Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Being Transported

There are always surprises when I least expect them and yesterday I needed a surprise. I've needed one for a long time.

A writer friend emailed that her husband died Monday evening. She was sad, but all right with his death. It's hard watching someone you love slide slowly into the abyss bit by bit. I sent her my condolences, not because I knew her husband Fred but because I know her and have watched his decline from the sidelines all these years.

Yesterday, she sent me a message thanking me. She thanked me for my kindness and for my book, Among Women, because it captured her and took her somewhere else when Fred was in such pain and she could do nothing to help him. That's a pretty big compliment. What else could I say but you're welcome? I am still sad for her loss, but also glad that Fred is no longer in pain and his family can now grieve, something they have been doing in fits and starts for years.

I remember what it was like to lose my great Aunt Ann when she had Alzheimer's, which is what Fred had. She stood six-foot-two in her stocking feet and was from solid peasant stock. She was creative and fashionable and had made a huge success in her life. She never had children, although her husband had a child by his previous wife; he was a widower when Ann married him.

When we found out about her, Aunt Ann had been living in her big brick house all alone and the neighbors were stealing her blind, which is probably why she kept so much of her cash in her vast book collection. Having Alzheimer's made it difficult for her to remember, except in brief and fleeting flashes, where it was, but it made her feel safer. She had lost so much weight she was a shadow of her former glorious peasant self. She smelled and was dirty and her beautiful home was a dump. That's what living alone for several years while she was ill did to her and her surroundings, as it eventually does to the people who love her.

My parents took her home and my father cared for her until she eventually died. They sold off her possessions, cleaned up and sold her house and took care of her during her few remaining years. My dad cared for her as if she were a child, and that is what she had regressed to in the end, a child with easy smiles and wide wondering eyes unfamiliar with the world around her or the people she once knew so well and had towered over.

I know how my friend felt because I've been there. There is relief followed quickly by regret when someone you love dies of Alzheimer's, and yet there is also peace; someone you have loved and who loved you is now resting in the arms of the universe, has moved past his body and away from his mortal coil to be a part of the universe once more, having been given a glimpse of the eternal while they were still alive, and silenced by the disease so they cannot tell those left behind the wonders they have glimpsed that brought them to their knees emotionally and spiritually. At least, that is how I see it.

The rest of the day was the usual battle with a pernicious computer program that had a stranglehold on my OS and I spent a good part of the morning trying to get rid of it. When I finally figured it out (turn off the antivirus program) it was late and I was hungry, so I ordered in. The delivery driver is one I have come to know well over the past three years and he had news for me. After a year, he has finally finished chapter ten of Past Imperfect (gotta change the name the next time around) and he was excited about the twist on the story the characters had engineered. I was just along for the ride, and to take notes. He has two more chapters to go and he's anxious to see which guy will get the girl, or which guy the girl will choose. Depends on your point of view. What he said next surprised me.

"I really should read more. If you only knew how big a deal it is that I am reading this book . . . ." He faltered there. "I'll get my mother to write you a note." I explained that wasn't necessary and showed him my latest book. "Are you giving this to me?"

Actually, no, but since your eyes lit up and you seem interested . . . . "I'll sign."

"Yeah, and I'll bring back the other one so you can sign it, too."

Surprise. He not only likes the book it has taken him a year to read, getting to it whenever he remembers there is a book to read, the only book he owns besides a telephone book (or so he told me), but he is anxious to read more and to read my latest book. Big surprise.

Two surprises in a row, each of a different origin, but both equally wonderful. People are reading.

If there is anything that would make me happier it would be that more people read, not just for work or because they must, but because they want to, because the story or the author engaged them and made them feel like reading, because they actually were transported and could forget the mundane details of every day life. What better purpose is there for authors and their books. Yes, it's for us, for the authors, but it's also to share a bit of how we see the universe and each other, and just because it's fun to pretend to be someone or somewhere else. Not every book has to have social significance, but it does help if the book -- no matter how badly it is written -- takes us away from what is to what could be or will be or just might be. That is the magic of books and the surprises found between its pages -- virtual or real. What better job could there be?

Yeah, I know. It doesn't always earn a lot of money, but whatever happens to my books, at least I know that at least two people who are not related to me enjoyed the books and were transported. That's enough for now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Bright New Day -- of Rambling

You know those days when you plan to write and everything gets in the way? I had one of those days yesterday. I started out sneezing (my usual morning ritual to open and drain my sinuses) and things went downhill from there. I usually sneeze in the morning and my eyes water, both of which are the effect of drying out during the night when I sleep; the sneezing and watering get things moving in the morning. I seldom itch, get nauseous or have a fever first thing in the morning. In a word: miserable. I hate Monday mornings that start out feeling miserable, even more miserable than the usual Monday morning. The sound of birds chattering before the sun comes up is perniciously vile after a start like that. I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and take another run at the morning, but that was not to be.

I did manage to write and finish a review I've been working on in my head, and was a bit trepidatious about how the author was going to feel. After all, he did ask if I'd be interested in reviewing his upcoming book, and I've mostly liked the previous books, so I shouldn't have worried, but there it is -- that feeling of impending inadequacy. I've always had it and it doesn't get less as time goes on.

At any rate, I wrote the review, posted it and checked it for errors and bad wording and sent it along. I refused to think about it once I hit send and I didn't until he response came last night. He loved it and said I was dead solid perfect in my estimation. He must be a golfer. I've not heard anyone but golfers use those words together: dead solid perfect. One job done, checked off and on to the next, working on the new novel.

Well, actually, it's a novel I've been writing on and off for a while, but lost the thread and put it aside to work on another book. That was two-and-a-half years ago. It's time to get this one off the hard drive and into print. I know how it's supposed to go. I know the characters inside and out. I know the historical setting and facts, but then the sneezing started again, and the watering eyes, and the nausea and all the rest of the misery that I thought had run its course. I was down for the count. Could it be an allergy to the novel?

I did have an allergy to my first husband. Every time he touched me I broke out in hives and furious itching that didn't go away until I took a hot bath. I got over it. I got a divorce. Haven't had a problem since, but it is a bit difficult for him to touch me when he lives on the other side of the country. I doubt it's an allergy to the book, probably just a passing bug that decided to stick around for a day or so. I hope it's only a day or so. I can't afford to take the time off right now. I have a plan and it doesn't include being ill.

Isn't that just the way? Just when I think I have everything under control, something happens and I end up having to scramble again. It's as if the universe like to see me scramble. It's the only exercise I get most days. Drama, drama, drama. And I hate drama.

Monday is past and it's now Tuesday. The birds are chattering in the trees and the sky is that bleak misty grey that means more rain today. If it's like yesterday, the afternoon will suddenly brighten after a long drizzle and the sun will shine in a clear blue Colorado sky until it sinks into the dark purple of evening. Every day is a surprise -- mostly -- and each day another chance to do what was left undone the day before. The trash is out. The boxes are broken down, the packing deflated and put out for recycling. I have a few pages left to read so I can review another book and then there's the usual work to do that comes with each Tuesday. The sneezing has run its course and my eyes are finished watering and I do not feel miserable this morning, a little drippy, but not miserable.

On top of all this, a gift for a friend is going to be ready a whole week ahead of time and the waiting is over. I can't wait for her to open the box and see what her friends bought her. It's not a birthday or any special day. It's an un-birthday present to brighten someone's day, and it looks like that day will be Friday. Something to look forward to, and something I no longer have to keep secret after Friday. I hate keeping secrets, even the good ones. I like to give the gift and get the smile. Today I will give myself a gift of writing and I already know the smile awaits me. The waiting is over. Time to move on.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Objects May be Closer Than They Appear

Game of Thrones: The King's Road was on last night and I was not disappointed at all; I was intrigued. Daenerys Targaryen turned out to be a bit of a surprise. From frightened almost rape victim to woman in charge was a quick turnover and I see echoes of dreams of dragons in her eyes. Bran who fell to his death last week is not dead and his mother, Catelyn, has lost her wits a bit. She feels betrayed and abandoned by her husband, Ned Stark, and hates her husband's bastard, Jon Snow. I think he's intense but definitely an interesting character. Sansa, their oldest daughter, is a preening brat who is destined to marry the king's son, the crown prince Joffrey, who is the nastiest piece of work next to his mother Censei and her twin brother Jaime. I rather like Lord Tyrion; he's interesting and a bit of an imp, but still much more likable that his siblings, both of whom remind me of something wicked and nasty slithering on the ground. I'd say snakes, but I wouldn't demean the species by comparing the two.

The show and the books are new to me, but I do frequent a few blogs that discussed the show and what they thought would happen, like Bran's third eye opening as a result of the fall. In fantasy, as in the common reality, the opening of the third eye means becoming psychic. Being able to see a three-eyed crow that presages the awakening instead of the death of Sansa's dire wolf Lady would have been more interesting, but where are you going to find a three-eyed crow?

The whole series is fascinating and there are hints of so much more that will likely not make it to the screen. I don't mind discovering books from movies or television -- I've discovered quite a bit of good literature and some favorite authors that way -- and I look forward to reading all the books in the series. I don't have the time now since I have a stack of books to review, but I may have to take a short leave of absence to catch up on my personal reading. After all, eight years without a break is a long time. The chance of becoming stale or burnt out is great and, since I've had no vacation in eight years of reviewing, I think I'm entitled to one now, especially when there are books like George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire awaiting my attention. The series is good, but I want to read the undercurrents and dangerous rip tides that Martin wove into the fabric of his tale.

Some books, and some authors, stay with me and I remember the details as if I had just read them long after the echoes have faded. One such was an anthology I was reviewing. The stories were a mix of good, mediocre and not baked long enough and through the stories was the continuing story of a baby whose eyes had been pecked out by crows. Snippets of the child's life as she grew and the appearance of crows, usually a few lines, were enough to raise the hairs and goose the flesh, and I still remember those interwoven bits of a dark tale even though the details of the main stories are forgotten. I only have so much memory space as it is. Even now I can easily conjure those blackened pits where eyes once were as I delve into the brain of an evil woman determined to bring her dead master's plans to life in my own book. It's not so much about possession or devil worship, although there are several darker elements in the Victorian gothic tale I am weaving, but a genetic gift met with the sharp scientific scalpel that ends with the creation of one of the most evil periods in Whitechapel history. The foundation is being laid and from that solid mass will come the nuances of a future battle for the soul of a man and hints of a terrifying future. That should be enough to whet the appetite -- at least for now. The rest remains for me to write and you eventually to read.

Discovering something new by whatever means is always fun. I finally managed to see The King's Speech and I disagree with those few critics who called the movie boring. It is painful, but only in watching the Duke of York struggle to be heard and understood. He had a horrid stammer and no wonder since he was abused as a child and forced into a mold not of his making, like being made to be right-handed when he was left-handed. Yelling at a child and demanding he conform is no way to inspire obedience or acquiescence. Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, one of my favorite actors, was quite ingenious, despite the lack of formal education and titles, and he reminded me of Sister Kenny and her treatment for polio, a treatment that was effective in almost all cases she treated. Too bad the doctors didn't figure that out and follow her methods. The same was true of Logue's methods for helping Bertie overcome his stammer; they were unconventional and treated the problem with wonderful success, instead of filling poor Bertie's mouth with so many marbles he couldn't speak. It might have worked for Demosthenes, but I doubt he had so many marbles in his mouth or that they were so large. Nothing like indiscriminate treatment following an old method without any real understanding of how to apply it.

Colin Firth was brilliant and deserved the Oscar for his performance and I was quite surprised by Helena Bonham Carter's portrayal of the Duchess of York, Elizabeth. I remember reading that she seldom spoke in public even though she was a very intelligent woman. She said that it was best to remain silent and supportive than to be heard. Carter's performance was easily heard with quiet dignity and unflinching support. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire movie, even though I was surprised to discover that King Edward VIII was so feckless and irresponsible. Wallis must have been one heck of a woman or have been able to contort so effectively during sex that the king was utterly and irretrievably besotted; there is no other explanation for how he handled things. He was the wrong monarch at the wrong time, and I doubt there was a good time for a monarch such as he, although history is riddled with examples.

One thing I have learned is that I cannot rely on all critics to enjoy the same movies I do. I read reviews, and write quite a few of them, but I trust my own judgment, which is surprising considering my own vocation. Bad reviews intrigue me until I must see the movie and discover what all the fuss is about. I've been disappointed on a few occasions to find the critic was right, but I do sometimes agree with others. Reviews are guidelines, as I see them, and should not be the last word on anything, including mine. I have some experience and background in literature, but I am not the last word either. I am one person judging books and movies by my own taste and predilections, a sort of arbitrary rear view mirror: some objects may be closer than they appear.

Game of Thrones is my pick for fantasy of the year and The King's Speech is a quiet and marvelous character study I will eventually acquire for my own library, but I'm a critic, so judge for yourself. Use my views as a guideline not the last word.