Tag Archives: In the Red

A resolution, a review and… warped gravity!

I am publicly making a new year’s resolution: In 2011 I will write a full draft of In the Red.  It may suck, but it’s happening.  Hopefully at this time next year I will not be writing a sad blog post about how extravagantly short I fell of that goal.

13-rue-Thérèse-wise, I just got a review on Booklist, a mostly good one.  Since it is behind a pay wall, I can’t link to it, so I will quote the best bit here:

This ambitious first novel…At turns truly exciting and overflowing with imagination,…is full of intriguing characters…  Puzzle-lovers will be curious to check out the book’s online counterpart, in which they can view 3-D versions of the book’s images.

Yay!  I think that is the last of the pre-pub reviews in industry papers.  I am glad they mentioned the website because it is shaping up to be ferociously awesome.  It will come online January 7.

Meanwhile I just got back from a tiny holiday in Santa Cruz, where I got to visit with an old friend, witness sea lions doing alternately endearing and disgusting things, and experienced radically altered gravity.  That last one was at the Mystery Spot.  My husband and I were prepared to be underwhelmed (being inveterate skeptics) but it was really, really weird, and thus I recommend it.  If you’re into the idea of feeling like you need a barf bag while standing still on solid ground, it will rock your world.  The warped pendulum was especially cool.

The property was purchased in 1939 by a dude who wanted to build a summer home, and the guy who sold him the lot insisted that he also buy a big piece of land up the side of the hill even though it was unbuildable.  The man who absolutely had to shed the property lacked capitalist vision.  The purchaser, however, did not.  And thus, an amusing tourist trap was born–because who wouldn’t pay five bucks to watch a billiard ball roll the wrong way up an incline?

 

Addendum, after being told, “duh, don’t you know mystery spots are just optical illusions:” It doesn’t interest me whether they are “real” or not.  All I’m saying is that I got a sense of the uncanny there that was well worth the admission price.  I am not angry with the director of House of Wax for not having actually thrown a stake through Paris Hilton’s head.  (Wait, come to think of it, maybe I kind of am…)

Advertisements

History writes history.

Awesome Romanian research stuff:

According to many sources, the pastoral ballad Miorita encapsulates something essential about the Romanian soul.  In the story, three shepherds tend their sheep on the same plain: a Vrancean, a Transylvanian, and a Moldavian.  Since the Moldavian is the wealthiest, the other two decide that they are going to kill him and steal his flock.  The Moldavian’s favorite lamb, Miorita, overhears them, and goes to warn her master.  The Moldavian only wishes to be buried on the heath with his flute, and tells Miorita to tell all the other sheep and his poor old mother that he went away to marry a princess “at Heaven’s doorsill,” that the sun and the moon came down to hold his bridal crown, that the mountain was his priest, the stars his torches, and the birds his fiddlers.

Such stoic submission is totally incomprehensible from an American standpoint, and yet it is undeniably beautiful, and contains its own kind of strength.

Do not piss off Vlad the Impaler.  If you are not sure why, see name.

An uncanny number of consorts of Romanian heads of state have my name.  It’s a little spooky.

Medieval Wallachian king Michael the Brave owed the Ottomans a whole bunch of money. So he was like, “yo dudes, come get your money.” And then they showed up, and he was like, “see that building? Your money’s in there.” So they went in. And then he set the building on fire.

Huh. Think I could pull that off with student loan people?

1858

The Ottoman Porte allowed Moldavia and Wallachia to each elect heads of state, but did not allow them to unify as a nation. In response, the two principalities both elected… the same guy.*

Ha! Well played, Romania. Well played.

* married to one of the Elenas.  Yep.

In ancient times, what is now Romanian territory was inhabited by a people called the Dacians, who were eventually swallowed by the Roman empire.  Very little is known about them–what is most interesting about them is how Romanians have chosen to fit them into their national narrative over the past couple of centuries.  When they wanted to belong to western Europe, they surmised the the Romans had entirely eradicated the Dacians–essentially making modern Romanians descendants of Rome only.  When they wanted to separate themselves from western Europe, they instead cast Rome as the outside oppressor, making modern Romanians plucky Dacian survivors.  In the unwinding years of the Ceaucescu regime, it was affirmed that Romanian is such a heavily Latin language not because Dacians were romanized but because–hang onto your pants–Romans were dacianized.  According to this theory, the Latin language was in fact descended from Dacian, and the origin of western civilization can be traced back to Romanian soil.  The truth is, of course, that the Dacian language is completely lost–its only possible remnants being a small collection of modern Romanian words that are neither Latin nor Slavic.

The truth is that writing down what happened also erases what happened.  The truth is that history writes history.

I don’t know how yet, but it will.

I drafted a short story! It’s been a loooooooong time since I’ve done that. I tend to forget that when you write something, it doesn’t have to be 300 pages long.  I’ve also been doing lots of research, reading up on Romanian history and lore.  I’d forgotten how much fun research can be, how some interesting factoid can lead you onto another interesting factoid then another then another into palimpsestic infinity.  Must have been part of why I pursued academia, back in the day!

For instance, I just learned today that there was a terrifying 7.3 earthquake in Bucharest in 1977 that killed over 1,500 people and hugely damaged the city.  Which created an opportunity for the erection of lots of gigantic stolid Socialist architecture.  And displaced so many people (even more were subsequently displaced to make way for aforementioned gigantic stolid Socialist architecture) who abandoned their dogs that said dogs formed packs and this is why the city had a big stray dog problem up until this decade.  Whoa.

All this research was prompted by my pained realization that In the Red is supposed to be in the third person.  Which in turn made me understand that the novel has to be bigger than just Irina’s story.  So I am pursuing a sort of collective unconscious type of angle.  And let me tell you, the Romanian fairy tales I’ve been reading lately are perfect for that, because they are WEIRD.  They are like a Jungian’s wet dream.  Not to mention the great boon of being able to exploit the tremendous richness of fairy tales that don’t happen to be familiar to a western audience.  No, I should say, “known by a western audience,” because it is the hallmark of fairy tales that they are always familiar.

All this background stuff is going to give me the structure.  I don’t know how yet, but it will.

kill me as many times as you like

Ahoy!  I have been remiss in updating this blog for the last couple of weeks.  There hasn’t been much to report, 13-rue-Thérèse-wise, since the galleys have gone out.  I hover in an anxious Limbo waiting for reviews to start coming in, trying desperately to keep my brain from chewing on itself.  I’ve been reasonably successful at doing that by giving it In the Red to chew on instead.  I have been working on this unyielding book.  It is a very, very testy text but I think eventually some good will come of it.  It is, as I am, obsessed with palimpsest.  So, that is quite expected.  What is less expected is that it has some pungent opinions about American capitalism.  I couldn’t quite describe them as unqualifyingly negative; that would be too simplistic.  Let’s just say the text is working on this problem.

The text also has a lot to say about wedding rituals.  That imagery keeps cropping up all over the place.  Ditto imagery about executions.  The two sets of images are, of course, related.  The link is not a new one–nevertheless there is something weird and compelling at work here.  A preoccupation with ceremony.  Symbolic clothes.  Performed gestures.

Money.  Not just as a concept, but as a physical object.  The cloth-like weave of cash, the smell of it.  The transfer through many hands.  The stolid gazes of dead presidents.

There is less sex than I was expecting in this book.  But in another way there is more sex than I was expecting.  Again, difficult to explain.  I should say: so far there has been less graphic description than I was anticipating about bodies doing what they do, but there is a sort of arrested attention in the gaze of the narrator on the world itself that is very sexual.  Not emotional, but intense in a denuding way.

A trinity of men: Bad, Worse, and Worst.  And the narrator doubles herself infinitely inside all the other female characters, inside allegorical dream figures.  The narrator, the blasted creature named Irina with a name that doubles my own so obviously that it’s embarrassing.  Last week the text introduced yet another double for her, a Russian mail order bride named Elena.  The moment gave me pause.  I looked at the book and said, really, you’re not serious.  It smiled at me quietly.  Radiantly.  And I knew that this frail girl with my name will have to die, given all the execution images.  How that I will happen I don’t know, but the destruction of her body is an inevitability.

So you want to symbolically walk me down a dark hallway and shoot me in the back of the neck, Soviet-style, hm? I said to the book as it showed me the pink dress with tulle overlay Elena had on at her quickie Vegas wedding, the delicacy of her collar bones, her heart-rending youth.  You intend to kill me, do you?  Well, then, kill me as many times as you like.

As long as you make something of it.


worms everywhere

So, I went to NCIBA trade show on Friday evening and it was fun, if somewhat surreal.  NCIBA stands for Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, so I got to sit at my little author table and chat with lots and lots of book sellers.  Also sign galleys for them.  I’d never signed my name so many times before.  After a while, it started to dissolve.  Actually, seeing a tabletop covered with multiples copies of my book had the same effect–something about all that repetition induces the same sort of vertigo as standing between two mirrors that are facing each other.

A couple of the book sellers already knew who I was, and even what I looked like.  It occurred to me that this is what any amount of fame entails: people you don’t know know who you are.  Which is…  Spooky!  Let’s just say I’m not worried about finding paparazzi digging through my trash, but still, having a public face to any degree requires some adjustment.  At least I am not a memoirist, thank God.  Fiction affords me a covering, however flimsy.

Meanwhile I am about 15,000 words into In The Red.  While I know most of what happens in the story, it is dreadfully hard to make this narrative take any sort of shape since it insists on coming out in disorderly fragments.  It’s like I’m getting shipments of hashed meat and bone from which I’m somehow supposed to eventually reconstitute the entire cow.  Sometimes one of the bone pieces is sort of an interesting shape.  This is a conversation between Irina and Andrei, shortly after he tells her a hypothesis about something that is awful, and yet has a certain air of inevitability:

“One body for another,” he said placidly, “that is the way it works.”

How did he do this?  This relentless disdain for all people, this ability to carve them up until they were all selfish and rotten.  It was a talent—a talent for making the world ugly?  No, it was not that he made it ugly, how could he make it ugly sitting there all golden skin and lithe musculature and iron-gray eyes?  Filled with stark knowledge, yes, but so beautiful himself he could make nothing ugly.  It was worse.  He stripped and peeled and sliced everything until loneliness bled out of every cut.

“Andrei,” I said, “you’re disgusting.”

I expected him to laugh then; that was mostly the way he ended these kinds of conversations.  He never became offended.  He was impossible to offend.  At least he was true in that way.

He didn’t laugh.  He looked at me very seriously, at the outline of my body that I’d pulled the sheet over while he remained naked.  “How much more disgusting would I be,” he said, “if I came to you in the guise of a good man?”

I hadn’t thought of explicitly connecting these two things before: inability to be offended and being true.  But when I put the words down on the page, they made sense.  Say someone accuses you of something.  If you know yourself completely and the accusation is true, it will not faze you because you know it already.  If it is false, you will merely feel a sense of dim puzzlement as to where your accuser could have gotten such an idea.  If you react explosively with HOW DARE YOU? then somewhere along the line, you have told yourself a lie, and indignation is the handiest way to keep yourself from acknowledging it.  Being offended is the defense mechanism of the false.

And that is only one of the cans of worms this roughly sketched scene decided to open.  That is the problem with this book: I don’t know how to make order of it because it just keeps opening cans and there are worms everywhere.

Seriously, don't open it.

at any time you may let go

You don’t believe them when they say you are young.  And yet look in the mirror: a smooth jaw, an unlined eye.  There must be some mistake.  Your face does not match the leaden weight of the sluggish blood stagnating in your veins.  It’s not so much that you’re suffering terribly; it’s that you’re waiting.  Waiting in the same way an elderly patient on a morphine drip waits in his hospital bed: too many surgeries, time to go.  Waiting for it to come get you, the queasy suspicion growing that it will not, you are the one who is supposed to let go.  How does one do that?

After he sent you away, you started to lose your hair.  You did not even notice until the day the barrette you used to clip it into a pony tail every morning slips right off because there is no longer enough to hold it there.  The jarring tinny sound of it hitting the tile–only now do you see the serpentine strands circling the drain in the shower all this time–all those mornings you had glanced them over without understanding what was happening.  You were not in your body.  There is a dim awareness within you that this is supposed to be sad.  When he withdrew from your body, he must have taken you out of it with him.

These days, you count a lot.  You do it with such fast, machine-like exactitude that once or twice a wary customer asked you to count the money again slower.  Twenty.  Forty.  Sixty.  Eighty.  One hundred.  You lay each hundred dollars in a fan of twenties overlaying the previous fan of twenties.  Then you gather them all up, tap them into a neat little stack to hand over.  You have found that only lemon juice gets the smell of cash out of your hands after a long workday.  It burns all the little cuts in your palms from the new bills.  Counting the old bills does not cut you.  Being in circulation has softened them.

At any time now, at any time you may let go.  When you come to me I will make you live.

Dude, this is what the inside of my head looks like.

While I was making the bed, Dragos Popescu, one of Andrei’s business associates, suddenly spoke to me.  He is even more unbelievably tactless than Andrei is; those bastards won’t lie to me, even when I may want them to.  Today Dragos came up behind me while I was noticing that some of the stains on the new sheets hadn’t come out in the wash, and snapped my garters (he is the kind of man who can snap your garters even when you’re not wearing any).  “That’s nice, the pink underthings,” he said, “did Andrei suggest them?”

“Why are you here?  You’re just a bit character.”

“You were asking why men like young women so much, I’m going to tell you.”

I don’t know where he got that from, I did no such thing.  I was going about my housewifely business.  But I let him go on anyway, it gave me something to do while I was trying to figure out which way the fitted sheet was supposed to go.  “It not so much the smooth skin and the taut flesh, though that is nice too.  What is so lovely about them is that they will take the shape of whatever you choose to put them in, like water.  A woman who has been around, who may have pushed people out of herself, who may have realized that the world does not end when there is no man in the house, that woman with lines on her face and hip bones that have been pushed apart by growing life will not go breathless with need to give me what I want.  The young ones are so good, my dear, because they will say: do you like me in this dress? Would you think me prettier blonde?  Shall I put bags of silicone in my breasts?  Shall I give you what little power I might have had?  Would this please you?  There is no limit to how much they will cut themselves to please you.  How grateful I am to all their papas for not loving them.”

“Dragos, seriously?  This is what the old come stains on the bed make you think of?”

“Yes, how soft they are, how much you can hurt them, those sweet girls.  You simply cannot hurt an older woman like that.  And yes, my dear, you ought to get a stain remover for those.”