Tuesday, November 30, 2010

brave new book

For publishers and authors aching to get their work into the hands, in front of the eyes, and on top of the minds of readers, Electric Publisher, an app-building company niched in the literary world, is making quite a splash.

Apps have the potential for making the reading experience more dynamic, evolution-driven and, well, fun--not to mention how they can offer authors and publishers marketing tools never before imagined. I was pretty excited, actually, watching this video-interview on Galleycat with Andy Hunter, and for some very selfish reasons.

I just finished writing a young adult novel called THE EMPRESS CHRONICLES, and while it was coming together, I began to have these pretty fantastic notions of how, ultimately, the book could be constructed and experienced in electronic form.  Given the right coding, the conceit of my book--intention as the driving force behind rewriting history--could be experienced firsthand by the reader in a digitally-based medium.  For instance, the climax chapters present three divergent outcomes, all predicated on revision that works retroactively.  The app I have in mind would allow the e-audience to experience, as the character does, the evaporating prose in the Empress's diary which comes to be replaced with the edited version.  Links can bring the reader to companion web pages, designed for interaction.  And don't even get me started on the possibilities with historical sidelines!

All self-serving glee aside--it's an exciting time to consider the possibilities of story, and the myriad forms it will take.

how zen kept us from killing each other

My family and I spent Thanksgiving in San Diego with my mother and Kirk's daughter who both, coincidentally, happen to live there. There's 1100 miles between my door and my mother's. That's a lot of time in a confined space with an 11-year old.

I've made this trip before. Several times in fact. The first time, I was actually living in San Diego, and several friends had assessed my Birkenstockishness and hippie outfits claiming me perfect for the Pacific Northwest. At the time, my older kids were babies, so on a lark (truly, it was...I didn't even have Triple A!) I packed the wee kids up and headed north.

At some point I thought to look at a map and, lo and behold, discovered that Oregon (which I then pronounced the you-ain't-from-around-here way, emphasizing the GHAN syllable) lay between California and Washington, instead of next to Canada. Really, I was that stoopid!

On that adventure, I fell in love with Portland, and promptly U-Hauled my crap up here.  I've never looked back. Except during Thanksgivings, summers and the occasional Spring Break, where occasionally I'll be moved to get an oil change and I-5 my way down the road.

1100 miles is sixteen hours of driving. Kids, even good ones, get whiny and bratty after about two. That's my experience anyway. But this trip was different, and I owe it all to Jordan Sonnenblick.

Before we discovered this amazing writer, the only use my son had for books was to include them in the creation of make-shift bowling alleys. As a person whose life turns on the printed word, I tried to disguise my disappointment in his disdain for reading. I tried to introduce him to graphic novels, sports figure books, skater magazines. No go.

So, one day, on yet another one of my famous larks, I perused the YA section of our neighborhood library and, judging one after another book by its cover, stumbled upon  Zen and the Art of Faking it . It grabbed me. It had all the elements: an upside down boy who looked about my son's age. Basketballs. Oregonesque sandals. I checked it out, took it home, and my son actually began to read it. And not put it down. (Until his myriad sports practices required it).

I promptly ordered up the book-on-tape version for our trip. By the time we climbed into the car, my son was a good three quarters of the way through the book, but was delighted to hear it read to him, and to have us brought up to speed so we could have a little mini book group whilst crawling up the I-5 post-Thanksgiving.

Some of the unexpected takeaways included my son divulging long-held secrets from grade school, feelings about bravado, teasing, crushes, sports acumen. In short, the trip was delightful, entertaining, informative and easier than ever. So. This summer? Maybe the canyon lands and more excellent spoken YA coming out of the dashboard.

Any recommendations?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

a thanksgiving wish

Here's to books. That they may continue to deliver their magic, that they may continue to be loved. That they may reach into they hearts that cry out for them.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rock on, Patti!

Congratulations to rocker-writer Patti Smith for her National Book Award winning JUST KIDS. Like Dylan, she can now claim to be embraced cross-genre--loved for words as well as music. In her acceptance speech she said, "writing is like exercise; you have to commit to doing it and you have to do it every day."

Time for some crunches!  And after that, I'm getting Patti's book.

If you're curious, here's the list of winners.  And best of all?  They're mostly chicks!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


He's young, he's brilliant, he's rich and he's a writer.  No fair!  There's a certain jealousy writers feel when they ponder the life of a seemingly golden child of art.  Jonathan Safran Foer has all the makings of the iconic object of disdain.  A target for good old fashioned avarice--the sort that drives artists to wish bad things, disastrous calamities, even. That's all pretext to the latest Vanity Fair piece on Foer, who is in the process of launching his latest book, Tree of Codes.

The stir on this book isn't as much about content as form.  Foer sliced up (literally) a book by Bruno Schulz called Street of Crocodiles, and put it back together Humpty-Dumpty style, creating an homage and a new tale all at once.

Part of the buzz (positive and negative) no doubt has to do with this blurb by spacial artist, Olafur Eliasson:
[A]n extraordinary journey that activates the layers of time and space involved in the handling of a book and its heap of words. Jonathan Safran Foer deftly deploys sculptural means to craft a truly compelling story. In our world of screens, he welds narrative, materiality, and our reading experience into a book that remembers it actually has a body.

What!  Eliasson isn't an author! Such cross-pollination is confounding! 

That Safran Foer.  What an upstart.

I remember first paging through Everything is Illuminated and feeling that I was viewing the inside of someone's brain. Clearly, his debut novel was fueled by his passion for discovery--that is, his interest in his Holocaust-escaping Jewish grandfather's plight--and it tumbles forth from there. He was 22 when he wrote that book.  22!  And now, several books later, he's flying in the face of the e-book, kindle dictate by creating a fiction that must be experienced sensually, in three dimensions.  The Schadenfoers are gleefully wringing their hands with this one: it won't sell!  It'll fail!  It's counter-intuitive!

My hunch, having heard and read interviews with the boy genius, is that his anachronistic urges, his need to constantly fuck with form, is not intentional.  Rather, it's a genuine by-product of his crazy-busy brain and the way he, as an artist, synthesizes the world.  In fact, I wish there were more Safran Foer types who were successful.  It might restore my faith in this largely pablum-sucking world.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

notes from childhood

I'm in the itchy red tights and witch shoes.
One of my earliest memories was my dad teaching me how to curtsy in preparation for a trip to some big, important building in Vienna.  He was a med student, so it could have been the well-known University, but the only thing that seared itself into my brain matter about the actual day of the curtsy was itchy tights and the walk next to my father through a large, fancy hall, and up a grand staircase of some sort.  The actual curtsy I've re-formed in my mind, but knowing me, it probably came off as more of a bow.

Vienna was my home the first six years of my life.  We lived in the 18th Bezirk, among all the foreigners: Indian diplomats, Hungarian dignitaries, British students.  The mid-sixties in Vienna were much less a clash than here.  For instance, hippies were non-existent. My parents attended actual balls.  My mother was chic and young and resourceful, and sewed her own ballgowns whilst wringing out our laundry in the hand-crank washer she had set up in the kitchen.

My best friends were an Indian brother and sister. In my memory, they were named Banti and Apu, respectively--which is odd, since Apu is a boy's name, but, whatever.  They hailed from New Delhi and had servants and great outfits.  Our families lived in a fancy apartment house which has since become Vienna's Indonesian Embassy.  Inside those wrought iron gates we tricycled and climbed a small tree.  Once, Banti took a crap in the ornate swimming pool in the backyard--his log of a turd floating by the concrete lions who seemed to avert their eyes at the sight.  I loved Banti. Together we terrorized my little sister, Patti, and threw her stuffed monkey in the well--also in the backyard. Banti's little sister was shy and mostly hid behind her governess's skirts watching her brother being scolded.

I've been back to Vienna only a couple of times since, and each time I've trollied out to District Eleven to press my face against the iron gates of my formative home.  My last trip, I snuck in with my son, Sam. We squeezed through the shutting gate just behind a Diplomat who'd been buzzed in, and scurried 'round the back, to the daylight basement windows at the rear of the house which had vented our small family way back when.

Disappointingly, the windows looked into office space.  Where memory recalled a small desk where my father sat typing out a paper, calling to my mother for spelling reassurance, now sat metal tables upon which reams of paper lay.

Out back, no stuffed monkey in the well, no swimming pool in which to poop, and everything so much smaller.  Sam, of course, was nonplussed, as he had been with all of Europe, counting the minutes until he was free from being dragged abroad, back to his eggs and bacon breakfasts, his marathon Friends reruns. His garage poker games and furtive PBR swilling.

What will Sam's sentimental salmon-like returns to childhood entail, I wonder. He's lived in Portland since the age of two, and currently resides less than ten miles from the bulk of his many formative homes.  But then, Sam is a much more pragmatic person than myself.  Even if he had been steeped in a somewhat exotic childhood landscape, with the children of dignitaries shitting up the Rococo garden features of his frame of reference, his notation of the act wouldn't be any larger than, say, his adolescent escapades where he and his buddies guzzled a gallon of milk in the park on a dare, just to see the color of their respective vomit.

But then, that's the beauty of half-remembered sentimental journeys.  One person's sacred construct is the next's person's shrugged shoulders.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Funny Tweeter

We interrupt the serious business of blogging about writing to lap over into the confoundingly, maddeningly, ever-evolving drain clog of social media.

This guy's funny, check him out!

F Twitter from Shane Nickerson on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

much ado about...hair

In the midst of the midterm kerfuffle, I give you respite.  Hey, you voted, you voiced and maybe today you're happy?  But if you're reading this particular blog, probably not.

What's a citizen to do?  At least you can thank the stars that you're not burdened with the pomp and circumstance of the Viennese Court, yes?  Here's a little glimpse from the bowing and scraping world of Empress Elisabeth's retinue.  N'Joy.