dreaminghope: (Working Zoey)
It was with some disappointment that I heard last week that Yann Martel has given up his book project.

I assume that most non-Canadians (and probably a lot of Canadians too) wouldn't heard about this odd little one-sided book club. Yann Martel is a pretty famous Canadian author who wrote Life of Pi*, among other things. In 2007, Yann was in the visitor gallery of the House of Commons to witness the official celebration of fifty years of the Canada Council for the Arts. There was a short speech by the Minister for Canadian Heritage... and that was it. As Yann says: "Fifty years of building Canada's dazzling and varied culture, done with in less than five minutes."

Reportedly, our prime minster, Stephen Harper, did not even look up during this brief speech. His Conservative government treats the arts as optional add-ons to the serious business of life; mere entertainment that should only be funded in the most minimum of ways. Yann was embarrassed to see that the politicians could not manage even a good semblance of caring on the anniversary of the Canada Council.

As a direct result of that day, Yann started What is Stephen Harper Reading?. Every two weeks, he mailed Stephen Harper a book with an inscription. The books are incredibly varied, include poetry, classics from all around the world, Canadian novels, and even kids books (Where the Wild Things Are). I believe almost any reader can probably find one book on the list that they've read, or at least one they'd want to read. Each book came with a letter explaining why he chose it.

He published all these letters on his website, along with all the responses he received. Over almost four years, he (and a few others with him) sent 100 books to Stephen Harper. This elicited exactly seven responses, all from the prime minister's office and none from Stephen himself. On the website, the vast majority of the letters are followed by a sad little "Pending..." in the reply section.

Besides following the website, I also bought Yann's first 55 letters in book format (which he also mailed to the prime minister) and intend to buy the second edition when/if it comes out with the last 45 letters.

I was taken with Yann's project for several reasons. First, I am in favour of arts funding. Second, I am in favour of creative protests. Third, I love reading other people's personal correspondences and diaries, and there are aspects of both in these letters. And, finally, I like reading about books. I will happily read descriptions of books I never intend to read (just as I love movie previews, even for movies I would never watch).

I love the 100th/last letter. It is perfectly artsy, a bit academic, and just a little snarky**. I'm still contemplating his comments about being tired of using books as political bullets and grenades.

I hope he gets a personal response to this last letter. Perhaps I have old fashioned manners, but the lack of a single thank you note from the recipient of all these wonderful gifts offends me. But besides that, I am genuinely curious as to what Stephen Harper would say in response to the final comment Yann makes on this whole project:

We've become slaves to our work and have forgotten that it's in moments of leisure and stillness, when we're free from working with a hoe or at a keyboard, that we can contemplate life and become fully ourselves. We work, work, work, but what mark do we leave, what point do we make? People who are too beholden to work become like erasers: as they move forward, they leave in their wake no trace of themselves. And so that has been the point of my fruitless book-gifting to you: to raise my voice against Canada becoming a nation of erasers.

Yann Martel, should you stumble across this for some reason and feel the need to start mailing books again, I will gladly provide my address and I promise to read every book. Also, I write very nice thank you notes.

* Random side story about either the psychology of readers or the nature of marketing: I saw Yann Martel read at the Writers and Readers Festival. In the discussion after, Yann mentioned people often say of "Life of Pi" that "I know it is highly commercial, but I enjoyed it". This amazes and confuses him because there's no way that novel, with all its symbolism and heavy themes like religion, etc., could possibly be considered to a commercial piece of writing. He considers it something of a bizarre miracle that it became a bestseller. I think there's a bit of something like (warning: TV Tropes link) It's Popular, Now it Sucks going on.

** "One hundred is a nice round number and a good number to end on. (The number of times you personally have written back to me is also a nice round number, by the way: 0. That's zero, naught, nada, zilch.)"
dreaminghope: (Default)
Part one is here: About digital reading: eReaders.

Reality checks:

eBooks don't cost less than paper books (yet). Early adopters have been willing to pay full price for digital books (or they've gone with pirated books). However, as more publishers and stores come online and more people buy eReaders, I hope that will change. Also, you can get a lot of special deals and discounts through the email lists for online eBook stores (I seem to get the best offers through Kobo, though they are partially owned by Chapters-Indigo, which isn't my favourite business to support).

Canadians (and other countries) get the short-end of the stick. Not all books are licensed in digital formats in all countries. I find some books aren't available to download in Canada. So far, it hasn't applied to any books I really want, so I haven't attempted any of the ways to hide your location.

Sometimes eBooks aren't well formatted. Sometimes when eBooks are made, a couple of words here and there will get smooshed together (likethis) or there are other minor formatting issues. I did find one annoying problem recently. My copy of Terry Pratchett's Night Watch appears to have all the footnotes at the beginning of the book, one per page for about twelve pages before the story starts. I intend to complain to the publisher about that one.

I've also had a couple of books that don't work right on my reader: the default font size will be too small, but when I increase the size, the page will run off the edge of my screen. So far, it has only happened with library books, and I'm not sure if it is a weakness of eBooks in general, a problem with a certain publisher, or if my less-popular reader brand (the Pandigital Novel) is non-standard in some way.

Romance novels dominate. There's a great argument that porn has driven technological advancement, particularly in VCRs and DVDs and, of course, the Internet. I think in eReaders, romance readers are the early adopters who have driven improvements and growth in the industry. It seems that they are voracious readers who frequently buy books, which makes digital formats perfect for them. Many of the early eBook-only publishers specialize in genres, especially romance. The only problem with this is that eBook libraries are dominated by romance books, digital bookstores offer the best specials on bundles of romance novels, and if you don't read romance, it can be challenging to sort through it all to find other offerings.

Digital libraries aren't infinite. Whenever I tell someone that I'm waiting for an eBook from the public library, their first reaction is to wonder why I have to wait for a digital book. But the library does have to pay for licenses for every digital book, so there aren't infinite copies and only one person can have a copy at once. My local "Library Without Walls" serves all of British Columbia. I am 19 out of 75 on the waiting list for a book with 13 copies.

It isn't the same, but that's not always bad. A lot of people criticize eBooks for not being paper books: you can't touch them the same way, you can't shop for them the same way, you can't own them the same way. But I've discovered new authors because they were available sooner on the digital library or I stumbled across them online. I'm happy not to have paper and resources used in the making and shipping of a physical book that I then have to find a place for in my cluttered bookshelves. I'm also becoming comfortable with the idea of buying something that I can't hold in my hands, like an MP3.

Pro and con lists )

Overall, I would recommend an eReader to anyone who reads a lot, especially if they don't have a lot of space for books.
dreaminghope: (Working Zoey)
When I was a little girl – well, still a little bit little, as I lived in a town without a bookstore when I was really little-little – I used to spend all my allowance money on books. It would take me about six weeks to save up for one Baby-Sitters Club or Fabulous Five book. I was always envious of people carrying bright yellow Coles Books bags. I couldn't imagine anything better than being able to buy as many books as I wanted.

I now have a lot of bookcases layered two or even three books deep. All of the shelves on the Ikea bookcases are bowing under the weight. It has come to the point where I don't want to buy more books (except for ones by certain authors whose work I collect), due to lack of places to put them. At the same time, I still want to support writers and publishers and everyone else who helps makes books happen.

It was a year or two ago that I started exploring the possibility of eReaders. The tipping point was when I decided that I wanted to own all of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, but knew that there was nowhere for me to keep 38 books without giving up some of the books I already own, and that's simply not going to happen.

After much research and internal debate, I bought an eReader back in November. It currently contains five novels I purchased (including one Discworld novel – I'm hoping to find a Canadian source for bundles of his books so I don't have to buy each one separately), all 14 of the original Wizard of Oz books (they are in the public domain), and three library books.

I carry my eReader with me in my purse. It weighs about 8 ounces and I always have a book with me. I don't get quite as much reading done in coffee shops and restaurants as I planned, however, because waitresses and people at neighbouring tables are always asking about my device. I really don't mind answering questions, but sometimes I worry that I am babbling too much information at someone who had just a casual interest, so I clam up quickly unless there are follow-up questions.

So, a summary of the stuff I learned about eReaders for anyone who wants to know )

Part two is here: About digital reading: eBooks & eReader pros & cons.

*It is my understanding that there are ways around the proprietary format, but I didn't want to mess with things like that.
dreaminghope: ("I hate everything")

A definition of privilege by [livejournal.com profile] kate_nepveu from How to Discuss Race and Racism Without Acting Like a Complete Jerk:

"Privilege" is a term of art that means the automatic, unsought, often-unacknowledged, and unrejectable advantages that accrue to favored groups in society. People may have one kind of privilege while not receiving another. For instance, while I am not white, I am heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, young-looking, upper-middle-class, and not overweight—all of which give me advantages over people who do not, or are not perceived to, share those characteristics. Again, since privilege is automatic and unsought, having it does not make someone A Bad Person (TM).

"Your privilege is showing" generally means something like, "you have made the unconsidered and erroneous assumption that your advantages are shared by everyone else."

What This Means to Writers

The issue of who can tell a story is huge. What happens when creative license and imagination meets real life people dealing with racism, sexism, ableism, sexualism, and other prejudices? A lot of science fiction authors were confronted with this immense issue during RaceFail 09. I highly recommend looking through some of those links, as I cannot do the topic justice in this space.

The Point of This Today

I stumbled upon a link to While a hostile relative re-writes my life: 'Who is, and is not, my family' by Leslie Feinberg on my LJ "friends of friends" page yesterday. I read it and then thought about it for more than twelve hours.

One of the issues sticking out to me is how Catherine Ryan Hyde is using her estranged family member to bypass the issue of her privilege. By claiming her "transgender sibling", she is claiming a right to the story that would otherwise be challenged. She is claiming to have authority on this topic that she doesn't have.

It appears that the Catherine would have every reason to know that Leslie Feinberg would not want her to tell Leslie's story. Leslie writes that "... [Catherine] argued with me for hours that the story of the Tutsi people in Rwanda is hers to tell. Her statements about the peoples of Rwanda were so racist, so apologetic for colonialism and imperialism, that I informed Hyde at that time that she was no political kin to me." This suggests to me that Catherine knew, or at least could have figured out, how Leslie feels about those in more privileged conditions speaking for "The Other". Also, the two of them were completely estranged: "I restated my request for no further contact from these living biological relatives." There is no indication that Leslie's permission to be used as a marketing tool was ever sought.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is claiming that she is entitled to tell this story, which would be problematic even if she had invented the characters wholesale due to the issue of a cis-gendered author speaking for a transgendered character. But setting aside whether or not she ever should have written this novel, she was definitely not entitled to steal Leslie's right to tell the story by telling it instead, nor was she entitled to use Leslie to claim authority of her own.
dreaminghope: (Baby DreamHope)
My nephew is going to be 18 months old at Christmas time, and I've already started shopping for presents. If I'm being honest, I must admit that I've already bought too many gifts, many of them too old for him. I'm collecting future gifts in boxes in the basement and I'm starting to fill shelves and a space under the bed with toys and books to share with young guests. I've already bought the entire Bunnicula series - good for eight-year-olds.

I'm buying things now because it is a good excuse to shop for toys, but also because I worry that good toys might disappear and good books might go out of print. I remember that there was a time when all the Lego available seemed to be simplistic kits: make a spaceship by clicking three pieces together; nothing else could be made of those pieces because they only fit together the one way. Now, good Lego - big boxes of loose pieces in primary colours that can be made into anything - seems to be back in style, and I want to buy a couple of pounds of it while I can. It looks like kids can start using Lego as young as three years old, so it isn't too early, really. Besides, Russ and I can play with it in the meantime... to make sure it works properly, of course.
dreaminghope: (Apple Picking)
We had one of those blessed sunny autumn days in Vancouver today. It was a day to love fall: bright, but cool enough to wear a hat and sweater, and the smell of crushed dried leaves was in the wind.

I needed vacuum bags. After failing to find them at The Bay earlier this week, I found them on a website for a local vacuum service store and headed there this morning after the gym and farmers’ market.

It was like stepping back in time. Most of the stock was behind the counter, so rather than being on your own to find what you need and take it to the register, we stand in line and the man bustles about and brings everything to us. He was packing up someone's new vacuum when I arrived. The next person in line had a bag of parts with him and the man checked each one and let him know whether or not they needed to be replaced. He also explained to the customer how he could check to see whether or not his vacuum’s belt needs to be replaced – apparently a common problem for that type of vacuum. When it was my turn, the man brought me two options: the brand name bags and the aftermarket versions, which were half the price. He also told me about the most common repair needed for my type of vacuum and that I should make sure no one charges me more than a dollar for the part required to fix it. And he gave me a sticker with his shop information on it to put on my vacuum at home. I did it.

I went to the grand opening of a new location of a huge chain craft store. I have a lot of craft supplies (I am probably pretty close to S.A.B.L.E.: stash amassed beyond life expectancy), but there's always something else I need, for some definition of "need". Right now, I need a couple of tapestry needles. I have some already, but I can't find them. The store was chaotic. The whole time I was there, someone was ringing a big brass bell – the kind an old school marm would ring to call students in to start the day – which had something to do with a wheel people were spinning to win discounts and stickers. By the time I found my tapestry needles – a two dollar item – the ringing and the crowds were getting a bit much and I was done. I moved towards the front of the store but found that the line for the registers wound all the way to the back of the store. I didn't want to waste that much more of the beautiful autumn sun. I'll go back for the needles another day. I wonder if the vacuum guy would consider opening a craft store.

The Girl Guides were out selling cookies. Today was also Apple Day – the day Scouts sell apples as a fundraiser. There were adorable kids in uniforms on almost every corner. The Scouts were supposed to say "apples by donation", but the ones outside the SkyTrain station were enthusiastically yelling "apples for donation". I gave some little boys a couple of dollars but declined the apple. As I dug out my wallet, I told them that my husband used to be a Scout when he was a little boy and loved it. I doubt they cared, but they nodded and smiled politely. I remember doing the nod and thank-you when people used to reminisce about their days in the blue uniform while buying Girl Guide cookies.

I found Ivan E. Coyote's new book – Missed Her – in a bookstore even though I thought it wasn't coming out for another month yet. I immediately went to one of the ubiquitous coffee shops and read half the book over a pumpkin spice latté, while trying not laugh out loud or cry while sitting in the front window on a busy corner.

A lady in the coffee shop was trying to give away apples because she'd bought one apple from every Scout she saw, but she'd also already bought a bunch of apples at the grocery store. The staff took some off her hands and got themselves a nice fall snack. I went back out into the sun and started walking home.
dreaminghope: (Default)
I blame Margaret Atwood.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a fan of her books. But she's still wrong about one thing.

It's not even necessarily current-Atwood who is the problem - she has apparently softened her stance somewhat - but past-Atwood, who insisted that The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake aren't science fiction books but are instead 'speculative fiction' because "Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen."

I blame Atwood for making it sound like science fiction is a limited genre and that any book with literary merit - or literary pretensions - actually belongs to a different genre: "speculative fiction", "distopian fiction", "magic realism" (the academic name for a certain kind of literary fantasy).

It's good marketing: Ms. Atwood surely knows that science fiction fans will read "Oryx and Crake" no matter what she calls it, but literary fiction fans and awards committees don't take genre books seriously. It just bugs me that so much well-written, intelligent science fiction gets pulled out of the category, furthering the (incorrect) assumption amongst much of academia that what's left is pulp. To some, if something's not trashy, it can't actually be science fiction, and if it is science fiction, it can't be smart or thoughtful.

It is also interesting that distopian science fiction is often elevated over more optimistic visions of the future. Not to say that their writing is equal, but consider that The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood is held to be literary, where Stardance by Spider and Jeanne Robinson is firmly situated in the science fiction and fantasy section of the bookstore. That doesn't surprise me; cynicism and pessimism are often considered marks of intelligence, where optimism means that you aren't smart enough to grasp how awful things really are.

I like science fiction, whether it be literary or trashy or something in between. So whatever, Atwood: You have written three science fiction books. Distopian speculative fiction, sure, but that's a science fiction sub-category. Deal with it.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
I think Zoey's considering taking up reading.

Zoey is my cat. She's the little black and white cat in many of my icons. She is quite possibly the sweetest cat in the world, but she does lack a certain... acumen. Once, while I was in the shower, she decided that she really wanted to see me right-the-heck-now. Rather than bat aside the edge of the shower curtain or try to climb under the edge, and rather than trying our other cat's preferred method of yelling until someone comes to him, Zoey tried something a little different. She jumped on to the sink and then took a mighty leap on to the shower curtain rod. I was startled from my shower meditations by a cat scream just above my head. She had no idea what she'd gotten herself into and my wet naked self had to get a panicked cat down from a very precarious perch.

Recently, for no apparent reason, Zoey has taken to jumping up on a bookshelf that has been in the same place, ignored by both cats, for years. She sits there for awhile, examining the spines. Sometimes she climbs on top of the books, but so far she's been unable to figure out how to get a book out. This is just as well, as there is a very old copy of "The Scout Manual" there, and I'm sure she could get into some ill-advised situations involving fire-starting techniques. There's also a copy of "Beautiful Joe", which would probably make her cry, and "Wild Animals I Have Known" would probably give her nightmares.

Zoey quickly forgets why she's on the bookshelf and she'll start bathing herself or will jump down and wander off. Her short attention span is another obstacle in her path to becoming a reader of classic books.

So if Zoey sits on the bookshelf because she wants to read, I wonder why Puck now insists on sleeping on top of the pile of towels on the top shelf in the bathroom?
dreaminghope: (Starry Starry Night)
If God exists in the spaces between...

... mind the gap.
dreaminghope: (3-Day Novel)
I went to see Lee Maracle read this past Tuesday at the Central Library. I love her novels, especially Ravensong.

She has this fabulous laugh – deep, full, jolly. Her daughter and niece – both at the reading – have the same laugh. They filled the room with joy while Lee told slightly bawdy stories before the official reading started.

While the librarian was trying to introduce her, doing the traditional listing of awards, qualifications, and books, the family got the giggles, seemingly at the pomposity of the whole thing. The librarian finally gave up and gave over to Lee.

She read from "Will's Garden" and "Daughters are Forever", then she took questions. Someone asked her about her writing process:

Writing is a sacred thing to me. It's like a Sweat to me. ... I sit down at my computer on a Friday, and I say to my ass: "Hold on; we're going to be here awhile." I'll write, and my family asks: "Are you going to sleep?" And then on Tuesday or so, the first draft'll be done. It has to be 156 pages long; when it's 156 pages, I know it's done.

I do an average of 16 drafts before I finish a book. On a Friday night, my daughters would see me bringing out the popcorn and the pop, and they’d know: "Mom's got another draft to read to us." I'd read until Monday, with them dozing sometimes, and after, they'd be asking how it was different from the last draft they listened to...

Lee Maracle entered the 3-Day Novel Contest once. She thought she couldn't do any preparation, so she told her family to keep her distracted. Her daughters sang to her; kept her from planning. She came in second. She found out later from the people running the contest that the winner had a forty page outline.

Forty page outline! I thought that'd be cheating. That's practically a novel. I could've written a second draft in three days if I'd had a forty page outline.

It's comforting that even a published author only came in second. Comforting, too, that a published author writes a first draft in three to five days on a regular basis.

The 3-Day Novel Contest starts tomorrow at midnight. I've got an idea, but it feels fragile, like it'll dry up like a husk if I put it on paper too soon. I am trying very hard not to even look at the idea too closely; it's a seed, still in the dark, and if it comes to light too soon, it may not make it – I'll get bored with the story before I've even started to write it. Or, worse yet, I'll get bored halfway through, when it's nearly impossible to start over.

If you can't see the 3-Day entry just before this one, then you are not on my NaNoWriMo/3-Day Novel filter. Let me know if you would like to be, in case I use it to blow off steam and post silly and strange novel excerpts during this marathon.

Soon, the journey begins... I've got lots of chocolate, coffee, and garlic bread laid in.
dreaminghope: (Working Zoey)
By most any definition, the Gathering for Life on Earth is long over. We've been home for nearly three weeks, the Facebook friending frenzy has slowed, next year's theme's has been posted to the website, and I've completed my final duties as Board secretary. I'm working on the last of my Gathering laundry today, so along with the usual t-shirts and underwear, I've got swimming towels, sarongs, and cloaks drying on the deck.

Words have been failing me in regards to the Gathering. Other people's words clutter my attempts (they say "the best Gathering I've had", "my favourite Gathering so far", and "a wonderful weekend", and I say... nothing), and the pressure of the unexpressed words is keeping my other writing attempts stopped up. Given that the 3-Day Novel Contest is in two weeks, I must write again despite wordlessness and finger stutters.

I've started slow, commenting on a few LJ posts at long last*. Next, this post. Then, soon – maybe, hopefully – a novel outline in time for the long weekend.

Today's been a day of laundry and words.

I'm awash – lost – in other people's words and in piles of wet clothing. Various distractions (William and Russ' birthday) and bad weather have interfered with my ability to do laundry, so I'm doing about a month's worth this weekend. Between, I've finally read Atwood's brilliant Oryx and Crake in preparation for reading her new book, The Year of the Flood, when it comes out in a month or so. And there's been the The Videographer – the 3-Day winner from 2008. Weird book, but worth a read. Not particularly cheery, though, so Russ won't want it soon. He read The Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye back-to-back and is a little over the literary misery. I've told him to read a Bruno and Boots novel before tackling "Oryx", as it is dystopian.

I don't mind dystopian, but I wish it weren't so depressing all the time.

The slowest race is happening on my porch right now, between the drying laundry and the sinking sun. And then it's folding clothes and planning my preparation for the Writers and Readers Festival. I'm thinking this year I might actually try to read some of the authors' works before hearing them speak.

*I've been reading my FL daily, but have had no words for commenting.
dreaminghope: (Working Zoey)
Whose LJ is it Anyway?

When I was in grade two, I read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I curled up on the orange and brown couch in the living room and balanced the big hardcover book from the library in my lap. I read while my Mom was making dinner.

They had just started to cross this queer bridge when a sharp growl made them all look up, and to their horror they saw running toward them two great beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers.

"They are the Kalidahs!" said the Cowardly Lion, beginning to tremble.

"Quick!" cried the Scarecrow. "Let us cross over."

So Dorothy went first, holding Toto in her arms, the Tin Woodman followed, and the Scarecrow came next. The Lion, although he was certainly afraid, turned to face the Kalidahs, and then he gave so loud and terrible a roar that Dorothy screamed and the Scarecrow fell over backward, while even the fierce beasts stopped short and looked at him in surprise.

But, seeing they were bigger than the Lion, and remembering that there were two of them and only one of him, the Kalidahs again rushed forward, and the Lion crossed over the tree and turned to see what they would do next. Without stopping an instant the fierce beasts also began to cross the tree. And the Lion said to Dorothy:

"We are lost, for they will surely tear us to pieces with their sharp claws. But stand close behind me, and I will fight them as long as I am alive."

I was so scared for the Lion that I immediately did what I did when something on TV scared me: I closed my eyes and covered my ears with my hands.

I sat there for a moment before I realized that my plan wasn't going to work. I couldn't hide until the scary part was done; the story wouldn't go on without me.


My childhood attempts at diaries were small black notebooks with two stickers stuck to the cover to look like eyes. I started every entry with "Dear Diary", and almost a third of my entries start with "sorry for not writing sooner". Lacking an audience, I imagined one.

I went flipping through my childhood diaries expecting, I think, to see the kind of brutal honesty that kids are known for. When we are young, we're supposed to be too naïve to hide our true feelings; the resulting writing should be a kind of real that adults can't easily achieve.

I did find a peculiar kind of honest: Over the Christmas holidays I misplaced my old cloth purse. It had over $12 in it. I found it in the most oviouse (sic) place and my pride couldn't take it so I hide it in the basement. Of course I couldn't let the money go to waste so now, quite a while later, I am 'smuggling' it with me. (March 8 – 12 years old).

There was also a lot of self-consciousness and self-censorship: Boy, do I have a snoopy good sister! (April 26 – 9 years old).

Though my imaginary audience wasn't motivation enough to write frequently – as evidenced by gaps of months or years between entries – I wrote for the possibility that other people would read my words one day. I wrote who I wanted to be as much as I wrote who I was.


Write. Edit. Proofread. Edit again. Write some more. Edit. Proofread. Post.




Wait. Refresh. Wait.

A comment!

The story isn't complete until someone reads it.
dreaminghope: (Working Zoey)
Vancouver has an annual literary festival, The International Writers & Readers Festival. Last year, [livejournal.com profile] rythos42 and I went to a couple of events together, and we continued the tradition this year. Most events are what you expect from a literary event: darkened theaters, authors reading, and thoughtful discussions about character's motivations.

Last night's event was a little different. Our first clue that this wasn't quite the same as the other events we'd gone to was that there was a bar. After some confusion about how to buy a glass of wine (the process involved tracking down and buying tickets, then using the tickets to acquire alcoholic refreshment), we settled into seats. We were just discussing our expectations for the evening when the dance music came on. And then the go-go dancers came out.

There were three male go-go dancers. They wore American Apparel briefs, t-shirts, headbands, and white knee socks with stripes at the top. One was in green, one in red, and one in yellow. Green was really into it. He was dancing his little heart out, even pulling up his shirt to show his belly button and playing to the crowd. The other two seemed a little self-conscious, maybe because their underwear didn't fit as well as Green's did. If you are going to be showing your underwear, it's a good idea to make sure it fits your ass tightly. Baggy-bum is not sexy.

After the go-go dancers came some readings, featuring selections from a biography of Houdini written entirely in poetry, "the dirtiest story in my short story collection" (about a woman working on a sex website), a poet with very poet hair who brought wine to the reading stand and repeatedly, adorably, lied that he was calm, and the 3-Day Novel winner of 2006, The Convictions Of Leonard McKinley.

I had chosen this event in order to see the 3-Day writer, Brendan McLeod. [livejournal.com profile] rythos42 and I had both read his book ahead of time – and unintentionally almost scared Russ out of reading it with our veiled references to the story's almost-very-disturbing conclusion. It is a funny book... and it is even funnier when he reads it. I would like to propose that all authors who have to do readings should get training by slam poets first – Brendan and the other performance poet who read from her first novel were both wonderful to listen to.

More go-go dancing during the intermission – this time without the t-shirts. Green was still enthusiastic. We'd all been given a free copy of subTerrain magazine and I used was relieved to find it full of short stories and poems. The last time I was given a magazine for free, it was a surprise to me when it turned out to be full of furry porn. Not really my thing, but very educational.

After the intermission, an audience participation game called "Tops or Bottoms" for book prizes, followed by more readings: an author who apologized for being smashed before reading a very serious passage about a mother with dementia, a novel section about giant killer ants and a milk chicken bomb (I don't know), a piece about a bridesmaid having a fling with the wedding bartender in her parents' house, and a story about a couple who sleep in a cage to prevent the man's jealous pet chimp from attacking the girlfriend. The last author, Catherine Kidd, also performed one of her poems, which was a very interesting combination of science and politics and artistry, set to music. I wouldn't want to read it – I don't think it would very interesting on paper – but it was a great performance.

After the event was over, [livejournal.com profile] rythos42 and I hung out near Brendan McLeod until he extracted himself from another conversation. I told him that I'd also done the contest and all three of us, along with a friend of his who had also done the 3-Day twice, commiserated on the problems of writing fast (making characters walk off cliffs, sudden earthquakes, and multiple kidnappings).

He hated his novel after writing it and didn't think it would win (which doesn't give me any hope that my novel that I hate has any chance of winning, but it is interesting given that I love his novel).

He said that the published novel is pretty close to what he wrote during the contest; he added about ten pages, took out the parts where random characters he didn't need anymore ended up walking off of cliffs, and fixed the ending so that it actually was what he'd intended it to be when writing the original manuscript. Which took us to talking about the ending (which I won't spoil; read the book!) and I think he was pleased that we'd already read the book (rather than just having bought it at the table at the other side of the room) so we could share in the joke when he told us that a middle school decided to give copies away as prizes, only to find that they really should have read the whole book first and not just the first couple of pages and that parents weren't terribly pleased with this particular literary prize. Brendan sent them some more youth-friendly and parent-pleasing poetry recordings as replacements, even though he had told them that their plan was a bad one, and one of them surely should have been able to read all 111 pages.

He signed my book, adding "P.S., Do cocaine!"
dreaminghope: (Faerie Wings)
I'm standing in line clutching a small pile of books under one arm and struggling to free a hardcover from its shrink wrap by using a pen to stab a hole in the resistant plastic. The nice man behind me turns out to be experienced in these matters – having just bought the same book down the hall moments before – and he helps me get the book unwrapped without pen marks. His girlfriend looks at my stack of books: "A really big fan, huh?"

We're at Foolscap IX. The author guest of honour is my absolutely favourite author of all time: Charles de Lint. The artist guest of honour is Charles Vess, who has done the illustrations for several special edition de Lint books as well as doing graphic novels with the likes of Neil Gaiman.

The two Charleses are side by side at a table at one end of the room, and the line curves around the entire circumference of the room and out into the hall. Though Foolscap is a small bookish science fiction/fantasy convention with a casual and unpretentious atmosphere (on the first day, my partner, Russ, ended up talking to Vess for twenty minutes in the hall without even knowing who he was; that says a lot about Russ as well as about the convention), most people don't want to just randomly bother the guests of honour with requests for signings and so are taking advantage of this clearly designated opportunity.

The couple behind me in line are newer fans of de Lint's. We discuss what their favourites novels are so far and I push my preferences on them. We mostly discuss the books done by big publishers: Memory and Dream, Someplace to be Flying, and one of the new books, a YA called Little (Grrl) Lost. We all agree on loving the Crow Girls and of thinking that Little (Grrl) Lost was an excellent book for twelve year olds but only a light fun book for adults.

My companions know I'm a hardcore fan because I'm carrying de Lint books published by Subterranean Press (Medicine Road and the book newly freed from its shrink wrap, Promises to Keep) and other rarities such as Vess and de Lint's picture book, A Circle of Cats. They don't know me well enough to recognize how excited I am: that I am speaking too fast and bouncing too much as we wait.

I get to Charles Vess first. He signs a graphic novel for Mike (my ex-coworker) and signs and doodles in the novels I've brought where he did cover or interior art. He is very nice.

Then: Charles de Lint! He is a very unassuming man. Quiet. He would be easy to overlook if he wasn't the center of attention. He chuckles at my excited re-telling of how I'd pre-ordered Promises to Keep back while it was still supposed to be The Newford Collection and had been eagerly waiting for its publication and arrival since March and it had arrived on Friday afternoon, only hours before we were to leave home to come to this very convention and then I'd just managed to get the plastic off of it while in line, just in time for him to sign it...

He signed my books – each one a little different – making sure to spell my name right. And then I moved aside so the next person could have their turn. And I must confess that I hugged those books tight to my chest and once I was in the hall and out of earshot of everyone but Russ, I squeeed. Twice.

I'm such a de Lint fan-girl.

Charles de Lint was interviewed twice during the weekend and did a casual concert (with his wife, MaryAnn) during a question and answer period. He did a formal concert one night, but Russ and I missed it to eat the best pizza we've ever had.

I enjoyed listening to him talk about his creative process, about how he wanted to be a musician and somehow ended up an author, about the struggle to get published in different categories than the one the publishers have put you in. A couple of random things that stuck with me:

Because he first wrote fantasy books for the adult market, he had a hard time breaking into young adult books, and then had to convince publishers that he could write a children's picture book. No matter how successful you are in one genre or category, you have to start over almost from scratch every time you want to change your area of specialty.

He doesn't talk about his works in progress for the same reason he doesn't write outlines: he discovers the story as he writes it the first time, and once he has told the whole story, he starts to lose interest. If he talks about it, he feels like he has told the story and he doesn’t want to write it anymore.

Finally: His next book is going to be called Dingo and includes some Australian mythology! It's almost done, and that's all he would tell us.

Excuse me for a moment: Squeee!

Shortened version cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] charlesdelint.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
My Mom thinks that I was the sweetest and most generous little girl in the world. I guess all moms think that about their little girls, but my Mom thought she had proof; proof of my goodness in the form of a little story:

"When we moved to the house in Oakville, you gave the biggest bedroom to your little sister."

Mom's story had meaning beyond its few words; this was my mother summing up my personality as a child.

The facts are true: I gave the biggest bedroom in our new house to my sister. There wasn't a fight. I gave her the room very willingly.

The full story is a longer one, and it starts more than a year before the move to Oakville. One afternoon just before the end of the school year, my grade two teacher lowered all the blinds and turned out all the lights in the classroom. She had us all close our eyes. She turned on an audio recording of a children's story and let us listen to the opening scene.

I can't remember what the teacher's point or lesson was (or if there was one), but I remember the story:

A little girl, Sophie, wakes up during the "witching hour" and hears something out on the street. She goes to her window and sees a giant – a huge, scary giant – walking down the empty street, peering in the bedroom windows. She's terrified and tries to hide, but the giant finds her. He reaches into her bedroom window, captures her in one giant hand, and carries her away, never saying anything to her.

The recording ended there.* We all blinked into the classroom lights and resumed class. No one else seemed worried about Sophie.

I worried about Sophie, but, even more, I worried about me. We lived on an isolated road outside of town; if a giant came, he wouldn't have many other children to choose from, and there were fewer people around who might hear me if I screamed. But I comforted myself with the knowledge that the bedroom I shared with my sister overlooked the backyard, so the giant wouldn't be able to peer in our window from the street. We were safe.

A year later, we moved from the small town in Northern Ontario to a suburb of Toronto. My sister and I were promised our own separate bedrooms.

There were three bedrooms besides the master bedroom: two that faced the backyard and one that faced the street. My sister and I were basically left to figure it out between us.

The front bedroom, the one that overlooked the street, was the bigger and brighter bedroom. I never considered taking it for even a moment. I took one of the back bedrooms – which was a perfect fine room, just not as fine as the other one – and my sister gladly took the front one. I didn't tell her about the risk of being kidnapped by a giant.

"You sacrificed your sister for your own safety?" my Mom exclaimed in a mixture of amusement and horror.

"I didn't really believe in the giant, you know? But I wanted to be on the safe side. Anyway, she could've taken the other back bedroom."

"I thought you were so nice..." Mom's laughing and shaking her head.

"Well, it was still a nice thing to do, I guess, since the giant didn't get her in all those years that she slept in the front bedroom."

*I only recently figured out that the scene was the opening of one of the few Roald Dahl books I didn't read as a kid: The BFG. Anyone who knows the story will understand why this discovery was so amusing to me in light of the effect the story fragment had on me.
dreaminghope: (Confused Zoey)
When I am out in public, especially if I am alone, I become very conscious of my own behaviour and how I could be viewed – even if I know that no one cares. I also become hyper-aware of other people's actions and how they conform to or differ from the norm.

I went to a couple of the International Writers Festival panels this weekend.

Yesterday was "From the Dark Side", where I joined [livejournal.com profile] rythos42 to watch a panel of authors discuss writing about serial killers, psychopaths, and insane asylums. When the authors walked on to the stage, we all applauded. The authors read descriptions of a man murdering and burying a minister and a man being burned alive. I laughed at every opportunity offered; there were many. Those around me seemed to do the same.
When I'm trying to get into the mood to write those [graphic torture scenes], I read writers who've already gone there. Those books become my touchstones. When I'm trying to get myself back out of that, I listen to Enya. Enya is good for coming back out of the dark.*

Today was "Writing Life", which I attended alone. The writers, all contributors to the Writing Life anthology, spoke about writing when you have kids, doubting the value of writing, and the problems of marketing your writing. We didn't applaud when the writers walked on to the stage.

I don't know why we applauded for the authors at the first event I went to and not for the second. There were even some of the same authors on the two panels. Who makes the decision to clap or not to clap? I'm not the one who decides. If I was, we would have clapped for both panels; I like consistency.

The most interesting thing for me was when the writers started talking about feeling insecure about writing, as though it were not a worthwhile activity. One author spoke about watching a man digging a trough and thinking about how silly writing seems in comparison to the physical labour. Another spoke about being asked by her relatives: "So, you’re a writer; what's that get you?"

The audience responded most to that section of the discussion. When the time came for audience questions, most of them were actually comments from people talking about how books had changed lives or touched people they knew. They wanted to reassure these successful authors that what they are doing is important; responding to a writer's need for groupies.

There were two authors who received more applause then anyone else: a French novelist who struggled to read his book in English translation and to answer questions in a language that wasn't his own, and an author who spoke about her problems with public speaking and promoting her work. The audience reacted as a whole with compassion towards the person who was obviously trying very hard and the person who’s problem they could most easily relate to.
Mister Cellophane
Should have been my name
Mister Cellophane
'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there

When the man who played Amos Hart in a production of Chicago came out for his curtain call, he got more applause then anyone else, even the biggest stars, in no small part because of his moving performance of "Mister Cellophane", which got a lot of applause as well.

I didn't really like the audience question portion of either panel. Both seemed to be dominated by people who wanted to sound smart. Most of them didn't even have questions: they had comments or rants ending with a lame "so, uh, do you agree?". The writers, luckily, managed to make their answers interesting, even if they didn't have much to do with what was asked.

I didn't like the moderator much of the first panel. Her questions got so long and complicated that the authors ended up just sort of staring at her. But the "Writing Life" moderator was much better. The writers were very interesting and fun both times, though.

Who decides how long to clap? It just seems to end on its own, except when it doesn't. I saw a modern dance performance in the Paris Opera House once, years ago. After every dance, the curtain would close, and the audience clapped and clapped and clapped until it developed its own rhythm and everyone seemed to be clapping in unison. It was eerie.

It's been a busy weekend so far, but I hope to actually get writing again tomorrow.

*Eden Robinson, author of Blood Sports.
dreaminghope: (Flying Demon Girl)
When I get a new book by a favourite author, one I know will be wonderful, I have trouble starting the book, for starting it will only bring me that much closer to finishing it. The anticipation of starting a new book is like the moment right before the orgasm: you both want it to last forever and want to get on with reading the book already.

I want reading the great book to be perfect: I want to be all comfy – in a soft place, warm enough – and to have a long period of uninterrupted time to enjoy it. I would be completely undistracted by illness, exhaustion, or work concerns. My house would be perfectly clean and tidy, my emails would all be answered, all the bills would be paid and filed. Of course, I have to accept less-then-ideal circumstances, or I would never have sex read at all.

I received a package from Amazon.ca today; one I wasn't expecting for a couple of weeks, so it caught me completely unprepared. Four Charles de Lint books I have never read, all here at once!

I've been lusting after some of these books for years – they are all small press items, unavailable in stores, and I finally saved up the money to buy them – and now I have them piled on the edge of the de Lint shelf of the living room bookcase, glossy and seductive, and I can't seem to get myself started.

I'll finish the Nightside book I'm in the middle of, bask in its glow for a moment or two, then grab one of the new books and not get nearly enough sleep for the next couple of nights. Right now, I am trying to tell myself that I will stretch the four books out, savouring each one. In reality, I will probably gorge myself. If I'm not on LJ a lot for the coming week, you know where I am.

I anticipate being very satiated.
dreaminghope: (Flying Demon Girl)
On 06/06/06, about a dozen friends met for a birthday dinner. In honour of the unique date, we all wore horns and decorated our glasses with little plastic devils. We were playful demons eating steaks and French toast at a suburban IHOP.

The fallen angels are the tainted creatures of horror stories and nightmares, and, simultaneously, the honourable rebels. Even some Christian writers have had trouble not making Satan sound courageous and bold:

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than hee
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n.

Most people no longer hold supernatural beings responsible for the world's evil; the fallen angels may now be fallen heroes, ready to become noble and rise again. We like our heroes to be a little dirty. It is sexy to be redeemed.

The truly evil and the merely naughty conflates as "sin". A sexy girl-demon is called a "succubus", never mind how scary a true succubus would be.

"His horns are bigger then mine," one boy whines playfully.
"He does have a lovely horn, doesn't he," purrs the girlfriend, toying with the tip.

"At work, I have to hide my tail down my pants... it gets so uncomfortable. It's nice to let it all hang out," says one of our hornless guests, who was wearing a red devil-tail.

"I get the weirdest looks when I wear my horns out," giggles one girl, her relatively discrete horns peeking out from her hair, "I love seeing the double-takes."
"Let's go into Walmart after dinner! I wanna shop like a demon," someone else chimes in.

I once heard that all angels originally had horns; that's why the angels who fell had them too. As the rebels fell, their wings were burned away, but their horns remained. The horns of the heavenly chorus faded away in the popular imagination, leaving them only on the demonic citizens of the underworld.

Horns on demons; horns on ancient gods… not romanticized power, like that of the lion, but the down and dirty power of goats. It is pride and stubbornness, sometimes in the face of a world that doesn't care for us at all.

*Satan's speech in Paradise Lost, by John Milton.
dreaminghope: (Christmas)
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a typical secular Christmas story where in the end, someone (or everyone) learns the true meaning of Christmas: Christmas isn't about the gifts and the decorations and the food, but about being with loved ones and family. It is all about appreciating those we care about and spending time together.

Wait a minute! Shouldn't we be doing that all the time? Shouldn't we always make an effort to spend time with our families and show how much we care about our friends? What separates Christmas from what we should be doing everyday?

Gifts. Special food. Decorations. Seasonal parties.

It shouldn't be about the amount of money spent and who gives the most extragavent present. Homemade gifts, simple gifts, meals shared... these are valuable expressions of Christmas spirit. This doesn't have to be about commerce. It is the thought that counts. But at Christmas time, the thought that counts comes wrapped in festive paper or served on a snowman plate.

Sometimes we need an excuse to show each other we care, or a reminder to remember what's really important. And the important thing is the people and the home and the community.

But our reminder is still a celebration that comes with ribbons and tags; packages, boxes and bags. Oh, and rare roast beast.
dreaminghope: (Playing Zoey)
Better late then never - some notes on my fandom weekend:

Friday night: As previously mentioned, we went all the way out to Langley to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in IMAX. We got to the theatre at about 5 PM to buy tickets for the 7 PM show, and basically went straight into the line. As a result, we got good seats, and all five of us could sit together.

Saturday: Russ was so sweet to drive me to the store to buy the new Harry Potter book. I read it in between box packing.

Sunday morning: Got up early to finish the Harry Potter book. I'm not going to say much about it because I know a lot of people haven't been able to read it yet, but I would recommend that you count on reading the last 60 or so pages all at once without interruptions.

Sunday afternoon: The Buffy sing-a-long at the movie theatre. It was so cool to see Hush and the musical with that many Buffy fans, on the big screen.

I did manage to cram a bunch of packing and sorting in too, but the weekend was definitely dominated by my favourite media and pop (geek?) culture preoccupations!


dreaminghope: (Default)

February 2014



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