say it. Even if the story arc didn't include a pre-determined conclusion, a team has a chance to make it work if they're given sufficient time to wrap things up. Last year, Eureka! managed well; Fringe a little less so. I continue to miss both shows (and think they both had a couple more solid seasons to give) but I feel more comfortable about where I left the people of Eureka!

The worst thing is when a series ends abruptly. I may never forgive HBO for the Carnivale debacle. When they decided to pull the plug prematurely, there simply wasn't enough time to bring this very complex, layered plot to a satisfying conclusion. The final episodes were a desperate mad dash to reroute character arcs into sone kind of resolution. What had been a rich, fascinating story was crippled by a feeble, sometimes ridiculous ending. Years later, I still feel robbed! And, btw, when people talk to me about renting/streaming Carnivale, I'm not shy about warning them of their eventual disappointment. If you're ever fortunate (?) enough to find yourself running a series, I suggest you take Carnivale as a cautionary tale: prepare each contracted block of episodes as if it might be the last.

Getting back to where I began this... Soon Whovians around the globe will be getting the gift of a Christmas episode that makes us say good-bye to a favourite hero. Like all good stories, the story of the Eleventh (ish?) Doctor is coming to an end. And a new story, which we will also learn to love, is about to begin. Transition is always bittersweet.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Another NaNo Conquered!

Last night, while it was still November 22 in my time zone, I hit my 50K words, thereby crossing the finish line of my fourth NaNoWriMo. (pause for cheers)

This year I'd interrupted an active WIP to do NaNo. Okay, maybe "interrupted" isn't fair. Work on Under the Bus had stalled. Partly because the fiction-writing section of my brain was struggling to let go of The Upsilon Knot sufficiently to focus on a less colorful contemporary story. Enter good old NaNo! Nothing like a deadline to force concentration. That was the good news. Bad news was the project I'd decided to work on. I have a self-sabotaging habit of playing by the rules, and NaNo rules say to start a brand new project. I certainly couldn't dare work on another Upsilon project (last year's solution), not while I was having such a time separating from that world. The most likely candidate waiting in the wings had its own world and a handful of characters whose stories I wanted to tell. Problem was, it had no plot; without a sense of direction, it's hard to write at this pace. Even worse, the project I call PDQ is set in a thoroughly depressing dystopic future. Enough said.

Somehow, astonishingly, I kept on and even found my way to a...well, more a framework than a plot. Last night I made my 50K. And NaNo continues 'til the end of the month; I could keep writing until the bitter end, as I have every other year.

I've always been proud of breaking 60 K. However, NaNo did the trick; I can't wait to leave the world of PDQ and leap back into Under the Bus. As they don't even start to verify wins until the 25th, I've made the following decision -- which I'm posting here to make sure that I stick to it. I'll keep working on PDQ 'til the 25th; I still have some left from the list of scenes I'd identified. Then one more day, to jot down all my mental notes regarding the order of scenes; should I return to this project some day, I'll want to have all of this on hand. The day after Thanksgiving, I'm back, 100% fiction-writing energies, on Under the Bus.

(pause to let out giant sigh of relief!)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

See you in December

It's the most wonderful time of the writing year! By which I mean NaNo. I've got a nice clean notebook for unplugged productivity (like when I'm on the subway or waiting to go into a a movie). A new Scrivener project has been named and stocked with ideas. And my counter widget is up on this site, the critical tool that forces me to sit down and write whether or not I feel like it!

You might think it counter-productive to put a 1-month hold on a work in progress to start on something new, but consider that both the current WIP and "The Upsilon Knot" began as NaNo projects. NaNo forces me to plunge into the thick of a story, with no time for hesitation or puttering around. The work pours out; a lot of it is even usable. The charge I get from this is well, well worth the exhaustion.

This November, I'll be diving into a future world that revealed itself while I was watching the lunchtime foot traffic near the Flatiron building. Hey, inspiration can find you anywhere -- even on the Shake Shack line!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

and they are us

You know those dystopic novels all the kids are reading? Ever wonder what happened a few generations before page 1? Maybe something like this: government shutdown by fundamentalist minority; rising civilian gun violence; erratic weather; increasing percentage of immune disorders; decline in goods production; gambling-based economy; erosion of stabilizing middle class creating an unbreachable divide in the citizenry... On the bright side, one of you may be the 3x-great grandparent of the teen-aged girl who's going to save the future.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Things to do when your brain won't settle down

I want to be making deep inroads into the new WIP, I really do. But my concentration is still playing post-project pinball from launching The Upsilon Knot.

Instead of settling down to the task at hand, like a good little writer, here are some of the things I find myself doing:

  • Basking in the end of summer sunshine in Washington Square Park while indulging in a caramel custard (with yummy figgy topping) from 5 Oz. Factory, and watching tentative trios of film students embark on their maiden forays into University-level filmmaking.
  • Watching reruns of Castle episodes that I've already seen six or seven times and trying to determine which fluctuates more: Nathan Fillion's weight or Stana Katic's hair.
  • Actually following all the links in all of those Facebook posts that I "like." Special thumbs up to Jason Gurley's interview with the wonderful Hugh Howey and David Harrington's piece on the new Yoko Ono album.
  • Engaging in long off-hour text chats with friends who are either more gainfully employed during "normal" hours or live in very distant time zones from mine.
  • Wandering aimlessly through Central Park, somehow inevitably being drawn to the Mall where the benches give me a feeling of stepping back in time. 
  • Escaping into Ben Aaronovich's magical London via the Broken Homes, the latest adventures of Constable Peter Grant.
  • Writing this post!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Voices in My Head

Right now I'm empathizing with one of the characters in my new book, who reflected:
"That was an inadequate phrase if ever there were one: 'of two minds.'... two minds was a comfortable minimum."
It's a writer thing, to walk around with multiple realities jostling in your skull. There are the things you think about to get through every day: whatever has to be done in the office, making dinner, the lives of family and friends, bills due for paying, world news...Then there are the things you note in passing or that come to you at the borders of sleep, things that tell you they ought to be filed for future mulling/writing. And, always, there's the project you're working on.

I can't speak for all writers, but there's a dedicated room in my brain that runs a continuous feed of whatever I'm currently writing. While I'm going through the rest of my day, and also when I'm asleep, it keeps up a subliminal churn back there. This is why I find myself walking to the subway and suddenly feel the pop of an issue resolving itself, because a piece of my mind has never stopped working on it. When my writing time arrives, I flip the toggle and this back room becomes my main dwelling space for the next hour or three.

This usually works pretty well. Not that I have much choice in the matter; it's the natural way my brain works. The only time I run into trouble is when I've got two different projects jostling for the writing room. Like now, for example, when I'm simultaneously diving into the notes and fragments of one book and handling the publication activity for another.

It's crazy hard to set aside thoughts of the completed story and buckle down to work on the next. Although the outgoing book is set in a fanciful alternative 19th century, I've been living there for the last few years; that world seems absolutely as real to me as the almost-here-and-now of the story I'm about to write. At this moment, those fully-realized characters are much more vivid (not to mention beloved!) than the stick figures that I first have to flesh out. Yesterday, I spent about ten hours fully immersed in notes for the new book. Last night, I woke up twice with ideas about further adventures for my Upsilon Knot characters—and twice more with pre-launch jitters, wondering how the world will receive them.

I know my brain will eventually sort things out. Over the next few weeks, the first flush of publication excitement (and associated internet obsession) will subside, while the "new" world will become more and more engaging. But for the next few weeks, I'll need just that much more discipline to focus on the writing and, 24/7, my brain is going to feel a little bit overcrowded!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013

In honor of the 120th Anniversary of the birth of Dorothy Parker

The Red Dress
by Dorothy Parker

I loved this poem when I was 18.  No surprise that I love it even more now.
Listen to a reading here (or read the text below).

I always saw, I always said
If I were grown and free,
I'd have a gown of reddest red
As fine as you could see. 
To wear out walking, sleek and slow,
Upon a summer's day,
And there'd be one to see me so
And flip the world away. 
And he would be a gallant one
With stars behind his eyes,
And hair like metal in the sun,
And lips too warm for lies. 
I always saw us, gay and good,
High honored in the town.
Now I am grown to womanhood—
I have the silly gown.
         (text printed for educational purposes only)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Bottleneck on the Boulevard of Death

Where I live, the main artery is Queens Boulevard. If you're not familiar with "The Boulevard of Death," it's a cute little 12 lane highway (may be a couple more or less, depending on intersection) that cuts across Queens from the slow-down-you-move-too-fast 59th Street Bridge (formerly formally known as the Queensboro, now officially called the Ed Koch—and we wonder why cabs can't find their way around??) all the way to Jamaica Avenue.

Right now, this artery is suffering a blockage. What makes it hurt most is that, when the blockage finally clears, other than the lack of pain, there will be no benefit to the community. We're going through all of this for nothing—and that's what's making me angry.

The Boulevard of Death

Queens Boulevard and Continental (71st) Avenue
There has always been a fascinating dichotomy between the people who drive the Boulevard and the people who live along it. To drivers, it's part of a highway system (technically, Queens Boulevard is a section of NY State Route 25). They often drive it as if they were still on the GCP, the BQE or the Van Wyck—never mind those pesky traffic lights and those obviously misplaced pedestrians. To us pedestrians, the Boulevard is something of a Main Street; whether you live North or South, you spend a lot of time crossing to the other side. Bear in mind that we wacky pedestrians some in all ages and are often pushing baby carriages or shopping carts, holding the hands of small children and/or walking dogs. Combine the village population with the thwarted expressway drivers and you can easily understand the "Boulevard of Death" moniker. Railings and cameras may have reduced the annual number of fatal incidents, but it's still one of the most dangerous streets in NYC.

Blockage in a Major Artery

Currently, a major construction project is causing bottlenecks on a the North side of the Boulevard, on the block that stretches between (71st) Continental Avenue and 71st Road. Note that this is entirely separate from the half-completed two-year (estimated) project to add an elevator to the subway station, which cuts off half a block and a subway entrance on the South side, as well as large portions of subway platform inside.

The preparatory phase gradually forced out five businesses, only one of which I know to have successfully relocated (to a significantly less-trafficked spot). Since the serious construction on the new residential tower began a few months ago, development has closed off half the sidewalk, diverted people away from and ultimately shut down a thriving sidewalk newsstand, and closed off a lane of traffic from the Queens Boulevard West-bound service road.

To understand the impact of the vehicular traffic bottleneck, note that this site is at one major intersection (where Queen's Boulevard intersects both 71st/Continental Avenue and 108th Street) and is only two blocks from another (where Queen's Boulevard, at one of its wider points, crosses Yellowstone Boulevard). This has been making the phrase "morning rush" highly ironic for anyone driving East-to-West. It also means that, at the height of the recent heat wave, a truck delivering dairy products had to park a block away from the grocery store—where it stood open to the heat, for what I thought was an uncomfortable length of time, while the goods were gradually unloaded and lugged to the delivery entrance.

Apart from being a pain in the ass for everyone who lives in or passes through this area, this construction site has made life more dangerous. The only thing that makes Queens Boulevard work at all is practice: the majority of pedestrians who cross it do so often, and at familiar intersections. You can imagine the consternation when the delicate ecology of this route is disrupted.

What "Walkway"??

Once the rat-killing was done and digging began, the construction crew for this tower began erecting various temporary plastic-barricaded "walkways," slowing encroaching deeper into the road. Occasionally I've seen a neon-vested human with a flag, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

What walkway? The "street" you have to cross is Queens Boulevard
This weekend, the "Walkway" was Queens Boulevard
This weekend, there were men with flags, which meant I got to speak to someone when I found, without any prior notice, that the entire block was closed to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

For the length of this critical block, no traffic could pass along the Queens Boulevard service road. And for pedestrians coming from the East, it meant that we had to cross Queens Boulevard just to access the subway.

It's clear why this was done on a weekend.

A representative of Gilbane later assured me that this complete lack of access was only for this weekend. That doesn't excuse the lack of safe provision for subway access nor the lack of prior notification; nor does this heightened short-term inconvenience mitigate the impact of the longer-term disturbance.

Yes, the disturbance related to the subway station project is also a pain, and only the MTA could take two years to put in an elevator, but at least the station at Continental Avenue will end up better serving our community. I can't, on the other hand, think of a single thing this residential tower is going to do for us.  We're getting all the disruption and absolutely none of the gain. What do we get—okay, more selfishly, what do I get—when this building is finally finished?

Who Ya Gonna Call?

As a member of New York's downward spiraling middle-class, I'm not exaggerating when I say that the cool disregard this project shows to my neighborhood is making me feel even more downtrodden and disenfranchised than I usually do. This weekend's little detour was the final straw.

I got stuck at the intersection, waiting for the light to change. And after finding out the details of this little detour, I said to the guy with the flag, "This is ridiculous! You mean I have to cross Queens Boulevard just to get on a subway?"
  • The Flag Guy shrugged and said "If you have a problem with that, talk to the guy from the Department of Buildings."
  • Me: Where is he?
  • Flag Guy: Over there somewhere. (points to far end of barricaded area)
  • Me: Could you call him over? (he shakes his head and shrugs) So you  mean I have to cross Queens Boulevard, go to the corner, and cross Queens Boulevard again, just to talk to him?
  • Flag Guy grins. He's absolutely certain he's gotten rid of me.

Let's just say that I was born under the sign of Mary Mary Quite Contrary. Rather than discouraging me, this only egged me on. So yes, I crossed the Boulevard twice to get to the other end of the same block. And the fact of having to do so upped my anger from mild irritation to absolutely fuming.
  • I yelled out to the team on that end "I was told someone is here from the Department of Buildings?! Where is he?!"
  • Another flag guy, a very young man who's been told far too often that he's adorable, grinned at me. "Hey, what's the matter?"
  • I explained the reason for my now-simmering anger. "What is the community getting for all this pain?" I asked.
  • He grinned again. "A really nice apartment building."
  • "That none of us can afford to live in."
  • "Hey, I can't afford it either."
The grin was getting to me. I asked for the representative of the DoB. The guy at the first intersection had thought to get rid of me off by telling me a rep was there; this one thought he could make me leave by saying the man couldn't be found; he asked me to move to the corner and wait. When I didn't, he pointed at some heavy machinery and advised me, with yet another grin, that they had a truck to move. I was blocking the way. This time it was my turn to grin; I told him that I wasn't going to leave that spot until the man from the DoB was found.

At this point, the site supervisor noticed the fuss and made his way over. He was very polite and professional as I aired my grievance, then asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted to speak with someone who was not employed by the contractors, and that I had been told by one of his men that a rep from the DoB was on site.  Again, I was asked to move to make way for the equipment. Again, I stood my ground. It was all very 1969.

By this time, I was hot as well as angry. The rep from the DoB, another polite man, finally made his way to my corner. What I said to him can be summarized here:
I've lived in this neighborhood all my life. I've watched a number of luxury residential towers rise along Queens Boulevard (and take years to fill up; see sidebar below). I have never seen any one of them block off lanes of Queens Boulevard for weeks at a time. 
We have a lot of elderly people in this neighborhood, disabled people, families with small. I don't care if it's only for two days: you are forcing all of them to cross a 12-lane highway in order to access the subway.
This isn't a hospital, for a neighborhood which once boasted proximity to several and now has none. It doesn't include an office building that might bring in long-term employment. Did the developers donate $2 million directly to our schools or to our struggling library? If our neighborhood is being disrupted to this extent for the creation of private wealth, we should have some recompense.
A new luxury apartment building will serve no one other than the developers and the people who decide they can afford to live here—or, perhaps more accurately, the people who can just about afford to and think its overpriced, but have been priced out of apartments in neighborhood that have the amenities that ought to go along with these prices.
[Sidebarmy personal note to developers of Queens luxury dwellings: Watch how they do it in Brooklyn! First the neighborhood has to develop a thriving sense of community, including places to gather, and stores and restaurants with local personality. Maybe then you won't be stuck for years with empty apartments. People are only willing to shell out big bucks to move someplace after it's become a 'destination.' How come you smart millionaires and billionaires don't know this and I do??]
He listened to me and said "you have a couple of good points there." He also said "I'm only here to supervise the construction. If you have a complaint, talk to the community board; they approved it. Or talk to Mr. Bloomberg."

I wrote this blog entry instead. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Happy Birthday, Nikola Tesla!

Nikola Tesla

Today is the anniversary of Nikola Tesla's birth. 

Like any number of writers with a steampunk or Victorian historic fantasy to tell, I've highjacked poor Mr. Tesla as a character. Specifically, Tesla appears in my forthcoming novel, The Upsilon Knot, as the first love of heroine Claude Monteith.

In honor of his birthday, here's Claude's girlhood memory of the object of her affection:

"She'd been half-past fifteen when Father had brought him home, and she'd never dreamed of a man like Nikola Tesla. He was handsome, like someone's idea of a poet, with a white face, tumbled curls and those dark haunted eyes. But he wasn't a poet or a painter. Nor was he on any of the boring paths followed by the young men of whom her aunt approved. He was a scientist and, after Father, the most intelligent man she'd ever met. He was someone who should have appreciated her. Even though she'd been younger than her age in certain ways, he should have been able to see her potential; but, for a man of science, Mr. Tesla had been oddly conservative about women and frustratingly blind."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Close Encounters of the Paper Kind

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting near the bandshell in Central Park, reading.

A woman, who'd just walked her dog past my bench, called out "is that good?" I looked up. She was calling to me. Even while walking along the Mall, she'd been able to read the large gold letters on the spine. The book was one she'd been hearing about (it was Kate Atkinson's Life After Life) and she was glad for the opportunity of speaking with someone who was already midway through it.

We talked for a while before she moved on. She was happily excited at the prospect of buying the book later that day. And me, well I felt some satisfaction in being able to support a writer whose work I both enjoy and admire.

Have you ever stopped to speak with someone this way? Did you ever see someone immersed in a book you never heard of and taken the time to jot down (or make a mental note of) the title?

It's a bit of serendipity that won't be around much longer. I don't know about you, but I'm going to miss it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

I'm Calling About Reducing Your Power Bill (postscript)

Follow-up to yesterday's post:

I've just had yet another call claiming to help the consumer save (very specific, this one) "7% of your energy bill." Again referencing the amazing government program, the tape also stated this company was reaching out to "all customers of Con Edison."

It was irresistible. So I pressed '5' to speak with an operator.  Oh, happy day! The tape informed me that all calls would be monitored for quality assurance and training purposes!

  • The operator "Keith Andrews" spoke with a decided Indian accent. 

I should make an aside here to note that I'm aware how standard this practice is. I once worked for a company with a large offshore division. Our Mumbai client-facing team members were each assigned an "American" name. It's meant to deflect the known consumer resistance to offshore call centers. 

  • Anyway, "Keith" immediately asked the name of my utility company. I did my best dingbat and said "don't you know? You just said this call was for customers of Con Edison."  We had a jolly little circular conversation in this manner for almost a minute.

  • Finally, I said: "Wait, I'm confused. Are you from Con Edison?"

  • He explained that he was from Kiwi Energy.  I even had him spell the name, to make sure I had it right.

  • I asked if he was from New Zealand, a very poor joke that he didn't get.  He reassured me, "No, Kiwi Energy, right here in Brooklyn."

  • I acted confused again and said "I still don't understand, what does this have to do with Con Edison?"

At that point, the line went dead.

Naturally I did a search. Indeed there is a company called Kiwi Energy. They are not a service organization nor are they in Brooklyn. According to their website, Kiwi Energy is "a private oil & natural gas exploration and development company located in Houston, Texas."

So the scammers are too lazy to even set up a proper shell company of their own! Not only do they want to steal your identity, they've already stolen a corporate identity in order to do it!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I'm Calling About Reducing Your Power Bill

It's evening, a prime time for fundraisers, pollsters and scams, and the phone rings. This isn't the phone I use for business, and none of my family or friends call at this time of day, but I still answer pleasantly—you never know when it might be a real call.
  • A hesitant female voice says "Hello. Is this Miss Bear-honn?"
okay, it's not a real call, but I keep a cheerful tone 
  • "And who is this?"
  • "This is Angel from (carefully mumbled unmemorable corporate name). We're calling to help you reduce your power bill."
ahhh; one of those calls.  Yes, of course this number is on the "do not call" list, but people who are running a personal information collection scam are hardly going to worry about violating a polite little constraint like that.
It was originally the occasional automated call, the kind where you have to press 1 to speak with a person. At first I hoped they'd stop calling if I just kept hanging up; but after the first half dozen, I started pressing 1. I would immediately be asked if I had my utility bill handy. Whatever I said next—including "why?"—was never on the call script, so whoever it was would immediately hang up.
I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty damned sick of this and there doesn't seem to be a damned thing anyone can do to stop them. So since they've dropped the recordings and gone straight to human cold-callers, I've been trying a different approach: 
  • "I see. And how did you get my number?"
  • (hesitantly; this is not on the call script) "From the power company."
  • (with apparently genuine, friendly interest; sometimes the old acting chops come in handy) "I'm afraid that's impossible. The power company doesn't have this phone number. So how did you get my number?"
  • (groping now) "From the (mumble mumble) department of my company."
  • (still friendly and curious) "Really? How did they get this number?"
  • (increasingly nervous) "From the power company."
  • (puzzled) "But I've just explained, that's not possible. This phone number is not connected with any power company accounts." (a little less friendly) I'd really like to know how your company got this phone number."
  • (fumbling for words) "I'm sorry to have disturbed you..."
  • "No, no. I understand. You're in a call center, probably halfway across the world, and you were given this number." (that last bit was based on an observation of her accent; note that I've heard a number of national and US regional accents on these calls.) Would you have a supervisor that I can speak to?" 
I've now allowed a bit of steel to slip into my own voice. When she replies, her voice is muffled, as if her head has turned away from the mouthpiece. Is she looking around the room in panic?? 
  • "I'll have to call you back tomorrow, Miss..."
  • (I employ the cool, "not so fast, buster" voice) "No. I would like to speak with someone right this minute. May I speak with your supervisor, please?"
  • "I'm sorry to have disturbed you Miss.
And she hangs up.
Do I feel just a little bad for the timid young woman at the other end of the call? She is, presumably, only trying to make a living. Maybe she's so naive that she doesn't understand her employers are crooks. Maybe, for one miserable reason or another, she can't afford to care. 

My hunch is that she is being exploited, but so are the thousands of people who fall for the con and volunteer their personal information. I'm assuming there are thousands of them, because what used to be an occasional nuisance call has now become an almost weekly occurrence. It's got to be pretty damned lucrative for the number of companies trying this con to have escalated to such an extent.

Con artists and scams are nothing new in human history, but 21st century technology has made them more virulent. That can be said of all the ways in which humans traditionally prey on one another. Seems as though the more technology we create, the less civilized we become.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Like reality tv, only real-er

Telenovela playing out on the subway today.

By the time I board, a family beach outing has already gone sour (never figured out why) and the whole car has to bear witness for the next nine stops. Mom is shrieking (in alternating English and Spanish) at teen-aged son Aidan, who is sitting across from her. Aidan, earphones plugged in, is high as a kite and swigging beer from a supermarket water bottle.

The main burden of Mom's screaming is that whatever-it-is IS ENOUGH, and she wants him OFF THE TRAIN!  At every station, she "threatens" that she's getting off RIGHT NOW and he'd BETTER come with her. He mumbles stubbornly "I'm goin' to the beach" and slouches into his seat. Ashley (cutoffs, giant shades and purple dandelion shoulder ink) stands between her Mom and bro' and switches sides in the argument approximately every five minutes. When Aidan spills booze on the passenger sitting next to him and the woman presumes to complain, both Mom and Ashley gang up on HER.

Will Mom stop threatening and haul ass off the train? If so, will Aidan go with her or stay put? Whose side is Ashley really on? And what of the beer-sprayed bystander??

Monday, May 13, 2013

Music of the Spheres?

Every now and then, something is so perfectly, almost painfully, beautiful that it makes me want to simultaneously laugh and cry. This soul-lifting piece of art, for example, which is being described as the first music video made in space. David Bowie's Space Oddity – recorded "on location" at the International Space Station by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

What an amazing gift to those of us who can only dream of touching the stars.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Writer is In The House

During a previous incarnation as an actor, I was privileged to study with the inspirational Nikos Psacharopoulos. Possibly the greatest compliment Nikos would pay to an actor was to say that he or she was "watchable." This didn't necessarily mean that you'd brought the character to life or had gotten to the root of the scene. It did mean that, whatever you were doing, you'd committed to it entirely and made it so interesting that the audience simply couldn't tear their attention away from you. Unlike the numerous, richly-varied techniques that artists can draw on to enrich and sustain their work, "watchable" can't be taught; it's innate.

For me, when something is "watchable," I suspend all other judgement of the piece, because I'm just so happy to be that interested. I find François Ozon an enormously "watchable" filmmaker. I remember walking out of 8 Women, completely bemused but delighted, thinking "I'm not sure why, but there's something about this film..." I still can't express "why," but Ozon continues to engage me in that way. So, during a flying visit through Paris in October, I was ecstatic to see the kiosk ads for his new film.

I finally got to see Dans La Maison in NY, just the other day. As anticipated, it's absolutely "watchable." As an extra bonus for a writer, it's Ozon mapping the cellular structure of the artistic mind.

Take a look at the trailer for the US release. You can view it at the website of the Washington Post (see YouTube for other release versions). It looks like a thriller, doesn't it? You wonder: is the boy a stalker? a serial killer? Whose lives will be destroyed?

This is the same kind of thing that Ozon did with Swimming Pool. Well, not remotely the same plotline; but exploring the idea that the process of creating a story is as treacherous as a planned crime and that the artist and those whose worlds touch on his/hers are vulnerable to the fallout of that process.

On the day that I went to see Dans La Maison, it was pouring in NY. Sheets of water in half-hour bursts, alternating with lesser torrents that soaked through rain gear and spilled off the edges of umbrellas, soaking whatever lay beneath. The streets were flooded ankle deep, so that litter was drawn along by currents. I walked 2 miles from my dentist appointment to the cinema, stripped off my raincoat and kicked off my sodden mocassins. From the knee down, my jeans were plastered to my legs. While immersed in Ozon's world, I forgot all about this.

No super-heroes, no chase scenes, and the only explosions being of the kind we all experience with the changes in our lives. 105 minutes later, it was a rude surprise to return and have to shrug back into my soggy gear and face my own world. All this from a story about writing. "Watchable" is only part of it.

[side note: 20th Century Fox made a big mistake by not thinking outside the box and handing over the remake of Fantastic Voyage to Ozon. The "patient" would probably have ended up being a writer, or maybe a filmmaker, and the story would be twice as fascinating as whatever love story James Cameron is imposing on Shawn Levy.]

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Covetable Copy (3)

As a writer, I love this line. I also love it as an actor; spoken, it would be a gorgeous retort in a clever patch of repartee.

"He didn't have to be about love; he was a man, not a novel."
John Crowley, Solitudes (part 1 of the Ægypt cycle)

But however much I enjoy it, it nags at me because I've already published one book that isn't "about love" and have a couple more in the works. Well, there's a lot of love in my books, but they're not "love stories." Does that count, or does that mean that my stories shouldn't be classified as novels? This is the kind of thought-worm that wriggles into a writer's mind in moments of self-doubt.

The writer who said this does have love stories in his books. Novels. Other than that, his novels defy definition.

Once upon a time, I stumbled onto a copy of Little Big at Forbidden Planet. It was irresistible: a fat book with a lavender cover, at a science fiction bookstore. My "acquire" alarm started ringing wildly; I had to buy it. And once I read it, I was hooked on John Crowley.

I'm not going to pretend I always understand him. I've read all of the Ægypt cycle, slowly and with my full attention, but some bits were opaque to me. There were also some things that I lost track of, but this had probably do to with the long gaps between my reading the four volumes (and would probably be rectified by a re-reading splurge, someday, when I get through my own writerly undertaking and once again have time). Despite this, there is an atmosphere of Ægypt that clings to me.

Crowley excels in atmosphere. One is enveloped in his worlds. It doesn't matter if it's the world of John Dee or Giordano Bruno, or the more immediately familiar American homefront of World War 2 (in what is probably his book most likely to appeal to those of you who prefer their fiction "real," the The Four Freedoms). Reading Crowley is an immersive experience from which one surfaces in a kind of daze.  To read in that way, you have to trust the writer. I do trust Crowley. And in trusting an artist who is unique, I give myself the confidence, for better or worse, to trust myself.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sassy, Sexy Words

I'm sensitive to language the way that some people are sensitive to the use of herbs and spices. There are certain words that, when used in certain contexts, make me want to spit.

This isn't at all unusual. If people weren't known to be sensitive to certain words, there wouldn't be poetry...or the Marketing industry. What seemingly sets me apart is that many of the words or phrases that common wisdom categorizes as appealing (if you can gauge common wisdom based on ubiquity) are the same ones that make me cringe.

A case in point: "the biggest selling XXX in America." Watch television for two prime-time hours and you'll know that every advertising agency in the US would take that phrase to the bank. Obviously their clients don't need my money. All that "the biggest selling..." tells me is that a lot of people bought it. It doesn't tell me why. Is it the best constructed or the best tasting? Does it last the longest or give the greatest value? This is what I think of as a lemming pitch: buy it because everyone else does. Well, with apologies to your mom for borrowing her maxim, if everyone else was jumping off the roof, would you? So this pitch is never going to make me want to buy something. On the contrary; because I like to think of myself as apart from the herd, a pitch like this will make me put that product on a list of items to avoid like the plague.

This reverse-reaction is the main symptom of my buzz-word allergy. For example:

  • Advertise a book or film or television show as "sassy," "saucy" or "sexy" and I know to avoid it.
  • On stage or on screen, I will never willingly see a "romp."
  • I think nothing should be "buttery" except for things that are cooked with butter.
  • Food products that are "fresh" or "hot" are enticing. To hear fashion, ideas, or celebrities described as either makes my skin crawl.  And "trendy" (in any context) makes me gag.

I wonder if I'm losing out on some great products because of my reaction to the pitch language. Or maybe these products are really not for me, and this advertising is pitch perfect. Either way, it sometimes makes me feel a little lonely.

PS: I am also allergic to cats. Literally. But the endless "cute cat" meme on the internet is gradually turning this into a figurative allergy as well.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Covetable Copy (2)

I thought it was about time that I pay tribute to the writing of Anne Sexton.
"Depression is boring, I think, and I would do better to make some soup and light up the cave"  Anne Sexton, The Fury of Rain Storms
Seeing as I drew the name of my blog from this quote, I obviously consider it to be covetable copy. Like other Sexton phrases that stick in my brain, it declares darkness with a flippant shrug. It's an almost Chekhovian line. I have a particular love and envy of writing that has that Janus face of comic and tragic.  

My favorite Sexton collection is probably Transformations, her retelling of a cluster of classic fairy tales. Written years before Sondheim and Lapine began Into the WoodsSexton's take on these stories is both darker and funnier than theirs and, oddly, more contemporary. With fairy tales trending so strongly right now, I'm hopeful that Sexton's work will be discovered by a new generation of readers.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Covetable Copy

Sometimes I come across a piece of writing I wish were mine! A recent Facebook wall exchange with a friend reminded me of this brief meditation on branding from William Gibson's Pattern Recognition (2003): 
"simulacra of simulacra of simulacra. A dilute tincture of Ralph Lauren, who had himself diluted the glory days of Brooks Brothers, who themselves had stepped on the product of Jermyn Street and Savile Row ... There must be some Tommy Hilfiger event horizon, beyond which it is impossible to be more derivative, more removed from the source, more devoid of soul."

Speculative fiction novelist William Gibson is best known for his often eerily prophetic cyberpunk works. Pattern Recognition (2003), together with Spook Country (2007) and Zero History (2010)
make up what is now considered to his Blue Ant Trilogy and, unlike much of his other fiction, looks no further than the day after tomorrow. In these three books, Gibson looks no further than the day after tomorrow, which he views through a prism of present hindsight that enables him to provide an almost retrospective examination of the first Public Generation. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dystopian Present #001

Close the gun show loophole!  We require background checks for those who care for our children, why not for those who want to kill them?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Out of the Zeitgeist - Publishing Edition

For my entire life, I've had a problem with zeitgeist. It's not like I've made an effort to do this. Life, especially childhood and youth,  would have been a whole lot easier to be "one of us"—of any "us." It's not that I don't want to walk to the same drum, it's that I can't even hear the beat.

Case in point: today's NY Times Book Review best seller lists. I read a lot. So you'd figure if there was any place I had a chance to align with the zeitgeist, this might be it.

Well, I went through this week's Fiction best sellers. Of the individual titles represented (regardless of format; some are selling loads in several), here's how I map:
  • read/purchased   6/58
  • vaguely interested in 6/58
  • would rather read a laxative label  46/58
    (since the majority of books on these lists are genre fiction, you may be getting ready to make a snarky comment about elitism. Oh? Of the last 20 books I read, 13 were scifi, fantasy and/or mystery. I just don't want to read any of these.) 

Seeing that this is where I stand as a reader explains a lot about me as a writer, doesn't it?