Tuesday, November 29, 2011

things I hate about fabric stores

1. Polyester. With the exception of some very high-tech, high-priced and fairly rare microfibers, it's nasty fabric. It's rough, slick, ravels, sticks to your skin, fights you when you try to sew it. And it occupies about 75% of the fashion fabric shelf space.

2. Polyester fleece. Occupies 75% of the floor space that could be utilized for--I don't know--real fabric? Silks, cotton twill, wool? For people who actually sew? Comes in an assortment of tacky colors and prints.

3. People who buy polyester fleece. They always buy 15 different cuts at the same time. For Christmas gifts. Disregarding the likelihood that the people who received a polyester fleece blanket LAST year have not worn it out, indeed probably have not used it, and do not need another. There is no excuse for blanketing your entire social circle with poly fleece. Pare down your Christmas list and make something meaningful for the people you actually like.

4. People who buy poly fleece who put their screaming children on the cutting counter, where the kid kicks, grabs, and drools on everything in sight, including other people's fabric. I was very mean about this when I worked at the fabric store. People were not permitted on my cutting counter.

5. People buying 15 yards of 15 different bolts of poly fleece who insist on finding something inadequate with each bolt of fleece, thereby requiring the cutting clerk to unroll the entire bolt to cut from the end without the glitter on it. (Seriously, lady? You're not going to wash the thing before you use it? Do you live in a world without germs, too?)

6. People trying to buy upholstery fabric for their interior designer/upholsterer, although they have never before bought fabric and are unprepared for questions about whether the design will be railroaded, or whether those 12 yards can be in two pieces, and hold up the line talking loudly on their cell phone for 10 minutes. THIS IS WHY YOU LET THE PROFESSIONAL DO THE BUYING. YOU ARE NOT SAVING MONEY BY DOING IT YOURSELF.

7. There is apparently only one home decorating fabric distributor left in middle America. Joann's and Hancock's have virtually the same stock these days. Competition? What competition?

8. Similarly, Joann's and Hancock's are on automatic stock reordering systems--when I was at Wal-Mart they called it "continual inventory system," which is a lie because they still took a physical inventory every year--so they only get in 3 or 4 cards of each button type at a time. So they generally only have in 1 or 2 cards of a given button type at any given time. Which means, if I need 14 buttons for a project I have to drive to at least 3 different stores, and/or wait 3 weeks until they get their stock replenished, because God forbid the store manager should be allowed to order anything for a customer who needs it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

planet comicon 2011 video!

Obviously I haven't Googled myself enough this year. I just found this two-minute video interview the nice people at Costume Hub did when they stopped by my table at Planet Comicon back in March. I remember them being there, but at the end of the weekend I never thought to look online for the video.

Check it out! I manage not to sound stupid, but I need to learn to smile more before I have to go and do book interviews!

And then there's this nice little blurb by a sexy Dr. Quinzel cosplayer I found on Tumbler:

"Awkward moment.

This is my “Holy-shit-did-Holly-Messinger-just-ask-for-my-picture” face. I was lookin’ at comics and all of a sudden I hear “DOCTOR QUINZEL!” I whip around, eager to find the beautiful soul who recognized me. (TWO Jokers passed by that day and didn’t even say ‘Hi!’ back to me… they acted like they didn’t know who I was! ..No, as in really didn’t know who I was. Hmph. Damn Dark Knight.)
All of a sudden, I see an angel in a steampunk Poison Ivy dress. HOLLY MESSINGER! AHH! I recognized her work from Elise Archer’s cosplay!

I was paralyzed ‘cause I was so starstruck and failed to strike a pose.. so sad.. haha.
My friend found this somewhere on the internet and sent it to me. Pic by Holly Messinger!"

Just for the record, I LOVE cosplays that can pass for street-clothes. It's like a secret identity of your very own. I like to go out in public in almost-costume and watch the looks on peoples' faces as they try to figure me out.

Now I'm eager for another convention. You guys are the best!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

never be ashamed of your success

From the SFWA blog: Having a saleable novel doesn’t make you a sell out.

"Turn your nose up at Dan Brown all you want. Besides selling a zillion copies, the man’s storytelling was so believable, other authors wrote NON-FICTION to DISPROVE his MADE UP STORY."

I needed this right about now. 

review: the twelfth enchantment

I know it mostly seems I only review books to grouse about 'em, but this is one I really really enjoyed: The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss. It's a seamless fusion of historical regency and gothic fantasy--I'd say Georgette Heyer and someone gothic, except I can't think of anyone appropriate in the fantasy genre of the time--Charles Dickens, maybe?

Anyway, it's about a poor relation named Lucy, who lost her father, sister and comfortable home, who now lives on the charity of her uncle who wants to marry her off as quickly as possible to the local industrialist. Pretty standard regency fodder--but then Lord Byron wanders into the picture, under the influence of a curse and mumbling mysterious messages for Lucy. While trying to lift his curse, Lucy meets a Woman of Independent Means who becomes a good friend and benefactor--and shows Lucy she has a talent for magic.

Stolen inheritances, sinister suitors, malicious faeries and Luddites all are braided together in an intriguing romp, with a dash of romance that is never cloying and a steadily-accelerating plot that comes to a satisfying conclusion. There's even a touch of women's lib, although it is never anachronistic.

I highly recommend this. It is a fine and masterful balance of plot, character, history, magic, and theme. Fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell will probably enjoy this, although to my mind it is far superior to that constipated opus.

Monday, November 14, 2011

review--the house of lost souls

Picked up The House of Lost Souls by F.G. Cottam at the library. It's a gothic ghost story that could, if you were ashamed to be caught reading a gothic ghost story, be loosely interpreted as a broad allegory for a man fighting his way back from suicidal depression. The ending is so lame from a fantasy/horror point of view, it tends to validate the psychological stance, but the middle parts of the book are a decent ghost story, if you don't mind the flashback-within-a-flashback narrative structure, the abrupt changes in viewpoint, the convenient insertion of epistolary clues at crucial moments, and the endless wanking over 80's London new wave/art culture. We get it, dude--you were there, you don't have to prove it to us.

The gist of it is this: in 1927, a group of Satanists including Aleister Crowley raised a demon to gain themselves fame and fortune; they imprisoned it in the manor house on a northern isle belonging to one of the members. Periodically, over the next 60-odd years, people go into the house--art students, construction workers, researchers--come out crazy, and commit suicide. Apparently the demon enjoys suicides. One guy, Paul Seaton, who is Irish, and you know he's Irish because everyone he meets makes note of the fact he's Irish*, visited the manor house in 1985, while trying to research a photographer who was a reluctant member of the coven. Paul escapes with his life but has a mental breakdown and his life and health promptly go down the crapper.

Now it's 1997 and another group of students has foolishly breached the manor's gates; one of them is dead and the rest are heavily drugged to keep them from offing themselves. The brother of one of the girls, Nick Mason, wants Paul to come and help save his sister. The two men are brought together by a mysterious benefactor who appears to be, variously, a psychiatrist, a paranormal researcher, and possibly the son and/or reincarnation of the original coven leader. All of that would be fine and intriguing except Cottam's idea of concealing clues is to cut away from a scene during important conversations, leaving blank spots in the narrative and thereby drawing attention to the question any normal person would ask. To a savvy reader, that can only mean the answer is exactly what you suppose it to be, and the characters are idiots for not noticing.

It's a complex story, as you may have noticed. To me the most enjoyable parts were the diaries of the photographer from the 1920's; the action is more succinct, the atmosphere of opulence and dread is quite effective. I suspect also that Cottam did some good research on Crowley and his cronies; the description of the banquets and parties had a ring of authenticity.

The writing in the modern scenes is much more weird to my palate; there are several odd sentence constructions that tripped me up while reading and I don't know if they are British/Irishisms, or just pretentious writing. The description in the 80's flashbacks is also heavy-handed and pretentious, in my opinion, since all the visual dissection of Paul's college chums and their local watering holes is largely irrelevant to the story and doesn't contribute much to Paul's character, either.

The action scenes are not badly handled, on the whole. The account of Paul's first visit to the demon's lair is so tense it will stand your hair on end. Unfortunately most of the climactic moments--human sacrifice, demon attacks, the death of a major character--are all handled off-stage, and so much of the air is let out. And as I mentioned, the ending is brief, pat, and completely unearned, in large part to that habit of breaking away from the scene at crucial moments. "And so Paul realized he'd had the power in him all along."

I'm really not paraphrasing, there.

Anyway. It wasn't all bad. I have the feeling the author was making deliberate choices about pacing and scene breaks, and just barely missing the mark.

*One thing that always amuses me about reading British-authored novels is how very class-conscious they still are. William Gibson comments on that quirk of British culture in his excellent novel Pattern Recognition.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

this is why freakshows went out of style

I've been soldiering through HBO's "Carnivale" on DVD this week. I got it from the public library, so at least I can say I didn't spend any money on it.

Wit fails me. Really. It's just that dull. Dust and dark and mystery and long poignant silences and cryptic utterances. There's some kind of good vs. evil thing, and some kind of inheritance thing, and a lot of sex and blood--this is HBO, after all. You'd think it would be more entertaining.

But no. It's tedious. And feels deliberately obfusticating. I'm up to episode 11 now. I should at least be able to tell where they're headed by now. What the themes are. Who the good/bad guys are. But no. There's a vague meandering fate vs. free will thing, and some vague commentary on the nature of faith, and some vaguely sinister characters who are supposed to create suspense by not knowing who to trust, but mostly it's just making me tired, because in 10 episodes nothing has really changed or been revealed.

So the plot's going nowhere, and the characters are uninteresting because there's no one to sympathize with, and the actors clearly have no better clue than the audience what's going on because they are all delivering repetitive one-note performances, episode after episode.

I read somewhere that the creator had enough material for one season and the producers made him stretch it to two. It sure feels that way. On top of that, the art direction and music are obviously the B-game of the same crew that did Deadwood, so there's no inspiration there.

I'm watching it because it was recommended to me and because it's the nearest thing I've seen in popular culture to what I've done with Trace. Superficially there are a lot of similar tropes; the old world vs. new world conflict, the holy man with powers he can't control, the young man running from his destiny, the mysterious patron manipulating from behind the curtain. Of course I've got about 10% as many characters and 10x as much plot.

At this point I'm just holding out to see if Brother Justin and his sister Iris actually consummate their creepy relationship. Though I must admit, it's amusing to watch The Kurgan in a priest's collar.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

the plot-subtext continuum

Recently I was talking with a reader-friend of mine (reader=one who reads for entertainment, as opposed to one who reads for information or criticism) and I related once again the story of my college Creative Writing professor and how we butted heads over the importance of plot in a story.

The professor, whom I'll call Mark because that was his name, would quite cheerfully admit that he considered "plot" a dirty word. He thought plot was an artificial structure for a story--that authors who had to rely on plot were lacking in depth. He was all about "subtext" and "transcending the literal" and he force-fed us all this contemporary navel-gazing crap from the New Yorker and the Atlantic monthly--the kind of fiction that writers write to impress other writers with their mastery of creative writing skills. These kinds of stories tend to follow slice-of-life or day-to-day or even stream-of-consciousness storylines. Sometimes they're not even linear: flashbacks and flash-forwards and flash-sidewayses are popular in that genre. But every one of those stories filled me with frustration because nothing ever happened. Nothing seemed interconnected, there was little cause and effect, and it always seemed that the author was one of those circular thinkers whom you thought was getting to a point, somewhere, but he was too embarrassed or refined to come right out and say it.

As I've gotten older I've come to think that the points these authors are making are not really that grand or shocking or even particularly poignant; after all they're dealing with sex and death, just like the hacks. There's only so many grand human experiences to work with, after all. I think instead the contemporary authors realize that it's all been done before, and to simply state "love sucks and then you die" would reveal them for the banal egomaniacs they are. So instead they write these grinding depressing explorations of stupid people with grand plans that fail, and no one will help them so they die wretched deaths under the gaze of an uncaring world. (This is the plot synopsis of "Midnight Cowboy," by the way, as related to me by the afore-mentioned reader, to which I replied, "No wonder it won Best Picture.")

However, as I've gotten older I've also come to understand why Mark the College Professor scorned plot: how many Michael Bay movies have been foisted on us in the last ten years--chock-full of plot and events and chain reactions and countdowns but sadly lacking in any transcendence or lingering meaning? I'm not saying every novel and movie has to be a life-changing experience, but as a consumer of entertainment I want to be engaged on multiple levels--viscerally and intellectually.

big announcement

Y'know, it's weird.... I always thought when I got an agent or made some other big motion forward in selling my fiction I'd be shouting it from the rooftops.

Instead I have this niggling inclination to reticence whose source I don't understand.... perhaps a fear that by talking about the deal I will be committing a publishing faux pas, thereby causing said agent to change her mind? Or the echoes of my dad's voice, telling me I shouldn't flaunt my success? The old self-defeatist impulse that now I might actually have to work? The fear that even if I try my best it still won't be good enough (and then I'll kick myself because I know it wasn't really my best)?

Enough, already. Enough.

Last week I signed a contract for representation with Amy Boggs, the "baby agent," as she calls herself, at Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York. I spoke to her on the phone; she was warm, amiable, and very excited about Trace. She had some very helpful suggestions about how to tighten the last third of the book. She complimented my historical research. We agreed there was nothing else like it out there (at least not in the mainstream), and she said when she pitched it to her boss, his eyes lit up with interest. That's a good compliment.

So I'm doing a fairly light edit and tightening up of The Curse of Jacob Tracy, so that Amy can start shopping it around to editors. She asked a bit about my future plans for the series, so I will probably slap together an outline of what will happen in the next book. Someone will want to know about that, eventually.

I also have been cleaning up my website and blog to be more professional and more writerly-oriented. I've been out of the publishing loop for so long--I'm gathering new links, reading the blogs again. I even joined Twitter, for pete's sake, since that's where all the writer kids seem to hang out. And Amy Twitted about me already, including a link to my website, so I've noticed all this unusual traffic to my poor old boring website.

So, hey, Amy? It was great talking to you. This is gonna be awesome.