Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books: The Life of Christina of Markyate

I don't think there's much chance of overlap with this week's choice. The life of a twelfth century recluse: it doesn't scream popular appeal, I suppose. But it should! A fascinating story and an early biography of a woman in a time when few but kings and saints got their stories told (fortunately at least someone important considered Christina close enough to the latter). I have begun writing a play about Christina's life in hopes of making it known to a broader audience, but as with so many things, it has had to wait in the queue for a bit. I have actually been spending these months in Ireland completing long delayed projects and jettisoning ones that are no longer relevant to my path.

Of course my brain insists on constantly coming up with new ideas, so it's a rather hopeless cause. If I had all the time in the world, it still wouldn't be enough.

Christina is born in Huntingdon to noble Anglo-Saxon parents, Autti and Beatrix. The story is a dove flew over to Christina's mother from the monastery and nestled in her sleeve and stayed there a week while she was pregnant, demonstrating of course that the child was touched by the Holy Spirit. You'd think after such a clear sign, her parents would resign themselves to offering her to the church, but no.

They get her engaged to a rich young man despite her protests that she'd like to devote her life to quiet contemplation. While we tend to think of the church as a repressive organisation in the current age, for women in the Middle Ages it offered one of the few opportunities for independence and a little authority (assuming you weren't born to a royal family or likely to be married into one). So they married her against her will, but she refused to consummate the marriage. So the bishop tried to rape her to make her more compliant; in a hilarious scene, she's divinely assisted to resist him.

She ends up running away to live dressed as a man with a monk: talk about a modern gal! Eventually she's allowed to take up the life of a recluse as she wished, but there are always problems. Christina's peerless conduct evokes envy in others and she has to frequently chastise her superiors because those men would rather wheel and deal wealth than praise god. So it's a busy life, fighting off demons and receiving prognostications from the Holy Spirit -- and only a few recognised her for what she was:

Hence, some of them called her a dreamer, others a seducer of souls, others more moderately, just a worldly-wise business woman...others who could think nothing better to say spread the rumour that she was attracted to the abbot by earthly love.

It's a wonderful capsule of twelfth century life; it's a familiar tale of the difficulties of being an exceptional woman. The Talbot edition has a terrific introduction, but can be a bit pricey unless you find a used copy. There's a more inexpensive edition of her life available now:





Drop by Patti Abbott's blog for the round up of other FFBs.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: Hunger Games

Big thanks to the lovely Maura who's off in London Inverness (hopefully winning an Eagle for Jennifer Wilde next month) who not only persuaded me to head out to see the film, but introduced me to the swank G Hotel, a remnant of the Celtic Tiger where some fabulous drinks in classy surroundings  were to be had (mmmm, don't those look good?).

I haven't read any of Susan Collins' Hunger Games series, so I won't be comparing the film to the books. I have seen Battle Royale just recently so it's fresh in my mind, although I think the comparison between the two films is a superficial one of the game they share: better comparison might be Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" because this isn't a film about a faceless and cruel bureaucracy vs. innocent children, it's about the nature of ritual and spectacle, and how culture makes us complicit in our own subjugation.

The World Socialist Web Site's review touches a bit more on this aspect (thanks for the link, Steve). While their overall attitude is one of contempt for popular culture (no surprise: most of the negative reactions to the film have been gendered in their response except for a virulent minority who are racist), they note the film's aim proves surprisingly radical for the mainstream (and generally conservative) Hollywood productions. The same people who have excoriated Hunger Games have often praised the more old-school John Carter (the troublesome princess having been removed from its title).

I haven't seen that film either: the book is an uncomplicated adventure tale with the triumph of masculinity and empire. The tenor of the praise for the film from a lot of genre folk seems to be that it's "fun and enjoyable and worth catching on the big screen" (many mainstream critics disagree). Don't analyze it! It's just fun: Hunger Games, however, needs to be analyzed and dismissed. Gender has a lot to do with that as with any woman in public ("Look at her shoes! and that dress! And she's so fat!"). Just as the excoriation of Twilight has a lot more to do with gender than anything else; similar series by men do not receive the same vitriol (cough Game of Thrones cough). Stephen King (who can't create a believable female character unless she's a monster or a victim and who actually ends one story by having his heroes saved by a mystic gang bang) gets applauded for sneering at Stephanie Meyer (Pot? Meet kettle).

As a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence and her previous starring role in Winter's Bone (one of the most overlooked films in recent years), I'm happy to say she is hands down the best thing about the film. Her emotional range is stunning in an actor so young and how delightful to see a woman in an action role who looks like she could actually do the work and not blow away in a strong wind. Not since Geena Davis did yeoman's work in The Long Kiss Goodnight have I seen an American woman really sell an action role. That said, the direction of the action sequences is dire. The emotional investment of the film comes from Lawrence right at the start.

"Cheese" (the ever-present sneer at the film) apparently means showing emotions: that's what I've got from the snark at the film I've seen on Facebook especially. The shallow characterisation of Battle Royale stands in sharp contrast to the deeper world of Hunger Games. You get a sense of the whole world outside the games. Not just Sutherland's Cheney-esque vicious bastard leader (although I had moments of flashback to Sleeper and the Leader's nose) but the whole centre-periphery split, where even the religio-political spectacle is showbiz. That's where the "Lottery" comparisons work best. As abundantly clear from living abroad, the US is not far from that situation now.

It's the next logical step for the megachurch, already an arm of the ReBiblican party.

Coercion: the coercion women (especially young women) face daily fuels a lot of recognition in this film. The thousand batterings against you daily from strangers demanding you smile to family counseling you against breaking up with your boyfriend/fiancé/husband; women get accustomed to their lives and even their bodies being considered everyone's property but their own. But they also bear the brunt of balancing life and responsibility. The rare men who handle the bulk of childcare within their family also know the web of reliance that it brings. The luxury of the lone male like John Carter remains a romantic notion that men take for granted and don't expect to be criticised.

There's not as much spurting blood as in Battle Royale but every death is memorable, every death counts. The town and country split that the socialists allude to comes through most vividly in the hateful but intimidating rich kids from the capital district. The reaction unleashed by Rue's fate within the story has immediate resonance for anyone who watched the riots in London unfold and spread across the country. It's what fuels the Occupy movement as well. The triumph of Hunger Games isn't the private success of individuals like Battle Royale, it's the success of cooperation.

The importance of knowing your battle dress, often dismissed as mere 'girly' fashion sense, shows how savvy Katniss quickly becomes. She has the weight of responsibility on her shoulders -- a weight of which she is ever conscious -- unlike the rest of the competitors.  While Peta spouts noble-sounding pronouncements, she remains conscious of how much depends on her, and while overwhelmed by the hopelessness of her situation at times -- by the fate of Rue in particular because of its reminders of home -- Katniss digs in for endurance and survives. I'm sure the series will, too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: The Royle Family

I know some of you will immediately say, "Overlooked, my arse!" since it's on UK Gold regularly. But as the majority of my readers here are Americans, I feel justified in the choice -- besides, when do I pass by a chance to share this terrific show? The Royle Family was created by writer/director Caroline Aherne and her writing partner Craig Cash, who also starred in it as Denise Royle and her husband Dave Best. Jim, the patriarch of the Royles was played by Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston starred as Barbara, his long-suffering wife. Her mother was played by the legendary Liz Smith and their very put-upon dogsbody/son Antony was Ralf Little. Regular cast members included Jessica (Spaced) Stevenson as the ever-dieting Cheryl and Geoffrey (Keeping Up Appearances) Hughes as the extremely dodgy Twiggy.

Nothing much ever happened at the Royles. Most episodes they sat talking to each other while watching television, hardly glancing at one other, the narratives mostly unfolding in real time with no laugh track. It may take a whole episode to get used to the family dynamics, but like all character-driven comedy, knowing those characters gives you incredible elasticity. While I always think of this as one of the consistently laugh-out-loud funny programmes ever, it also has some of the most touching moments ever televised as well: Denise's wedding day, when her waters break and of course, "The Queen of Sheba" Nana's passing.

It's my goal to be as phenomenally lazy as Denise. I've got a ways to go.

I got to introduce the QoE and Marko to a little bit of the Royles while they were visiting. The Xmas episode is a rare step outside Jim and Barbara's house to Denise and Dave's. Guest star Tom Courtenay (yes, really!) steals the show as Dave's bizarre dad. I love how he says, "Bar-berra" and of course the tropical punch and the whole turkey emergency. Some clips to give you a taste and as always, check out the rest of the recommended A/V over at Todd's blog.












Sunday, March 25, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: Horse Clock

This story was inspired by -- wait for it -- the clock on my mantelpiece and the Sekhmet postcard my friend Joey gave me. It started as a caption for the picture on my Facebook page. I liked the blue tone which resulted from the wrong setting on the phone ("fluorescent"? maybe). My friend Richard complimented me by calling it, "Hobanesque" which pleased me greatly. It will be in a collection soon; more as the details come together, but it will feature a number of writers all linked by the Burning Bridge theme.

My six:
 
At one time, there was another horse on the clock, but it fell in love with the chime and they ran off together, so the clock no longer keeps time. The horse that remains behind conceals his broken heart and keeps the ball ready in case anyone wants to play. Sekhmet awaits the desert breezes and the return of the rain.

"How does it begin?" The big hand asked the little hand.

"With laughter," said the little hand, "but it always ends in tears."

Drop by the Six Sentence Sunday blog to sample more writers.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Interview & Friday's Forgotten Book

Hey, that's me over at Book Reel talking about book trailers, my prodigious output and where I get my ideas (not Schenectady!). I had a terrific time answering the questions, so stop by and leave a comment if you're of a mind to and feel free to share the link where you can. Help me claw my way out of obscurity!

If you haven't already heard, the fabulous Alessandra Bava has a bilingual collection of poetry out, Guerrilla Blues. Her work is amazing: passionate, vivid, fearless. I can't wait to get my copy!

FRIDAY'S FORGOTTEN BOOK: Somebody Owes Me Money

Talk about prodigious outputs! Donald E. Westlake is a legend. Over a hundred novels, many under pseudonyms, mostly in crime but also in other genres as well. He was in the back of mind from some conversation this past week, so when I went to the library this week to return books I checked to see if they had any Westlake and sure enough, they did (not that my shiny shiny iPad Rook isn't groaning with books to be read >_<). This one looked like fun.

First published in 1969, Somebody Owes Me Money got this shiny new edition from Hard Case Crime in 2008. The main character is the hapless Chet Conway, cab driver and inveterate gambler. Not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he generally catches on eventually. There's something fun about writing a character that's going to be less swift than the reader and Chet fills the bill. The brilliant opening line plays with the gradual reveal: "I bet none of it would have happened if I wasn't so eloquent."

What happens is that Chet gets the tip of a lifetime, scores big, goes round to his bookie Tony and finds him dead. And then Tony's wife arrives and eventually the police and things don't look so good. Chet manages to get the police to believe he didn't kill Tony, but the next thing you know the bookie's sister Abbie arrives with a gun in hand, sure he did murder her brother and ready to get revenge.

Chet and Abbie make a winning pair, bickering and working at cross-purposes; she's way out of his league and Chet's constantly surprised to find her in the vicinity. If it weren't for Abbie, he'd have bought it in the first few chapters, which brings out his chivalrous desire to protect her, though as even he realises, "Abbie McKay was no helpless damsel in distress. She could take care of herself, that girl, I was sure of it."

Fun stuff: suspense, twists and turns as well as laugh out loud moments. Full of those nice little touches that give a richness to the story and fill in its world, like everyone arriving out of breath from the long walk up to Jerry's fifth floor apartment or the insane insurance calculations that obsess Chet's dad. Well worth a ride.

See all the FFB recommendations over at Patti Abbott's blog.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

BitchBuzz: Hour of the Wolf

Hour of the Wolf

K. A. Laity

There's been something in the air for a while; while the first glimmer goes all the way back to Angela Carter's Bloody Chamber and her trio of wolf stories, including "The Company of Wolves" later to become the first in a film rebirth of the werewolf genre which grew out of the development of realistic prosthetic makeup, seen in that film, An American Werewolf in London and The Howling.

The wolf moved from monster to lover, a theme Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods touched on and more recently there was Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood (which I didn't see because the reviews savaged it). We've also had woman as werewolf in the terrific Ginger Snaps films and just lately Ruby/Red Riding Hood in Once Upon a Time.

Today Jezebel linked to a new Red Riding Hood film, an animated short that seems to tap into the current zeitgeist in a surprisingly evocative way. As the animators' Vimeo page puts it:

RED is an animated short film, which presents a new version of the classic tale ¨Little Red Riding Hood¨ by Charles Perrault. The directors Jorge Jaramillo and Carlo Guillot explore more thoroughly the drama, horror and realism of the story. A journey of feelings and moments, with visual and musical elements existing only to carry a clear and strong narrative.

It works well as a horror film, an evocative shadow play of grim terror. But it also resonates as a metaphor for our times: the determined young girl goes after the wolf. The fight is bloody; there's no softening of the battle and its costs to both combatants.

The return of Red's hood becomes visually powerful as the whitened cloth becomes once more red. The grisly sight of what's left of grandma and the resolve with which the girl drags it homeward once more offer a gut-punching power to the images. Manuel Borda's music enhances the emotions vividly.

As women battle daily for control of their bodies—whether it's for reproductive rights in the US or for their very lives in Guatemala—and grimly to hold onto the rights their grandmothers fought so hard to secure, a sharp little reminder like this film offers a picture of triumph that reminds us why we retell fairy tales over and over again.




RED from RED on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Writer Wednesday: Danielle Ackley-McPhaill

Award-winning author Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for over sixteen years. Currently, she is a project editor and promotions manager for Dark Quest Books.

Her published works include four urban fantasy novels, Yesterday's Dreams, Tomorrow's Memories, the upcoming Today’s Promise, and The Halfling’s Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale. She is also the author of the non-fiction writers guide, The Literary Handyman and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Dragon’s Lure, and In An Iron Cage. Her work is included in numerous other anthologies and collections, including Rum and Runestones, Dark Furies, Breach the Hull, So It Begins, By Other Means, No Man’s Land, Space Pirates, Space Horrors, Barbarians at the Jumpgate, and New Blood.

She is a member of The Garden State Horror Writers, the New Jersey Authors Network, and Broad Universe, a writer’s organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres.

Danielle lives somewhere in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail, mother-in-law Teresa, and three extremely spoiled cats. She can be found on LiveJournal (damcphail, badassfaeries, darkquestbooks, lit_handyman), Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail), and Twitter (DMcPhail). To learn more about her work, visit www.sidhenadaire.com, www.literaryhandyman.com, or www.badassfaeries.com.


Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o' paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

Wow…it really depends on where I am. I grab every chance I can to write when I am in the middle of a project so I’ve written on my personal laptop, a previously finicky Gateway that had a backlighting short that made the screen go out on an all too regular basis, an ancient PalmPilot when I’ve gone back and forth to work, a lovely notebook—drattedly unlined—in a leather cover pressed with Celtic knotwork, and now my wonderful new Droid…which admittedly sees more game playing than writing at the moment, but only because I received it right as I was finishing the final pages of my new novel, Today’s Promise.

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

I almost always listen to music. Mostly Celtic instrumentals, or where they are singing in Irish, so that the content doesn’t distract me, but I’ve also been known to pull out the movie soundtracks when I need something with a really good sci fi or military theme. I don’t know about the music influencing me, exactly, but I do use it to get into a mindset. Not quite the same thing.

Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

Wow…It depends. Above I mentioned I was working on Today’s Promise, the last book in my Eternal Cycle series. Through a moment of insanity I ended up with a five month writing window for that before it needed to be sent to press. I lost a month of that to illness and surgery. With only four months to write, revise, and then go through the formal edit process I was sweating it big time. At the very end I went 44 hours without a proper sleep and wrote about 12,000 words in that time. I finished the book in three months by dedicating every free moment obsessively to writing it. That’s not how I usually am, though. Mostly I’ll have a couple hours here and there when an idea comes to me, and more rarely I’ll write the day through to finish a short story. Of course, I’ve been known to go prolonged times without writing anything at all…

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

LOL…Well… I just gave my biker faerie novel, The Halfling’s Court, to Sherrilyn Kenyon…and I’m REALLY hoping what she says is that it doesn’t suck! [Ed. Fingers crossed!]

Q: On the days where the writing doesn't go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

You know I’d like to be a chef, or a vagabond…though costumer or make-up artist would be really cool too…not like Lancôme. Like Face Off!

Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

I read just about everything except for Horror and Manga. Mostly fantasy, urban fantasy, some sci fi. My guilty pleasure is romance, which I call my junkfood reading. Not because there is anything wrong with the quality of the writing, but because I can read them quickly, easily and enjoyable without too much having to keep things straight, like alien names and who is scheming against who.

Q: Where did the idea for your latest publication come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration?

Most of my ideas come from the odd connections my mind makes when I’m in conversation with other people, mostly other writers. The Eternal Cycle series started as the story Yesterday’s Dreams. Originally it was only supposed to be a short story just for the heck of it. I’d never even considered it would become a novel or get published. I was in a chat room with other writers and one of them, my friend Bill Hicks, was talking about all the different jobs he’d had. One of them was a pawn broker. That triggered in my mind the idea of a pawnshop where an evil man claimed items that had an attachment to the owner’s soul. In the end it turned into a Celtic themed story where the pawnbroker was a good elf, still collecting soul-imbued items, but for the purpose of protecting them, not exploiting them. Yesterday’s Dreams was followed by Tomorrow’s Memories, and in May, concludes with Today’s Promise, and none of them would exist if not for talking with creative, like-minded people and letting my mind play with the possibilities.

From Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s novel Today’s Promise, Book Three in the Eternal Cycle Series, Dark Quest Books, May 2012:

The hall was weighted with oppressive silence. Hushed and packed, with no unnecessary movement. Every member of the elven race the world over had been summoned. No. Compelled. Kara had been swept along, driven to follow by an impulse deep within. Though not precisely included in the charge, her way had not been barred. More, she figured, because she’d gone unnoticed than for any other reason.

She made her way to where Maggie stood, careful to draw no attention to herself. Not that that was likely as the Sidhe all stood bound together by tension, every eye drawn to the Great Wall. More than architecture, more than art, that one wall represented the experiences of every Sidhe alive…and ever born. The intricate knotwork was more than decoration; in color and shape, it grew and changed as the Tuatha de Danaan did. This was the living history of their race. For Bran to be stricken from it for all time was testament to the severity of his offenses. Kara was floored by the grave nature of what she was about to witness. Silently, she took in the changes that had been made to the Hall.

On the dais in front of the wall Goibhniu’s massive throne was gone from its place. Where once it rested an enormous wrought-iron anvil stood ready; ancient, dark and unyielding, like the Smith that worked upon its surface. Kara’s eyes grew wide and beside her Maggie gasped. Goibhniu’s expression was completely neutral, as was his voice when he finally spoke.

“Two things the Daoine Maithé honor above all else: kin an’ oath. To betray either is to be banned from the Land. To betray both is to be banished from all Lands. The Cursed One has added treachery beyond measure to his crime, betraying not one o’ us, but all o’ us. As ruler o’ this Land an’ first betrayed, I invoke the Unraveling.”
 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: Mandrake Anthrax

I've been getting all noir lately. I blame Mr B. Ireland's so lovely, but I've been setting stories here that are undeniably grim. So I blame Ken Bruen, too. While I'm spreading the blame around, might as well point a finger (or two!) at Mark E. Smith, too. If he hadn't written a lyric like, "A serious man /In need of a definitive job /He had drunk too much /Mandrake anthrax," then I wouldn't have had the idea for this story, which first started up on Twitter. Let's blame Twitter, too, shall we? It worked for Franzen.

My six:

Hanley eyed the brick façade. The door proved to be a gothic affair, metal bound and painted all black. Seeing no modern convenience, he lifted the oversized bat knocker and clapped it to a few times. They both craned their ears but all around them it was suddenly as quiet as death, as if all the people had walked hand in hand into the bay abandoning the city behind them. Hanley shuddered.

When he had just about surrendered all hope and began to get thirsty for a tall foamy pint, the door groaned open to reveal a disheveled looking eurotrash reject of indeterminate age...


You can read the whole of this bleak little tale over at A Twist of Noir. While you're there, read some of the other fine stuff they've got.

Drop by the Six Sentence Sunday blog and sample some new writers today.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books: Angelica Lost and Found

When Russell Hoban died, I was among those who went first to Riddley Walker in mourning his passing. Somewhat neglected in the encomia was his latest book at the time, Angelica Lost and Found (though now Soonchild is out, too).

Angelica finds its inspiration from Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and from a painting of a key scene from the epic poem. Angelica is the woman chained to the rocks on the beach. The hero Ruggerio flies down on a hippogriff to rescue her from the sea monster, Orca. Girolamo da Carpi captured the scene in oils, now hanging in the Museum of Art in El Paso, Texas.

In Hoban's novel, our hero is the hippogriff who names himself Volatore and seeks out Angelica with whom he has fallen in love. How can an imaginary animal love a woman from a poem? He makes himself real, but finds she has become real, too, far away in San Francisco. Even when they find each other, their joy is momentary because reality just can't bear such dreams being made real. Some bon mots:

"Everything is real, Angelica. Reality is a house of many rooms, and sometimes we can enter more than one. Ariosto's words put real wind under my wings, made me fly. It was not only words on paper--I remember the air rushing past me, remember looking down on plains and forests, mountains and oceans. I lived, I flew over the sea in a painting by Girolamo da Carpi in a time long past."

"Why are you in my dream of reality?" 
"I don't know. Reality is a mystery to me and that's how I like it; an understood reality can only be an illusion." 

"Ok, Liv. If I told you I've had sex with an imaginary animal, what would your reaction be?"
"An imaginary animal?"
"That's right."
"What kind of imaginary animal?"
"A hippogriff."
"A hippogriff!"
"Named Volatore."
"Volatore!"
"Does repeating everything I say in italics help you to take it in?"

What can I say? It's Hoban-esque: playful, intelligent, sexy, irrational, thoughtful, sad, happy and fun. If you like that, you'll like this.

Look for the full list of overlooked books over at Patti Abbott's blog. er, Todd's blog.



Thursday, March 15, 2012

BitchBuzz: Women's Dangerous Desires

Just a tad bit too late to make it into the column, two news stories today: HarperCollins has a new erotica imprint, Mischief, and the Wall Street Journal has another gasping-for-the-shock-of-it story about what women read on their Kindles (oooh, scandal!). All this frothing shows the ultimate futility of the attempts to stuff women back into the genie-bottle of the past. Annoying that these old geezers keep trying, but we will triumph in the end. After all, women have more endurance. And multi-tasking!

Women's Dangerous Desires

By K.A. Laity

We may have accustomed ourselves to the bizarre hysterics of the Republican war on women in the States, but there's a more subtle campaign against women's desire. I guess it's a way of getting to the root of the problem. Apparently snapping some kind of chastity belt on the vagina just isn't enough. These busybodies would love to shackle women's minds as well.

It can be very subtle and often masquerades as "positive" coverage. The Independent Magazine had a story this past Sunday on a number of erotic romance writers, women of various ages and backgrounds. The male author approaches the writers as if they were some kind of lost species. The idea that he must ask, "Do women write porn?" flabbergasts. The shock angle is they are "shy introverted woman [sic] with a love of reading and writing." Like most writers of every genre, I suppose.

The editorial side plays up the sensationalism: "Kinky Books" the interior title screams. The first pull quote, "I write in secret, using words I would never, ever say," makes Kay Jaybee sound very different than her other words like, "Sadly, many people can't separate the art from the subject matter," rightly noting that people seldom assume crime writers to be murderers. Predictably perhaps, although the authors write mostly erotic romance, the cover blurb has it, "WOMEN WHO WRITE PORN." Porn triggers a more sensational reaction, of course...

Read the rest at BBHQ.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Writer Wednesday: Victoria Watson

Victoria Watson was awarded 'Young Reviewer of the Year' in 2009 and completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing in 2010. Victoria has contributed to publications including True Faith (Newcastle United fanzine), NCJ Media's north-east titles The Journal, Evening Chronicle and Sunday Sun. She has also reviewed for Amazon, Waterstones and Closer Magazine. Victoria had a story published in the Home Tomorrow anthology published by 6th Edition Publishing in 2011. Her work is also featured Off the Record. Her collection Letting Go has been in the Kindle Top 100 free downloads for a week. Victoria currently lives in the North-East of England and dreams of living somewhere hot and sunny, paying the bills with her writing.

Letting Go is a collection of eight short stories. Each of these tales has a twist that the reader won’t be expecting. Regret and how just one moment or snap decision can change your life forever are key themes in each of these stories.


Q: What do you write on? Computer, pad o' paper, battered Underwood? Give us a vivid picture.

I always carry a notepad and paper around just in case inspiration strikes when I’m away from my laptop but I prefer to type directly onto my laptop. I also use my mobile phone as a way of making notes – if you’re in public, it’s easier than pulling your notebook out of you battered handbag and scribbling. Next time I upgrade my laptop, I’m looking forward to getting a really tiny one so it’ll fit in my handbag – along with my Kindle and god knows what other detritus.

Q: Do you listen to music while you write? Does it influence what you write?

I listen to music, I listen to the radio, and I watch TV. I’m a big Radio 4 fan so I find that I listen to a range of things while writing – it could be news, drama or something educational. I’m a multi-tasker. If I could read and write at the same time, I would! I think listening to Radio 4 sometimes gives me new ideas though, which is great. I don’t think the other stuff I do when I’m writing influences what I write although if I need to get into a certain mood to write a particular scene, I sometimes listen to a certain song or album. When I need a hit of energy, I like to listen to Beyoncé or Lady Gaga. I’m not well-known for my musical tastes!


Q: Do you write in short bursts or carve out long periods of time to work? Is it a habit or a vice?

I write while I can so some days could be a full day’s writing and other days it might just be a snatched 15 minutes. Other days, I must confess, I don’t write at all. It’s not as much of a habit as I’d like it to be. But my life isn’t very routine at the moment which is guess is why I don’t have a strict schedule. When I’m lucky enough to have a lot of ideas, I write as much as I can to make the most of it. Also, if I’m thinking about ideas, I find they keep me awake at night so if I have to write to get a decent night’s sleep!

Q: What writer would you most want to read your work? What would you want to hear them say?

I’d love for Alan Bennett to give them a read and say he liked them. If Roald Dahl was alive, I’d love for his opinion but sadly that is not longer possible. I respect a lot of authors so I wouldn’t be picky about who read them! I also respect the opinions of the readers so any positive feedback is always a big boost.

Q: On the days where the writing doesn't go so well, what other art or career do you fantasize about pursuing instead?

I never describe myself as artistic which people often disagree with because they say writing is a form of art. Other arts don’t come easy to me – I always have great ideas but can never put them into practice. I often fantasize about being a TV or radio presenter. I’d love a job like Mariella Frostrup’s – she gets to read books and interview authors and she gets paid for it. How lucky is she?!


Q: What do you read? What do you re-read?

The only books I’ve ever re-read are Talking Heads by Alan Bennett, Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I find that there are so many amazing writers out there that I like to read new books all the time. There are other books, like A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and Mark Haddon’s books that I intend to re-read at some point. I get sent a lot of review copies of books by publishers, writers and book stores so I generally end up reading things I don’t necessarily choose but that’s nice in a way as it means I read more books that I wouldn’t choose myself. Often, the only time I read books I choose is when I’m on holiday. I love writers like Roddy Doyle and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche as well as Tony Parsons and I really like to read books about cultures I haven’t experienced.

Q: Where did the idea for ‘Letting Go’ come from? Do you have a surefire way of sparking inspiration?

Letting Go is a collection of my short stories. The common thread through each of the stories is that they hinge on how one moment or choice can change everything. I’m now working on a follow-up collection. I don’t have one way that’s guaranteed to inspire me but if I’m stuck for ideas, I listen to the radio and read the news. Generally, I don’t find issue with getting initial ideas; it’s more like padding out the story that takes a lot of time and effort. What I often do in that circumstance, is spend a lot of time thinking about it before I start typing. They’re the nights that keep me awake.

You can find Victoria on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. Visit her blog or check out her author page on Amazon.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: The CundeeZ

Wi language az rough az a rhino's erse
Oary Dundonian in poetic verse
Itz oor tongue, oor dialect, itz how wi converse

I heartily recommend The CundeeZ: punk rock with Dundee accent and a DIY can-do spirit. And not just because lead singer/songwriter Gary Robertson was the punk rock cupid that brought me and my sweetie together :-) but because the music is terrific. I've written before about Gary's book Skeem Life (which he tells me he's now turning into a musical) and about finally seeing them play -- albeit briefly -- for the the first time back in December. I suspect I will have plenty of opportunities to see them again when I am back in Dundee.

Their latest CD Lend Wiz Yir Lugs can be bought or downloaded for just £5 and it's a fine set of ear scorchers, veering from punk to ska to a little old school rock-n-roll. It's a wild ride from the evocative pipes of "Caleil" to the blistering "Mr E Go" and the plain-talking "Yir Talkin' Shite" (dedicated to politicians everywhere and all the rest who sling manure). It's all good: check out their first CD, Cundee Radio, too.

Find them on ReverbNation, Facebook and Twitter. Here are some of their videos to give you a taste; if you are of delicate constitution or easily alarmed by frank language, this is not the band for you. Everyone else: Enjoy!

As always, see the full round up of TOA/V at Todd's blog.









Monday, March 12, 2012

Humo(u)r


A hasty post as I'm still entertaining my delightful guests, who seem to be having a good time. I know I am, though I'm also aware of my shortcomings as a hostess. I'm used to living on my own, never paying attention to clocks (except once a week :-) and not planning ahead. But there's plenty to enjoy in  Galway -- and no, not just the pubs!

I'm one of the writers featured in this month's BroadPod on the topic of humor (or humour -- I have to keep shifting back and forth between American and British/Irish spellings that every word begins to look slightly suspect and editors in various countries sigh at me). I read from The Mangrove Legacy, so you can get a taste of that if you haven't already (why haven't you?!).


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: The Big Splash

I had the best time writing this story. After reading too much P. G. Wodehouse (too much? is that possible?) and some Winifred Watson, I was full of madcap story ideas and thought it would be fun to try to set a story in Jazz Age London. I wrote The Big Splash in a kind of fever over the Christmas break between semesters. It ended up being a novella instead of a short as I intended, but I had such a grand time inventing my own Bertie and Jeeves. I have an idea for a new one, so Constance and Collier will get another outing soon. Here we meet the best friend, who makes our heroine look positively sensible in comparison. Yes, of course I found an excuse for someone to say that immortal line.

Both their heads turned at a sudden outburst of noise. As Constance suspected, the sound accompanied the arrival of her friend, the irrepressible Hardie. All of her entrances seemed to include dropping things, making loud excuses, and happily shrieking greetings, though at times they had also included gunshots, fire, and the occasional oran-utang. 

"Con-stance!" Hardie shouted across the room as she bashed into a small planter, then corrected her path by jostling an elderly judge who harrumphed most alarmingly. His equally ancient partner brought up her lorgnette to examine the madwoman who walloped her way across the room, leaving destruction in her wake. 

"Constance, darling! What a delight to see you!" Hardie grabbed her shoulders and kissed each cheek in turn as if they had been parted for years rather than the space of a mere day and a half. 

Be sure to check out all the Six Sentence Sunday posts and discover some new writers.


Friday, March 09, 2012

On Tour with the QoE & Marko

Next week, I'll be back to regular posting, but for now, here's a nice picture of my guests. We'll see how many photos they let me post :-) probably better when they get over the jet lag. Yes, a picture at Spanish Arch is required of everyone who sets foot in Galway. Tick that box!


Thursday, March 08, 2012

Women's Day, Con-Eire & BitchBuzz


Happy International Women's Day! A day to celebrate and a day to chastise because there's a long way to go yet and I'm getting more than a little impatient at fighting the same battles I have fought since childhood. There has been progress, I remind myself, but there's a long way to go until NO ONE gets dismissed or disrespected on account of gender. This is for all of us.

Of course, I celebrate the day in my usual way: a new publication. Well, not exactly new -- Con-Eire has been available in an expensive print edition which kind of missed the point of it being a fun and light-hearted thing. Now it's available for your Kindle or ebook reader for just $1.99.

Having just come back from a terrific con experience (which may have seemed anything but until it began), I had a lot of fun and chuckles while editing and updating this, including removing a couple of references to MySpace (!?) and some other tech innovations. Wow, so much has changed in just a few short years. But the over all issues remain the same for any event of this kind. I'm really proud that Lee Martindale (who also took a role in the premiere performance) gave me such a lovely blurb.

"From the bowels of back-of-house, from the deepest, darkest, most secret chambers of arcane ConComm knowledge, comes a screamingly funny glimpse into what’s behind the curtain at a science fiction convention. Fairy-dusted hilarity served with a side order of giggles."

It reminds me of the good old days of Trinoc*coN and there's a new dedication to Susan and Mildred (and Birdie and Ron) in it, with the hope that the next Three Mothers reunion won't be too far away. In the meantime, it's back to work including cleaning for the arrival of the Queen of Everything and Marko this weekend. Hurrah!

 
 
One of the things that simplified the process of making an ebook of Con-Eire was the wonderful new open source platform called Booktype. I was so delighted with it, I wrote about it in my column today for BitchBuzz.  I was really glad to find that:
 
"Booktype has been developed by the folks at Sourcefabric who have an ambition to foster independent journalism around the world by creating software to facilitate its development for print, digital and on air delivery."

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked A/V: The Bedsitter

I have featured Tony Hancock before on a Tuesday (though I don't seem to have done The Rebel yet which amazes me; and this reminds me too that I haven't yet done the apocalyptic comedy The Bedsitting Room). This is an episode of the half hour shows, but an unusual one as it's the first after he decided to end the partnership with Sid James and to move from the original setting at 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam to a bedsit in Earl's Court. To signal the change, this first episode of the last season (1961) features Hancock completely on his own. This solo exploration of boredom offers a wonderful showcase of Hancock's timing and precision without the exuberant foil of Sid's unflappable humour. And it's marvelous -- just marvelous.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

I'm off teaching the doctoral students in digital humanities today, so amuse yourself by checking out all the other overlooked gems at Todd's blog. With luck, I'll get to the P-Con recap tomorrow, although I am teaching as usual on Wednesday (it never ends, eh?).

Monday, March 05, 2012

HB MES and Publications

Back from a fantastic trip to P-Con. With luck I can get a con report up soon, but I have to give a talk to the digital humanities doctoral students at the Moore Institute tomorrow, so I better get that completed first. Many thanks to Pádraig, Catie, Deirdre and all the organisers as well as to Maura for taking me under her wing, the lovely Sarah for all the laughs, Suzanne and Juliet for great craic, the Talbots for my signed copy of Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, John Connolly for buying us all dinner, the tango dancers for giving us a cause -- oh, and so much more. Anon.

My publication: I have a piece "Before the Watchmen Palaver" in the latest issue of Drink Tank (309). The editors have turned the entire issue over to discussion of the proposed Watchmen prequels. There's a wonderful and terribly unsettling cover, too. Read the full issue in PDF form here: it includes Pádraig and Laura Sneddon, too. Thanks, James, for asking me to contribute. UPDATE: I don't think I remembered to post yet that the collection that includes my essay on reading Lost Girls as post-Sadeian text is also out:



Last but very much not least, fifty-five years ago in a dark corner of Manchester, the lighting flashed, the skies opened up and Mark E. Smith was born. All right, I'm only guessing about the lightning and rain, but it's bound to be likely. My muse, my role model (LOL) -- well, he has inspired me in several stories of late and what better example of sticking to your guns and succeeding on your own terms do you need? So while I might post perennial favourites like "Bill is Dead" or "Touch Sensitive" or "Tempo House" I'll share this instead for those not yet up to speed on The Fall or if you'd prefer a story, snuggle in for storytime with MES and Lovecraft.




Sunday, March 04, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday: High Plains Lazarus

I began writing this story about a day before I went off to Trinoc*coN one year, because I knew I had to read something and I suddenly decided I hated everything I'd ever written (yes, I have those kind of days). It came from the voice: as soon as I heard Finn's voice in my head, I knew I had a winner. I hadn't planned to write a zombie western -- and I didn't know that it would end up being a 10,000 word novelette that really would like to be a novel. In time, in time.

As another bottle went whizzing by my head I knew that I had made some serious miscalculations. I knew too that Jim was like to kill me because of those miscalculations, but at the moment the shambling wreck of a corpse was a much more pressing issue. I had unloaded most of my pistol into it already when Jim shouted that I should quit wasting bullets like they were made of manure and throw something more substantial, but somehow guns still seemed like a good idea. Cursing his illustrious forebears, I finally holstered my beloved pearl-handled Colts and looked around for something heftier. The dead guy continued his staggering plunge toward me, so I grabbed a chair and flung it wildly across the room. It fetched up a glancing blow on his shoulder, which spun him around to the left...

You can pick this story up in the collection Rotting Tales from Pill Hill Press. Fun stuff there -- get your zombie on and go west.



 

Friday, March 02, 2012

P-Con Bound

Heading back to Dublin today for P-Con; looking forward to seeing friends and meeting new folks. Mary and Bryan Talbot will be signing Dotter of her Father's Eyes at Forbidden Planet and I believe Pádraig said there'd be drinks after. Looking forward to more plotting with Maura and I'm on some panels that ought to be interesting.

The schedule here; my bits include:

SAT

12.00 -12.50: Myth and Folklore in a Modern World
KA Laity, Ruth F Long, Peadar Ó Guilín, Brian J Showers

17.00 -17.50: Who Really Needs an Editor? Quality Control in an Internet Age
KA Laity, Ian McDonald, and Peadar Ó Guilín ponder on what an editor brings to a book, and how to find something good to read in a jungle of misspellings and bad punctuation. 

SUN

11.00 – 11.50: Crowdsourcing and Other Alternative Funding Models
If you want to make money out of your writing, what other alternatives are open to you besides getting a publisher to take your book? With KA Laity, CE Murphy, and Brian J Showers.

16.00 - 16.50: Managing Social Media: Pros & Pitfalls
KA Laity, Alan Nolan, Sarah Pinborough, Brian J Showers

Hope it will go well. Doubtless I will write it up. In the meantime, here's some photos from last weekend's trip to Dublin with Robert.






Thursday, March 01, 2012

BitchBuzz: PayPal Puritanism

My column this week is an issue that's been affecting a lot of writers. There's a lot of anxiety and a lot of name-calling and finger pointing, but in the end, the 'man behind the curtain' is really the banks. Yeah, you know -- those banks that got bailed out to the tune of billions. Now they're making like Rebiblicans and telling you what you can and cannot read. Is there no end to this? No.

PayPal & the ebook Revolution's Moral Clause

By K.A. Laity

A kerfuffle erupted on some romance writers discussion groups and then migrated to blogs and finally to publishing sites. The ebook revolution now has a moral clause.

 PayPal has demanded the removal of all books containing objectionable material, specifically "erotica featuring themes of rape, bestiality, incest." Romance and erotica writers felt an unwelcome glare of attention turned toward the genres, normally overlooked by mainstream institutions. As Holly Golightly says, "There are certain shades of limelight that can wreck a girl's complexion."

Third party book sellers like All Romance eBooks, Bookstrand and Smashwords have complied with this new mandate. ARe has separated the categories of erotic romance and erotica, asked publishers to "reshelve" books, and clarified their restrictions clause. The fuzzy boundary between the two categories remains problematic, however. It's a bizarre notion that sex is somehow objectionable if the people involved are not in love, but acceptable as long as they say, "I love you" after all the hot sweaty action.

It matters that this is an attack on the erotica market: for example, there has been no move to remove crime or horror books "featuring themes of rape, bestiality, incest." Morality about sex and what's allowable seems to be reaching a frenzy in the United States as politicians whip up moral indignation about sex. It's presenting a climate that favours this kind of move...

Read the rest at BBHQ.

Bertie headed home early this morning, back to the snow in NY. Hope he gets home safely and has a relatively easy journey. It was nice to have him visit, and next week -- the QoE and Marko!