shaken & stirred

welcome to my martini glass


pay no attention to the shiny face and red eye and GIANT fingers*

Happy New Year's. Now, good champagne. And no headaches in 24. See you tomorrow. And tomorrow. And tomorrow.

* I would only smash you. Only love.


maybe one meaningless post

What Flavour Are You? Hot hot! I am Curry Flavoured.Hot hot! I am Curry Flavoured.

I have a spicy personality. If you can take the heat, you'll love me, if not, I'll probably make you cry. I am not for the faint-hearted. What Flavour Are You?

24 hour hiatus (w/ yet another update)

Heya. I'm not feeling like posting today -- I think of things to post, think about posting them, but just don't wanna. Tomorrow, or maybe Monday, I'll post a review of Geoff Ryman's remarkable novel Air (Or, Have Not Have).

I direct you to those fine folks on the right and specifically to:

The Tingler's list of recommended, underappreciated books of the year
Ed collects your reading discoveries of the year
The Rake quoting Tobias Wolf on John Cheever
Matt Cheney cops to liking Road to Wellville, the movie (me, I'm waiting for the sequel: Road to Wellville Strikes Back)
When Scientists Attack: Steve Reuland at The Panda's Thumb takes down Phyllis Schafly on evolution (Via The Loom)

UPDATE: See also this very interesting WaPo piece on America's difficulty in being generous and how we are affected by tragedies around the world.

FURTHER UPDATE: Ms. Tingle has posted part 2 of the overlooked recommendations, including mine.


the perils of boredom

I'm feeling very similar to this day back in 2003. Someone put a spell on me.

wednesday hangovers

1. The inimitable and suave Michaelangelo Matos rounds up his 2004 year and then proceeds to write a bunch about music, as he is wont to do.

2. Time Magazine's Best and Worst Books of the Year, topped by Susanna Clarke (best, natch). (Via Jonathan Strahan.) They even include comics.

3. Booksquare reacts to the Google Labyrinthian Library of God news.

4. These people want you to donate money so they can build a hobbit hole and live in it. (Via Kottke remainders.) Why don't you just send us money to help pay for our house instead? We will SO call it a hobbit hole.

5. The Washington Post has a long obituary of Susan Sontag (which also fails to mention Annie Leibovitz). I particularly liked this paragraph, which is mostly a couple of quotes: Sontag's own motivations were simple, she said: to "know everything." She had a lusty devotion to reading that she likened to the pleasure others get from watching television. "So when I go to a Patti Smith concert, I enjoy, participate, appreciate and am tuned in better because I've read Nietzsche," she told Rolling Stone magazine. "The main reason I read is that I enjoy it." They strike out, however, with a silly appreciation by Henry Allen, mostly about watching the author buy ice cream (and failing to note the flavor). Newsday does much better, letting a friend rather than a gawker write about Sontag. He closes with a laudable motto from her: "Be serious, be passionate, wake up!"

6. The Washington Post also has a piece on a subject close to my heart -- champagne. On boutique champagnes, to be precise, many of them quite affordable. Justine rhapsodizes about New Zealand's sparklings and it appears that a cheap-end one is now available here: Lindauer (New Zealand) Brut ($10, Allied Domecq): Made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this superb little sparkler is delightfully fresh and bright, with fruit notes that are clean and restrained. With excellent acidic balance and soft but persistent effervescence, it is one of the best bargains I've tasted in 2004. I will take it upon myself to report back.

7. I just went nuts and put Tank on our Netflix queue. Oh my.

8. Jeopardy Supertournament planned featuring Ken Jennings, via the Tingle (who is offering a forum to channel your hatred or disappointment about books you read this year).

9. The news stories about the tsunami are wearing thin, because they have an inability to capture the horror of it in words. The pictures, however, are continuously breaking my heart with their ability to speak of the thousands of personal tragedies involved. Give something, if you can. (See also the aforementioned Justine's latest musing.)

That's it for now.


stealing to give back to you

So, the other day Tito Perez over at Black Market Kidneys* posted answers to all these questions I suspect I may have answered before, but who am I to argue at a time when my brain's sort of mush and I don't want to come up with real content?

1. WHAT IS YOUR FULL NAME? Bond, Gwenda "I don't use my middle name" Bond. Gwenda M. Bond if you are the IRS or Secret Service. (Actually, the Secret Service pretty much requires you to give your full name, whether you like your middle one or not.)
2. WHAT COLOR PANTS ARE YOU WEARING? Brand new stripey pajama pants. With sort of a truckery version of Tinkerbell on them.
3. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? Nothing, but the last song I heard was "Silver Lining" by Yo La Tengo.
4. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? A clementine. And I'm eating it right now. Does that make you feel dirty?
5. DO YOU WISH ON STARS? Better -- I make decisions based on what they tell me.
6. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Depends on the day, but one of the ones with a hard-to-remember name.
7. HOW IS THE WEATHER RIGHT NOW? Fucking freezing.
8. LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? I hate the phone. Probably my mom.
10. HOW ARE YOU TODAY? Good. Tired. Almost done with the book I'm reading.
11. FAVORITE DRINK? Champagne. (The Widow, to be specific.)
13. FAVORITE SPORT? Bicycling. Also, likee the women's basketball.
15. # OF SIBLINGS? One.
16. FAVORITE MONTH? I'm supposed to have a favorite month? I'll work on that. July-ish (aka the Season of Gwendagras)?
17. FAVORITE FOOD? Sushi, pizza, cheese, ice cream, real bagels, too, too many to choose.
18. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? The extended edition of Return of the King. Before that it was the Lemony Snicket movie, before that Sunshine State.
19. FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR? Halloween. Saturday. My birthday. It all depends.
20. WHAT DO YOU DO TO VENT? Vent. (Or, as a wise woman once said: "So, you're stressed? Drink -- that's how adults deal with stress.")
21. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE TOY AS A CHILD? My friend Todd's garage door opener. But seriously, is this a fair question? I don't think I had a supreme favorite toy, because my brother tended to blow them up. (See The Strawberry Shortcake Meets Firecracker incident -- and I learned to DIVE for that doll, damn him. And no, the smoke was not strawberry scented. Her breath was.)(Am I the only one who is creeped out by the Return of Strawberry Shortcake? Or should I say THE REVENGE OF STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE? MWAHAHA!)
22. SUMMER OR WINTER? Both fine. Summer gets points for being less cold. Winter would get more if we actually ever got enough snow to cover the ground here. (Yeah, yeah, big snowstorm. All we got was ice.)
23. HUGS OR KISSES? OR?!? I don't see a choice here.
24. CHOCOLATE OR VANILLA? Vanilla sometimes, chocolate others. If we're talking ice cream, mostly vanilla.
25. DO YOU WANT YOUR FRIENDS TO REPLY? Friends? What is friend?
26. WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? If I say, it might influence the outcome, all Schroedinger-esque.
28. LIVING ARRANGEMENTS? Lovely old house.
29. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? This morning while reading the news.
30. WHAT IS UNDER YOUR BED? The purpose of under the bed is that I don't KNOW what's under it. Damn, now I have to check. It could be a nutcase with an arrow.
31. WHO IS THE FRIEND YOU HAVE HAD THE LONGEST? I'm not sure. Sunshine, maybe?
32. WHAT DID YOU DO LAST NIGHT? Bought a bazillion tons of groceries and watched Gilmore Girls reruns we'd TiVoed.
33. FAVORITE SMELL? Champagne, no? Lush bath products, yes?
34. WHO INSPIRES YOU? Too many people to say.
35. WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? The ocean.
36. PLAIN, BUTTERED OR SALTED POPCORN? They all have their appointed time. Mostly, cheddary popcorn.
37. FAVORITE CAR OR TRUCK? Uhhhhhh.... The General Lee? That was a joke, Northerners.
38. FAVORITE FLOWER? Tulips! Of course.
39. NUMBER OF KEYS ON YOUR KEY RING? More than your high school janitor. Who knows where they go? At some point, I'll be faced with a lock and there will be zombies and/or Michael "Glove Monster" Jackson and, and, and one of those mystery keys will come in pretty damn handy.
40. CAN YOU JUGGLE? I can barely hold a wine glass without breaking it. I don't think me throwing things in the air would be a good plan.
43. DO YOU OWN A DONOR CARD? No. But I think I filled one out in grade school.
44. FAVORITE ANIMAL? George the Dog, Poster Boy for American Values, My Attorney.
45. FAVORITE VACATION SPOT? Uh, anyplace that's not referred to as a "vacation spot." I don't take stain remover when I travel.
46. FAVORITE AGE? Don't have one. I tend to assume everybody I like is the same age -- which is an indefinable age of wisdom, beauty and perfection.
47. FAVORITE MAGAZINE? Right now? Maisonneuve.
48. FAVORITE WEB SITE? Bloglines. (Yeah, so it's cheating.)
49. FAVORITE SOAP OPERA? My grandmothers were all into The Young and the Restless. House?
50. FAVORITE HISTORICAL DUO YOU ARE LIKE TO MISSPELL: Name some. I can only think of the ones I can spell.

*he has a great name and his site does too! no fair!


Susan Sontag has died.

More at: The Reading Experience, Maud Newton, Kitabkhana and Culture Space. Ed also has an excellent collection of links. Matt Cheney at the Mumpsimus posts his thoughts.* (*I'll add these as I spot them and remember to.)

If you missed Craig Seligman's Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me, now's as good a time as any to pick it up. (It's probably all over the remainder tables.)

things that are serious

I'm overwhelmed by reading the reports of the tsunami and its aftermath, and can only point to the Tsunami Help site for guidance on where to help if you're able. See also this Flickr site collecting relief org contact info (via largehearted boy).

I inadvertently discovered writer Maureen McHugh's blog the other day -- Hodgkins and Me -- which was also how I discovered she's fighting cancer. It's a remarkable site and I urge you all to read it. Her intellectual courage and involvement in her treatment is a model for dealing with those big life things that seem impossible to handle well. And with humor, too. From today's entry, on whether it's more important for a doctor to be good or nice (not that they're always mutually exclusive):

And I've been conditioned by years and years of medical shows--from Dr. Kildare, through Medical Center and ER to now, House, that if my doctor gets involved in my case, he'll go the extra mile, and he'll save me. I want him to like me. I want him to show engagement with me. I know I have a rather textbook presentation of a really curable disease and that I seem to be responding to treatment pretty much as expected, but it's not my textbook, it's the doctor's. In my textbook, I have the most serious illness I've ever had in my life.

I don't have a word for all of that. So I default to that wimpiest of words--nice. Yeah, I'd prefer a brilliant doctor who's an asshole over a mediocre doctor who bakes cookies for me, but I don't get to make that choice.

So I hope my oncologist is an excellent clinician. (And actually, I think he is.) But I can report confidently, he's nice.

Why don't you go ahead and pre-order Maureen's collection Mothers and Other Monsters coming in the spring from Small Beer Press? (Scroll to second option.)



Write About Happiness

What does happiness look like?
You in your red coat.
Where does it go for a drink?
To bed, on Sundays.

What does happiness sound like?
The purr of an unhooked phone.
What does it do for a living?
It has private means.

What does happiness feel like?
The barehanded planting of bulbs.
What is its home address?
Yours, sweetheart.

Does happiness have a scent?
The sea, the air, the earth.
Where did you see it last?
Under the bedclothes, laughing.

What taste does happiness have?
That of a long, slow kiss.
And how does happiness write?
Badly, like this.

- by Carol Ann Duffy

merry merry hangovers

These are all the windows/tabs I have open right now, things that I mean to read, have read or will read.

Hangovers, Holiday Installment

-- Washington Post writer's account of swimming in the ocean in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit (Via Kottke)

-- Boing Boing's fantastic series of ossuary churches and the like, including a link to this photo of a fabulous breastplate made of every bone in the human body

-- "Brilliant writer" as vagrant, via Ed

-- BrokenType parodies Bzz Marketing (Via who, I forget)

-- Flickr, where I'm contemplating setting up an account (pro or con, anyone?)

-- About Last Night, where Terry is posting like god from Small Town USA

-- Andrea Seigel demonstrates her own Lite Brite godhood

-- Tito Perez shares (and I plan to rip this off later, after cleaning the kitchen)

-- The NYT looks at the one book I forgot on the list below, Clive (and Dirk) Cussler's Black Wind

largesse: books we got for christmas this year

"Books for Christmas!" said in a scoffing tone, is a tradition based on the reaction of a younger kid to one of C's early Christmas presents. "Books for Christmas!" You have to put some scorn into it.

Like many of you, we buy books as presents for whoever we can possibly justify doing so (i.e. we have to know for a fact that the person does not read books ever to not buy them one). We also have a habit of attempting to subtly steer taste where there's room. By example, I offer you a list of the books we bought others this year. You'll notice some titles are missing; well, that's because I meant to do this post when the books were still in the house and unwrapped but didn't get to it. You can attempt to deduce which ones are true gifts based on established preference and which are interpretations of taste:

-- Loop Group by Larry McMurtry (um, not having noted the title we originally assumed the new McMurtry was a Western and so it was intended to be for my dad who loves them, but then we saw the cover, complete with hot pink bra flying through the air -- which is maybe not so unWesternlike, but the pastels definitely would not make it in the Ole West)
-- The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard
-- and three books for one person: Metro Girl by Janet Evanovich and two of the Elizabeth MacPherson books by Sharyn McCrumb, one of which was If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him
-- A Game of Thrones (A Song of Fire and Ice # 1) by George R.R. Martin (packaged with a Marvel comics thingymadoo)
-- The Coal Tattoo by Silas House
-- two books for one person: Does She or Doesn't She? by Alisa Kwitney (note: Kwitney is a very, very fun read) and another book that had been on the NYT list at some point and had a pink cover
-- an Italian cookbook by a TV person
-- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (as retold for younger children)
-- some pop-up dragon book that was beautifully illustrated
-- and the one I forgot: Black Wind by Clive and Dirk Cussler (note: this is also the lone book we were informed "everyone is buying")

I think that's it, although we haven't shopped for any of our friends yet.

For each other, we got only a few books this year (we got dance lessons! and other stuff!). You can guess who got what:

-- Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
-- DC Comics Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to the Characters of the DC Universe
-- Bicycle: The History by David Herlihy
-- The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History by Nancy Pick with photos by Mark Sloan (if only it'd been Rosamond Purcell, life would be perfect)

I hope you got the pages you wanted.


or maybe we are all waiting together at the bottom of the ocean

You are the fox.

Saint Exupery's 'The Little Prince' Quiz.
brought to you by Quizilla

Merry, merry, Mr. Barzak!

still not home

But we will be later today, and I've got a couple of posts planned for then about books as Christmas presents.

Last night, we drove back to my parents from C's family domain around 9 p.m., listening to John Waters on Fresh Air, talking about the new album "A John Waters Christmas." I had never, never, never heard any of these songs and they are wonderful. Highlights? "Santa Claus is a Black Man" and "Santa, Don't Pass Me By." (You can hear samples either on the Fresh Air episode or at Barnes and -- yes, S & S is now anti-Amazon as well). It's a little late to point to this, but still worth a listen before you're completely out of the holiday mood.

We also heard an excellent, lengthy interview with Gregory Maguire on Studio 360, about fairy tales, but PRI's not nearly so generous with the linkage.


just what you wanted for xmas

Justine tackles the cold, hard, depressing truth about first novel advances. Check her out.

We're now running unbelievably late, so nothing more possibly until Sunday, maybe later today. Happy holidaze, everybody.

UPDATE: Justine's post spawns a long, interesting MeFi thread.


mistakes you don't have to make no. 101

It is never a good idea to not have caffeine or food because you're going to pop out to the coffeehouse in a few when your car is covered in a layer of ice.

Off to finish consumering, then at least one proper post. Till then, visit the folks on the right, or go sign up at Bloglines and set it to only show you updated blogs (because you should be doing that anyway). Give yourself the gift of aggregated efficiency.


baby, it's fucking freezing outside (update)

So, I can't stay to chat because the local news will be on soon and I must watch my nemeses spread their alarmist interpretations of nature -- yes, I'm talking about meteorologists (one in particular). Just got back from a blissfully lingery diner breakfast with our fabulous passing through person, talking about writing and politics and generally offending those around us and drinking strong coffee -- little did we know that impending winter storm doom was bearing down upon us. Quite by accident at the end of our third cups of coffee we discovered this, and I hustled him into the car, pointed the way to Liquor Barn and the interstate with promises that he'd be ahead of the weather.

Posting may be light today, despite my earlier vow, because I'm a bit hungover and there's going to be weather. But I also am not going out in Actual Weather to brave the final consumerism, so maybe there will be something. Anyway, Ms. Tingle Alley is pepperminty and posty. So go visit her. Weigh in on the great debate (natch): is Tom Wolfe's sex ironic or just bad?


So, the weather people are in a thwarted sort of frenzy, showing and reshowing footage from further north and west of auto accidents and frustrated, bemused travelers at rest stops ("Yes, it's pretty miserable out there. How much did your parents pay for this groundbreaking TV news career you've got going?" Or my favorite, the monosyllabic answers -- "Uh-yah." -- to questions like, "The driving's pretty bad, huh?"). There's impending weather, but it's still pending weather. Right now it's raining and there's talk of freezing rain/ice/snow. I just hope we don't lose power and that the TV can still get here from space (another story for another day).

Christopher picked me up for lunch and we went to the comic book store (you really should be reading Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men -- fantastic stuff) and then to the little mediterranean deli we love so. Unfortunately, I was still full from the diner breakfast and not only over-ordered (everything is so good), but the nice cook/proprietor (whose mother's speciality was cooking a whole lamb) kept giving me extra stuff to try -- fancied up with olive oil spices and mint hummus, lentil soup, etc -- while my chicken kabob was cooking. He's one of those guys who really wants to see you enjoy the food and doesn't believe you did if you don't eat it all. I will never eat again. Now I am going to take a nap, during which I will gain a bajillion pounds just from dreams of the food placed before me today.

A few hangovers in the meantime:

-- Make sure to read Talking Points Memo on the whole Kerik thing, it's getting juicy.

-- Ms. Tingle reveals Ayelet Waldman's blog, a tart treat so far.

-- Liz Hand on the darker side of Christmas from last weekend's Wash-Po.

-- The King Kong production diary, complete with questions answered by Peter Jackson. (I can't remember where I first saw this, so apologies for the link absconsion.)

-- Stephen Hunter bemoans the Fockers.


those are some ugly-ass sweaters

Self-explanatory click through photo gallery in today's Chicago Tribune. For the love of god, why would you submit such photos? These people are obviously unloved or in some sort of sweater worship cult and crying out for salvation. Help them if you know them. (Via Robin.)

please restrain jonathan franzen from responding to this in any way to any media outlet or even his mother

Someone actually studied Oprah's impact on book sales and found out that -- shocker! -- it is HUGE*:

Oprah's recommendations had a bigger impact on the sales of books than anything we have previously seen in literature, or seen since,' said Brigham Young University economics professor Richard Butler, whose findings were published in the latest issue of the journal Publishing Research Quarterly. Butler found that Winfrey's recommendation was enough to lift books from obscurity and to keep them on the best-seller lists longer than other titles.

Using USA Today's weekly 150-item best-seller list, Butler and his team of students went about examining the 45 non-children's titles Winfrey picked from her book club's inception in 1996 until she announced its end in 2002.

Of those books, only 11 had been on the best-seller list before her recommendation, and none of them had gone beyond No. 25. Of the first 11 books that Winfrey picked, all went to at least No. 4 within a week, Butler said.

In unrelated news, Courtney Love will write an autobiography. Could anyone have stopped her? Destined to NOT reap the benefits of Oprah's stamp, I'll wager.

*Note the restraint shown in not committing the obvious jokestering.

UPDATED: Jeff provides the following further info on the Love masterpiece-in-the-making in the comments section. (This must be what it felt like when Jewel decided to publish her poetry.) He sez:

Courtney has been threatening an autobio/memoir for a while. Remember this from earlier in the year?

"The book will also include the unpublished liner notes for Live Through This, which the proposal's cover letter boasts "rivals David Foster Wallace at his best." A sample from those liner notes reads, "Like a virus on glucose, you're hungry, but I'm starving. ... I dream of Anne Sexton in her red negligee, with her therapist. ... I dream of life, life, life and truth. Now go to hell.""


Yes, that's right, Amazing Race fans: Jonathan and Victoria have a blog. (Via Jennifer Weiner.)

His response to the infamous shoving incident:

December 16, 2004

London 2:20am

All of us have our faults. Unfortunately for me millions of viewers are getting to see mine each week. I do not abuse Victoria, what you see is a heighten version of stress and obsession mix with medication for a sickness called Sarcoidosis. What was started as a Publicity Stunt turn in to an obsession to race and be first at any cost. This is a GAME and I set out to be the Villain to others not to Victoria. Victoria and I are working on our relationship to better our self and learn from our mistakes. I am taking full responsibly for my actions on screen. Please allow me to make the effort.

I am deeply saddened by the storyline that CBS went with. I am sorry for my actions, I am sorry to Victoria. Most all I am sorry to the Fans of the Amazing Race.


The old Sarcoidosis excuse, eh? I heart random capitalization, a true sign of madness and "obsession."

And just as you'd expect, Victoria's apologia is a little shorter:

December 19, 2004

Don't worry, I am fine. Its a TV show and not a true reflection of our relationship. We both over reacted.


She should have signed: Victoria, with gun to her head ... or maybe that's just Jonathan holding his finger back there

You picture the thought bubble.

trivial dibs: i am the typewriter

The Rake pointed to this Christian Science Monitor article on Book Lover's Trivial Pursuit (and something called Booktastic). It sayeth:

Everything about this game looks colorful and fun, from the day-glo board to the metal play pieces. Questions appear in six categories of books: children's, classics, nonfiction, book club, authors, and book bag. Players (alone or in groups) must successfully answer one from each. Get your No. 2 pencil ready because this is not a game for the casual reader. We found it considerably more difficult than Booktastic. No subjective responses are allowed, and many of the questions struck our group - which contained two English teachers, two librarians from Harvard, and a Ph.D. in comparative literature - as very, very tough. Still, if you spend enough time studying the cards before company arrives, you'll look like a genius. (Shhhh)

We've been playing this for a month or so now and, in fact, we are so geeky that we take the cards with us and do them during the every-once-and-awhile Sunday afternoon cheeseburger and beer/wine outing. I have some in my purse right now. Anyway, there are hard questions, but the game is not that tough. It is full of fairly recent stuff, though, and also very wide-ranging in terms of genre, which may be what flummoxed this guy's crowd.

Sample questions for your pleasure:

Children's -- Who teaches charms at Hogwarts?
Classic Literature -- What taboo B-word in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion sparked a scandal on the London stage?
Nonfiction (note: the Sports of Book Lover's Trivial Pursuit, sad to say) -- What nation's military coup did author Thomas Hauser explore, in The Execution of Charles Horman, later published as Missing?
Book Club -- What Gloria Naylor novel focuses on sea island matriarch Miranda Day?
Authors What author of Sally Hemmings sculpted Africa Rising, a monument to slave trade victims that graces the lobby of a Manhattan federal building?
Book Bag (note: This is usually science fiction or mystery, with the occasional romance clue. This is where Sarah Weinman would kick your ass.) -- What science-fiction author invited others into his Known Space universe, to write stories documenting the Man-Kzin Wars?

Well, you stumped? I'd get about half of these. On a good day. And this seems like a harder than normal set of questions.

Related: Trivial Pursuit: Book Lover's Edition (we got ours at Barnes and Noble)

happy solstice

While I'm waiting for someone to step up and claim the prize mentioned below, happy winter solstice. Otherwise known as the Shortest Day of the Year.

I was just laughing at some sort of weirdo email I was forwarded about this, encouraging celebration, and then I remembered that I actually have danced around a bonfire in the middle of nowhere for winter solstice. It was bitter cold and our breath was like smoke. An artist renowned for his love of fine whiskey was there and passing a bottle of something that burned like fire. A lovely night.

So, celebrate. Or listen to Robert Graves read "To Juan at the Winter Solstice." You might want to check out Terry's beautiful entry from last night, too.

We're taking someone wonderful passing through town to our favorite restaurant downtown, which I like to call The Confederacy of Dunces place, since the proprietor reminds me of nothing else. I'm sure it will be celebratory.

so giveaway

The thing is too much time has passed and I've turned out to be too lazy to do a proper review of the dapper Scott Westerfeld's So Yesterday. It's the coolest YA you have the opportunity to read this year -- and not just because it's about a coolhunting kid thrown into investigating a mystery that threatens the very fabric of consumer culture (and who is already in love with New York City and falling in love with a very Nod-worthy girl in the meantime).

If you don't believe me, check out Chris McLaren's take, or Cory Doctorow's. (Or that of an actual teenager linked from the book's title above.)

I'm feeling givey, and I happen to have an extra copy of the book on hand. I will happily send it to the first person who emails me and/or posts in the comments to claim it -- and I'll possibly include some other fun things too.


just me and you, kid

I'll be keeping you company -- mostly -- over the holidays. Unlike many, these types of things actually make my life a little more manageable and give me more time to fritter at loose ends. Also, I plan to write a fair amount, so I'll need breaks. And I do believe I'm completely, 100 percent caught up on email, and am determined to stay that way now.

This is just a warning, but if you, like me, obsessively wish that people actually would update every now and again over the holidays: we will be friends, me and you.

Update: I would like to make clear that I aspire to gardyloo. (Oh, and Klinkenborg to you, too!) Also, you haven't seen it yet, but the cover for Say... have you heard this one? is the most beautiful thing ever. Ever. Ever.

the disappearance of a bird

The po'ouli is apparently gone for good:

The people who try to save endangered species in Hawaii are immune to despair. They have to be, to keep doing what they do. They dangle on ropes from 3,000-foot sea cliffs on Molokai to brush pollen on a flower whose only natural pollinator - some unknown bird or insect - has died out. They trudge into remote forests to play taped bird calls, hoping that a survivor of a vanished species will reply. Or they capture and tend one small bird, old for its kind and missing an eye, then spend fruitless months searching for another to be its mate.

That bird, a po'ouli, the last known member of its genus and species, died in its cage on Maui on Nov. 26. The news, briefly noted in the papers, was another milestone in a long-running environmental catastrophe that is engulfing the islands.

The po'ouli was only discovered in 1973 -- a short known lifespan, to be sure. You can listen to an NPR Radio Expedition from 1998 about attempts to save the bird.

Even though I knew it was a slim chance, I kept my eyes peeled for one when I visited Haleakala. Next time, I won't have to bother. Seems trite to say how sad that is.


Wikipedia on po'ouli
picture here
Song of the Dodo by David Quammen


the rerun return of oa

I'm picking my way through the first issue of the latest revival of the Oxford American. (May this rebirth take.) It looks to be jam-packed with good stuff. The inimitable Ms. Maud Newton has already pointed out the piece by Charles Portis and even put up a brief excerpt. The only piece I've read in its entirety so far is the other Writing on Writing piece by phenomenal writer Kevin Brockmeier. A flip way to describe Brockmeier would be as the person who wrote the one missing kid book you actually should read if you didn't. (The Truth About Celia.) Besides Celia, he's published two novels for children and an excellent short story collection for adults. He's definitely a writer whose work is full of WBFW (What Beautiful Fucking Writing) moments.

The essay he has here is pretty lengthy without feeling it, and full of good stuff -- the text of a speech he gave a group of Nashville schoolchildren about writing, a series of responses to the question "what do you write about?" (7. I write short, rhymed poems about gruesome crimes. Detective sonnets, I guess you could say. I'm big in the Netherlands.), much about the holiness of reading. He also namechecks a bunch of great writers, including Daniel Pinkwater. Good stuff.

A bit of it to convince you, this from the last section on publishing and the terrors of its "strange silence":

All of us who are struggling to find our footing in the publishing world must grapple with this question. The answer I have come to is only provisional, but I offer it anyway because it's the best that I've got.

The real struggle for a writer always takes place on the page. It's not that publishing isn't important: it is, and we know that it is. Moreover, we all know why it is. We write to be read. We write so that we can publish, so that we can make some money, so that we can have the time to write. The process of sending our fiction out into the world and waiting to hear something back can seem like a worthwhile use of our time--can seem, in fact, as if it's a legitimate a part of our work as the writing itself. The thing is, it isn't. What truly matters is what we do when we're sitting at our desks, pen in hand, piecing together our assemblies of words--the stories we tell, the ideas we bring to life, the characters we endow with our humanity. I have learned that when I apply myself to my writing, I quickly become absorbed in the problems of language and storytelling. These are problems I can do something about, and as I struggle with them, that other problem, the problem of publication, recedes from my mind. The silence is still there, but it takes on a different tone, a deeper and more living one.

It may be difficult for the established writer to understand, or rather to remember, the vehemence of the beginning writer's desire to be read: in time, I suspect, all things come to seem inevitable. But there's another desire, an equal and more persistant one, that we all share in common--the desire to become a better, more generous, more searching writer. This is the aspiration of every writer of worth, and in times of drought, it's the one that should sustain us.

Anyway, I just thought I'd point to this. Go buy the OA. Read the Portis and the Brockmeier pieces and then rest.

Related links:

"Some Things about Kevin Brockmeier" by Thisbe Nissen at Post Road Magazine
"Have Pen, Will Travel: The Fiction of Kevin Brockmeier and Kelly Link" by Terri Windling

weekend of fabulous prizes

It's snowing! And it's really pretty snow and it's already covered the ground. Now, some of you are sighing or shaking your head, but snow is rare enough in Kentucky these days that you have to appreciate it when it comes. Plus, we have a real yard for George to go make George Angels in later. I will take pictures. I dream of a snow so significant that everything shuts down for a few days. I'll settle for a couple of inches to hide our grass.

This has been a wonderful weekend of excellent, unexpected presents. Friday we came home to a box of Christmas/Birthday (Christopher's) loot from the Raleigh Outpost. I know we probably shouldn't have opened them yet, but we have the willpower of gnats. A beautimous necklace (handmade) and a Trucker Fags wallet (um, I have a feeling that's gonna circulate), an Anne Bonney action figure (yay!), and cool old framed adverts for Kentucky bourbon and in one of them the book in the background is the "Aristocrat of Bonds," and miscellaneous other wonders. On Saturday, I got Lush stuff -- just in time to keep my feet from cracking (thanks, Robin!) and we met up with Katherine and Mandy for lunch. Then, haircut, almost impossible to score at this time of year, and the Lemony Snicket movie with Mandy. And then, my prize possession was revealed unto me:

Mandy gave me an actual stake from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I'll post a picture later.

But you realize this means I'm practically a superhero now, right?

Christopher just came in with groceries and lattes from our coffeeshop. Still snowing. Oh, so best.


introducing mr. ralph eugene meatyard

If you're not familiar with the amazing photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, the NYT has your back today, with an introductory piece by Grace Glueck:

Of all the photographers of the ordinary, Ralph Eugene Meatyard is perhaps the most oddball, giving reality a flip that often puts it into the realm of sur-reality. His creepy, staged shots of family and friends in strange masks but homey settings, or unmasked in derelict places that turn spooky, are weirdly unsettling while at the same time involved with the familiar interactions of everyday life.

Like any fond father, Meatyard (1925-1972), now the subject of a major exhibition at the International Center of Photography, photographed his children growing up. But it wouldn't do just to shoot them in usual haunts. He liked to take his wife and their three children to broken-down houses around Lexington, Ky., the town he lived in most of his life, and depict them playing, jumping and rolling around, wearing masks or making faces, in dank interiors with broken windows, or standing aimlessly in front of the ruined facades.

Wanting to capture the mysterious, inexpressible ties among people, Meatyard did not coax smiles or pleasing body language or any sentiment at all from his subjects. Vacant stares and brooding countenances are more the rule, the kinds of expressions you catch on people when they are lost in reverie, out of response mode.

My favorite Meatyard portraits are actually a series of self-portraits taken shortly before his death from cancer. The final picture shows him turned away from the camera, walking up a hillside. It's an eery and sweet goodbye. Glueck ends her piece talking about these:

Looking far older than his years, his once trim hair unkempt and shaggy, he sits outdoors on the equally unkempt grass of a hill, again gazing intently at the camera. In two sequential pictures, he gets up, turns for a last look, then walks laboredly away. He is leaving, and the show ends.

Glueck doesn't quite get the Lucybelle Crater photos, which is fine, but they have as much to say as his other work. I think they feel too willfully odd to some people and again, that's fine. But there is more there.

The best thing about the oddity of Meatyard's photos is how natural and effortless it is. He's a fascinating guy. This is just who he was. He was an optometrist in Lexington, Ky., who hung his weird photos on the walls of his business and hung out with the Camera Club. He was also a fringe figure on the edge of many of the more radical artists/thinker types floating around at the time -- Thomas Merton (who he took some great portraits of -- including one on that page with the monk in a baseball cap) and Wendell Berry being two -- but had much more vanilla political views than they did. He kept a notebook of odd names he ran across, several pages of which are reproduced in Ralph Eugene Meatyard: An American Visionary.

If you live in New York, you should note that his work is receiving its first major showing there, assembled by his friend Guy Davenport (and the reason for the NYT piece): "Ralph Eugene Meatyard" is at the International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, at 43rd Street, Manhattan, (212) 857-0000, through Feb. 27.

Meanwhile, check out the slide show.

some songs I liked

in 2004. Since I rediscovered radio this year, things became very song-focused for a change. So, here's some songs from this year that I always turned up when they came on. Not that I'm sure they're all from 2004, but... links to places where you can hear these songs provided where available.

1. "Unmade Bed," Sonic Youth from Sonic Nurse

2. "The Great Love Sound," The Raveonettes from Chain Gang of Love -- I heart everything by this band.

3. "Bam Thwok," The Pixies -- The first time I heard this I kept trying and trying to figure out why I didn't quite recognize it. Thank you, Shrek-idiots.

4. "Jessica," Adam Green from Jessica EP -- most sing-a-longable of the year (and Jessica Simpson, natch):
"tomorrow gets closer a purple bulldozer is calling you on the phone.
your lovelife preceeds you, your son in law feeds you, injections of cortizone."

5. "Stay Loose," Belle & Sebastian from Dear Catastrophe Waitress -- I finally liked them this year!

6. "The Rat," The Walkmen from Bows and Arrows

7. "It's a Hit," Rilo Kiley from More Adventurous -- I still think this is better than "Portions for Foxes."

8. "Jubilee," Patti Smith from Trampin' (also an awesome song)

9. "Static on the Radio," Jim White from Drill A Hole In That Substrate And Tell Me What You See

10. "Slung Lo," Erin McKeown from Grand

11. "Portland, Oregon," Loretta Lynn and Jack White from Van Lear Rose

12. "Johnny Cash," Sons and Daughters from Love the Cup

13. "Wicked and Weird," Buck 65 from Talkin' Honky Blues -- This whole album is genius.

And oh, so many more. I'm sure I'll update this list or maybe not. But these were songs I liked. Along with other songs, which I've forgotten about just now.

Note: I am completely clueless where this whole mpbleh stuff is concerned, so if I'm linking to illegal stuff, it's an accident. I promise!

Addition #1 (14). "Won't Be Home," Old 97's -- I memorized the lyrics the first time I heard it. Great song.

friday ...

The Alien Cold of the Planet Forever is still hanging on so blame any lack of coherence on that. Perhaps there will be a few listy things soon, maybe there won't. Hard to say at this juncture. Should my head ever begin to drain, I'll be working on the new book again.
-- Excellent Daniel Handler interview in the LA Weekly (via Moorish Girl and Beatrice). As I've said here many times, I'm a huge fan of Handler's work, both the Snicket stuff and his novels. And so the best, best, best part of this interview to me is this admission: I just finished a new novel for adults. Yay! The only bad thing about the success of the Snicket books is that they've probably delayed this somewhat. Also:
"Melodrama," Handler laughs — he’s actually been laughing quite a bit, but I don’t know that it has anything to do with me — and downs the last of his icy bourbon as I drain my perfectly room-temperature Oban scotch, 14 years old, complex, aromatic, wonderfully peaty, with a hint of sea salt.
While I'm curious as to Handler's choice of bourbon, I can vouch for the joy of Oban. I've seen some pretty amazing personality shifts brought forth from a few slugs of Oban, but really, it's also fun to say once you've been drinking it. Oban. O-ban. Ooooo-bahhn. Oban. McLaren, back me up?
Handler also says some true, true, true things about children's literature at the moment and as someone who has been reading a lot of it (not to mention writing it), I'd like to call your attention to them:
"Children’s literature," he continues, "is getting a lot of attention right now, and there’s also a lot of experimentation happening. Another children’s author told me that she thought it was like rock & roll in the ’60s — that all of the sudden everyone’s looking at it, and there’s money being made from it, and because there’s money being made from it, that the people who are sort of minding the gates are allowing a lot more experimentation.

"I’m not enough of a historian of children’s literature to know if that entirely rings true, but certainly it’s a time when . . . I mean, if you read 12 novels published for teenagers that are out by major publishers right now, the amount of experimentation — in terms of subject matter, style and language — is just way to the left of the same 12 novels that are gonna be published during the same period by the same publishers but for adults. There’re novels from the point of view of fetuses. Feti? Fetuses. And characters who go blind without reason midway through the novel. And all sorts of things that, if you were writing that for adults, you would only be published by some crazy, leftist, independent press, at best. And instead, if you write that for children, you’re being published by Simon & Schuster."
-- Mad Max Perkins points to Dan Wickett's interview with Mike Magnuson, who uses cycling as a metaphor for writing:
You ride bicycles, when you do get hurt, you’re REALLY gonna get hurt. We’re talking about skipping your body over pavement at fairly high speeds--20 or 30 or 40 miles per hour--and while you may walk away from such a crash, you’ll be limping. Definitely. And bleeding. And you’re gonna be a hurting unit for days and weeks and sometimes months or the rest of your life….So you get injured, you don’t feel sorry for yourself. You heal and get back into shape and get out there and ride again.

I’d say the experience is identical to publishing books...
There's more.
-- And Carl Zimmer at the Loom -- fast becoming on of my favorite blogs -- talks about the danger of overestimating the importance of intelligence. Speaking of which, I don't care if it has Jim Carrey in it. The Unfortunate Events movie will be seen.
That's all for now.
p.s. For some reason, blogger is dumping line spaces some places and not others. I can not control this. If you can, tell me how.


read a book: Murder of Angels

I've enjoyed all Caitlin Kiernan's books, but I think her latest, Murder of Angels, just became my favorite. (Although Threshold runs a close second.) A sequel of sorts to Silk, the book certainly doesn't require that you've read the earlier one, or that you've read it recently enough to remember it in depth. In fact, I experienced an interesting sense of vertigo, as details from Silk came flooding back the further in I read.

The writing is uniformly beautiful and I worried needlessly during the first couple of chapters that the ornate prose and sense of dread couldn't possibly be sustained over the entire book. Instead, the book continues to build until the last page, the writing ever more beautiful and precise. Kiernan is the only writer I'm familiar with whose books are able to pull off the trick of being as scary as any horror movie (I never want to get up and go to the bathroom at night or walk through the house in the dark while I'm reading one) but still having a real intellectual and emotional heft to them. Unlike most horror movies, the frights of a book like Murder of Angels are human and because of that deeply resonant.

But let's talk about what makes this book different from her earlier books. The second half is a fantasy. And it's one of the most jaw-dropping, successful renderings of a fantasy world I've read in ages. The problem with much fantasy, to me, is that the things that are meant to be frightening, whatever the big dark evil is, often can't be truly frightening to us. The threat never seems real. This is partly because the good and true characters are -- in most books -- not going to die, good is going to be victorious, and we know this because we've learned it from a thousand narratives. Murder of Angels escapes this trap. These characters are complex, and while they may be good (whatever that is), it's in no way a guarantee of safety or survival. The worlds in the book themselves aren't safe from destruction. And so this is that rare thing: a successful dark fantasy. One that will scare you, stay with you, and introduce you to marvels.

See also:
Bookslut interview with Kiernan
Kiernan's LiveJournal


"Are you wearing my dead wife's maternity clothes?"

"Is that her rape horn?" "It's more like a starter's pistol."

Lines like this are why you should be watching Arrested Development. Plus, twice the Jeffrey Tambor.

everybody loves puppets

So, last night over the traditional post-writing group cocktail (Clint's last night even *sigh*), the subject of Thai puppets came up. I found myself pretty ignorant on Thai puppets and even made a couple of bad -- hey, people, I am SICK, the Revenge of the Sentient Cold here, okay? -- jokes about Thai puppet porn. I also resolved to google to the bottom of this matter. So I give you a bunch of excellent Thai (and Asian) puppet-related links:

The History of Thai Puppets
Traditional Thai Puppets (focus on "Joe Louis," who is not a boxer but the -- okay, I'm having a hard time coming up with the right word here, throwing out debreathed before, same difference -- deceased Thai puppet master and apparently the Joe Louis Theater is one of the main tourist puppet things in Bangkok)
The Lotz Doll Pages -- This is my favorite because it has pictures and squibs about all different sorts of puppets... some of them are pretty amazing. Including the Abe Lincoln puppet below:

Anyway, this post brought to you by Theraflu. Or you could go read Ursula Le Guin's further smackdown of the Sci-Fi Channel. (And really, isn't it just proof of what an impeccable, brilliant, classy dame she is that no one is suggesting she shut the hell up? Well, no one better, anyway. I mean, compare this to Anne Rice's screed of a couple of months ago. There is no comparison to be made.).

Head now inserted back in shell.


what he said*

Okay, so, what Alan said about Sideways. He was one of the houseguests I talked into going to see the movie, and we even snuck in a bolly of red wine. Since then, I've been trying to bridge the disconnect between a great many people whose opinions I respect and our group's consensus about the movie. I'll probably see it again, but in short, I'll steal Alan's words:
Anyway, I think America is so culturally impoverished now that any film which makes half-assed stabs at "high" culture suddenly gets swept up as an anti-blockbuster in the critical consciousness (and critical wannabe consciousness). E.g., "It's about wine--it must be the antidote to Shark Tale!!!" Witness the main characters' lame "my novel redeems the fact that I stole money from my mother" moment at the end of the movie, oh, oops spoiler! The "brilliant, unpublished first novel that lets him get laid" is interchangeable for the Pinot-or-Whatever '64 ( as if I care)--it's like when they review poetry in the New Yorker or NYTBR. They're not actually talking about poetry--it's the engine of nostalgia that it represents, "living a life which goes deeper than the surface", the primrose promise that represents an absolution for being a complete asshole. In that way, the lazy morality of Sideways is quintessentially American.

Really, read the whole thing. Worth your time, even if you really, really adore the movie.

*Please know that this hurts as much as disavowing a Wes Anderson movie would -- or watching the seventh season of Buffy did. I am a HUGE fan of ALL prior movies penned by Alexander Payne/Jim Taylor. I understand other people feel as passionately on the side of this movie as I do on the not caring for it tip AND this is not a popular-backlash thing. Natch.

p.s. This cold medicine is fun, but impersonating the MASK-esque head orc of the (extended) edition LOTR: ROTK by arranging my hands in funny shapes across my eye and forehead is funner.


different types of hard men

The NYT yields a couple of worthwhile links today.

How do you write a detective novel with Subcommander Marcos? Very carefully.

Two weeks ago, Pablo Ignacio Taibo II, a successful writer of detective stories set in Mexico City, received a clandestine letter from the guerrilla leader. In it, Subcommander Marcos, the rebel leader who made wearing a black ski mask sexy, proposed that they team up to write a
detective story, alternating chapters.

"I thought about it for 10 seconds and said 'No, not right now. I'm very happy with my Pancho Villa book, which I'm writing, and this new project will drive me crazy," Mr. Taibo recalled. "Then rapidly, 10 seconds later, I said yes. It had the enormous attraction of insanity. For a writer like me who is always bordering on insanity, it was part of my, shall we say, greatest obsessions to do something like that."

Spoilers for The Wire below -- if you have not seen last night's ep, do not read on.

There's also a nice little story about The Death of Stringer Bell, including an interview with Idris Elba, the actor who played him.

Fans of the show may be surprised to learn that Mr. Elba is not African American. The only child of a mother from Ghana and father from Sierre Leone, Mr. Elba was born and brought up in Hackney, a working-class borough of London. It is a fact he reluctantly shares with fans, preferring instead to use his American accent when talking with those who request autographs. "Wherever I go the real hard-core dudes come up to me and confide in me," said Mr. Elba, who over the years has been approached by dozens of drug dealers identifying with Stringer. "I almost feel guilty turning around and saying: 'Hello, mate. My name's Idris and I'm from London.' " Mr. Elba burst into an exaggerated version of his cockney accent. "I don't want to break the illusion."

This was also the ep with the Dennis Lehane cameo -- at least, I'm fairly certain that was Dennis Lehane.

UPDATED: Now, am fairly uncertain it was Dennis Lehane, as surely someone else would have noticed. Let's say that there was a guy with Lehane's hairline who seemed to be doing a cameo behind the equipment desk in this episode.

tuesday morning

Tuesday Hangovers
1. Terry shares the wisdom of Bono. "Very good," Bono says, "is the enemy of great. You think great is right next door. It's not. It's in another country."
2. Charles McGrath talks to Michael Crichton, who asserts some pretty whack shit (note: at least this is one example of a writer interview where the looks of a male writer are mentioned):
Sitting in his hotel room, he had at hand a stack of photocopied graphs and articles, but he seldom needed to refer to them as he patiently explained what he thinks is wrong with the theory of global warming: temperatures have not increased at anything like the rate that was originally predicted, and temperature data are not especially reliable to begin with; back in the 70's we were worried about global cooling. He was particularly dismissive of the various computer models for climate change, saying, "You have to remember, I come from an experience where you can use a computer to make a photo-realistic dinosaur, and I know that isn't real."

He began idly looking at temperature records about three years ago, he explained, and even after he became convinced that climate changes were impossible to predict and the threat of global warming much less than environmentalists were claiming, he resisted writing about it. "I didn't want the hassle," he said, adding that at first he didn't see a way to turn his findings into a novel. "My message is there isn't a problem," he said. "That's not a very good message - it's not a smash-bang one."
Michael Crichton, global warming expert? Carl Zimmer at The Loom points to analysis of State of Fear by an actual scientific expert on climate at Real Climate:
The inevitable conclusion of the book is that global warming is a non-problem. A lesson for our times maybe? Unfortunately, I think not.

Like the recent movie “The Day After Tomorrow", the novel addresses real scientific issues and controversies, but is similarly selective (and occasionally mistaken) about the basic science. I will discuss a selection of the global warming-related issues that are raised in between the car chases, shoot-outs, cannibalistic rites and assorted derring-do. The champion of Crichton’s scientific view is a MIT academic-turned-undercover operative who clearly runs intellectual rings around other characters. The issues are raised as conversations and Q and A sessions between him (and other ‘good guys’) and two characters; an actor (not a very clever chap) and a lawyer (a previously duped innocent), neither of whom know much about the science.

Read the whole thing and lest you doubt the blogger's credentials, the person doing the analyzing is Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller for NASA. He concludes by saying:
In summary, I am a little disappointed, not least because while researching this book, Crichton actually visited our lab and discussed some of these issues with me and a few of my colleagues. I guess we didn’t do a very good job. Judging from his reading list, the rather dry prose of the IPCC reports did not match up to the some of the racier contrarian texts.
In a just world, all this attention would be heaped on Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain, which Cory Doctorow posted about yesterday at Boing Boing and which is undoubtedly a far more scientifically valid text.
3. Penguins are the new monkeys, proclaims Booklust.
4. Much about mail art, using the Griffin and Sabine books as a jumping off point, at MeFi.
5. And, hey, remember that judge who supposedly said told a 14-year-old rape victim to "get over it"? He's suing several journalists who worked on the story(ies) because this is supposedly untrue and this Washington Post piece focuses on the fact that the suit uses an interview one of the reporters gave on The O'Reilly Factor as evidence.
6. The Washington Post reviews Bicycle: The History by David Herlihy -- and they let actual commuting bicyclist Colman McCarthy write the review. I see this on someone's birthday wish list in the very near future.
7. France shows off world's tallest bridge, with ooh-lala beautiful photos. Via Maccers.


mr. president, would you like to meet my wife minnie?

This installment of NPR's Lost and Found Sound must not be missed. Go listen. Don't believe me? The set up:

A pre-arranged phone call to the White House is planned. The idea is to have President Lyndon Johnson offer Commander Carpenter a formal congratulation. This is a purely ceremonial call. It should be cut-and-dried. But there's a bizarre problem. Commander Carpenter is no longer underwater; he's in a decompression chamber. He's breathing air in which nitrogen- the gas which can give people the bends- has been replaced by helium. Helium is harmless, but it distorts the voice. When he speaks, Commander Carpenter sounds like Mickey Mouse.

We are in agreement that LBJ sounds like a grandmother. (Via Boing Boing)

why not?

After all, a Monday morning m@?!* beats providing actual content, right? I saw this first from Caitlin Kiernan (whose excellent Murder of Angels ate up much of my weekend). As always, I reserve the right to change the questions I don't like.

1. What did you do in 2004 that you'd never done before?
Got married, obvs. Visited San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Actually finished book (!). Many things, actually, so I'll stop.

2. Did you keep your New Years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
This one's a joke, right?

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Sorta. Mr. McLaren became a dad, though he didn't do the actual birthing. Canadians may be odd, but not that odd.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Thankfully, no.

5. What countries did you visit?
Mexico and Tennessee. (Hey, there was that whole Franklin business.)

6. What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004?
Lots and lots of money.

7. What dates from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? September 3, otherwise known as hitching day (see no. 1). November 2, otherwise known as Black Tuesday.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Probably finishing my book (finally!). I was just shocked to go back and look at when I actually started -- as part of Greg's May YA Novel Dare -- and see that it was only May 2003. It feels like it should have been many, many more years ago than that. Feeling a bit better about my foot-dragging now. A year and a half-ish isn't so very long.

9. What was your biggest failure?
To sleep enough and keep going to the gym on the straight and narrow. I do have the best intentions to get back on track though.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Not really.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My bicycle! (Well, Christopher bought it.)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Pretty much everybody's. You were all extremely well-behaved this year.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Read any newspaper.

14. Where did most of your money go?
What am I, an accountant? Into thises and thatses, books and meals and wine. Frugality's a dream for next year.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Our new house, especially the pressed tin ceiling room.

16. What song will always remind you of 2004?
"The Rat," The Walkmen. Oh and, "Jessica Simpson," Adam Green. Any number of others.

17. Compared to this time last year, you are:
Not being plagued by bongos. Less rambly.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Work, research for the next book (working on it), budgeting, visiting friends, gyming, more George walks.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Spending $$ on stuff I can't remember. Stressing.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Driving, driving, driving from place to place to place to see various family members.

22. Did you fall in love in 2004?
Better -- stayed in love.

23. How many one-night stands?
How old (and wise) it makes me feel that I actually laughed at this question.

24. What was your favorite TV program?
Gilmore Girls. Though Deadwood and The Wire run close for second.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
The list is under constant revision.

26. What was the best book you read?
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Sirius satellite radio.

28. What did you want and get?
A digital camera.

29. What did you want and not get?
A new computer.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I think. Or possibly: Before Sunset or Garden State.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
There was some confusion, but it turned out I was 28. We did stuff, but I'm not sure exactly what, and my own record is no help whatsoever. I decided to have a low-key birthday this year.

32.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
See entry on Black Tuesday.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2004?
Retro, as I was able to resurrect some clothes that had been assigned to the closet.

34. What kept you sane?
George. And Christopher.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
No one really comes to mind. Fuck celebrities!

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Next question.

37. Who did you miss?
More people than I wanted to.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Luz of San Miguel. Even if she was convinced I look like the Bride of Chucky. Oh, and a special SBC shout-out to Ms. Carrie. And, also, the writing group core -- Clint, Robin, Katherine, Melissa -- and the Other Melissa.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004:
Sometimes you can get what you want.

*I hate that word!


best book list yet

The White Plains News has published the most interesting and encompassing best books list I've seen yet this year (granted I don't pay that much attention to these things, but). It has something to do with format:

So for the second straight year, we're turning our best books package over to 70 of the writers who made the year so exciting. We asked each of them to tell us about a book they enjoyed this year; the answers span the centuries and genres.

Seventy writers pretty much ensures a variable list, but the most interesting thing is that it isn't specified who is making the individual recommendations. They are blind and that makes it better. Now, I have a feeling this may just be a function of the transfer of the content to the web losing the names, but still. Interesting is interesting.

Must read Samantha Hunt's The Seas. Must not forget.

(Via Largehearted Boy.)


you always knew we were batshit

Matthew Cheney has totally gotten the number of Say... in his year-end SF small (tiny) press roundup over at The Mumpsimus. Go read, he has lots and lots of interesting things to say about LCRW and Flytrap and Electric Velocipede, etc., as well. You could subscribe to all those AND Trunk Stories for about the same as a subscription to one so-so glossy mag.

Say... will get another issue out this year, but it will be squeakingly just so fair to say not. But it will be an awesome, awesome issue. I again point you to a sorta table of contents (and submission guidelines) at Christopher's site. (And I will reiterate as always that we are damn glad to have Mr. DeNiro selecting our poetry.) We've widened the submissions net for comics and the like for the next issue and let me beg all you lit types out there to Send Us Stories And Poems That Are Too Weird For Anyplace Else. The next (Spring) theme is a return to a bit more concrete of concepts: “what’s the combination?”

The fabulous ladies of Lipkandy are helping us with the FOW website situation and the new year holds exciting things there too.

Anyway: send us your batshit!

Unrelated: I won a gingerbread house tonight. And saw the best bar sign ever: "Good Food, Cold Beer, Mean Women."

other people's first books

The Times publishes the thoughts of several writers -- Margaret Atwood, Antony Beever, David Almond, to name three -- on their first books. My first screenplay is in a drawer somewhere and will remain so, although I might cannibalize the idea someday. My real first book -- if you could call it that -- was written when I was 16 and mercifully deleted in a Brother word processor failure that could be taken as proof that if there is a god, h/she's anti-embarrassment. In general, I believe in persevering until the work is good enough to stand up and take its licks.

Having been up for awhile, I feel terrible. Some virus? Ibuprofen poisoning? Who knows? I just hope I feel better in time for C's work X-mas party. No one should ever have to attend those things alone.

Back to watching Sunshine State and puttering around on the net. Blogger is being infuriating and weird this morning and I lost part of a post already. So, let me attempt again to point to Chekhov's Mistress' 2004 Didn't List. He recommends a novel by Suzan-Lori Parks, a writer I resolved to read after hearing her response on NPR's "Scenes I Wish I'd Written" feature. Let' s just say the hills are alive.

(p.s. If you can't see anything over to the right, like post links and the blogroll, neither can I. I am hoping this corrects itself, because they're all still in the template and I have no idea what's going on.)

(UPDATE: Nevermind the p.s. It seems to have been a problem with an earlier posts with those damn bullets and blogger's crazy compose editor sticking in HTML tags like they were going out of style.)

ANOTHER UPDATE: Now watching Midnight Run, which I love, and actually read the script for before I originally saw it. (Great read, seek it out if you're into such things.)But here's the oddness I'd forgotten -- Danny Elfman wrote that syrupy guitar, jazzy '80s score. Bizarre, huh?

saturday hangovers!

I know, I know, I intended to sleep in this morning, but I appear to have a surplus of energy and didn't sleep all that well anyway. The little burst of juice normally comes whenever I've finished a big project; it's one of the ways I know I'm actually done. So, up: tea.

I've neglected to point to some really interesting stuff this week, which I will remedy Right This Instant. (The bullets are causing fits, so the return of the numbered list.)

1. I hope you all read the fabulous Moorish Girl every day and know already about the fabulous Randa Jarrar who posts there on Fridays. I just read her lovely story "The Lunatics' Eclipse" at the Ploughshares site, a dreamy love story about the moon and circuses and ants. I suggest you follow suit.

2. The excellent Las Vegas blog Nowhere pays a visit to the Holy Grilled Cheese. Bookmarked. (Via Boing Boing.)

3. So, there's this Jennifer Howard column about fantasy and science fiction and the Good Vs. Evil model, which somehow also manages to blame Susanna Clarke for not writing The Lord of the Rings and to show that Howard basically knows NOTHING about SF. A sentence, plucked from context: Maybe the times are just too strange for realism. I would submit that all times are too strange for realism. (Now, now, I like a good realistic story as much as the next person, it's just I hardly find them that don't have a splash of something unreal to liven them up. Prepare the stakes!) And just to back up the whole "doesn't know what she's talking about" assertion above, another little taste, a whole paragraph this time: Like most former refuges in the modern world, fantasy literature no longer offers a secure retreat. Nor does it offer a reliable moral proxy for real-world troubles. The fight between Good and Evil increasingly resembles our own tangled inner conflicts; the battle for Middle Earth has become a struggle for self-knowledge. Conviction has vanished, and only its epic trappings remain. Whoa. Deep. Also, bullshit.

4. The Guardian runs Julie Burchill's top ten books for teens and there's some really excellent stuff on there, including the must-spoken-of-lately Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials books. (Via Sarah Weinman.)

5. Justine comes up with a new title for the second book in her Magic or Madness trilogy. Also, totally unconvincingly clames not to be a chin-stroking villain.

6. Imaginary friends study summarized and linked at Boing Boing. Read Ben Rice's Pobby and Dingan for more!

7. Names of ancient cities at MeFi.

8. The Rake admits not finishing The Quick and the Dead -- blashphemy! -- and links to an excellent Boston Phoenix review of Joy Williams' latest, Honored Guest. I can't wait.

9. Ms. Karen Joy Fowler makes the Richard and Judy list. Otherwise known as the best news of the week. Yay!

Now, more tea.


yes, yes

I finished*. There was this whole traumatic scene where my no longer rational brain had to battle the evil, terrible, overzealous find-replace at the last second, but all was set right by someone else's common sense. Back-up files have been backed up twice..

Made a cake to celebrate (so that's what you left it for, K!), went out to get sweet, sweet plastic can icing and realized I possibly had a touch of ibuprofen poisoning from over-self-medding the cottonball head. Also possibly just really, really exhausted. Lay on couch and watched soothing TiVoed stuff and am now off to bed. I plan to sleep late and eat cake for breakfast.

(*Yes, yes, I also realize that in the best case scenario I will go back into this book armed with an editor's notes at some point, but really, I look forward to that day. Now, let me enjoy this one.**)

(**And if that day never comes, I'm going to become one of those subway booksellers, only on Greyhound buses armed with a feather boa and lines from the plays of Tennesee Williams.)


this post brought to you by the ellipses between my ears

My head may feel like it's wrapped in cotton, my eyes may hurt, and my ability to think may be impaired but if I have only a moderately good day of editing tomorrow the book will be done tomorrow night. Now I'm gonna watch the idiot box. Pretty pictures.

(Wait, Spitting Twyla's not a pretty picture. Sorry.)

(Preliminary yay!)

p.s. I want to do this.

yes, we'll be seeing it

Daniel Handler's at least polite enough to be nice about the Unfortunate Events movie in public (and I can only hope he's telling the truth):

Last weekend, he saw the movie, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which is based on the first three books, and says he's pleased. 'I'm still in a continued state of amazement that it was made.' It's 'more Perils of Pauline than Wuthering Heights,' he says.

Or, to put it another way, 'It's more madcap than the books and less contemplative. But most contemplative movies are a little boring.'

And Handler's wife sounds as funny as expected:

In Handler's drafts, Snicket, the narrator, was envisioned on screen on the periphery, "like Derek Jacobi in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V."

In the movie, Snicket, played by Jude Law, mostly is reduced to a voice-over and is seen only fleetingly.

That disappointed Handler's wife, "who loves Jude Law. She wanted to see more of him, more of him than they would allow in a movie for kids."

I need to see a good movie*. C'mon, snake eyes!

*Will post about the awfulness seen last Saturday night later maybe, depending on the progress on the project discussed below.

words big, writing hard, tree pretty

Every morning on my way to work I drive past a farm where they have cows, but also buffalos and llamas. The llamas are my favorite; they like to preen next to the road. I always mean to mention this, but always forget. So there it is.

Yesterday I finally really started a process I've been (mostly) putting off for months, for no good reason, which is the final pass cleaning up my first book. It's a young adult novel called Girl's Gang. I'd known it wouldn't actually be that bad, but there's something dire about the time before diving back in to something so big. So many words. So many pages. The immensity of it is daunting and this is a medium-sized book at around 70,000 words. Anyway, it's going well -- I made it a third of the way through already -- and that means pickings will be slim around here for the next few days as I tuck my head down and let the wind fly past and finally finish this damn thing. It's interesting to watch what was once very fluid take on a more solid shape, become something more like what it will ultimately be. And this with mostly tiny changes. Anyone who has recommendations (or warnings) about agents who rep YA stuff are welcome to send them to me, as I'm in the process of making a list of people I want to try and get to look at it.

And, you know, I think that starting the new book was what finally kicked my ass into gear. Pardon the French. Which is always the case with me so I don't know why I took so long to do it. Oh well. It's been a busy year.

Matthew Cheney has an excellent post this morning on beginnings, an endlessly fascinating topic to most writers. It reminded me of Carol Emshwiller's excellent pieces "Writing Rules I Like to Break" on Fantastic Metropolis. The first one was on "opening with a bang" and she says: I like to sneak into a story. I think it's a cliché to start with action -- with a shout as if trying to wake up the reader. I think the reader will get hooked by lots of things. Even with a bit of philosophy or a nice description. And then goes on to say: I like stories that fool you. You think you're reading action and yet you're not. You think there's a story and it hasn't even started. She gives some excellent examples and advice. It's worth looking at. (It's Carol Emshwiller after all!)

Back to my bunker.

Sidenote: Just got a nice phone call from a mystery writer friend telling me she's buying The Jane Austen Book Club for all the women on her Christmas list. Yay!

UPDATE: The Rake has an interesting dissection of a Salon column on the upcoming collection of Nick Hornby's Believer columns. As you may have noticed, I don't really talk about books I don't care for here. I don't really plan to either, unless said books are particularly egregiously terrible. Life's too short to dwell on bad books. Or at least, mine is, but I'm more than happy to read other people's opinions. I guess I just prefer my help more on the navigating to good stuff than avoiding bad stuff side of the river. Even if it is sometimes less fun to read about.


it's the oh dear that makes it

Unholy nativity hurts so good:

Christian leaders on Wednesday denounced a Nativity scene at a London wax museum featuring soccer star David Beckham and his wife Victoria, a former Spice Girl, as the parents of Jesus.

The waxwork tableau at Madame Tussauds museum included U.S. President George W. Bush as one of the three Wise Men, actors Hugh Grant and Samuel Jackson as shepherds and Australian disco diva Kylie Minogue as an angel. 'There is a well-understood tradition that each generation interprets and reinterprets the Nativity . . . but, oh dear!' said Rev. Jonathan Jenkins, spokesman for the archbishop of Canterbury, who leads the world's 77 million Anglicans.

(Via J-Walk Blog.)

NOTE: If this, or any other inappropriate post, should appear at the Gaddis Drinking Club's blog, it is purely a "blog this" mistake. Ahem.


this article is so yesterday*

NYT Mag looks at buzz marketing, and reading about it made me feel dirty and frightened of covert sausage operatives showing up at the neighborhood bbq.

*yes, I still plan to post a review and give away a copy of the book