Compare and Contrast

It’s no secret that life has been crazy around here — what with three books coming out in four weeks, with six more on the way…  But regular life doesn’t stop in Klaskyville — not for any number of books coming out in any number of weeks.  This past weekend was the perfect example of the “compare and contrast” that makes up my life these days.

Friday:  After a long, hard day of editing SECOND THOUGHTS, I headed down to Nationals Park.  I didn’t plan particularly well — I let myself be fooled by the sunshine streaming in my window.  By the time I got to the park, there was enough of a breeze that I suspected my sweatshirt wouldn’t be sufficient by the end of the game.  Fortunately, I (the world’s coldest-blooded person) am married to Mark (the world’s hottest-blooded person), and he had the jacket he’d worn to work early that morning.  I wore his jacket (and a scarf, and mittens — I didn’t need my earmuffs), and I watched the Nats beat the Cardinals in an unlikely win.  Go, Nats!


Saturday:  I attended Henry IV, Part 2 at the Shakespeare Theatre.  While the reviewer in the Washington Post thought she’d never seen anything funnier than the bumbling country squires, Shallow and Silence, I contemplated plucking out my eyes for those scenes (yes, out, vile jelly and all that).  This play is a weak one — not much happens and what *does* happen is mostly illness, decay, and death.  I would have preferred for them to combine the two parts, dropping most of the tavern scenes and all of the Shallow/Silence scenes.  We had a nice dinner with friends after the play, though, and on our way back to our car, we passed by the Stage Door to the theater and ran into the man who played the Lord Chief Justice — a bright star in an otherwise dull constellation.  It was nice to be able to compliment his work.

Sunday:  I headed down to AwesomeCon for two panels.  I’d been dreading the one on manuscript preparation (an hour for that, really?) and looking forward to the one on YA (cool authors, some of whom are friends.)  The YA panel ended up being okay, but the manuscript prep one was *wonderful*.  My co-panelist, Tanya Spackman, had great concrete information, and I shared more abstract ideas.  I think we made a great team, and I’ve heard from several of the people in the audience that they found it useful.

Monday:  I finished editing SECOND THOUGHTS (yay, yay, yay!), and I headed back downtown for another ball game — this one against the Angels.  It was “Dollar Dog” night at the game — all hot dogs, peanuts, and popcorn on sale for a buck — and we sat in our usual seats (we’ve been in others for the other two games, because my schedule made us trade tickets).  It was nice to see some of the “regulars” around us, and the game was exciting until the last at-bat.  (Yeah, the Nats lost, but it was unreasonable to think they’d win *every* game we attend!)

So, one novel edited, two baseball games, a play, and a media convention (with some knitting and reading for fun in there as well, along with a bit of TV — MAD MEN, anyone?)  Sounds about par for the course.  What are the greatest swings in your own interests, the most unlikely combination of hobbies/activities that keep you busy?

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A Most Wonderful Discovery

When I was a kid, I read constantly — on the family room couch, in bed before (and after) lights out, in the car on trips of any length whatsoever.  My brother got carsick.  My mother couldn’t read in cars (but didn’t otherwise get carsick).  I couldn’t begin to understand what was wrong with them.

Flash forward mumble-mumble years.  When I used to commute downtown to work (which I haven’t done in the six years since I started writing full-time), I almost always stood in the full subway cars, reading a book and enjoying the uninterrupted book time.  I had my preferred reading spots, of course, and I sometimes chose books based on their dimensions and weight, but I got a lot of reading done on the subway.

About five years ago, there was a horrible crash on the subway and some people died.  The investigating authorities concluded that the crash was caused by an automatic braking system that didn’t, and all trains were immediately set to run on driver-applied braking.  To this day, the hand-braking continues.

The vast majority of drivers are *terrible* at controlled braking — they accelerate and decelerate multiple times, and they frequently jerk in an out of stations.  For the past few years, I haven’t been able to read a word on a subway train (including the ads in the trains — just studying them makes me ill).  Sometimes, I become nauseated just sitting there, with my eyes closed, and it’s not unusual for me to exit a subway station and take half an hour or longer before I feel tummy-steady again (an annoyance because most of the time that I take the subway, I’m going to meet someone for a meal!)

A few weeks ago, I had a particularly rough ride home.  Mark was with me, and he was a champion as I sobbed out my frustration and misery.

And the next day, I decided things had to change.  I won’t take drugs — they’d take too long to take effect and they’d linger too long after an at-most 30-minute ride.

But I remembered those anti-nausea bracelets many of my friends wore when they were pregnant.  I stopped at CVS and bought a pair. (They’re elastic bands with plastic buttons sewn in; they work by holding the button against an acupressure point in the wearer’s wrist, where the point triggers an anti-nausea … reaction.)

And reader, I was converted.

I slipped the bands on for my next ride downtown, and I took out my book, and I read.  I could feel the train lurching and swaying.  I could feel the motions that would have left me miserable just a day before.  But I could read without any problem at all.

I’ve now worn the bands half a dozen times.  Once, on a very long, very rough ride, I had to stop reading.  But the overall improvement has been astonishing.  I’m buying extra pairs to keep around so that I’m never without them.  I am converted.

(And, as a bonus extra, I’m reading a bit more!)


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Headliners Continue Making Headlines

Despite snowy weather that moved two sessions, our Smithsonian class continues, where we listen to (and ask questions of) various journalists who specialize in reporting on Washington, DC.  This week’s speaker was Thom Shanker, the New York Times’ man in the Pentagon (at least, until the end of this month, when he’ll be promoted to a managing editorial role.)

Shanker was the first (and only, within the series) solely-print journalist we’ve heard.  He was very engaging, with suitably self-deprecating remarks about his skill (or lack thereof) with technology, including audio-visual presentations etc.  He was extraordinarily respectful of people in the military, making a special point to acknowledge active and retired members in the audience.  A lot of his presentation focused on embedded journalists — a practice that he thinks has been vital to democracy (so that civilians see and understand what’s really going on) and one which he thinks is almost over (due to warfare moving to non-mass-forces ways of fighting.)

There were a couple of points, though, that jangled in his presentation, a couple of factual errors that he made.  He was speaking off the cuff, without printed remarks, so I suppose the man gets a bit of a pass.  Nevertheless, when he referred to Edward Snowden’s release of materials as being outside the mainstream media (Snowden tried to get the Washington Post to release them first, but the Post wouldn’t agree to his terms), he was off-base.  And when Shanker referred to Vladimir Putin as a survivor of the Siege of Leningrad, he was flat-out wrong, by almost a decade.  (Putin was born in Leningrad/St. Petersburg in 1952, and the Siege would certainly have cast a shadow over his childhood, but he wasn’t a survivor.)

Those may have been verbal mis-steps, the sort of casual accidents that happen when you’re trying to cover a lot of ground very quickly.  But they had the effect of making me hyper-critical of everything else Shanker said.  I’m not very knowledgeable about a lot of his subject matter, so I was particularly wary.

Interesting, any way, to speculate on the power of mistakes in the context of journalism.  Of course, in print, the man has factcheckers and editors covering him.  But the presentation ended up being meaningful, in a meta sort of way…

I get most of my in-depth news from print journalism (mostly, the Washington Post, although we also subscribe to the weekend New York Times.)  I get my spot-news during the day from various Twitter feeds, which usually send me scurrying to the electronic versions of mainstream media.

Where do you get most of your news from?  Print journalism? Online versions of mainstream media?  Comedy Channel from Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert? Other places?

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The Rest is Silence

Last weekend, I went to see a production of Hamlet.  Hamlet is one of those plays that I sort of, kind of, maybe feel like I don’t ever need to see again — it’s got some of the greatest monologues in the canon, but I’ve seen it (between movies and staged productions) probably a dozen times, and really, how many skulls can you peruse, and how many bodies can you heap in a pile for the final scene?

But this production was totally different.

This production was staged by Synetic Theater, and it’s Hamlet without words — in 90 minutes, start to finish.

Basically, the work felt like a ballet, but a ballet where the choreography truly focused on storytelling rather than on demonstrating dancing skill.  It was definitely an adaptation — the company started out with Gertrude and Claudius leading a court dance, then backtracked to show the joy of Hamlet and Ophelia as a happy couple, then moved forward to show the actual murder of Hamlet’s father.  From there on, it tracked the play relatively closely, although it added a scene to show Ophelia’s actual drowning, instead of just hearing about it after the fact.  Basically, Hamlet was ironed out into a linear story, then depicted in wordless detail.

Parts of the production were absolutely inspired.  The play within a play was brilliant — funny and absurd and provoking, without the drag of being repeated, the way it is in a standard production.  The conversion of the minimal set into a boat for the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (are dead) scene was well done.  Ophelia’s mad scene and her later death were inspired — and it definitely helped that the actor playing Ophelia looked like she’d stepped out of a pre-Raphaelite painting.  The swordplay at the end (mimed without swords) was engaging, and the final tableau was striking.

I didn’t love all of it.  Polonius was relatively young, and there wasn’t any hint of the old man’s foolishness that typically describes his character.  Laertes was relegated to a comparatively minor role. Ultimately, the stripped-down costume and sets felt a little *too* reductive, like they were a bit too bargain-basement.

But overall, the entire show made me rethink Hamlet, made me revisit his story and his motivations and why things happened the way they did.  And that’s a noteworthy accomplishment for any retelling of the Melancholy Dane’s tale…

What about you?  Have you seen retellings of classic stories that worked particularly well?  How about disasters?  (Because, let’s face it.  Disasters can often be more fun to talk about :-) )

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Favorite Book of the Year

It’s no secret that things have been a bit crazy here in Klaskyville — I have a book coming out in a week, and a different book coming out in three weeks, and yet another different book coming out in five weeks.  I’m editing a fourth book and writing a fifth book — and that’s just the writing stuff that’s going on! (In addition, there’s the usual mix of family and friends and Smithsonian classes and cultural activities and, and, and…)

In recognition of the generally high level of crazy, I decided not to tackle any of the truly challenging books on my to-be-read shelf.  You know–the big fat fantasies that are nearly 1000 pages long that would take me more than a month to read under *good* circumstances.  Or the slender volume of literature that is crafted, word by word, like a 50,000-word poem.  Or the Deep and Meaningful Issues Book that will leave me in tears for day.

Instead, I decided to use this crazy time to read through the “shrug” books.  Those are the ones that I picked up for one reason or another — usually at conference, or because I had a book event with the author.  I didn’t know before the book was in my hand that I was interested in it. And, alas, I often discover that I’m *not* interested in it — I was inspired by the moment, but I’m not the right reader for that particular book.  Most shrug books get donated to the library within 50 pages.  Some get donated within 25.

I didn’t-read two books on my shrug list.  And then I picked up Linda Grimes’ first book, IN A FIX.

And, reader, I fell in love.

in a fix

IN A FIX is a light urban fantasy (not my favorite genre by a long shot) narrated by Ciel Hannigan, a human “adaptor”, a chameleon sort of person who can take on the aura of any person she’s touched, so that she looks and sounds like that person.  Ciel hires herself out to people who’d rather not be present for one reason or another.  When an easy gig results in a beach cabana being destroyed around her, Ciel is in a fix.  This book made me — literally — laugh out loud multiple times.  I loved, loved, loved the supporting characters, including the three alpha males who think they can run Ciel’s life.  This book reminded me of early Sue Grafton, but the romance is a *lot* hotter than anything Kinsey Milhone ever tripped through.

I bought the second book immediately after finishing the first.

So?  What about you?  Any fun spring reads filling your days?

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Rome in Washington

Yesterday, I cried.  In public.

Yesterday, I went to the National Gallery of Art, to see the statue The Dying Gaul.  The Gaul lives in Rome, in the Capitoline Museum, where I saw him about two years ago.  We came across him at the end of a long day of sight-seeing, when our backs ached with “museum-ache”, when our knees refused to bend double, when our heads were full of beautiful sights and historical knowledge and countless tourist details.


And I was captivated.  I stood in a crowded room, ignoring the people who zoomed in with their cell phones so they could take a picture of the Gaul from all possible angles.  I forced my tortured knees to let me squat so I could look up into the Gaul’s face, and I told my back it could stretch out later, thank you very much.

For the second time since it was discovered on the grounds of a Roman villa in the early 1600s, the Gaul has traveled outside of Italy.  (The first time was when Napoleon claimed him for France.) He’s displayed (just until this Sunday) in the Rotunda of the National Gallery of Art here in DC.  He’s on a plinth that places him waist-high, so that there’s no kneeling necessary.  There were a dozen or so people around him, and two security guards, but far fewer viewers than in Rome.  (I was told that the crowd becomes ten-deep on weekends.)

And he’s every bit as captivating as he was in Rome.

The Dying Gaul

I don’t know why this work of art speaks to me so much.  I’m not an artist — I have no desire to sketch him or paint him in oils or to make my own maquette.  I don’t even *like* most sculpture — I know the way to talk about it filling space, and presence and voids, etc., but it almost never interests me.

But this piece does.

I want to tell his story.  I want to know who carved him.  I want to know what the bronze original looked like.  I want him to be real.

What works of art that speak to you, in a loud clear voice?

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