Monthly Archives: June 2013

Summer Lovin’ Readathon

The big brains here at Read-a-thon Central came up with a week long read-a-thon, outfitted with daily author features, daily giveaways, daily challenges, and a final 24 hour Grease Lightnin’ round! What is this fantabulous read-a-thon called you ask?! Summer Lovin’!

It might be that I cannot resist a readathon. I wasn’t planning on doing a one in July since I need to make good progress on my novel and we’ll be out of town later in the month for ComicCon. But, Summer Lovin’ got me with the 24-hour Grease Lightning round. I haven’t been able to do Dewey’s Readathon for a year and a half. So, readathon, here I come!

Goals

600 pages. I intend to add 5000 words to my WIP this week as well, so I that night be a stretch goal, even with a 24-hour RAT on Saturday.

Reading Fodder

Cobweb Bride (Cobweb Bride Trilogy, #1)
Did not finish
Carniepunk
In Progress
A Collection of Works: Smoke and Steel / Slabs of the Sunburnt West / Good Morning, America
Done, for now
Now You See It . . .
DONE!
Tricks Of The Mind
In Progress

And probably a bunch of random research stuff.

Progress

What Else in June

A Collection of Works: Smoke and Steel / Slabs of the Sunburnt West / Good Morning, AmericaOther Stuff Read

I’ve been doing a bad job of keeping up with my short stories and poems, or at least documenting them. In the land of poetry, I’ve been reading a Carl Sandburg collection that will get reviewed eventually. Also making poor progress on ARCs due to reading for research. Been reading about séances and spirit photography.

Writing Work

Started posting writing updates on Fridays. Don’t know whether that will continue, but for the moment I’m in a documenting mood.

Query-wise:

# of submissions for Luck for Hire: 8
# of responses: 8 – including one submission from January and one assumed rejected.
# of submissions for Model Species: 0
# of responses: 0 – Model Species is pretty much all home, as it were.

Other Life Stuff

I’m not a big fan of summer. It’s bright. It’s hot. Frisbee leagues are over; Wednesday disc gets moved to mornings, which means it gets cancelled a lot. Generally any schedule I have totally goes out the window.  I’ve been trying to ride that wave and work when I’m awake and not worry about if I’m awake at 3am.

Computer got infected a couple weeks back. Eric had been meaning to upgrade my machine to Windows 7. Alas, a mistake lead to some file loss, but nothing important.

The Blue Blazes (Mookie Pearl, #1)Books Obtained

  • The Poet and Dream Girl: The Love Letters of Lilian Steichen and Carl Sandburg
  • The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig – Won this during the Wicked Wildfire Readathon. Thanks Pabkins @ My Shelf Confessions!
  • Also purchased the September ’99 issue of Magic magazine. Not only did it have an article by Jim Steinmeyer about Joseffy, but Carl Sandburg’s 1907 appreciation of the same.

Other Books I Want to Read

At Goodreads:

  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
  • A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Séances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters by Peter H. Aykroyd

At the Greater Phoenix Digital Library:

  • The SpiritualistThe Spiritualist by Megan Chance
  • Ghosts at Christmas by Darren W. Ritson

At Open Library:

  • Shirley Jackson by Lenemaja Friedman
  • Mickelsson’s Ghosts by John Gardner
  • The New Girl by Sally Mitchell
  • –where love begins by Helga Sandburg
  • The Book of the Damned by Charles Fort

Saturday Cinema ~ Ghost Stories as Mysteries

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While I don’t believe in ghosts, I do love a good ghost story. In particular, I like ghost stories that are mysteries at heart, and the spirits are pieces of the puzzle to be solved. Ghost in this sort of story may be scary, but usually don’t really wish harm upon the living, aside from seeing justice done. I was tempted to call these “old-fashioned” ghost stories, but what’s fashion for my culture isn’t fashion in another. While revenant stories seem new-fangled to me, the kaidan that are the basis of much of J-horror are old-fashioned in Japanese culture. J-horror sensibility has been prevalent in 2000s, so I was surprised to find a “good old-fashioned” ghost story from 2011.

File:TheAwakening2011Poster.jpgThe Awakening (2011) – Directed by Nick Murphy; Starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Isaac Hempstead Wright, and Imelda Staunton.

I came across this movie this movie while doing research on mediums and spiritualist debunkers. The main character, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), is a debunker. The first ten minutes of the film are on-line, a scene that includes Cathcart exposing a medium. It definitely endeared the film to me. A “professional” ghost hunter, she is asked to investigate the death of a boy at a country boarding school. He reportedly died of fear, sacred to death by the resident ghost. There is of course more than meets the eye to the boarding house and Cathcart’s motives for ghost busting. I was a little worried when she breaks out the 1920s version of  EMF meters and the like, but those things aren’t what the movie is about.

The Awakening was written by director Nick Murphy and Stephen Volk, the writer behind the totally gonzo Gothic (1986), the more recent the UK series Afterlife (about a psychology professor investigating a medium), and half-dozen other ghost-related projects. Clearly, he has an interest in this type of story. The plot spools out a decent pace, providing a good number of chills and twists. The production is lovely, as you’d expect from BBC Films, and the actors are top-notch. I find that I really like Rebecca Hall in just about any role (which makes me all the more disappointed in Iron Man 3–Mayra Hansen was a character with not much to do). The Awakening is a solid ghost mystery and definitely a pleasant surprise.

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File:Lady in White (poster).jpegFive more of my favorite ghost mysteries (that mostly fit the criteria):

  • The Changling (1980)
  • Lady in White (1988)
  • The Sixth Sense (1999)
  • Stir of Echos (1999)
  • The Others (2001)

Adventures of the Writerly Writer ~ Too Full of Words

I had planned to triumphantly announce that I’d reached the 10K mark on this draft.

Nope. Didn’t happen this week.

Eric finished his rewrite/edit of his current novel, Physic, and I gave it a reread. I’m…*wait for it*…not a fast reader, so it took me the better part of the week to read through the ~100K words. I must say, Eric’s rewrite really pulled some story elements together. It’s very cool to see things falling into place as a book gets written.

I tried to work on both projects on Monday-Wednesday, but my brain got just too full of words. It happens sometimes. I finished reading this morning and ended up puttering around with a new WordPress background this afternoon. Occasionally, I need a visual arts break. Voilà! My blog now sports a background with David P. Abbott and Joseffy, the historical hooks into my current writing project. I still don’t have a new title and have been referring to it in my head (to the embarrassment of all involved) as Dave & Joe’s Spiritualist Adventure.

I did add over 3000 word to my draft this week, but I made a bit of a wrong turn during the latest chapter. I’ll need to be corrected before I move on. Currently, I seem to have this rolling writing/revising system going on.  I rewrite/revise the last 400-600 hundred words I wrote, which seems to reap an addition 200 words, then I move on to write 400-600 more words. Repeat.

So far, so good.

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Review ~ The Last Greatest Magician in the World

Cover via Goodreads

The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards by Jim Steinmeyer

Here is the seminal biography of the magician’s magician, Howard Thurston, a man who set the standard for how stage magic is performed today.

Everyone knows Houdini–but who was Thurston? In this rich, vivid biography of the “greatest magician in the world,” celebrated historian of stage magic Jim Steinmeyer captures the career and controversies of the wonder-worker extraordinaire, Howard Thurston.

Thurston’s story is one of the most remarkable in show business. During his life, from 1869 to 1936, he successfully navigated the most dramatic changes in entertainment–from street performances to sideshows to wagon tours through America’s still-wild West to stage magic amid the glitter of grand theaters.

Steinmeyer explores the stage and psychological rivalry between Thurston and Houdini during the first decades of the twentieth century–a contest that Thurston won. He won with a bigger show, a more successful reputation, and the title of America’s greatest magician. In The Last Greatest Magician in the World, Thurston’s magic show is revealed as the one that animates our collective memories. (via Goodreads)

Houdini. Houdini, Houdini, Houdini. If I asked you to name one non-contemporary magician (i.e., not Criss Angel, David Blaine, Penn & Teller, or even David Copperfield; in other words, a long-dead magician), Houdini would probably be who you’d name. Harry Houdini masterfully built his own legend on a basis of spectacle, controversy, and no small amount of talent as an escape artist. If I were to ask you to describe the prototypical old-timey magician, you might think of a man in white tie and tails, dignified yet amusing, pulling a rabbit from a hat, levitating a princess, or maybe chastely sawing a lady in half. That magician that you’re thinking of? That’s Howard Thurston.

In Hiding the Elephant, Jim Steinmeyer presented the history of stage magic through the lens of one trick. In Last Greatest Magician, he turns his focus  to tell the story of Howard Thurston, warts and all. As a young man, before he delighted kids and parents with magically-produced bunny rabbits, Thurston  hopped trains and conned people into buying fake watches until he was caught and put into reform school. He was married three times. He was absolutely terrible with money. Like many front-men, he was not the architect of his more elaborate tricks.

Where he excelled was on the stage. He was charismatic performer with a minister’s voice. He had a sense for putting on a memorable show, even if he suffered from the-bigger-the-better syndrome late in his career. He was incredibly adept at close-up magic and could “sell” an apparatus better than anyone else.  Behind the scenes, he bought the best tricks and hired some of the best engineers to shore up weaknesses. Magic is an industry reliant keeping secrets and obtaining them. Thurston was shrewd and more than occasionally conflicted about decisions he made to keep his business afloat.

Jim Steinmeyer gives Thurston all his shades of gray and writes about the man and the magic with the same palpable love that oozes from Hiding the Elephant. Thurston’s story would make a great AMC / History channel series. While this isn’t a “reveal” book, the secrets behind some magic tricks are discussed. As a designer and inventor, Steinmeyer doesn’t shy away from nuts and bolts when telling his stories.

History is all about who gets remembered. Many, many other magicians have pulled rabbits from hats and made ladies float. Even Houdini did some of these tricks though, by most reports, not very well. Despite invoking Houdini’s name to give Thurston some street cred with modern audiences, it’s Thurston who has given us the cultural memory of “magician.”

As for the rivalry between Houdini and Thurston? It’s there. The two exchanged many letters. Houdini had a mercurial personality and was always in conflict with someone, and usually someone notable. If the general public remembers Thurston in relation to Houdini, there are worse things. If I’ve learned one thing about magic, it’s that it’s a continual narrative. Every magician, every trick, every performance is the sum of its history and often defined by its associations and lineage. It’s a concept that is very appealing to me.

Genre: Non-fiction. Biography.
Why did I choose to read this book? Research! But also because I find that I really enjoy Jim Steinmeyer’s writing and magic history.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Format: Trade paperback.
Procurement: Won from Take Control RAT raffle!
Bookmark: Yellow note card with notes from my current project on it. Well, pre-rewrite notes.

Related to my current writing project and as a further example of defining by association, this is an anecdote related by Jim Steinmeyer in an article about the magician Joseffy:

Joseffy was once asked to present [Balsamo, The Living Skull] to Howard Thurston and his staff. He obliged, placing the skull on a table between Thurston’s knees. “You’re not going to work it this close?” Thurston asked.
Joseffy nodded.

“But I am Thurston!”

“Yes, but I am Joseffy,” the wizard responded.

 

(Jim Steinmeyer. Magic. September 1999, Vol. 9, No. 1. pg. 46)

Saturday Cinema ~ Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

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File:MuchAdo.jpgMuch Ado About Nothing (2012) – Directed by Joss Whedon, Starring Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, and most of the rest of the Whedon Universe.

Yesterday, we trekked up to Scottsdale to watch Much Ado on the only screen where it’s showing in the Phoenix metro (at the moment, that I know of; here’s hoping for a wider release later in the year). Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite Shakespeare comedy. Joss Whedon is one of my favorite directors.  There was no way I wasn’t going to like this movie.

Filmed on location in his home during a break while editing Avengers, Whedon puts together a pretty good film. Shot in black and white, it exchanges the Italian providence of Messina for a palatial Santa Monica home. The house’s architecture and the surrounding property is put to excellent use. I was amused by how many early scenes were shot in the kitchen. After all, isn’t that were most parties end up? The adaptation mostly pulls off a modern setting while retaining the language of the play in a slightly abridged version. Don John and his cronies arrived zip-tied. Why? It doesn’t matter. Shakespeare never explains either aside from Don John being “a plain-dealing villain,” played with proper malevolence by Sean Maher.

Beatrice and Benedick’s past is more explicitly illustrated to give their current sparring more weight. This mostly works. I found Alexis Denisof’s Benedick a little uneven. His shift from lady-killer to love’s fool is maybe too extreme. Both Kenneth Branagh and David Tennant (in the adaptations I’ve seen) give Benedick a more inherent ridiculousness that makes the character’s shift more natural. I have to give Denisof credit though for doing his Act 2, scene 3 soliloquy while on a morning jog.

In general, Whedon’s adaptation is less jolly than Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film or Josie Rourke’s 2011 stage adaptation (available through Digital Theatre). Denisof and Amy Acker have some nice physical comedy moments, but other than the eavesdropping scenes, they are both somewhat staid. Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry is the most reserved I’ve seen; I could have done with a touch more 80s super-cop from him and Tom Lenk as his sidekick Verges. The standout of the cast for me was Clark Gregg’s Leonato. Without even a on-stage, but mostly non-speaking wife/mother (like in Rourke’s presentation), Gregg’s Leonato and Jillian Morgese’s Hero have an us-against-the world feel about them; that maybe Leonato was wronged by his wife, leaving him to bring up his daughter as best he could. When Hero is accused, Gregg’s Leonato is first disappointed and then angry, and it’s this disappointment that breaks Hero’s heart. At least that’s my take on it. It could be that I’m indulging in a little to much extra reading into the performance.

This is the most Wheadon-y Shakespeare possible. All of Joss Whedon’s TV series contain labyrinthine and melodramatic love stories and that’s what Much Ado About Nothing has in spades. While it’s not may favorite adaptation of the play, I enjoyed myself.

Adventures of the Writerly Writer ~ The First 5K…Again

Pop open a beer. I’ve drafted 5000 words on this novel…for the third time.

It’s been quite a week, writing-wise. I woke up last Saturday after not quite reaching the 25K mark on One Ahead and realized that my discontent with the story was not abating. I had written just over 44,000 words for NaNoWriMo knowing that a NaNoWriMo novel bares only passing resemblance to any actual novel. It would need a lot of work.

I took two months off from the project to finish up Luck for Hire and get it in submittable shape. In February, I continued to do research, and started restructuring and rewriting. That draft got to 14K. There was still something lacking. So, I added a character–Joseffy–in my then biggest deviation from history. That added about 10K to that draft, including a complete rewrite of a couple chapters that had no Joseffy in them. There are a few scenes in that draft that I really, really like. But still, the story I was telling was not the story I wanted to tell.

Last Saturday, I started over. I brainstormed a plot with Eric and we came up with something pretty good, but different than what I had before. Even the title, One Ahead, doesn’t really fit anymore. The full title from NaNo times was One Ahead Without Leaving the Parlor. David Abbott is certainly leaving the parlor in this new iteration. In fact, he goes to Iowa in chapter one.

Magicians of the world, forgive me. I’ll try to it all justice.

Writing Imp