Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Citified Halloween to You

Kitty Potter, Count Chihuacula, and Darth Pug courtesy of e-mail pals.

If you spent an American childhood in residential neighborhoods of mostly one or couple-family homes, your Halloweens (like mine) were different than what happens here. In my more rural postings, we even had small, neglected graveyards to visit and dark open fields to run through, scaring ourselves silly.

As I'm not sure I've ever described it, here's New York's Upper East Side Halloween scene:

I live in an entirely urban area with clustered highrises and multi-unit walkups. The street level on 2nd Avenue is primarily retail and restaurants with the occasional, marble apartment lobby thrown in. On either side of sundown, as it is cusping just this moment, adorably masquerading tots in strollers, or led by parents' hands, and much larger kids in packs displaying lazier pagaentry are trick-or-treating at businesses. At my nearby Barnes & Noble, I waited in line while pint-sized superheroes found the candy cave in the back of the children's section, sucking down mini ice cream cones from their last stop. Outside Mustang Bar & Grill, a tequila-and-cigar-infused meat market after midnight, were posing adult superheroes in fancy rental costumes, taking pictures with kids as well as doling out the goodies. One of the highrises had a detailed landscape of creepery set up in the lobby, also suitable for memory-making. From the Go Sushi to the GNC, from bagelry to drug store, the owners and operators were dolled-up and stocked-up with the handouts.

I must admit, it does enliven the walk around my neighborhood with an unusual whimsy and welcome festivity, and in lower Manhattan, there'll be a big parade at 8. But it is, nonetheless, a little like trick-or-treating in a mall, which I'm also sure must happen among the safety-first suburban set.

Thanks to all who've sent me pumpkin art and animals in costume. You know my vices and weaknesses, even if I haven't posted them here yet. Enjoy the above few as I say Boo! To you!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Whipping Wife's Moustache and Legal Bull

Jurgen Burkhardt is a frequent Imperial or Kaiser class winner. See item 6.

1) My pal April and I will surely miss the noble Taurus line now that Ford's stopping production. We both had well-traveled, well-loved versions that gave yoeman service. Ave Atque Vale-

2) This story about a prosecutor removed from a case that's too similar to her recent, self-published novel, and the politically-motivated extraction of juicy bits from aspiring Senator Jim Webb's military thrillers are making me think about the hazards to reality-based careers of one's fictional imaginings. I'm not saying it should be a hindrance. Even Honest Abe turned his hand to the mystery form. This article has a great, if not up-to-this-moment, history of the legal thriller, most often written by lawyers for obvious reasons. However, if Webb really does identify himself as a "writer first", does that connote to the same set of skills expected from an effective politician? Based on myself and the fictioneers I know, I'm not so sure.

I think Lori Andrews may have the best combination of these careers. Be a professor, not directly accountable to public opinion, retaining access to the latest papers and experts, and perhaps able to take a sabbatical if the writing's going poorly. Of course, CVs can't tell you whether the book will be good.

3) I'm afraid it might be bad karma to bag on things I don't like. And I'd prefer to point to the wonderful. But not long ago, I finished reading such a topically-related book from my Bouchercon freebie bag. It's a legal thriller with a distinct POV on the death penalty (anti). Okey-dokey. This author was originally with a much smaller press, and this manuscript got picked up by St. Martins, very big wheels in crime fiction. The advance copy's got lavish praise blurbed on front and back covers as well as inner-page love letters from people who want me to know that this guy is the NEXT BIG THING. So I read it. I found it strikingly, remarkably poor both in characterization and plotting. By the end, it had turned into such a convoluted mess, I was actually angry about how bad it was.

It started ine with the events leading to the actual case in question, but then kept flashing back to the childhood of a character I hadn't met yet, so I sure as shootin' didn't care to be repeatedly derailed from the exciting stuff. You might then assume that this childhood stuff would distinctly impact the later events. Maybe, sort of. But it's main purpose was only to explain connections between characters which could've been done better in real time. To me, it was all expendable. A major character in the second half shows up as if we'd know she was a major player in the childhood scenes. But she's barely there. Odd for a "best friend." But then again, this book's relationships are melodramatic and overstated in general. As in, declarations of love usually mean someone's about to get shot. That transparent device actually happens more than once. The characters ping back and forth between thin motivations designed purely to advance improbable plot lines, and by killing the main sympathetic character halfway through (although remaining hazy on whether he's a borderline retarded railroadee or a saintly, love interest-eeks), the author also executes our reason for following the story.

For the writer, a lawyer himself, the most fascinating tale's probably the rich lawyer with an ethical crusade who shacks up with an entire posse on a rented ranch, transported by bulletproofed Benz costing more than $100k. Now, he's using his accumulated wealth and connections to squeeze the powerful fat cats for the right reasons. I found his machinations simplistic and tiresome. And his portrayal as a lonely moral actor after apparently spending an entire career with his conscience on mute wasn't convincing as much as wishful aggrandizement. This author's not alone. Other such writers also tend to regard their hero lawyer as messianic, regardless of how their actions and personalities might tarnish the halo in the eyes of someone who didn't pass the bar. To me, the story's always about the characters who readers feel most strongly about. The handsome, fit, well-sexed multi-millionaire might be the one I'm supposed to care about because of a misassigned nickname that doesn't fit. But he's soggy cardboard, his girlfriend's vapor, his herd of acolytes weirdly devoted, and no amount of flashback can change it. If this thing becomes an enormous hit, I'll rant against it by name and title.

Until then, I shake my shame-shame finger at St. Martins, and say that no matter how compelling one's expertise, a novel still flops if it neglects the basics of storytelling.

4) Additionally, despite relevant backgrounds and all their research, novelists may still get their real murders wrong, such as now convicted wife-killer Michael Peterson, who's declared bankruptcy (boo-hoo) and failed in his latest appeal.

5) If you're a drunk or depressed, could a strenuous spanking be all you need?

6) I'm delighted that the Handlebar Moustache Club simply exists, much less thrives.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

No Pithy Title Comes to Mind- Suggestions?

See last item for image link.

Apple picking in Warwick, NY: lovely. Turning foliage vividness: optimal. First apple pie: accomplished last night to good reviews. Despite my crust worries, the pastry was great. However, the filling was more liquid than I'd hoped. I dusted the slices with flour, obviously not enough, because the apples didn't set up properly until I'd removed the first slice, and dumped out the scrumptious but pooling juices within. Fortunately, that was the test pie, deliciously edible if imperfect. Next pie: the Nirvana of which all ripe apples dream while swaying from their leafy hammocks.

As happens fairly often, someone's filming around here again. Across the street from my aerie, Be Kind, Rewind starring Jack Black, Mos Def, and Danny Glover will be on site Thursday. They've posted promo flyers along with No Parking signs. I like these actors, and I think the concept of amateurs remaking famous movies for a demented old woman is an idea that could be very entertaining. However, NYers will put up with a lot of inconveniences to support their claims of superiority, and this will be also a big pain, as usual. Last week, the water was off two different days for maintenance. Or there's a parade, or a strike, or the elevators are down, or the train's sidelined. Or something. This city is so interlinked, and operating constantly at the limits of its capacity, that it's inherently unstable. The sites of chaos bloom like pesky mildew until they're banished to reappear somewhere else. To even the nobles of Trump Island, such disturbances happens with relative frequency. Tomorrow, simply walking down a neighboring street will be enough to get you yelled at by some Production Assistant in a canvas chair to Shut Up, Tourist, because all cosmopolitan NYers understand that fake lives outrank real ones.

Though we're making exciting leaps ahead in teleportation and invisibility, it's no reason to lose our senses, to shun the personal loveliness embodied in that marriage of art and craft, the fine timepiece. One may adapt and assimilate rather than simply abandon.

Both are awful, but I can imagine there are people who'd be more humiliated and haunted by the latter than the former. Would you rather be caught behind the wheel, stoned and naked after killing a pedestrian who was a former prosecutor for the District Attorney's office? Or, would you prefer to be the man who's picture's been publicized across Britain as a serial train defecator?

I loved Bookgasm's review with examples from Craig Damrauer's New Math: Equations For Living. You might easily resuse the above formula for more than Modern Art. For example, try swapping in Standing Next to Rock Guitarist at Concert = ...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Heart Like A Wheel- I'm Rolling On

So sue me, today I'm going apple-picking. Possibly pumpkin-picking, too. And I hear the Hudson Valley wines have some fun to offer as well. And, as if by magical prearrangement, the brilliant folks at Plan59 have just opened a new venture, Box of Apples, showcasing the art of the fruit and produce crates from the 20th century. Forget those oversaturated French ads (I've got a few, too, don't be sensitive), but there's an equally fantastic array of much less-sung art work, and they'll make high quality repros.

I picked the Winged Wheel since soon I'll be rolling on out of here and upstate in the new ride, ya'll. However, if fruit's not your bag, what about the Gallery of Wrestling Stars? How did the artist feel, I wonder, while rendering each hair on the chesticular rugs?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Be the Tigress of Civilization You Choose

I had trouble getting the images out of my e-mail, so I cadged from this blog, which has the same story I do.

I wrote about this tigress with piglets in June, opining that a tiger's nose is perfectly capable of differentiating the porcine from the feline, and noting that this Thai tiger had been raised around pigs since cubhood, so the whole California-zoo-grief story isn't true.

But additional pictures are making the electronic rounds- two kind souls sent them to me- so the myth persists, even gains momentum. People seem to want to believe that this is just love overpowering an encoded prey relationship. It is not. What it does represent is the power (occasionally perverse where Sriracha's concerned) of domestication and civilization in controlling baser instincts. With a full belly and lots of exposure/training since birth, a tiger can be convinced that piggies are welcome parts of the extended family. However, I don't like to think what could occur if the keeper bringing lunch is absent too often, as I predict the same vile results should I drop over dead and my pooches go undiscovered for a long time.

Speaking of e-mails making the rounds, this spam was so insidiously, breathtakingly mean, I laughed aloud and had to share.

From: Mark
Subject: Dieting

This is not meant to be an insult or anything but people are talking at work about your weight. I thought you should know. I know it would upset you if you knew but I know some friends here and outside work that have used a program that worked within weeks. I am not pushing anything on you but thought it wouldn't hurt if you looked at it. I also think I am doing you a favor as it's always nice when people talk about how much better you look than how much you've been putting on. I hope I am not intruding, just trying to help out...
Thanks for listening.

Lucky I don't work with a Mark, or I'd really feel like a flabby, lousy mess.

A Dress A Day has today's affirmative antidote: You don't HAVE to be pretty. I agree completely that it's no duty or requirement, though I personally enjoy my choice to delight as a walking sonnet, and I don't like Mark's intimation I'm carrying a couple extra stanzas.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Coins, Comets, Cyclops! (and Walruses, of course)

Image credit Vincent Jannink/EPA, story in item 6.

1) Thanks April, but even the one of this Aussie celeb couple who's supposed to be able to sing sounds like an adenoidal wreck. His wife is excrutiating. Couldn't they start a fitness craze or dog salon instead?

2) If a skid row bum in L.A. offers you his last, valuable possession in exchange for booze money (a bargain for an exceedingly rare coin held in his family for generations), and you accept his last treasure for $20, you deserve to be ripped off.

3) These days, there's always someone on the streetcorner predicting a giant comet to hit earth near Halloween. No one else astronomical seems to be jumping on his bandwagon, but the "I told you so" is sweeter when you've been the cheese standing alone. I guess.

4) Pravda also has another series of pictures. Absolutely the most cyclopean and two-headed animals I've ever seen in one place.

5) Tim Blair provides the highlights of North Korea's hit parade: Songs of Korea, volume 98.

6) Also via TB: Look at the walrus not peeking at his birthday cake. Are there fonts bid enough for the size of AWwwww this requires? Perhaps a banner.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Yummy Thirteens

Quick post, just 'cause I love this day. Triskaidekaphobic, me? Heck, no. I consider this an informal, rolling holiday.
Wooo- and freakin- Hoo to you all!

More about Friday the 13th's history here and here and here. Did you know in Spain and Greece, it's Tuesdays that are dreaded?

Apparently, The End, Lemony Snicket's 13th in his Series of Unfortunate Events is being released today, just like Black Sabbath's first album in 1970. Don't read this if you don't want a big, fat Snickety spoiler. Is your tongue out, and are you giving me the pinky and forefinger salute? Right back atcha.

Since my spooky manuscript takes place on a stormy Friday in October, I think it's fitting or even auspicious that today I will send the whole thing out for the agent's read. May he love it and tremble.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Upper East Side Doings

This is a slightly fuzzy picture (blame my fuddling with the manual settings) of the sunset looking west from my balcony last week. It doesn't include our best view of the Empire State and Chysler buildings, but it is a more peaceful, beautiful view than today's.

As some of you may know, I live roughly 1/2 mile from the site of this afternoon's small plane crash in Manhattan at 72nd Street and York Avenue. But in fact, even with my balcony door open to catch the fresh air, I didn't hear any major impact (or I didn't notice), and the sirens weren't in quantity or style unusual to my ears. I learned about the crash when someone (and then another kind someone) called to see how I was.

I went up to our roof, basically the 33rd floor, where we have a great 360-degree view, but today is overcast and getting rainy. I could easily see that 2nd Ave., where I live and two avenues west of York, was blocked up with brake lights and had cruisers with their sirens flashing every few intersections. I don't believe I could see the building as it was obstructed along my sightline by others, but I'll analyze more closely the photos I took just in case. Some neighbors of mine also standing on the roof pointed to a thin column of rising smoke as being from the accident, but it looked like a very pale and organized expulsion to me, more like typical white heating spume than smoke from a fire. (Update: Now that I see news footage from the Brooklyn side of the East River, I can see the source of the smoke I saw is definitely a thin stack tower at least a couple streets north of the action. So, I didn't even see that. I'm not sorry, just noting that this was a very quickly contained event.)

One thing I can report with certainty is that the sky is droning with helicopters, both NYPD and news organizations. The swarm of their rotating headlights blinking through the mist make them seem like unwieldy fireflies, dangerously close to collision themselves. From the news updates playing behind me, it seems like this will be judged a very sad accident of someone perhaps flying a small, fast plane along the East River and changing directions with disastrous results. Terrible and tragic and deadly, but not as awful as what we might have imagined. Resquiat in pace.

I might have been too absorbed to notice anything as it happened because of a new personal development, proving what narcissistic tunnel-vision I can achieve. And to those of you non-New Yorkers, not suffering the trauma of immediate physical and emotional deja vu which some people are reporting today, perhaps my change of subject won't seem so grotesque.

If you read my Bermuda Triangle post among other miscellaneous whines, you know I've been feeling star-crossed by the inexplicable lack of response to my manuscript from various nice and professional types I've met who've asked me for submissions. Yesterday, one of these agents called me, and apologized for somehow losing track of my submission since I sent it in May. But he just relocated it. And he read the first twenty pages. And he wants to see the rest of the manuscript.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Prehistoric Pooch and Cold-Blooded Bunnies

No, it's not mid- sacrifice to a python, that's the drowsy ecstasy of a lagomorph, per item 1.

Today's a big dump of the odd and largely animal, along with an update on a topic I've become known for adoring: competitive eating for cash and glory.

1) Sheverb dodges giant spiders in favor of yawning bunnies who, unfortunately, look less cuddly than tormented.

2) If your collection of ball pythons goes up in a house fire, how you gonna pay your student loans? Perhaps becoming the Cobra-kissing champion has financial upside?

3) In just two weeks of fieldwork in the Svalbard Islands of the Arctic, researchers found a treasure trove of prehistoric marine fossils, including the first complete skeleton of the Nessie-looking sea reptile, the plesiosaur, which was the size of a bus with teeth the size of cucumbers. In addition, there were 21 other long-necked plesiosaurs, a short-necked one, and 6 ichthyosaurs.

4) I did love the 700 hoboes project where multiple artists created illustrations to go with the collected names. This is different, but similar. Via Drawn! , the Dog Days of Animation blog shows the tremendous variety of artistic perspectives generated from one photo of a "mopey pooch."

5) Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, a well-known name in the field, was less than ten behind, but winner Richard LeFevre ate 247 jalapenos in eight minutes.

Monday, October 09, 2006

As the Globe and the Tide Turn

Speaking of the unusual as we will be, this 4 week-old kitten is a sphynx, the only cat breed once available for highly allergic fanciers, courtesy of Canada's Pretty Bald cattery- be prepared for Twilight Zone soundtrack- I despise unprompted audio launch. See bottom of this post to learn why such blue-chip baldies are looking like absolute bargains these days.

While conferences, conventions, creative critique groups (with which I've been solidly preoccupied recently) may provide great suggestions and motivation, they can also fertilize one's sense of being overwhelmed, uneasy, and lost. In the wake of other fine authors' latest and greatest work, one may feel one's own specialty is plenty saturated, and even fear it's becoming yesterday's chilean sea bass. But can anything more suffocate joy and freshness than a newspaper article declaring one's own bailiwick the Next Big Thing? Thank Jah, it's the Boston Globe and not a New York paper, but it's quite bad enough. By the time something's called the Next Big Thing, many more titles are in production, destined to flood the markets over the next year or two, most of which (as is the way of books) will sink, thus convincing every business/acquisition type that the notion wasn't so hot anyway. By 2009, a legit publishing date should my novel get representation and a contract, this conceptual genre could be as poisonous to avid shoppers as harvest gold kitchen appliances.

The kind of lit-ruh-chure under discussion, which the Globe labels "New Wave Fabulism" while I shudder in revulsion, has been something I've always read and always loved when executed by talented writers. It's also principally what I write, without claims to adequate talent. Cory Doctorow is quoted as calling it "contemporary fantasy." Less horrible, I suppose, but not as descriptive. I particularly enjoy when an alternate universe we're exploring is close enough to our own that our daily knowledge and lingua franca clearly apply, and then don't. I'm also tickled by strangeness, mystery, and absurdity. Toss in farce, and I'm done for. My own writing's aims and prose exist on the less experimental edge of style, probably because I'm a shallow hack incapable of surgical-silky subtlety. Hyper-alliteration, I've got covered.

When the Next Big Thing takes the shop next door to your similar-ish little business, it can either boost your enterprise as demand overflows supply at NBT Incorporated, or you can become overshadowed and obsolete with the speed of FTL (faster-than-light in geek-speak). The vanguard of this "movement" will be fine. They're the authors deservedly mentioned in the article, and their quality and innovation and primacy will carry them beyond the life of the trend. But for those lesser beings who now must hope to coattail-ride, it probably helps to be already established among practitioners of the field, someone Kelly Link might cite as an unrecognized but gifted writer who she enjoys reading. (This is the Any-more-like-you-at-home? phenomenon to create rapid marketplace congestion with also-ran crapfests which will be largely responsible for the target readership's fatigued disdain, resulting inevitably in the demise of the aforementioned NBT which will eventually reincorporate with a new logo and brand strategy.)

I am not known. I have a manuscript I'm trying to sell that's odd and dark and Gothic: a tight suspense of misfortune and body thievery over 36-hours. It examines more the implications of believing in myth than myth itself. I have another I'm currently writing that's frankly surreal but also comic. Most normal people (known for liking a laugh as relief from the pressures of the day) are shocked to learn how deathly is the publishing business' view of the comic novel and how low the sales numbers can be. Still, both of my current literary ventures are "weird sh!t," to employ another characterization in the Globe article. But I may be sitting in my dinghy on the sand as what once felt like an incoming tide has, in fact, already turned and begun receding. Good thing I'm also working on an urban fantasy/horror comic. That's bucking the fads, for sure.

Via April, a hypoallergenic cat costing $3900 (extra $1000 for shipping and handling) with over a year-long waiting list. But that's the fur premium.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I'm a Profoundly Affected Provincial

Had a good time at Bouchercon, met some wonderful new entities, reaquainted with others, and cribbed a couple leads on agents. But I've been too sozzled to post until today. I just finished sending a manscript sample to Jah-knows-who, and have other blurbage due by Thursday, so I'll be briefish.

While I was traveling, as a mental break from crime fiction and for-review books, I read Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy's Affected Provincial's Companion: Volume 1. I can report with excessive delight that it's elevated, witty, life-altering, and intermittently naughty besides. Read the New York Times review, though it doesn't emphasize enough for me the lovely textural and graphic qualities of the book, from its spring-green and gilded hardcover and slim, pocket-size to the ambitious charting of what some lowly minds might consider undiagrammable concepts. Deliciously coherent in appearance and content, which is sadly a rarity in much of today's book world, Whimsy deserves credit for first self-publishing this opus. (If I may wax blatheriffic, though something exceptional often faces more difficulties in finding a fit perch, I have to believe the vividness of its plumage will inevitably show itself, and it will be regarded as all the more glorious for being uncompromised.) In addition to the obvious fastidiousness in the text's substance and appearance, each internal element from title scrolls to endpapers has been executed with taste and care, like Lord Whimsy's own manifestation, I must assume. Half a year before this release, I discovered him through his blog (general website here), which among other goodies contains PDF instructions for tying various ties and folding pocket squares. That's the charm of his noblesse oblige, 21st century style. Viva Whimsy!

And, via Eric, if you're not feeling particularly erudite, here's a quickie link to MONK-E-mail. It's addictive fun. Send your own monkey today!