Archive for October, 2012

I love Halloween. I’ve long outgrown the need to have communion-sized servings of candy begged off of strangers, but that doesn’t matter. Halloween isn’t about the candy as much as it is about the fun of it all.

We always celebrated Halloween in our house; it is my dad’s birthday and he loves having all the excitement to come in tandem with his special day. My mom had only one rule, and that rule has followed me to my own house. No witches, devils, or demons could be used as costumes or decorations. Other than that we are full-on Halloween Christians.

I have this thing about ghosts. I’m not sure why–I bet a therapist would have a field day figuring it out–but I have been fascinated by ghosts since I was a little kid. For me they rank right up there with Dragons and Water. Any one of those three things touches a primal chord in me and I am drawn in.

Happy Halloween from Gobie and the Ghost of the Hedgehog he “killed”.

I’m not wanting my house to be haunted. The ghosts I like aren’t the ones that make your faucet ooze maggots and have little pockets of hell spring up out of your sump pump. Those fellows can just stay in Amityville for all I care. I like the spectral Disney ghosts that look like they formed from glowing steam and imagination. I like the cute little ghosts with black button eyes and a round spooky O of a mouth. They look as scared of me as I’m supposed to be of them and I just want to mother them like a puppy.

I do think ghosts are real but as I grow older I’m thinking that they aren’t the spirits of the dead. Rather I believe that some ghosts are echoes in coil of time. If time is non-linear in entirety–and I fully believe that it is–then I suspect that it’s possible for a ghost to be something from another time peeking through a place where the fabric is worn. Further explaination: Picture time as a folded quilt, with you on one square and somebody else on the square beneath yours. Ghosts are like places where the backing and batting have somewhat worn away and you can picture bits of that other square. It’s just a theory, but it’s one I like. I think that the batting wears away perhaps when there are strong emotions or breaks in the pattern. So often the ghosts people glimpse are troubled somehow. Again, just a theory.

I do like ghost stories because they’re the stories of other people and places. A good ghost story is like spiked history. The best modern ghost stories I’ve come across in awhile are by my friend Betsy Phillips. (Yes, this is a shameless plug for her book. Shameless but sincere.) She writes about hauntings around Nashville and she does it with a literary style not always common in haint tales. She also writes spooky stories all through October. I understand this year’s is good but I was saving it all to read tonight in one go so I can’t promise anything other than to say it’s by Betsy so I bet it’s awesome.

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I’m torn on the idea of using books as trophies. If this were the thirteen hundreds and books were like cars–rare, elegant and a statement about one’s station in life–I could possibly understand it a little bit better. But a book on a shelf isn’t being read, and to me that’s not unlike a baby crying in a crib, begging to be be held and cuddled. Some things are created to be interacted with and reacted to. Books and babies and pets and dinner are all things that suffer when neglected.

I used to have shelves loaded with books, and the overflow that wouldn’t fit on the shelves ended up in boxes, in stacks along the wall, scattered under the bed. Our house had books the way some houses have dust bunnies. (Ok. Our house has dust bunnies too.) I don’t know why the philosophical change happened, but once I started sending novels overseas to soldiers in Afghanistan I began to see books as the blood of the mind and necessarily to be kept in circulation. What books I didn’t ship to the soldiers I gave away to housesitters and party guests. You couldn’t enter my house without having a book pressed into your hands. Funnily enough, that all happened before my body began to rebel against holding the bound books and turning pages.*

Now that I have a Kindle I can’t circulate books. That bums me out because I’m bothered by not being able to say “here, I loved this. You try it and see if you love it too.” Instead of sharing joy, telling people about books becomes a sort of financial obligation I’m foisting upon them. I find that I recommend fewer reads because of this. I don’t want to be telling people how they should spend their money.

I’m going into all of this because in this week’s Entertainment Weekly there is an article about a book which illustrates (?) the “permanent shelves” of prominent authors. It’s one of those coffee table proceeds-to-charity thing and I’m not sure why you buy it instead of reading the eight dozen internet articles that have essentially the same information. I mean, really, did you NOT know that Stephanie Meyer loves the Book Of Mormon? Do you need to spend $15 for a pretty drawing of The Book Of Mormon next to Jane Eyre?

The article did get me thinking about the books I’ve kept and why, as well as the books I’ve rebought on Kindle. What is it about a certain story that begs to be kept close by? In my case a brief analysis shows that all of the books I love have a strong sense of faith–not necessarily Christianity per se, but that engine of belief in the unseen that compels one to triumph over the tyranny of sorrow. My most beloved books also have a strong sense of family. I was raised in a big family and now live in a very small one, so it’s nice to find other big families to spend time with, even if they’re twisted Lannisters or goofy Weasleys. My Permanent Shelf changes over time, just as I change over time. Heidi was the book I loved as a young girl, but it’s been largely supplanted by other, newer-to-me stories. I don’t love Jane Eyre as much as I did twenty years ago; twenty years ago I hadn’t heard of George RR Martin. So to call it my Permanent Shelf is a bit of a misnomer. But there are books that drive me and comfort me and that I like to have within reach for the times I need that space. Right now the list is:

  • Harry Potter
  • A Song Of Ice And Fire
  • The Curse Of Chalion
  • Katherine
  • Pillars Of The Earth
  • Dune
  • The Physician
  • Shaman
  • The Kingkiller Chronicles

This isn’t to say that I don’t like or appreciate other books; these are my comfort reads. That’s the only type of book I keep on a permanent basis.
*Now that I think about it, turning pages is as much or more of a problem than holding a regular book. I was wondering why I went off the paperbacks because they aren’t that heavy. I picked one up this morning and realised that the finger contortions required to turn pages just didn’t happen for me. So there’s that mystery solved.

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There are just a few things I need to get out of my system. I hate to start a week this way–I think Monday mornings should be all positive and happy as we gird our loins for the days ahead. The sad thing is that my works are all gummed up and I have a few things I need to get off my chest. So I’m going to do that now, in hopes that my well-aired mind will be more productive.

So…here’s what’s bugging me.

1. Garanimal Tech
I’m a Mac Person. I used to be a command-line-interface person, back in the very early days of home computers. I loved the idea behind BASIC and UNIX–that feeling of having a dialog with your machine. It was actually good training for a writer because it taught precision in language; if you didn’t ask just right you wouldn’t get anywhere. But then once everything became GUI (Graphic User Interface), I became a Machead. Macs just work. They aren’t the sloppy bastard children that Windows machines are, jury-rigged to sort of get something done. I do have a problem with Mac, though, and that’s that I’m getting more than a little bit tired of all the animal cracker names. I’m trying to download some shareware (Calibre) and I’m faced with this non-information:

If you are using OS X Tiger or a PowerPC Mac, the last version of calibre that will work on your machine is 0.7.28, available here.

So does a Tiger come before a Panther or a Lion or whatever? Just give me ordinal numbers, numbers that tell me where in the set my product fits. Thank you.

2. Naked People

You cannot go into a McDonalds or a gas station without a shirt and a pair of shoes. Why, then, can you be all over my Kindle? Seriously, but seriously, I am so beyond tired of seeing naked people on book covers. I’ve written about this before, but it came up again last week when an author friend revealed his latest cover. More mantitty, more sexy dude trying to draw in readers. I don’t mind sex in books, actually. But I mind using overt sex to sell books. When I see shirtless men, scantily-clad women and naked couples in an embrace I feel like the publisher is treating me like cattle. They aren’t trying to appeal to me with story, with artwork. They figure that sex sells and so they’ll draw me in with the oldest trick in the book. I’m now boycotting all naked people covers automatically.

3. Changing Cover Art on Amazon

I didn’t mean for this all to be about books, because I realise I’ve been talking about books way too much lately. I’m like a girl with a crush on a celebrity when it comes to books. (“Things that rhyme with Cory”) But it’s a good topic that lets me ponder things without veering into polireligiocontroversial subjects. And anyway, this is a huge bother for me. I’ve been getting all my books on Kindle for several years now; when the book’s cover art changes with the latest edition, Amazon changes the cover art that my Kindle displays as well. This means that instead of the lovely, simple, enticing Game Of Thrones cover I started with two years ago I now have to look at the HBO Series Tie-In cover. I know it’s weird and all “get off my lawn” crazy grumpish, but I like my books to look like books–not ads for movies and TV. I wish there were a way for Amazon to let you pick your cover art.

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I am now blogging on Sundays over at Book In The Bag.

My friend, author Mandi Lynch, started Book In The Bag as a collective book review site that pledges honest, unbiased reviews. There are also author interviews every Wednesday which are a wonderful treat.

I’m a new addition to the staff and as the new kid on the block I’m doing my best to fit in. So stop on by each Sunday to see me talk about the book that made the biggest impression on me in the week before.

This week’s review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

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I love dragons and the subset of dragon known as “sea monster”. Despite all the debunkers and skeptics I like to hope that there truly is a Loch Ness Monster and that its existence is proof of something wonderful. We don’t like to believe in magic anymore, and we take comfort in science–more comfort than science deserves, I sometimes think.

I know I’ve mentioned this here before because the ponderence of dragons is one of my favourite pastimes. But I honestly believe that when the Bible talks about the Serpent who tempted Eve that the serpent was what we now call a dragon. I think Lucifer the angel of light breathed fire. I also suspect that’s where we get the myth of Prometheus.

I’m not quite sure why I’m so fascinated by all things dragon. I suspect it may have something to do with Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. She was the villain who scared me the most as a child; as an adult she’s the Disney villain who most fascinates me. I don’t care about Scar or Shir Kahn or even the Wicked Stepmother. They all seem like weaksauce sisters compared to the primal green fire of Maleficent. And of course she transformed into a dragon, which when you think on it is much cooler than grounding someone from a dance.

I often puzzle over why dragons exist across so many cultures if they aren’t real, have never been real. It seems like too much coincidence for all of us to dream up what is essentially the same sort of mythical beast. Other mythical creatures are highly localised–the Chupacabra*, Bigfoot, Banshees, Selkies–but everybody has a dragon.

Oddly enough, with as crazy as I am about them, I’m endlessly picky about dracofiction. I won’t read just anything that sports some version of the firebreathers. Fantasy authors are overly fond of throwing dragons into their work sometimes, and it doesn’t always work. I find myself especially annoyed with hackneyed dracobits that are tossed into the story to spare the author from coming up with a more inventive villain or threat.

The best dragons are of course in George RR Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series. He captures them just right–both as mythical totems of a lost magic and real creatures improbably reborn into a growing chaos. Martin’s dragons are great and terrible, as they should be.

Daniel Abraham’s dragons in The Dagger And The Coin series are headscratchers. They are the extinct creators of a world left behind for the genetically engineered slaves they created to serve them. The whole idea is strange, as it combines the traditional dracology with Ancient Aliens. I think it works, but I’ve only read the first book in the series so far.

The most adorable winged fellows are in the Dreamworks movie How To Train Your Dragon. It’s probably coincidental that Toothless looks so much like my dog Gob. I don’t have a lot of practice writing fantasy, but I often toy with the idea of having dragons that are less lizardlike and more canine. Warm-blooded, winged and four-legged, my personal brainchild would be a sort of giant batdragon. After all, dog-faced fruit bats look like Gob too.

Dog Faced Fruit Bat

Dog-faced Schipperke

There are several fantasy series I’ve not read that feature dragons, and I welcome input from anyone who has read them. The Dragonriders of Pern and Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series often tempt me but also make me nervous.

I think that dragons are a special treat for people of faith. Like God they are wondrous beings you can’t see but believe in because of their wondrousness. Now, I believe that God is real. I don’t know about dragons. But I like being able to fully cling to the faith of wonder.

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Back in college several of us would gather in the common area of our dorm suite and watch the community television. I honestly can’t remember if people had TVs in their rooms–if they were even allowed. But there was a tv in the area that 8 of us shared and we usually gathered there like an ersatz family. There was one girl who would plop down with her scissors and bridal magazines, readying to cut out all the pictures of the wedding she was going to have with her boyfriend back home. She’d watch the show we all were watching but then make loud comments about not knowing why we bothered and wasn’t it pointless and so on. We were forever treated to a running commentary about how stupid the show was. When I finally asked her why she watched if it bugged her that much she replied “because it’s on right in the middle of everything.”

Between magazine ads and lurid covers and word of mouth there seem to be a few books that are on right in the middle of everything. And more and more often there seem to be a lot of Julies, who take up those books in an adversarial stance. I mean, honestly. Goodness knows there are books I’ve hated. (Gone Girl being a recent example.) Fortunately the books I’ve loved–or at the very least ENJOYED–outnumber the disliked books by about 10:1.

But now there’s Hate-reading. It’s nothing more than the mean-spirited act of finding a book you don’t enjoy and then reading it to pick it apart and mock. The most popular reviews on Goodreads and book-review blogs are Hate-read reviews that make an art of running down the primary work.

I’ll grant you that many times the primary work is demonstrably awful. In those cases, however, I don’t understand the point of giving them your time. As noble as people make it sound*, you’re still wasting your time on something you hate. I’m a critical person in the sense that it is in my nature to analyse any system or work for flaws or areas of improvement. Over the years I’ve tried very hard to train my critical nature into its most constructive possible form. It doesn’t always work, but my hope is that when I say something as a criticism I do so in what I believe to be a helpful manner. That means I’m not going to spend hours of my life on the 50 Shades series just so I can write a pithy Hate-read article about it.

Reading is growing in popularity again, thanks to Kindles and sex and the burgeoning popularity of YA. Busy folks are dialing back into the pleasure of leisure reading and you’d think as a writer I’d be grateful and pleased. Honestly, though, I’m starting to wish that all the people who have returned to reading would go back to whatever it was they used to do. If they’re just going to pick up books for the purposes of having a whole new crop of things to ridicule I want them to go away.

*Few things bug me as much as people who say “I just have to finish a book once I start it.” My husband and sister both do this and it makes me nuts. No. You don’t “have” to. There isn’t a law. No one is killing your auntie if you put the thing aside. You will never have enough time to read all the good books in the world. If you’ve got a book you don’t like just walk away. It’s not noble to keep reading it. It’s not a sign of good character. IT IS NOTHING MORE THAN A BLEEDING WASTE OF VALUABLE, PRECIOUS TIME.

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When people hear that I have an eidetic memory–often misnamed as a “photographic” memory–they have one or more of three thoughts.

1. I don’t believe you’re telling the truth. Those don’t exist.
2. It must be really cool.
3. You must have done really well in school.

Well, whether or not they “exist” I have one. And as anyone with eidetic memory will tell you, it’s not a piece of cake. First off, the memories are more like videotapes than photographs. I have a bad sense of smell anyway so while smell will trigger a memory, smell is the only sense that doesn’t really travel with my eidetics. In school I did well on tests, because I’m able to store and recall entire lectures and passages in books. But recall doesn’t help you with self-discipline and if you know you’re going to most likely ace the test anyway you–eg. me–don’t learn how to study. It wasn’t until latter years of college that I finally learned how to buckle down and focus.

While some parts of the recall are “cool” I guess–I can “watch” an entire movie in my head when I’m trying to fall asleep or hypnotise myself for pain control–this sward is not as green as you’d think. Imagine for just a moment that you can vividly recall key moments of your life, just as if you could travel in time. Most people think they’d spend their free time remembering vacations and Christmas mornings. It’s nice to do, because you feel all the senses–that happiness and warmth and carefree nature.

But you don’t get to pick and choose without some really tough work and–in my case–drugs and illness. So while you can flash back on your honeymoon you also get to remember the time you were trapped in your office by a former boss after everyone left. Every push of her hand, every bitter word and every curse spools back. You get to be assaulted over and over again. Actually, I’m pretty certain that anyone who has been assaulted has a clear record of that event, so that’s a bad example perhaps. People tend to remember the big things. But really, who wants a detailed memory of girls snarking behind your back in college, talking about how you shouldn’t be invited into town because you’re too fat to fit in the car? (I was a size 14.)

Shortly after I was married I started a memory palace. You imagine a place, and it doesn’t have to be a palace. It can be a lake cottage, a hotel, a childhood home. In my case it’s actually a rambling Tudor house with a very large attic. The attic is important because while most people who have a memory palace use it to recall information, I use mine primarily to lock things away. My old dusty Tudor attic space is full of trunks and jewelry boxes and humidors. The keyring hangs on a hook just outside the door, but the hook is up high. So if I ever need to look at the baddies I have to go to the downstairs hallway and take the chair from the sleeping cat who guards it. He’s a mean old tom called Eliot and if I wake him up he scratches my knee and the backs of my hands. So I really have to go through a lot of junk to get the keys that open all those cluttery boxes in the attic where I lock my bad memories away.

Sometimes, though, I think Eliot wakes up while I sleep. That’s the only explanation I have for why the grimmer films get out and start cruelly unspooling. That’s sort of what happened last night and I’ve had a divvil of a time gathering the celluloid from the 2000 assault and locking it back up again.

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