I wrote down everything I read and began writing my own first novel...

This blog aimed to contrast what I was reading in in 1975-79 with the same month, week and day, 30 years later in 2005-2009. I'm leaving the blog up in archive mode, blogging in real time on Live Journal--and still writing novels.

Lynne Murray's Live Journal and Bride of the Dead Blog

Thursday, December 27, 2007

fearful symmetry

From my window I can see the San Francisco Zoo in the foggy distance across the park. Pondering the Christmas day escape, attacks on zoogoers, and execution of Tatiana, the Siberian tiger, I wonder if I am the only person in the city haunted by the William Blake lyric today.

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire in thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art?
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand, and what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

The web page where I looked up the poem has a tiger drawn by Blake himself, showing what looks like an untigerly, sheepish grin. The words evoke more to my mind and I'm more inclined to follow the example of the stars in the poem and shed tears for all concerned.

No new books, but a magazine with attitude

I had to make a new blog entry to take down the link to my cat essays. It seems my cats are quite content to have me support them and have no interest in seeking gainful employment. I may still write about them but not at that link which has thawed, and resolved into a dew...

I will share a very inspiring link for Fat Girl Magazine, which features some young voices with refreshing attitude. Information courtesy of Lara Frater at Fat Chicks Rule who is no slouch in the attitude department either.

If I don't post another entry before that--Happy New Year!


Monday, December 24, 2007

Flickering fires of nostalgia

I am a Buddhist, not a Christian. There's no particular reason for me to do or not "do" a Christmas celebration. Buddhists are usually mellow about telling one another what to believe or do. One major appeal of Buddhism when I joined nearly 40 years ago was that it offered no commandments or recipes for life, except the strictest of all: Cause and effect. Buddhists celebrate the New Year in the Asian fashion--starting fresh, making good causes for the year to come and so on. However, if I wanted to sing carols and so on, it would not be as they used to say "against my religion."

However, the holiday season sometimes finds me stiffening my resistance to sentimentality, simply in self-defense against overwhelming nostalgia and a sort of Holiday Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Case in point, a line from T.S. Eliot's Journey of the Magi caught me unawares and transported me back to the little theater holiday presentation where I first heard the poem recited--and heard recited many times because I was doing props for the show and attended all rehearsals and performances. It sent a shiver down my spine now as it had when I was 16 instead of 59. The words have a different depth to me now than they did then.

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'

The link below is supposed to have an audio clip of Eliot reading the poem, but I couldn't make it work. It's been one of those weeks. Maybe it will work for you. If not the whole text of the poem is there.
Eliot poem

What keeps occurring to me as I slowly re-read In Cold Blood is the interplay of truth and fiction. The rafts and rafts of observed facts in the book give it more heft and volume than Capote's more slender, totally fictional works. Sometimes reading fiction, you can actually pick out the true episodes (often the ones that don't fit) and sometime a whole forest of shards of glass that the writer picked up from real life and scattered on the page. Honestly, you can very often tell those "real" notes, because they stand up off the page. There's quite a lot of that in In Cold Blood. Odd holiday reading, but it somehow seems like a New Yorker article to me--which is part of its genius. The wealth of factual detail meshes so well with Capote's dreamy flights of lyrical speculation.

December 11 to December 24, 1977 I read:

Blind Ambition, The White House Years, John Dean

Vibrations: Improving your Psychic Environment
, Daniel Logan

December 11 to 24, 2007 I read:

Greywalker, (Greywalker, Book 1)
, Kat Richardson
Kat Richardson

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
very slowly

Monday, December 10, 2007

Nights in pink satin, days in pink collars

This past week was a sugar-coated fiction week, watching the Pixar/Disney film Ratatouille and reading Stephanie Rowe’s Date Me Baby, One More Time, which could be classified as paranormal chick lit.

The experience set me to thinking about the large quantities of gloss that gets slathered over stories in our era. Disneyfication of fairy tales is a case in point. As a cynical adult, my interest flagged a little in Ratatouille, and I think it was in part because the story was convoluted without being rooted in a reality I could access. You could see the cooking genius rat as an eternal outsider, aiming for an impossible dream. Yet, it was a strain to keep suspending that disbelief.

As my Web Diva, Sue Trowbridge put it in reviewing the film, “Rats, in a kitchen?” I’ve had pet rats, and they are charming little critters, but not shall we say housebroken or extraordinarily clean. A colony of rats living in and around your kitchen and flooding around the neighborhood, pouring into (or out of) a house in great masses evokes a visceral reaction that is hard to sentimentalize. We don't have this problem with Mickey Mouse because he looks and acts very little like the rat you do not want to find in your cupboard and much more like a human despite the ears.

Watching Ratatouille set me to contemplating how much harm has been done by “happily ever after” and yet how ingrained it is. If I were reading a story to a child would I prefer the “happily ever after” fairy tales than those of the Brothers Grimm, which end with "happily until their deaths." But that doesn’t mean the child would prefer the more sanitized version. I know those who fondly recall the bloodthirsty Grimm tales, envisioning the punishments inflicted on some characters as happening to siblings or mean kids on whom they wish vengeance. I think that’s similar to children’s love of dinosaurs—Tyrannosaurus Rex makes great imaginary backup.

“These fairy tales are not senseless stories written for the amusement of the idle; they embody the profound religion of our forefathers,” . . . -- W. S. W. Anson, Asgard and the Gods, p. 21

I’m not sure how much that the above quote relates to anything I read or watched this week, I just liked it when I found it while I was searching for
happily ever after,

The title of Date Me Baby, One More Time is a satire on Britney Spears’ 1999 mega hit song, "Hit Me Baby One More Time." Yikes. I don’t know how serious the sadomasochistic undertones are to the target audience (20-30 somethings). Date Me is filled with violent threats that are thrown out with the same casual tone that is used to contemplate buying pretzels. It's kind of a convention of the genre. The heroine and her love interest are each hoping to cut the other’s head off for complicated magical survival reasons. The characters take it seriously, that is their job after all. But it is not to be taken seriously by the reader who knows that this is a romance. The fragility of the threats dilutes the suspense somewhat, as does the fact that most of the characters are immortal or extremely hard to kill. But the kill-or-be-killed romance would be an extremely dark tale if the reader did imagine that actual murder would ever happen.

The heroine of Date Me, has a convoluted supernatural pedigree, a fire-breathing dragon for a roommate, and a dead mother who keeps returning from purgatory to complain that she is being courted by Satan, who is portrayed as a hopelessly ineffective lounge lizard who only lives to make the heroine’s mother Queen of Hell. The Satan character was at first irksome, but I eventually accepted him as a sort of Wile E. Coyote figure (with the part of the Roadrunner played by the heroine's dead mother--see? I said it was convoluted!)

The story and all of its conventions float on a veritable sea of horniness—I won’t say “hormones” because the characters' lusts seemed as formalized as a minuet, but I have to give it an "A" for inventiveness and I did keep turning the pages. Kind of like Laurell K. Hamilton on laughing gas.

December 3 to 10, 1977 I read:

The Pink Collar Workers, Inside the World of Women’s Work, Louise Kapp Howe

A Time Magazine review:

To assemble her disquieting portrait of the work life of the average woman, Howe interviewed scores of women, met with unions and management and even took a job as a sales clerk. The vast majority of women, she writes, are in "pink collar" occupations: beautician, office worker, sales clerk, waitress. Among the problems contributing to their generally low wages: too many applicants and not enough jobs, indifferent unions, and company policy predicated on "A and P" (attrition and pregnancy) to hold down the office payroll.

Louise Kapp Howe died in 1984, just a year after Stallard, Ehrenreich and Sklar took her work a step further and coined the term "pink collar ghetto."

In 1998 Salon Magazine reported that Public Relations was becoming a new pink collar ghetto

In the 21st century this situation has changed in some ways, and in other ways has not
2004 pink collar update

December 3 to 10, 2007 I read:

Date Me Baby, One More Time, Stephanie Howe
Stephanie Rowe web page/

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Winter hearts, ironic rewards

I watched the film Infamous recently and found that it sent me back both to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which I consider one of the best-written books I’ve ever read, but to some other books that surround it—including Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Last year I saw the film, Capote, which was powerful and dominated by Phillip Lee Hoffman’s tour de force performance. It took about a year for me to be ready to revisit the harsh subject matter of a cold-blooded killing in the American heartland. The intriguing spectacle of the glitteringly, openly gay, Capote charming his way into the hearts and minds of 1960’s small town people of 1959 Kansas has some humor.

Writer/director Douglas McGrath’s Infamous focuses on the damage inflicted by lost love while in Capote writer Dan Futterman and director Bennett Miller zero in more on the damage inflicted by betrayal, some of the improvisation took me out of that film's reality.

The Futterman/Bennett film was primarily based on Gerald Clark’s biography, while Infamous was more based on George Plimpton’s book of interviews Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career.

For me, Infamous was easier to view, less bleak, I guess. It was surprisingly evocative—not just of its time period, my 1960s were considerably different than either the glittering world of New York or the small town, but of the power of art and the price... Sandra Bullock's gentle words as Nelle Harper Lee about the "blue" at the heart of the the brightest flame was as affecting as some of the more dramatic moments.

November 22 to December 2, 1977. I read:

Literary Women, the Great Writers, Ellen Moers
Note: elusively written, didactic, disorganized. What is the odd feminist obsession with George Sand?

Media Sexploitation, Wilson Bryan Key
Note: a wealth of unsubstantiated statements, and some actual data.

, Octavia E. Butler

J. R. R. Tolkien, Architect of Middle Earth, Daniel Grotta-Kursk
Note: very nice, clean, literate

Loose Changes, Three Women of the 60s, Sarah Davidson
Note: It took about a week to finish this. I did not like it

November 22 to December 2, 2007 I read:

The Ghost, Robert Harris
A thriller, state-of-the-art escape reading!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks to you who read! Plus anger—less of it—thankfully!

To those reading this blog now, thank you for your time, and I hope each of you has a great day. If it doesn’t happen to be Thanksgiving on the day when you read this, well, appreciation is a good thing for every day, and I appreciate your reading my words.

This past few weeks I’ve been studying up on anger and rage for purposes of literary research, however I myself have not actually been experiencing anger or rage—for which I am supremely grateful. I used to have a very short fuse and hot temper. But one of the unlooked-for results of decades of Buddhist practice is that my temper, while still white-hot, gets triggered less often and no longer sets off smoke alarms and forest fires.

During one time in my life I could literally rage for days, and it was not a pleasant experience—like a merry-go-round through hell. You keep buying tickets for another go-round without realizing you have any choice in the matter. Nowadays when I do get angry (and frequently that will happen when I am quite tired or sleep-deprived) a kind of built-in sprinkler system of non-attachment gets triggered and I have the choice to disengage from rage—which I always do—nowadays.

There’s a genuine adrenalin rush to be had from anger, be it righteous or un-…but the toxic cost is too high. The reason it was never a personal goal of mine to control my temper is that my own anger was invisible to me. It seems to be part of the condition of anger that a person manages to stay there by focusing on other people or situations as the cause of his or her ire. So I was first able to see in other people how they chose to keep rekindling anger rather than stopping the cycle. By the time I began to be able to see how damaging this was in myself, I was already beginning to figure out how to choose not to be angry…and again…and again. It gets easier with practice.

October 28 to November 22, 1977 I read:

Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic, Barbara O’Brien
I think this was a re-read, this book was very haunting and I’ve read it many times

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
My note is – “still soothing, amusing” so another re-read

Clouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers

Whispers, An Illustrated Anthology of Fantasy and Horror, Stuart David Schiff

Gromchik & Other Tales from a Psychiatrist’s Casebook, A. H. Chapman, M.D.
Um, I didn’t like this one. My note was: “self-satisfied bastard”

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Jane Austen & Her World, Ivor Brown
Another re-read. My note is: “again—this time noticing that it’s 48 less-than-brilliantly illustrated pages, more of a skimpy essay than a book.

The Five of Me: the Autobiography of a Multiple Personality, Henry Hawksworth with Ted Schwartz
Okay, this note is from 2007, but I am guessing that Ted Schwartz is a collaborator and not one of Hawksworth’s other personalities. But wouldn't it be an intriguing idea if he were!

October 28 to November 22, 2007 I read:

A Violent Heart: Understanding Aggressive Individuals, George K. Moffatt

Rage, Michael Eigen

Anger’s Past, the Social Uses of Emotion in the Middle Ages, Barbara H. Rosenwein, Ed
Lots of fascinating stuff among the scholarly stickery weeds.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Widgets gone wild...not as much fun as Gidgets...

I just posted a moment ago and looked at the widget thing I'd managed to generate.... Graphics, okay, I expect them to go screwy. For some reason when I try to perpetrate graphics it's like I'm typing wearing oven mitts. But that little sucker shows the movie Truly, Madly, Deeply as selling for like $59! I mean it's a classic movie, but please don't think I'm suggesting anyone pay that much for it. Why...how...? Never mind, I'm fried, I'm talking to a widget, which is a little piece of computer code.... The good news is that as of this moment the widget is not talking back. Signing out! Lynne

"Just because it's fixed doesn't mean it can't be broken."

The quote above is from Simon Beaufoy, from the movie Blow Dry. I can't tell you how much better just the memory of Alan Rickman delivering that line makes me feel.

I didn’t read much since the last entry (major editing job—exhausting but necessary). I did watch a movie, which set me thinking about how much I admire certain screen writers. I selected Blow Dry in part because it starred Alan Rickman in a non-villain role. Then I discovered that Beaufoy also wrote The Full Monty.
The Full Monty

The screenwriters (in one case writer/director) of the four “Alan Rickman fascination” movies entries I listed are: Anthony Minghella who wrote and directed, Truly, Madly, Deeply has since written Cold Mountain (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
Cold Mountain.
Richard Curtis, who wrote and directed Love Actually has a resume of greatest hits that would eat this space totally if I tried to list them. I’ll list Notting Hill Notting Hill (Collector's Edition).

The screenplay of Sense and Sensibility was written by Emma Thompson, who acts and writes (another screenplay she wrote was Nanny McPhee (Widescreen Edition) Nanny McPhee).

I’m so glad they all appreciate Alan Rickman! He sneers well and with great depth, but it’s good to see him displaying other facets of his talent.

October 21 to 28, 1977 I read:

Private Lives, Noel Coward

Hollywood is a Four-Letter Town, James Bacon

The Provoked Wife: The Life and Times of Susannah Cibber, Mary Nash
Note: Oddly very soothing

Sane Asylum: Inside the Delancey Street Foundation (Charles Hampden-Turner)

I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression, Erma Bombeck

The Savage God: a Study of Suicide, A. Alvarez
Note: No more interesting than before

October 21 to 28, 2007 I read stuff that I was editing for hire.

That's done for now, and I'm officially recuperating at Club Shred, which is where you go when you've concentrated on something so long that your brain is not focusing well till it recuperates.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Good news

I’m thrilled to report that my friend (and USA Today bestselling author) Jaki Girdner is preparing for the re-issue of all 12 of her Kate Jasper mysteries from E-Reads in trade paperback POD (Publish On Demand) and e-book formats. The books are scheduled to begin in January with the hard-to-find series opener Adjusted To Death, about murder in a chiropractor’s office. Her web page won’t be updated with this info for a few weeks because the web diva we both use, Sue Trowbridge, is moving to a new house even as we speak . . . well, even as I type this.

E-Book Fiction is also the subject of a new blog I’m going to collaborate with Jaki and her high-tech savvy Super-Spouse, Greg, in examining that phenomenon--maybe a few guest bloggers, the odd interview. Luddite perspectives on E-books. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, as you can see below, I’ve been reading up again on book marketing and blogging.

October 6 to October 20, 1997 I read:

The Alias Program, Fred Graham
Note: very well written, clearly told

The Co-ed killer, Margaret Cheney

I noted that I didn't like the axe-grinding and pop psychology but I've got to say this woman is versatile, she’s since written about Serial killers, Mabel Mercer, and Nicolo Tesla

The Life and Times of Chaucer, John Gardner
Note: Not bad once you get into it.
I see this is out of print now.

Lupe, Gene Thompson
Note: Undigested psychism [I don’t think that’s actually a word, but that’s what I said, I did define it, kinda…], i.e. bullshit and poorly written

October 6 to October 20, 2007 I read (well, chipped away at, these are reference books!)

1001 Ways to Market Your Book
, John Kremer

This book got glowing reviews, and so much of it is aimed at print on demand and self-published nonfiction that I thought it might not be so relevant for fiction. But I was wrong. Only a small portion of the resources in this book are relevant to fiction, but they are presented so clearly and sensibly that you can easily use them.

Incidentally, as a shy author who is obsessed with the marketing end of writing (because it does NOT come easily to be and it so often makes the difference as far as continuing publication) I think this and every book on marketing should be followed with an eye to what you can do without feeling too overwhelmed. This book can easily be used that way and that's another reason why it's the best resource book on marketing I’ve seen. Go John Kremer!

Great website too.

Publishing a Blog with Blogger, Elizabeth Castro
I live in hope to improve my skills with this book!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Of bookstores, graphics...bright colors, heavy machinery

Once again I have tangled with the graphic elements and ... well, it's like trying to hold an inflated balloon under water for me. I love the bright colors, but if there had been heavy machinery involved someone might really have got hurt.

I had meant to use a nifty little widget software thing Amazon offered to put pictures and info on a web page. However before posting anything with the Amazon site logo, I wanted to acknowledge that some people I know and respect deeply feel that the online giant has something major to do with the breaking the hearts and destroying the businesses of independent book dealers we have all known and loved. I don't totally agree with that viewpoint. True, I have known booksellers whose dreams were crushed. However, small bookstores are fragile things, and Amazon is one of many hazards. I also know people who wouldn't buy books at all if they didn't buy them online, and they buy through Amazon and don't go to physical bookstores.

Anyway, enough foot-shuffling. I'd meant to put up at least a partial list of Independent Bookstore I know and love to sit next to the Amazon widget thingie, but it slipped away from me and got posted before I could do that. So I'm doing it now.
I'll try to put it in the sidebar thingie to stay on the template, but just so it doesn't get lost:

Green Apple Books is a bookstore I haunted from my college years—the used books were
the reason
Green Apple Books

A true San Francisco Institution—and a mystery booklover’s Bermuda Triangle
SF Mystery Books

Staceys, a store that helped me survive working in the SF Financial District!

Another wealth of books in downtown SF
Alexander Book Company
Alexander Books

A little further south on the SF Peninsula in San Mateo is the amazing M Is for Mystery bookstore
M Is for Mystery

for the record:

October 5, 1977 I read:

The Main, Trevanian

October 5, 2007
I saw the great French-language film The Visitors on DVD.

DVDs did not exist in 1977 by the way!

Normal entry to follow in another day or so! Whew!

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Curse of the Giant, Blind, Albino Penguins?

Wandering in time and geography from West Los Angeles circa 1977 to Neanderthal prehistory with a side trip to Antarctica ... wondering how those giant blind albino penguins managed to get through customs ... a little R&R in Terry Pratchett's Disc World, and finally landing in 2007 San Francisco.

When I check on books read 30 years ago, often I do search out the authors to see what they are doing now.

I was never able to complete reading Stan Gooch’s Total Man in 1977 (see below) but the book drew me back to keep trying. A similar mystifying but sticky experience happened when I looked him up on the internet. It sounded as if he had fallen upon hard times. M. Alan Kazlev outlines some of Gooch's ideas at This link shows supporters distressed that he was (is? I hope not!) living in a caravan in penury in Wales. another link also shows concern.

Glancing over some summaries of Gooch's work I saw a reference to possible remote Neanderthal civilization in Antarctica before that continent was covered with ice. I couldn’t help being perversely reminded of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and those pesky giant, blind, albino penguins in the abandoned cities of Antarctica. This page describes encountering At the Mountains of Madness at a used bookstore, anyone who has wandered in such places will recognize
the experience.
I know the book cover he’s referring too—creepy!

Lovecraft's GBA (Giant Blind Albino) Penguins served pretty much the same function as the crowds running away in the Godzilla movies: When the penguins were restless in the fathomless underground corridors, nameless horror was on its way. Yet I spent an idle moment considering that those huge flightless, sightless critters might impart a curse, totally apart from slipping on their “detritus’ as Lovecraft calls it, for those who dare to contemplate civilizations beyond time buried under the Antarctic ice. Perhaps not. As of 2005, Gooch’s thoughts on his original psychic encounter with a Neanderthal were released on a CD I hope all is well with Mr. Gooch and that giant, blind, albino penguins are not besieging a trailer park somewhere in Wales.

September 8 to October 5, 1977 I read:

What Really Happened to the Class of ’65?, Michael Medved and Wallechinsky

Total Man, Stan Gooch
Note – I also have this listed a few days later on 9/25, evidently I kept coming back trying to finish it, and finally got to about half way through and gave up.

more on Gooch

Charles Fort Never Mentioned Wombats, Gene DeWeese, Robert Coulson

Home Free, Dan Wakefield
Note: Couldn’t get into it at all, poorly done.

Crash, Rob and Sarah Elder
Hard-edged, journalistic prose, an unpleasant but very, very well written book

How the Good Guys Finally Won: Notes from an Impeachment Summer, Jimmy Breslin

Agatha Christie, First Lady of Crime, H.R. Keating, Ed.

The Condensed World of the Reader’s Digest, Samuel A. Schreiner, Jr.

Black Sun, the Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby, Geoffrey Wolff
rather too admiring bio but you get the idea.
Not the guy you want to see your niece or sister involved with, and if she did, she might be well advised to memorize the following phrase – “Sorry, Harry, but I make it a rule not to make suicide pacts on the first date, particularly with married men...”

His poetry is also a clue--anyone reading this poem would certainly be aware that the guy had some serious depression problems, and was also in dire need of a thesaurus...

Man in a Cage, Brian Stableford

September 8 to October 5 I read:

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, Terry Pratchett

American Gods, Neil Gaiman

Wintersmith, Terry Pratchett

Neil Gaiman for fantasy noir and Terry Pratchett for fantasy bright and shiny—both fascinating!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Take two horror novels and call me in the morning

I guess I've been in a Stephen King state of mind (yikes!), reading It again. I'm a sporadic rather than a dedicated King reader. Sometimes he's too disturbing for me. But that is part of how he grabs the reader, and sometimes, as readers, we need to be grabbed and held. I think of my friend, Merry, who is a major fan of his. I am sure that measured doses of the solid hook and locked-in escape of King's books--and other horror and fantasy books, but first and foremost King's work--sustained her through 18 years of a job she detested. I'm glad she's in better circumstances now--though still reading Stephen King.

August 27 to September 7, 1997 I read:

Report to the Commissioner, James Mills

A Visit to Haldeman and Other States or Mind, Charles L. Mee, Jr.

Psychic Summer, Arnold M. Copper & Coralee Leon
College kids, a summer rental a Ouija board...sounds like a recipe for a slasher film. I'm not sure if I'd get as intense as the folks atthe shadowlands.net
but ya know, maybe I would. Some things I wouldn't have in my house and a Ouija board is one of them.
Evidently now there's psychic summer camp. I am so not going there.

Big Mac of McDonald's, The Unauthorized Story, Max Chain & Steve Boas

Bright Orange for the Shroud, John D. MacDonald

MacDonald was an author I loved enough to buy his newest in hardcover 30 years ago. Alas, I can no longer stand to read him due to the way his male characters treat his female characters. That once whizzed right over my head, now it's irritating to read.

Convention, Richard Reeves

Important to Me: Personal Record, Pamela Hansford Johnson

The Privilege of His Company: Noel Coward Remembered, William Marchant
Noel Coward

The Camera Never Blinks: Adventures of a TV Journalist, Dan Rather & M. Hershowitz
Dan Rather

The Cracker Factory, Joyce Reba-Burditt
(I hope I spelled the author's name right, I'm worrying about this blog getting vaporized because of certain mysterious error messages--possibly caused by irate Ouija boards--no just kidding). Anyway I don't want to navigate away from this page and risk losing it!)

August 27 to September 7, 2007 I re-read:

It, Stephen King
I remembered that King was a visceral writer, but I’d forgotten the degree to which he seems to simply open his character’s heads and dump out every gross perception--another reason I don’t read him so much anymore. I say “seems” because King is far from the artless writer some seem to think he is. On the contrary, he’s made it clear that he aims to reach the reader on whatever level he can. The gross-out is one of his techniques and it gives the reader the impression of really being inside the character's head.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Death in the land of denial

My house-feral cat, Belladonna died on August 13th, and the process of being with her, particularly in her last few hours reminded me how words just cannot truly describe it. I feel like a jerk for all the times I've written using the word death, that now seem to have nothing to do with its implacable reality.

Whatever I’ve learned about the experience of death has been totally from sitting with my mother in 1980, my husband in 1991 and some of my cats who died at home when I could be with them. These experiences had enough common elements that the morning of August 13th I could tell that Belladonna wouldn't see another dawn as clearly as anything I've ever known.

Death used to happen at home and the process was pretty common knowledge, but now in our “advanced” culture it is often hidden behind hospital walls. I couldn't help but think of how the young Siddhartha Gautama (later the Buddha) was shielded by his loving parents from even the sight of illness, old age and death.

I was more sheltered than many, and never even attended a funeral till I was in my 20s. I certainly never sought that knowledge. So I’m always a little surprised at how clear it now seems once someone has entered on that last part of life’s journey. I believe in fighting for health up to the last moment. But I learned the hard way the price of denial when someone you love is actually dying.

Most people I’ve talked to who have had relatives die go through doubts about whether they did the right thing—having a relative die while driving to a hospital instead of calling an ambulance, calling the paramedics to resuscitate someone who then stayed on a respirator for a month before dying. Sometimes you just don’t know. Can’t know.

Sometimes you can.

Having seen it a few times with cats who just wasted away and then died at home, I’ve also taken a dying cat, my poor black Persian, Ophelia, to the emergency veterinary hospital to suffer through IVs and steroids to extend her life for a few more hours of suffering. I can only plead fear and ignorance. It was like trying to stuff a baby back in the womb when it’s ready to be born.

It was very, very hard to stay by Belladonna on the day she died. Feral that she was, over the last her last eight months, she had begun to let me pet and very gently brush her more although she fiercely resisted being picked up or restrained in any way. Her daughters came, nosed around briefly, and then retreated--shy Betty to hide and more outgoing Tigerlily to nap with the senior male, El Nino. The last few hours I just sat by Bella, though she was beyond seeing or knowing what was around her. As a Buddhist, I was fortunate to be able to chant because that made it easier to be with her and not be distracted. So I chanted, talked to her and petted her gently from time to time. I mixed up a little codeine in cat food gravy and put a few drops in her mouth now and then in hopes of dulling any pain from the convulsions, which did get milder. She seemed more peaceful, and finally was utterly still.

Since then my surviving cats are comforting each other and me, and we’re all learning to live without Bella’s tough but affectionate presence. I’m retreating into DVDs--I saw Trevor Nunn’s 1996, The Twelfth Night a couple of times. It was very good. I cried a lot, although I would probably cry at anything at this point. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows kind of demands it, but even so that dreaming world seems very familiar and safe.

August 12 to August 23, 1977 I read:

Gates of Eden, Morris Dickstein
Note: Couldn’t read all of it. [Sometimes I like literary criticism but clearly not this one. My note continued: “Literary criticism is hard for me to pay attention to”]

None Dare Call It Witchcraft, Gary North
Um, I can’t bring myself to quote my note on this. The most polite word I used was “propaganda.” Suffice it to say I found the author’s agenda intrusive and his attitude willfully ill-informed.

The Investigative Journalist, Folk Heroes of a New Era, James S. Dygert
I think it's been quite awhile since THAT new era faded.

Beyond Control, George Leonard
Note: Not bad. Not great but not bad.

The Living Buddha, Daisaku Ikeda (trans. Burton Watson)
Speaking of Shakyamuni Buddha, I think this was a bio of Gautama.

August 12 to August 23, 2007 I read:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fanny Price, born to be mild

This past week, I was drawn back to re-read Mansfield Park after watching the beautiful but not-spectacularly-satisfying film adaptation written and directed by Patricia Rozema. The review below dislikes the movie. I liked the movie as a kind of meditation on Mansfield Park, but I missed the “real” heroine—Fanny Price as Austen wrote her.

One controversial aspect of the film was Rozema’s focus (it qualifies as a subplot) on what one character calls, “the people who pay for the party.” She takes pains to point out the ugliness of aristocratic families who derived most of their income from the slave trade and/or slave labor on colonial plantations. I think that added a reasonable dimension to the film and probably came close to expressing Austen’s actual views on slavery (see quote below).

In the DVD director’s comments segment, Rozema uses the word “prig” to refer to Fanny, and her solution is to give meek and mild Fanny a personality transplant. She uses material from Jane Austen’s own life – including impulsively accepting an unwise proposal followed by the next morning’s anguished withdrawal of that acceptance. That happened in real life to Jane Austen, but not to Fanny Price in the book Mansfield Park.

Rozema also has Fanny writing wildly satirical adventure tales, using excerpts from the actual stories a young Jane Austen wrote for her family’s amusement. In the movie Fanny indulges in Elizabeth-Bennet-style teasing of other characters. Fanny Price as Austen created her is missing from the film. Maybe she’s just not movie material, but I missed her.

It’s clear to me after last week's re-reading of Mansfield Park that Fanny Price had what we used to call an inferiority complex, and would nowadays call low self-esteem. Carol Shields’ 1998
salon article uses the words “wimpy, passive and “doormat” to describe poor Fanny, but Shields also gives a very keen perception of why and how she got there and how she manages to keep a light of spirit intact and burning. Raised to age 10 in degradation and poverty, then scooped up and dropped into an aristocratic household where she is daily hammered with demands to be grateful for every crumb that falls her way.

How could Fanny not be shy and reserved? She might not have survived if she was not very, very cautious, living in a snakes’ nest of indifference, neglect and cruelty. The life of the mind and spirit are her only refuge. The suspense in the book concerns Fanny’s survival. She can't go back to a life of grim poverty with her parents and 9 siblings in Portsmouth. This was not a time when women could work outside the home. The best she could hope for would be marriage or a kind of slavery as an attendant to a female relative. Fanny's hopes for happiness seem as impossible to the reader as they do to her throughout the book. (I also noticed as I never had in previous readings how precarious Fanny’s health was in the book and it brought home how close Austen was to her death at 41 when she wrote this book, which was published posthumously.)

In regard to Rozema’s strong (and graphic) statements about how owners of plantation in Antigua financed their lavish lifestyles through the use of slave labor, there is evidence that Austen would have agreed about this evil. The Republic of Pemberly website has a word search feature and I found the word "slave" used 3 times in the book. Once to refer to the actual slave trade, and twice to refer to women's situations.

In regards to the slavery theme, I found a scholarly, but interesting article tracing Jane Austen’s probable views on slavery, based on correspondence with her naval officer brother who hated having to protect the slaving ships, and a list of books and authors she reported loving, including prominent abolitionists.

One of the responsibilities of Commander Francis Austen was to engage in policing activities in the Americas, but he was authorized to intercept only English vessels. He reported on his deep revulsion not merely at the inhumane and heinous treatment of the African slave cargo on the Middle Passage, but also at the entire slave system, which he observed at first hand in other parts of the world as well. Commenting on the "harshness and despotism" of landholders and their managers in the West Indian context he writes that "slavery however it may be modified is still slavery." [footnote omitted] It is clear from this documentation that Francis Austen was, to his credit, truly appalled by the institution of slavery as such and, in this respect, as Southam points out (loc.cit.), he was considerably ahead of his time. In view of the attested close relationship Austen had with her sailor brothers, the elder Francis and the younger Charles, it is highly probable that she shared the former's unequivocal antipathy to the system.


08-03-77 to 08-11-77 I read:

America in the Movies
, Michael Wood

Michael Wood is evidently now teaching at Princeton and still publishing books and articles. Here’s his
review of The Simpsons movie

Inside Story, Brit Hume

High Stakes, Dick Francis

Note: My unfavorite Francis book
’07 note – I forget why I didn’t like this one. I’ve read every book I could find, and studied many of them to see how he achieves that effortless storytelling (I wish I could say I found the secret, but in any event it was time well spent.)

Who is Teddy Villanova?, Thomas Berger
Note: An esoteric cop story is a contradiction in terms

Thomas Berger info.

August 3, 2007 to August 11, 2007 I read:

Mansfield Park
, Jane Austen

Friday, August 03, 2007

Our kitties, ourselves

I have been reading Susun S. Weed’s Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way. There's a lot of strong cancer prevention information here, but I think it’s safe to say that most people read it because of a direct or indirect encounter with breast cancer. In my case I’m looking for more herbal wisdom for my “house feral” cat, Belladonna, who has been living with a different variety of cancer for several months now. Until I got this book I was working from what I could find on the internet with a some help (mainly moral support) from Ragnar Benson’s Survivalist’s Medicine Chest. You don’t have to be out in the wilds away from the rest of humanity to be on your own medically speaking.

I wish there was a magic house call vet I could call who would be supportive through this, and I have the odd whiny moment when I think if I had enough money I could command that kind of care for her. But Belladonna and I had the single worst quasi-medical experience I have ever experienced with the vet I could afford. The main thing this house call vet did was tell me that the bump she had was not an abscess but cancer. I'd just get angry again if I tried to describe his incompetent handling of a cat who was born feral and cautious about even letting me touch her. He traumatized my already very shy cat and he charged more than twice what any vet had ever charged me for a house call. He could see from my apartment that I didn’t have enough money for more extensive treatment, so he needed to extract as much cash as possible while I was still in shock from his diagnosis. (I couldn't afford biopsy or lab tests, but subsequent tumor development confirmed the diagnosis, not that that particular vet is getting asked back.)

Herbs and vitamins have helped Belladonna so far, although I haven't observed any diminishing of the tumor. There is no mythical, magical vet to call, so I try to help her however I can. Seven months since the visit of what my brother called, "the suicide vet," Bella is getting very thin, but her appetite is excellent, she uses the litter box as usual, and she hangs out with her “boyfriend” and daughters. She naps a lot, in the sun if it's available.

The herbal tinctures are 15-50% alcohol, and Bella comes to sit and stare at me significantly when she is ready for more. This may sound awful, but my gut level feeling is that, if asked, Bella would prefer it to the treatment I saw when I helped a friend dose her cat with vet-prescribed “chemo for cats.” That poor kitty struggled against the pill, and was always nauseated, had no appetite and stumbled around like a zombie until the inevitable euthanasia. (The chemo for cats option is never presented as a cure by the way, there are no stats to support it as lengthening the cat's life.)

Bella is the only mother in our kitty household. She and her two kittens, daughters, were trapped in our backyard and spayed with help from friends and the SF SPCA Feral Fix program. Bella is a fierce mom, I saw her face off a raccoon over a food bowl in the week before we trapped her. The raccoon retreated. She was spayed the day after she came to live here, but she’s still a passionate female. She’s the only cat I have who’s “experienced” as Jimi Hendrix would put it. When El Nino, our alpha male cat, got frisky with one of Bella’s daughters (who was immune to his charms) Bella literally ran over and threw herself under him—and continued to do so and every time he was interested.

Now I just stay near her as much as I can and I listen to her wishes which are crystal clear if you observe carefully. Mainly she wants to be left alone, occasionally to be lightly massaged or brushed or have the herbs in tasty cat food.

I am a bit amused reading Weed’s book because I kept thinking of a seriously feminist friend who is allergic to “womanist” things like Motherpeace Tarot. Despite being an unreconstituted hippie (Haight Ashbury, Class of ’68), I don’t go in for healing circles (maybe a little light energy balance work), and you’ll never find me at a sweat lodge or Tantric intensive.

Weed’s book caught my eye because I’d read and liked her book on Menopause Years, the Wise Woman Way. As a side note, I’d heard it held up as one of the rare examples of a self-published author creating sales for her book. Looking more closely at Weed’s schedule, I wouldn't call it a book-sales strategy so much as a calling, and a lifestyle arranged around her passion.

I found the book balanced and useful, without ever being bossy. According to the FAQ on her web site, Weed seems to have enough of a firey side that participants in her intensive workshops are warned in advance not to be intimidated by her yelling. That's an unusual warning to put on a website. Whatever may happen in person, on the pages of the book, the passionate caring comes through, and sometimes that is what’s most sorely needed.

Weed’s invocations to the GrandMothers and their replies to the GrandDaughter deeply moved me at a time of doubt and personal survival struggles in my own life that would have shaken my coping skills with even if Bella were not sick. Her message from the Ancient GrandMothers:

We have no right answers, no rules to follow, no promises of life eternal. Death is certain for every living thing. But there are many ways to prevent and reverse the cancerous changes in your cells….

And we insist that you trust your inner sense of rightness and be willing to act on you own convictions. Walk with truth and beauty, GrandDaughter. There are no wrong answers. There are no wrong paths. Each woman is unique. We are here to support you no matter what confronts you. And to remind you that you can leave a trail of wisdom, a trail of beauty, no matter what path you choose. That is the Wise Woman Way the world ‘round.

I also love the last part of Weed’s dedication/acknowledgment:

...to all the trees whose fiber we use here, I offer my deepest respect and my ecstatic gratitude for all the pleasure and support you have given and continue to give to me.

Ditto to the trees from me on that one.

From July 26 to August 3, 1977 I read:

The Murderers, Emanuel Tanay, M.D., and Lucy Freeman

Future World and
New Voices in Science Fiction, J.W. Campbell Awards,
Note: Tried to read 1st one, couldn’t stand too much of it, forgot to write author and editor’s name down before returning to library.

Unnatural Causes, P.D. James

Surgeon at Work, Clarence J. Schein, M.D.
Note: an infuriatingly imprecise writer

Rainbow’s End, James M. Cain
Note: a 1975-written fairy tale including wicked step mother, oh dear. Well, hell, the man was 83 when he wrote it. To write a readable novel that is even semi up to date at that age deserves applause. It is semi up to date.

Of course now in my late 50s I wonder if I’ll be able to write a semi-up-to-date novel at 83. But the main thing that cause my attention was
JAMES M. CAIN as in Double Indemnity????
Yup. I have no memory of the book. Some internet sources say it's a bank heist book and they don't mention a wicked step mother. The above link with all the book covers describes a 1950's “weight loss” hard-boiled novel, Galatea, which sounds like the Weight Watcher’s version of The Postman Always Rings Twice. I’ll borrow a little of my 20-something arrogant condescension and look down my nose at that one.

July 26 to August 3, 2007 I read

The Harlequin, Laurell K. Hamilton

Anita Blake seems to be moving toward her roots, or at least to her office! There was more story and less free-floating orgy in this book. It’s seems clear that these books are rushed from her to the publisher to the bestseller list with a minimum of revision, but maybe that’s the price of riding the tiger. There are tigers in the book, as a matter of fact, were-tigers.

Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way, Susun S. Weed

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

And the winner is...Tragedy as usual

On a slightly unusual paying assignment, I spent many hours analyzing Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. Novel writing doesn’t get any better than this, Robinson deserves the Pulitzer Prize she won. I had read the book in the late ‘80s around the same time as I saw the film version with the luminous Christine Lahti. My memory of the film diluted some of the deep sadness of the story of two young girls who lose every caretaker they have until they end up with a mentally ill aunt. In the film, there was a hopefulness about the ending, while in the book it was clearer and more tragic. I've unashamedly confessed before how much I choose comedy over tragedy. But this was one of those rare books so gorgeously written that the lyrical voice of the text overcame the pain of the subject matter—isolation, dysfunction, insanity, suicide—you know all that fun stuff.

Housekeeping won the Pen/Hemingway Award decades before Robinson won the Pulitzer for Gilead, I was left contemplating how literary awards usually go to tales of excruciatingly painful experiences told with exquisite skill.

Tragedy truly is more timeless than comedy. Laughter explodes like fireworks, while the flame of solemn suffering burns on and on. Comedy is also more perishable because it's linked to the era when it was written. Even when freshly presented in its own era, not everyone will laugh. Worse yet, humor's shelf life expires when people stop understanding what's being mocked. Then there’s that irreverent anarchy element of even the mildest comedy that can make some people nervous--too nervous to give it an award.

That said, I don't think we have that much choice what we write. Even if I tried to go tragic, my irreverent brain wouldn't go for it.

June 30 to July 23, 1997 I read (or in many cases re-read):

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
Persuasion, Jane Austen
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
Emma, Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York, Gail Parent

Look Ma, I Am Kool! And Other Casuals, Burton Bernstein, Ed.
Note: read some, not all, mostly Woody Allen

Blood and Money, Thomas Thompson
Here’s an appreciative review of this book

Hope and Fear in Washington (the Early ‘70s), The Story of the Washington Press Corps, Barney Collier
Note: poor dude appears to be coming apart at the seams and writing about it, and seeing it everywhere he looks.

Some kind of Hero, James Kirkwood
Note: Makes you yearn for J.D. Salinger, I really couldn’t stand this book…I did like some of his other stuff but not this one.
web profile

Future World, Mayo Simon and George Schenck
Note: Poorly written but it does have suspense appeal.

Smokescreen, Dick Francis

The Murderers, Emanuel Tanay, M.D., and Lucy Freeman

June 30 to July 23, 2007 I R3,

Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
A modern classic.

Strange Candy, Laurell K. Hamilton
These short stories were polished and fun to read. One, A Lust of Cupids, was a light-hearted paranormal chick lit story, which is not what I think of when I think of Hamilton.

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, James Shapiro
a comprehensive review.

This was fun. This historical perspective provided abundant insights for a Shakespeare fiend like myself. For example, Shapiro suggests a probable reason why Shakespeare reneged on his promise at the end of Henry IV, Part 2 to bring back the popular Sir John Falstaff in Henry V. Instead Henry V contains a report of Falstaff's death. Early in 1599 Will Kemp, the comic actor who played Falstaff, left the Chamberlain’s Men. There was likely no other actor equal to the part. Shapiro has some telling evidence to prove his speculation that Shakespeare also wasn’t too keen on wild and wooly Kemp’s famous habit of improvising jokes to get a laugh. During the same year he has Hamlet instruct the Player in Hamlet:

…And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them...Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2

George S. Kaufman had the same problem with the Marx Brothers:

Kaufman wrote The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, and A Night At the Opera for the Marx Brothers, but hated their improvisations. Once during an Animal Crackers rehearsal, he walked up onstage and said, "Excuse me for interrupting, but I thought for a minute I actually heard a line I wrote."
Gotta love
George S. Kaufman.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Revenge: some like it hot, some like it cold

Someone sent me a link to an Ebay listing with the caption, "How can you tell this picture was taken by a man?" It turned out that the nude photographer had not realized there was a mirror on the wall across from where he stood to photograph the furniture he was selling. His photo, complete with his reflection in the mirror, bore witness that the photographer was indeed male.

Similarly, it’s quite clear when an author writes for revenge or payback. All writers do it, often it's why we started writing to begin with. We have so few fringe benefits, revenge is an important one. But when an author doesn’t let the piece cool off, rework it, and make it part of the story, it becomes a roadblock to enjoying the book. There are increasingly more of these passages in Laurell K. Hamilton, but the first two chapters of Danse Macabre, which I read this past week, are glaring examples. Essentially, the author (as Anita Blake, the 1st person narrator) is saying "you're just jealous" to critics (as embodied by the Ronnie, heroine’s former best human friend). This is so poorly presented that the author goes out of her way to give Ronnie a personality transplant, turning her into a vicious, sniping, bitter woman with severe psychological problems demonstrated by her envy of Anita's harem of adoring long-haired male shape shifters, who moonlight as strippers, do all the housework, and only live to service Anita, never looking at another woman.

Hamilton seems to be saying that anyone who criticizes her work only does so from jealousy of her monumental success.

Hmmmm - I definitely think Hamilton would be justified to say: “Go write your own best selling series and come back and we’ll talk.” But that doesn’t make those payback chapters less annoying, or the characters in them more appealing. Anything so close to authorial ventriloquism is unsettling—and that’s before the author even launches into the first of many sex scenes that make up most of the plot.

That said, I’m still reading whatever Hamilton writes. She gives good cliff-hanger. But I’m skipping more. Reading while rolling one’s eyes to the ceiling is hard work.

From June 7 to June 29, 1977 I read:

The Space Gods Revealed: A Close Look at the Theories of Erich von Daniken, Ronald Story
Interesting interview with Von Daniken on the Monk site

Son of Giant Sea Tortoise, Mary AnnMadden, Ed. NY Magazine competition)
The 1995 column by Marylaine Block (discovered while looking up this title) is about books bought solely because of their titles and it’s great, and I don’t remember any of the tidbits from this book, but I laughed a lot at the essay.

In the Frame, Dick Francis

Intelligent Life in the Universe, Joseph Shklovsky, Carl Sagan
Barely touched the book. Oh, dear, perhaps I don’t qualify!

Dancing Aztecs, Donald E. Westlake

Rumor of War, Philip Caputo

The Fan, Bob Randall

Off Guard: A Paparazzo Look at the Beautiful People, Ron Galella
This is interesting because paparazzi are an important part of the book I’m writing now. I’ve always thought it wasn’t fair that no one looked at it from the point of view of the piranha.

Future Power, Jack Dann & Gardner R. Duzois
Didn’t finish

Final State (Ed Ferman & Maltzberg) encore, taking notes

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
I think this was the beginning of periodically re-reading Austen’s work, a habit that continues to reward.

Only a Novel: The double life of Jane Austen, Jane Aiken Hodge
Read it in ’76. This time I notice a certain incoherency of prose, in irking lack, of explanation of esoteric or specifically British points. But the synopses of Austen’s works and worthy copying – quite good. (At that point I was teaching myself to write by handwriting out synopses, passages that were beyond what I could do, or that I wanted to study, etc.)

June 7 to June 29, 2007 I read:

For a Few Demons More, Kim Harrison

A paranormal series I like a lot. Harrison has a fresh voice, but I also have to point out that this series is still only 4 or 5 books in--definitely in the single digits, unlike Hamilton's book below which is 14th or 15th in the Anita Blake series.

Danse Macabre, Laurell K. Hamilton
Condoms come to Anita Blake’s ménage.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Feng Shui, a control freak way of knowledge

I’ve been reading Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, by Karen Kingston, and it’s a slow read, although there are some useful clutter-taming techniques in it, somewhat marred by the author’s bossiness.

Feng Shui, when marketed as a nifty thing for Westerners to do, is similar to Zen in that we know so little about it that you can mix it up with whatever you want and it will seem legitimate. Eastern philosophies in general are slippery to the Western mind. Even if we read the texts these methods are based on, they don’t always make sense to us, so we have only common sense to measure them against.

I knew before picking up Kingston’s book that the author had at least a minor case of the Dieters Disease because I first heard of it through flylady.com. It was pretty clear that Ms. Flylady (I’m forgetting her name, halfway on purpose) got her “body clutter” phrase that snapped her into full-scale (pun optional) diet dementia and diet book profiteering. So I was prepared to just skip any of Kingston’s Feng Shui material that pushed diets.

Kingston’s mild diet obsession, however, pales before some of her other rule-making. She tells the reader how often to change his/her sheets and not to store dirty laundry in the bedroom (perhaps those in small apartments should be keeping it out in the hallway, or dangle their laundry bag out the window)? I found myself frequently exclaiming “What b.s.!” aloud. That’s when I reached the chapter on Colon Clutter—complete with diagrams and instructions. Yes, folks, the author is telling readers when to poop, providing graphic descriptions of how to analyzing said poop, and suggestions for “Feng Shui-ing” one’s end product. Not your usual home decorating/reorganizing book.

It may sound like I’m dissing this book, I’m really exercising the famous “take what you want and leave the rest” method here.

Now a few words in defense of clutter. My favorite room is Henry Higgins’ library in the movie My Fair Lady—I want to live there--so much easier to maintain order with a full domestic staff too. My cats don't do more than cover the occasional hairball on the carpet with whatever they can find nearby such as slippers. But next to that library I like Merlyn’s cottage in T.H. White’sThe Sword in the Stone:

It was the most marvelous room that he had ever been in.

There was a real corkindrill hanging from the rafters, very life-like and horrible with glass eyes and scaly tail stretched out behind it. When its master came into the room it winked one eye in salutation, although it was stuffed. There were thousands of brown books in leather bindings, some chained to the book-shelves and others propped against each other as if they had had too much to drink and did not really trust themselves. These gave out a smell of must and solid brownness which was most secure. Then there were stuffed birds, popinjays and maggotpies and kingfishers and peacocks with all their feathers but two, and tiny birds like beetles, and a reputed phoenix which smelt of incense and cinnamon. It could not have been a real phoenix, because there is only one of these at a time. Over by the mantelpiece there was a fox’s mask, with GRAFTON, BUCKINHAM TO DAVENTRY, 2 HRS 20 MINS written under it, and also a forty-pound salmon, with AWE, 43 MIN., BULLDOG written under it, and a very life-like basilisk with CROWHURST OTTER HOUNDS in Roman print. There were several boars’ tusks and the claws of tigers and libbards mounted in symmetrical patterns, and a big head of Orvis Poli, six live grass snakes in a kind of aquarium, some nests of the solitary wasp nicely set up an a glass cylinder, an ordinary beehive whose inhabitants went in and out of the window unmolested, two young hedgehogs in cotton wool, a pair of badgers which immediately began to cry Yik-Yik-Yik in loud voices as soon as the magician appeared, twenty boxes which contained stick caterpillars and sixths of the puss-moth, and even an oleander that was worth sixpence—all feeding on the appropriate leaves—a guncase with all sorts of weapons which would not be invented for half a thousand years, a rod-box ditto, a chest of drawers full of salmon flies which had been tied by Merlyn himself, another chest whose drawers were labeled Mandragora, Mandrake, and Old Man’s Beard, etc., a bunch of turkey feathers and goose-quills for making pens, an astrolabe, twelve pairs of boots, a dozen purse-nets, three dozen rabbit wires, twelve corkscrews, some ants’ nests between two glass plates, ink bottles of every possible colour from red to violet, darning-needles, a gold medal for being the best scholar at Winchester, four or five recorders, a nest of field mice all alive-o, two skulls, plenty of cut glass, Venetian glass, Bristol glass and a bottle of Mastic varnish, some Satsuma china and some cloisonné, the fourteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (marred as it was by the sensationalism of the popular plates), two paint-boxes (one oil, one water colour), three globes of the known geographical world, a few fossils, the stuffed head of a cameleopard, six pismires, some glass retorts with cauldrons, Bunsen burners, etc., and a complete set of cigarette cards depicting water fowl by Peter Scott.
The Once and Future King The Sword in the Stone, p. 30-31

My other favorite book by White is
The Goshawk, but I digress.

May 29 to June 6, 1977, I read:

Paddy Chaefsky, John M. Clum
Note: read most
When I moved to LA from SF for a few years in 1977, the first little mom and pop store I went to in Culver City had a sign by the cash register, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” I hadn’t heard about much less seen Network at that point, so I thought, “Wow, people really are on edge here.” What they actually were was very tuned in to the latest movie in-thing—before people in other places, and with more enthusiasm.Chaefsky

Bittersweet, Teri Schultz
Note: surviving and growing from loneliness

Science Fiction Handbook, de Camp
Note: both ’53 and ’75 editions

Heartland, Mort Sahl
Note: poor man. Don't remember why that was my reaction.

Slapstick, Kurt Vonnegut

The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach, Peter Schickele
Note: Nice
A more aesthetic friend took me to task for preferring the Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and PDQ Bach, to the Royal Ballet and J.S. Bach. I like a lot of serious culture and a lot of parody/satire. But I love to laugh more than anything, so I will always seek out something that might make that happen

Calling Dr. Horowitz, Steve Horowitz, M.D., and Neil Offen

To Abolish Children and Other Essays, Karl Shapiro
I like Karl Shapiro’s poems, but evidently his essays didn’t do it for me. My note was: read most, rather tedious

May 29 to June 6, 2007, I read:

Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, Karen Kingston

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fun things to do in hell

I’ve been re-reading Descent to the Goddess, about the Sumerian goddess, Innana,(aka Ishtar)“queen of heaven and earth,” paying a visit to her sister, Ereshkigal, “queen of the Great Below” who lives in “the land of no return.” Inanna's visit is to attend the funeral of Ereshkigal’s husband, but the grieving widow greets her sister by demanding that she follow the customs of hell and be stripped, judged, killed, and her rotting corpse hung on a peg. I detect serious sibling rivalry here. Most hostesses just take your coat.

It’s too late to have second thoughts while being stripped, judged and killed, but Inanna might have been wondering whether she should have just sent regrets, flowers, and a nice card. Furthermore, this casts some doubts on the circumstances of Ereshkigal’s husband’s death. She seems to have been studying up on black widows, praying mantis mating behavior, and all those Alien movies.

Seriously, it's a very absorbing book. Jungian, feminist analysis—see below.

May 22 to May 28, 1977, I read:

The Season, a Candid Look at Broadway, 1967, William Goldman
Charlotte Bronte, the Self-Conceived, Helen Moglen
Note: read most of it.
Is There Intelligent Life on Earth? Jack Catran
Women, Women, Women, Dody Goodman, Chris Alexander
Evidently Ms. Goodman was alive and well in 2004, interesting about her difficulties with Jack Paar, etc…amazing how blatant, and unconscious, the sexism was then.
Slan, A. E. Van Vogt
The Joy of Money, Paula Nelson
Note: Couldn’t relate to it, only looked through it (Note to self, 30 years later, this explains a lot, no?)
The New Apocrypha, John Sladek,
Note: sampled its encyclopedia offerings
Casebook of a Crime Psychiatrist, James A. Brussel, M.D.
Controversy, William Manchester
Note: Read some essays, not all. The pace of his prose is irritating. (I think I meant slow & measured!)

May 22 to May 28, 2007, I read:
Tea with the Black Dragon, R. A. MacAvoy
web page
I’m glad to see this reissued in an Ereads paperback and ebook. Considering that the author was in her 30s when she wrote it (as I was when I read it), I now notice and find intriguing that the heroine is a free-spirited 50-year-old with gray hair who finds romance with a mysterious Chinese man, who may in fact be an ancient dragon. Not your usual paranormal romantic suspense novel—beautifully written!

Descent to the Goddess, A Way of Initiation for Women, Sylvia Brinton Perera
Another book I read in the 80s. I still remember discovering it at the SF Public Library, and the usual feeling of having mysteries revealed when I read it. I still have pertinent photocopied pages in my files. Then a friend was pruning her library and offered me anything I liked from the discards, and this small paperback was among them!

On reading again, these sentences stood up for me in red letters of fire:

We also feel unseen because there are no images alive to reflect our wholeness and variety. But where shall we look for symbols to suggest the full mystery and potency of the feminine and to provide images as models for personal life?
Descent to the Goddess
, p. 12.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Eeeeeeeeeeeebook adventures

“A” book by any other name might be “E” book? Hmmm. I’m not sure what an ebook is, except that I just wrote one, or Jaki Girdner and I did….kinda. I’m calling it an “E for Experimental”-book because the next ebook I have in mind involves sex and may actually have some hope of selling a few copies. The current one is also E for Exploring the ebook world.

Jaki Girdner and I put together Writer-to-Writer Reminders, Tickles, Tips and Tricks. Between us, we’ve had a total of 22 books published—16 for her, 6 for me. We should know some things worth sharing. The tips take place as a dialog between two writers: Ms. Reminder, who is extraordinarily organized, with tickle files for events planned years in advance, and Ms. Amnesia….well, she has a little problem with authority, outlines and planning ahead. We had a good time writing 52 tips, one a week for a year and an extra one to finish.

With a little help from a graphically sophisticated friend, this was translated into an Adobe PDF, and officially put out as an ebook.

As Hamlet says, "the rest is silence." Silent meditation? Actually last weekend it was silent medication because my back went out the minute the book was all Eeee-ed up, and introduced to Paypal.

Coincidence? I think not.

Of course any novelist is capable of functioning with zero feedback and encouragement. It goes with the territory. Most of the fiction being published even by large presses as such a minimal promotion budget that authors learn quickly to use any publicity idea they can manage to get the word out about their books. Like many authors, I’ve become obsessed with this subject. Not particularly expert, just obsessed.

But how to promote an ebook? Bookstores wouldn't be involved. Hmmm. Repeated internet searches yielded predatory websites that had more in common with “work at home” and multi-level marketing scams than they did with anything remotely applicable to promotion of entertaining material that someone might want to read.

Obviously never telling anyone about the book isn't going to work either.

So, now that my back is better, mentioning Writer-to-Writer Reminders on this blog is the next baby step into the Mountains of E-Madness. You can probably tell I've been re-reading H.P. Lovecraft--but that was this past week--30 years ago I was hitting the library like a locust infestation.

May 4 to May 20, 1977 I read, in whole or in part:

SnowBlind, A Brief Career in the Cocaine Trade, Robert Sabhag

The Fight, Norman Mailer

The Omnivorous Ape, Lyall Watson

The Sound of Two Hands Clapping, Essays by Kenneth Tynan
Sigh, theatrical criticism, Olivier playing all the great classic roles in the 1940's and 50's, I have a weakness for theatrical critical essays, and Tynan was such a superb writer.

Three Tales, Paul Bowles
Note: Esoteric almost to the point of nonexistence

Tiny Tim: An Unauthorized Biography, Harry Stein
Tiny Tim

Intent on Laughter, John Bailey
Couldn’t find much on this, out of print. But when I looked for it, I found and loved, this website.

About Those Roses, Frank D. Gilroy

A Burnt Out Case, Graham Greene
For me the anticipation of reading Greene is always more fun than the actual reading. He just can't seem to make me savor his world-weary depression.
Ya gotta grant him the prize for angst, though.

How the Comedy Writers Create Laughter, Larry Wilde
Turns out this guy is still around, and he invented National Humor Month (April, I missed it, who knew?) I like his good-humored web site.

The Plays of Ferenc Molnar (1929, intro only)
I still have the quote I got from Molnar, slightly paraphrased, on the wall above my writing desk: “Shakespeare was a genius. The rest of us must simply strive to be honest.”

Translation, Stephen Marlowe
Note: very disturbing cover art. Poorly written story

May 4 to May 20, 2007 I read:

The Orchid Thief,Susan Orlean
I also watched the film Adaptation wherein screenwriter suffers so much turning The Orchid Thief into a script, that he takes that struggle as the film's subject matter. Reading the book after watching the film, I could see his problem. The book was essentially a magazine article on intercut with lots of background and information. Interesting but not essentially a story. The movie also had one of my favorite writing teachers, Robert McKee, teaching his seminar on Story. Very cool.

Blood Bound, (Mercy Thompson Series, Book 2): Books: Patricia Briggs
Moving slowly back into the tamer paranormal novels I like so much

At the Mountains of Madness, H.P. Lovecraft
An old favorite, a paperback that must be nearly 40 years old. I’ll talk about obscene vegetation another time.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Secret teachings, the power of positive denial

I slowly eased reading books that are not by Jane Austen (my comfort reads for the past few months!) with a transitional period listening to 4-hour(!) audio DVD of The Secret, which a friend lent me.

The hook that gets people “into the tent” for this product, whether in video, book, or audio, is the pitch that this is a life-transforming "Secret." Yet the underlying principles, whether called The Laws of Attraction, the Power of Positive Thinking are familiar to even the most casual student of self-help books.

I like positive thinkers and New Age presentation people. As Douglas Adams said of the planet earth, they are “mostly harmless” and occasionally helpful. But the kindest thing I can say of The Secret is that it is partial—as in a fragmentary or limited. In its truncated fashion, it explains how, with single-minded thought, a person can affect his or her environment. There are some useful ideas in The Secret, presented with the maximum of smoke and sizzle and very little insight or responsibility.

I will consider using any mental or physical tool that doesn’t clash with my Buddhist practice. (I won’t channel, don’t ask me.) So I’ve encountered (and enjoyed studying) some of these New Age Usual Suspects. I didn’t like the metaphor of ordering your reality from a catalog. That one was too aggressively shallow for me. Also as a world view, the idea that you create the entire universe with your thoughts strikes me as childish at best and delusional at its worst.

I do like the metaphor of “change the frequency of your thought vibrations, like changing the radio channel.” I can almost hear an echo of an explanation of Buddhism as it was presented to Americans in the 1960s and ‘70’s (and it may have been a direct steal—such metaphors do get around). One of the unlooked for side-effects of a Buddhist practice is learning how to become aware of and move out of negative life conditions (as an exercise that must be repeated by the way, it’s not a one-time thing!)

The latter half of the DVD set made me a bit queasy with its exhortations to “believe” when doubt attacks. That sort of talk always induces deep mistrust in me--and an urge to head for the nearest Exit sign.

I’m not going to get into the “negative thinking caused the Holocaust” thread (my brother hit the nail on head when he said, “So, the Holocaust victims were all thinking negatively and the Nazis were thinking really positively?”) This is not the first time such views have been brought forth, but that doesn't make them less offensive.

For me it’s a sure-fire indicator of a con game when the salesperson plays the weight loss card. The weight loss issue draws con men like an overripe banana draws fruit flies. it's such a gold mine that few can resist. Such a large percentage of Americans are freaked out about their weight that playing on the hopes of a magical solution causes many to instantly reach for their wallets.

As a fat person, listening to their spiel, I was pleased at the suggestion not to dwell on your body’s flaws, that’s always more constructive. But I was wryly amused to hear the suggestion that followers "achieve their perfect weight" ("losing” is one of those banned, negative words)by looking away when fat people appear and instead envisioning their internal perfect body. I guess if I walk down the street and see people bumping into lampposts rather than look at me, “la, la, la, you don’t exiiiiiist…la, la, la, I’m thinking of my own perfect body…” I’ll know that it’s a Secretarian. Or will I?

Actually, invisibility in social situations is one of the side effects of getting old and/or fat. All of which The Secret assures me do not have to happen.

When I first started listening to the DVDs I wondered if there was any correlation at all between actual secret teachings in mystical tradition, and the positive thinking stuff they are invoking as the secret of the ages. A friend who is into the Western alchemical/metaphysical tradition pointed out that the concept of secret teachings can be to protect a student from getting in too deep too soon. My own experience in Buddhism has been that even when a secret teaching is revealed it is usually so simple that an untrained mind can’t see any profound meaning at all there. It can take decades of practice to realize how deep something so simple can be.

I suggested to a friend who was about to listen to the DVDs is “take what you need and leave the rest.”

April 16 to May 3, 1977 I read:

1876, Gore Vidal

English Humour, J.B. Priestly
Note: v. fine, also beautifully illustrated. (didn’t finish though)

Stop the Presses, I Want to Get Off, [MORE Magazine] R. Pollak [Ed]

The Man with the Candy, the Story of the Houston Mass Murders, J. Olsen
Read most of it

The American Tradition, A Gallery of Rogues, John Greenaway

Patchwork Mouse, Joseph Hixson

Darker Than Amber, John D. MacDonald

Gateway, Frederick Pohl

Scoundrel Time, Lillian Hellman
I first encountered Hellman in her preface to some of Dashiell Hammett’s posthumously published work. She was a glamorous figure, not the least because of her life with the magnetic Hammett. Who wouldn’t want to be with Hammett? Many were called and briefly chosen, but Hellman was the one who lasted. The fact that he told her she was the model for Nora, of Nick and Nora in The Thin Man made her even more interesting. Nick and Nora Charles have always been the ideal fun couple for more than one generation. Early in their marriage my parents named their dog Asta in honor of the Charles’ memorable terrier. I’ve read all of Hammett several times, but never have read any of Hellman’s non-memoir work, although I did see the movie The Little Foxes, and was startled by how over-the-top melodramatic it was.

From April 16 to May 3, 2007

Aside from listening to The Secret DVD, in the past few weeks I re-read:

Scoundrel Time, Lillian Hellman.

I remember noting what a thin book it was when I first read it, sitting on a bench at a bus stop in 1977. The edition I read recently has it collected along with Hellman’s other memoirs, An Unfinished Woman and Pentimento. Scoundrel Time only takes up 123 pages—with wide margins.

I think nowadays Hellman would be called “high maintenance.” She savors and shares her emotions the way some people share fine cuisine. This is part of her charm, and yet one can’t help but mistrust it.

One of the anecdotes she tells is of an old friend, unsuccessful Progressive candidate for President, Henry Wallace, who presented her with a large bag of manure on the occasion of her selling her farm due to financial disaster after she and Hammett were blacklisted and unable to find work. Hellman mildly complains that this was not a gift she could use in the New York apartment she was moving to, and puts it down to Wallace’s total cluelessness—and she gives several other persuasive examples of this. But something about the gift made me wonder if there weren’t others who might have wished to give her such a gift, but just didn’t have it handy when the occasion presented itself.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A debt to pleasure...of the literary kind

Another almost-month with no books read. Existential anxiety has that effect on me. However, I have been revisiting a manuscript of my own that needs work. That process reminds me why I have always traded financial security for time. (In the interests of full disclosure I should say that every job I've done that offered financial security has been so excruciatingly dull that my mind might have snapped under the strain. So the psychiatrist's bills I have saved by pursuing the muse should be factored into the equation.)

A phrase that keeps coming back to me recently is the title of a book Bruce Taylor set up by the cash register in his Mystery Bookstore in SF, now ably commanded by Diane Kudisch as Bruce has retired. The book Bruce was handselling was John Lanchester’s excellent crime novel, The Debt to Pleasure

Lanchester plucked the quote from John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. I'd never heard of Wilmot, which is not surprising, considering how outrageous his work was. I'm not a scholarly student of his time period, and if Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence couldn't be published during most of the 20th century due to censorship, Wilmot wasn't going to be showing up in any poetry anthologies. He was notorious, even among his fellow Restoration Rakes.

“Hazlitt judged that 'his verses cut and sparkle like diamonds', while 'his contempt for everything that others respect almost amounts to sublimity'.”
Rochester's bio.

Most of his poems seem to include all the commoner Anglo-Saxon four-letter words. His subject matter is either ruttish or scurrilous and the phrase that stuck in my mind from his poem, The Imperfect Enjoyment, is used during a discussion of premature ejaculation—

When, with a thousand kisses wandering o'er
My panting bosom, "Is there then no more?"
She cries. "All this to love and rapture's due
Must we not pay a debt to pleasure too?"

Note, this site is not for the prudish.

The debt Wilmot refers to is the pretty simple, "you pleased me and now I'm incapable of pleasing you, sorry about that, dear." Wilmot died at 33, probably of syphillis--another debt to pleasure paid.

But for me the phrase seems to refer to the cost of doing what you want to do...or need to do.

The book I began to write in the spring of '77 was a good learning experience, but essentially, unreadably bad. Even the title is too embarrassing to quote. I am hoping the friends upon whom I inflicted this book have mercifully forgotten it.

The manuscript I’m now editing is my 10th book. Book 11 is with my agent. Book 12 is in progress, put it aside to do this edit. Although it hasn’t found a publisher yet (and I am finding things to improve in the ms.) Book 10 after lo these many re-writes/re-reads still makes me laugh. It ain’t Shakespeare, but I knew that going in. There are no cringe-worthy moments.

(If you're mathematically inclined, I'll explain that 6 of my books have been published, and 3 sit in the closet, including the abysmal first novel.)

So that’s what I did with my last 30 years. I’m not naïve enough to think that this entitles me to anything in a material sense. But it’s what I wanted to do with my life.

Damn that existential anxiety! I think it’s insinuating a whiny note into this blog. So enough about now, looking back 30 years--

March 11 to April 15, 1977 I read.

Orbit 18, Damon Knight

Victorian Murderesses, Mary S. Hartman
Only got three-quarter way through it.

Carrie, Stephen King
This was one of those books I remember reading, where I was when I read it (on a cockroach-menaced sofa bed, in the dim light of afternoon, at a time when absorbing storytelling was welcome). Whatever one may think of Stephen King after the crushing juggernaut of his success has swept its way through the reading world, I think back to reading Carrie and thinking—wow, that’s good.

A Plague of Demons, John Creasy, as Gordon Ash

The Art of Seeing, Aldous Huxley
Had to skip last few pages.

So You Have Glaucoma, Viers
Note—I didn’t. But the Lions’ free glaucoma testing van student doctors thought I might, and that netted me an anxious few weeks—during which I read this book. Also a free appointment for more extensive testing that indicated I just had weirdly shaped eye nerves…I was the only person under 50 in the waiting room. Also the experience of having my father reassure me that if I did have glaucoma, he would personally drive me to Mexico to get marijuana if I also needed that—my father’s version of worrying, although he was by nature more of a warrior than a worrier.

The Medically Based No-Nonsense Beauty Book, Deborah Chase
Oy. I was 27, living in LA and far from immune to the beauty obsession. I do give myself points for a little common sense with this one.

Magic, William Goodman

Born on the Fourth of July, Ron Kovic
My memory was that I had reviewed this book several months earlier for the Buddhist newspaper. Maybe I was re-reading, as it was quite a powerful book

1876, Gore Vidal

From March 11 to April 14, 2007

Reading and re-writing one of my own manuscripts.