January 30, 2012

The paperback wall, and other formative literature

The New York Times ran an article about A Wrinkle in Time late last week, and when I read it this morning, I was surprised to find myself getting all emotional about it. Seeing the names was enough: Meg, Calvin, Charles Wallace. Mrs Whatsis, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. I was choked up - it had been a while.

Suddenly I feel the need to go buy Zoe a copy RIGHT NOW, even though I know she won't be ready for it for a few years. I told Charles, and he said, "You know, I've never read it."

And I almost cried. This situation needs to be remedied RIGHT NOW.

Because that book. Oh! That book. I loved it. I still love it. I'd read it right now, if I had a copy. When I was younger, I wanted to BE Meg, even though I hated math. Charles Wallace seemed like such a cool kid. And Calvin? Wow, a boy who was smart AND played basketball? Yes, I had a monster crush on him. I never thought I'd find a boy as cool as Calvin (Incidentally...I did).

Their journey stuck with me. The word Tesseract? I've never forgotten it. I can close my eyes and picture the drawing of a line with ants walking across it, first straight and then bent to create the shortest possible distance between the two end points.

The story had adventure. Danger. Just a little bit of romance and love. And in the end, the nerdy girl saved the day.

Oh. How I loved that book.

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The article got me thinking about books I loved as a child/young adult, and wondering what books were important to others.

I loved a lot of the classics: Little Women, The Secret Garden, Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird. I still have copies of those books in my house today, and I leaf through the tattered pages on nights when sleep is elusive and I want to read something soothing.

But I also started in early on some not-classics, at least not in the canonical sense.

In their old house (my old house) my parents kept a giant bookshelf, custom-built by my father, which housed hundreds of old, beat-up paperbacks, all neatly in a row. The shelves were long and narrow; hardcovers need not apply here. When you sat near it, you could smell that paperback smell. If you love books, you know the one of which I'm speaking - of paper, mildew, ink. You can smell it whenever you step into a used bookstore, and I loved smelling it my own house.

Its shelves were a font of reading material for a younger me. There was a whole section devoted to the Stephen King classics. I started reading It when I was thirteen, and it took me the full school-year to read it.  After It, I moved on to Carrie and The Shining, allowing the words to terrify me, and also make me feel stronger for having been brave enough to continue reading.  Being brave was and always will be important to me.

There was a section of Holocaust literature - novels, memoirs, non-fiction accounts. Babi Yar. Auschwitz. Names which were so foreign, and yet so familiar. 

There was even, tucked away in a corner where guests probably wouldn't notice it, lying on it's side, a scarlet letter of a book, a copy of Mein Kampf.

Know thy enemy, I took from that book's existence in my house.

Also, the knowledge that my parents would never censor my reading. Ever. 

Those books became the cornerstone of my reading, and also writing, life (although I'll admit I never touched Mein Kampf). I write a mix of sci-fi and horror with classic themes (growing up, falling in love), and a little bit of the holocaust thrown in there. I'm interested in how good people can be, but also how bad. The depths to which they will stoop, when circumstances allow/permit. The damage they can do.

Thinking of that bookshelf made me happy, sad and curious all at the same time. I wonder, reader-friends, what are the books that shaped your life?

And do you think a well-stocked Kindle or Nook can ever be a replacement for that wonderful paperback bookshelf? I don't. I love that paperback smell.

January 25, 2012

Hope: A Tragedy: A Novel: A Review

Because you're Jewish, she said, and you feel guilty for not suffering atrocities. 
So says Anne Frank to Solomon Kugel in Hope: A Tragedy, a novel by Shalom Auslander, and when I read that line, I laughed.

A book about the Holocaust isn't funny. A tragedy isn't funny. But life, even when it's tragic, can be funny. It can also be pitiful, absurd, surprising, thought-provoking and bizarre. And, yes, sad too. Tragic.

All of those words can be used to describe Auslander's novelWhile reading, I laughed and cried and got angry. I didn't throw the book, though, like I did at the end of Atonement, because when this book ended, it ended exactly how it needed to, perfectly.

So what is Hope: A Tragedy? 

Hope: A Tragedy
Shalom Auslander
Riverhead Hardcover
June 12, 2012
304 Pages
It's part dark comedy and part fantasy/altered reality: Anne Frank survived the Holocaust, but appears in the small-town attic of Solomon Kugel, a Jewish man who needed a fresh start and fled Brooklyn with his wife, young child, and terminally ill mother.

Sound bizarre? Now let's add some layers.

Kugel is neurotic, obsesses about dying and what his last words might someday be, and can't seem to kick out the ancient, decrepit Anne Frank from his attic.

Kugel's mother wasn't a victim of the Holocaust; she wasn't even born during the Holocaust. But she thinks she was in a camp during the Holocaust, and spends her life blaming "the bastards" for all that ails her.  When teaching her then eight-year-old son about Buchenwald, she points to pictures in a book, pictures of mass graves and emaciated prisoners.
That's your uncle, she would say.
That's your grandfather's sister.
That's your cousin's father.
What's that? Kugel asked, pointing to the lamp shade she had placed beside him on the bed.
That, she said with a sigh. That's your grandfather.
Then she buried her face in her hands and wept.
The lamp was actually made in Taiwan. But that scene somehow made me laugh my face off, even though a year and a half ago, this happened.

The protagonists are caricatures, no doubt. Hilarious, frustrating, annoying, quirky caricatures. They're fun to read, but fun in the way dark comedies like Election are fun to watch. As I read Hope, I often found myself curled up, pretzel-like, my toes pulled in, my typical pose of discomfort.

Because...really. Anne Frank? Alive after all these years, and still living in someone's attic? It's just so weird! Anne Frank wouldn't say that! I thought, more than once. I know! I've read her diary a gazillion times. Really? Are you KIDDING me, Mr. Auslander? 

And the thing is, he is kidding me. The whole book, on some level, is one big inside joke. "Kugel" means "noodle" in Yiddish - not a bad joke, if you happen to know Yiddish. I felt like I got the humor because I am Jewish, and I have access to the shared culture and...ahem...guilt of which Auslander writes. Kugel is trapped by guilt, and I think I understand.

At least I know the stereotype.

But this is a book about breaking free. Of stereotypes, of family, of your own dysfunctional history, which can trap you like a jail cell. And it's only when Kugel can't break free that the tragedy of the story appears, and this is when I, as a reader, stopped laughing. My heart broke a little.

Because this is that kind of book. Serious ideas hidden beneath the absurd, so that by the time you turn the last page, you sort of forget what was so funny in the first place. Because that kind of guilt, that kind of inability to step out from the shadow of your past -- it's kind of tragic.

January 22, 2012

A bedtime story for my daughter

Earlier this weekend I said I had a story floating around in my head that I wanted to write for my three-year-old daughter, Zoe. She's been having nightmares for weeks, months even, all about a non-specific, indescribable monster. We've tried cutting out scary shows.  We've tried "monster spray." We've tried music and talking about her dreams and feelings till we're all sick of the topic. 

But still the monster persists.

So I wrote this, in the hopes that it would help. She loves it, of course, because it's about her, but I thought I'd share it out here to see what y'all think, too. I'd love to have it illustrated (my drawing skill is sub-par at best) and print a copy for her one day. But for now, I'm content with reading it aloud to her from my computer screen.  

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it (after the jump).  :)

Primary Reactions

Early last week, as our phone rang off the hook with calls from political organizations intent on securing our two votes in yesterday's South Carolina Republican Primary, Charles got the fun idea of answering all calls (instead of letting them go to voicemail, like we typically do).

On Wednesday, I answered the phone while Zoe and Charles were getting ready for bed.  The conversation went like this:

Friendly, Masculine Voice: Is this Lee Rhyne?
Me: Yes, this is Leah Rhyne.  What can I do for ya?
FMV: Would you like to participate in a political survey?
Me: Would I ever! Bring it on!
FMV: OK, so, are you employed by any political organizations, news organizations, or are you a political blogger?
Me: Well, I have a blog, and every so often I'll talk about politics, but mostly I talk about books and writing and stuff.
FMV: Great! Fantastic. So, are you a registered voter, and if so, for what party?
Me: I am a registered Independent, thank you.
FMV: So what is the likelihood that you'll vote in Saturday's Republican Primary?
Me: Slim to none, I'd say.
FMV, suddenly MUCH less friendly: Oh. OK, well in that case, no further questions.
*CLICK*

So basically, since I didn't want to vote in their primary, I couldn't participate further in the survey. Bummer! I had so much more to say!!

Like...this:

The South Carolina Republican Primary did take place yesterday, and I did not participate. But Charles and I watched the returns come in on CNN, and it was no surprise when they announced the winner: Newt Gingrich.

I'm not a Gingrich fan, by any stretch of the imagination, but we did tune in to watch his victory speech that felt, to me, much more like a coronation acceptance. Based on last night, I think he thinks he has this nomination in the bag (which he may, given the recent shift in national polls). 

As he stood at the podium last night, his third wife Callista by his side, I was rather disgusted by both of them. I know Newt's marital affairs are old news by now (even his second wife's incendiary interview this week couldn't make it new news again), but I had a good think about it while he blathered on. He's a slimeball, right? Left two wives while they were gravely ill for new women because, well, I guess the grass is always greener, eh?   

But you have to consider Callista, too, in this calculation. Do we want as a First Lady a woman who was more than willing to break up a marriage in her own pursuit of love...or was it power, since Newt was already Speaker of the House by then? Doesn't matter, but I don't think she's beyond blame in that situation. And I don't want either of them in the White House, personally. I do understand that you can't help who you fall in love with, or when, but I do believe you can and should control your actions in life, and I find their actions despicable.

But again, old news.

The one thing that stuck with me, that kept me up at 3:30 a.m., was Newt's comment that he represented true American values, and wanted to bring us back to the America we all loved (I'm paraphrasing, I'm sorry...it's still early). 

I am an American and a South Carolinian (by way of New Jersey). I believe in America, and I love this country. But what I love about this country is far from the definition Newt presented last night. Here's what I believe.  

I believe in the freedom to choose who I want to love, regardless of gender. I believe no one has the right to tell me who I can or cannot marry (and I did choose to marry a man, a wonderful man, but that was my choice).  

I believe in a clear separation between church and state, and I believe I have the right to choose what religion I want to practice. Even if that means practicing no religion, or a non-Western religion.   

I believe in supporting my fellow citizens, who may not be as lucky in life as I am. I believe in paying a little more in taxes if it helps this country, and my fellow citizens, flourish.  I do believe much about our welfare system is broken, but I believe in fixing it, rather than trashing it. We cannot let our poor, our old, our infirm, flounder.

I believe in respecting other countries, even if it means bowing to a Saudi king, because, well, he's a king. Even if I don't believe his policies, I'd bow before a king. It's respectful. 

I believe in ending wars that are taxing the hell out of our economy and, more importantly, an entire generation of my peers.  

I believe in President Obama and the choices he's made for our country, and the fact that he saved the auto industry and kept us from falling completely into another Great Depression created by the policies of many administrations before his. I believe President Obama is a good man, not deserving of the ugly nastiness provided by last night's speech. 

Mr. Speaker. Newt. I am an American and a South Carolinian, and you do NOT, in any way, represent me.

January 20, 2012

A couple-few updates, and some fun links (I'm so not-creative at 7:30 a.m.)

Why, hello! What's up with me only posting on a bi-weekly basis lately, you ask?

I don't know, I answer.  I only know life's been a bit hectic of late, so something's got to give.  

But thank goodness, there is still coffee and chocolate in my life.  And it's Friday.

Here are some random updates, in no particular order:
  • It's Friday, and I have a whole day of entering Charles's line edits ahead of me.  He's SUCH a good editor, it makes me nuts. But he can really find any spot where my wording is awkward or I haven't quite said exactly what I want to say, and he can fix it.  Seriously, he tore up my manuscript and put it back together, and I've only ignored two or three of his gazillion suggested changes.  I'm lucky to have such a good editor right here in my own house, and hopefully the next book won't need quite so much of his talented eye.  Yay for helpful husbands!
  • Zoe stopped sleeping again.  Yep, nightmares. Again.  Last night was a disaster, but (and I repeat), there is coffee in my life.  Chocolate will come later.  But the good news is that I have a fun idea for a little story floating around my head, and I plan to write it, print it and read it to her tonight.  If I like how it turns out, I'll probably post it here this weekend, just for silly fun.  So far it's called Zoe Dylan and the Monster...less than creative, I suppose, but descriptive enough for my three-year-old to get that it's about her and the monster about which she dreams...I hope it turns out well. 
  • Finally, part of the fun of following agents and editors on the Twitters and elsewhere is that you learn...well...those agents? Those scary, mean agents with reputations for terrible rejection letters and such? Well, they're people, too.  And most of them actually seem NICE!  Like they actually want to help the writers out there!  And to help, sometimes they make cool offers, to the effect of, "You post some links, and I'll give you some feedback on your writing."  Amazing, right?  Meredith Barnes is offering to do just that, and Meredith, I hope this counts as posting links!!
    • Here's a link to an author named Deborah Camp, and I'm linking to her specifically because...holy cow! She's prolific!!  She's got over 40 novels under her belt, all in the romance category, and since I'm still editing my first, and have just over 15,000 words of my second written, I absolutely have to admire her tenacity and productivity!  Check out her current available titles if you have a sec.
    • Next we have Dan Streib, another author with a TON of work to his name, including many books under pseudonyms.  Seriously, people - I don't know how these writers have time to do it all!  Dan also looks like a super-interesting guy (A combat officer in the war, a communications specialist with special knowledge of aircraft? The historian in me is drooling!!), so I'll definitely be perusing his titles, which live here on Amazon.  You should take a look too!

So, thanks for reading through to the end of my random post.  If you're interested, check back later this weekend for the monster story, and oh - this weekend just happens to be the opening of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest!! Do check that out, too, if you happen to have a novel you'd like to see compete (ANDREA - THIS MEANS YOU!!)! I know I do! Good luck to all contestants!!!

January 11, 2012

When in doubt...blog!

Hee hee hee. I don't feel like working on Book 2 tonight.  And I've sworn off editing Book 1 until next week, thus giving my husband time to finish his edits, and thus waiting for feedback from my other writing buddy, which was put in the mail today.

So what to do, what to do while I'm stuck upstairs as Zoe goes to sleep?

I'll blog, of course! Something about which I've been rather slack lately (eye on the prize, eye on the prize...).

I thought some of you might like an update on just where I am in this whole book-writing business.  

Let's see...where AM I?

I am...immersed in the writing of Book 2.  For a few days it moved forward at a fascinatingly quick pace (fascinating to me because it was way faster than I'm used to writing).  Last Friday, while I was home alone for the day, in between cleaning and exercising I managed to write a bit over 4,000 words, a new record for me.  But then I got stuck. 

Sigh.  I've been working in a much more linear fashion than I did on the last book, which is a bit odd, and I just decided I need a new narrator to switch up the voice and timeline a bit. Trouble is, I don't know exactly who I want that new narrator to be.  Is it a good guy? A bad guy? Male? Female? Young? Old? I can't say, but I do know I plan to be cryptic about the narrator's identity, at least in the beginning. Problem being, I can't be cryptic with myself. 

So I'm stuck.

As for Book 1...well, Book 1 is almost there! It's been out in the world with a handful of readers for a month now, and I've received...well...diverse feedback.  Some good, some less than, but all extremely helpful, and I am 100% grateful.  I swore off knee-jerk editing, in which I'd implement EVERY suggestion given to me moments after it was given, and have instead allowed most of the feedback to sink in.  Next week, I plan to implement some small but important changes that should hopefully assuage some reader concerns, make it even better, and to enter in any edits from my eagle-eyed husband.

And then? That's it! It'll be time to send it back out into the world for REAL this time, to see what the publishing industry has to say about it.  I'm so excited about that, I could just pee!  (When Charles reads this he'll make a super-ugly face and be annoyed with me.  Hilarious!! He hates that phrase!)

So anyway, I do have a plan for moving forward, and the way I see it, the publishing industry has changed such that even if no one but me loves my little book, I'll still find a home for it in the e-book world.  Maybe one day I'll even have readers outside my small circle of friends! And that? To me, that's the coolest prospect of all!

Also...T-minus 6 weeks till I get to hopefully meet the famous Stephen King! w00t!!!

So there you have it. A blog post and a book update, all in one!  I'm super-pumped about it all, and I hope you are too!  Hee hee hee.

January 7, 2012

Movies and such (aka: My semi-review of The Descendants)

Zoe has discovered the joy that is called Sleeping Over at Grandmas' Houses.  Only she calls one of her grandmothers Sassy and the other Nana.  But that doesn't matter.  The point is, she likes to sleep at their houses now, not just our house.  Which means that now, even more than before, Charles and I get to do things like go to dinner and movies.  Huzzah!

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Tonight we started at our favorite burger place (Sesame, in case you live in Charleston and are interested), where we sat at the bar, watched football, and where neither of us ate burgers. Ah, such is life.  BUT we did have an interesting conversation with a currently-unemployed British scientist who was researching lipids with a practical application of one day curing cancer (until funding cuts by George W. Bush forced him out of his job). 

Ah. Such is life in a crap-tastic economy. But...things are on the up-swing now. Let's hope we vote the right man back into office.  But I digress.

****************

A long time ago, my roommate Elisa came home from work and said, "I have the saddest movie EVER for us to watch."  It was called My Life Without Me and was about a young woman with two small children who finds out she has terminal cancer and decides not to TELL anyone, and instead spends the rest of the movie getting secretly sicker and recording secret messages for her two daughters to watch as they grow up.

Yeah.  We watched it.  And then wanted to die.

(We were both going through tumultuous points in our lives; forgive us a night of wallowing.)

I never thought I'd see anything quite as sad.

*****************

Tonight, after our super-fun, almost-raucous dinner, we saw a movie that was almost that sad.

The Descendants stars a growing-older-looking George Clooney, and follows a man who's just found out that: a. his wife is not going to wake up for a trauma-induced coma; and b. she was also cheating on him.  

Yeah.  THAT was cheerful. But not really. At all.

Seriously, though, it was a lovely movie, and I'll admit it: I cried.  A couple times.  No shocker - it was easy to look at the dark-haired, dark eyed movie-daughters and see my Zoe, and wonder: if I was no longer around, would anyone meeting Zoe ever know I'd been a part of her life? What would she and Charles be like without me?

Cheerful, eh?

But seriously, it's a good movie.  Clooney is adorable and brilliant, as usual.  The daughters are beautiful and spunky, my favorite combo. It was shot on-location in Hawaii, which is somewhere I'd really really really love to go someday, and which makes for some beautiful cinematography.  Beaches, mountains, stormy skies. Visually, it was stunning.  

So, if you need cheering up one day soon (ha!), go see it. So long as you're not cheating on your spouse, and that spouse is not on life support, it'll make you happier in your own life.  Seriously.  

(That said, if one of the two above statements describes you...DON'T go see The Descendants!)

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Incidentally, as we were leaving the theater tonight, we both smelled fish.  Rotten, stinky fish.  Which was weird, because we're nowhere near the ocean or a river at our local movie theater.

I was, of course, making ugly faces, and looking for the source of the stink when Charles found it.  

"Look at the trees," he said. 

The trees lining the parking lot were literally full of sleeping seagulls, who like to winter here.  I've never seen anything like it.  Every branch held a fluffy, almost-glowing white bird with its head tucked beneath a wing.  I don't like birds, but the sleeping gulls were almost cute! 

But they stank!! Holy cow, if I never encounter a stink like that again, I'll still have smelled it one time too many. YUCK.

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Have a restful night, friends!