Friday, April 30, 2010

Road Trip

After my students give their final presentations this morning, I'll be heading off to Connecticut to see the gang. Bittersweet because Miss Wendy has a new job in Mississippi and soon she won't be just a short drive away -- waah! I'm sure it will be a fun time -- after all we have Bernie's birthday to celebrate at the Aloha Alcohula tomorrow night, so it should be an action-packed weekend. Just picture this:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

BitchBuzz: Tubes

I had tried to call my latest column for BitchBuzz "Strong Men Also Cry" because it's always good to make a Lebowski reference, but from the start, it was really all about the tubes:

What is it with men and tubes? Particularly when they're men who hold powerful offices and feel the need to wield that power in a grandstanding gesture so everyone knows just what they have in their hands—it can be an embarrassing display.

It's Mad Men in a kind of perverse wish fulfillment for a time that never really existed except of course on television. But if they can send women back a few decades, it will be a first step in creating that paradise apparently.

The oppressive abortion laws passed in Oklahoma have apparently already give rise to copycat legislation in Texas. Never mind that regular access to birth control has made the abortion rates fall; it's the idea that women can just willy nilly start or stop a pregnancy that has these types in an uproar. Good god, what if women could just have sex whenever they wanted without having life-threatening consequences?! It would change everything…

As always, read the remainder over at BBHQ; and why not share it with your friends on Twitter or Facebook?

As you might guess, I am more than a little fed up with politicians of late. Okay, let's admit it: I am always fed up with politicians. I'm tired of opportunistic miscreants feeding on pig-ignorant fear. Yes, maybe it's always been that way. But it's particularly dispiriting to see this country trying so hard to go backwards. Let's just say it clearly: Leave it to Beaver was a television show and that world never existed except on television. Health care is a good thing for all people to have. Rich people and the banks they run are not there to help you (um, unless you are also a rich person who runs a bank).

At least in Britain they have the Lib Dems as a third party with some effect. If you've not been following the news there, you're missing a fun show that demonstrates the influence of social media. The Tory attempt to spin things their way with slick advertising resulted in hilarious mash-ups instead. Brown's inadvertent mic insult spawned a host of unexpected responses that filled Twitter.

It gives me a little hope, I guess, that the voice of the people (at least those with internet access and sufficient time on their hands) is being heard a bit more and a bit more quickly, but the madness of crowds is no assurance of "democracy" any more than the smoke-filled room.

At least teaching is over (as those on Facebook heard me WHOOHOO loudly) and there's just finals to get through, the first one tomorrow morning. Right after it, I head off to Connecticut to see Miss Wendy before she moves to Mississippi (sob!), Marko, the QoE, Johnny 10X and the rest of the gang (i.e. whoever's going to be around). Will be fun -- always is.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pelzmantel: Cover Art

Oh my!

Is this gorgeous or what?! I am so pleased with the cover art for my book -- squee! When Storm told me they were going to be putting out this new edition of Pelzmantel, she asked if I had any preference for the cover artist. I immediately said Ruby, please!

Ruby does the covers for most of Storm's own books and has a real love for fairytales. I knew she would be perfect.

Am I right?

First, I love the colors. Somehow the orange tones of the fox match so well with the midnight purple sky. The image captures the sense of magic and I love how she's worked the spinning tokens in, the spindle and bobbin. It captures the sense of mystery as well -- the hidden princess who must mask her identity and of course, the clever fox, too.

Wow -- just wow!! (wait, isn't that what you said, Mildred?). Thank you, Ruby -- thank you so very much!

Pelzmantel: A Medieval Tale coming from Immanion Press this June. It looks like we will have posters of Ruby's illustration and maybe some other items, too, at the Immanion Press store.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reviewed (Two Years Later)

Okay, so the Google search doesn't necessarily catch everything. In looking for something else, I ran across a reference to a review in The Lion and the Unicorn 32.3 by David Russell of Tove Jansson Rediscovered, for which I wrote the essay, "Roses, Beads and Bones: Gender, Borders and Slippage in Tove Jansson's Moomin Comic-Strips":

K. A. Laity’s exploration of Jansson’s cartoon series executed for the London Evening News in 1957 is likewise fairly narrowly focused, but Laity offers insightful commentary on the way Jansson’s personal life affected her art. Specifically, Laity points to Jansson’s lesbianism and how her personal feelings seem to be manifested through the portrayal of the Moomin characters in the comic strip—-her use of unstable borders and the use of sexual ambiguity in her portraitures, for example. Laity’s essay helps lay the groundwork for the theme of the final essays of the collection, which explore Jansson’s writings for adults—-particularly focusing on the impact of Jansson’s lesbianism on her work.

If you have access to Project Muse, you can read the entire review or if you're interested in children's books, check out The Lion and the Unicorn.

Trying to find a cover image to use for this post, I found this other review, that didn't turn up on my standard search for obvious reasons:

Several of the essays address gender issues, homosexuality in particular. Drawing on Judith Butler's and Eve Kosofsky's gender theories, E.A. Laity examines the panel borders in Jansson's Moomin comic strips. In this unique study, Laity shows how Jansson's comic-art narrative technique illustrates that the borders between genders and social status are highly porous, and that Jansson, albeit in a subtle way, questions the very existence of the binary system.

You can read the rest of Virpi Zuck's review at the Free Library. Well, it was a nice surprise to come across some positive reviews that I don't think I'd seen before. Even better yesterday an editor forwarded to me some kind words from an author on the essay I'd written about his book. Yay!

In less interesting 'news' I've been updating my Amazon page and my page at Goodreads as well. Both are set up to get this blog feed, but I have to manually add a lot of the books and now events, too. Promotion is an endless slog.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Review: Lucky Him

Oh, Mr Amis...

This picture shows up in both Lucky Him and in the Letters of Philip Larkin. It just makes me laugh. The goofy expression of someone caught by surprise and making a funny face to cover it up. The two of them, Amis and Larkin, were close friends and correspondents, as I've mentioned before. A wonderful CD of Robin Hardy and Alan Bennett reading some of the letters remains criminally out of print.

I got Lucky Him: The Biography of Kingsley Amis
as a gift recently because I have been muttering about a story idea inspired by Amis and Angela Carter (yeah, Angela Carter: A Literary Life will probably be next); it was a nice surprise.

The book is a bit different as a biography, because Bradford mixes together fact and Amis' fiction to show how his novels were often more truthful -- and illuminating -- than his memoirs. While it may seem counterintuitive at first, it does make sense to me. Fiction has to fit together, whereas memoir rests on the very poor faculty of memory. And when it comes to our lives, metaphor will tell truly what we wish to disguise, particularly when it comes to protecting the feelings of others. Not only to we tend to shape our memories (consciously and unconsciously) but we may not even be aware of the effects events are having on us as they unfold. Bradford shows how even when Amis sought deliberately non-representative narratives, he gave telling clues about the real events of his life that seem clear in retrospect.

Having finished the book, I find I miss Amis. The latter part of the book was sad, watching his descent not only into a physical frailty enhanced by his drinking, but also into a rigid dismissal of many of the things he once celebrated. But for so much of his life Amis was a funny and shrewd observer of human behavior. Long after his politics veered into reactionary territory, he still maintained the ability to make readers laugh at his blackly humorous observations. Lucky Jim remains a book that will make me laugh out loud and Ending Up, while cruel in its ruthlessness (as only one can be to one's peers), is also impeccable in its timing.

I envy his wit -- and I'm not alone in envying Amis. And I miss him. He's not known for his poetry, but here's one that will amuse (as opposed to the late one, never published, that might make you weep) and features that double-edged view of both writing and women.

by Kingsley Amis

Between the Gardening and the Cookery
Comes the brief Poetry shelf;
By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology
Offers itself.

Critical, and with nothing else to do,
I scan the Contents page,
Relieved to find the names are mostly new;
No one my age.

Like all strangers, they divide by sex:
Landscape Near Parma
Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,
So does Rilke and Buddha.

"I travel, you see", "I think" and "I can read"
These titles seem to say;
But I Remember YouLove is my Creed,
Poem for J.,

The ladies' choice, discountenance my patter
For several seconds;
From somewhere in this (as in any) matter
A moral beckons.

Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
Or squash it flat?
Man's love is of man's life a thing apart;
Girls aren't like that.

We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff
Can get by without it.
Women don't seem to think that's good enough;
They write about it.

And the awful way their poems lay them open
Just doesn't strike them.
Women are really much nicer than men:
No wonder we like them.

Deciding this, we can forget those times
We stay up half the night
Chock-full of love, crammed with bright thoughts, names, rhymes,
And couldn't write.

[I'm not sure if this qualifies as a "Forgotten Book" but stop by Patti Abbott's blog for a wide range of recommendations of books that you may have forgotten, or never known at all, but will like!]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

BitchBuzz: Little Earthquakes

My latest column for BitchBuzz touches on the laughable comment by an Islamic cleric that women's provocative dressing and sexual desire causes earthquakes. Ridiculous because even small children who look for logical answers to natural phenomena know about fault lines, but just another depressing indication of the scapegoating of women that goes on. Until my friend Byron turned my head around:

Dust kicked up across the net this week when a Iranian cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, claimed that women dressing provocatively and "spreading adultery" were responsible for earthquakes. Kind of makes you wonder if some woman's solo pleasure caused the eruption of the Icelandic volcano (since apparently [she says arching a disbelieving eyebrow] masturbation is the last sexual taboo remaining).

The responses across the globe were predictably a mix of amused and angered: amused that someone in the 21st century could so ignore so much accumulated scientific fact, angered that it's still possible for so many people to blame women for a wide variety of evils...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Serially Yours

Have you checked out The Mangrove Legacy recently? I only ask because I am thinking about the end of it. It will take some weeks yet, of course, but I can see the resolution now and I am also contemplating polishing it up to send off to one or two places. Like everything I do (apparently) it doesn't quite fit into a neat marketing niche. But who knows? The lazy way of novel writing -- for those of you who say you want to write but just can't find the time -- this story is up over 90,000 words now.

All it takes is patience and 500 words or so a week. It's really not so much: just persistence and commitment.

So many things require the same; we worry about the big issues and agonize over decisions, but much of our life results from the simple steps -- and continuing to make them. I am always reminding myself of this. It's worth doing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Wet Weekend

Too many late nights; too little sleep. Far too much rain driving back from Massachusetts.

Last night it was Neil Innes at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA. Here he is wearing his moustache in order to sing in French (okay, mostly in a French accent). Yeah, phone pic so the quality isn't good. But we had a good time. I went with my pal Peg and we had a nice Thai dinner before the show and then laughed and sang a lot. Innes had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the start, getting folks to sing along on the chorus of the first song (well, second if you count the two line of "Urban Spaceman" he sang), which was "Alone, alone, alone." Yes, it was like that all night as he switched between guitars and a uke and a Steinway. He stopped in the middle of the first song on the piano because the pedal made the piano move. "I should be a professional and just go on," he told us, "But it frightened me!"

We were of course all sworn in as Ego Warriors (second time for me). Well worth the drive and a whole lot of fun. He expressed amazement that the Rutles have been around for 30 years now and that there are Rutles tribute bands around the world. "It should be a verb." He talked about the Bonzo days and got the crowd enthusiastically providing the "band shouts" for some of the old 78s songs that Band loved to resurrect. While most of the songs veered toward amusement, everything from his work with the Pythons to a clever song about the web 2.0 life, he also took time to sing a more thoughtful song about losing friends. 65! Hard to believe. He finished up with a song in praise of his age and left us all with a lot of smiles.

Saturday was a little more sombre as we said good-bye to Kathy Clegg. Funerals, like weddings, can bring out family tensions, but the event brought out a lot of wonderful memories of Kathy's warmth and hospitality -- she did love to have a houseful of people. There was a big crowd of people gathered to remember her fondly.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

BitchBuzz: Women Filming Women

My latest column for BitchBuzz incorporates some of my review of The Runaways. The Queen and I had an interesting discussion on Facebook about it -- I was a bit more critical of it, mostly because I found it choppy and too often given to clichés, but on the whole I liked it and would recommend it. Among the reasons:

The recently released Runaways movie, directed by Floria Sigismondi, gives an inside view of the ways women are exploited and manufactured for display in the glitzy world of rock-n-roll.

We've long ago grown accustomed to the star story so compelling laid out in countless reiterations of A Star is Born and could recite the arc by heart: talented kid with gumption struggles with obscurity for a few minutes before being discovered and almost immediately resenting the terrible toll that stardom takes, finally crashing and burning in glorious Technicolor [tm]. Lives that don't quite fit the mold get remolded; after all, the audience knows what it wants.

The Runaways both ascribes to this genre and complicates it...

As always, read the rest at BBHQ. Already had a nice comment from Cecilia Tan, who noted the disparity between the way the Sex Pistols have been mythologized but the Runaways merely dismissed as a novelty act. A gender issue? You bet. Will this film get the attention other rock-n-roll movies get in the music press or will it be dismissed as a chick flick? We shall see.

Insanely Busy

So, here's some music to entertain you: BB column coming soon!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Revisiting the Past

I'm not generally someone who looks back, but sometimes it's unavoidable. At present the impetus to revisit the past comes from the need to make revisions to Pelzmantel that my editor has suggested. I must admit I winced a bit at the thought of having to look at something I wrote so long ago; would it be too painful?

Fortunately, it's not. My editor has pointed to a number of useful improvements which will definitely strengthen the story, but it remains something of which I can be proud. I know it will be a frustrating process because I am impatient with things that I consider "done" but it's also true that this will be a much better and more engaging story. Not that it was bad before -- I am still proud of this tale penned while I was writing my dissertation (and got done first, too!). However, I am a much better writer now that I was then.

Kind of give you hope, right? It's good to know that improvement happens.

Hectic times: not only is the semester drawing to a close (not quite counting the hours, but definitely the days) but there are a number of administrative things I have to attend to while juggling all the writing, grading and revisions needed before the end of the month. Somehow it will all get done, my ever present mantra. Let us repeat it together.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Between Work and Wit

That it is National Poetry Month has not escaped me, but I will not bother to mention it as 1) I am not a poet and 2) poets get far too much attention as it is and 3) there are far too many bad poets who would only find this encouragement to go on. They make me think of the incredibly overwrought poet O'Bannion from Auntie Mame. Bad poetry can be found around most any corner, even in an economic downturn. It multiplies like cockroaches. Cockroaches, however, don't get open mic nights.

Oh, sure -- there are good poets, and I've quoted from many of them. In fact I've had Philip Larkin on my mind today [er, yesterday, as I wrote this ahead of time, shhhh]. I blame Lucky Him, which I've gone back to reading since I had to return The Talented Miss Highsmith to the library yesterday, lamentably unfinished. Its 700+ pages daunted, especially as I went gallivanting off on a trip and decided not to lug the doorstop-sized hardcover along with me, accustomed as I am to traveling light. Larkin, who often served as an audience and confidante for his friend Kingsley Amis, seemed to feel the weight of the disparity between their experiences, which he wrote about in "Letter to a Friend about Girls" with some tartness and not a little envy.

The magic of good poetry is that it is precise. Every word needed, no word extraneous. No wonder I prefer prose -- there's wiggle room there. While every word should have its job and no other in prose, too, it seems that there are on occasion a few layabouts who serve no earthly purpose in a sentence, but hang tightly around the ones that are doing the work, so the careless supervisor assumes they're all busy and passes on by. When I unpack the taut efficiency of Donne's "Flea" I know I have a lot of calisthenics ahead of me before I could run in that kind of race.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Fictionaut, Beckett, Sinclair & O'Brien

My pal Meg Pokrass invited me to join Fictionaut, where I've begun to post stories. Another new venue, another potential way to reach an audience. What should I put there? Any stories/pieces you wish were more accessible? Spending breakfast with Beckett today; but much to do. Found this program by linking to this short that also appeared on the DVD of Ian Sinclair's The Cardinal and The Corpse which my pal Pádraig obtained for me (ta!).

The title of this post strikes me as a bad name for a law firm. Somehow I expect they'd get little accomplished.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Conceit: Ashes

Since Blogger has put the kibosh on FTP-fed blogs [no, don't worry if you don't know what that means] I had to kill Radio Wombat, home of my podcasts (though old posts remain because it's on my webspace). But it made me realise I didn't really need a separate place anyway. I can put podcasts here! So here's my latest conceit:

As you can see, it's actually a video. This came about because sometimes an idea just hijacks my brain. Advice to a friend became a status update on Facebook, which was then refined by the input of my fabulous friends, then somehow hearing about the death of Malcolm McLaren made me hear the words in a kind of Grace Jones monotone.

So, what could I do? I hastily recorded a version on GarageBand, adding weird loops of sound, then made a video with iMovie by splicing together pictures of Mt. Auburn Cemetery and Canterbury, and of course, capping it off with an official Cult of Kaity logo as designed by the fabulous QoE.

If only my MacBook didn't make it all so easy, I might have gotten some work done instead...

Thursday, April 08, 2010

BitchBuzz: Girl Band Movies

My latest column for BitchBuzz gathers up some suggestions for girl group films. They were on my mind because I'm eagerly awaiting the seemingly endlessly delayed opening of The Runaways tomorrow:

If you're still waiting for The Runaways to come along to your neighbourhood and rock your world, there are a few other films you can see in the meantime to keep those girl group jones at bay.


It's got the Ramones! P. J. Soles! A best friend named Kate (okay, that may only matter to some of us), one Van Patten, CLINT, and of course the amazing underground film stars Mary Woronov and Paul Bartell. Oh sure, it's a Roger Corman cheapie and sure, the Ramones can't act or read lines, but come on! P.J. is Riff Randall, rock-n-roller, a budding songwriter who knows she can be a success if she can just get her songs to the Ramones -- and as long as she can circumvent the evil principal Miss Togar and her Hall Monitor goons.

Her pal is in love with the dishy but dull football captain and the soundtrack kicks out all the jams. It's a hoot and holler and a half and hey, who didn't dream of blowing up their high school (um, back in the days when that was just an innocent daydream, I mean -- sigh)...

As always, read the rest at BBHQ to see what other films you might enjoy.

Sad to hear today that Malcolm McLaren died. While always a controversial figure and something of a Svengali for sure, he was a visionary who left his mark on the world of punk along with Vivenne Westwood. Fittingly I was listening to the Punk Rock Jukebox on WCNI at the time and gave Marko a call to pass along the news.

I'm keeping busy trying to catch up with all the emails etc. that piled up while I was gone, filling out an application for a residency, sending off my bib-bio for Readercon and of course, writing, writing, writing.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Prose at the Rose: Jackie Morse Kessler

My interview with Jackie Morse Kessler is up at last! Give it a listen and learn about her fascinating new YA series and hear her read from the compelling novel Hunger. You may also know Jackie as the author of racier books like the Hell's Belles series or the superhero series co-created with Caitlin Kittredge, the Icarus Project. Oh, and she works for some guy named Joss Whedon, too.

Jackie is very funny and sharp, and her characters reflect that. She's got a real knack for natural dialogue -- well, "natural" in the sense of this is how we all like to think of ourselves talking. The section she reads from Hunger is effective and affecting. Jackie can move from humorous to touching without skipping a beat. I think you'll enjoy meeting her!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Into the West

There will be a wrap up of my trip to PCA and the visit to my folks in New Mexico soon. In the meantime, enjoy the quiet.