Thursday, February 26, 2009

Strength, Thrift, Domesticity

Specchio is having their once-per-season 80% off sale.

This means that shoes like L'Autre Chose and Dries Van Noten and XOXO are reduced from upwards of $500 to approximately $150 (CAD!) a pair. Peanuts! These are leather, made in Italy, shoes you want to hug and kiss, shoes that are supple and sexy, shoes that love your feet, that spirals off into paroxyms of joy...

I went in yesterday. I held off for weeks. Fortunately, the holding off meant most of the shoes my size were gone - that was the plan. But there were a few in my size. That's what took strength. I had to tell myself that not only did I not need any shoes, but since the moths and the cat pee have wiped out a good portion of my closet, I'd have nothing to wear them with anyways.

But do you want to know where I really got my strength from? How I managed to walk out of there and to the library?

I will tell you the new source of my lust/frugality. I am over my Roomba coveting. I want a Dyson. I want a vacuum cleaner that costs $700. I want to see it suck up years of embedded cat hair that my darling inefficient Dirt Devil can't pick up. Oh, the Dyson - it's like the Mac of vacuums, isn't it? When I manage to save, that is what I am saving for.

I even took Biting the Dust: The Joys of Housework out from the library. Not a how-to, but a book on the history of it. Those who know me know I'm a slob. Combine it with the fact that I've been sleeping at night and waking up in the morning... what does it all mean?

Oh dear. I have written a blog post where shoes and vacuum cleaners face each other in a feminine-stereotype battle. I have to go make coffee and examine my gender issues now.

L'Autre Chose boots photo stolen from Shopstyle/ and vacuum photo nicked from

Honey Cake II

This is not the season for honey cake.

Purim is coming up and that means different kinds of treats, but I just read a story called Honey Cake.

It describes the invasion of Denmark during WWII, from the point of view of a ten-year-old boy. It is, like honey cake, dense without being too heavy, and sweet. Denmark's king, if you'll recall, was a brave and honourable soul.

Naturally, when I read about food, I get the urge to eat it or cook it, and there is a recipe in the back which I can't wait to try.

Here is a review from Quill & Quire that I pretty much agree with.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Graphic Novels

I don't profess to know anything about graphic novels.

I read the entire set of Akira in my teens, 'cause hey, my friend was cool and he read them. (I'm original like that.) Then I read Maus some time later.

In the past few months I've read both American Widow by Alissa Torres and Sungyoon Choi and Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto.

American Widow is Alisa Torres' story of her life after 9/11. Her husband was on his second day of his new job at Cantor Fitzgerald and she was pregnant with their first child. Cancer Vixen also recounts joy interrupted when three weeks before her wedding, cartoonist Marisa Acocella found a lump in her breast. Both women have expressed these experiences via incredibly powerful tellings of very personal and painful stories. Torres and Choi's story uses more silence and less humour. Marchetto's tone is just as raw, but more conversational, and often funny too. Both of them transported me fully into their lives and left me better for it.

I feel like sometimes talking about "women's stories" actually does them (us?) a disservice, by segregating them rather than allowing them to be stories in the marketplace, but these two graphic novels are really women's stories, told by women from their own experiences in their own voices. The emotional intensity, honesty, and fantastic art, however, will appeal to everyone.

Now to put Marjane Satrapi's books on hold at the library.

New York Times book review on American Widow here.

Keeping Calm

So back here, I bemoaned the discovery of a print I really liked, followed quickly by my discovery that it seemed to be ubiquitous.

With so many "Keep Calm and Keep Going" posters out there, I did not expect to receive a reply from the artist currently creating some of the prints. But I did get a reply - and I got schooled! The artist informed me that he hand-lettered his reproduction (as the original was hand-done) and then cleaned things up on the computer. He also refined the art in his own unique way, so that there is something of himself in it (and so he can bust anyone who copies him - clever). Mr. Papermoth was also kind enough to send me a link to a telegraph article which provides more info on the original bookseller/poster-finder, Barter Books.

The conversation restored my "consumer confidence" (and taught me to be a little more patient), and now I can happily order myself a print, feeling satisfied that the artist selling it has integrity and approaches his work with care.

Monday, February 23, 2009

This is How I Like Them Apples

I'm reading Apple: A History of Canada's Perfect Fruit by Carol Martin. I'm still at the beginning, but it's a great story of the apple, wild and cultivated, including which varieties were native to Canada and how different varieties got here. So that naturally led to more googling, and I found the following (emphasis mine):

From Apple Journal regarding Red Delicious:
The most controversial and widely distributed American apple. Red Delicious stores and ships so well, while retaining its shiny deep-red good looks, that it is sold in every possible state of internal disintegration. Too often, store bought Reds are little more than cardboard flavored, mealy mush beneath their glamorous skin. Still, Americans continue to buy it more than all other varieties combined. It can be a pretty good apple under the right conditions. Look for locally grown apples in season, and don't insist on a uniformly dark red color, and the chances of getting a better apple will improve in your favor. Many growers are now growing strains that have been developed more for flavor than for looks. Don't defeat their efforts by rejecting apples that don't look as though they came from a plastic injection molding machine. Remember this simple rule- art is a matter of visual esthetics and food is a matter of taste- not the other way around.
The problem is now the consumers of Red Delicious (whoever they are) are used to seeing perfect-looking shiny fruit. Re-introducing a more Delicious, but less Red apple will likely be an uphill battle.

Apple Journal seems to be somewhere between a trade journal and a promotional site. At any rate, I couldn't agree more with the description above. I never buy Red Delicious, partly 'cause they're too sweet, but mostly 'cause there's no way to tell a good from a bad one. Too much googling and now I'm daydreaming about orchards full of heirloom strains like Snow and Court Pendu Plat.

Update: More on the "Keep Calm" poster soon!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Atwood's Not Going to Dubai

Margaret Atwood has decided not to go to Dubai for the Emirate Airlines International Festival of Literature. The Gulf Between Us, written by Geraldine Bedell, contains mention of a gay Sheik and his English boyfriend as minor characters and has been banned in the UAE.

According to The Guardian (and you can guess how much store I put by The Guardian),
In a letter to Isobel Abulhoul, the festival's director, Atwood wrote that "as an international vice-president of Pen, an organisation concerned with the censorship of writers, I cannot be part of the festival this year".
This year? Like "I'll be specific and diplomatic, 'cause I'm Canadian and polite" or "Just wait till I'm done with this PEN thing"?

I'm surprised that so many authors agreed to go, without suspecting that something like this would happen.

Statements from other authors and the Director of English PEN here.

I do have a problem with Penguin waiting five months on this news - coughpublicitycough, but I have a bigger problem with this from The Times Online:
Sir Ranulph Fiennes said the festival organisers were merely being practical. “I think that if anybody out there wants to establish a festival of some sort, they would be rather stupid to offend the locals in any way.”
Hm, well, then don't have an "international" festival. Or set the guidelines ahead of time - "nothing may happen in your book that is punishable by UAE law in real life". The Toronto Film Festival offends locals annually. This quote, if it's real, makes the explorer sound like a spoiled fool who has never given too much thought to freedom because he's had the money to open doors. I respect him for his SAS training and charity work, but there's a difference between "not offending the locals" when they're going to help you find the next wadi, and "not offending the locals" at a festival of literature. Also, does he speak for the gay locals? Or did I miss something - is the UAE, like Iran, not home to any homosexuals?

Blog Bookkake has listed agent contacts for the authors that are attending, as well as a link to a facebook protest group. (Don't blame me for their blog name!)

Unfortunately, now I feel compelled to read "The Gulf Between Us" when it becomes available and it doesn't even look like my cup of tea.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Message, Medium, Musing on Originality

I saw this print on Etsy. Someone had taken a vintage WWII poster and printed it on archival paper in modern colours. I thought it was amazing. I instantly wanted it on yellow. I even emailed the artist (who I thought must be brilliant) to ask if I could please feature a photo on my blog. (I got no reply.)Then I realized I was late to the party. The BBC had already written a story about this poster. Apparently it was printed up on the eve of WWII, but never distributed (why not?). A bookstore owner found one in a book, showed it to his wife and they framed it for their shop. They were inundated with requests for copies. They made a few. One was featured in a holiday gift guide and according to the article, "all hell broke loose". The print I find now on Etsy (from Lisbon), beside being different than the one I originally found on Etsy (from Kentucky), is not only not original, but is riding a wave that has only just reached my shore. BoingBoing blogged it in 2007! There are not only prints available, but now also keychains and pendants and t-shirts. (The t-shirt seller has a photo of a ragged allegedly original poster. You have to scroll down.)

Naturally, the abundance of copies has spawned alternate versions and parodies, like Keep Calm and Carry Guns.

If you're interested in the typeface, consensus seems to be that it was hand-lettered, possibly Johnson or Gill.

Now that I've seen so many version I can't even read it properly anymore - I'm seeing "Kelp Balm" etc. And in the fashion of an indie music snob, who must leap off the "bandwagon" once others are on, I don't want one so badly anymore. I want this this one instead:

There are other incredible posters from WWII (and WWI and others) at the Imperial War Museum in England.

Some more treasures from the IWM are Eat Greens For Health, 6 Reasons Why YOU Should Save and Bad Form in Dress. Can you tell I picked the ones that most apply to me?!

FYI - proceeds from the IWM shop go to support the museum's charitable works, so buy your kids this and teach them a thing or two. (Now, now, I know your children are very smart, keep calm).


I signed up for a feed of articles from the Guide to Literary Agents blog and today that included a link to a Writer's Digest article about discipline. I particularly liked the following:
• Don't make a setback about merit ("I'm not good enough"), but about production ("I could be doing more").

At first I read that to be "don't let a setback about merit be about production" - and I actually prefer that. Rather than reframing my setbacks, I'd rather ignore the "I'm not good enough" (because that pops up every Tuesday and Thursday) and focus on "well, I won't improve by not writing, so I guess I'll keep writing".

Or like the quote my sister picked up somewhere: "Thou has not to like it, thou has just to do it".

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Who Am I and What Do I Write, Part IV

"Novels are concealed autobiography": Insofar as writing goes, the writer's fundamental attempt is to understand the meaning of his own experiences. If he can't break through to those issues that concern him deeply, he's not going to be very good.

- Robert Penn Warren

from Good Advice on Writing: Great Quotations from Writer's Past and Present on How to Write Well


Right now I'm reading:

Gilded Lilies - was in the graphic novel section of the library, but seems more like collected sketches (Jillian Tamaki)
Good Advice on Writing - out of print compilation of quotations (William Safire and Leonard Safir)
Thierry Mugler - part of the Universe of Fashion series (Francois Baudot)
Heat - I'm listening to the audio-book from the library and I am dismayed to see it is abridged. The hardcover is available now on super sale! (Bill Buford)
The Far Euphrates - finished this. It was moving and elegant and I recommend it. I bought it on clearance, but now find that it's apparently out of print, which is strange. (Aryeh Lev Stollman)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I swear to you this is true. About 10 years ago, I said something like "one day computers will get so small, they'll be purses". Not fit in purses - I meant open up and look like purses.

And here they are!

Now, if there was a sliding slot to hide your bank/credit cards and an insulated tab that would pop out and hold lip gloss, we'd be all set!

Pies - they're just like us!

Via Wendy Brandes Jewelry blog I discovered Cakespy - where they are "seeking sweetness in everyday life".

They put together a very cute pie tabloid - as a way to promote pies in the media battle against perenially popular cupcakes.

I love pie and I love this goofy send-up.

That Book from your Childhood

Loganberry Books is a bookstore in Ohio that also sells books online.
Even better, proprietess Harriett offers an amazing service called Stump the Bookseller.

So you know that book you loved as a child, but all you can remember was that it had a girl and a white pony, and the pony's name was snowball or snowdrop or something - and oh yeah, there was a really wicked witch in it?*

Well, you send Harriet $2 via Paypal and a description of the book. She, and various readers who are librarians or teachers, or just book-lovers like me, search and write in with info to help you out. If Harriet finds the book for you she'll get it and you can buy it.

What is most amazing about this site is not the joy when the book is found, but the sheer number of stories people remember from their childhoods. I love that a book can be out of print since 1923 and yet, someone was so touched by an element of the story that they will remember it (and look for it) 50 years later. It is a beautiful testament to the power of stories and how they continue to move and inspire, delight (or creep out) years after you first read or hear them.

* Reading descriptions of books with the keyword "witch" reminded me of the title for the out-of-print (and now quite pricey) The Wickedest Witch in the World which I thought had been lost in my subconscious forever! Author Beverly Nichols was apparently a gentleman.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Brownie Points Foodie Blog

"McAuliflower" is a visual artist, a foodie, and a blogger.

I'm about to add "Brownie Points" to my Cook/Eat blog links. I will probably never attempt any of her recipes, but she astounds me with this Rice-Krispie-based sweet sushi! Go look at her level of dedication!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fodder

No fodder, really. I'm just busy with life, applications to school programs, etc. right now. I'll have more to blog in a week or so. If you have any info on good "writing progress graphs" I can use to embed on this blorg, let me know.

Have a gorgeous Valenschmine's Day and don't buy any marked-up flowers! If you must, consider Organic Bouquet. I could tell you to be frugal and buy a bouquet of beets and carrots, but I've always liked the hyacinths philosophy.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Things I Call My Cat Besides Her Real Name

This is a meme I stole from Marla at Weight and Paint.

Shasha Bread Company (they make ginger snaps, don't ask)

Names I just thought of but have never really called her:
Botox ('cause she has pale eyebrows that make her look perpetually worried)

Her real name is Saturn. Yes, she's a girl. When I adopted her, she was called Franny. I bet you didn't know that.

Query Letters

Taking another stab at writing a query letter for agent submission feels about as fun as taking a stab at my own gut with a rusty knife.

Naturally, I can't just go ahead and start writing it. I must read everything anyone ever wrote on the inturwebz about query letters first.

You can join me!

Agent Query
So You Wanna (Write a Query Letter)
Nelson Literary Agency advice
The author of "The Art of Kissing" dishes query letter advice*
Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent, on how she likes her query letters
Poewar, a blog, on the QL
eHow makes it look easy.

Plus all the links to agents, etc., I have on the side over there.

So, if you would just read all those, summarize and send me a 1-page synopsis by tomorrow, that would be great, thanks.

Yeah, yeah, back to work, I know. But you can't expect me to write a query letter without breakfast. I'm sure I'll write a spectacular letter that will entrance agents and garner me huge advances... just as soon as I've had some brioche french toast and another cup of coffee.

*I don't make this stuff up, I just google it.

I don't like you, Hugo Chavez

Back in October I made a facebook comment:

First they came for the McDonald's, and I didn't speak up, because I didn't eat at McDonald's.

But don't worry, Venezuala's moved on from harassing McDonald's. They've moved on to desecrating synagogues.

Oh yes, I know Chavez is quoting as "condemning the act" - forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical.

And while I'm at it, Ben Cohen expresses himself better than I would on Fatima Hajaig's anti-semitic comments. Ah, Jewish money! If we have it all, who's building Dubai?!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Wherein Fictionally Tries a Poll

Carrot Cake Reward (with rum-soaked apricots, hello!)

I worked on my application. Hurrah! (It's an application so I can goes to a school where they teaches people how to makes good writering.)
Now I can look forward to making this amazing-sounding Chocolate Carrot Cake tomorrow or Monday. It is from the Foodland Ontario website, to promote carrot consumption (among other vegetables). 1/16th of this cake will contain 28 grams of fat. I'm okay with that.

*photo of carrosts stolen from Foodland Ontario website (but it's okay, 'cause I bought Canadian carrots today)


I am a good-to-great procrastinator. Oh, why be modest? I excel at it. I am better than you at it.

I even have the Planner (or Non-Planner) for the Creative Procrastinator.

So tonight as I dawdled the last three hours or so, staving off the raging anxiety that is accompanying current project-in-progress, I finally opened up Word and began.

I thought, perhaps I can look to some trusty heros for inspiration. Dolly's just a bit too successful and hard-working to really motivate me at the moment. You can tell she doesn't even know how to procrastinate. But what about Merle?Aw, yeaaah - that's more like it! Truancy, petty crime, serious time, drinking & drugs, 3 broken marriages? Yeah. Still a genius and a living legend? Yeah!

See? All I did was surf the web and eat chocolate ice cream. I could be at the bottom of a bottle of rye right now... out in the park! I'm ahead of the game. I knew it. This writing stuff is easy-peasy.


**Merle image "borrowed" from site that has compiled his whole discography. Merle has also recovered from a recent lung tumour removal and is touring again. God Bless!

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Seriously, if you are single and childless, don't go reading mom-blogs just 'cause you can't sleep.

Yes, the moms may be witty and smart and hilarious, their children may be adorable and brilliant and well-behaved, but you will allow a tiny worm of fear into your heart and it will crawl into your brain and it will say OMG NEVER EVER HAVE CHILDREN AAAAAAGH!

And really, why put yourself through this if you're already single and childless, hmmm?

I may or may not be speaking from recent experience.


Leave the Moon Alone

Lunar Property Rights, in a Popular Mechanics article by Glenn Reynolds (the Instapundit), is the kind of topic which leaves me deeply uneasy and anxious.

I want the moon to stay off-limits to human habitation. Am I going to need (to make a gazillion dollars) to buy the whole thing up just to prevent you from living there?

Despite the science fiction I've read, I don't really want to live on the moon. Not with the rest of humanity there too. (I'd make an exception for you, of course.)

Ok, I confess, it's not that I don't want to live there - it's that I don't want to spoil the view from here!

Don't Get Me Wrong, Some of My Best Fiction is Science!

David Barnett present a good article (with a great title) about one of my personal bete-noirs: science fiction that refuses to be labeled so.

This annoyed me when Philip K. Dick moved from the Science Fiction section to the Fiction section at the store, 'cause he had "moved into the literary cannon", as my teacher at the time said. I call foul. His work is, was, and will always be science fiction - so why does he get "elevated" to the Fiction aisle, while Harlan Ellison stays in the Science Fiction section? (Did it have more to do with the movie "Minority Report" coming out at the time?)

What puts Oryx and Crake in Fiction? Is Margaret Atwood better than Octavia Butler? Puh-leeze.

Science Fiction, or SF, gets a bad rap because of it's hokey genre associations. Mystery novels, however, don't attract the same disrespect. You can write genre mystery or literary mystery, and your work will be in the mystery aisle with no one pooh-poohing it either way. But if you happen to have a science fiction slant to your novel, then your publisher will take great pains to keep it quarantined from the Science Fiction/Fantasy section. It's just snobbery and makes me grumpy. (As I mentioned a few posts ago, Jonathan Lethem's book was SF marketed as "literary" and still crap.)

I'd be quite happy to do away with most of the categories in the bookstore starting with "Books for Her" tables and "African-American" shelves. I don't like ghettos for people or for the written word.

Spider Robinson wrote an article once delineating between what he writes, "science fiction", and that other, silly genre stuff, "sci-fi". To me, it was a meaningless distinction. (Sorry, I can't find it to post.) IMO, the cream will rise to the top no matter what you call it, and people will gravitate to whatever stories they want in the moment. You could put Anna Karenina in the Romance section and no one's gonna mistake it for The Greek Tycoon's Virgin Wife!

There is a lot of good science fiction out there - Heinlein, Willis, Butler, Robinson, Varley, Hopkinson, and Ellison are just a few. So for "mainstream" authors to write science fiction and then shirk the label does a disservice to all the great SF out there. Why are we still at the not that there's anything wrong with that stage? If, as an author, writing SF is an aberration for you, it would be much classier to say, "There's a lot of excellent science fiction out there, and I'm proud of the company my book is in".

What do you think? Does it matter to you if it's called science fiction, sci-fi, or speculative fiction? If you had to get your Murakami fix from the SF section, would you be caught dead there? What about vampire fiction - is it going to demand its own section in the basement?

The Most Beautiful Words in the English Language

This website has compiled a list of the 100 most beautiful words in the English language.

There are many good words in there, but few that make me swoon lexically. (Lexically is a word, because I say so.) Some of my faves from their list are chatoyant, champagne, and chiaroscuro, which are hardly English. Also, I think eschew and fugacious are hideous words, but they're in the top 100.

I wonder too, how much meaning influences our love of a word? Are gossamer, effervescent, and halcyon really pretty words, or are they pretty because of the images they conjure? If effervescent meant "sewage-drain", and gossamer meant "blood-stained", would we elevate these words so much?
"Listen, I can fix it for ya, but it'll take a couple o' days before the toilet drains properly into the effervescent."
"The forensics team had left, leaving McBain alone with his thoughts and the gruesome gossamer walls."

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Moot Point

I'm a little late to the party, obviously, but I just discovered these. Women's Wear Daily asked various designers to submit inaugural fashion designs for First Lady Michelle Obama (and her daughters), and published their mostly fabulous illustrations here.

I would seriously wear almost all of those designs (one at a time), except for the very Betsy-Johnson-ish Betsey Johnson, and the oddly boring Zac Posen (dude needs to stop drawing faces - yikes!). The Badgley Mischka looks pretty, but a bad choice as it would catch on the President's suit, no? Awkward.

I only wish they had let the designers annotate the designs, 'cause except for Mizrahi and Chado (whose writing is impossible to read), they don't tell us what the intended fabrics are or what the detailing would be.

Anyhow, the Jason Wu dress she chose is growing on me. I would really like to see it up close once it's at the Smithsonian. I didn't love it initially, but I didn't dislike it either. It's just fun to imagine what might have been. Too bad the other runners-up (who actually submitted dresses) aren't able to publish their designs, too - that would be a memorabilia program I would buy!

One last thing: I wish people would lay off Aretha's hat! I thought it was bold and suited her. The grey was dignified, the bow was out there, and the crystals were celebratory. I thought it was kind of cute and very her. It seemed to reference the history of African-American women's church hats and royalty, - and she is the Queen of Soul, is she not?

Photo courtesy of Mr.Song Millinery.

Misc Pcs

Isaac Mizrahi has a great site worth exploring. He's got webisodes (Watch Isaac), several blogs (including a video blog), and lots of links to his collections, inspirations, etc. He's just designed a very cute collection for Liz Claiborne too.
Who is the young woman in the new Oasis video, Falling Down? (That's a link to the NY Mag embedded video. You can go to Myspace to see it, too.) She's fab. Looks a little like a blue-eyed Jewish Penelope Cruz at certain angles. Anyhow, I'd be surprised if her career didn't pick up after this - though she may already be famous in England, for all I know.
Really, it's too risky for celebs to sing live?! I find this incredibly insulting to both performers and audiences. First of all, if I had the God-given talent to sing, I'd be much more afraid to screw up the lipsynching than to actually sing. Seems like you're adding on a whole unnecessary skill-set with lipsynching, no? I just don't understand why this has become acceptable practice. If the audience is willing to listen and then applaud your performance, shouldn't you give them something to legitimately applaud? It defeats the whole point of a performance and insults every performing artist who has gone before you on their own talent. Arrrgh.


I want to go see this Valentina exhibit in New York for Valentine's Day!

Then I'd catch this off-Broadway play, Becky Shaw. (Off-Broadway tix half-price from Feb. 15 - March 1st!) I'd hop on over and see this Raymond Chandler discussion/exhibit too. I love pulp, I love noir, I love photography, and I couldn't get through "The Big Sleep". This way I would get to hear les smarty-pantses talk about it. I'd go even though Jonathan Lethem will be speaking. The only book of his I've read is As She Climbed Across the Table, which has prevented me from reading anything else he's written.

But before all this - and this is the biggest wish - I would jet on over to Paris and see Dita at Le Crazy Horse! Starting at only 100 euros and including a half-bottle of champagne! (Except at 100 euros, why can't they give me a full-size bottle?!)

Since I'm wishing anyway, I'll throw in some Bulgari jewels and some chocolate bars. Oh heck, and these too. But in the green suede. I couldn't find a photo or I'd make a shrine post it.

Speaking of wishes, shouldn't the tooth fairy revisit us all in our old age? Just an idea.


Yup, I changed the font size, your eyes do not deceive you. I'm just too blind to read my own blog with its stylish teensy-weensy font. Let me know if you hate it, I'm susceptible to public opinion.

Police Procedural Research

I'm writing a mystery novel and have just started a short story that includes the police too. The problem is everything I know about police procedure comes from television or from pulp novels circa 1952.

Luckily, Lee Lofland has written Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers. He also has a blog called The Graveyard Shift about police matters and writing, including interviews with published authors, agents, and editors.

Cops 'n' Writers is a consultation service that might also be worthwhile, if I had an advance from a publishing house (and if the cops in my writing were American).

At least the research books and the consultation could be claimed as expenses at tax time.

Writers Write also has an article stuffed with links on internet law enforcement resources. I haven't checked any of the links yet, but even the titles make good starting points.

Fabulous links and a way better layout can be found here at In Reference to Murder. This amazing site is put together by a mystery writer/librarian - check out his/her homepage and blog, too!

Lastly, keep in mind the various yahoo groups and forums you can join to glean info from people. I was part of a gun group on Yahoo for a while that was an offshoot (pun!) of a firearm training school (hello, CSIS!). Although I eventually left 'cause I just didn't need that much information, if I ever did need more info on guns for my writing, I'd go back. The people there have access to a lot of professional, technical, and firsthand info and experience that would take me much longer to amass on my own.

I only know one police officer, and I don't want to wear out my welcome by pestering her with too many questions, so it's good to have places to read up on the basics first. If you have any of your favourite research links to share (especially for genre writing), please let me know in the comments!

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Magic Pudding links

The Magic Pudding is listed on my profile as one of my favourite books, and I've blogged about it before.

Today I clicked it on my profile and saw a list of other bloggers who also claim it as one of their faves.

One of those people is named Tot Vogel and has a blog called Naked Photographs. It does not contain naked photographs, or rather, photographs of anything naked. It appears to be a memoir.

His first post, The Spoon is quite well-written and compelling - especially with the accompanying print. I googled to see if he was a published writer and found his fascinating Flickr photostream instead - all black and white and many from the '80s.

The fun of the internet lies in creeping around other people's artifacts.

Slumdog Millionaire (Spoiler warning)(Long Post Warning)

I went to see Slumdog Millionaire tonight and for the duration of the film, and right after, I loved it. Will I love it forever? Does it deserve my love? I don't know.

I know one person who didn't like it. We just had an email discussion about it and he said,
"my non-complex reaction to Slumdog was that I just found it boring and badly-directed".
Mind you, he's a director and looks at films very differently than I do. I was not bored during the movie. Even though I usually hate music video-style directing, I really enjoyed the visual energy of SM. The direction - especially the use of music - kept me rapt and tense.

The last time I tried to see the film it was sold out, and I made the racist/ageist comment to my friend that all the old white folk at the condo towers above the cinema were watching it to root for a poor brown guy so they could feel good about themselves. (Yes, as I said, ageist and racist, I know.) This was my only hesitation in watching the film: would I be reinforcing my own stereotypical ideas? Would my feelings of sympathy for "the poor brown guy" protagonist mask some kind of condescension? If I'm going to condescend, I'd rather be aware of it and upfront about it.

It's hard for me to unravel all the potential angles on Slumdog. Is it cultural appropriation? I haven't read the book ("Q&A") by Vikas Swarup, but according to this review, I don't think Danny Boyle strayed very far from the original story. Also, I get really bitchy when people narrow down the ownership of a story, so I would not bash Boyle's telling of this story just 'cause he's white. (Or looks white, anyhow.)

Does this film make me feel better because it represents the avenues for a poor person to escape the slums? No. I don't think it does represent any avenue to escape the slums. It's fantasy, as evidenced by the emphasis on "destiny" in the film. The movie doesn't even preach about education (which I expected it to). It is a fantasy of justice, in a way - though all the rupees in the world won't wipe your childhood trauma nightmares away completely - but I think it is mainly a fantasy about love.

As for whether the film assuages some sort of guilt in me, again, I'd have to say no. I know nothing of the slums of India and do not feel particularly culpable about them. Because I am a bleeding-heart capitalist, my guilt is more focused on whether or not to buy blouses made in China, and how much the workers and the silkworms suffer for them. India is a democracy with a billion people and there are enough people on the ground, so to speak, to deal with the slums. I wouldn't even know how to help India's poor if that was at the forefront of my mind. (Maybe via CARE?)

Do I feel guilty being a white (or white-looking) tourist? No. Those depictions of white tourists were as awkward/potentially offensive as any other depictions in the movie, and yet, I've seen unbelievably idiotic tourist behaviour on my travels, so it's not that weird.

I think people resent having their emotions manipulated, and I think this holds for SM, but having my emotions manipulated is why I go to movies (and engage in art, theatre, music). Yes, my emotions were manipulated by the adorable child actors and by the brutality they endure and survive. Yes, I probably would feel less if they weren't as cute. Armond White, the notoriously independent critic notes,
Over-stimulation crushes feeling; Boyle only evokes sentimentality. His cast of child actors is overly cute—for easy sympathy and for automatic horror when they’re shown being mutilated by adults who run a beggar/prostitution underground.
Does director Danny Boyle evoke sentimentality? Sure. But I didn't feel emotionally swindled. Whatever you think of Jamal the "slumdog", you're not viewing him in a vacuum. India - better educated, richer, poorer, average, honest, and cruel is all around him. Just because the slums include colourful saris doesn't mean I will infer that the slums are fun. I didn't think that was Boyle's intention, anyhow.

I've also read comments online suggesting that the film romanticizes rising out of poverty, but why shouldn't it? What is the alternative? (I ask that sincerely - feel free to respond in the comments.) Is "The Shawshank Redemption" any less uplifting because its portrayal of prison is practically rustic and cozy compared to a modern prison? Should "The Princess Bride" come with a disclaimer that true love has never been verified and that death is rarely reversed?

Jamal's actual arc is to rescue a fair maiden, and he is qualified because he is pure of heart. His gifts or tokens or mentors (which I take to be the answers at the game show) all emerge from past traumas. If he had been motivated by money, he would not have continued the game to the end, and in fact, he would have been his brother (who chooses or is destined to a mobster life).

It seems to me that Jamal already overcame his past in his actual job as a chai-wallah at the call centre. I do not mean to condescend by suggesting that this is an easy job or a fun one, but it beats every other job he had in the film*. And let's face it, would I watch a film about a chai-wallah with a brutal childhood who slaved for years on a meagre salary at a soul-killing job, forever pining about the lost love of his life? Movies that are realistic and leave me worried are important too, but I can't watch The Death of Mr. Lazarescu every day. It is more fun for mainstream me to watch Jamal win the girl and live happily ever after.

It's possible that I've been primed to love this story because one of my favourite books as a young girl was "A Little Princess" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is a classic riches-to-rags-to-riches Edwardian melodrama. It has allowed me for years to fantasize that I too could behave with dignity in sudden poverty, that I could remember the best of humanity even while facing the worst, and that I could keep my heart soft and open if life got hard. Is it true? Probably not. But in my mind, this is what "happy ending" stories are for - little crumbs of hope*. Yes, I'll feed my future kids stories of love and justice, in case they face a day when it's all they have to put on their bread. I hope I'll be able to keep them in Nutella, though.

Other criticisms of Slumdog Millionaire are here (on story), and here (on fair compensation controversy).

*Mind you, I'm soft about work. My mother reminds me that when she started working at 15, it didn't matter what the job was, they just needed money. She always speaks of work like that - in terms of being the best you can be at anything you do, and having a good attitude - and she's been working for 55 years.
** And hope, even as an abstract concept, is nothing to sneeze at.

Who am I and what do I write - Part III

Wandering Jews? is part of this year's Limmud, a festival of Jewish learning and culture.

"Wandering Jews?" looks like it grapples with some of the questions I raised in my previous posts, in terms of identity in the writing of Jewish writers. The seminar, however, will focus more on "place" and what is "home" and how or whether Judaism informs the idea of home in a Jewish writer's work.

The panelists are Adam Sol, Sidura Ludwig, and Rebecca Rosenblum.

Limmud (which means "learning" in Hebrew, I think) takes place on Sunday, February 15, 209. This particular seminar goes from 4:35PM–5:45PM. Maybe I'll see you there.