Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Distinguished Lecture Part 1: Preparation

On November 20th, Boise State University put on one of their Distinguished Lecture series events. A free event, open to the public, at which interested members of the community could come and hear a speaker. On this particular night, the speaker was Sir Salman Rushdie.

I had been looking forward to this event since I first read about it in September. It seemed to me that I should have read something by him, but I hadn't. So, I took a break from my current project of reading the entirety of The Wheel of Time to read both The Satanic Verses and Joseph Anton. Lacking sufficient homework from my class this semester, I assigned myself those books.

I had heard of The Satanic Verses. I was only seven when the book was published, but I had heard about it from friends in high school more interested in politics than I, and I've more recently read a science fiction novel that explicitly references it (Zendegi by Greg Egan). And yet, in hearing about it, I had never caught on to how fantastical it was.

There is this idea that I have of serious literature, the kind that would win a nomination for the Booker prize. I felt that it had to be serious and realistic. Brimful of poetic imagery and perfectly placed metaphor. Perhaps I have been reading the wrong literature.

The Satanic Verses was a fascinating read. I found myself incredulous at what Rushdie was "getting away with" in regards to using the fantastic as a part of his story. Whether the fantastic was supposed to be a part of a man's madness or not, it still began with what had to be a miracle of two men surviving an airplane explosion at altitude.

I didn't see what made it an insult to any religion, but that could very well be simply because I was reading it as fiction. Since, you know, it is fiction.

I read Joseph Anton next, and found myself fascinated again, but for a different reason. This was a memoir. It is meant to be truthful; true to the memory of one man. I was aghast at the negative reactions of the British press. I wondered how I would have done in similar circumstances. Here was a man who stood by his words when those words brought him the threat of death. Not a hero, or a superman, but a writer.

In both books, I found sections that I found particularly moving or well-worded. Some paragraphs I read to my husband, usually those that included vivid description, which is something he wants to see more of in my writing. Others I savored to myself, especially the parts in The Satanic Verses that were about Alleluia Cone and Mount Everest. I'm still trying to come to terms with what I think is an important lesson from Joseph Anton, that seeking to be loved is not the right path.

I brought my husband to the lecture with me. And I brought anticipation and excitement. I didn't know what to expect from a Boise crowd. Would the Morrison Center be echoingly empty or filled with a smattering of students seeking extra credit and a few others who might come to see such a writer speak?

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Last Unicorn Tour: A Review

I like books. I've liked books as long as I can remember. And yet, despite spending the first eighteen years of my life next door to Chicago, I never went to an author event until last week.

Now that I live in Boise, I often bemoan the fact that the authors and musical acts that I really dig don't come here. For example, I was quite incensed to notice that Passion Pit was going to go to Salt Lake City, then skip a day and then play Spokane. That means that they drove right through Boise without bothering to stop.


(Just kidding, you're not jerks, Passion Pit - come to Boise!)

And when I did see notices of author events in the area, they weren't authors that I knew of or they weren't authors I was passionate about, even if they were big names. Okay, I did want to see Cheryl Strayed, but the tickets for that event were a) out of my budget and b) sold out in seconds.

But, as I wrote a few weeks ago, a magical concurrence of events occurred that allowed me to go to The Last Unicorn Tour and meet Peter S. Beagle on November 4th.

To be perfectly honest, I have attended one other author signing, if you want to count being dragged to the mall by my mom so she can get a signed cookbook from the Frugal Gourmet. I don't really count it, and what I remember most about that event was a long line emerging from the bookstore and wrapping around the upper level of the mall.

This was different. For one, the signing took place in a movie theater lobby, which was fairly dimly lit and subject to flows of people exiting their films and staring at the partially costumed hoard of people lined up in front of the tables of merchandise. I met some people in line, and attached myself to them in a way, since my husband didn't want to stand in line and I didn't want to be completely alone.

But when I got to the head of the line, where Peter sat and the skull glowered, I was alone, if only for a moment. I was tongue-tied and on the verge of tears. I wanted to speak eloquently, in a way that he would remember. But all I managed was to reference what he had said on the Writing Excuses podcast. "I must call myself a writer," I managed to stammer. And he told me to keep up the work. A quick photo-op and I was off to the theater to watch the screening.

A Q&A session preceded the film, and I later kicked myself for not asking the obvious question, "How is a raven like a writing desk?" But the questions were good, and Peter spoke in fascinating stories. It was a shame that the session had to end, because I doubt I was the only one ready to listen to Peter talk all night.

I cried during the film. At the sad parts, the happy parts and my favorite parts. I resolutely did not let myself get in the way of feeling and expressing those emotions. I revisited a film of my childhood and experienced it in a way that I never had been able to, on the big screen in a full theater.

I left feeling satisfied and glad that I had taken part.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

First Draft Down, Long Way to Go

One thing that I can thank the slow pace of my class for is the time to work on my next solo trip book, Hike with Me: Queens River Loop. Last year, I wasn’t able to finish an initial draft until mid-December, due to the heavy workload for my literature class. There just wasn’t time to write as frequently when I had to read, re-read and write papers.

There is also the possibility that I’m getting a little bit better at writing this kind of account. I have been engaging in some practice by writing up my other trips this summer on my hiking blog, as well as the experience of last year’s book.

Plus I have a firm deadline from my husband, aka my motivation, aka my first reader, for a Christmas release. Pre-Christmas, rather, so we have Christmas gifts.

Although, to be honest, he gave me a deadline last year, and I didn’t quite meet it.

But this year, I’m on a good track. He has finished his initial read-through, and so my next step is to re-read and edit. After that, the big formatting push will come, which is the most time-consuming part of the non-writing process, because of the way that I’m doing the pictures. I have to make picture plates in GIMP, and then insert the plates into the text at the appropriate places.

Oh, and I have to choose the pictures. . . Maybe I’m actually running late. . .

I’ve got to get back to work.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Six Stages of Alien Abduction

1. Denial
As your eyes slowly adjust to the bright lights and you find you can't move, of course you're going to deny it. You insist that it must be a dream, but you know that once you realize a dream is a dream, you tend to wake up. There is no waking up. So you move onto the next lie, "I must have been in an accident. I'm in a hospital and I have amnesia." Sorry, no dice. Hospitals on earth do not have pulsing purple walls or tentacled nursing staff. It doesn't take long to get past denial when the three mouthed doctor leans over you with an oddly cute head tilt and a quadruple wink.

2. Anger
Why you? Of all the people in all the world, why did these stupid damn aliens have to pick you? If you could punch them right in their noses, er, hoses (nozzles?), you'd do it, right now, arm, hey arm, why aren't you moving? Anger turns out to be much more difficult to hold onto when you can't even thrash in protest.

3. Bargaining
Although you can't speak, you decide to see if the aliens are psychic. Or if you're psychic. You stare at them until your eyes hurt, thinking as loudly as you can: Let me go and I'll give you candy. You'd like candy, I promise. How about beer? Nothing like a cold one on a hot day. Shiny penny?
Incomprehensible trills fill your ears, but you can't tell if they're responding, laughing or completely psychically deaf.

4. Depression
You'd cry if you could. But you can't even tighten your sphincter, which, of course, you know they'll get around to eventually. You wish you could see your mother again, and tell her you love her even though she's crazy, which is totally the reason you fight all the time. What's the point of trying to thrash or telepathically beg? There's no point in anything anymore...

5. Acceptance
What will be, will be. You are paralyzed and helpless, and having absolutely nothing you can do certainly helps speed the process to acceptance. You endure, even as the expected probe strikes home, and tears actually do manage to leak out of your eyes.

6. X-Files
You wake up in bed, and while a part of you wants to pretend it was all a dream, a certain tender spot insists otherwise. You have no choice. There could be others out there, having been abducted, soon to be abducted, maybe even being abducted right now. You have to let everyone know that the truth is out there...