Friday, December 30, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things Part II

Shogun (James Clavell)

Yeah, that’s right, my copy of Shogun is so elite it doesn’t even need a cover. I actually bought it that way from a library sale on the ‘$2 per bag’ day. It took me six weeks to read this monster (in my defense, I was moving house and had a 1-year-old at the time) but it was worth every minute.

This sprawling novel of pre-Tokugawa Shogunate Japan is packed with tons of fascinating detail about a world that probably as alien to modern Western readers as it is to Blackthorne, the book’s main character. He’s an English pilot whose ship wrecks on the coast of Japan, and it takes him a very long time to get used to taking a bath every day, rather than twice a year.

Note: There’s a 1980’s miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain that follows the book very closely, so if you like the book and have ten spare hours, check it out. I know see why every woman I know who is my mom’s age is hot on Richard Chamberlain.

The Devil of Nanking (Mo Hayder)

Mo Hayder is one fucked-up bitch, and I mean that in the most affectionate and admiring way possible. The Devil of Nanking is one of those books that makes you wonder what the hell is going on in the author’s head, but in the end you don’t really care because it’s awesome.

Grey is an English girl who heads to Tokyo in search of a notorious, vanished war criminal whose actions during the Rape of Nanking were recorded. Why exactly she’s looking for this guy isn’t revealed until the end… and trust me, it’s not what you expected. The various bizarreness that occurs during her quest is equal parts sick and funny.

Note: I’ve read almost all of Hayder’s other books since then, and none of them are as good as this one. And yes, that is an advance reader’s copy. I work at a bookstore.

A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

Here’s the thing about Dickens: he’s so blatantly manipulating your emotions that it’s almost ridiculous, but you still cry when Jo dies in Bleak House or when Sydney Carton loses his head to La Guillotine.

I like A Tale of Two Cities because it’s dark and violent. I like Madame DeFarge and her ladies sitting in the front row, knitting and counting heads. I like people languishing in piles of straw in their cells in the Bastille, rapists and murderers getting what they deserve, and people getting their heads chopped off in what was supposed to be a humane execution.

I originally read a stage version of this novel back in about 6th grade or something, and then we saw the play at the local children’s theater. I like the book better.

Note: There have been four musical versions of A Tale of Two Cities. No, I am not kidding and no, I haven’t seen any of them.

In the Heart of the Sea (Nathaniel Philbrick)

I primarily read fiction, but here’s some nonfic for you. I love books about explorers who die horribly at the hands of might Nature, people who get shipwrecked and have to eat each other to stay alive, and stories about whalers. Which is weird, because I like whales.

In the Heart of the Sea is the story of the whaling ship Essex, which sank when a pissed-off whale rammed the ship and broke open the hull. The sailors had to cram into lifeboats and defy death all the way home (spoiler: some of them don’t defy it too well- especially once they run out of food and start eating each other).

There’s some incredible writing in this book; Philbrick’s description of dying of thirst (taken from the record of a man who nearly did) makes you run to the kitchen for some Gatorade. And he brings the historical figures so close that you really feel their conflicting emotions as they try to stay alive in the face of overwhelming odds.

Note: My copy is signed. And Nathaniel Philbrick is a very nice man, so there.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things

Here are a few of my favorite things...(there's a bunch; picking a favorite book is like picking a favorite Meatloaf song. There's so many good ones...) I’ll put them up in batches of 4, so as not to overwhelm anyone. There are pictures of my personal copies of these titles at the top, up against a variety of attractive backgrounds such as my kitchen table, my son's alphabet mat and the carpet in the basement. The pics are at the beginning of the post because I fail at figuring out how to intersperse pictures with texts on Blogger.

The Persian Boy (Mary Renault)

I am pretty certain that if everyone in the world read this book, there would be no more homophobia. It's about two men: Alexander, conqueror of the world, the Great King, who wants to be loved by everyone; and Bagoas, former slave of the Persian king Darius, now Alexander's servant and consort, who wants only to be loved by one man.

The Persian Boy has been accused of glorifying Alexander the Great, whose ambition might have bordered on psychopathy, but it's excusable because the novel is written in first person, from Bagoas' point of view, after Alexander's death. It's an elegant, painful book that won't leave your brain for a long time after you finish it. The wealth of detail in Renault's imagined ancient world is fascinating.

Note: technically The Persian Boy is the second in Renault's trilogy The Alexandriad, but the three books – Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy, and Funeral Games- can be read in any order. Fire From Heaven was shortlisted for the 'lost' 1970 Man Booker Prize in 2008, but while all three books are worth your time, The Persian Boy is my favorite.

The Last Unicorn (Peter S. Beagle)

Like a lot of people my age, I was introduced to Beagle's delicate fantasy through the 1982 film version by Ralph Bakshi (to this day it remains my favorite movie ever made in the history of...ever). The premise is deceptively simple: the last known unicorn searches the world for others of her kind, and finds they may be imprisoned by a bitter old king. Yet The Last Unicorn is a deeply affecting tale of love and regret, carried through with gentle humor and simple, graceful prose.

Note: I met Beagle a few years ago at Dragoncon, and he signed my battered copy of his most famous book. He said his wife's name is also Patricia. Rock! Also, the Bakshi movie is being re-released into theaters in 2012-2013, so I am definitely keeping an eagle eye out.

Note II: An awesome and wonderful friend sent me a beautiful graphic novel version of this book today. It looks like it follows the novel even closer than the movie and the art is gorgeous, I can't wait to read it!

The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)

I love Dumas. I have this image of him as this jolly, vulgar, goofy uncle sort of man who tells wonderful stories. And his stories are wonderful: sword fights, justice, loyalty, camaraderie, romance, intrigue- there's a little of everything in his swashbuckling tales. And none is better than The Count of Monte Cristo.

The various film versions I've seen of this novel never do it justice: invariably, Dantes exacts his revenge on the men who had him falsely imprisoned with violence, plain and simple. In Dumas' tale, Dantes is far more cunning than that; he knows these men, as they were once good friends, and he uses this knowledge of their flaws and weaknesses to encourage them subtly to destroy themselves. It's a brilliantly labyrinthine novel that keeps you on the edge of your seat and, improbably, ends happily for almost everyone involved- the ones who matter, anyway.

It took me 3 weeks to read The Count of Monte Cristo, and it was worth every minute. And I was even moving then.

Note: There's apparently a French miniseries with Gerard Depardieu that's really good, but I'm too lazy to look it up. Someone get on that for me, please.

The Word for World is Forest (Ursula K. LeGuin)

While I love Earthsea more than life itself (if our son had been a daughter, I was going to fight tooth and nail to name her Tenar), this little gem doesn't get nearly enough love (and since it is currently out of print for the foreseeable future, it probably won't get much love anytime soon). The real-life parallels are obvious- humans colonize a planet and force the inhabitants, who they think are inferior beasts, to work for them- but instead of beating you over the head with the metaphor, LeGuin crafts a tale of rebellion in which you're rooting against your own species.

It's a short little book written in LeGuin's early, spare style. It's a quick, compelling read and if you ever find a copy somewhere, buy it and read it! I command you!

Note: LeGuin is the goddess at whose altar I worship.

Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)

Just one look at my poor, battered, beloved copy of Black Beauty should tell you exactly how I feel about it. I was one of those horse girls (still am, I worked on a thoroughbred farm in college) so Black Beauty was pretty much required reading for me. It's a book that yanks at your heartstrings almost constantly. It would almost be ridiculous except for the fact that there is nothing calculated about it, nothing manipulative; you can practically see Anna Sewell weeping as she wrote it, outraged at the sorry plight of animals in Victorian England.

I told my husband that we have to read Black beauty to our son when he is old enough, but he has to read the chapter where Ginger dies because I'd be crying too hard.

Note: Anna Sewell was an invalid who had to take carriages everywhere because she wasn't strong enough to walk. Because of this she was exposed to horses more than most young ladies of the time and saw how they were treated firsthand. She died five months after Black Beauty, her only novel, was published.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Duran Duran is Neither a Duran nor a Duran. Discuss,

I love noir. Guys and dames and mobsters who secretly have soft spots and everything's dark and damp all the time. But I can't write it very well; I don't have the right vocabulary or knowledge.

Of course, that doesn't stop me from trying.

A while back I had a story in the now-defunct e-zine The Written Word. It's based on the Duran Duran song "The Chauffeur" (I am not even kidding about that). It's noir-ish.

Man, I write a lot of sad love stories.

Click on the link, go to the October 2007 issue (it's all blue) and click on "The Driver"!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Short Stories II

A few notes to catch up:

1. I just had a story accepted into Earthbound Fiction's Dark Stars SF anthology. I'm not sure of the release date of the anthology, but this blog will be the first to know.

It's pretty much the only SF story I have ever written, and it's sociological-type SF, because I just can't handle the pseudoscience. Confession: when I read hard SF, I skip all the technical stuff. Same way I skip long, involved battle scenes in fantasy novels. I really only care who wins.

...I'm lame that way.

2. I haven't written a single thing in about 4 days, mostly because my toddler was sick all that time. Hard to write when you're scrubbing the carpet AGAIN. But now I am having insomnia for tje first time in years. If I can't write, I can't sleep- direct correlation But he seems to be getting better now so, hopefully, I can whip out my notebooks again.

All I want for Christmas is a visit from Stanley Steemer.

3. My favorite kind of pens- Pilot Precise Rolling Ball, Fine Point, Black- have shot up in price again. Now it's $19.99 for a box of 12! I am trying new kinds of pens to see if I can find a cheaper substitute, but so far no dice. The Pilot Precise Rolling Ball, Fine Point, Black is the best pen ever made. And that's important when you have to write longhand (I can't write sitting in front of a computer. That's why I am so damned slow at it; I have to write it all out first. My brain is secretly a Luddite).

Anyone want to send a poor, struggling writer a Christmas present?

4. New Game of Thrones season 2 trailer: Stannis, you poor bastard. A lot of people are complaining he doesn't have a beard, when in the book his description includes a short, neat beard. It doesn't bother me. If it was that short, it doesn't seem that important, you know? I'm very excited for season 2; I enjoyed season 1 and my favorite character, The Hound, has a larger part in the second book. I feel he was a little shafted in the first season of the show so I hope the second season does right by him!

5. Finally, I have a contest coming up. I'll be giving away a copy of Pill Hill Press' Daily Flash 2012, which has the honor of containing two of my stories, sometime in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I'm in Audio!

My short story, "A Princess of the Moon", is available at Nil Desperandum as a podcast! It's free to listen, and please leave a comment! I've never had a story in audio before, and it sounds so awesome! Great production from Nil Desperandum. Link

"A Princess of the Moon" is very loosely based on the Japanese folktale "The Woodcutter's Daughter" or "Kaguya-hime". Like a lot of my stories, it turned out to be something entirely different; instead of a fantasy, at heart it is a story about two girls, one unable to grow up, the other having to grow up too quickly.

Enjoy! I hope...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Daily Flash 2012 Update

So, I’m a dope. I misread my information e-mail from Pill Hill Press. Daily Flash 2012 was not scheduled to come out November 22nd, it went to the printer on November 22nd. We don’t yet have a release date but I will let everyone know when it comes out. It should be available in plenty of time for Christmas (hint hint!). Meanwhile, here’s the cover. Isn’t it the coolest? It pretty much represents everything I've read in the anthology (so far, I still have a couple months to go).

EDIT: It's out! Purchase at Already has two 5-star reviews!