Friday, August 30, 2013

Zoned for Autumn

Spring cleaning around here is more often known as the please-can-we-take-down-the-Christmas-tree, post-holiday great ornament stuffathon. Given the heat and the way the house is designed, fall cleaning is our Windex holiday of choice. As soon as the temperature falls into the mid-70s during the day, we can open windows and air out a house grown stuffy with months of continuous a/c and begin scrubbing things down for family visits and so on. And decorating.

This year, we're putting together a Renaissance Festival scene in the former TV alcove and spreading Halloween around the living room. Fantasy, Renfest, and Halloween go together for me and I've put aside a couple of books for the month of October that promise to make the most of the beginning of tale-spinning season. December is also a great month for reading, when (if you leave a window open), huddling in great drifts of blankets puts me in a reading mood. In the middle of the reading, decorating, and celebrating of October and December, November is NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) and I have a shaggy dog of a story for this year's NaNo.

This was all brought to mind this morning when I saw two tan doves hopping around in the baked brown grass of the median as I was stopped at a light. In between the two lanes of traffic on my side and the two lanes of traffic on the other side of the median, the wide median yard was a wild fall scene of bird and groundcover. In order to watch the doves, you couldn't pay attention to the CVS across the way or the multiple lanes of traffic in the far lanes opposite. The doves matched the grass, which had no small trees in the center and so had been spared any extra water during the summer.

The contained scene, like an illustration from a children's book, was both an intimation of fall and a reminder of decorations tacked to bulletin boards in elementary school. Proto-scarecrows were scattered in the grass. Stories are tucked in the chest, waiting for cooler weather to slip out like ghosts on our breath.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reading, Writing, and Tuna Noodle Salad

Varda is in a particularly pensive mood; it's raining and that means neither dog is looking forward to wet grass, dripping skies, or giant towel hugs as they eel in the back door. Varda in particular is skilled at escaping the towel and making it to the couch. Right now she could be an illustration for a clever dog in a children's book, watchful and sleepy. She is wavering between the image of the towel and the smell of damp mushrooms as yet undiscovered. The heavier her eyelids grow, the taller the grass becomes and the more enticing the mushrooms.

I am enticed by the idea of first-day-of-school Tuna Noodle Salad, which I tend to make on nostalgic days in honor of my grandmother's friend Aline, who provided me with bowls of it on visits to her house when we were on vacation as kids. Her backyard, visible from the table through the sliding glass door, was a tiny adventure...which seems odd now since it must have dominated by a spinning clothesline and one single large tree. It must have the color of the concrete, the shade, and the sense of getting out from underfoot that provided it with the charm it had. The concrete was the color of the heavy rain clouds outsid and was cool underfoot, even in the heat of summer. Every other stop in Port Arthur was hot--the asphalt motel parking lots, the open driveways and backyards of my cousins, the car as we drifted between all of them--but not Aline's backyard.

That coolness in the midst of heat has become, for me, a good metaphor for what I look for in books. It's what I found in Sabriel, in The Photograph, and in Helen & Troy's Epic Road Quest, all of which are sitting in the Goodreads stack in front of me. The other books in the stack didn't quite form pocket parks for my imagination, either because the story wasn't as well tended (arrrghh Mortal Instruments arrrghh) or because I wasn't a good reader for the subject matter.

It is raining and the couch is warm and well stocked with velvet, snoring dogs. I am full of tuna salad and I am looking for the latch in the glass door.

And then we stopped by Borders for an Italian soda

Lately, I've been turning into a book rat. Even though my current reading list could be converted into an effective book fort, when I am in a B&N, the idea that I could lose my last great haunt of caffeine and guided daydreaming ensures that I peel another book off the shelf and add it to the pile. I miss Borders, which always had a better feel and seemed to carry itself more like a well-put-together, intelligent friend than B&N ever did. Not to mention, more than one bookstore didn't carry with it that apocalyptic, fin-de-si├Ęcle vibe that the One Last Remaining Chain Bookstore assumes by default (and shabbiness).

Today I realized that it wasn't only books that could induce that feeling. Sears succeeded in convincing me to but a moose toothbrush holder because I felt sorry for the store itself. It's never been my favorite place to shop because what it sells, the overarching theme of Sears, is handy families with trim lawns and a big-screen reality tv addiction. Or, when I was younger, yard work = family. This isn't me. I'm a hide in my bedroom and read kind of girl. The dogs and the birds tend to get my backyard veggies (although The Pumpkin King does pretty well with the mint & basil). Sears doesn't attract my attention except that it is familiar and, like Service Merchandise, a place through which I will always, in some corner of my mind, be trailing my parents as we spend part of another weeknight walking around the Brazos Mall.

Therefore, when The Pumpkin King manages to break the toothbrush holder and I, being freakishly picky about such things, am in the mall looking for a circular metal and glass holder without an enclosed cylinder and find a single moose holder on sale in the far corner of Sears, tucked away from the giant Kardashian Bath display, I am unable to resist adding it to our bathroom decor, even if it doesn't precisely go with beachy, seashell decor. Sandy the Beached Moose is a solid totem for those things I miss and for the unexpected things that wander through your life...although, really, I'm just happy to have a toothbrush holder that's easy to clean. Especially giving the reading I need to catch up on.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Undertow

Yesterday dissolved in a haze of City of Bone with the result that I've gone rather cold on the movie. Something about the world-building, possibly the shiny teens at the center of it, felt like too much glitter on too thin paper. It's probably a case of right book, wrong time...it came pretty highly recommended and I may try the second book later. Then again, it could be that I can't help but compare it to Supernatural, the TV series in which there are angels, demons, and monsters but a more (to me) coherent link between them. Everything isn't quite true in that universe.

I wasn't planning to read today, at least not as long. I was a third of the way into Soon I Will Be Invincible and that was about were I flipped a page too deep and became caught up in the undertow, dragged from chapter to chapter trying to guess what the ultimate twist or reveal would be. Mr. Grossman kept throwing up these descriptions that would flash against the the pull, such as the description of a punch from the summer of 1976. Each of these would give me chance to catch my breath as it precipitated an emotion or scene from the plot. Even if nothing seemed resolved (and I guess super narratives don't, as a rule), it was difficult to put the book down. Except for the character list that followed and just seemed to repeat info previously presented. Why?

Soon it will be cooling down and I will stop hiding out during the day and the book stacks might grow again. Guess I should give in and just move on to the next one.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Phantoms

I came home with a short stack of library books yesterday and then a wiggly puppy and a critique partner's draft sent me to the one shelf of books from my parents' house to pick upThe Phantom Tollbooth. This is joy pressed in ink and paper, a back pocket adventure of beguiling charm.

It is also the answer to a riddle I've been pondering in a draft of mine. A trusted, gifted reader suggested that this draft lacked an effective path, dropping the reader in a pile of tentacles-from-nowhere and undercutting the thrust of the beginning. I did what I generally do, grumble to myself, put the draft out of sight for little while, and then poke at it until I was ready to revise.

The revision did not begin well. I agreed that the tentacles were confusing; they had snuck up on me while I was in the middle of a soporific beach scene and I decided to let them flail away. I added some stuff to the beginning, slowly setting up the conflict and brushing on some sepia nightmare tones, remembered from old movies. Movies that I had, to be honest, hated. The kind where a sliver of the monster scuttles off to terrorize again in a sequel. Perhaps we don't defeat monsters, really, and yet, I don't want to use a template of something I dislike for a story that is close to my heart. The tentacles needed a reason, though.

As i was thinking (daydreaming) about the draft, my brain picked up the memory of a recent draft shared in my writer's group. One of our members is skilled at using a kind of fairy-tale rhythm and this, combined with my own ideas about my beginning, brought me to the Tollbooth. One of the great things about this story is the way that the author limns an initially unlikeable character and yet doesn't lose the reader. In the beginning Milo is bored and restless in that annoying manner of someone who could be diverted but is too lazy to make the effort. By the end, you are feeling Milo's regret at his journey's end and regret at leaving Milo's company. Along the way, you encounter creatures that are the essence of fairy--language made fanciful and dizzy until you are caught in the spin.

I think I need to lose myself in that spin again to find out what path my story needs to take--it isn't yet twirling fast enough to cohere. I am already in the fratchetty, diverted-by-shiny-Internets mode, it's time to make the effort to steer this draft into the swirl.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rain Officially Still Scares the Crap Out of Me

Okay, I thought the panic occasioned by being out in the rain was finally over and done; however, it's not. A meeting at the library this evening coincided with "pop-up" thunderstorms, now conveniently trackable in all their, green, orange, and purple glory over a wide swath of the state via my notebook. It's like my own private adrenaline shot.

At least it gets me to leave early enough to scour the shelves (Don't you have books at home? Yes, yes I do.) for more HP Ryan novels. Of which there is one and it happens to be the one I polished off this afternoon. So no more Jake and Jane until September and none of anything else right now. Well, no suspense novels. I don't really need suspense novels AND rain, do I?

The Pumpkin King actually has to drive home in this, but it doesn't freak him out.

The library is actually relaxing right now, bright lights, murmur of the children's section, clicking of the PCs behind me. Books everywhere with crinkly jackets like candy. How could I resist taking some home? This week's stack includes Soon I Will Be Invincible, Bass Cathedral, and The Photograph. All of them are short and one of them is an epistolary novel (one of my favorite kinds...I fear it bespeaks a certain nosiness of character); all of them are spread out on the table in front of me.

Not sure why this week doesn't include nonfiction. Unless I'm finally acknowledging that my nonfiction reading tends to be less diligent than otherwise, particularly with library books. So far, I'm learning more by listening to the historian in our writer's group. This October, when I'm doing Nano warm-ups, I'll have to pick the Texas history up again for some background for a haunted house story. I'm trying to get a better handle on settlement patterns and community make-ups for...late 1800's? Early 1900s?

Yikes. Chorus of children's voices rises in a half-song in a language I don't know on a rainy night in a far corner of the library? Creepy. Better get my brain out of October and back in August.

Cozy reading, y'all!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Digital Beaches

Before I was in school, when the library was a storefront full of metal shelves, pale linoleum, and an odd entrance fountain, joy in reading has been linked to the physical sensation of the books themselves. Paper edges that fur as you thumb them, spines that relax as you bend them, and ink and air and paper that combine into a certain smell that breathes over you when you ruffle the pages. Books could be a type of pet, carried around and cared for.

This doesn't make me a great candidate for digital readers. My eyes are tired from years of reading, low contrast screens don't help, and there is something about that glass window that doesn't yet let me in as deeply as the crease between the pages. However, some stories do lend themselves to the medium and I'm discovering that my gateway into digital books is through an unexpected avenue.

Despite being a lifelong reader, romance novels were something that I gave up years ago, never making the leap from Sweet Valley to the historical or contemporary shelves. Instead, I gravitated to the fantasy and mystery shelves and then, slowly, to the literary fiction shelves and essays. Then, romance decided to make a beachhead in fantasy and urban fantasy and paranormal romance began to move into the section. Books seemed to suddenly bloat, trying to distinguish themselves from those "other" stories by way of excessive page count or hyper violence. I thought I should get serious about my own writing and shifted my reading into non-fiction.

During this time my husband has been consuming e-books like candy. He reads on his reader, on his cell phone, on his screen. I tried a reader, eschewed it, and stuck to books. Then we found a reader that I could play with, do other things on, become comfortable with all without using it for reading. I could IM, follow my e-mail, play Frogs (become addicted to Frogs, go cold turkey on Frogs), and write on the thing.

At the same time, a few members of our writer's group started to work in the romance genre. There was no one left to object to this turn of events (not to say that anyone would have originally) and I found myself taking a second look at the genre.

Shazaam! This turned into the perfect mix of device and story to finally convert me to the e-reader. Having recently completed the fun Gaming for Keeps and well into The Other Woman, it seems that I'm finally learning warming up to digital books.

However, I'm still mostly a book-in-hand reader. In addition to the stories mentioned above, I read Garth Nix's Sabriel over the weekend (paperback, of course) and loved it. It is a compelling story and one that I'm glad I have sitting beside me at the moment, reminding me of the great story within. It's the kind of book that warrants rereading, if for no other reason than that the world-building is stellar and different from what I've seen before.

Perhaps the digital/paperback divide in my head runs like this: Paperbacks are the Old Kingdom; their magic is real and substantial and links me to the past while digital books are Ancelstierre; they work best when structured around a recognizable, social milieu whose present is concurrent with my own? Not sure if that makes sense or if it will continue to be that way, but that's how it works for me, for now.

Good reading,
Chrissa