Friday, October 15, 2010

The Violin Face

I've been remiss in not posting this sooner, but, as I've already admitted, "Remiss" has been my middle name for the last couple of months.

I blogged some time back about Australia's Seizure Magazine, which publishes serialized novels, both online and in hardcopy. The magazine's stated goal was to later publish the best of the books as full novels--a modern version of how Dickens' publishers went about things.

Well, they've done it. Rufi Cole's The Violin Face was published in hardcover in the US on the first of September. At present, it's only available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble online, but it will be making some appearances in the brick and mortar world soon--no mean feat for an upstart press from Down Under.

The novel is a bit of a structural marvel; each first-person narrator passes the baton to another character who serves as first-person narrator for the next chapter, and only one of the narrators makes a second appearance, bookending the novel. Rufi manages to make each narrative voice distinctive, yet maintain a tone for the novel as a whole (no mean trick).

The book follows a sequence of interconnected events around a nucleus of friends, family, and lovers in 1990s Central California. For those not familiar with nuances of Californian sociology, many parts of Central California have continued as white-trash heaven long after the days that Stenbeck chronicled, and The Violin Face has its roots in rather gritty soil. Yet it's still modern California, so there are minor Land-of-Fruits-and-Nuts touches, as well as elements of low-life drug and biker culture. And did I mention that some of the narrators are barely post-pubescent?

So I guess I'd have to call it a New-Age Trailer-Park Young Adult Literary novel.

Don't look for that section in your local bookstore. But do look for the book.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An Interesting Factoid For All You Crime Writers

My sig other, Pamela, recently volunteered for a program where you mentor an economically disadvantaged, college-bound teen on their journey from the 8th grade to (one hopes) college.

(Since 8th through 12th grade coincides with the period where parents are most likely to consider shoving their little darlings in front of a passing bus, this might at first seem like signing up for five years of hell. But the job is made easy by the well-known fact that to teenagers, anybody seems cooler than their parents.)

Although Pamela's the ideal mentor for this sort of thing--grew up in a large, low-income family, and made it all the way through her PhD in geophysics with no financial support from her parents--she had a bit of trouble getting approved as a mentor. In fact, it took the better part of a year.

Why? Because they need to do a background check to make sure you aren't a child molester, murderer, or insurance salesman.

When you have a name like "Pamela Blake," you can't exactly Google it and come up with anything but confusion. (10,800 hits, including Pamela Blake the movie star; Pamela Blake, the MD and director of the Headache Center of the Northwest; Pamela Blake of the Women's Royal Naval Service in WWII; Pamela Blake of the Sweatlodge and Shamanism Circle...well, you get the idea.)

So, the obvious thing to do is run her fingerprints through the FBI database, right?

Yes, except for one little problem. Pamela doesn't have fingerprints.

Here's the promised factoid. According to the policeman in the fingerprint lab, "A lot of people lose their fingerprints as they get older."

Now, she hasn't exactly lost her fingerprints, at least not in the sense that you might lose your car keys. But after a number of tries, on a number of different days, there isn't enough of a distinctive structure to her prints to scan them into a data system for identification. It's as if she's worn them off from overuse. So be forewarned and stop touching everything.

Here's another interesting detail. While she was in the identity laboratory, a policeman entered with a black Labrador police dog. He was there to have a picture taken for his ID badge. But not the policeman's badge. The dog's badge.

Can anyone--even a dog's owner--tell one black Lab from another in a mug shot? (Description: 26 inches in height, 45 pounds, short, glossy coat, snout enlongated but square. Floppy ears. Hair: Black. Eyes: Brown. Teeth: White. If you see anyone answering to these particulars...)

Pamela was eventually approved by doing a background check on her name--which, as far as I can tell, means you send her name to the FBI, and they run it through Google.

Meanwhile, Pamela's off on a crime spree. Hey, the odds are on her side now: She's got no fingerprints.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In Which I Interview Myself

I was lucky enough to find myself in my comfortable book-lined office. Over a glass of Petite Verdot, I was kind enough to respond to my questions.

Q: You seem to have been, ahem, missing from this blog for some time now. Two months, I believe. Where have you been?

A: I've adopted the Pentagon approach: Don't ask, don't tell.

Q: Been getting any writing done?

A: Define "writing." I've been doing a lot of writing...

Q: I meant fiction.

A: You would, wouldn't you? Hardly any. I've been working, but haven't written a word of my novel since August.

Q: I thought you were happy with how it was going. What happened?

A: Work, work, and then some more work. Even last week, when I went on what I laughingly call a vacation, I worked about 30 hours.

Q: You seem out of sorts.

A: You're wickedly insightful, you know that? You ought to consider doing this professionally. Of course I'm out of sorts. I haven't been writing, I've been working on this ridiculous deadline, and--

Q: I notice your foot is in some sort of big orthopedic boot.

A: Nothing gets past you, does it? Yes, I've been clomping around like Boris Karloff for more than two weeks now. I overstretched my Achilles tendon and it responded by pulling this exquisite little crescent moon of bone off the back of my heel.

Q: From running in Vibram Five Fingers, I suppose?

A: Nope. In fact, my injury is from yoga. In some positions, they tell you to "let your heels yearn for the floor." Shows what an unrequited yearning can do to a guy.

Q: So, you're not getting any work done on your novel right now, and you're not even managing to post on this blog...

A: ...and I'm in the middle of cutting down a tree in our front yard and haven't been able to finish it, and I'd torn off some sections of woodwork on the outside of the house that needed replacing and of course the clouds have been dumping water on us, and I can't really do much about fixing the hole in our house with my foot like this. And even though it's the weekend all these geniuses in London and Singapore and Hawaii are pestering me with e-mails asking complicated questions about arcane aspects of the work that I'm not finished with yet. It makes me think of a poem...

Q: Yeats, no doubt. "Things fall apart..."

A: No, not that one. I was thinking of Richard Brautigan's At the California Institute of Technology:

aaaaaI don’t care how God-damn smart
aaaaathese guys are: I’m bored.

aaaaaIt’s been raining like hell all day long
aaaaaand there’s nothing to do.

Q: That's odd. Because you just gave me the impression you had too much to do.

A: Well, the answer to that is a stanza from another poem:

aaaaaNow it's over
aaaaaI'm dead,
aaaaaand I haven't done anything that I want
aaaaaor I'm still alive
aaaaaand there's nothing I want to do.

Q: You're fooling no one. That's not really a poem, that's the chorus from the song Dead by They Might be Giants.

A: They also have a song called My Evil Twin. If you're so damned smart, why don't you write the next post?

Q: I just might.