Saturday, April 30, 2011

This and That, Here and There

Good news:

I love maple buds this time of year--they rival the fuschia for color and lavish shape. They're just starting to pop--right on schedule, unlike last year's early spring. My sinuses hate it, but the rest of me is dancing.

When we moved to Maine was the first time I was aware of red maples--growing up, the abundant maples around our house in Massachusetts were sugar maples or Norway maples, and budded out in yellowish-green. My first spring in Brooklin was a revelation--the maple flowers were crimson, other trees bronze, still others various shades of yellow and green. I'd had no idea that spring could be as colorful as autumn.

And don't talk to me about the gold and purple finches. They're so bright they could blind you right now. Anything to attract the ladies, hey guys?

Even better news:

I went to Belfast (the one in Maine, not involving plane flight) earlier this week, where I met with the public library's middle-school reading group organized by children's services director Jane Thompson (that's her, standing up). They'd read SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS, so I got to talk about where the idea for Durindana came from and all that. I was delighted that the two boys in the group (one had to leave before I took the picture), apparently had no objection to reading a book with a girl protagonist and a bunch of Small Persons with Wings--contrary to the accepted wisdom.

I talked to Jane's middle-grade group a couple of years ago when THE UNNAMEABLES came out, and now those kids are in a separate group reading young-adult books. It's a credit to Jane and the library that this is how Belfast kids choose to spend their afternoons.

Jane also gives the kids healthy snacks of fruit and pretzels. I'm ashamed to say that I took cookies.

The knitting report: Socks, still. I went to Bangor and loaded up on cotton yarn, so eventually I'll be able to throw out my worn-out cotton socks and replace them with lovely handmade ones. Or maybe not so lovely. But functional. 

The writing report: I'm still revising. Some unspecifiable something is wrong with one section--I keep thinking I've figured it out, then it turns out that some mysterious Something Else is still wrong. I plan to finish this first pass-through in about a week, set it aside for a few days, then print it out and start over. Tra-la, tra-la. Still dancing.

The fashion report: If you watched the royal wedding, didn't you love the young royal with the Belgian waffle/pretzel/flying buttress/godknowswhat growing out of her forehead? I vacillate between admiring her courage and wondering what on earth her family was thinking to let her go out in public like that. And wondering why she wasn't cross-eyed.

Guess I've forgotten the Seventies. Just as well.

Edited to add: This is the one I mean.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why I Love Revision. Or: I Have a Headache

I am revising now. Life is bliss. That's why the past week has been what other, better bloggers call a Blogcation. In my case it's just that time passes and suddenly it's been a week or more.

I love revision. Seriously. It may be because I started life as more of an editor than a writer, at least professionally. Or it may be because I'm anal-obsessive and love the little, niggling brushwork more than the big, broad strokes of first draft. 

Also, revision tends to happen in little intense chunks. You finish one chunk and move on to the next, and it  feels like you're doing some exciting new thing.

Plus, you begin to see the final shape of the book. Or what will seem like the final shape until your editor gets hold of it. (I love my editor. Really.)

Much as I end up enjoying it, revision generally doesn't start well, at least for me. Here's the drill:

1. Finish first draft, and fling self into at least two weeks away from this friggin' book, which by now has turned into the stupidest thing anyone ever thought of.

2. After two weeks of puttering around with other things, print out first draft, and read it in printed form for the first time. At this point you discover that the first draft is even stupider than you thought it was, but you also get a clearer idea of what needs to be done.

3. Flip through the manuscript, writing down what needs to be done. At length. Put your revision notes into a computer document called Revision Notes. Notice how many pages it is in 12-point type.  Close Revision Notes and pour yourself a small gallon or so of wine.

4. Wonder who ever told you you could write, and why you believed them. Be abusive to your mate.

5. Take a walk. Remember how much you truly love revision.

6. Open up Revision Notes, and read a note at random. It will be something like "school scene is lame." Stare out the window, wondering if "lame" could possibly be a good thing.

7. Find a note that suggests a concrete change--in the most recent case, that was "bragging more grandiose." Scud through the first few chapters, grandiosing the bragging.

8. Discover that you're having a nice time.

9. Stop whining and get to work.

So that's what I'm doing now, whistling and making the world gruesome with glad cries.

Meanwhile, poor Rob, who dislikes showing his work and detests crowds, has a painting in the Portland Museum of Art biennial--for the third time, which is impressive. This time it's a landscape instead of one of the big narrative paintings he considers to be his "real" work, which has him wrong-footed, but he'll survive.

Here's what he almost didn't survive--last week's opening:

And here are some people with the audacity to look at his painting (the green landscape on the left):

Sorry the photo's blurry. I guess I don't like crowds either.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April Book Review Club

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

I've been very good this winter--I don't think I re-read a single book. (Some winters I bury myself in Jane Austen and refuse to emerge until spring.) Here's the one exception, prompted by a bookstore find. And it's not winter anymore, so it doesn't really count.

Don't forget to click the icon above for more reviews!

By Frank Herbert
Ace Science Fiction, 2010
(Original: Chilton, 1965)

My household has been DUNE-free for decades, ever since my mid-Sixties paperback decayed or was lent or otherwise vanished. Last week, browsing at Bull Moose in Scarborough, I saw it: a shiny new paperback, not four months old. I was waiting for a reading to start, so after I bought it I huddled between the stacks for a dip into Frank Herbert’s world of marvels.

This was a true flashback to my first DUNE experience as a high school student in the late sixties. I was supposed to be working in the school library, but in the stacks I discovered this wonderful story, possibly my very first science fiction. I read a chapter a day, sneaking. Before I was very far in I found it in a bookstore, just as I did last week, some forty years later. I leapt on it then, as now, and took it home to wallow.

Today, with the Mideast in a constant uproar, it makes for a particularly interesting read. Herbert must have been eating the prophecy-inducing spice, melange.

In DUNE’s universe, an entire interplanetary culture and economy is addicted to the “awareness spectrum narcotic” melange. The Spacing Guild, which has the monopoly on travel between the worlds, must have it in order to navigate. The Bene Gesserit, a semi-religious order, needs it to fuel their insights and prophetic visions. Ordinary people use it to lengthen life or simply to get high, and eventually need it to live at all.

The spice comes from only one place: the desert planet Arrakis, also called Dune, inhabited by nomadic Fremen who use terms like “jihad” and “hajj” and describe themselves as “sunni.” The galactic powers view the Fremen as pawns to be persecuted and controlled in the chess game for spice monopoly.

Turns out they’re not pawns—the Fremen have secrets. And all it takes is one man, Paul Muad’Dib, the product of the Bene Gesserit’s long-term genetic maneuvering, to catapult them into their proper place in history.

DUNE was published in 1965, ten years before our first “oil crisis.” Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert had published THE PSYCHEDELIC EXPERIENCE in 1964. We’d learned the word “ecology,” which gave resonance to the Fremen’s dream of reclaiming their planet from the endless sand.

It’s definitely a book of its times, with a corresponding tunnel vision. Homosexuals are all distasteful predators. Although Fremen women are skilled warriors, and Paul’s mother, Jessica, is politically adept and powerful, it’s a man’s universe and women are the real pawns. (As I remember 1965, it would have been a revelation that any woman had any power at all. Herbert gets credit for a step in the right direction.)

The point of view is shared primarily between Paul Muad’Dib and Jessica, but we get glimpses into the heads of many others for a fascinatingly varied perspective. Interestingly, though, I can’t recall ever getting into the head of a Fremen—just the “European” types. The Arabs, while sympathetic, are still “other.”

Despite its shortcomings, however, DUNE is one hell of a good time. The action is thrilling, mystical journeyings fun. The world Herbert has built is flawless, the characters rich and varied. There’s very cool “stuff”: ornithopters, Guild space ships, ginormous sand worms, force-field shields, “family atomics.” The desert culture, complete with “stillsuits” that recycle breath, sweat, and wastes into potable water, is a fascinating blend of traditional Arab and sci fi.

Paul Maud’Dib, the hero, is a tad T.E. Lawrence-ish, and his character arc is a bit too much of a straight line for my taste. Overall, though, the characters have depth and variety and—pardon the expression—spice. Jessica may be in my top ten of all time: smart, insightful, courageous, but also deeply human.

Now I’m on to the next book DUNE MESSIAH, in a tattered 1970 paperback that makes me sneeze.

Monday, April 4, 2011

No Fireworks This Year. Sorry, Channel 2.

I met my friend Anita at The Morning Moon cafe for breakfast Sunday morning, the day after Brooklin's annual town meeting. Owner Mike Roy, a selectman, emerged from the kitchen to say, "Jeez, they were throwing money at you."

Hard to know what to expect of a town meeting. Sometimes the voters question every minute expenditure, other times they worry that you're going to waste away for lack of funding. That was the case this year for the Brooklin Youth Corps, the town's summertime work/self-esteem program for teens.

In most respects, town meeting was blissfully boring, especially considering what happened last year. The first weekend in April, we vote for town officers on Friday, then gather at 9 a.m. Saturday in the school gym to vote the budget for the fiscal year that starts in July. Last year, after months of bickering in the town office, all three selectmen resigned and walked out two minutes into the meeting, leaving the moderator, George Eaton, to lead us in figuring out what to do next.

George talked a couple of the departing selectmen into remaining in office to sign things until we could hold a special election. Then we elected him, former selectmen Albee Smith and Mike Roy to one-, two- and three-year terms. On Saturday, George stepped down as selectman (to hearty applause) and went back to being town meeting moderator. We elected Deborah Brewster, a former school board chairman well versed in town politics, to a three-year term in his place. 


In the photo at left, Mike explains how we fund the maintenance on the fish pier and town landings. That's George on the left, then Albee, Mike, and Deborah. (I think Albee's deep in thought rather than grumpy.)

One of the Bangor tv stations sent a reporter to this year's meeting, obviously thinking we were some fractious town that would always generate news. Poor guy damn near fell asleep. We chatted in an unfocused and friendly way for the most part, flaring up just a teeny bit as we discussed whether we should give money to a lobster research and replenishment project that may not take place. (That's a representative of the organization at right, promising to not to take the money if the project dies.) We were out of there by 11:30, although most of us stuck around for a lunch raising funds for the eighth grade class trip. (Pictured below)

Re: the money-throwing incident. Financially, the Brooklin Youth Corps--the town's summer paid work/self-esteem program for teens--did well last summer. We got several grants, the weather was perfect for our garden project and the kids got to sell some of the produce at a farmers market. As a result, we needed to ask for $4,500 at most from the town (we also get money from donations, fundraising events, and homeowners for whom the kids do chores). Then we discovered we were likely to have only eight or so kids, so we'd only need one coordinator/van combo rather than two. We promised the selectmen we'd shave our request accordingly.

So Saturday morning, as BYC president, I stood up thinking I was heaven's gift to town politics and said we'd reduce our request to $500.

You would have thought I was offering to immolate myself. It was a worrisome thing, somebody asking for practically no money, and there was a splinter movement to keep us at $4,500. Others thought we knew what we were doing (not a good assumption) and should be permitted to starve if we wanted. We compromised on $1,500.

And now, being me, I'm worried that we've overlooked some gruesome thing and really needed our $4,500.

Other town meeting moments:

Town Clerk Gigi Hardy (right) yuks it up with Tad Goodale during the legally-required paper ballot vote on the school budget. Pain in the neck, but a good chance to stretch our legs. They're in the school library, which explains the dragons in the background.

Rob, having accepted the surprise Firefighter of the Year award from Fire Chief Sam Friend, attempts to escape without having his picture taken. It was actually pretty sweet--Rob coached Sam's elementary school Odyssey of the Mind team, so they go way back. That's why Sam got a little emotional giving Rob the award. It's also why he's cracking up watching Rob do the Curmudgeon Shuffle.

The Knitting Report: I'm still hunting for the right combination of sweater pattern and yarn, so to feed my addiction I've started making a hat from leftover wool. The color combination I've ended up with is either subtle and sophisticated or ugly as sin. I may abandon it and hunt for more leftovers in the attic.

The Writing Report: I'm revising. Connor's parents are giving me trouble. All my adult women seem to be either worry warts or nutcases. *sigh* The teen girls rock, though.