Teenage Landscape

I recently read Chris Barzak’s debut novel, One for Sorrow

I enjoyed it immensely. It was an old-fashioned ghost story, in the sense that it was about a haunting. And in the sense that parts of that haunting were downright oogy. 

The part that really captured me was the landscape that felt exactly like when I was fifteen. It often seems to me that books (and movies) are set in one of 3 places: the city, where everyone is hip and hard and fast and now now now; the suburbs, where everyone is rich and white and label-proud; or the country (aka Rural America), a quiet land of deer hunting, corn fields, overalls and poverty.

But there’s a great in-between, and it’s called rural suburbia. Ranches, split levels, and faux cape-cods set down in the middle of cow fields. The kids who live there are probably white, but they aren’t rich. They aren’t farmers. They don’t know the names of all the trees, of the kinds of rock, or when to plant a watermelon. They know much more about how to get the high score, and which creepy old dude makes a few bucks selling ciggies and booze to 13-year-olds. But–

And here’s the but–the trees are all around. There’s only so much cable you can watch at 2am in July. And then you’re out in the woods behind your house with a cigarette lighter and a pointy stick, and it’s you and the trees and the bugs and the dark. You’re dreaming of the city, of when you can get away to somewhere real, but right now the natural world has you in its arms, and it’s not letting go.

Heaven On Earth

I’m really, really, really glad “Parvati & the Snake” was published two months ago.

I just watched a trailer for Deepa Mehta’s new film, Heaven and Earth, and I saw so much in the young wife and the cobra that I felt like I had copied, even though this is the first time I ever heard of the film. The trailer even has a voiceover line that’s something like “Can our desires be so powerful that…they walk right into our lives?”

I know snakes and love in an Indian context isn’t 100% original, and in Parvati’s case it wasn’t desire so much as anti-desire, but still. Kind of makes you see how when something like this happens and both parties are well-known, it can cause all kinds of kerfuffle.

The film, which stars Preity Zinta (Mission Kashmir, Koi Mil GayaKal Ho Na Ho, Veer-Zaara), premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and is, according to Bollywood gossip pages, based upon a real story about a Punjabi woman named Amardeep, who Mehta filmed for a documentary a year or so ago. There’s an excellent article about other influences, including Roddy Doyle’s novel The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, in the Montreal Mirror, here.

I’m sure once I see the whole movie, I won’t think it has anything to do with my story. But things like this make me think it’s possible that are really only 3 plots in the whole world.

Something new

Yesterday, I tried something new – songwriting.

I am musically impaired. If being able to sing along to the radio was one of the qualifications for getting a driver’s license, I wouldn’t be allowed within fifty feet of motor vehicle even as a passenger.

But M. was having trouble with a song and asked me to fill in some the verse. The catch was, she wanted it to be her kind of words, not my kind of words (and for those of you who know M, you know how far apart those are-no diplomatic relations). I think that’s what made it fun – If I had been writing for myself, it would have been agonizing.

But to see if I could emulate her–only better–that was like taking a test. Taking tests is fun.

One-horned wonder

Here I am, trying to decide which novel (and I’m not letting on what my choices are) and I wake up in the middle of the night with a sentence in my head. I think, okay, that’s a sentence, and I try to let it go. But the sentence knows where it’s going. 

I get through several plot twists, character revisions, and perfect sentences which I am lying there in bed repeating over and over to myself so I won’t forget the exact word order. Until I realize I have basically a complete story. I wish I could now go to sleep and it would be there in the morning, but I know from experience it won’t. So I get my glasses, get out of bed and tiptoe upstairs, and, kept company by my chillblains, write it all down.

Did I mention the unicorn? Because that’s what the whole durn story is about. 

It’s 5:30 am, and out the windows the sky to the north is a burning dull pink. Truly ominous. And I think, that’s why the unicorn has come for me. The zombie wars have already begun.

Fast Forward

Wow. Busy week. 

And a train wreck in my head. When I sat down to look at the bloated (16,000 words and not finished) 2-year old story that I promised myself would be my next housekeeping project, I realized:

a) It was way worse than I remembered
b) I didn’t want to do that much work on something that wasn’t a novel

So, time to get back on that novel wagon….but which one? I thought I’d have another few weeks to decide, and now my stomach hurts. It’s not that I don’t fully intend to complete both, but choosing one means shutting the door on the other for a long time. Once I’m committed, I’ll be fine, but I feel like if I make the wrong choice, I’ll always be looking back over my shoulder.

Cold Hard Facts


Sigh. I still say this doesn’t prove anything. Except maybe the quality of the people who use the internet.

Zombies vs. Unicorns Googlefight
Zombies vs. Unicorns Googlefight

Count Me In On the Side of the Unicorns

Justine Larbalestier, who seems like a lovely person, who writes delightful novels about magic, and who no doubt sparkles with fairy dust even under harsh fluorescent lighting, has a sad, sad, handicap: a predilection for useless zombies

Yet, as all right thinking people know…Unicorns Are Tops!

I mean, let’s think about this rationally. What, after all, can you do with a zombie? The best even Simon Pegg, zombie-supporter eloquenaire, could come up with, if I remember the end of Shaun of the Dead correctly, is to sit in a garden shed in his backyard with his pet zombie/best friend on a leash and play video games with him. Well…knock me over with a fun stick. 

Now, unicorns on the other hand…Unicorns are magic! If you’re very very nice to them and not at all condescending, you might get to go for a ride…and even on a real horse that’s pretty awesome – but this is a horse that is faster and stronger than any animal alive – faster even than Edward Cullen. You can also talk to your unicorn (zombie = poor conversationalist) and he will be very smart. Depending on who’s mythology you’re stumbling around in, you might get to fly. Unicorns purify poison water, make liars tell the truth, and bring you back from the dead. Also they are warm and quite good for snuggling up with in the cold forest.

So let’s sum up:

Unicorns = swift, airborne, uncatchable. / Zombies = slow, disjointed shamble.

Unicorns = poison-free eternal life. / Zombies = guts eating, eternal un-life.

Unicorns = better than an electric blanket. / Zombies = cold as the grave, and smelly.

What’s in a room?

I was critiquing a manuscript yesterday (Hi P&C!) in which a conversation takes place in a writer’s study. I thought there wasn’t enough physical description of this room, this mythical birthplace of creation. I looked around my own desk for examples of detail, and realized that a writers’ room is really rich with possibility — I write at a stained plywood desk from IKEA. The arm of my chair has fallen off twice and is held on with zip ties. The cushion is rank with cat hair. But somebody else might have antique rugs, or a desk their father wrote at, or a mania for pristine surfaces and zero tolerance for clutter.

Sarah Waters' (Fingersmith, The Night Watch) writing room
Writer's room: Sarah Waters (Fingersmith, The Night Watch)

Looking at the space where someone works in solitude, where they produce tangible worlds out of the rag bag of their subconscious, is ripe for voyeurism and salacious speculation. Hence, the Guardian’s incredibly gratifying series, Writer’s Rooms.

Some writers don’t have their own rooms, and claim not to want them. (Bizarro craziness if you ask me. How do  you find yesterday’s thought if you don’t know where you left it?) Most rooms have windows, but not all. Some are tidy, some are not.

Actual dirt is not a problem for me, but I need to have a magic circle of empty surfaces drawn around my immediate viewing area – I need to be able to see ahead. I get how views or busy streets could be distracting, but I think I’d die if I had to work in a poky closet without a single window. How can you imagine the world when all you can see is walls?

People is different. Amazing.