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 Writing, I mean.  Why do I -- and apparently a whole lot of other writers -- need to be prodded into actually going about the business of putting words on paper? Why do I spend so much time gathering writing memes about how hard it is to write, and how I should be writing, and how to write, instead of actually writing?

I spend a lot of time over games of solitaire or Cubis, letting ideas marinate, trying to work out plot points.  I spent most of yesterday doing just that.  And yet it's easier than it was; still slow but easier.  Ideas come more often, plotting becomes smoother, characters are chattier.  I have a plot for a short story roughed out today, right on the heels of sending the previous one out to a magazine.  I actually have two things submitted right now, and I think that's a first for me.

Probably what I'm saying here is that the paperwork is always there but you get more used to it.  It becomes easier.  So for what it's worth, here are a couple of... not rules necessarily, but things I've learned about my writing.  Maybe they'll help yours.

  1. You have to have ideas before you can have ideas.  You know that old joke about how the most common question asked of writers is "Where do you get your ideas?" Well there's a reason for that.  Ideas are hard.  Either they don't seem good enough, or they're too big, or too small, too derivative or too weird.  They drag their feet and thumb their nose at you and don't give a damn that you actually are prepared to sit down and write.  They hide under the sofa or in cupboards, and can often be found in the shower, sucking up all the hot water.  My point here is that you have to get into the habit of having ideas.  Have a few, work with them.  More will come to you and beg for food.  Eventually you'll have flocks of them chasing you around the field, trying to get your attention.
  2. Don't rewrite until you've finished the story.  Yeah I know you have to read back a ways to know what you were saying before you can pick up the thread again, but for the love of all you consider holy, resist the urge to read from the beginning and correct mistakes.  Because I promise you that you will end up rewriting the beginning of your story a hundred times and then race through writing the end because you've gotten sick of it.  Just don't do it.
  3. Don't tell your whole story to people.  Once you've told it, however imperfectly, you'll lose some of the urge to make it concrete.
  4. Pay attention.  Take notes.  Ask questions.  You have to engage your brain and your senses if you want to write.
  5. Read.  A lot.  All the time.  If I have to explain this, you're not a writer.  Go do something that will earn you a lot of money, and stop pretending.

These points won't necessarily make you a better writer -- I'm not remotely qualified to teach anyone that skill -- but if you take them to heart you might just get something down on paper for a change.  Give it a shot.

 

persimmonfrost: (caddy)

Fragonard: Young Girl, Reading

I fell down on my reading this year.  I’m not sure why.  Part of it had to do with the fact that the challenges I set for myself failed to engage my interest.  And part of it was that I was working more hours at my editing job, and writing more; I have two novellas being published between this month and spring.

But I like the idea of reading challenges.  Just saying “Hey, I’m gonna read 50 books this year!” isn’t as structured as I’d like, but promising myself that I’ll read 20 books on some esoteric subject is way more structured than I want to be, and probably as doomed to failure as the former sort of challenge.  What to do, what to do?

Another young girl, reading

First, I’m not going to sweat it.  I’ll read what I read.  But one thing I’d like to do is explore the Rory Gilmore reading list.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about here, then you never watched The Gilmore Girls, which is a shame because it was a smart, funny show (at least up to the final season which sucked rocks.) Rory was a voracious reader, and in the course of the however many seasons the show ran, mentioned reading a whole lot of books.  Bookreviews.me.uk posted a Rory Gilmore reading challenge and a list of those books taken from this forum, but she removed the travel and cookbooks.  I’m leaving them on the list below because I think they’re perfectly valid reading.  It’s varied enough that there’s always something there I’ll want to read, so I’ve decided to make this my main reading challenge for 2013.  I want to get through 20 of these.  That doesn’t mean it’s all I’ll read, but 20 of these books will be a big chunk of good reading for me.

The list below doesn’t reflect the books I’ve already read and which are not eligible for the challenge even if I do choose to reread them.  I just don’t have the energy to go through and note them right now.  There are 339 of them!

1984 by George Orwell
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Archidamian War by Donald Kagan
The Art of Fiction by Henry James
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Babe by Dick King-Smith
Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney
The Bhagava Gita
The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Built a Village in the Forest, and Saved 1,200 Jews by Peter Duffy
Bitch in Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel
A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays by Mary McCarthy
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
Bridgadoon by Alan Jay Lerner
Candide by Voltaire
The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer
Carrie by Stephen King
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman
Christine by Stephen King
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
The Collected Short Stories by Eudora Welty
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty by Eudora Welty
A Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
Complete Novels by Dawn Powell
The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton
Complete Stories by Dorothy Parker
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (pére)
Cousin Bette by Honor’e de Balzac
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Cujo by Stephen King
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
David and Lisa by Dr Theodore Issac Rubin M.D
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Da Vinci -Code by Dan Brown
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Deenie by Judy Blume
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band by Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars and Nikki Sixx
The Divine Comedy by Dante
The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
Don Quijote by Cervantes
Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhrv
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales & Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
Eleanor Roosevelt by Blanche Wiesen Cook
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn
Eloise by Kay Thompson
Emily the Strange by Roger Reger
Emma by Jane Austen
Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Ethics by Spinoza
Europe through the Back Door, 2003 by Rick Steves
Eva Luna by Isabel Allende
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Extravagance by Gary Krist
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 9/11 by Michael Moore
The Fall of the Athenian Empire by Donald Kagan
Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World by Greg Critser
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
The Fellowship of the Ring: Book 1 of The Lord of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
Fiddler on the Roof by Joseph Stein
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce
Fletch by Gregory McDonald
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut
Gender Trouble by Judith Butler
George W. Bushism: The Slate Book of the Accidental Wit and Wisdom of our 43rd President by Jacob Weisberg
Gidget by Fredrick Kohner
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
The Godfather: Book 1 by Mario Puzo
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Alvin Granowsky
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford
The Gospel According to Judy Bloom
The Graduate by Charles Webb
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Group by Mary McCarthy
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
Henry IV, part I by William Shakespeare
Henry IV, part II by William Shakespeare
Henry V by William Shakespeare
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
Holidays on Ice: Stories by David Sedaris
The Holy Barbarians by Lawrence Lipton
House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
How the Light Gets in by M. J. Hyland
Howl by Allen Gingsburg
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
The Iliad by Homer
I’m with the Band by Pamela des Barres
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Iron Weed by William J. Kennedy
It Takes a Village by Hillary Clinton
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronté
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
The Jumping Frog by Mark Twain
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Just a Couple of Days by Tony Vigorito
The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Lady Chatterleys’ Lover by D. H. Lawrence
The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000 by Gore Vidal
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield
Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
The Little Locksmith by Katharine Butler Hathaway
The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Lottery: And Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Love Story by Erich Segal
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Manticore by Robertson Davies
Marathon Man by William Goldman
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir
Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman by William Tecumseh Sherman
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
The Meaning of Consuelo by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Mencken’s Chrestomathy by H. R. Mencken
The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Miracle Worker by William Gibson
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Mojo Collection: The Ultimate Music Companion by Jim Irvin
Moliere: A Biography by Hobart Chatfield Taylor
A Monetary History of the United States by Milton Friedman
Monsieur Proust by Celeste Albaret
A Month Of Sundays: Searching For The Spirit And My Sister by Julie Mars
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and It’s Aftermath by Seymour M. Hersh
My Life as Author and Editor by H. R. Mencken
My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru by Tim Guest
Myra Waldo’s Travel and Motoring Guide to Europe, 1978 by Myra Waldo
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin
Nervous System: Or, Losing My Mind in Literature by Jan Lars Jensen
New Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson
The New Way Things Work by David Macaulay
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Night by Elie Wiesel
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism by William E. Cain, Laurie A. Finke, Barbara E. Johnson, John P. McGowan
Novels 1930-1942: Dance Night/Come Back to Sorrento, Turn, Magic Wheel/Angels on Toast/A Time to be Born by Dawn Powell
Notes of a Dirty Old Man by Charles Bukowski
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Old School by Tobias Wolff
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life by Amy Tan
Oracle Night by Paul Auster
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Othello by Shakespeare
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan
Out of Africa by Isac Dineson
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition by Donald Kagan
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Pigs at the Trough by Arianna Huffington
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby
The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker
The Portable Nietzche by Fredrich Nietzche
The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill by Ron Suskind
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Property by Valerie Martin
Pushkin: A Biography by T. J. Binyon
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Quattrocento by James Mckean
A Quiet Storm by Rachel Howzell Hall
Rapunzel by Grimm Brothers
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Rescuing Patty Hearst: Memories From a Decade Gone Mad by Virginia Holman
The Return of the King: The Lord of the Rings Book 3 by J. R. R. Tolkien
R Is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton
Rita Hayworth by Stephen King
Robert’s Rules of Order by Henry Robert
Roman Holiday by Edith Wharton
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
The Rough Guide to Europe, 2003 Edition
Sacred Time by Ursula Hegi
Sanctuary by William Faulkner
Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
Say Goodbye to Daisy Miller by Henry James
The Scarecrow of Oz by Frank L. Baum
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman
Selected Hotels of Europe
Selected Letters of Dawn Powell: 1913-1965 by Dawn Powell
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Several Biographies of Winston Churchill
Sexus by Henry Miller
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Shane by Jack Shaefer
The Shining by Stephen King
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
S Is for Silence by Sue Grafton
Slaughter-house Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Small Island by Andrea Levy
Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway
Snow White and Rose Red by Grimm Brothers
Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World by Barrington Moore
The Song of Names by Norman Lebrecht
Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia de Burgos by Julia de Burgos
The Song Reader by Lisa Tucker
Songbook by Nick Hornby
The Sonnets by William Shakespeare
Sonnets from the Portuegese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
A Streetcar Named Desiree by Tennessee Williams
Stuart Little by E. B. White
Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
Swimming with Giants: My Encounters with Whales, Dolphins and Seals by Anne Collett
Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Term of Endearment by Larry McMurtry
Time and Again by Jack Finney
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Tragedy of Richard III by William Shakespeare
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The Trial by Franz Kafka
The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson
Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962 by Sylvia Plath
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Unless by Carol Shields
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
The Vanishing Newspaper by Philip Meyers
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground and Nico (Thirty Three and a Third series) by Joe Harvard
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Walt Disney’s Bambi by Felix Salten
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
We Owe You Nothing – Punk Planet: The Collected Interviews edited by Daniel Sinker
What Colour is Your Parachute? 2005 by Richard Nelson Bolles
What Happened to Baby Jane by Henry Farrell
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
Who Moved My Cheese? Spencer Johnson
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronté
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I’ve seen a couple of other versions of the list but I like this one; it seems complete.  Of course my plans could change by Jan 1st., I make no claims that they won’t.  But this looks like fun.
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Brian Blessed

BOLLOCKS!

So about seven this morning I’m awakened by Brian Blessed shouting “BOLLOCKS!” which is my text alert.  It took me about a minute to even process this since the only person who ever texts me is Glinda who should have been on her way to work.  Turns out she’s outside, freaking out about the hissing sound coming from the new gas meter/pipes outside. I step out in my tee and undies (Yes, I sleep in a tee and panties, deal.) with my wrist braces still on, listen, hear the hissing and race back inside before anyone else sees me.  Promise to find out what’s going on.

Now every other morning since the dawn of time it seems, the gas company has been out here by 7:30 or so, tearing up the street, but today?  No sign of them.  So finally I call and talk to a woman who keeps asking me to describe the noise.  I keep saying “Hissing.” She keeps asking.  Says to call back when I hear it again and hold the phone to the pipes so she can hear it too.  I hang up, text Glinda that I think it’s okay because nobody seems very worried.  She remains unconvinced.

About 8:45 the workers show up to install the meter next door.  I race out — yes, I’m actually dressed by now — and ask the guy who I talked to a couple of days ago when the thing was installed.  He’s about ten feet away and I say, “Is this thing supposed to be making this noise?” and he knows exactly what I’m talking about.  Turns out it’s totally normal; it’s the sound of the pressure being reduced as the gas goes from medium pressure external lines into lower pressure internal ones.  So good, we’re not going to blow up today. I email Glinda to that effect.  She asks if that came from the crew.

LOL, I thought I was the paranoid one.

Anyway now I’m up.  I’m not really what you’d call awake, but I’m up and I keep thinking I should do something constructive.  I’m trying to finish a book (3000 words to go) and for a particular reason it’s got to be done this week.  But I’m so tired I don’t know that I can think straight.

House on Haunted Hill

I stayed up late last night because I got involved watching The House on Haunted Hill which I’d never seen before.  A William Castle horror extravaganza, it was one of those big, dopey horror flicks in which there’s not an IQ over 50 in the bunch which is good because if anyone had a brain there’d be no movie.  And here’s the thing that really made me want to fling my shoe at the TV: Through the whole film one character spends all his time warning the others about the ghosts.  However virtually everything that happens is as a result of human not ghostly action, so when at the end he says “They’re coming for me next.” I’m like “Dude, are you high? You just got told who did the murders and it wasn’t ghosts.  Get a grip!”

Why did I start watching?  Well I’d caught the last half of The Haunting earlier in the evening, and when that was over,

Cover of "The Haunting"

The Uninvited came on.  The Haunting is one of my favorite films, and for my money one of the best horror films ever made.  I refer, of course, to the 1963 original with Claire Bloom and Julie Harris, not the horrifically bad remake which turned a wonderful, tight, scary story by Shirley Jacksoninto a nonsensical hack-and-slash fest.

 

The Uninvited came on right after The Haunting, and it’s been years since I’d seen it, so I thought I’d make a night of it.  It wasn’t as good as I remembered, but it was fun.  By the time it was over I was pretty much stuck to my chair which was why I stayed up.  I very nearly decided to follow up with Dead of Night but common sense prevailed and I set it to record instead.  The Innocents was on after that, but I’d seen it recently, and much as I enjoy it, I wasn’t in the mood to rewatch it again this soon.

I think I had a point somewhere along the way about the nature of horror and real-life fear, but I’m not quite remembering what it was, and what I do  remember doesn’t seem nearly as profound as it did when I was stumbling around here in my underwear trying to find a number for the gas company.  I think the bottom line, for me anyway, is that like any  other kind of movie, horror just makes me forget that there is anything bad out there.  I suppose that’s why Glinda and I have a pact.  If either of us is ever in the hospital dying, the other will make sure that the Lord of the Rings trilogy (And probably The Hobbit) is playing as non-stop as we can manage.  If I’m going to go like that, I want to feel as if I’m headed towards Middle-Earth, not some hole in the ground, thank you very much.

 

Cate Blanchett portrays Galadriel in The Lord ...

Go back to bed

 

 

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William Shakespeare

Yesterday I finished a first draft of “Call Me But Love” which is a collection of four riffs based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but focusing on the romantic relationship between Romeo and Mercutio.  I need to put it away for a while because I’m sick of looking at it.  I’m getting nowhere fast on my contemporary romance novel “Will Work for Food” so I put that aside as well; I find that letting things marinate a bit helps me a lot when I go back to the story.

But I have to work on something, so I pulled out “Variations on a Theme By Dickens,” a novel length collection of five stories all based on Dickens’A Christmas Carol.”  Like “Call Me But Love” it comes out of a genre in fanfic known as “X Things That Never Happened To _____”  It’s one of my favorite fan fiction genres, and it’s rather like the musical genre of theme and variations.  I think it’s a shame it’s not more used in mainstream fiction, and both “Call Me But Love” and “Variations on a Theme By Dickens” are nods to that genre and an attempt to make it more mainstream.

Charles Dickens

In the latter, novel-length collection, four of the stories are Dickens-era historicals and one is contemporary, but they’re all quite different.  The first is told from the point of view of one of the Cratchit children.  The second which is in a tie for my favorite of the group, is “The Atherium” a steampunk fantasy with a rather engaging romance.  The fourth is the contemporary retelling, and this is my other favorite because it’s mean and funny and a little romantic, but not in a sappy way.  It’s about adults who make mistakes and get involved in silly or inappropriate relationships.  And the last one is a letter to Dickens from a former employer.

You noticed there’s no number three, didn’t you?  Because I’m in the middle of rereading it now, and I’m not happy with how slow the opening is.  It picks up about halfway through the story, but that’s not good enough.  I don’t want something that brings the momentum of the first two stories to a crawl.  It’s entitled “David Tarried at Jerusalem” and those of you who know your Bible might well guess at the theme.  It’s a kind of romance, but one that you know isn’t going to end well for anyone.  I need to find a way to make it pop right from the get-go.  Unfortunately it’s the one that’s been kicking my butt since I started the project.

However, that’s not your problem, gentle readers, it’s very much mine.  I will succeed; I just need to kvetch about it occasionally.  So to thank you for putting up with my ramblings, here’s an excerpt from “The Aetherium” the steampunk fantasy romance from “Variations on a Theme by Dickens.”

“Mr. Scrooge?’

“You have the advantage of me, sir,” Scrooge replied without looking up from the worn journal splayed across his desk. Time would tell if the stranger was worth the interruption.

The lightly accented voice replied, “If you please, sir, my name is Edwin Mayweather.”

Had Scrooge been afflicted with a sense of humor, he might have framed a reply along the lines of “And if I do not please, who shall you be, then?” But humor was a vice which Scrooge did not count on the debit side of his ledger. In fact, he counted no vices in that column having long become immune to lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath and the rest. As for greed, he felt that it was an extreme position, in no way related to his wise and thrifty ways. He felt he did not so much love money as need it, as a man needs air and water. One could not live without money, at least not as God intended, so the need for it was hardly sinful.

No vices, a few mistakes, nothing more. His considered opinion was that the seven deadly sins could be neatly distilled down into a lack of good, common sense. And common sense he had in abundance.

“What do you want?” he asked, eyes still fixed on the words before him, seeking a clue, always seeking…

“You were recommended to me by Mr. James Tillman, sir, as a man with a good eye for value.”

Value was one of the holy words in Scrooge’s litany, and heeding the name and word of Tillman had never failed to enrich him. “Is that a fact?” Finally he looked up and found that the man standing before him was of middling years, quite tall and startlingly handsome with vivid blue eyes, dark hair lightly shot with grey, and a complexion the color of lightly smoked meerschaum . “Have a seat, Mr. Mayweather,” he said, closing the journal.

Mayweather made himself as comfortable as he could in Marley’s old leather chair. Scrooge never threw anything out, and when the seat of Marley’s chair gave way, he merely put an old account book between it and the cushion and pronounced it “good as new.” The added advantage was that no visitor stayed long in Scrooge’s office. In truth most were disinclined to do so in any event for neither the office with its uniform dark walls, heavy dark furniture and windows so grimy they let in a pitiful amount of light, nor Scrooge himself, a man so much like his surroundings that he seemed to absorb what little light there was, reassured visitors that they were in any wise welcome.

“Now tell me what sort of value we are discussing.”

“A business opportunity, sir. An invention…”

“It isn’t one of those damnable steam-powered contraptions?” he asked, the memory of Robert Cratchit’s horrible death rising up to choke him with horror. Since Robert had been cooked alive in an explosion of one of those steam monstrosities, Scrooge felt a persistent unease at having the Pacioli Accounting Engine on the premises. He did not like steam unless it issued from a tea kettle, and only constant reassurances from Ada Cratchit, who Scrooge now employed to maintain her husband’s invention, and the certainty that he would lose money by going back to using clerks instead of the engine, kept him from selling it.

“Not at all, Mr. Scrooge. It is rather a case of the electronic stimulation of crystal which produces a luminiferous aether. The aether in turn…”

“Is it an expensive process?” Scrooge asked.

Mayweather shrugged eloquently. “It has been somewhat dear,” he admitted. “And now that I am prepared to begin public testing, I shall need a plentiful supply of materials with which to work. It would not do to fall short while presenting my invention to the world. As with all things of this nature, the investment of monies is the only way to ensure that one will make money.”

“Which is why you came to me.”

“Precisely. While I have already created Voltaic cells with copper and nickel the process would be greatly enhanced by the use of silver and gold. And the crystals do not withstand more than two or three uses …”

Scrooge raised a hand. “Pray do not attempt to make me familiar with the process for I have no head for the science of it. Tell me only how I might profit from helping you. What is this invention?”

“I call it “The Aetherium.” I have built a machine which allows the user to communicate with the dead.”

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Chicago - Can't Stop the Serenity 6/22/07 - Po...

Chicago – Can’t Stop the Serenity 6/22/07 – Portage Theatre, before the show (Photo credit: meryddian)

The church has withdrawn its request for rezoning of the Portage Theater, and has pulled out of the bidding on the property.  While I don’t have any other details right now, I believe this makes the current theater operators either the only or the top bidders on the property.

This is wonderful news, particularly coming on top of the successful Patio Theater Kickstarter campaign.  Thanks to everyone who supported these projects, with donations or letters or signatures on a petition.  You’ve done something good for Chicago neighborhoods; you’ve aided in the process of bringing them back from decrepitude.  These two theaters will serve this area for years to come, showing second run, oldies, and holding special events that will enrich their communities.

This is all very exciting.

Portage Theater

Portage Theater (Photo credit: reallyboring)

p.s.  Don’t forget that the Patio Kickstarter campaign is accepting donations until tomorrow night.  While the donations are a sure thing now, every little bit helps.  So please, if you haven’t already pledged, consider giving a few bucks.

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4050 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 www.p...

4050 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 www.portagetheater.org/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Portage?  Well it’s still in danger.  Here’s the situation:  A church located a few miles from the theater has outgrown its current location.  When church reps found that the Portage was up for sale they jumped at the chance to buy it since the property is enormous.  They plan to use the auditorium space for their presentations, the storefronts and apartments for other church business and events.  They also plan to make significant alterations to the façade.

The alderman, John Arena, has been working with the church to try to find other, more suitable locations, but so far the church has refused to reconsider.  This is not a matter of keeping the building owner from selling; there are several other offers on the property including one from the people who run the theater.

I haven’t yet run across any local who likes the idea of an enormous store-front church spang in the middle of the Six Corners business district, an area which used to be a thriving shopping and entertainment district, but has in the past twenty or thirty years become very down-at-the-heels.  The re-opening of the theater has been a tremendous boost to pulling more business into the area.  There’s a theater group and a museum of veterans’ art slated to open almost across the street from the Portage, and several new bistros and cafes which have recently opened or are about to open.  The theater is an anchor for the neighborhood.  Without it, and in fact with the church in its place, the area would almost certainly lose its momentum.  The presence of a church (in the words of the group trying to save the theater) “would mean the eventual loss of a neighborhood favorite in the Portage Theater. The net effect would be a loss of tax revenue, economic revenue, economic engine that fuels activity in the corridor, and set insurmountable restrictions for businesses looking to open restaurants, bars and places of entertainment moving forward.”

Why does business matter?  Because this area has been a ghost town for too long.  When I was a child it was the central business district for all the neighborhoods around it.  Then people began to leave the city in the late sixties and early seventies and bit-by-bit neighborhoods came apart.  We need our neighborhoods.  We need places where independent businesses can grow and thrive, where we can shop, dine, and be entertained close to home.  Actual, physical involvement in a community is a deterrent to crime; it raises the bar for that community.  Everyone benefits.

Why am I saying all this?  Because the folks who want to save the Portage Theater have started a petition that they want to present at the final Zoning Board of Appeals hearing.  The church needs special zoning permissions and the neighborhood is against granting them.  They came to the last meeting unprepared, and were given a continuation.  The board has made it clear that they will not get another continuation, so this is a make-or-break moment for the campaign to save the Portage.  Please consider signing the petition.  You don’t really have to be a resident of the area, or even a Chicagoan; you just have to care about what will happen to the neighborhood if this wonderful old theater is lost.

Sign the petition to save the Portage Theater

Go here to send a letter to the City of Chicago showing your support for the theater.

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Tracy Rowan

August 2013

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