shaken & stirred

welcome to my martini glass


one last thing

Good week for the NYT -- the Magazine has a great piece on Susanna Clarke and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. And it quotes Ms. Link, which is never a bad thing. (Via Beatrice.)

Now, good night for real.

UPDATE: The atom feed is sort of working again, as much as it ever has.

i got your sock monkey right here

Teller reviews Penn's novel Sock in the New York Times Book Review. Yay! (Now if only Teller would publish the wonderful travel diaries he's kept about some of their trips.)

There's another reason not to trust me: I'm biased. But do you really want an unbiased review? An impersonal report that weighs a work of art on antiseptic scales in units of cosmic goodness? Of course not. That's no fun. You want to learn the bias of a hotheaded reviewer and read him in that light. Since I've chosen Penn as my lifelong artistic partner, my prejudices should be obvious. I can't react impartially to Penn's newborn baby. I see in its fierce little eyes all the traits I know in its father.

It's the little things.

Let a day that began with a sigh close with a happy one. (Also, Mark Costello, who wrote the brilliant Big If reviews a new book about gangsters in the 1930s. Life is good.)

a days long day

There was only one minor altercation at the Urgent Treatment Center -- a record low -- involving a large woman sporting a plastic showercap's confusion over whether she was supposed to write "wife" or "self" as person being treated. Her husband left just before and came back just after, obviously having learned to time this perfectly through years of practice.

It's likely strep or some other bacterial party going on in the throat. I have antibiotics and a terrible malaise. Our A/C went out while I slept the afternoon away (oh, the joys of old apartments with character), it has rained hard enough to make Noah happy on and off all day, and no one's (much) updating their blogs! There was frenetic shoe-shopping, mostly to the benefit of Mr. Rowe, though I guess I did get one hot little pair of strappy sandles, and also magazine shopping, my crack du sickness. (Pindeldyboz, F & SF, Uncut and the new Believer -- when I'm sick I have no self control.)

Anyway, the site feed is apparently not working right for some... My own feedreader shows no posts here since Bird Day, three days ago, and the LiveJournal feed's stuck there too. I've attempted to report this to Blogger, but of course, their help interface is broken, i.e. does not work at fucking all, and there's no other way to contact them. If anyone has a secret email address, mission, or knowledge of how to fix this, please write. I finally replaced IE with Mozilla Firefox though, and that is a happy, happy thing.

We went to see The Village. More on that later.

Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times Book Review, has responded to Mark's open letter of last week. It's both a nice and measured response and a great indication of how much a part of the conversation blogs have become. All to the good.

The WP had a round-up of summer mysteries today, starting off with a sentence with an offhand clause proclaming detective fiction "our nation's greatest homegrown literary genre," and a look at the popular trend of street lit.

Now, I'm going to bed, on top of the covers with citronella candles blazing in the open windows, and finish You Remind Me of Me. I don't want to say anything about it until I finish it because I'm absolutely unsure how I feel about it at this point and what happens in the last hundred pages or so will greatly impact my final impression. I think.

Hope your throat feels better than mine.

worm "It's a Hit," Rilo Kiley (want whole album now please!)

namecheck Mark "Watchdog" Sarvas


I don't think I have to go into anymore detail than to say that it's before eight in the morning on a Saturday and I'm drinking Gypsy Lemon-Echinacea Throat Coat tea. Overnight, the sore throat I've been in denial about all week decided to set up shop, apparently opening little drink umbrellas inside my throat and sticking them into my tonsils.

Nothing like a weekend visit to that cradle of humanity, the urgent treatment center.


A writer on one of the screenwriting list-servs I'm on is looking for a story called "The True Meaning of the Faust Legend." He read it in a best of antho, he thinks, in the '70s, and doesn't remember the writer. Ring a bell with any of you erudite sorts?

Unrelated to any of this, is the fact that Alan DeNiro is a funny mo-fo. He's created my favorite Cultural Index so far, with only 26 questions, but good ones. "Tennis or Vicks Vaporub," "Tax relief or Billy Collins," "Centralia, Pennsylvania or I'm OK, You're OK," "alchemy or Arby's." They're all great. Go look.

worm "Hunting Tigers," The Bonzo Family Dog Band

namecheck Jim "Searcher" Foley


kind souls

Thank you to whoever made a Livejournal Feed for Shaken & Stirred. You're my favorite.

These aggregator services are absolutely as addictive as it gets, but they also save time. Wish I'd figured this stuff out months ago.

The BBC News has a story on the marketing of summer books. Pretty covers, people, it's all about placement and pretty covers.

And the NYTimes has a piece on blogging hoaxes, like the delicious Bill Clinton blog awhile back. (Via Moorish Girl.)

Now I think I really do have to do some work.

worm "Get Right With God," Lucinda Williams

namecheck Ted "How About that M. Night?" Chiang


BBC News takes a look at the initial critical reactions to The Fellowship of the Ring, published 50 years ago, and how Tolkien's little books went on to do quite well for themselves despite some unkind notices. There's actually some other fairly interesting stuff in the article about the fact that the line between adult's and children's fiction is increasingly being blurred, by writers like Mark Haddon and the omnipresent if not potent JK Rowling.

"Yet for myself, I could not resist feeling a certain disappointment. Perhaps this was partly due to the style, which is quite unequal to the theme, alternating between the popular novel and the boy's adventure story." - Edwin Muir writing in The Observer

Mumpsimus Cultural Concurrence Index

Here's my answers on the Mumpsimus Cultural Concurrence Index (another mutation of Terry's monster). I think the value of these (besides it's fun to fill them out) isn't necessarily in telling how closely my taste will mirror Matthew Cheney's or Terry's -- because in real life, I don't have to choose between two things. I can like both. Sometimes I can like both equally. And it's likely that I'd enjoy most anything they strongly recommend, or at the very least, that their explanations of why it's worth checking out would tell me whether I'd actually like it or not. Remembering, I was 73 percent on the TTCCI. And again, not that many on here I'd fight to death for, but this is an exercise in better or worse, one or two, right? A fitting way to end the week I started with an eye exam.

Anyway, let's go.

1. Isaac Asimov or Robert A. Heinlein
2. Stanley Kubrick or Steven Spielberg
3. Bach or Mozart
4. Ubik or Valis
5. Mieville or Tolkien
6. van Gogh or Monet
7. John Clute or Paul di Filippo
8. Edward Albee or Arthur Miller
9. Ani DiFranco or Alanis Morissette
10. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" or "Friends"
11. The Nation or The New Republic
12. Truffaut or Godard
13. Peter Straub or Stephen King
14. Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman
15. Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet or Asimov's
16. Bartok or Schoenberg
17. Brazil or Blade Runner
18. Aristotle or Plato
19. E.E. Cummings or Ezra Pound
20. "Mork & Mindy" or Mrs. Doubtfire
21. Talking Heads or The Police
22. John Gielgud or Laurence Olivier
23. Anton Chekhov or Ivan Turgenev
24. cats or dogs
25. Thomas Pynchon or Arthur C. Clarke
26. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Adaptation
27. vegetarian or carnivore
28. Max Ernst or Jackson Pollock
29. The October Country or Dandelion Wine
30. Philip Glass or Yanni (C'mon, who's going to choose Yanni?)
31. Texas Chainsaw Massacre original or remake
32. Samuel Beckett or Neil Simon
33. Faulkner or Hemingway
34. Bakunin or Marx
35. Adrienne Rich or Robert Bly
36. Duck Soup or A Night at the Opera
37. R.A. Lafferty or Connie Willis
38. Hawthorne or Melville
39. Tom Lehrer or The Capitol Steps
40. Susan Sontag or Harold Bloom
41. NPR or CBS
42. Gomez or Wilco
43. Samuel R. Delany or David Foster Wallace
44. Mac or PC
45. Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera
46. In the Bedroom or A Beautiful Mind (But really, neither!)
47. David Sedaris or Garrison Keillor
48. Ursula LeGuin or Charles DeLint
49. Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert
50. Paul Celan or Pablo Neruda
51. The 1960s or The 1940s
52. Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen
53. Philip Pullman or J.K. Rowling
54. Basho or Jack Kerouac
55. Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber
56. Frank O'Hara or John Ashbery
57. Paul Bowles or Graham Greene
58. Schubert or Schumann
59. Dostoyevsky or Dickens
60. Orson Welles or John Ford (Tough.)
61. August Strindberg or Eugene O'Neil
62. Keaton or Chaplin
63. The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction or Galaxy
64. Short novels or long novels
65. Castle in the Sky or Princess Mononoke
66. Patricia Highsmith or Jim Thompson
67. David Lynch or Spike Jonze
68. William Gaddis or Saul Bellow
69. Bob Dylan or The Grateful Dead
70. Nebulas or Hugos
71. Fence or The Gettysburg Review
72. Jonathan Lethem or Dave Eggers
73. Toni Morrison or John Steinbeck
74. They Might Be Giants or Phish
75. Philip K. Dick or Frank Herbert
76. Sylvia Plath or Robert Lowell
77. coffee or tea (and coffee)
78. Rear Window or Vertigo
79. Rodgers & Hart or Rodgers & Hammerstein
80. Gore Vidal or Norman Mailer
81. tragedy or comedy
82. Angels in America or Rent
83. Swift or Pope
84. George Carlin or Howard Stern
85. Theodore Sturgeon or Hal Clement
86. Seven Samurai or Rashomon
87. Vladimir Nabokov or John Updike
88. Edward Whittemore or John LeCarre
89. Radiohead or The Cure
90. Goya or El Greco
91. Alice Munro or Raymond Carver
92. James Baldwin or Truman Capote
93. New York or Paris
94. J.M. Coetzee or Nadine Gordimer
95. H.P. Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard
95. Roald Dahl or Beverly Cleary
96. Annie Hall or Sleeper
97. Jello Biafra or Ralph Nader (But, really, neither at this point.)
98. Virginia Woolf or Arnold Bennett
99. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" or "The Wasteland"
100. Weird Tales or Amazing Stories

For a grand total of: 76 percent. Wow. Higher than it seemed when I was filling it out.

worm "Psycho Killer," The Talking Heads

namecheck Mandy "When Are You Coming Again?" Helton

you say july surprise, I say predictable ploy

It's looking more and more like they're gonna catch Osama two days before the election. From Howard Kurtz's media notes blog:

Earlier this month, the New Republic reported that the Bush administration was putting pressure on Pakistan to arrest some major-league terrorists before the November election.

In fact, the magazine quoted one unidentified Pakistani intelligence official as saying that a White House aide told the head of the spy agency last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT [High-Value Target] were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July." Those just happened to be the first three days of the Democratic convention.

Um, guess what?

The AP has reported Thursday afternoon that "Pakistan has arrested a Tanzanian al Qaeda suspect wanted by the United States in the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the interior minister said Friday. He said the suspect was cooperating and had given authorities 'very valuable' information."

And, of course, the kicker's that they captured him Sunday and held it until Thursday. Draw your own conclusions.

Hey, when were those gas prices meant to go down again?

worm "Ukelele Lady," Betty Pooka

namecheck Michaelangelo "Sonic" Matos

friday morning varietals

Writing group survived, practically painless and always helpful. We love our writing group.

I thought Kerry nailed it, unexpectedly, hit it out of the park, etc. et. al. I didn't mind the fact it was a little bit rushed (though I do agree that it's bullshit that a presidential candidate has to worry about the networks cutting away from him) -- I hate when every other sentence is interrupted by applause. I don't think Lincoln or many other great speech givers had to cope with that rhythm. Plus, it reminds me of a former life, and having to count those applause breaks. Go over to the Bloggers at the DNC aggregator and see what they had to think. I've not followed any of the pol blogs at all, except Slate and the Washington Post, but I'm going to poke around there later.

Later on today I also plan on taking the Mumpsimus Cultural Concurrence Index, as should you.

Jed Hartman, one of the editors of Strange Horizons (you're reading it every week, right?), left my favorite comment ever yesterday on the YA list entry, so I'm once again bumping him to the front page. It made me laugh.

So apparently one way to get on Gwenda's book list is to start your title with a pronoun, tack on a verb, and end it with "the Castle." Proposed future additions to the list:

They Became the Castle

You Wander Around the Castle

She Blew Up the Castle

Y'all Better Steer Clear of the Castle

...Agreed that the notion of a film version of the Jackson book is a kinda scary idea. I'm thinkin' buckets of blood, a chainsaw murderer, and a climactic scene in which a giant magical whirlwind appears and sweeps all the surviving characters off to hell. Merricat will be played by one of the stars of _I Know What You Did Last Summer_ and will wear less and less clothing as the movie goes on.

--jed, who has thus far successfully avoided both movies of _The Haunting of Hill House_

Y'all Better Steer Clear of the Castle is priceless.

And, for now, I'm going to leave you with more Eduardo Galeano. I'll probably throw up something over at HydraCentral later today, too, but probably not more Galeano, so lucky you. This one seems appropriate as an end to the DNC and is also from THE BOOK OF EMBRACES.


They didn't succeed in turning us into them," Cacho El Kadri wrote to me.

It was in the last days of the military dictatorship of Uruguay. We had eaten fear for breakfast, fear for lunch and for dinner, fear. But they had not succeeded in turning us into them.

worm "Comfortably Numb," Scissor Sisters

namecheck George the Dog


almost better than the real thing

Robert Birnbaum (no doubt assisted by Rosie the Dog) has an excellent chat with Zoe Heller, which almost makes up for the fact that we're missing her and free wine tonight for our weekly writing group meeting. I've got four chapters on the block. Too bad there's no free wine at our meeting place.

running away with the circus

Or not. Newsday interviews writer Cathy Day about her new collection of linked short stories, "The Circus in Winter." (Very high on the Shaken & Stirred TBR List.)

The author of the debut story collection grew up in Peru, Ind., home to the off-season quarters of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. "This was the town," she says, "where the circus went to take off its makeup and just be normal people for a couple of months."

Though the grounds were razed in the 1940s, circus history lives on in Peru. As a kid, Day heard stories of her great-great-uncle's violent death at the trunk of his elephant, Big Charlie. She grew up next door to the world famous trapeze-artist family, the Hodginis. W.W. Wilno, a former human cannonball, lived down the street. And today, every summer, an amateur kids' troupe performs feats of daring in a former livery stable, one of the few circus buildings that remain.

Color me jealous. We rarely even got the no-ring circus when it was traveling, more just the scary, rickety carnivals. And that was a big deal. Maybe I'll do a list of favorite circus books next?

In the meantime, check out this story about a guy who wrote a pre-death notice in his local paper.

Diagnosed in May with liver cancer, Clark, 78, asked The Tribune to publish a notice that invited family and friends to call or visit him to reminisce before he died. His story was published July 10 in The Tribune.

After the story ran, floods of people wrote, called and visited Clark, according to his eldest child of six, Collette Villines, of Compton, Ark.

Oddly social, but I like it. R.I.P.

worm "Southwood Plantation Road," The Mountain Goats

namecheck That Girl I Used to Know Who Was Crazy and Ran Away With the Circus For Real

the end is nigh

what she said, did, thought

I?ve been thinking lately about my favorite female narrators in young adult novels. (Not least because of the book I?m finishing.) That?s a pretty large category, so I?ve narrowed it in scope to the narrators with the strongest voices, and whose voices are tinged with smart cynicism, wry depression, or that indefinable, riveting quality I can only think to call knowing. These are the six I like best, and interestingly enough only one of them (I believe) was originally published as book for young adults, but they all certainly meet my definition of what a good YA novel is. (Which is just a subset of good novels; in fact, teenagers are tougher than tough audiences and good YA novels must, of course, be good novels foremost.) I'm just loving lists lately, so let's have it, in no particular order.

1. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith. It has one of the best first lines ever: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink." How much does that tell you about the character right off the bat? Not that much, but it gives you an exquisite sense of Cassandra, romantic and sharp-eyed and funny as hell. Here's a Guardian piece about the book from last year. The thing I love most about this book is Cassandra's voice; Smith had absolute control over it, and it's pitch perfect. I'm still bitter that I didn't discover this book until several years ago, when it came back into print and Kelly sent it as a birthday present. I have no doubt it would have been my favorite book in the whole world when I was twelve or fourteen. It's not that far down the list now.

2. THE BASIC EIGHT by Daniel Handler. Another marvel of voice and authorial command over it -- which is Handler's greatest strength, to me, and why A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS works so well, and why WATCH YOUR MOUTH ditto. THE BASIC EIGHT is a tart treat of a book, a well-crafted murder mystery(esque), with Flan's unique flourishes such as quizzes at the end of the chapters. I enjoy the hell out of this book, not least for its spot-on rendering of a certain kind of really intelligent, possibly pretentious teenager who likes to party. You can read the first chapter here. The book starts off with a priceless quote from a faux book within the book: "One of the reasons the teenage years are so agonizing is that in most societies, particularly ours, the adolescent is emotionally neither fish nor fowl."

3. LIKE THE RED PANDA by Andrea Seigel. Yeah, yeah, so I just read it. But this really is the teenage girl's (even the grown-up ones) CATCHER-IN-THE-RYE only better in many ways and Stella's not so obnoxious and cringe-inducing a character to read after the age of 17. And this is the book that started me thinking about this little list in the first place. Seigel perfectly captures the syntax and the synapse workings of Stella and, again, renders a voice that is fully developed as only, only, only belonging to this particular narrator but still speaking to many aspects of life in general and life in high school. So, read it. And go over to her blog and read the first chapter of her second book, which she just put up a couple of days ago.

4. GHOST WORLD by Daniel Clowes. This one really is cheating a bit (don't you think I know that?), because the narrator isn't either of the two main characters. But you have to love Enid, right? So it counts. And this book hits that bizarre dynamic between high school girls who are "best friends" and what happens when it gets ugly and falls apart. (Seigel's book also captures this dynamic, but sideways from Stella's own journey.)

5. MISSING ANGEL JUAN by Francesca Lia Block. It's probably not cool to like these anymore and if that bothered me then we'd be in trouble. But it doesn't, so we're not. The Weetzie Bat books will always hold a special place in my heart, for just being themselves, and for the time in my life when I discovered them. MISSING ANGEL JUAN is the most mature of them, the most heartbreaking and funny, and I think I like it best in no small part because it takes one of the Weetzie Bat tribe, in this case Witch Baby (who's my favorite of the characters because she has spiderweb cowboy boot roller skates and I also happen to have spiderweb cowboy boots -- and wish they were roller skates), and drops her into a realer place where she has to cope on her own (well, and with a ghost's help). Block can do some pretty remarkable things with language, things I wouldn't want to read all the time, but appreciate greatly every now and then. And Witch Baby is a great character, with her obsessive nature rendered through her camera lens and her collection of horrible news clippings.

6. WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson. This list was only supposed to be five, but this was as close as I could get it. Shirley Jackson, how do I love thee? And how do I love this book? Merricat is a divine narrator, so clever and naive and arch all at the same time. Not to mention unhinged. This book is one of the most masterfully taut short novels I've ever read and it's in no small part due to Merricat's narration. I don't think I have to sell anyone on a Jackson novel, so I'll knock it off. If you haven't read this, you're missing out. It's a beautiful dark novel. And apparently, a film version's in development at Dreamworks, which scares me a little. Andy Duncan told me about Jackson's nonfiction book THE WITCHCRAFT OF SALEM VILLAGE earlier this year and this reminds me to seek it out. (Searching for Andy's website, I found a fantastic interview with him, so expect an Andy Duncan bon mot post soon.) You can read this in an afternoon and have no excuse for not doing so.

And well, list! Item! Complete! Thoughts? Your own recommendations or conspiracy theories? Any guess who barely missed the cut?

worm "I Don't Blame You," Cat Power

namecheck Alan "Googlemeister" DeNiro


Very busy today and so I offer up one of my favorite poems.

Training for the Apocalypse

Consider the will to love
as the decision to survive.
That's how the agents of Eros operate.
They sneak into your dreams
just before the world ends.

--Gloria Frym

(Gloria Frym has a book of short stories -- must procure!)

worm "Ode to Billie Joe," Bobbie Gentry

namecheck Toni "Yay!" Causey


wild backyard kingdom

It was quite a traumatic morning here at Casa Bond/Rowe. We'd given up trying to get rid of the birds, since all the research I managed to dig up said waiting it out was the only real option, and started admiring them.

When we got home last night, there were three cats stalking the backyard and being dive-bombed -- one white, one black and one gray. The white cat would not be persuaded to leave until she felt like it, no matter how close the giant mother bird of doom got to her. It wasn't personal to George, the birds were obviously protecting a nest somewhere, protecting a huge perimeter around our house in an impressive way if you ignored the annoyance.

This morning, however, I decided it'd be okay to let George out the back for his morning constitutional while Christopher was showering. We'd overslept, but not too badly. The birds immediately attacked, several of them, and for the first time: George noticed. He trotted back toward the door, but he had something in his mouth. I couldn't see, because it was completely tucked inside, but I knew what it was.

I did what I always do in these situations, I freaked out. Poor George, instinctually burdened with hundreds of years of breeding that tells him this is the kind of thing one gets a big reward for (bringing a dead bird proudly into the house). So, I shut the door on his tail-waggingness, the birds not quite able to get so close to him because he was sheltered from them somewhat. I force Christopher from the shower and he goes outside to have a word with George and, yes, it's a baby bird.

Now, George didn't kill this bird. There wasn't time or violence. It was those cats. We think there are still babies left, possibly moved around to the front of the house (that should be safer). We're pretty sure these birds are ground nesters, which is going to create problems when the yard gets mowed. They are a crack team, I'll give them that, they followed us out the front when we let George out a second time and trailed us to the car. The mother bird flew down to the dead bird as we were leaving to get Christopher to work. All very distressing. I didn't see or hear them at all when I came back, or when I left to go to work myself. I'm pulling for them now though, hoping they can manage to defend whatever offspring are left from those self-satisfied cats.

Reading through the WP Style section this morning, I happened on Choire Sicha's review of Between Two Rivers by Nicholas Rinaldi, where he namechecks the fantastic Joy Williams. This made me want to seek out some Joy Williams on the intarweb -- there's remarkably, sadly little actually -- and I found her wonderfully acid Granta essay, "The Case Against Babies", about obviously enough why we don't need anymore babies (and including a rant on Cabbage Patch babies).

Babies, babies, babies. There's a plague of babies. Too many rabbits or elephants or mustangs or swans brings out the myxomatosis, the culling guns, the sterility drugs, the scientific brigade of egg smashers. Other species can 'strain their environments' or 'overrun their range' or clash with their human 'neighbours', but human babies are always welcome at life's banquet. Welcome, Welcome, Welcome—Live Long and Consume!

I felt somehow better immediately. I'll leave you with a couple more lines that are perfect and beautiful, whether you agree with them or not.

Babies are one thing. Human beings are another. We have way too many human beings. Almost everyone knows this.

And if there weren't so damn many of us, those birds would have a safer place to nest. Period.

worm "Bam Thwok," The Pixies

namecheck Chris "Love Shack" Barzak


zines and things

Chris Barzak's got some excellent thoughts on zines in a post responding to another post by Chance Morrison elsewhere. Definitely read the comments, and take them all to heart, except for my rambling, shambling two-glasses-of-wine editorial vision for Say... (It's all true, but not as finely worded as it might have been.) The Mumpsimus has an examination of the back and forth if you just want a summary and some insightful commentary.

I would say more, but see aforementioned reference to wine and the fact that my bed is calling to me. The upstairs neighbor just came down to borrow our phone, making a .50 information call, I might add, so he could call his girlfriend who has apparently vacated the premises. They moved in about two weeks ago. He said he has a lot of anger and a key to his apartment. I guess that's right.

apocalyptic odds & ends

Remember, I'm putting my new Wonder Woman costume to good use this week over at Return of the Reluctant, where the Battle of the Guest Bloggers is heating up. Drop by and say hi, or email me nifty links.

In the meantime, sometimes a blob is just a blob and not the great cthulhu come to swallow us all, scientists say.

But now a team of six highly skilled, if somewhat whimsical biologists centered at the University of South Florida has applied DNA analysis to the blobs and, alas, solved the mystery. The answer is all too mundane: The blobs are old whale blubber.

"To our disappointment," the scientists wrote last month in The Biological Bulletin, "we have not found any evidence that any of the blobs are the remains of gigantic octopods, or sea monsters of unknown species."

Is being somewhat whimsical like being a little bit pregnant? Probably not. More like being a My Little Pony or a Porn Star (classic, if you haven't seen it, click).

Also, in trying to solve our bird problem this morning (apparently we're living with it for a few weeks), I happened upon this Cryptozoology message board. Hours of fun. The pelicans aren't acting quite right, if you know what I mean.

worm "It's a Hit," Rilo Kiley (it's definitely a worm)

namecheck Matthew "Good Taste in Short Fiction" Cheney


other locales & one lovely ARC

So, the inimitable Ed at Return of the Reluctant has somehow crossed the line between sane and un and invited me (and I'm guessing a few others) to guest blog while he takes care of business. Color me way more excited than anybody crammed into the politically correct sweathall in Boston right now. Please send any noteworthy literary or too-good-to-pass-up links via email to Gwenda007ATgmailDOTcom. And don't worry, I'll still be putting stuff up here. (I know you were worried.)

Justine, correspondent to the stars, has an ARC of her first published novel. She is beyond best. Go see. Pretty cover.

I started writing my first novel when I was five years old. I have no idea what it was about but I do remember spending considerable time trying to get the title right, though this had more to do with crayon colour than scansion.

I really, really want to start a "first thing I wrote" feature for Say... Wouldn't that be killer? Does anyone still have this stuff? (I do; "Life in the Year 2020.")

See you here and see you there. The brown birds with the white-striped wings are organizing an attack (yes, possibly encouraged by Jack White and Loretta Lynn) on our house. They've left the backyard and come after George the Dog in the post office parking lot. This means war.

worm "Jackson," Hem

namecheck Ed "You Probably Won't Be Reluctant This Time" Champion

please to help.

I know someone out there has to understand all this site syndication stuff. It is not the people who write blogger fact sheets about it, though, I'll tell you that.

After wrestling with the site feed settings for wayyyyy too long today, I've managed to enable an atom site feed for Shaken & Stirred. Which sounds all well and good, except when I tested it out in my newsreeder and looked at it over on the feed page, it drops all formatting and links out of the posts. The other feeds I'm subscribed to so far look pretty, with all their formatting and links intact. They also happen to be RSS feeds.

Because I was a Blogger Pro user, I can do an RSS feed instead if I want (though I couldn't quite figure it out and would need assistance with that too; only Blogger's Cry for Help system isn't taking messages at the moment), so if the answer is Atom just looks hideous and drops links, any guidance on setting up RSS instead is extrmely welcome. Really, any advice or commiseration is welcome, as always. Post in the comments or write me at Gwenda007ATgmailDOTcom. Thanks.

UPDATE: Of course, as soon as I said something, problem solved. This post looks fine in my newsreader. So, if anyone out there (Richard!) who uses a newsreader and adds the site could let me know if it looks fishy and formatless to you, that'd be great. Otherwise, I'm going to assume that it's just an issue with all the posts I put up before I enabled the feed. Yes, technology hard.

misc. with pupils

It turns out they do now have a machine that you just sit in front of and computizes your prescription. However, the evil part is that they still do the one and two, better or worse, even though the lady giving me my exam admitted that just going with the machine's readout would be fine and it wasn't really necessary to do all the torturous back and forth. Why do I always feel like such a failure when I can't read the bottom line? Or all the letters on the bottom line? Anyway, no more of that for two years now.

Unfortunately, this little jaunt led to a nearly blind and consequently very exciting drive home (thank g-d, it's overcast today), and home incarceration for the majority of the day. The vision is slowwwwwly returning. My pupils are bigger than they were in college on Saturday night.

N/C. No change. My prescription is the only place where this holds true.

If you want to know the real deal about Ken Jennings, look no further than this sinister and illuminating post in the comments of my Ken Jennings googlism entry. And I quote: Ken is a really smart man in his own right, and the shows producers only tell him the correct answers to 85% of the questions before the show is taped.

More here on the Nefarious Norma Khouri. (Thanks, Justine!)

The cinetrix posts about the role stuntmen and women could play in our lives. Sounds good to me.

Follow MJ Rose's virtual book tour at Sarah's and Mark's in support of her new book The Halo Effect.

CAAF's living the dream, with a giant rat kangaroo hybrid. Yay!

Yeah, maybe she's a little nuts and a lot rich, but Teresa Heinz Kerry is growing on me.

TdF wrap-up in today's WP. Someone somewhere in the world is rhyming Lance with France and underpants. Right now.

Gavin, you put in the opening bid on Slate, okay?

worm "Jessica Simpson," Adam Green

namecheck Stephen "Nice Guy" Policoff

fake aussie yanked

Sorry, I couldn't resist. Our Correspondent in Charge of All Things Australia, Justine, sends this Sydney Morning Herald article saying that Norma Khouri's Forbidden Love (what a title -- ewww) is being pulled from shelves in Australia by her publisher.

The Australian publishers of Norma Khouri's controversial book, Forbidden Love, have withdrawn the book from sale and advised booksellers to do the same.

Random House Australia said today the book would not be available for sale again until it had been assured by Ms Khouri that it was a true representation of her life and experiences.

Norma. Norma. Norma. I hope you had the foresight to create that phony identity for yourself. Time to build a new fictional history somewhere else. Au revoir!

I'm off to be dilated and have the fact that I'm nigh blind without my contact lenses shoved into my face. (Better or worse? A or B? Shouldn't there be a computer that just tells you what my prescription is by now?!) So, further posts today depend on how quickly I can see again.

In other news, The Birds is playing out in our backyard. Some mid-size brown mean little bastard bird has taken to chasing George back to the house. And when I say to the house, this thing flutters and beats right to our door, where I shepherd George in, slam and lock and peer fearfully out the blinds as it sits on the fence and beady-eyes me.

worm "Temper, Temper," Tuscadero

namecheck Richard "Web Bunny" Butner

we now interrupt again: happy birthday, happy birthday!

July is crazy birthday month and today it's Mr. Gavin Grant's! Happy birthday, Gavin, and welcome back from your world tour.

To observe Gavin's birthday, I direct you to his great story "Editing for Content" at SciFiction and the weird little gem "You and Me" at Strange Horizons. Or you could go read all those archived author interviews he did when he worked at Booksense (the Jonathan Carroll one is reprinted on JC's website here). Or his Joan Aiken interview at Strange Horizons. Or just speak with a Scottish accent all day.

Co` latha breith sona dhuibh!

worm "Happy Birthday," Concrete Blonde

namecheck Gavin "J" Grant


well, it's over

Le Tour, that is. Except for the extra-commentating by Tyler Hamilton on the recap of today's stage tonight, and the last edition of "The Lance Chronicles" and the last Crazy Jane Delicieux report. Oh, and the continuing trickle on the Armstrong/Simeoni dust-ups. Speaking of which, Jane was on rare form yesterday and I couldn't agree with her more.

The voices of Armstrong's detractors are louder than ever this season, but his answer to them has been this unstoppable performance. As far as I know, despite the fact that there seem to be about a gazillion people who would love to see him fail or fall from grace, Lance Armstrong has not been found guilty of anything more than being a serious hard ass. People, did you think that the six-time winner of the Tour de Frickin' France would be a fluffy little bunny who cares if you approve of his every move? It's not in his job description to be charming all the time, it's in his job description to win the Tour de France. I'd say he's taking care of business. Has anyone considered that the things that make him prickly are the very things that make him a 6 time superstud? Get over it, people! It's like criticizing Bono for being an egomaniac! Duh!

As for the de rigeur doping allegations, you can decide that he's dirty and secretive, or you could take him at his word. As someone who loves cycling, I am going to choose the later. If Lance Armstrong is dirty, it would be a crushing blow for this sport, especially in America. It would be a huge disappointment to all the people who look to him for hope and inspiration. For my part, I am going to go ahead and break out the benefit of the doubt until someone's got some proof, because that's the way we roll in America, and I think making allegations in the absence of proof is just irresponsible. I know, I know: I'm a fool, and it's impossible to win the tour without being doped to the eyeballs. I'm duped by my romantic imagination, and probably believe in the tooth fairy, too. So be it. I'd rather show a little faith than be cynical about it all. Lance Armstrong and his awesome teammates tore the road up today, and I really enjoyed it.

I never got to my Tour de France as epic post, but there's always next year. Alez, alez, alez!

worm "Life is But a Dream," Tanya Donnelly

namecheck Susan Marie "Great Sports Editorial" Groppi

michael dirda's tightrope

My personal favorite book critic, Michael Dirda, weighs in with his thoughts on the NEA study in today's WP. Dirda's a little bit of a Luddite (okay, he says he views the interweb as an invention of the Devil) and has a sweet pessimism that pervades his writing on topics such as this, but still, he's a great lover of books, sensitive to their larger meanings and importance and most of all: he cares. And it comes through in what he writes.

My favorite graph in this particular piece is this one, for the obvious reason:

A true literary work is one that makes us see the world or ourselves in a new way. Most writers accomplish this through an imaginative and original use of language, which is why literature has been defined as writing that needs to be read (at least) twice. Great books tend to feel strange. They leave us uncomfortable. They make us turn their pages slowly. We are left shaken and stirred.

Ahem. (Bolding mine.)

His basic argument throughout is that it's not the lack of reading by the American public that concerns him as much as what people are choosing to read (The Da Vinci Code is named), and the reasons (general intellectual laziness and lack of rigor) why that may be.

These next two paragraphs strike me as the heart of the piece:

I wish I could feel more hopeful about book culture, believe more strongly that something might be done. But we've become a shallow people, happy enough with the easy gratifications of mere spectacle in all the aspects of life. Real books are simply too serious for us. Too slow. Too hard. Too long. Now and again, we may feel that just maybe we've shortchanged our better selves, that we might have listened to great music, contemplated profoundly moving works of art, read books that mattered, but instead we turned away from them because it was time to tune into "Law and Order" reruns, or jack in to Warhammer on our home computer, or get back to the latest clone of "The Da Vinci Code." Sooner or later, though, probably late at night or when faced with one of life's crises, we will surprise in ourselves what poet Philip Larkin called the hunger to be more serious.

But come the dawn and our good intentions usually evaporate. Why persist with Plutarch or George Eliot or Beckett or William Gaddis when you can drop into a chat room or gaze at digitized lovelies or go to still another movie? Instead of reading Toqueville or Henry Adams, we just check out the latest blogs. In short, we turn toward the bright and shiny, the meretricious tinsel, the strings of eye-catching beads for which we exchange our intellectual birthright as for a mess of pottage. For modern Americans, only the unexamined life is worth living.

I imagine this piece will provoke a lot of commentary in the 'sphere, because Dirda's view of electronic media and, it seems to me, especially the web is so alarmist and narrow. Book culture obviously has a place on the web (witness almost all the sites on my blogroll and probably a hundred thousand more) and I don't get the sense that people are replacing reading with their submergence into the net. At all. If anything, I've read many writers I might not have otherwise because of reviews and recommendations online -- and that's not even getting into the vast quantity of quality original fiction being published online. Short stories are finding new life, especially experimental fiction, with the possibility for new writers in particular of a much larger audience than they'd find fluttering around in obscure magazines and journals (not that obscure journals and magazines aren't necessary and awesome too -- they are or, um, the Fortress of Words wouldn't exist). Not to mention the role blogs and online news sites and magazines are playing in directing attention to the deserving and new and quirky, to those books with tiny advertising budgets shoving them toward an early remaindering.

To be fair to Dirda, in case you don't go read the essay, the very next sentence after those two paragraphs above is this:

Okay, I exaggerate, and maybe I'm even wrong.

Despite these bits that I find alarmist (and really, if you think the interweb is of the Devil, you're not exactly who I'm going to view as an expert on that particular topic), there are some provocative things in here that I do agree with very much. I am also troubled by most of the stuff on the best-seller lists (The Jane Austen Book Club being a notable exception) and the fact that people do tend to all read the same books and they're mostly not books that I or anyone I trust the opinion of would characterize as worthwhile. (This piece is paired with a comparison of the best-seller lists from 1969 and this year.)

Still, I'm all for seriousness, but I also don't want to grit my teeth to get through something. Pleasure for me as a reader has a ton of different meanings -- it can be language, character, an exquisitely enveloping setting, paired with very difficult thematic material. But it is something I look for in what I choose to read, and I wish that Dirda didn't make serious reading sound so medicinal, so much lacking in its own kind of fun and pleasure. (And I don't even really think he believes this, because my sense is that Michael Dirda is a reader who revels in the books he reads.) Dirda's right: life is short and boredom is a sin.

Give me the hemlock and the ghost story, the foot on the stair and the ship in its epic. Just don't expect me to keep reading if it's dull.

p.s. Christopher finished his very first bicycle race today -- alez!

worm "It's a Hit," Rilo Kiley

namecheck Michael "Such a Nice Man" Dirda


guilt is the greatest gift

(In other words, in our house, it's mostly a reminder that you aren't writing, when the other one is.) The best of the "writing couples" articles I've seen is in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

Notable in the piece is the cautionary tale of Jonathan Franzen and Kathryn Chetkovich, but the Louis Nowra and Mandy Sayer bits were most interesting to me:

They prefer to keep their two apartments, which have different uses. "Louis's place is virtually just a library where I keep a few ballgowns," Sayer says, "whereas mine has flowers, light, antiques, a piano. We sleep and eat at my place - Louis cooks, I wash up."

They keep their finances as separate as their domesticity. "It avoids the humdrum of the everyday creeping in; it keeps things more exciting." Nowra says. "Besides, we have very different tastes: she loves jazz, I'm more eclectic. I get up early, she gets up late. Our writerly sensibilities are completely different, too: she loves Richard Ford, Paul Auster and Hemingway, whilst I love Collette, Proust and Nabokov."


Nowra can remember the moment he fell for Sayer: "We were editing our Kings Cross anthology together and as I went to our usual meeting place - a restaurant - I passed Mandy sitting alone in a coffee shop bent over some proofs or pages she was correcting and her intense concentration in what she was doing was, for some reason, extraordinarily erotic. I guess only a fellow writer would think that."

Yet Sayer was wary. "I had been married to a writer before (the poet Yusef Komunyakaa) and when that ended, I put a moratorium on all writers. Now I just tell Louis that I am working my way through the genres and that my next husband will be a songwriter," she laughs.

Here at Casa Bond/Rowe, we'd probably benefit from more of the competitive rivalry that's referenced in the article, since we'd both work more. Our new writing group is having the same effect though. It's always a delicate question of when your work is ready to be read -- I often want someone to read mine before it's ready, because it helps me get distance from it, whereas Christopher wants his read right away and his first drafts are usually pretty close to finished. Sometimes you don't want the critical eye, just the eye. (I do write more, which is a comfort. But it probably averages out since I also rewrite more.) I think it helps that our work is so different, though that can create its own challenges -- my nearly done first book is a young adult novel. Christopher hates teenagers (yes, all of them), in life and in fiction, but has always had helpful things to say about the book anyway. I have no illusions it's what he'd choose to read. Another good thing is being able to capitalize on the other person's strengths; he's much better at the marketing thing than I am, at getting work out the door and in the mail (though I've written so few short stories, I've not really taken advantage of this), which is another kind of help. (Those three years spent writing exclusively scripts, hey, I learned structure and still need to market them.)

The best thing though is having someone to cheer all the little victories with, who understands why they're worth cheering, even if they're small.

(Thanks, Justine!)

Off to ride bikes and finish collecting birthday presents for Certain People.

worm "The Set-up," Mission of Burma

namecheck Scott "New Website" Westerfeld

ed's thick-ass book list

Return of the Reluctant initiates a new book list in which I predict a spectacularly mediocre showing for my own self. Here goes.

1. The Recognitions by William Gaddis
2. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
3. The Royal Family by William T. Vollman
4. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
5. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
6. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
7. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
8. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
9. Ulysses by James Joyce
10. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
11. The Tunnel by William Gass
12. The Rosy Crucifixion by Henry Miller
13. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber
14. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
15. The Diary of Anais Nin
16. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (it was h.s.; everybody was doing it)
17. The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny
18. The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
19. The Stand by Stephen King (extended version)
20. A Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
21. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
22. Rememberance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
23. Noble House by James Clavell
24. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Doestoevsky
25. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

A whopping 11. And almost all of these I read, I read in high school. I'm going to redeem myself though -- I'm getting ready to read Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I've also revealed my usual avoidance of big fat fantasy novels.

worm "All of Them," The Mountain Goats

namecheck Gilberto "Payback's a Bitch" Simeoni


it must have been those monkey movies he did

Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that watching movies can affect hormone levels. I'd love to know how they chose the three movies they used in the test -- The Bridges of Madison County, The Godfather: Part II (we assume all audience members had seen the first one), and an unnamed documentary on the Amazon rainforest. They then tested hormone levels at intervals to judge the impact.

Clint Eastwood did nothing for women's testosterone levels in "The Bridges of Madison County". Men on the other hand had a decrease in their testosterone levels.

Ouch, Clint. You wouldn't like me when I'm not angry.

The story ends with a provocative challenge from the Professor-in-Charge:

"If you want to learn about someone's personality, look at their video collection."

As if everyone in the world doesn't do this immediately when they visit someone's house for the first time, along with their bookshelves and music collection.

(My video collection is mostly screwballs, noirs, teen movies and TV shows, thanks for asking.)

I'm wishing they'd been more ambitious in scope here, so many different types of movies it'd be interesting to look at. Please let this good work continue.

This is my last post for the day (yes, the tear ends). Have a good weekend.

worm "Perfect Circle," REM

namecheck Sean "Hamlet" Stewart

exposed aussies

The fabulous Justine Larbalestier sent me a couple of links to fascinating articles about fakes and fakery in Australian literature. And even if Norma Khouri ain't an Aussie by birth, she wants to be one, so it counts.

Recently, best-selling author Norma Khouri (Forbidden Love) has been exposed as a fraud, though she is still disputing the evidence:

Her tragic story stole readers' hearts and triggered an international outcry. She became a best-selling author in the same league as J.K.Rowling and Michael Moore. She petitioned the United Nations personally, was published in 15 countries, and Australians voted her memoir into their favourite 100 books of all time.


With Australian sales approaching 200,000, the book told of her lifelong friendship with a girl named Dalia in Amman, Jordan. In their 20s, Khouri wrote, she and Dalia started a hairdressing salon together. Dalia met and fell in love with Michael, a Christian army officer. When their chaste affair was discovered, Dalia was murdered - stabbed 12 times - by her father. Norma fled Jordan to Athens, where she said she wrote her book in internet cafes, and ultimately to Australia, where her publisher Random House sponsored her for a temporary residence visa.

But, the piece continues:

The truth is very different, and may affect Khouri's legal residency status in Australia.

Khouri's real name is Norma Majid Khouri Michael Al-Bagain Toliopoulos, and she only lived in Jordan until she was three years old. She has a US passport and lived from 1973 until 2000 in Chicago. She is married with two children, 13 and 11. She has four American siblings and a mother who are desperate to hear news from her. But she has managed to conceal this double life from her publishers, her agent, lawyers in several continents, the Australian Department of Immigration and, until now, the public.

Her mother, Asma, remembers her estranged daughter as a girl who "kept deep secrets". Norma's privacy has a reason: not to protect her safety, but to guard her secrets.

Khouri's hoax will take its place in a long Australian tradition of literary fraud, from Ern Malley to Helen Darville-Demidenko. But no other fraudulent book has had such wide sales or impact, and in Darville's case the deception only involved her persona, not her book. Khouri has misled the world both on the page and in person.

The lengths to which Khouri has gone to preserve the lie, even after she's caught seemingly red-faced, are something else. A good liar has to know when to give up the ghost.

Asked how she coped with living secretly, Khouri once said: "It is very stressful and tiring, and I would not recommend it to anyone."

But you have to admire the moxie (at least a little) of someone that would actually say that on the record about their history while lying the whole time.

The other piece is older and examines 2003's most notable Aussie books, which mostly revolved around fact versus fiction or variations on the theme. (Including My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey.)

Are we to take a lesson about the Aussie character here? Are they extraordinarily good liars or bad? Or are they just more interesting liars? (Running away now...)

worm "Rain Falls For Wind," The Sleepy Jackson

namecheck Justine "Well?" Larbalestier

yet more reasons Sean Stewart rocks

An interview with Perfect Circle author Sean Stewart that's full of interesting things in The Capitol Times.

The interview delves into Sean's experience writing the AI game "The Beast," but evolves into a discussion about his how he sees his writing changing and the struggles of getting Perfect Circle published, as the novel he wanted it to be.

When Stewart first brought "Perfect Circle" to a major publisher, he was urged to "cut out all the family stuff" and make it more of a conventional thriller. While the book definitely has some frightening moments, Stewart felt that the heart of the book would be lost, and went with the indie Small Beer Press instead.

"I was actually writing a book about family and what's forgotten and what's never forgotten, and what we love and what we can't get over loving," he said. "Sure, the occasional person gets shot and has gasoline thrown on them. But without that emotional center, the book didn't feel urgent to me."

The article goes on to talk about the divide between what's "literary" and what's "genre" being bridged by people like Michael Chabon, and Sean gets eminently quotable.

He said that those elements can be used to dramatize themes in ways that literary novels can't. It's one thing to talk about missing somebody; it's another to see their ghostly reflection in your oven door.

"Ask yourself if 'Hamlet' would be better if Hamlet went up on the battlements to consult with his psychiatrist," Stewart said.

Read the whole interview.

Also, unrelated message to ZZ Packer: Kentucky rocks. Mostly.

worm "It's a Hit," Rilo Kiley

namecheck Chris "Great Taste" McLaren

why crazy jane is my favorite

...commentator on Le Tour, that is:

But you know, this brings me to another thing. When will everyone stop bitching that we are watching a man make history? "Meh! Le Tour is boring! Meh!" Lookit: in order for a guy to break the all time record on Tour victories, he has to win a lot of tours. Duh! If he isn't your favorite, I recognize that it means your man has been losing for years on end, but honestly, if you love this sport, and enjoy seeing someone kick ass on a bike, I think you've got to frickin' give the man his due! People, lord knows, I love me some Jan Ullrich. That man is all class, and with those long, honey-colored legs, the freckles, all that brawn and angular Germanic bone structure, he's delicieux, as well. If anyone not only deserves glorious lycra victory, but has the raw material to make it look good, it's Jan; but he got beat. Period. So did everyone else, and that's because Lance Armstrong is faster. Maybe if we're lucky, and Jan brings his A-game next year, we can have a real battle, but it's not doing the other guys any favors to blame Armstrong for being better. In conclusion, Le Tour is SO not boring. Have you seen the hams on these guys?

I actually crack up everytime they do a close-up on ((((JAN ULLRICH)))) (you must say his name with your Big German Voice), because he's just such a cyborg... But still, she's right about the rest.

worm "Mr Roboto," Styx (or as I like to refer to it ((((JAN'S)))) theme song)

namecheck Kristin "Fancy Design" Livdahl

perform your good deed for the day

Go buy Stephen Policoff's novel Beautiful Somewhere Else, and chalk one up for the writer who's been screwed around nigh unto insanity.

Salon review;
"The Polite Screed of a Publishing Cliche" by Stephen Policoff (at The Elegant Variation);
and Stephen Policoff's interview with himself about the book at Tingle Alley on Monday.

I knew ever since I read the Salon review I wouldn't be able to resist (magicians!) this book, and was actually shocked I hadn't heard of it before. I've been reading Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer as my nonfiction book of the moment, an excellent examination of magic as an art and the larger-than-life personalities in its history. I've read quite a few (read: junkie for this stuff) histories of magic and/or specific parts of the scene and this is one of the best. So, I'm all hyped for an excellent novel with magic in it.

Here's Beautiful Somewhere Else's description from Amazon:

Ever since he was an aspiring teen magician, thirty-eight-year-old Paul Brickner has been obsessed with the enigmatic Sung Soo. Known as the "Wondrous Chinese Wizard," Sung Soo was a famous con artist who taught Houdini many of his famous illusions. Paul has long since abandoned his magician aspirations but not his Sung Soo Project, which has taken many different forms over the years. Paul has been performing his own personal vanishing act for much of his adult life, trying to escape his own anxieties, responsibilities, fears, commitments, and the guilt he feels about the tragic ending of his second marriage. But things have been a little different since he met Nadia, nearly twenty years his junior and a gentle and lovely foil to Paul's profound negativity. Shortly after arriving on Cape Cod for vacation, Paul and Nadia are joined by two old friends and one troubled ex-boyfriend. When a hurricane makes landfall and knocks out the electricity, everyone drinks a little too much, and things start getting very strange, and somehow serve to bring Paul and Nadia closer together. Funny, moving, and compellingly supernatural, award-winning writer Stephen Policoff's Beautiful Somewhere Else is a mesmerizing debut novel.

How can you resist, unless you're a cold-blooded, heartless fool?

worm "10 Miles to Go on a 9 Mile Road," Jim White

namecheck Glen David "Other Great Magic Book" Gold

the laws of food and drink

I never knew this existed but Ian Frazier wrote this wonderful thing called "Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father," which was published in the 1997 issue of Atlantic Monthly. Pretty hilarious, even for those of us lucky devils without kids, for have we not seen your pain with-child ones?

Go forth and read, as the Internet preserves all things deserving. (Thanks, Richard!)

Various Other Laws, Statutes, and Ordinances

Bite not, lest you be cast into quiet time. Neither drink of your own bath water, nor of bath water of any kind; nor rub your feet on bread, even if it be in the package; nor rub yourself against cars, nor against any building; nor eat sand.

Leave the cat alone, for what has the cat done, that you should so afflict it with tape? And hum not that humming in your nose as I read, nor stand between the light and the book. Indeed, you will drive me to madness. Nor forget what I said about the tape.

worm "Beautiful," Clem Snide

namecheck Karen "Prehensile Trait Carrier" Fowler


where do you get your ideas wasn't on there (damn!)

Andrea Seigel has a great FAQ post answering repetitive questions she's been getting in email, such as how she found an agent, etc., since the publication and fine notices of Like the Red Panda. She even publishes the text of her agent query letter (good query).

Question 4:How many agencies did you query?

I sent out somewhere in between 20-30 of these queries. About half of these people wrote back and asked me to send the first 50 pages or 3 chapters or whatever. About eighty percent of the remaining people sent back letters saying that they weren't looking for new clients or that my material didn't sound like something they'd be into. And then there were the remaining handful of agencies who took anywhere from 9 months to 1 1/2 years to finally send me form letters saying, "No, we can't sell this." By then the book had already been purchased by Harcourt, and I'd send them emails saying, "You're stupid," except nicer.

And seriously, I know this this should be common sense, but don't forget to include your self-addressed-stamped-envelopes.

making records

Lance Armstrong has done it now, bar hell or highwater--"it" of course being something no one else has ever done, winning six Tour de Frances in a row. The scene was something else; estimates range from 500,000 to 900,000 people lining a little less than 10 mile section of road. Many of them had been there for weeks and many of them had scrawled rude things on the roads: Lance EPO, Lance SUCKS, that sort of thing, not that there weren't also cheers for him, but EPO was a dominate theme. (EPO being the drug he's accused of using, but you know, there's absolutely NO evidence that's ever happened and the man, and all cyclists, undergo the most rigorous drug testing of any sport in the world. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.) But his ride yesterday just blew everyone away, including a Sheryl Crow seen biting her nails in the back seat of the team car at the start, and the sad thing is: he missed beating Marco Pantani's record for climbing Alpe d'Huez by one second!

If you're in the mood to read about Lance today, you shouldn't have any problem doing so. (Bright side of a dark cloud: the fact that Tyler Hamilton had dropped out and the other big challengers have also either dropped out or lost the name of big challengers meant we could actually just cheer for Lance, and how can you not? When he's obviously just worked harder for this than anyone else on the road.) But you might want to check out Michael Specter's New Yorker profile from 2002's Tour or Robert Lipsyte's Page 2 ESPN column, "It's All About the Pain," just posted yesterday. The amazing thing is not that he's won his sixth, it's how decisively he's won it. Wow.

Now, let's just all hold our breathe and think good thoughts for Little Tommy Voeckler in the White Jersey (Best Young Rider) competition. He lost a lot of time yesterday. And his dad was lost at sea for god's sake!

(Also, really looking forward to having my life back. Sorry, Paul and Phil. Not sorry at all for you Vonnegut nightmare Al Trautwig.)

In other, sorta records news, Stephen Hawking lost a bet and is redefining the way science views black holes and he managed to do it all in one speech. (Kind of old-fashioned, that, the way I imagined science happened when I was in high school and everything felt like it had happened at meetings full of European scientists.)

The announcement marks a U-turn from Prof Hawking, who had argued that anything swallowed by a black hole was forever hidden from the outside universe. It has also lost him one of the most famous bets in science: in 1997 Hawking and fellow theoretical physicist Kip Thorne made a wager with John Preskill at the California Institute of Technology, who insisted that information carried by an object entering a black hole was not destroyed, and so could be recovered.

"I'm now ready to concede the bet," Prof Hawking said yesterday. At stake was an encyclopedia - "from which information can be recovered at ease" - of the winner's choice. "John is all American so naturally he wants an encyclopedia of baseball. I had great difficulty finding one over here, so I offered him an encyclopedia of cricket as an alternative," Prof Hawking said. "But John wouldn't be persuaded of the superiority of cricket."

Science fiction writers, start your engines. (Justine, you and Professor Hawking would obvs get along famously.)

worm  "Teenage Lobotomy," The Ramones

namecheck  Mandy "Hang in There" Helton


item! item! items!

Christopher and I realized that watching the Tour de France is like going on a vacation or having another job -- all extra activities that need to get done are displaced. We're both looking forward to Sunday's final ride into Paris with a little bit of relief, I think. There's no way I could follow it if it lasted more than three weeks. None of this, of course, should dissuade you from ensuring access to the Outdoor Life Network next year. Le Tour is one of the few epics that plays out on a regular basis, after all.

The book revisions were going swimmingly during the Tour's first week, but have languished since... Which is to say that I may be posting less next week as I make the final, mad dash to finish said revisions. I'm giddy with the thought. We'll see.

Today things:

1. Rake's Progress links to a new contest that Powell's is running and excerpts Michael Cunningham's thoughts on reading genre fiction (and in particular the revelation of several great SF books) from these author pieces on the Powell's site. (I'm not linking to the Powell's contest because this way you have to go to RP to get there. Well, or straight to Powell's.)

2. Maud linked to this fascinating behind-the-scenes piece in the Telegraph about the quiet controversy that surrounded the discovery of St. Exupery's plane and conjecture that he may have committed suicide rather than having been shot down. There is one lone voice putting forward the theory that nobody wants to discuss. Bernard Mark, an aviation historian, has suggested that the most likely cause of Saint Exupéry's death is suicide. "Eight days before his last mission he had hinted that he was thinking of suicide," he says. "He was spotted by German fighters over Turin, who were intrigued to see that he didn't vary his course: he let them come. Saint Exupéry even said himself that he saw them arrive; he turned his rear-view mirror and waited for them. In the end the Germans left."

St-Ex has been sold to the French public as a kind of superman - pilot, patriot and literary genius all rolled into one. The truth seems rather different. Luc Vanrell believes that if St-Ex did fly his plane straight into the Mediterranean that bright morning, it would be wrong to blame him.

"St-Ex was a flyer about to have his wings taken away, and he was subjected to intolerable bullying by politicians. If he chose to end his life that way, I think it was an honourable and courageous death. I'd say he couldn't have chosen a lovelier place. He lies in turquoise waters off one of the wildest and most beautiful coastlines in France."

The story's worth a look. I finally googled enough to figure out the book about him I'd been meaning to search out is Saint Exupery: A Biography by Stacy Schiff, newly translated to English a couple of years ago.

3. I've been thinking lately about how the new PJ Harvey and Sonic Youth albums both seem to encapsulate all the best parts of their music -- the PJ Harvey is both raw and produced, the Sonic Youth is dissonant and resonant.

4. David Moles excavates an old Cory Doctorow post about saying people have too much time on their hands that's worth checking out. (Ed. note: Although sometimes people really do have too much time on their hands.)

5. USA Today ran a story on the heirarchy of podium girls at the Tour yesterday. (Via TdF blog.) There is a distinct pecking order in the world of professional kissers. At the top of the heap are the women of Credit Lyonnaise, an international banking firm that has long been the sponsor of the yellow jersey.

The yellow-jersey women are models first, but they also perform other duties, such as passing out newspapers to journalists in the Tour village, escorting celebrities and assisting with the prerace rider sign-in ceremony.

It hardly seems fair that George Hincapie's podium girl-friend got fired for fraternizing with him, but then, I guess he's a pretty good consolation prize. (Dreaming of the day when George wears yellow...)

6. There's a new review of "Say...why aren't we crying?" at Tangent online, which makes some interesting points and is overall very positive. (I'd link to it, but it's still premium content.) It's nice for someone to notice that thus far our magazine tends more toward actual SF than slipstream work (though we're fine with both and would love to see more mainstream or edge-country stories). We're open to all kinds of good fiction though, especially from new writers, and are currently reading (until Sept. 1) for the fall issue, "Say...have you heard this one?", so send us some stuff. Our guidelines are here. Write me if you have questions.

7. Re: the article that's making the rounds about the virtue of memorizing poetry, and which OGIC and Maud have both structured excellent posts around. I'd have to think hard about what poems I might have tucked away in my own memory, but I'll never forget being flabbergasted at the dinner table one night when my dad busted out with "Thanatopsis" in its entirety, remembered precisely from his own school days decades earlier. My jaw still drops when I think about it. It was one of those moments where someone you know so well, have known every day for your whole life, completely surprises you with this little secret.

8. Have you wished Mr. Barzak happy birthday yet?

worm "Broken Bottle," Sally Timms and Jon Langford

namecheck Alex "Twin-pa" Irvine

we now interrupt:another happy birthday

And today it's happy birthday to the soon departing for Japan, Mr. Chris Barzak.

Go over and deluge his comments and wish him the best and no makeovers and you will be that far ahead when he is crowned Karaoke King.

Once again,this day may be paid tribute to by reading of the author's work, conveniently located online.

His excellent story "Plenty," which was reprinted in the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror a couple of years ago is here. His "Read and Appreciated List for 2003" is at Fantastic Metropolis here. And you can read an interview with him for the anthology Trampoline, which contains his excellent story "Dead Boy Found" (go buy it!).

Go forth and celebrate the day of the Brown Dragon born in the year of the Green Rabbit!


wild roses and safe houses

It all started with my regular Hank Stuever watch. (His new collection of pieces OFF RAMP is out and was an Editor's Choice in last week's Entertainment Weekly.) His latest is a piece for the WP on the Laura Ingalls Wilder phenomenon in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, where Wilder and family spent several of her formative years and where many of her most popular books are set.

Walnut Grove isn't a hotbed for much, but it is a mecca for those longing for a simpler time, or with TV memories. Witness:

"There are the book people and the TV people," says Nicole Elzenga, the collections manager at the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum in downtown Walnut Grove, which has a replica sod house, a one-room school and other exhibits that include a quilt Wilder made late in her life, the fireplace mantel used on the set of NBC's "Little House on the Prairie," and -- uff da! -- an 8-by-10 autographed glossy of actress Alison Angrim (who played the nefarious Nellie) wearing a bikini, circa 1982.

"Sometimes the book people don't get along with the TV people, and they'll argue." Elzenga says. "They take it very seriously. People come from everywhere -- France, Germany, Japan. One family from France showed up and stayed for days. They spent the night in a sod house."

Can't you just imagine the Wilder afficionado catfights? Or the mothers doing their best Texas Cheerleader Murdering Mother impressions over the annual Laura Ingalls/Nellie Oleson look-alike contest?

Stuever continues, casting a sharp-eyed gaze on her fans:

To have loved "Little House on the Prairie" in the '70s was to have a Holly Hobbie lunchbox and to have your mother turn to the back of the Country Squire station wagon and tell you to get your nose out of that book and look, wouldja, at the Grand Canyon. To have loved "Little House" was to wear a prairie-style calico-print dress to your big sister's bat mitzvah or as the flower girl in your aunt's wedding. It meant you had to routinely fight your little brother for control of the television on Wednesday nights (and then, with the 1976-77 season, to yearn for it on Monday nights, which ran up against your Pa's devotion to "Monday Night Football"). It was about ordering enough preteen angst paperback novels through the Scholastic Scope book club so you could get the free poster of dreamy Dean "Almanzo Wilder" Butler, wearing suspenders, his brawny arms crossed, leaning against a fence.

A confession: I read the books. I had all of them, in little worn brownish editions that had been my mothers', or even possibly my grandmothers' (she was a schoolteacher), originally. They had cloth coverings that left threads loose and hanging from the sides, faded pictures of cabins on the front. The confession revised: I don't remember how much I liked them (I think I'd remember if I hated or loved them). In fact, I remember very little of them at all.

However, Stuever's comments made me remember a certain photograph. I'm wearing a brownish calico dress with puffy sleeves and a matching bonnet, a dress I remember very well, that was sewed for me by a lady who lived up the hill from us (still lives up the hill from my parents; she never, ever got my name right, instead preferring terrible variations). The photo is a family picture of my mom, dad, brother and my maternal grandparents following church (thus, all dressed up). Later I overdid things trying to make the sides of the picture look nostalgically old-fashioned by burning them. My grandmother still has the flame-licked, half-burnt picture on her wall.

But enough about me, let's go back to one last graph of the Stuever article, which doesn't quite fit in with this post, but's worth singling out.

If you love quilts, if you love Scandinavian lefse bread and bratwurst, if you love bonnets and Laura Ingalls Wilder, if you love a band of middle-age Elvisesque guys playing incongruous '60s pop songs, then you have found your place in a perfect America. Walnut Grove may be for the bonnetheads, but anywhere at any time, someone else is also engaged in a game of dress-up: drag queens, Civil War reenactors, Klingons in the convention center. Everybody has something, and it cannot ever be let go. Drive far enough and you'll find yours.

I'm still driving. (I think, she said, checking to see if the Wonder-roos are at home today.)

A rumor-mongering anecdote. An acquaintance who lived very near the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Highway once told me that the "Little House in the Big Woods," which is located in Pepin, Wisconsin, was the site of weekend orgies. She said that no one could ever prove whether the staff were throwing wild Saturday night parties there or people were gingerly breaking in, but that her friend who worked there would tell stories of panties on the wooden floor come Monday morning and the horrified rush to tidy everything up. I have no idea if this was true (it doesn't sound true, and the source was less than convincing), but I like to pass it along nonetheless.

Digging around looking for things about Laura, I got sucked into items about her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who is damn interesting and was also a journalist and writer. (And who everyone probably knows about in the world except me, but hey, there's always a chance, right?)

From a brief bio on the website linked above:

Rose then moved to Greenwich Village, New York, and became a ghost writer for Frederick O'Brien's White Shadows on the South Seas. She also wrote The Making of Herbert Hoover under her own name.

After World War I, Rose became a reporter for the American Red Cross, and was assigned to write about the conditions in war-torn countries. During this time, Rose met two women who would become her closest friends, Dorothy Thompson and Helen "Troub" Boylston, who wrote the "Sue Barton" nurse series for girls.

Rose's job took her throughout Europe, but of all the countries she visited, Albania quickly became her favorite. She wrote The Peaks of Shala about Albanian life, and informally adopted Albanian boy Rexh Meta after he saved her life. Many years later, she provided money for Rexh to come to America and get a college education.

There's plenty of little details left out of that one, an example of which I found at the Cato Institute's tribute page to her.

She repeatedly visited Albania, where she witnessed a revolution and refused a proposal of marriage from Ahmet Zogu, the future King Zog I.

I would so marry a king named Zog. The Cato page has a ton of interesting facts, including this one, that touches on speculation that she did more of the authoring (or as much) to the emblamatic Little House books than her mother did:

It is generally agreed that she edited her mother's notes and diaries at length, and in his controversial biography of Lane, Ghost in the Little House, William V. Holtz argues that Lane's revisions were so extensive that she ought to be considered not merely editor but co-author of the Little House series.

It's certainly not argued that she was the one who encouraged her mother to write the books in the first place. And she just sounds amazing -- she worked as a war correspondent in Vietnam for Woman's Day when she was 78 years old. (Though also has troubling ideological links to Ayn Rand. John Chamberlain made some comments that have associated the two of them and Isabel Patterson as the three women who birthed modern libertarianism; see Freemen essay here for more about that.)

She also wrote a fictionalized biography of Jack London I'm really interested in getting hold of; London is one of those writers who doesn't get enough credit for being as interesting as he is. (Tangental Houdini connection: Charmian London and Houdini had an affair two years after Jack London died, supposedly his only infidelity to Bess. Her diary had coded info about it.) London practically fictionalized his own biography in his essays and memoir, so it'd be fascinating to see what someone else made of his life -- especially someone with a strong political view of their own.

Anyway, odds and ends to wrap up an exceedingly long and possibly dull to everyone else in the world but me post...


She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself: 'This is now.'

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because this is now. It can never be a long time ago.

Three quotes from Rose:

"Writing fiction is an endless and always defeated effort to capture some quality of life without killing it."

"Nothing whatever but the constitutional law, the political
structure, of these United States protects any American from
arbitrary seizure of his property and his person, from the
Gestapo and the Storm Troops, from the concentration camp, the
torture chamber, the revolver at the back of his neck in a cellar."

"Happiness is something that comes into our lives through doors we don't even remember leaving open."

semi-random photo links:

Little House on the Prairie Halloween Costume in box
Letter to a fan from Laura Ingalls Wilder
Ingalls cemetery photos
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thanks for indulging a little momentary obsession.

things that were bound to happen dept.

I can't believe this didn't happen to me.

A man was arrested for running with a stolen library book.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- A 36-year-old man led police on a short car chase, driving against traffic on a busy boulevard so he wouldn't get caught with a stolen library book.

"It was stupid," said Syracuse police spokesman Sgt. Tom Connellan, who added police broke off pursuit because the situation Sunday became too dangerous.

Onondaga County deputies in a helicopter tracked Bryan Haynes from the air, and city police arrested him when he finally stopped at a city park.

They got to use the helicopter! And the awful thing is none of these stories say what the book was. I want to know. There are only a few books so embarrassing I'd both read them and evade police rather than be caught with them.

For those who missed it, I once wrote in to Maud's blog about my own checkered library theft past. Read my shame here. (It was the academic team's fault. Bad academic team kids. Bad.)

Oh, and while I'm tangentally referencing Ms. Newton. This guy is a jack-ass. (For a more comprehensive take, visit TEV.)

sunshine morning: more Jarry & SW website

...didn't sleep a wink last night.

Following the lead of CAAF at Tingle Alley, I'm going to bump a comment onto the front page. Some nice anonymous soul (REVEAL THYSELF!) left this in the comments of the entry in which I posted Alfred Jarry's "The Passion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race."

Which always reminds me of Ballard's riff on it: The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race.

Also of Waldrop's brilliant story "Fin de Cycle," featuring Jarry in a bicycle duel on the Eiffel Tower.

I'd no clue such things existed, so thank you, anonymous. And as I pointed out re: the Ballard, JFK once said that: "Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride."

Think about that -- when he says nothing, he's talking about a naked and inviting MARILYN MONROE. Moving on...

It turns out that "Fin de Cycle" is available on Fictionwise for a scant $1.69. And Howard Waldrop is, of course, a genius in all things. (Which makes me wonder what losers that read this story at Fictionwise voted that it was "good" and not "GENIUS.") The story is described thusly on the Electric Story website (where I found the FW link):

Howard Waldrop's "Fin de Cycle" concerns a slightly re-realized France at the end of the nineteenth century, where Melies, Proust, and Alfred Jarry employ the new technology of movies to forestall a terrible injustice. The bicycle gun-duel on the Eiffel Tower is worth the price of admission by itself.

Waldrop is doing the weekly blog thing for the Infinite Matrix here, which should be loved and read. The latest installment examines what the 1954 Hugos should have looked like.

And now for something completely different. Scott Westerfeld finally has a killer website! For years, when he was mostly writing science fiction novels (ironically), he had this AOL old-core site that was, shall we say, pretty terrible. But now, he's all fancied up at Scott Westerfeld DOT COM. You can read his lovely essay on what it's like being a ghostwriter (the other thing he was doing when he had that bad website) and find out all about the MIDNIGHTERS trilogy, the first book of which is out now and, of course, available for your purchase at Amazon. The site has excerpts and all sorts of fun stuff, including Dess' blog (Dess being a Midnighter with magically mathematical powers), which was sort of my idea and so should be your favorite thing on the site. Anyway, click, click, click, my pretties and make Scott happy. Reward him for entering the modern day.

Bonus, the tridecalogism of the day is: resplendantly.

worm "One Piece at a Time," Johnny Cash

namecheck Landon "How do I jump the bike?" Bond