I’m blaming the book club

I used to be a member of the SciFi Book club – starting in 1991. Every month – whether I bought a book or not – I got a cool flyer telling me all about the new sci-fi and fantasy books coming out. I found tons of books (e.g. The Wheel of Time) I might never have known about. I only stopped buying through them when I discovered used book stores, because used book stores don’t take book club editions (as a rule).  I’m sure it was in a SciFi Book Club flyer that I first saw Sandman comics/graphic novels and thought they looked cool. But, being a broke child, I never did buy one (because the graphic novels were more expensive than the regular books). But I did buy Neverwhere – partly because I’d wanted Sandman, and partly because it was a recommended book that month. Or maybe it was on sale. Neverwhere was my very first Neil Gaiman experience, and there was no turning back.

Fast-forward… 14 years? Now I’m obsessed with his blog. I can’t stop reading it. So far, I’ve read back to July of 2009, then decided to start at the beginning (of the current blog) in September of 2001 and read forward and I’ve gotten as far as January February March 2002 (and this while having intermittent connectivity issues which are DRIVING ME CRAZY). I joined twitter so I could ‘follow’ him. I’m watching interviews with him on the web, and reading his blog at work when I should be working. I’m practically a stalker (but still staying on the right side of the law-dog). I was bored with the book I was reading (A Disobedient Girl) and decided to re-read Good Omens because he was talking about the audiobook (and I’d already re-read American Gods lately). He likes the same people I do (Pratchett, Chabon, Gibson) and seems strangely connected to other creative people I like as well (de Lint, Miyazaki). It’s like proof that the things I like are cool, and that I’m not crazy for seeing meaning where others see coincidence. Example:

I was reading a journal entry of Neil’s (I call him by his first name because I feel like he’s my personal friend. I know it’s presumptuous. But it makes me feel special) about an artist he likes/finds inspiring/collaborates with, Lisa Snellings Clark. I click the links (which – keep in mind – are 8 years old) so I can see some of her artwork. Not much luck with the links, so I do a Google search for her name and find her blog. Above the ‘about me’ widget there is a link that says ‘Lisa explains it all at Stainless Steel Droppings.’

My eyes must have looked like an anime character at that point.

Stainless Steel Droppings is a blog I’ve read just recently that, among other things, reviews books.  A friend sent me a link a few weeks ago to a review Mr. Droppings had written because he was announcing a new Charles de Lint book and she wanted to make sure I knew about it. To recap, that is Neil Gaiman-Lisa Snellings Clark(2002)-Stainless Steel Droppings (2008)-Me(April 2010), and also Friend of Mine-Charles de Lint-Stainless Steel Droppings-Me(April 2010). I’m not imagining things – the world is conspiring to shower me with blessings.

In case all of that seems like it’s just me wasting time:

Reading about all the different projects (my super-close pal) Neil has going on, and the way he works on half-dozen things at a time (apparently) and enjoys other artists’ work in various mediums… somehow it is encouraging me to put more effort into writing, and deciding what to do about the whole writing thing. I’m not a fiction writer, so what kind of (non-academic) thing do I want to be writing? I know that the first rule of writing is to put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking – my handwriting sucks and I can type a lot closer to fast enough when the muse is on).

Write, even if it’s bad, even if it’s garbage. Write. Because if you do it enough, you will get to the good stuff – assuming you have any.  And the bad stuff will get better. Your writing will not get any better by not writing, that is for sure.

I’ve posted a blog entry 6 days in a row now, and have one in the can, and another one started. So thanks, Neil. For being my electronic friend and inspiration; for filling the empty hours and giving me hope for future hours filled with interesting projects.

Mystery Solved – sadly

The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint is the story of a young woman (Grace) who dies unexpectedly but, instead of Heaven or Nirvana or nothingness, what she gets is a rebirth in her apartment – but in a world inhabited only by all those who died in the same small area of town in the last 50 years.  A twist on a familiar theme, it is the story of star-crossed lovers with a serious impediment – one of them is dead.

I have already sung the praises of de Lint once or twice in this blog, so I won’t tell you again how much I love his work and how I feel like some of his books have literally changed my life and my way of thinking.  Someplace To Be Flying and Forests of the Heart are books I will have to bequeath to someone, because they will be in my book collection until the day I die (hmm, maybe I’ll have them cremated with me).  Unfortunately, The Mystery of Grace fell short of the incredibly high bar de Lint has written for himself.

I am most certainly not saying that TMoG is a bad book. It is not.  It is a good book.  Grace is a girl who loves hot rods (as I do) and actually works on them (as I do not), and the guy she falls for is someone I would probably fall for.  But as I read the book, I felt like I’d read it before – not the details, but the general storyline (TMoG is brand new).  At first, I chalked it up to having read and re-read the 50 stories or whatever that de Lint has written in his decades of writing (he has lots of short story collections in addition to a dozen or more novels).  Then I picked up Promises to Keep this week – another de Lint I thought I hadn’t read before. Well, I had read it before – it’s really more of a novella, published as a young adult fiction novel.  It is the story of Jilly (a recurring character in many of de Lint’s Newford books) and how she is offered the perfect life by a friend of hers – a life in a world where some of the dead go after they pass on.  The bones of this world – which Jilly ultimately rejects – are the same as the afterworld in TMoG.  That’s why it all seemed so familiar.

It’s clear that the idea showed up in Promises to Keep, and de Lint developed it much more fully (and more interestingly) in TMoG. but it still bugs me.  It smacks of a lack of ideas – a need to fulfill a contract and recycling stories to do it.   And I expect a lot more from my uber-favorite author – probably unfairly.

And while I’m venting, the gear-head stuff in the book does not ring quite true.  It reads like something very well-researched, but not as believable as almost everything else in his work.  I am a gear-head, I love it, and it felt just a little bit ‘tacked on’ as something cool rather than something real and true to a person.  And in general, the book felt thin – like the world and the characters in general lacked a certain depth.  I’m sure this is partly due to my being spoiled by the Newford stories, where I have dozens of stories worth of history that inform even the short stories.   But this one reads more like something he wrote in the early years – when he wrote short stories.  His writing (like most great writers) has improved over the years, so this one would have been a fabulous short story, but is instead a not-so-fabulous novel.  It pains me to say anything negative about my boy, but I won’t pretend that I loved TMoG. If someone else had written it, I would have said it was a de Lint rip-off that did not quite live up to the master.  That the master himself wrote it does not make it masterful.

Bad Bev

I’ve been a big slacker lately when it comes to keeping my blog up-to-date – partly because it’s no longer a part of my real job and partly because it was making reading feel like an obligation – like I was a bad girl if I didn’t blog about what I was reading.

Not reading is absolutely not an option – that would be akin to being cheerful in the morning or not drinking tea.  But not blogging – hell, that’s as easy as making toast.  To add to the fun, writing has always been a weird thing for me.  I love it, but the avoidance maneuvers I have in place make it difficult to be disciplined about getting it done – especially if there is no real ‘deadline.’  School papers, magazine articles, cover letters – these all come with built-in deadlines that force me to sit in front of the computer and shift gears from the Verbal Bev to the Written Bev. And the Written Bev is a happy girl, it’s just the gear-shifting that is a significant speed-bump.

I know this is yet another thing that – as a supposedly-mature adult – I should be doing.  That is, living up to my promises (not blogging; one need not be mature nor an adult to blog, and many a mature adult has made the cut without a blog to their name, phew!).  And I’m pretty good at living up to my promises and responsibilities – except when they are promises to myself, and responsibilities that affect only me.  No one gets fired if I don’t write, my ‘A’ is not in jeopardy if I go 10 days without updating my blog.  I just have to listen to the increasingly-irritated voice in my head that says I’m a loser for not doing it.  It’s the same voice that yells when I send birthday presents late and don’t call my mother.  I can ignore a certain level of bitching, but when the volume gets loud, something has to be done (and we all know I’m not going to call my mother).

So, to recap some things I’ve read lately – that I’ve decided in my all-powerful position as The-Boss-of-Me do not require a full write-up on this here fabulous blog:

I read the entire series of The Chronicles of the Cheysuli by Jennifer Roberson, borrowed from a fellow sci-fi fan and infinitely enjoyable.  The books tell the story of a magical race (the Cheysuli, of course) who have been persecuted and lost many of their powers. If they can fulfill the multi-generational prophesy, there will be peace and a return of powers they’ve lost.    No deep-thinking required here – like dessert for the hard-working brain.  The first book and the last two books were the best (there are eight total).

I re-read Jack of Kinrowan by Charles de Lint.  This is a two-book compilation of Jack the Giant-Killer and Drink Down the MoonJoK is a fun re-telling of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale in a modern urban setting.  Not his greatest stuff, but – again – a good read.

I have also read The Book of Illusion and Outliers, but those deserve a space all their own, so look for them soon.

I apologize to those oodles of faithful readers out there who have come recently to BoB and been disappointed – but I can’t promise it won’t happen again.  I may be a slacker, but I’m not a liar.  Happy Reading!

wouldn’t trade him for anything

So what would you do if you woke up in a strange room, in a strange apartment, and in a strange body? How do you convince people that you are you, not the guy whose face you’re wearing? And what do you do when you realize that almost no one knows you well enough to be convinced?  That’s what happens to Max Trader. He is a boutique instrument-maker who has no family and whose only friend is a 13-year-old neighbor (who believes him, but freaks out because she thinks her mother has been ‘taken’ as well).  And of course, the guy who switched bodies with him is not a nice guy – duh! What do you do when the world yanks the rug out from under you, when suddenly anything – good and bad – is possible?  These are the questions posed by Trader, written by Charles de Lint.

In the realm of favorite authors, there are still degrees of favorite-ness to be delineated.  On the short list of authors for whom I have a hard time finding the words to convey how much I appreciate their existence and contribution to my world, Charles de Lint is in the top 5.  This is not a formal list, you understand.  I don’t feel the need to assign a rank to each and place them above or below each other. Each is unique and cherished for different reasons, and I find all that grading and assigning of privilege annoying and counter-productive. (Others on the list include Barbara Kingsolver, Tom Robbins, Louise Erdrich, Terry Pratchett and Virginia Woolf.) So when I tell you that Charles de Lint is a favorite of mine, what I mean is that if you were to ask me the name of one author that you should read and enjoy in your lifetime, Charles de Lint is likely who I would mention.  He is probably the least-known of my ultimate favorites.

It all started (for Bev) long, long ago in a galaxy known as Title Wave.  My friend, Deb Day, and I both read a lot and often trade books.  She was looking for something to read in the sci-fi section of Title Wave, and saw a book called Someplace to be Flying, sky blue with a black feather on the spine.  That was all she could see, but it drew her attention enough for her to pick it up – and the rest is history.  That book knocked us both out and I have since bought a dozen or more copies as gifts for other people.  Her and I have since devoured everything he’s written, collecting them and re-reading our favorites.  Thankfully, Title Wave gave us a steady supply of new and old de Lint, they must have known we were in need.  And the municipal libraries in Anchorage also had copies of many of his stories – often filed under Youth Fiction.  And while I won’t say that every book he’s written is a 10, de Lint’s got more hits on his roster than most, and several books on my default, read-again-when-you-have-nothing-new-or-because-you-need-a-reason-to-live list. Trader is not one of my uber-faves, but I only recently purchased it, so it was time to read it again.

Many of de Lint’s novels and short stories (and all of my favorites) fall into the category of Urban Fantasy.  The setting is current era (right now, could be your street or town) but the story is anything but ordinary.  The reinventing of Native spirits, fairies, hobgoblins and other creation myths and fairy tales often comprise a significant part of the plot and setting.  In Trader, for example, two men’s minds are exchanged between their bodies.  There is a lot going on—trips to the spiritworld, jilted girlfriends, Coyote relatives, artist/waitresses, mother-daughter relations, soul eaters and more – but the theme is about living your life and owning your decisions.  And important questions like: What makes you who you are – how you look or the actions you take?  Is it random luck or karma that determines your fate?  One of the things I adore about de Lint is that there is always a higher purpose – he doesn’t just write fun fantasy books, he wants you to think about your own life. He wants to interrogate the world we live in and believes that we can change it for the better with everything we do.  Anyone who has read de Lint will probably recognize several of the minor characters in Trader (such as Jilly and Joe Crazy Dog).  I personally love it when an author uses the same city and setting to tell separate stories that add up to a whole world of people and events.

If you want to read de Lint at his best, pick up StbF, Forests of the Heart, Spirits in the Wires or Memory & Dream. Now I have to go read StbF… it’s been at least a year.  Charles de Lint needs to live to be a hundred and write me 50 more books.  I don’t ask for much…