Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Critters

The Australian cattle herder awaits his Christmas stocking.

Do you herd what I herd?

Christmas catnip and the adolescent cat. *ecstasy*

This is my 17th Christmas. Catnip is for children.
I choose to look beautiful
and comport myself with dignity.

Except that this thing keeps
following me around, guys. Guys?

I am such a good boy. I know because
this human keeps telling me so.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I forgot to include the photo of Rudolph...


... the red-nosed dolphin.

Christmas in Florida Is All About Light :o)






Tuesday, December 17, 2013

If You Are Afraid, Give More

I LOVE the music video for Vienna Teng's wonderful song "Level Up." Dance! Here are the lyrics, if you want to read along. Thanks B via D :o)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Oh, and out of respect for PL Travers –

I'll just mention that Amy Nicholson's essay in LA Weekly beautifully encapsulates why all the ads for the movie Saving Mr. Banks (which is about the making of the movie Mary Poppins) have been giving me the heebie-jeebies. Having read Nicholson's essay, I now have even less interest in seeing the movie than I did before. The title of the essay: "Saving Mr. Banks Is a Corporate, Borderline-Sexist Spoonful of Lies." Thanks, B.

Snowy Randutiae for a Sunday

Yesterday was one of those perfect winter days wherein the snow begins early in the day, but lightly – the five-flakes-per-minute variety – then slowly builds, and your own schedule brings you out into it while it's beautiful but not yet gusty and difficult. I had a magical snow walk, then got home to a cozy evening of watching it get wild out there.

I love this time of year, even though it brings its challenges. Actually, the challenges are partly what I love… the darkness, in particular, brings a kind of raw feeling that I can't access as easily the rest of the year. It can be uncomfortable, but it's also a richly contemplative time for me. And I LOVE the New Year.

******

I've been wanting to say a few things about books and TV. I'm only giving myself a few minutes to write this post, so forgive me for the lack of linkage and description; I'm trusting in your ability to google. Warning: it's a bit scattered.

I read a YA mystery called The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher, out in the USA in January. Loved it! Now I'm reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which is Kate Atkinson's debut – loving that, too, and I'm excited about two more on my shelf: The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, and Among Others, by Jo Walton.

In the world of TV, while I wait for Orphan Black and Call the Midwife to come back (oh, and by the way, Downton Abbey, WE ARE SO OVER), I'm giving Almost Human a chance. This is the SF/crime drama that stars Karl Urban as John Kennex, a human police officer, and Michael Ealy as Dorian, an android police officer, in a futuristic society. The growing bromance between these partners – the crusty human who's having some problems with his humanity, and the sensitive android who's too human for his own good – is what's keeping me watching. Because they're funny. Funniest when they're talking about their boy parts, but entertaining no matter the topic.
JOHN [moodily contemplating the photo of a dead comrade]: Cooper was the only person in my class who could outrun me, outshoot me.
DORIAN: So, there were only two people in your class.
Of course there's always interesting food for thought when humans are paired with androids. We'll see where this show takes that theme. So far, I'm just relieved that we're four episodes in and the writers are still managing to avoid the Most Annoying Way of Creating Tension Ever, namely, having otherwise likable characters withhold really important information from each other and/or lie, for no good reason. (Have you ever found yourself watching a TV show and thinking to yourself, "Why doesn't he just tell them? The entire problem would be solved if he would just tell them! THERE IS NO REASON NOT TO TELL THEM!!!") I hate when TV writers do this! At best, it makes the plot structure shaky and transparent, and at worst, it makes me dislike the characters intensely. Deception can be a powerful event in any plot. But deception with insufficient motivation, committed by characters we're supposed to find sympathetic, then, once discovered by the other characters, dealt with casually in the plotline as if deception is a small thing, is weak writing. It's poor character development all around. Anyway. We'll see where this show goes, but in the meantime, I see potential to believe in these characters, and I appreciate that the writers aren't leaning on Pointless Misinformation as a tension-builder. I'm enjoying it. Though it does strike me as kind of violent for an 8 o'clock time slot.

 John fixes a short-circuit in Dorian's head
using nail clippers and bubblegum.

Moving on... In my quest to be delighted by the acting of David Tennant as often as possible, I just watched the Royal Shakespeare Company's recent production of Hamlet and really, really liked it. Beautifully acted. Tennant as a wonderful moody Dane, Patrick Stewart as Dear Uncle Claudius, Penny Downie as Mom, Mariah Gale as Ophelia, Peter de Jersey as Horatio, and Oliver Ford Davies as my favorite Polonius ever. Seriously, I was (um... spoiler?) quite sorry when, um, Polonius had that accident behind the tapestry, because I wanted him to keep amusing me forever.

I've also, on occasion, been enjoying the French police drama Engrenages (the English title is Spiral).

And finally, if you've given up on reality TV singing competitions because they make your skin crawl but your abandonment makes you sad, you might want to try The Sing-Off on NBC. While I do still rely on the ability to fast-forward, I truly enjoy this competition, which pits diverse (in race, age, sex, and music style) a cappella groups against each other and which is judged by three people who actually have intelligent and interesting things to say (Shawn Stockman, Ben Folds, and Jewel). And the music is just fun. If nothing else, try to catch the opening number one day – a great introduction to the contenders. Here's a video of one of those opening numbers. Remember to appreciate that it's voices only! (As always, if you can't see this video, go to my Blog Actual.)

  
 

Happy December, everyone!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Musical Tribute to Nelson Mandela

From the notes of this YouTube video: "On Saturday, 7 December 2013, Woolworths had planned a performance at our Parkview store in Pretoria to support our Operation Smile Christmas campaign. The Soweto Gospel Choir planned a rendition of James Brown's 'I Feel Good.' But, after Madiba's passing the choir decided on a tribute instead. They chose Johnny Clegg's 'Asimbonanga.'"



Thanks, Kristin.

Monday, December 9, 2013

I've never been one to decorate for Christmas…

… but after all, 'tis the season.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Thank You to My Readers

Today I received a pile of fan letters in the mail, forwarded from my publisher, and I've just spent some time reading a few of them. This batch came from all over the United States; it came from Canada, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand… To answer a few questions that come up a lot: Yes, I do receive these letters. Sometimes it takes a while, but they always get to me eventually. No, I do not throw them away. I don't even throw them away after I've read them. I still have every single fan letter I've ever received.

It's impossible to express the amazement with which I read these letters. How touched I am by the sensitivity of my readers, by the things they notice and appreciate. By the clever and succinct questions they ask that make me laugh, and sometimes suddenly see the flaws in my own books (which is a good thing!). By the respect they have for the work I've done, and the courage they have as they write or parent or go to school or do whatever it is they're doing in their own lives. By the love they have for my characters. The love my readers have for my characters means so much to me!

One of the things I love about my job is that I have published only three books, but every reader is different and brings something unique to his or her reading. So every time someone reads one of those books, the combination of book and reader creates a unique book, a book that no one else has read or ever could read. I write three books, but with your help, it becomes hundreds and thousands and maybe even hundreds of thousands of books, each one different. We create the books together, which is awesome. Each of us owns our own unique version exclusively, which is a precious thing.

Thank you, readers, for creating my books with me. Thank you for loving them, hating them, getting angry at them, finding solace in them, using them as coasters -- thank you for opening them, so that my characters can live in your minds. You are probably not thinking about this when you're reading -- and really, you shouldn't be, because the author shouldn't matter -- but your reading is an act of generosity that I can never repay.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Hungry Games Randutiae for a Sunday

I like the movie of Catching Fire SO much more than I liked the movie of The Hunger Games. (No spoilers here.) I'm happy about the directorial change to Francis Lawrence, who doesn't rely on way too much shaky cam to create tension (which I blogged about when the first movie came out). I have to say, though, that I think I'm going to need a sedative or something for watching Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2. If they stick to the plots and characterizations depicted in the books, parts of it are going to be so hard to watch.

The word of the day today at dictionary.com is "pilcrow", which is the punctuation symbol for "paragraph": . I'm rather fond of this symbol, because I use it frequently in my work, when I've got sentences crammed together and realize there should be a paragraph break between them, or worry that my own formatting is so messy that I'll forget to put in the paragraph break when I transcribe from my handwriting to the typed document.

 From my Bitterblue notebooks.

From a current revision.

The pilcrow makes me think of the manicule, which is the little hand with the pointy finger that means "pay special attention to this text": . I've never used this in anything, but I kind of love it. if I were very rich and had an extra room and nothing to do, maybe I'd decorate the room with pages from old, handwritten manuscripts that contained beautiful, fancy, hand-drawn manicules, like some of the manicules this image search brings up.

Finally, in case you thought my subject line was a dictation error, I present The Hungry Games:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Look to Like, If Looking Liking Move

I've been wanting to draw bloggy attention to Gareth Hinds' beautiful graphic novel adaptation of Romeo and Juliet for ages now. First I was hoping to do it before I left for London/Iceland, but trip preparation got in the way. Then I was hoping to do it upon my return, but reentry kind of knocked me on my ass; then I was hoping to do it in time for NCTE, but work swept me into a vortex, so, hello there, *waves from the vortex*, I failed at that, too. Sigh. But here I finally go!

We all know the story, but I've never seen it told like this before. Gareth brings Verona of the Montagues and Capulets alive; his illustrated adaptation breathes wonderful new life into dialog I'd heard so many times that I believe I'd stopped listening to it. Look at this beautiful cover:


You guys, it has a sword-hilt ampersand.

Over at Gareth's website, he shares a whole lot of the book online, in case you want to see more right away. I really recommend this book. If you're like me, you'll sit down thinking that you're just going to read a few pages, then you'll stay in your chair until you've examined every picture and read the entire thing.

This strikes me as an opportunity to tell a little story about Gareth (who is a friend) and Bitterblue, actually. Sometime after Bitterblue's  release, Gareth dropped me a line. "I have a little something for you," he said. "What's your mailing address?" Intrigued, I gave him my mailing address, then promptly forgot all about it. Until the mail arrived one day and I found a large envelope from Gareth that was well-packed and quite stiff.

Have you, by chance, ever received a large, well-packed, stiff envelope in the mail from a friend who is an artist?

Overcome with excitement, I ran inside and opened the envelope. Those of you who've read Bitterblue, do you remember that the sculptor Bellamew makes a sculpture of her own daughter, Hava, transforming into a bird? Well, here is Gareth's idea of "a little something":



This beautiful drawing now hangs in a position of honor above the bookcase in my office. I love it completely.

***

HOWEVER, DON'T THINK FOR A MINUTE THAT THIS HEARTWARMING PERSONAL STORY IS THE REASON I LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET! You should all look at this book, because it's great, and you may be moved to like it very much indeed. (That was a clever reference to my subject line (which is a line from Romeo and Juliet), in case you missed it.) :o)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Morning Randutiae

Some randutiae is more random than others, and the more recently I've come home from a big trip, the more random it's likely to be :). My attentions and passions are spinning around in all different directions as I settle back into life at home.
  • It's recently come to my attention that the default on Apple computers is for the firewall to be off. (Apple, why?) Also, that a lot of Mac users aren't aware of this. Mac users who haven't checked recently: go to System Preferences (the little silver rectangle with gears in your dock), click on Security & Privacy, and make sure your firewall is turned on. *shakes fist at Apple*
  • I fully expected that when I got back from Iceland, leaf season would be over here. How happy I am to be wrong; we are having a very long leaf season this November, and the colors are still stunning. Yay!
  • I've been enjoying the BBC/PBS production of The Paradise, supposedly based on Émile Zola's book Au Bonheur des Dames, which I read in June and blogged about. But it must be said for the record that there is practically NOTHING in the TV miniseries that remains faithful to the book. Even putting aside that the TV series doesn't take place in Paris or even France, the characters and plots are unrecognizable. Mr. Selfridge, weirdly, was a closer match to Zola's book.
  • In addition to listening to Svavar Knútur obsessively, I've been listening to Eivør, who was born in the Faroe Islands and sings in Faroese, Icelandic, and English. On her album Eivør Live, there's a cover of "Summertime" and another of "Nature Boy" that knock me out of my seat. I've taken to sitting on the floor. Then there are tracks like "Mín Móðir" and "Nu Brennur Tú Í Mær" of which I understand not a word, but I listen to them over and over anyway… It's hard to believe she's producing that gorgeous voice live! Many thanks to the proprietor of a cool little store called Flóra in Akureyri, who introduced me to both Knútur and Eivør. I can't find any tracks to share from Eivør Live (though you can listen to clips on her website), but here's a video of her performing "Rain" from her most recent album, Room. (As always, if you're getting my posts as emails and can't see the video, go to my Blog Actual!)
 
Rain (duo) from Eivor on Vimeo.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Home

This...

is the southern tip of Greenland.

Wow.

And this...

and this...

and especially this...

is how I know I'm home. :)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

God Bless Our Mistakes

One of the things I appreciate most about my parents is that they've let me make my own decisions, even if it means they've had to stand back and watch me make mistakes. Being allowed to mess up is fundamentally freeing. Knowing that failure is always an option -- being suspicious about the assumed definitions of words like "success" and "failure" -- is, too. I suspect that this kind of parental noninterference is very difficult :). But the consequence is that I'm left understanding that my life is mine.

I've been thinking about this tonight as I listen to Icelandic music. This is Svavar Knútur, from Iceland's western fjords, singing a song called "Humble Hymn."


Monday, November 11, 2013

Iceland: Akureyri in November

Akureyri is my final destination in Iceland. I'm here for a few days, and I confess that my hours have been consumed by writing – which means less picture taking. But I have taken a few snapshots of this beautiful northern town! Some taken from my own windows – I've got some wonderful writing views.

This strikes me as a very sensible spot given the circumstances.

Akureyri's impressive (but closed to tourists in November) church.

A city on the water.

Possibly Iceland's favorite color? :o)


Look closely, or you'll miss the little wheels beside the big wheels...


I'm definitely not accustomed to sunrise this late.
(BTW, if the numbers puzzle you, those temps are in Fahrenheit.)

Sunrise view from my windows while writing.

Another view from my windows – the 11 o'clock sun, rising over misting water.
(Sorry about the glare! I took it through the window!)

Early sunset.

4 PM moon.

Writing view on a snowy day.

This may be my last post of pictures from Iceland, depending on how the next few days go. I had so much fun posting them, and I hope you've enjoyed them! I thought to myself, on one of my driving days, that now that I've been here, I hardly need to go anywhere else. Of course that's not true, but Iceland inspires those kind of feelings. I promise I'll come back.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Iceland: The Bus to Akureyri

I took the bus from Egilsstaðir to Akureyri (here's the route). For most of the journey, I was the only person on the bus who wasn't Icelandic, and I took so many pictures that they must've thought I was barmy. Especially when I started to cry. It was so beautiful, I couldn't help myself.

I took about 500 pictures! (Through the bus windows, so forgive any blurriness or weird splotches.) I've narrowed it down to 40ish, still an awful lot, so this post will contain a jump break. A warning that if you'd rather avoid pictures of snowy roads, this post does include one view through the front window of the bus that shows the road we were traveling on. (It is picture #4.) How happy I was to be in the hands of our imperturbable bus driver.

For some time after we set out, this was the view.

We began to see some shapes… water…

Ridges… snowbanks.

Dramatic stuff ahead.




 
Our shadow kept us company!


Click the link below for the rest!