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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Another Romanian interview/review for Trespassing

Uzma Aslam Khan's Romanian edition of Trespassing has engendered yet another Romanian-language interview, which I once again fail to understand whatsoever. it's probably pretty nice, right?

Here is the sum total of things I know about Romania:

1. Nadia Comenici (not sure if I spelled that right)

That's it. Still, if I'm going to know only one thing about your country, it might as well be an astonishing gymnast who scored perfect 10s at the Olympics.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

More new neighbors; or, the thing I possibly missed the most while living overseas all those years

Maybe not the most obvious thing, but there it is. I love hummingbirds. As in, loooove them. The affair started in Tucson, AZ, where Uzee and I put out a feeder and had tons feeding there (and saw tons more at other places besides our front porch). All kinds too: purple-beaked and ivory-bileld and whatnot. Hummingbirds migrate, and most species go hang out in South America during our winter, then come up to Texas and the southwest when it gets warm again. 

Since leaving Arizona in (gulp) 1995, we've had to rely on memories, as there are no hummingbirds outside of the Americas, and we were in Morocco, Pakistan and Hawaii. (There were sunbirds, which are very cool and are a relative to hummingbirds; they're small,  colorful, creepery things with long curved bills that slurp nectar out of flowers. but they're not quite the same.) Now, however, we're back, and having moved to our terrific new house with horses in the back yard and bunnies scampering across the lawn, we dusted off our feeder, hung it out, and presto! More hummingbirds than you can believe.

We don't get the variety here in MA that we got in the southwest; the only species that makes it this far north is the ruby-throat. But still, that's cooler than words can adequately describe, so there you go. For some reason we seem to get about 10 females to every male, but whatever.

Of course, they can be tricky to photograph, as they tend to move pretty quick. Personally, I like this action shot the best:

And for those of you NOT prone to motion sickness, here's a little video I took out the window of my study, which appears to have been captured in the midst of an earthquake although it was not. This is a multi-bird melee that was going on one afternoon on our back stoop. I was twitchy because I was trying to film everywhere at once, and because, well, I'm kind of twitchy. But if you can get through it, it gives a pretty good idea of the kind of hummingbird mayhem we're experiencing here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Don't Open That Door! is back...

After a brief hiatus of a couple weeks, wherein I recharged my batteries and generally took a break from certain things, my PopMatters column Don't Open That Door! is back with installment #51. This week we're focusing on 1951's The Thing From Another World, aka one of the best movies of the decade, no kidding.

Kenneth Tobey and James Arness lead the way, but really this is an ensemble piece that crackles with great dialogue, moody lighting and atmospheric sets. John Carpenter would remake it in 1986 with a lot more blood and gore; it's an okay attempt but lacks the charm of the original.

So take a peek at the column, and do me a favor and Tweet about it, Like it on Facebook and so forth. If people say they like it, I'll be able to do more and more, which is what I'm hoping for...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Attention, Romanian speakers!

The lovely and talented Uzma Aslam Khan was recently interviewed for a Romanian web site site in honor of the recent release of the Romanian edition of her terrific book, Trespassing. (Her 15th edition? 16th? I can't keep up.)

Here's the cover of the new edition, which is pretty sweet, featuring as it does silkworm butterflies in the act of mating.

If you read the book, you'll see that both concepts -- silkworms, and mating in its various forms -- are both crucial to the storyline as well as the bigger themes. So, the cover designer was pretty clever here.

Here's an extract from the interview:

Aşteptarea virează către cititor, căutăm ce nu cunoaştem şi încercăm să ne punem în locul celuilalt. Încă o diferenţă se referă la faptul că în imaginarul vestic există adeseori preconcepţii, generate de media, despre cum ar trebui să arate Orientul, în special cu referire la femei, care, de cele mai multe ori sînt văzute ca nişte fiinţe ascunse, fără voce, obligate să se mărite.

Okay, no idea what's going on in that first sentence. The second has words like "diferenta" and "imaginarul" that are temptingly close to words that I do know, along with the nifty phrase "preconceptii, generate de media." Plus I'm willing to go to bat that I know what "Orientul" is getting at. So okay, I think we're doing all right, as long as that first sentence isn't saying something like, "Milk sure has gotten expensive these days, but at least you can freeze it!"

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Interesting blog review of An Age of Madness

Okay so it's not a rave by any means, although the reviewer does say some nice things along the lines of

"I was worried about a male author writing a convincing female lead, and I think Mr. Maine has done a great job with that"

as well as

"while I normally don't like unreliable narrators, I understand why he did it, and I think he pulled it off very well"

But she also has some reservations about the tone of the book -- ie, it's too depressing -- as well as the back cover copy, which she feels misrepresents the story. As far as tone goes, yeah, this is probably my most depressing book. Guilty as charged. It's a pretty dark story about some pretty dark stuff, and once I went there, I wasn't about to get out of it too easily. So okay, if that's not your thing, then I can understand that.

I actually find her criticism of the cover copy more interesting, as she makes the claim that

"unlike the back cover copy, I am not going to intentionally mislead you in order to not give away a spoiler. Don't read that copy. It's bad in that you will think you're about to read a very different kind of book"

I find this interesting because I helped to write the copy (most writers do, I think), and thought I did an okay job. Apart from a series of questions that sketch out the basic parameters of the main character, Regina, the copy pretty much consists of one sentence: "An Age of Madness peels back the layers of Regina's psyche in a voice that is brash, bitter, and blackly humorous, laying bare her vulnerabilities while drawing the reader unnervingly close to this memorable heroine."

I can understand the reservation someone might have about the word "heroine;" Regina is many things but she is probably nobody's idea of a heroine. But she is the novel's main character and narrator, so it seems fair enough to characterize her in this way. Someone else might say the book is too grim to be considered "humorous," even if it's "blackly humorous." But I don't think so; there any number of passages that make me giggle, or even laugh out loud, and I've given enough readings to know that audiences tend to respond the same way.

This brings us to the blurbs from other writers -- Stuart Archer Cohen, Natalie Danford and Jincy Willett, all of whom were kind enough to read the manuscript and commit their praise to print. Everybody says very kind things and they say them memorably. Maybe Stuart's final comment, that the novel is "intriguing and uplifting," would throw some people. I do think there's a good deal of resolution and forward movement by the end of the story, but I can understand why some readers would not find the book "uplifting." It's a pretty sad story, I'll cop to that, and I do my best to avoid pat answers and by-the-numbers "redemption," which has been a buzzword for years now that basically indicates a happy ending.

Anyway I find the blogger's comments interesting, because they raise all kinds of questions about our expectations of a book, and of the description of the book that -- like it or not -- most of us still use in determining whether or not we're going to read something. This is the first time a reviewer has ever commented on the jacket copy of one of my stories, and it makes me wonder about books that I've read that perhaps didn't mesh with the expectations that I had. Were my expectations fed by the jacket description? Quite likely.

No great conclusions here, just food for thought.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Meet the new neighbors

And I do mean "Neigh"-bors...

Sorry. Really, really sorry. I just can't help myself sometimes.

So then, Jasper and Sundance. Two horses who live in the barn behind our new house and whose paddock is more or less our back yard. The landlord who rents the house also rents the barn and yard, so these guys are our neighbors for the duration, which is fine with us.

Jasper is on the left, Sundance on the right with the white blotch and blond mane. I admit, I never knew much about horses--they actually kind of freak me out--but these guys are real characters, very playful and curious and unthreatening. They're also very responsive to both me and Uzee, which is sweet, as they come trotting over whenever we're in the vicinity in order to see what's going on:

So, we already pretty much love them.

Those things on their faces are fly guards, by the way. They look opaque but they're not, they just keep the bugs out of their eyes, which keeps the fellas happy.