Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An Award! The Pulitzer, You Say? The Hugo? The National Book Award? No, The...

Manly Sweaty Doll Blogger Award!

Rockin'. I feel the testosterone. Thanks, Susan, for the sweaty award.

But, apparently, to accept this award I have to answer some questions and provide some manly information.

So, some things about myself... I taught myself how to drywall and do wall framing and carpentry. Very rugged. Mucho testosterono. But I admit I don't like pickup trucks. Possibly I get my membership revoked for that.

Favorite Manly Guy Book? The Things They Carried. Men. War. Death. But with achingly beautiful prose. Very me. And, for Susan (since she's all about books for boys), I'll add my Favorite Mini Manly Guy Book (well, series, actually): The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. Great fantasy series following a boy's growth from childhood to manhood and responsibility.

Favorite (and please notice my adoption of American spelling out of deep respect for the Sweaty Doll Award) Manly Guy Movie? The Bourne trilogy. Though I admit that I'm pretty keen on Bloodsport. How can you not like a movie where the main character says twelve words in the entire film?

Favorite Manly Music? Metallica. I'd sing, but there are limits to my shame.

Favorite Sports Moment? Ooh... this needs a list.

Game 4, ALCS. Red Sox down three games to the Yankees. Bottom of the ninth, Yankees leading... and Red Sox storm back to take the win, and then the next three games, and then the World Series to end the Curse of the Bambino. Oh yeah. My father was a huge Red Sox fan, and he'd passed away a couple years before. So I enjoyed this one for him.

Michael Jordan against the Utah Jazz, NBA finals. He has the flu and can barely stand. Pippen has to help him to the bench at each halt of play. Jordan goes for 40 regardless, dominating on will alone, and the Bulls win.

Lance Armstrong, The Look and The Crash. The Look: goin' up the mountain, all his rivals on his wheel... he gives this look back. Judging. Dismissing. And then with utter calculation he simply rides away from everyone and breaks the field. The Crash: Another mountain, and Lance makes his move, starts accelerating, his rivals trying to stay with him... but his handlebar snags a bystander's bag and he flips down to the ground. The rivals all go streaming by. He gets up, fixes his bike, and then pedals furiously to catch everyone. And when he does catch up he simply rides right through them and keeps on going. Did I mention this was going straight up a mountain? Win.

Man United versus Bayern Munich, Champions League final. Bayern is up 1-0 in extra time, but in the blink of an eye Man U scores two goals and claims the Champions League crown, as well as the vaunted Triple (English League Title, FA Cup, Champions League). Oh the looks on the faces of those Bayern Munich fans...

Favorite Food With No Nutritional Value? Cookies. Oh yes, I am a veritable Cookie Monster. Particularly for the chocolate Peek Freans in the Assorted package... Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rummaging in the Box

It seems like a lot of writers have been dying lately, or perhaps it's merely that the ones who've passed have meant something to me. Another this week. Dick Francis, jockey and mystery writer, died this week, though at least he got a lot of years and a lot of time to write a lot of books. Would that we were all so lucky.

Perhaps I'm merely in a particularly introspective (and retrospective) mood. A new baby balanced against these thoughts of writerly mortality. Now, I couldn't say that Dick Francis was one of my favourite writers, but he's tied to certain memories, tethered to certain elements of my writerly beginnings.

My parents were big fans of Francis. My Dad, particularly; he liked horse racing, and so enjoyed these murder mysteries set in that world. They had this huge old box full of Dick Francis paperbacks. It was in the basement, amidst the clutter (my mother has certain, shall we say, packrat tendencies). Occasionally there would be a slender wreath of cobwebs across the box, like tattered gauze whispering an occasional breath of dust. They were older paperbacks, books my parents had kept for years, or had snagged from the used bookshop. The pages had that dry musk of old paper. A little aged, though still in good condition. Bindings tight.

A natural find for a boy who liked exploring and who liked books. At the time, though, I was quite young. I was probably still reading mostly kids books (Hardy Boys) or those great books that blur all lines (Lord of the Rings, Watership Down, Duncton Wood). I'd read some fantasy novels, probably, that had a bit of an older audience in mind, but not by much. But these Dick Francis novels were a little different. They had these old, stark covers. The taste of that dust on the fingertips... they certainly weren't written with kids in mind, or designed to entice them. Yet something drew me in. My parents liked them... but my parents liked lots of books that didn't interest me.

They were short books. That certainly helped. Adult, but not too dense, not too intimidating. The titles caught me, too. Simple, direct. As stark as the designs of the books. I picked up one. Bolt. I read it, and quickly. And then another, and another. A bunch. I'm not sure how much it struck me then, but I think of it now as a sort of initiation, a crossing of boundaries.

My parents were fine with this, even encouraged it. They trusted me, I think, and let me read beyond my age. And I'm grateful for that gift, for that sudden shift in the scope of opportunity. It's like seeing the sea for the first time, with a distant and almost endless horizon.

On hearing the news that Dick Francis had died I immediately thought of that box. There's an almost physical connection between the name and the memory, the sense of a particular and unique history. Soft dust floating in the slanted light sliding through the basement windows. The scent of old paper. A rummage in possibility, in new opportunity.

A little strange to find all that tucked away in an old box in the basement.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Icicles Arising in the Forests of the North

So I saw this image over at The Rejectionist's blog. Over there, it was a tribute to the designer, Alexander McQueen, who just passed away (I think - my fashion knowledge is, um, limited. "Is that from the GAP?" Ink asked). Here, though, I have a different reason to post it up (since you don't want to hear me commenting on fashion... really, you don't).

I saw this picture and had an instant reaction, a creative reaction, a sudden sense of a world opening up as if a deep mist had been peeled away. And yet the mist, the mystery, lingers in the picture itself.

And this is one of the oddities of writing, isn't it? The puzzling randomness of inspiration, the way an image, a sound, a thought, is pulled into the mind and set suddenly to rattling and humming about, a firefly alit and trembling with energy. So bright, so incandescent, that it lights other thoughts and worlds, even sets a strange fire to them.

This, to me, is the electric nature of creativity. The flash and heat of it. All that heat from such a cool picture, with the chill mist of the veil, the ruffled snow of lace, the antlers plucked neatly from the heart of some vast primordial icicle. What a strange antlered goddess, and to so suddenly thrust her divinity into my brain... a thing of myth, almost. A little captured something... a something I want to release with words, to explore, to discover. Stories seem to abound and shimmer around this image, haunting the edges.

And yet how mercurial. A blog post, a memorial to a fashion designer I'd never heard of... a firefly in a bottle, translucent light shining through upon a new world or perhaps upon an old world, a world of ice and snow and fog-drenched forests, a world of weary men gathered around a fire and singing of the antlered goddess as stars flicker to cold life in a far black sky...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When More Interactive is, Um, Less Interactive

Regularly scheduled programming has recommenced. We are having some technical difficulties, however, and random pictures of cute babies may accidentally be spliced into future posts.

So... the iPad is here. I won't even make name jokes. But its introduction has brought out more of a certain kind of comment that makes me cringe a little. Maybe you've heard it, or something similar...

"I can't wait! Ebooks will make everything more interactive, and there will be links and music and video in my books! It's so supercool that books will be evolving into something even better! Interactive, oh yeah!"

It's not that I'm down on ebooks. They're not really my thing, but if it suits other people, well, that's great. They have my blessings. And it's not even that I'm against books with "interactive" elements. I could see this as a viable and interesting genre. I think of the way graphic novels have blossomed in the last couple decades, and I can see a similar niche for the interative book.

What troubles me is this idea of replacement I hear bandied about... the idea that these interactive books will somehow be superior to the ones we have now, and will thus soon replace them (and writers, I guess, will have to become writers/programmers/video editors). And what will set these new and improved books apart, of course, is this idea of interactivity.

And oh does this vex me a little. The word "interactivity", I think, is misleading, at least in one sense. Yes, the book might be more interactive in a physical sense. A link to click on, a button to push... but are we really getting excited about pushing a button in this day and age? The basic fact is that the more "interactive" a text becomes in this sense the less interactive it actually becomes for the reader.

The true value of literature, I think, is that the reader is the co-creator of the story, for it lives only in a fusion of the writer's words and the reader's imaginative perception. It is interactive on a deeply human level. The written word requires this fusion to make itself real. Music, film, theatre... these exist outside the audience. They are what they are. Yes, there will be slight variances in perception from person to person that will shape these experiences. But for a story... it doesn't really exist until translated within the reader's mind, shaped by each individual's unique consciousness.

Endless studies have shown the difference in brain activity between watching television and reading. The first is passive, the second active... and so when we talk about "interactive" books we are actually talking about books that are being forced into an ever greater passivity, a passivity that is disguised by the "interactivity" of pushing a button or clicking on a link. For every element of interactivity we add, we interrupt what John Gardner called the fictive dream, that seamless sense of the story made real within the mind, the words becoming translucent as the brain creates the story. Interactivity breaks that imaginative fusion between word and thought. The mind resettles itself as observer rather than participant.

Would interactive books draw non-readers in? Perhaps. But if what they wanted was alternate media experiences, wouldn't they just search those out? And would they be drawn to the text or the interactive experiences? And would it be necessary to keep increasing such passive interactivity in order to keep these "readers" coming back? Why keep the text at all?

Again, I'm not entirely against the concept. I believe there's a genre here waiting to happen, a mixed media form that can make use of both forms of interaction. But this idea of evolution or replacement bothers me, for it seems a devolution in many ways.

Anyone else cringing at this idea?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Adaptability and the Writer

So, I had a few different posts planned out for the ol' blog. But instead I got distracted by making one of these:

Okay, my wife did most of the work.

We call this artistic masterwork Simon Lucius Sebastian Russell. Artistic adaptability, folks. Seven pounds, eleven ounces. Almost as heavy as my first novel manuscript.

We will return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly.