Friday, July 29, 2005

A Little Horror and Religion for the Weekend

Last night the magazine sent me an early copy of the new Anne Rice. Like a lot of readers, I was really into the first three books of the Vampire series, but haven't really been into anything else she's written. Part of that, I'm sure, is because I was a Freshman in college when I read the first three, and that kind of book seems tailored for someone in that age range.

I'm more than a little intrigued by her new direction. Her new novel, Out of Egypt, is a fictionalized account on the life of Jesus Christ. It's a chance for her to break out of the vampire/witch mode while still doing a lot of what she does best. Now that I think about it, there's almost a King James Bible quality to some of her writing. Not necessarily the content, but the mythic quality and the general flow of her descriptions. Anyway, the novel doesn't hit the stores until November, so it will probably be a month or more before I get to it.

On a somewhat related note, if anyone's ever been to the Horrorfind Convention before, please email me. It's coming to Baltimore and I'm debating over going or not. Mostly I'm interested in finding some mags and small presses for market possibilties, and maybe talking to some writers. Some bad horror movie screenings, though, would be fun, too.

Heading south for the weekend, so no posts until next week. The Happy Booker and Matt Kirkpatrick both have good suggestions for lit activities over the weekend, so check them out.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

This House is Clean

Last night I went to see Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House at the Woooly Mammoth Theatre in downtown D.C. In short, it's a funny, suburbanized tale of romance, obsessions, and the quest for the perfect joke. There are some light experimental touches, with Ruhl dipping her hand a little into the pool of magical realism and playing slightly with the narrative structure, but it's not so far out that a general audience won't track with it.

I had some small problems with the character of Charles; much of the story turns on the idea that he's madly, madly in love with a vibrant, older woman named Ana. While Ana is wonderful, I didn't believe Charles's love. There were several moments with Charles that I got pulled out of the story and reminded that he was an actor playing a part, and not really Charles. Not having read the script, it's difficult to say if it's the fault of the play itself or of the performance. Making Charles and his love more believable would add to the power of the ending, which as it stands now is nice but didn't hit me in the brain, in the heart, and in the soul like Elmina's Kitchen did earlier this year. The Clean House is a good play, though, getting lots of critical suport following its nomination for the Pullitzer this year. Definitely catch it if you have a chance. More detailed reviews here, here, and even here.

The reason I went last night over another night was to catch the lecture/conversation with author Ruhl and the play's director, Rebecca Bayla Taichman, that followed the play. Taichman gave a brief intro explaining that she brought The Clean House to Wooly because it's one of the few plays she's read that came to life right off the page, and she felt connected to it almost immediately. After that, they invited questions from the audience.

Most of the questions centered around the more fantastical touches of the play--a medical procedure that removes sand from an ailing Ana, quests for healing Yew trees, and a joke so perfect that you die from laughter after hearing it. The audience seemed to struggle with these points of the play, not fully knowing how to interpret them. Were they meat to be real? Dreams? Symbols? All of the above, in my own opinion. People were trying to take the moments too literally, but Ruhl was fairly helpful in pointing the confused towards some answers without completely spelling it out for them.

What struck me most about the evening was the difference between writing for stage and writing for the page. Of course, there's the obvious: the collaborative nature of theatre, the focus on dialogue. I'm particularly intrigued that the stage allowed for some moments of simulataneous action-be they memories viewed by one character or actions occuring in different locations at the same time-that would be very difficult to convey on the page. Although I'll be thinking about possible ways to re-create moments like those on the page the next few days.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Fun, But Sometimes Bumpy, Ride

I’ve loved time travel stories ever since I was a little kid. From the cheesy but clever t.v. show Voyagers to the pulpy-but fun Time Wars series by Simon Hawke, all the way to the time-spanning fiction of John Crowley, they usually come with a wonderfully sense of plotting and a clever mixture of historical facts and fabricated plot lines. I even, lord help me, enjoy the entire Back to the Future series. And yes, I even mean the one that sent Doc and Marty to the old west. With all that, not to mention some glowing reviews from Michael Moorcock and John Grant, I went into Chris Roberson’s Here, There and Everywhere expecting a fun little ride. It is that, although the ride comes with a few bumps on the way.

HTAE stars Roxanne Bonaventure, a smart and precocious eleven year old who walks out from school one day to find a woman sprawled on the sidewalk. This strange woman gives Roxanne a shining silver bracelet she calls “the Sofia” and dies. Although shaken and puzzled by the encounter, Roxanne goes on living her life of classes, peer pressure, and school yard crushes. But one day she accidentally discovers that the Sofia grants its wearer the ability to travel through space and time. With the aid of her scientist father, she learns to control the power and soon pops across both history and future alike. Being young her first experiments center on jumping back in time to find information on that cute boy in class, and then returning to the present day to use the information to win him over.

As she gets older, Roxanne uses the Sofia to explore some of her favorite points in time. On her journeys she meets many fun characters of history and pop culture: H.G. Wells, Sandford Blank; a real life adventurer-detective Sherlock Holmes was based on, and the Beatles. These develop into fun little adventures for Roxanne, mixing fiction and historical fact in some inventive ways. Unfortunately, her journeys are surprisingly Euro-centric, rarely moving her beyond the boundaries of Britain. Explorations of other parts of the world could have brought more variety to her adventures.

As her skill develops, Roxanne also learns to travel into possible worlds, worlds in which history took very different paths from our own. These include variances in her own life, as well as post-apocalyptic and utopian futures for Britain. Unfortunately, the most clever of these come to us in a second-hand fashion. Roberson missed some opportunities here to really flex his creative muscles. I would have enjoyed reading more directly about worlds in which dogs developed into the dominant, intelligent species instead of primates, but we get it as a casual aside without any details.

Most time travel stories rely on detailed, often convoluted plots to explain the complicated “science” of time travel. Roberson wisely simplifies a number of the current theories, but he also takes particular delight in poking a little fun at the more complicated tales. These satirical romps often take the form of bumbling, keystone-style time-cops. These self-styled protectors of the timeline who seek to stop Roxanne’s adventures because they (mistakenly) believe them to be dangerous.

Each chapter works as a separate adventure, giving the book an episodic feel. This style can be either good or bad, depending upon the reader. Those readers who crave detailed, multi-layered intersections of varying plotlines will probably be bored with Roberson’s approach, but those with a shorter attention span or who enjoy short stories might find it appealing. The different sections range from action-oriented stories of fights with Nazis to more elegiac ones, such as her attempts to use time travel to find a cure for her father’s illness.

Roxanne, particularly as a child and young adult, is a fun, free-wheeling character that readers will connect with easily. As she gets older Roxanne becomes wiser, a little more reserved and perhaps a little harder for the reader to connect with. After all she learns Roxanne still searches for the secrets of her own life as well as the enigmatic source of the Sofia. The novel concludes by circling back in some surprising ways, finally giving her the elusive answers she longs for. While it suffers from problems that some readers will not like, these problems are pretty much outweighed by the clever, irreverent, and at times even touching, approach. Keep a watch for Roberson. With a little growth, his next ride is sure to have better twists, better turns, and run even more smoothly.


Monday, July 25, 2005

Events for the Week

25 Monday

7 P.M. Lisa See reads from and signs her new novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-364-1919.

26 Tuesday

6:30 P.M. Terry McMillan reads from and signs her new novel, The Interruption of Everything, at Karibu Books-Bowie Town Center, 15624 Emerald Way, Bowied, Md. 301-352-4110.

7 P.M. Former ballerina Adrienne Sharp reads from and signs her new novel, First Love, at Chapters Literary Bookstore, 445 11th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-737-5553.

7:30 P.M. Kathi Wolfe and Bill Wunder read from their work in the closing evening of the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series's 2005 season at Miller's Cabin, Picnic Grove #6, Beach Dr. at the Military Rd. overpass in Rock Creek Park, 301-587-4954.

27 Wednesday

1 P.M. The author and artist Adjoa Burrowes reads from her books and showcases her collage illustrations. Enoch Pratt Free Library, Pennsylvania Avenue branch, 1531 W. North Avenue, Baltimore, Md. 410-396-0399

7 P.M. A reading by the Lucifer Poetics Group, featuring Randall Williams, David Need, Ken Rumble, Marcus Slease, Brian Howe, Chris Vitiello, Todd Sandvik, Reb Livingston, Matthew Shindell, and Mike Snider. Red Emma's, 800 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Md. 410-230-0450.

7:30 P.M. John Weisman reads from and signs his new thriller, Direct Action, at Borders-Baileys Crossroads, Route 7 at Columbia Pike, 703-998-0404.

10 P.M. Special Q&A with playwright Sarah Ruhl and director Rebecca Bayla Taichman following the 8pm performance of Ruhl's The Clean House. The discussion is free. If you have tickets for another show or only want to attend the Q&A, the performance ends at 10pm; you will be let into the theatre once the performance ends and some ticketed patrons leave the theatre. Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St NW, Washington, D.C. 202-289-2443.

28 Thursday

6:30 P.M. Daniel Alarcon and Eduardo Gonzalez Viana , authors of the short story collections War by Candlelight and American Dreams, respectively, discuss their work in conversation with Washington Post Book World Editor Marie Arana as part of the literary forum Peruvian Writers in the United States being held at the Inter-American Development Bank's Cultural Center, 1300 New York Ave. NW. Washington, D.C. Free tickets will be distributed 30 minutes prior to the program's start. Valid ID is required; call 202-623-3558 or visit here for details.

7 P.M. Robert James Waller reads from and signs his new novel, High Plains Tango, at Olsson's-Courthouse, 2111 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va., 703-525-4227.

7 P.M. Julia Slavin reads from and signs her new novel, Carnivore Diet, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-364-1919.

29 Friday

8 P.M. Poetry Reading Hosted by Gregg Mosson and inspired by the works of Adrienne Rich. Red Emma's, 800 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Md. 410-230-0450.

30 Saturday

2 P.M. to 8 P.M. Poets in the Park, a literary event featuring readings by local poets and open readings. Gwynn Oak Park, Baltimore, Md. 410-566-1800.

7 P.M. Barrelhouse and Web Del Sol Present: Literary Karaoke. What is Literary Karaoke? It's a little bit of karaoke, a little bit of poetry, some short fiction, maybe, and a whole lot of making jackasses out of ourselves. All in the name of fun, literature, and uh, making asses out of ourselves. Everybody is invited, and all proceeds will benefit DC area magazines. $5 cover charge at the door.The Big Hunt, Downstairs, 1345 Conn. Ave, Washington, D.C.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

To E-Book or Not to E-Book

Charlie Stross has posted an interesing q&a about e-books on his blog.

For some background, Stross recently released a novel entitled Accelerando. I've seen good reviews of it in small SF publications as well as more mainstream mags like Entertainment Weekly. In an interesting move, Stross also offers a free e-book version of the novel. He argues that releasing a free version has made his initial sales much higher than for his previous novels, although part of that has to come from an increase in the people reading him in general (his novel Singularity Sky was on many best of 2004 lists). The q&a covers why he did this, and why he thinks it's helped the sales of the book.

If he's right, it could be a whole new approach to PR, particularly for mid-list authors looking for new ways to promote themselves. If he's wrong...then it's just business as usual.


Friday, July 22, 2005

Pick up the Pace, Lunkhead!

If someone told me my freshman year in high school I'd be using the battle cry for my Cross Country coach as a title to a journal piece, I probably would have laughed at them and then punched them in the mouth. But here I am, doing just that. Coach McMenamin was a crazy s.o.b. He acted as a pace car of sorts, running behind us at practice, waving an ax handle back and forth to keep us going. Yelling, "Pick up the pace, lunkhead," all the way. It's a phrase that's been in the back of my mind the past few days.

Pacing is something often talked about in reviews, but it was a topic I rarely heard anything about in grad school or writing workshops. You talk a lot about themes, character, setting....but pacing, not so much. While it's certainly no grand revelation, it's hit me this week how important a tool it can be.

This week instead of reading the new Harry Potter like everyone else on the metro, I've been reading the new Dan Simmons novel, Olympos. It's a big honker of an s/f book, weighing in at 680 pages. There's a lot of cool ideas to it: Greek Gods who aren't really Greek Gods, Shakespearean wizards and monsters come to life, giant disembodied brains scuttling on hundreds of hands attached by tendrils, and meta-literary jokes aplenty. But what's really catching me, again, is the pacing.

I can't put the damn thing down. I normally read about for about 1 1/2 hours a day. Part of that on my metro commute, and a little bit before I go to bed at night. But this book constantly pecks at my attention. Instead of writing or playing bass or watching t.v. when I get home, I read. Instead of eating or going for a stroll at lunchtime, I read. I'll probably finish the damn thing this week, and after that I'll be taking it to pieces, trying to figure out how he does it.

Part of it, from what I can tell at this point, is knowing how much to give away and how much to hold back. It's a delicate balance, knowing what to keep mysterious so the readers keeps pushing through the pages. And there's a see-saw act between action-ladened scenes and ones filled with exposition and revelations to give you a breather. Switching points of view back a forth has a bit to do with it, too.

Some the techniques might work for a short story, but most are probably more applicable to a novel. I'm playing with another attempt at a novel this fall, and I'm thinking of trying to emulate this style of rhythm now. At least to an extent. We'll see what happens after I finish the research and actually start writing it. In the meantime I need to find out what's happening in Olympos.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Vanity, DIY, the Multicorp, and You

James Schellenberg has a decent article up on Strange Horizons entitled "Vanity, DIY, the Multicorp, and You". Basically it takes apart the pros and cons of vanity presses and self-publishing.

My own opinions on both vary. Self-publishing has a time honored tradition in literature, and sometimes it's the only way to get a book out that's ahead of it's time or a bit more provocative than people can handle at the time. But now with printing services like Kinko's making it affordable for every crackpot with an idea, it can be a little suspect unless an author who already has a reputation of some sort is doing it. Vanity presses are only good for people who just want a book to hand out to friends.

My direct experience with both goes back a few years.

For several years I worked at an art museum in D.C. that happened to have a small, in-house library. We'd often get packages of strange books put out by vanity presses addressed to "Library" or "Librarian", and they were almost never related to art and almost always very bizarre. We got a bit of everything: books on Bible Code, UFO's, instructions on killing cows, manuals on fencing. If I didn't take them home, they normally just went in the trash.

My favorite, though, was a really bad book of fiction. It wasn't my favorite because of the book itself, but for the "press" materials that came with it. Often a publisher includes a pamphlet of early reviews or blurbs by big name authors, hoping someone will read it and buy a bunch of copies. This particular book came with a blurb sheet containing praise from the author's mom, a high-school janitor, and a gift shop owner in North Carolina. Although I can't guarantee it, I'm pretty sure the author meant it as a serious project.


Monday, July 18, 2005

Events For the Week

19 Tuesday

7:30 P.M. Sandra Beasley and Michèle Surat read from their work as part of the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series held at Miller's Cabin, Picnic Grove #6, Beach Dr. at the Military Rd. overpass in Rock Creek Park, 301-587-4954.

8 P.M. Katerina Canyon, the former Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga, California will be reading from her latest book "Fly". At Red Emma's, 800 St. Paul St. Baltimore, Md. 410-230-0450.

20 Wednesday

1 P.M. Adjoa Burrowes, the author and artist, reads from her books and showcases her collage illustrations. Enoch Pratt Free Library, Pennsylvania Avenue branch. 1531 W. North Ave. Baltimore, Md. 410-396-0399.

7 P.M. The Washington Book Publishers' midsummer program features Mary Kay Zuravleff reading from and talking about her wonderful new novel, The Bowl Is Already Broken. At Chapters Books, 445 11th St. N.W. Washington, DC. 202-737-5553.

7 P.M. Special Memoir workshop/panel discussion. Panelists include literary agent Yoon and memoirists Brooke Lea Foster (The Way They Were) and Beth Nonte Russell (Offspring of a Deathless Soul). This event is sponsored by Washington Independent Writers. Member cost is $10 advance payment; $15 at the door. Nonmember cost is $20 advance payment; $25 at the door. Bethesda–Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda, Md. 20814. (Near the Bethesda station on the Metro Red line.) Parking on the street or in nearby paid parking lots. Wheelchair accessible. Light snacks will be served. Reservations are required. To RSVP, call (202) 737-9500.

21 Thursday

7 P.M. The Café Muse series presents poetry readings by Naomi Ayala and James Deahl at the Friendship Heights Village Center, 4433 S. Park Ave. Chevy Chase, Md. 301-656-2797. An open reading (sign-up at 7 p.m.) concludes the program.

22 Friday

7 P.M. Spazzes With Glasses: Book Nerd Tour With Anne Elizabeth Moore, the author of Hey Kidz! Buy This Book: A Radical Primer on Corporate and Governmental Propaganda and Artistic Activism for Short People and zine editor Liz Mason. Atomic Books, 1100 W. 36th St. Baltimore, Md. 410-662-4444.

7 p.m. Alice Lessese Powers, editor for the new anthology Tuscany in Mind, reads from and discusses the book. With contributions from Byron, E. M. Forster, Iris Origo, Erica Jong, and many others, this collection of writings inspired by cypress tress, rolling hills, medieval castles and charming villages makes for wonderful armchair travel. Politics and Prose 5015 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 202-364-1919.

7:30 P.M. Poetry and Prose open mic reading. Sign-up for readers begins at 7:00 p.m. Reading Room at the Writers Center. 4508 Walsh St. Bethesda, Md. 301-654-8664

8 P.M. Jessica Hopper and Al Burian Charm City Art Space, 1729 Maryland Ave. Baltimore, Md.

23 Saturday

2 P.M. Deirdre Savoy signs her new novel, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, 3500 East-West Hwy., 301-559-1140. She will also sign at 5 p.m. that afternoon at Karibu Books-Bowie Town Center, 15624 Emerald Way. Bowie, Md. 301-352-4110.

2 P.M. Contributors to the newly-published anthology No Longer Dreams: An Anthology of Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction read and sign copies. Sponsored by Lite Circle Books. Borders Books and Music, 170 W. Ridgely Rd. Lutherville, Md. 410-453-0727.

24 Sunday

2 P.M. Terry McMillan The author reads and signs her most recent novel, The Interruption of Everything. Enoch Pratt Free Library, central library, 400 Cathedral St. Baltimore, Md. 410-396-5402

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Philip K. Dick Revisited

A very odd report on Aint It Cool News regarding Comic Con. To promote the upcoming film A Scanner Darkly based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, they brought in a special guest-speaker. The guest-speaker? None other than Philip K. Dick himself.

What's that? He's dead, you say?

Well, you're right. What they've wheeled out is a very creepy android of the writer. If you look at the photos towards the bottom of the article you get a shot of some of the actual machinery holding this particular PKD all together. A very appropriate way to promote his work.

I have more than a little trepidation about the movie, though. A Scanner Darkly was the first book by PKD I ever read, and it was ASD more than any other single book that brought me back to s/f and re-convinced me that s/f can be as compelling, moving and important as any other type of art. Other films based on his work have not quite measured up to the vision and themes of PKD, the only possible exception to this being Ridley Scott's Bladerunner. A great film, but it diverges quite a bit from the original book.

Richard Linklater's doing A Scanner Darkly and he's made all kinds of references to PKD and PKD-type themes in some of this other movies, most noticably in Waking Life. He's using the same technique used in Waking Life, filming actors and then "painting" animation on top of them. It creates quite an odd effect that might lend itself pretty well to the near-hallucinagenic world of PKD. I hope it works.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Serendipity and The Walking Dead

I went to the monthly book reviewers meeting for the magazine last night. Among other things, they asked me to review Smokler's Bookmark Now!. So looks like that book is moving up in the pile. Also got the latest and supposedly last installment of the Dan Simmons Ilium series.

Damn him for making another big brick of a book I know I'll have to read. The first one features some rather brilliant discussions between two robots on which human author is better...Shakespeare or Proust. All while the robots are hurtling to their deaths in a crashing spacecraft. Good fun.

I've got my reading really laid out for me this month. One of these days I'll be able to tackle some of the lit journals.

For a complete tangent, Steven Shaviro has an interesting essay/review on George Romero's Land of the Dead. I didn't enjoy it half as much as he did, but he makes some interesting points about the political content in the movie. Not surprising from a guy who wrote some pretty smart essays on postmodernism by talking about the comic book series Doom Patrol. His site in general is worth a look, too, if you have any interest in the varying intersections of pop-culture, political discussions, and post-modern theory.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Hey, NEA! Bookmark This!

Although I’m a bit delayed in this post, it should still be worthwhile. Friday night I made the hike up to Politics and Prose in northwest D.C. for a reading/discussion on the new book Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times. An anthology of essays on the state of writing today, Bookmark Now brings in heavyweight talent like Neal Pollack, Tracy Chevalier, and Glen David Gold alongside some names that are lesser known but still excellent writers.

The event was hosted by Kevin Smokler, editor for the anthology, and Paul Collins of Collins Library fame (the Collins Library is a unique imprint of McSweeney’s, putting out what they call "unusual out-of-print literary works"….they do a fabulous job there). Collins contributed a piece to the volume.

For those of you who have never made it to Politics and Prose, it’s the kind of bookstore readers of the New Yorker dream about. A clean, inviting atmosphere, with normally helpful staff. Uptempo jazz floats in the background (not too loud, now!), and the shelves contain a relatively nice balance of literary bestsellers and older titles. My ultimate preference would be for some Einsturzende Neubaten pounding away while I search through piles and piles of used books, but that’s me.

Surprisingly, I was on the younger end of the spectrum as far as attendees for the event. Perhaps it’s because it was a Friday night, and most of the other cool iterati had big parties to go to. I pretended to read my copy of Cunningham’s Specimen Days while secretly eavesdropping like all writers should and heard tidbits of conversation covering things like the best hardware store, why red wine is better with bbq than beer, and how to kick-start a writing career. Needless to say, I felt right at home.

Smokler kicked things off by saying he was asked to pull a book of essays together by writers of "his generation". He said ok, and moved on to figure out what his generation was, finally defining it as the first people not to remember the Kennedy assasination, and never remember a time without video games or fruit roll-ups. My generation, I supposed, although I’d probably be on the younger side of it.

The ultimate goal of the book was to bring together writers to explain how and why they continue to read and write in this day and age of extreme media saturation. Although Bookmark Now started prior to its release, it also became an opponent of sorts to the NEA report dubbed Reading at Risk. For those that don’t want to read the link for themselves, the report basically states that because of an increase of watching t.v. playing video games, the internet, and other competing mediums the reading of literature has dropped so dramatically that the NEA has called it a crisis of culture.

Now when I say Bookmark Now became an opponent of the Reading at Risk Report, I don’t mean that Smokler and Collins were sitting behind the podium belching, drinking beer, and playing marathon rounds of Grand Theft Auto as a demonstration of a culture shift. Instead, Smokler offered the idea that the NEA is simply missing the boat, so to speak. The report very specifically defines literature as fiction, poetry or plays, so this automatically dismisses well written, literary-quality essays. It also doesn’t look at people’s online habits, discounting online literary zines, blogs that discuss literature, and online communities that offer the chance for people to review literature and even post their own writings. All interesting points, I thought.

Collins then took the floor, and read his piece from the anthology. A very lighthearted essay, it covers his discovery of a very odd series of books he once discovered and how magical they still seem to him today. I won’t go into finer details, since it might ruin the humor of the piece. He ended by reading a short guide to playing the old video game Space Invaders, written by a young Martin Amis.

The main portion was followed by a set of questions from the audience covering everything from people’s favorite literary sites of interest to libraries of the future to copyright issues in the electronic age. Although lighthearted, I found it all very interesting. If nothing else, I picked up another good book for the ever-growing pile and it made me rethink some things about this here blog. More on that at another time.


Monday, July 11, 2005

Events for the Week

Special note: The Washington Post is running a Best Bets campaign for all the places to go and things to do in the D.C. area. Go and vote for your favorite eateries, clubs, museums, and yes, bookstores. Help out the local, independent businesses by voting for them over the mega-chains.

11 Monday

7 P.M. Elizabeth Kostova reads from and signs her new novel, The Historian, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-364-1919.

7 P.M. Omar Tyree is the man about town this week, signing his new novel, Boss Lady, everywhere possible. He starts At Books-A-Million, 7000 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover, Md., 443-755-0211. He will also sign on Tuesday, July 12, at 5 p.m. at B. Dalton Booksellers, Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE, 202-289-1724, and again at 6:30 p.m. at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, 3500 East-West Hwy., 301-559-1140.

7:30 P.M. Jennifer Weiner will read and sign her new novel Little Earthquakes at Barnes and Noble, 4801 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda, Md. 301-986-1761.

12 Tuesday

Noon. David Poyer discusses and signs his new historical novel, That Anvil of Our Souls: A Novel of the Monitor and the Merrimack, at the U.S. Naval Museum, Washington Navy Yard, 805 Kidder Breese St. SE. For security reasons, call 202-433-4995 at least 24 hours in advance to RSVP; visit this site for further details.

6:30 P.M. Geneva Holliday signs her new novel, Groove, at Karibu Books-Bowie Town Center, 15624 Emerald Way, 301-352-4110.

7 P.M. Helen Oyeyemi reads from and signs her new novel, The Icarus Girl, at Borders-Silver Spring, 8518 Fenton St., 301-585-0550.

7:30 P.M. Donald Illich and Jonathan Vaile read from their work as part of the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series held at Miller' Cabin, Picnic Grove #6, Beach Dr. at the Military Rd. overpass in Rock Creek Park, 301-587-4954.

7:30 P.M. Curtis Sittenfeld reads from and signs her novel, Prep, at the Friendship Heights Village Center, 4433 S. Park Ave., Chevy Chase, Md., 301-656-2797.

13 Wednesday

14 Thursday

Noon. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries present a lecture, "The U.S. Naval Observatory Through a Novelist's Eye," by Thomas Mallon , drawn from his novel Two Moons, at the National Museum of American History, Carmichael Auditorium, 14th St. and Constitution Ave. NW, 202-633-1000.

6:30 P.M. Leslie Milk, Washingtonian magazine lifestyles editor, talks with mystery writer Sara Paretsky about her writing and her plucky heroine, V.I. Warshawski. They also discuss Sisters in Crime, an organization of authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers, and librarians who share an affection for the mystery genre and who support women writers in the field. Book signing follows. This is a Smithsonian Members Program. $18, general admission; $15, members; for security reasons a photo ID required. Location: Navy Memorial Auditorium, 7th St. & Pennsylvania Ave., NW

7 P.M. Painter and art historian Jonathan Weinberg discusses and signs Male Desire: The Homoerotic in American Art at Lambda Rising, 1625 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-462-6969.

7:30 P.M. The Writer's Center is host to a group of journalists, editors and professors visiting from China. Meet them and join them in an informal discussion on writing and publishing in China and the U.S. Location: Reading Room at the Writer’s Center. 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. 301 654-8664

15 Friday

16 Saturday

10 A.M. Explore your creative side and learn how to get started in food writing for newspapers and magazines. Author Dianne Jacob provides an overview of various types of food writing, from cookbooks to restaurant reviews. Then 3 award-winning writers -- New York Times food reporter Kim Severson, The Washington Post chief restaurant critic Tom Sietsema, and Vogue magazine food critic and columnist Jeffrey Steingarten -- offer practical advice and insider tips. Book signing follows. This is a Smithsonian Members Program. $131, general admission; $85, members. Location: S. Dillon Ripley Center, National Mall, Washington, D.C.

1 P.M. Nora Roberts will sign her new mystery, Origin in Death (written under the pseudonym J.D. Robb). Authors Sabrina Jefferies, Donna Kauffman, Victoria Thompson and Diane Whiteside will also appear at the 10th anniversary celebration at Turn the Page Bookstore, 18 North Main St., Boonsboro, Md. 301-432-4588.

17 Sunday

4 P.M. T.P. Luce, aka Ellis Marsalis III, reads poetry from his book ThaBloc. Minás Gallery, 815 W. 36th St., Baltimore. 410-732-4258.

5 P.M. Mark Helprin reads from and signs his new novel, Freddy and Fredericka, at Politics and Prose, 202-364-1919.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail

Ever since the days of X-Files, I’ve had a long fascination with bizarre, conspiracy-ladened historical theories. When done well, they shine as white-hot examples of brilliant plotting. Oftentimes, like in Thomas Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon or The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, the authors approach it with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, mixing bizarre but proven historical facts with wild fiction in ways that make it difficult to tell which is which. Others like Dan Brown’s surprisingly popular The Da Vinci Code take themselves very seriously hoping to expose “real” conspiracies by way of their fiction. I tend to prefer the former, and, thankfully, so does Christopher Dawes in his new memoir Rat Scabies and the Search for the Holy Grail.

Imagine, if you will, a semi-retired rock music critic in the midst of a midlife crisis moving into a new home in the quiet suburbs of Brentford, England. Strangely, he discovers one of his new neighbors is none other than Rat Scabies, drummer for the uber-important punk rock band The Damned. The two begin to bond over afternoon tea, trips to the local pub and discussions covering everything from neighborhood gossip to hedge-trimming to music.

As Dawes gets to know Scabies, he learns that Scabies is a man obsessed with a strange story of conspiracy and treasure. The story begins in 19th century France, at the small town of Rennes-le-Chateau. The local priest suddenly transformed from a man of limited means to a multi-millionaire. The general theory is that the priest stumbled onto a fabulous treasure – a treasure which may or may not have included the Holy Grail. Historians, archaelogists and treasure hunters have searched Rennes-le-Chateau for years without any sign of the treasure.

Dawes doesn’t believe the Rennes-le-Chateau tale at first, but with nothing better to do dives into the odd books, videos and websites trying to explain the priest and the source of the treasure. The memoir turns into a travel narrative and buddy book, taking Dawes and Scabies across Europe as they investigate different sites and uncover clues to the treasure. Theories of the treasure’s origin stem back to everything from the Merovingian Empire, alchemist formulas for creating gold, and the Knights Templar (and what good conspiracy is without the Knights Templar).

At this point readers might think of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, but the investigative approach here differs greatly from that in Brown’s novel. With more than a little bit of Monty Python style humor, Dawes and Scabies investigate by riding bus tours and attending bizarre conventions populated with occultists, psychics, reincarnated medieval heretics and members of various secret societies. This lampoon humor, along with Dawes’s own back and forth beliefs in the story, wonderfully satirize the complicated and convoluted threads involved in a story like this.

I will admit, though, I was a little back and forth on how seriously to take this book until I came across this wonderful little paragraph:

Now he (Scabies) had a book balanced on his knees, a copy of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's blockbuster novel, which Joy had brought over for him from Britain for him. Not that he was reading it...he was using it to roll a spliff on. (164)

For Americans not hip to Brit slang, a spliff is a joint on the other side of Atlantic.

But in the end Dawes's book is not so much about odd historical theories, but about the friendship between Dawes and Scabies, how it was built on their mutual obsessions, and how they finally moved on. Witty, funny, and often downright off-the-wall, it contains just enough heart to make it a real reading pleasure.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Harry Potter and the Pope Benedict

I've been debating over posting about this article from LifeSite.Net the last couple of days, ever since it crossed the desk here at Hebdomeros Central. Mostly because it makes me so damned angry, and I hate being angry at anyone. For those of you not wanting to read the whole article, the main gist is that Cardinal Ratzinger has written letters of support to Gabriele Kuby, a German critic who's been very vocal about the evils of the Harry Potter series. For those of you who missed the recent headlines, Cardinal Ratzinger now holds the seat of Paul at the vatican under the new name Pope Benedict.

Kuby is quoted in an interview saying this:

“I have no desire to see and depict devils where there are none,” she said, “but when I see with my own eyes, when my intelligence and heart inform me, that there is a devil painted on a wall even though most everyone else sees on this same wall only flowery wallpaper design, then I feel obliged to give witness to the truth, whether convenient or unwelcome. There is such a thing as public deception—we Germans know about that.”

From the same interview, Kuby quotes a letter of support she received from then Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict:

""Thank you very much for the instructive book. It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly." (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, March 7, 2003)

Personally, I was a little confused at this point. I can understand not being a Harry Potter fan, but what can people have against books that apparently bring joy to so many? So I looked up some of the people referenced in the article. Kuby is German, and despite my semester in Berlin I sadly do not read German very well. But I've taken a pretty good look at the site of author and painter Michael O'Brien, another very vocal critic of the Harry Potter series. According to his site:

Rome’s official exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, warned parents against the books in an interview with the Italian ANSA news agency. Fr. Amorth, who is also the president of the International Association of Exorcists, said bluntly, “Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil.” He maintained that many of the ideas expressed in the books were from the realm of darkness, that they contain innumerable positive references to magic, “the satanic art”, and attempt to make a false distinction between black and white magic, when in fact the distinction “does not exist, because magic is always a recourse to the devil.”.

Hmm. Black magic. Yeah.

Perhaps I've just missed it, but have any kids been running around hexing each other or flying around playing Quidditch on brooms after reading Ms. Rowling's novels?
Even if I did believe in magic, the series just doesn't have enough information as far as spells that kids could start casting incantations and enchantments themselves (and, btw, most any public library or local bookstore has pretty detailed books on magic spells if kids want the "real" stuff). While I fully expect these kind of thoughts from random crazies and wingnuts scattered around the the world, clergy are well educated and should know better. Particularly those that make it all the way to the Vatican, whatever their respective position might be. With the release of the new Harry Potter book coming in a matter of days, I fully expected to hear from the overwrought crazies who can't handle words contrary to their world view, but hopefully the Vatican will keep quiet. If not, I expect they'll have hordes of angry kids--magically endowed kids, apparently--focusing their normally scatterered anger at them.


Monday, July 04, 2005

Events for the Week

4 Monday

Happy July 4th!

5 Tuesday

7:30 P.M. Jehanne Dubrow and Bonnie Nevel read from their work as part of the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series held at Miller's Cabin, Picnic Grove #6, Beach Dr. at the Military Rd. overpass in Rock Creek Park, 301-587-4954.

7:30 P.M. Barry Eisler reads from and signs his new John Rain thriller, Killing Rain, at Barnes and Noble-Bethesda, 4801 Bethesda Ave., 301-986-1761.

6 Wednesday

7 P.M. Dylan Thomas -- The Man Behind the Myth Lecture & Reading. From his first published collection of poems in 1934, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas captivated audiences across Britain and America in performance and on the page; but his untimely death at the early age of 39 resulted in the circulation of many myths about the poet. Learn the real story of Dylan Thomas during this evening's lively discussion led by writer and poet Owen Sheers. Then listen to unpublished recordings of Dylan Thomas reading his own work, followed by professional actor David Ponting's one-man show on the poet. Location: The Brickskeller, 1523 - 22nd St., NW This program is sponsored by the Smithsonian Associate Program. $32, general admission; $25, members.

7 Thursday

7 P.M. Mary Alice Monroe will be signing her new book Sweet Grass. Barnes & Noble, 8123 Honeygo Blvd. White Marsh, Md. (410) 933-9670

7 P.M. Poet Laureate of Maryland Speaks The Maryland Writers' Association hosts a reading and discussing about the importance of poetry lead by Maryland's Poet Laureate Michael Glaser. Pre-registered MWA poets will also have a chance to give readings. Event concludes with coffee and dessert. Located in the Studio Theatre. Location: Studio Theatre at The Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane, Baltimore, Md. More info available at the MWA website.

8 Friday

6:30 P.M. Karrine Steffans signs her new memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen, along with Darren Coleman , who will sign his new novel, Don't Ever Wonder, at Karibu Books-Forestville,. 3289 B Donnell Dr., Forestville, Md., 301-736-6170.

7 P.M. Paul Feig , creator of the Emmy-nominated show "Freaks and Geeks," discusses and signs his new memoir, Superstud: Or How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin , at Olsson's-Courthouse, 2111 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va. 703-525-4227.

Writing in response to the NEA’s 2004 Reading at Risk report, twenty-five writers under forty examine the state of their art in a world of blogs and chat rooms. These authors contend that news of the death of reading is greatly exaggerated. Instead, new technologies offer increased opportunities for literature. Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20008. 202.364.1919 

9 Saturday

9:30 AM-5 PM The Art of Writing the Personal Essay All-Day Seminar
Writing about your own life and experiences is perhaps the most rewarding kind of nonfiction to be mastered. The genre combines the finely crafted prose of the short story with the real-life intensity of journalism. Suzanne Chazin (writing instructor, New York University) discusses various styles of essay writing and guides participants in crafting their personal experiences into publishable works. This event is sponsored by the Smithsonian Associate Program. Location: S. Dillon Ripley Center. $131, general admission; $85, members

9:30 AM-4:30 PM James Joyce and His Dublin All-Day Seminar. Self-exiled from his native Ireland, his Ulysses banned in Britain and the U.S., denounced as an author who both could not and should not be read, James Joyce (1882-1941) ranks today as one of the most fascinating and influential of modern writers. In this illustrated seminar, Robert Nicholson, curator of the James Joyce Museum at the Tower of Sandycove, explores Joyce's life and works, his city of Dublin, and the phenomenal Irish literary renaissance that coincided with the launch of his career. This event is sponsored by the Smithsonian Associate Program. Location: S. Dillon Ripley Center. $131, general admission; $85, members

7 P.M. Television and film writer Adam Meyer reads from and signs his new young-adult suspense novel, The Last Domino, at Borders-Silver Spring, 8518 Fenton St., 301-585-0550.

10 Sunday

6 P.M. Miles David Moore hosts the launch of the Iota Poetry Series summer season with readings by Vladimir Levchev and Yvette Neisser Moreno at the Iota Club & Café, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va. 703-522-8340.