Friday, July 30, 2010

Knowing when you're done, or knowing when you're dead

How do we know when we're done? Obviously, there's no good answer to that, not when it comes to life's complicated projects. I've finished a recent stage of edits on my manuscript, and that seductive little voice has slipped inside my head - "Maybe you're done now, my sweet." It could be true. But, I've listened to this voice before, and boy, was I wrong. It was like pulling out a tray of brownies with batter running down the edges and trying to sell it at a bake sale.

In tangentially related news, the President of Venezuela decided earlier this month to disinter the bones of South American independence hero, Simon Bolivar. That's kind of like digging up George Washington and Moses all at once, for Venezuelans/Colombians/Ecuadorans. Theories behind Chavez's motives abound, but whether he was hoping for evidence that the dastardly Colombians killed Bolivar or hoping to prove that he's got some of the old man's DNA in his Chavista veins, either way, Chavez took something that was most definitely done and, well, resurrected it. (Or tried.)

And a sort of flip side of that ... The Japanese government apparently didn't know when to call it quits, for the man they had been deeming the oldest man in Tokyo was apparently dead for decades. Government officials found his mummified corpse when they went to check on him.

So do I risk over-doing it by working my manuscript more (shaking the dirt off bones that were resting peacefully), or do I throw in the towel (and deceive myself into think I've accomplished something when all I've got is a mummifying manuscript)?

I think I need a second opinion. Cue - husband?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Far Bright Star, by Robert Olmstead

This is for Historical Tapestry's blog challenge - O is for Olmstead.

In 1916, the frontier of war for the American Army was not across the ocean but south, in the burnt deserts abutting Mexico. In Far Bright Star, a weathered soldier who has served in countless campaigns, heads out into the desert on what he imagines will be just another patrol. But he and the five men who accompany him, all mounted on the horses that the soldier loves almost more than the men, find themselves caught in a trap that they can only end with death - either their own, or that of the enemy.

The story has less of a historical feel than I expected, since so much of the action takes place out in the timeless hell of the desert. That said, history haunts the book in a subtle way, for the soldiers are all aware that a new war in Europe awaits them, and that their cavalry way of life is already extinct. The resulting book almost as the feel of a fable, with its terse prose reminiscent of Hemmingway, and its taciturn characters known by little more than their simple names - Extra Billy, the General, Xenophon. It was an unusual read for me and, given the difficult scenes it describes, not always comfortable. But it was interesting, and Olmstead does not shy away from showing the whole of his main character, moral failings and all, which I appreciated.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Museum Guard, by Howard Norman

For Historical Tapestry's blog challenge - N is for Norman.

The Museum Guard is set, mostly, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a city that seems circumscribed into a tiny world by the limited existence of DeFoe Russet and his uncle Edward, both guards in a three-roomed museum. But the year is 1938, and the outside world is rumbling like a threatening volcano, the danger of which is transmitted through the courageous radio broadcasts of Ovid Lamartine. As Edward becomes increasingly obsessed with Lamartine and his warnings about Hitler, DeFoe wallows in his largely chaste relationship with the beautiful but enigmatic Imogen Linny, the curator of the local Jewish cemetary who can't, it seems, quite decide who she is.

Often, literature paints unrequited love as a noble, if tragic, state. Othello, the Phantom of the Opera, A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True, etc. But for DeFoe, the narrator of The Museum Guard, however, it is a much less ennobling relationship. Which is kind of poignant, as Imogen becomes obsessed with doing something "ennobling" - leaving her to pursue an idealized identity while DeFoe embraces his faults.

I found this book to be both engaging and frustrating. It's well written, in precise prose that evokes DeFoe's tidy personality and Halifax's cold atmosphere. But the relationship between Imogen and DeFoe is aggravating, as he lavishes patient affection upon her and she seems to only notice herself: her headaches, her thoughts and her worries. Mr. Norman also sets us up from the very beginning to question DeFoe's judgment - in the first sentence of the book, DeFoe tells us he stole a painting for Imogen. So, as the book progressed, I was ready for the theft to happen, and despaired when I thought he would commit this breach of his principles at the worst moment, in a desperate bid for Imogen's affection. I'm glad I didn't throw the book down halfway through, as I was tempted to do, for DeFoe proved himself to be a slightly better man than I had feared. In the end, The Museum Guard raises interesting questions about what it means to define yourself, and what happens when those definitions clash with the outside world.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cheepy wins a fan

This weekend I traveled to my alma mater for a casual reunion with some dear college friends. It was the first time I'd been back to campus for more than a drive through since graduation, and I was astonished at all the memories that tickled their way into consciousness at the prompting of passing a certain building, or walking a particular path. I was, to my surprise, moved.

But the best part was something that prompted an older memory, with hints of future dreams. We were killing some time after dinner and wandered into a comic book store - a new addition since we graduated. I was enjoying the imagination that's on full display, the bright colors and vibrant artistry, when a threesome of small, black and white, xeroxed comics caught my eye. Scribbled in a childish hand was "Cheepy Learns to Read" and its sequels, populated by a small chicken who was little more than a circle, a triangle for a beak, and some scrawled appendages. Inside were a few pages of charming simplicity and, to my surprise, wit. I bought two. The clerk told me they were drawn by a local seven-year-old girl, whose dad is a regular customer.

That probably makes my week. Imagination, small-town relationships, and a little girl's dreams realized, even as those dreams are probably growing as we speak (or read). All the better. Happy Independence Day, all you aspiring authors! Keep writing, dreaming, and writing.

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma