Thursday, December 12, 2013

A little Brautigan

A wee bit of poetry for your enjoyment this cold Thursday afternoon:

Have you ever had a witch bloom like a highway
on your mouth? and turn your breathing to her
fancy? like a little car with blue headlights
passing forever in a dream?

This is from Richard Brautigan's Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, wherein he waxes poetic in his own inimitable way.

(side note: we had some Brautigan arrive this week! Delicious.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: Chain Saw Confidential

Signed copies available at the Green Hand Bookshop!
As a longtime horror movie fan, this is one of those books that I never thought to ask for, but when they announced its publication, I could hardly wait for it to come out. After devouring it in three sittings, I can say I was not disappointed. Quite the opposite. This book is a horror fan's delight.

There are certain horror films whose position in the pantheon of the genre are as solid as the stone pedestals we horror fans place them on. These are the films whose effect and mastery of that effect are undeniable. Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of them.

This book wholly does the film justice. Gunnar Hansen is not just a pretty face who starred as the original Leatherface in the 1974 film Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He is also a published author who has written page after page of non-fiction and poetry over the intervening years. In other words, when you read this book, you are reading Gunnar's writing, not that of a ghostwriter -- which is not to say he did this all alone.

One of the tremendously interesting features of this book is the input from the other cast and crew members that worked on the movie. Not content to simply rely on his own recollections, Gunnar smartly contacted everyone he could, and interviewed them in-depth about their recollections, in effect generating a panoramic view of their group's experiences that hot summer in Texas. Because of his hard work putting all of this together, all these little details metamorphose into a real story that is surprisingly pleasant to read (in spite of all the incoherent and horrific details). Without his labor of love, such an account might never exist. For that we thank him.

The book is filled chronologically with page after page of Gunnar's individual recollections, which parry back and forth with those of the rest of the cast and crew. Everyone has their own take on strange and favorite details from the experience. Everyone also has their own blanks spots where they rely on the others to fill in the gaps, because the filming was excruciating and exhausting, and very little of it made sense at the time. But after all the chaos and agony, the important thing about the movie (which thankfully came out through the editing in the final version), was this: not only was all that suffering palpable in the film, but also, more importantly, it was transmuted into something that shines its dark and brilliant light from the screen even today.

The book as a whole continues this tradition of craftsmanship. Gunnar is an excellent writer, adeptly weaving his own memories in with the others', working from a solid foundation based on thorough research into the historic facts and figures. This volume, published by the folks at Chronicle Books, is beautifully designed and bound (yes, it has an honest-for-real sewn binding). For the uber-geek, it has a bibliography and a serious index. Even its chapter titles are entertaining and hearken to the dark heart of the film.

Gunnar adds his autograph to its future permanent
home -- she was headed to a tattoo artist next!
The one last fascinating element of the book is Gunnar's attempt to assimilate what Chain Saw means now. Leatherface pops up everywhere in memes and tropes. The chainsaw has come to embody a singular type of horror in movies and at haunt attractions all over the world. But most fascinating of all is the fact that despite the film's deeply traumatic effect on people, the fans still respond in the end with an outpouring of love for the people who were involved in it to an extent that boggles the mind.

I highly recommend this book to anyone fascinated by movie-making, to anyone who wonders what the heck all the fuss over the Texas Chain Saw Massacre was about, and to those who shake their head at that question, because they just know.

Copies of the book are available at the Green Hand Bookshop -- SIGNED copies! :D A perfect gift for the horror film fan in your life... or yourself!!!

I am lucky enough to have signed copies at the shop because I had the pleasure of being Gunnar's local retail representative during the weekend of November 9th and 10th at the Coast City Comicon. For two days, I got to hang out with Gunnar and his wife Betty, selling his book and chatting with them about all sorts of things. They came down to Portland from their home up the coast near Bar Harbor, Maine, where they live full-time, and have for some years now. Gunnar was selling signed photos from his movie appearances, and on Saturday he participated in the Chainsaw Chili Cookoff at the Comicon with a number of other contestants. His chili was the only chili that was traditional Texas style, without any real bean quotient. I heard it was DELICIOUS!!!
A weekend with Gunnar!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Holiday hours: CLOSED on Sunday Sept 1 for Labor Day!

Labor Day is upon us! This is just a quick note to say that the shop will be CLOSED on SUNDAY SEPT. 1 for the holiday, and will resume regular hours after that. Hope you all had a great summer!!! :D

Come see us for First Friday Artwalk at the end of the week on Sept 6th, when our exhibit of Eric Hou's newest series of work will be opening, from 5:00-8:00pm!

Our regular hours are:

Tues - Fri 11:00am-6:00pm
Saturday 11:00am-7:00pm
Sunday 12:00pm-5:00pm

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ReaderCon 2013: Fredric Brown panel

As I did last year when I attended ReaderCon (http://readercon.org), a speculative-fiction focus convention in Burlington, MA, I attended quite a few interesting panel discussions, during which I took notes. In case any of you might be interested in what some of the current discussions among authors and editors are like in the field, I’m going to post a series of my notes here on the blog! Enjoy…!

The second panel I attended was on Friday, July 12, at 11:00am when I sat down to be schooled on The Works of Fredric Brown as discussed by the panel of:
-- Eileen Gunn (leader)
-- Donald G. Keller
-- Diane Weinstein
-- Jacob Weisman
-- Gary Wolfe


The premise of the panel was this:
“Fredric Brown, the winner of the 2012 Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, is remembered largely as a mystery writer, but his influence on SF was immense. His story “Arena” was adapted on Star Trek and paid homage to by Joanna Russ; his mordant short shorts like “Knock” and “Answer” have entered the folklore of the field; and his novels What Mad Universe? and Martians, Go Home pioneered comic SF. He was perhaps the only SF writer of the early 1950s to predict, in The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, that a successful space exploration program in the 1960s would be virtually abandoned by the 1990s. This panel will explore his achievements and lasting legacy.”

-------------------

I attended this panel because I know little about Fredric Brown, but he was definitely a blip on my reading radar. One of the first large lots of books I bought for my shop was from Ronnie Bennett, who was packing to move back to the other Portland (OR). Even though she ruthlessly culled hundreds of books from her extensive personal library for the move, I vividly remembered her adamant refusal to part with her copies of Fredric Brown novels, including her longtime favorite, Martians Go Home! I had always dismissed Martians Go Home as some sort of flimsy Disney romp, and was surprised by Ronnie's attachment to the novel. She explained to me that the book was wonderful, the author brilliant, and I nodded and filed away the information until I stumbled across this panel discussion listed on the ReaderCon agenda and realized that now was the time I could illuminate myself on the topic of Brown and his works!

Eileen Gunn (SF author and editor) led off with a brief introduction to Brown, who died in 1972. While notable for his science fiction work, Brown's avid fans knew that he also wrote excellent mystery novels as well, striding between the two genres with aplomb. And with his ability to switch between genres, he also possessed a deeper ability to flip between the light and dark side of his work.

Donald Keller (SF&F editor and critic at the New York Review of SF and elsewhere) pointed out that Brown's first novel was published in 1949.

Jacob Weisman (editor, founder of Tachyon Publications) told us that there is a daffiness to Brown's work that explodes off the page, like a modern Lewis Carroll. (NOTE: This is a very apt description, since the first Brown book I read after this panel was a copy of Night of the Jabberwock, one of his mysteries, which is laden with Lewis Carroll chapter epigraphs and textual references. I picked it up at Bob Eldridge's table, and when I mentioned that I had never read Brown before, he pushed it at me and said, "Take it! Read it!")

Diane Weinstein (previously longtime Weird Tales assistant editor, art editor at Space & Time) mentioned that Brown always posed questions in his stories -- what if? He excelled at puzzle stories and wordplay.

Gary Wolfe (SF editor, critic, and biographer) discovered the works of Heironymous Bosch via the first Fredric Brown paperback he read, Honeymoon in Hell. He felt that Brown possessed a dark, pre-Dickian view of the world. (NOTE: a.k.a. Phildickian, referring to the tandem playfulness and paranoia found in the SF worlds of Philip K. Dick)

Brown was one of the first authors to talk about the eventual abandonment of the space program.

The panel highly recommended Brown's "Nightmare" series of short stories.

Eileen Gunn talked about how Brown's work was deceptively simple. (NOTE: After reading Night of the Jabberwock I can testify to this!)

Jacob Weisman mentioned Brown's tendency to write about ordinary people, again like Philip K. Dick's use of the "average Joe."

Diane Weinstein talked about Brown's direct style, and his use of color (many of his Nightmare series have color themes)

Gary Wolfe recommended a biography of Brown by Jack Seabrook, although it focuses more on Brown's mystery ouvre. (title: Martians and Misplaced Clues: The Life and Work of Fredric Brown)

Donald Keller described Brown's tendency to open books with a very everyday feel, and no real hint of later complexity in the plot.

Diane Weinstein mentioned that the Twilight Zone TV show used a lot of variations on Brown's stories (and I think someone else mentioned that the Outer Limits did the same).

His most famous television trope is the "Arena" episode of Star Trek, which was based on his short story of the same name.

Eileen Gunn expressed that Brown’s work for her embodies the SF of the 1930s and 1940s.

At this point the panel kindly related their favorite Brown titles for our benefit.

DW: “Something Green,” “Arena,” What Mad Universe (very PKD).

JW: Martians Go Home!

DK: The Lights in the Sky Are Stars (which he read as an absolute tragedy from the human point of view)

EG: Martians Go Home! had a delicate premise. "He goes away when you push him," Eileen said. She reiterated her fascination with his stories about linotype machines. (NOTE: which detail of course made me NEED to read him ASAP!)

Eileen Gunn wanted to know -- did the panel think that Brown was responsible for the way people view science fiction today?

GW: His fiction was ABOUT fiction! Meta-fiction! (e.g. Martians Go Home!). He did hang out a lot with mystery writers.

DW: He was not a mingler, though.

JW: He hung out with Mac Reynolds.

DW: He influenced Sturgeon and Bloch especially.

DK: The Prisoner television series was influenced by his work.

JW: Brown has permeated the culture so completely that most screenwriters, etc., don't necessarily realize that they are being influenced by his existing ideas.

GW: He wrote the shortest SF story ever: "Knock." This is a two sentence story, placed within the framework of another short story. Quite simply:
“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door...”
Proto flash-fiction!

JW: Michael Swanwick is the current author best at dropping you right into the story ("the hook" is right there at the start). He says he has so many stories he wants to write that he doesn't have time to mess around writing drawn-out fiction.

EG: Eileen said that she herself doesn't write with the knowledge of what the end of her stories are. The story passes the "how am I going to get out of this?" point and somehow resolves itself as she writes. Knowing the ending would mean she is then bored and won't bother to finish writing the story, as it's moot!

JW: Brown had a short active career, then health problems set in during his 50s. He started writing in his 30s for trade publications, etc.

(NOTE: His bibliography can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fredric_Brown_bibliography)

NESFA (New England Science Fiction Association) has published an anthology of his complete SF stories, From These Ashes:
http://www.nesfa.org/press/Books/Brown-1.html

Q&A

An audience member asked if the panel had any recommendations for fans of Brown who were looking for similarly interesting fiction:

Michael Swanwick’s short story collections (Cigar Box Faust et al) were suggested.

Also, some of Brown’s mystery stories have been collected by Bruin Books in an omnibus edition titled Miss Darkness: The Great Short Crime Fiction of Fredric Brown, and Haffner Press http://www.haffnerpress.com/) is taking pre-orders for 2 mammoth volumes of Brown’s non-SF short stories and novels, which will arrange all these mystery, horror, noir, western, and detection tales in chronological order.

Swanwick’s The Periodic Table of Science Fiction was also recommended, as well as his collection The Sleep of Reason, which is based on Goya’s Los Caprichos etching series.

NOTE: Two of Brown’s pieces that were recommended at some point during all the discussions which sounded particularly interesting to me were 1) the short story “Nightmares in Yellow” and 2) the novel The Lights in the Sky Are Stars.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

In a Hautala Vein

I have two announcements to make for fans of recently-lost Maine horror author Rick Hautala.

First of all, I have copies of Rick's autobiography The Horror -- The Horror available in the shop now, for those of you (like myself) who prefer ink and paper to electronic books. This book is only available by a fluke -- according to Rick's wife Holly Newstein Hautala, "He wrote it in 2009, unbeknownst to me, and I found a hard copy with his hand edits after he died. Characteristically, he must have decided nobody would want to read it and deleted it from his hard drive. It’s reminiscent of King’s ON WRITING, but with that special Rick Hautala perspective."

I can testify that, especially for those of you who knew Rick, reading this book is like being able to have one last conversation with him. His voice comes through on every page, with typical humor and openness. Thank you, Holly, from rescuing the pages from the recycling bin, and thank you to Crossroad Press as well for bringing this into print! It is an unexpected gift that drives back the shades of mortality a wee bit.

If you're not in the area, and you prefer an electronic version (a steal at $2.99), please order directly from Crossroad's website:
http://store.crossroadpress.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=696

In addition, the folks at JournalStone Publishing are releasing a 2-volume anthology titled Mister October, dedicated to the memory of Rick Hautala. 100% of the profit generated by book sales will go to the family. Please consider ordering a copy for yourself if you're a horror fan!

You can pre-order directly through JournalStone's site:
http://journal-store.com/fiction/mister-october-an-anthology-in-memory-of-rick-hautala/

The collection looks great. It is tremendously heartwarming to see so many folks in the horror genre, big and small, set ink on the page in memory of a friend we all miss so much and lost so suddenly. Here's a list of all the great contributors, including among their number Rick's widow, Holly Newstein, and his son Matti Hautala:

Volume I Contributors:

Neil Gaiman – FEEDERS AND EATERS, Graham Joyce – UNDER THE PYLON, Matthew Costello – A GUY WALKS INTO A BAR, Michael Marshall Smith – HELL HATH ENLARGED HERSELF, Chet Williamson – FIGURES IN RAIN, Elizabeth Massie – AS YOU HAVE MADE US, Peter Crowther – THOUGHTFUL BREATHS, Matti Hautala – NEVER BACK AGAIN, Mark Morris – A GIRL, SITTING, Richard Chizmar – BLOOD BROTHERS, Stephen R. Bissette – LITTLE BROTHERS—PORTFOLIO, Joe R. Lansdale – TIGHT LITTLE STITCHES IN A DEAD MAN’S BACK, Yvonne Navarro – CRAVING, José R. Nieto – lXCHEL’S TEARs, Duane Swierczynski – LIFE DURING DEATH, Gary A. Braunbeck – AFTER THE ELEPHANT BALLET, Craig Shaw Gardner – OVERNIGHT GUEST, Jack M. Haringa – SPRINGFIELD REPEATER, Tom Piccirilli – CONJURER—BOOK I: THE GRIEVE, F. Paul Wilson – THE YEAR THE MUSIC DIED, Jonathan Maberry – PROPERTY CONDEMNED—A Story of Pine Deep, John M. McIlveen – PLAYING THE HUDDYS, Weston Ochse – CRASHING DOWN, Glenn Chadbourne, Morbideus W. Goodell

Volume II Contributors:

Clive Barker – TOM REQUIEM, Peter Straub – LITTLE RED’S TANGO, Jeff Strand – HOLOGRAM SKULL COVER, Thomas F. Monteleone – LUX ET VERITAS, J. F. Gonzalez – DEVOTION, Stephen R. Bissette – INN CLEANING, Christopher Golden – BREATHE MY NAME, Lucy A. Snyder – MAGDALA AMYGDALA, Sarah Pinborough – THE BOHEMIAN OF THE ARBAT, Brian Keene – JOHNSTOWN, Kevin J. Anderson – ROAD KILL (A Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. story), Tim Lebbon – JUST BREATHE, Nancy A. Collins – CATFISH GAL BLUES, Kim Newman – ILLIMITABLE DOMINION, Sarah Langan – INDEPENDENCE DAY, Rio Youers – THE GHOST OF LILLIAN BLISS, Jack Ketchum – HOTLINE, John Skipp – THE LIGHT OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS, James A. Moore – WAR STORIES, Amber Benson – IT’S…, Nate Kenyon – THE DREAMCATCHER, Holly Newstein – KRISTALL TAG, Rick Hautala – GHOST TRAP, Cortney Skinner, Glenn Chadbourne

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

ReaderCon 2013: Alien panel discussion

As I did last year, when I attended ReaderCon, a speculative-fiction focus convention in Burlington, MA, I went to quite a few interesting panel discussions, during which I took notes. In case any of you might be interested in what some of the current discussions among authors and editors are like in the field, I’m going to post a series of my notes here on the blog! Enjoy…!

The first panel I attended was just after arriving on Thursday, July 11. At 9:00pm I entered the realm of The Endangered Alien as discussed by the panel of (from left to right):
-- Andrea Hairston
-- Alex Dally MacFarlane
-- Phoebe North
-- Bud Sparhawk
-- Robert Killheffer (leader)
The premise of the panel was this:
“Science fiction sometimes becomes enamored of a theme for several years and then nearly abandons it for various reasons: microcosms in the 1920s, psionics or mutants in the 1940s and 1950s, etc. In recent years, aliens seem to have become less common. Novels by Paul McAuley, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Alastair Reynolds, and anthologies like Jonathan Strahan’s Edge of Infinity, confine their action to the solar system, with little credible possibility for intelligent alien life. The classic alien-as-hideous-enemy and alien-overlord tropes have largely migrated to movies and TV. When aliens do appear, in novels like China Miéville’s Embassytown, Peter F. Hamilton’s Great North Road, and Malinda Lo’s Adaptation, how are authors treating them? What purposes do they serve and what roles do they play?

First of all, the panelists were asked if they thought the premise of the discussion was correct: are aliens disappearing from science fiction books? How are aliens used by today’s authors? Author Bud Sparhawk reported that he often uses the alien as "other." As he recently sold half a dozen stories involving aliens, to him the subject matter of aliens appears to still be selling, and if it's still selling, then it still works as a trope, in his opinion.

Phoebe North writes as a YA author, and in her market, she has been told by agents and other industry authorities that "you can't do aliens." It's a generally unwritten rule that the YA market is not open to alien stories. If there are aliens in your story, they have to be predominantly humanoid, and cannot be too weird.

Alex Dally MacFarlane is an editor, and she finds no lack of alien stories are being submitted to her for anthologies.

Andrea Hairston is an author and a teacher, and her young adult writing students still want to write about aliens. She hasn't noticed any shift except in what the agents are interested in.

Robert Killheffer, the panel leader, asks: "Are the established SF authors avoiding alien fiction?"

He mentions the Mundane Manifesto, which emerged from a 2002 [Correction: 2004] Clarion workshop with Geoff Ryman. The authors involved were determined to get rid of extravagant or otherwise unlikely devices in their work -- things they felt were distracting writers and readers from our more likely futures, those based strictly on extrapolating possible outcomes of the world of today.

You can read the text of the Manifesto here: http://sfgenics.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/geoff-ryman-et-al-the-mundane-manifesto/

Was the Mundane Manifesto able to create a visible trend on industry output? Or did it simply create a vocal minority in the SF/speculative community?

Bud Sparhawk feels it's a vocal minority. His recent non-alien fiction is driven by the fast-advancing technology of today and the near future, things like exploiting the Jupiter system, etc), but he’s not writing this material because of the Mundane Manifesto.

Phoebe North talked a little bit about how in Young Adult fiction, the expected alien is someone who looks like us, but makes the reader feel different, and is different themselves. It equates with real teen problems.

My note: This exposes them to the idea that other people may be coming from other viewpoints, from national heritage to sexuality, or reiterates their own experiences with the difficulty of communicating personal differences to others.

Alex MacFarlance thinks that the Mundane Manifesto hasn't affected her. She believes that in the field as a whole (as there has been for years), there is simply an awareness of current problems of near future Earth.

Andrea Hairston declaimed against hubris! To believe that we (humans alone) are the gauge of the rest of the universe is appallingly narrow-minded. Andrea also mentioned Carl Sagan, and how other scientists barred him from professional scientific organizations at various points in his career, accusing him of "poetry." !!!

Alex MacFarlane took the opportunity to mention that labeling your aims "Mundane" makes them sound “so boring.”

Rob Killheffer commented that “you cannot draw a line (like the Mundane Movement) across things we don't know yet. This is foolish and depressing.”

My note: It is initially perplexing that in a field dedicated to speculation that the need for limiting and curtailing that very speculation is embraced.

Bud Sparhawk asserted that all writers, no matter how future-focused, are always writing about right now whether they mean to or not. The elements may be buried or cloaked under other names, consciously or subconsciously, but the present day lies at the core of what authors write.

Phoebe North returned to the idea that restricting the use of a metaphor doesn't make any sense in fiction. Metaphors are tools. Use them or not, but don’t insist on their elimination.

Rob Killheffer commented that the atmosphere we're in right now seems in some ways to exert a conservative influence on fiction, even though the visible and vocal social world is trending toward more liberal/tolerant viewpoint (gay rights etc).

He inquired of the panel: What about the use of the alien as a racial stereotype replacement?

Andrea Hairston commented that often when aliens are present, the only other characters present in the story are white. In other words, the aliens provide “color” and contrast.

My note: This seems to be a simplistic mechanism, a black-and-white (if you will) approach, while the actuality would be a reality with plenty of grey areas. Not all authors slack on this front. C.J. Cherryh’s “Chanur” worlds, for instance, have no lack of variety in their peoples, alien or human, and it is obvious that she has not tried to simplify any of her peoples’ alienness.

Robert Killheffer commented that “the alien as racial underdog stand-ins for the oppressed minority is the lazy route (think Avatar, Jar Jar Binks).” He believes that in really good science fiction, the alien should make you uncomfortable in their alienness.

My note: Or even in their akinness, they should make you uncomfortable!

--------------
Audience Q & A

Audience member (male): Back 30+ years ago, kids reading science fiction were outcasts -- no one cared what they read. Now SF is more mainstream, so the industry wants to control it more (specifically the juvenile/YA fic genre).

Another male commenter: In werewolf fiction, werewolves being another popular “other,” the common pattern is that a community emerges that's been there all along and wants to join "regular" society. Now vampire fiction is doing the same thing.

Bud Sparhawk: “We need new outskirts!!!”

Another audience member: Superman was an early fictional alien, but think of it – this alien was an attractive 6-foot tall white hunk from Kansas! The tradition of "human" aliens is long established in the industry. Sexy aliens are okay by the editors.

Female audience member: Another new alien/other in current fiction is represented by an increase in the use of transcendent human evolution as an alien form.

Andrea Hairston: If the "other" is too dangerous we sanitize it and make it safe, like the Disney treatment of fairy tales.

Another commenter: With our current knowledge we realize aliens will be so alien as to be unrecognizable. Peter Watts’ story Blindsight features VERY alien aliens. Read online or download here! http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm

Another commenter: Society is so fractured today (in spite of its so-called globalization) that the idea that we can communicate with seemingly alien culture is very important.

My note: Agreed. The idea that communication is possible with some effort on the part of both sides is tremendously important. It’s too easy to throw up your hands and huff about not understanding what the other person wants and simply walk away. It would be great if we could get everyone to grasp this in a long-term sense. This is a vital idea for humans to embrace, especially in today’s culture of immediacy.

Another commenter: It is rare to find alien fiction without any human characters.

Alex MacFarlane: What will our science fiction be in 300 years time? How different from our conceptions today?

Andrea Hairston: Mentions the Mundane Manifesto's reference to authors’ and readers’ desire to meet extraterrestrials as an "adolescent fantasy."

My note: The Mundane Manifesto does say: “The Mundanes recognize: That interstellar travel remains unlikely. Warp drives, worm holes, and other forms of faster-than-light magic are wish fulfillment fantasies rather than serious speculation about a possible future.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Curiosity & fascination

Here's a little article in which I consider some of the little sub-sections of the shop, and how they came to be.

People often ask me how I pick the books that I put out onto the shelves at the Green Hand. One of the major tenets in the assembly of my bookshop's stock is whether or not a book evokes curiosity. It seems a reasonable hope that if a book looks interesting to me, it will look interesting to someone else as well.

Of course this selection method has its hazards for those of us who are nuts about books. The other thing that people ask me is how I avoid the temptation to bring everything home with me. Working at the library for a while helped. It gave me a greater appreciation for the resources of interlibrary loan, which allows me to read books I might never otherwise see -- but not everything is in library lending collections, and I'm one of those people who likes to own books that they love. In answer to that craving to stash book treasure at home, I had to come up with a back-up plan to outsmart myself. To whit, my epically long "to read" list is formed in a large part by titles that have come into the shop. I find it a little easier to convince myself to put the books out on the shelf for sale to your guys if I can at least write down the author and title so I can find another copy of the book later. This way I prevent a massive book logjam forming at home, which is an uphill struggle, I can tell you!

While I do sell a lot of fiction, the non-fiction categories in the Green Hand are many and varied. The big ones, like history and biography and art, are obviously present -- but what pockets in the shop are stocked and cultivated purely out of a joy in their existence? There are some funny little sections that are tucked in between the more general ones. Sometimes they linger, mostly intact and slowly growing, until an annual visit from one person or another occurs, and half of the books get wiped out in one fell swoop.

Magic and illusionism, circuses and sideshows, for instance, is a section particularly prone to this behavior pattern. Part of the problem is the lack of people willing to relinquish their stage magic and midway related books. Really, why would you want to? This is a regular state of affairs for a used bookshop -- we depend on people being willing to give up their good books. The odds are against us, but we're willing to keep trying!
Within the true crime section the smaller historical criminology and forensic sections keep a certain amount of space for themselves, where these books wait for the day when they will find their own regular patrons. The Pinkerton Detective Agency history, Scotland Yard, and early criminologists are favorite topics for this area.

Books on calligraphy and their companion volumes on illuminated manuscripts (a personal passion) wait in an array of sizes below the illustration section (another personal favorite). There is something about the dedicated combination and labyrinthine arrangement of image, text, and borders on those pages that draws me in. Someday a person as obsessed as I am with illuminated manuscripts will stumble across this shelf, and it will make a delight of their afternoon.

From The Story Bag, a
collection of Korean folk tales
Other favorite sections ebb and flow every week or month as folks discover them for the first time or return for their regular inspection of the shelves. My folklore and mythology section threatens to overwhelm the bookshelf it shares with books about psychics, dreams, dowsing, and out-of-body experiences, even though it is one of the liveliest for browsing and buying. I stuff it with as much as I can, moving beyond the basics by Bullfinch, Joseph Campbell, Andersen and Grimm to turn-of-the-century Asian folklore, early American folklore, and dictionaries of symbols.

Dinosaurs and other paleontological matters take up part of a shelf in the natural history/biology section, near books about evolution and Darwin, waiting for their fans to find them, while kids' dinosaur books sell in a slow but steady flow. I'm still waiting to stumble across a mother lode of paleontology books so the section can achieve the breadth and strength I would like it to.

Some sections come and go like the seasons. My beekeeping section sometimes doesn't even exist, but it always pops up again eventually. Likewise my books on clocks and watch repair, or knot tying, or those about the nitty-gritty of raising chickens.

In other words, the shop's collection is like an organism. It adapts and changes, every growing, occasionally sloughing off extra or worn books via the $1 bin, adding new shelves where they're needed, and within its greater body creating sub-sections of itself as books collect and different subjects gain cohesion within the larger general subjects. I hope that is the sign of a healthy bookshop -- changing, growing, adapting, and responding to the needs of its customers on a daily basis! A bookshop in fine fettle should always be fun to explore, and give its regular visitors pleasant surprises when they think they've seen everything it has to offer. Come see!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The 2013 Reading List so far...!

At the beginning of 2013, the irony of being a bookstore owner who had very little time to read books was wearing thin. With that in mind, I resolved to READ MORE. Apparently it worked.

Here is my list of Books-I-Have-Read for 2013 so far! This does not include books I am part-way through (of which there are many); these are all books that I have finished reading. Whoo!

Superluminal by Vonda McIntyre

Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

Mollie Peer by Van Reid

Dark Twilight by Joseph Citro

Embassytown by China Mieville

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris & Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus by R.L. LaFevers

Starkweather: The Story of a Mass Murderer by William Allen

When Findus Was Little and Disappeared by Sven Norqvist

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

The Beginner's Handbook of Dowsing: The Ancient Art of Divining Underground Water Sources by Joseph Baum

The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov

Georgia: In the Mountains of Poetry by Peter Nasmyth

Blessed and Cursed Alike by Kiarna Boyd

As a whole, the list contains an overwhelming number of books which I found to be very good, and several that were outstanding. Some were classics I'd been meaning to read FOREVER, and gosh darn it, now I have.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Blessed & Cursed Alike by Kiarna Boyd

BOOK REVIEW:
Blessed and Cursed Alike
by Kiarna Boyd


The pulse of any city flies fast and rides hard if you know how to hang onto it. A good story is the same way. Blessed and Cursed Alike is the first novel by author Kiarna Boyd, and in its pages a spell is cast on the reader.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I first picked up the book, except there was bound to be magic, and that the plot was driven by motorcycle couriers. I knew it was likely the magic would attract me, but so far as motorcycle couriers go, my only exposure to them had been in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, and from time spent hanging around the hard-riding bicycle couriers that were a brief phenomena during the 1990s here in Portland, Maine.

I read a couple of chapters, and put the book down until I had more time. On my next day off, I picked it up again. I didn't put it down again until I'd read the whole thing. In other words, I spent my single day off of the week immersed in the world of the city, the city of Zade and Otter and Dis. And it was good.

In any city, there are the ways that are heavily trafficked, and there are the ways in between them. Those who know the city on the ground level know and use the between-ways automatically, threads of a map long-woven into their heads. The shortcuts, the favorite graffiti tags that mark a particular post or corner, the dark places to avoid. It's all there. This book travels those ways.

Something is going on in the city. Couriers are dying at an alarming rate. Strange murders and deaths are occurring every day. Granted, that's pretty normal in a big city. But these deaths are piling up way beyond normal. They are pushing towards something big and strange, something marked large on a powerful and unknown agenda. The couriers keep pushing through the traffic, all praying for luck as Dis attempts to get them where they need to go, on time, and now more importantly, while keeping them safe. Unable to name what enemy is pushing the city towards the brink, he does his best to protect his own.

Overlooking the city from its benevolent perch, the towers of St. Anna's cathedral form a graceful fortress from which Mother Ida shines as another beacon of support to the couriers, mourning with them as their friends die, one by one. She blesses their bikes in the hopes of preventing more tragedies, and behind the scenes she and Dis fight over what is the best way to keep everyone safe -- her somber, churchly ways, or his centuries-older pagan ways. When murder reaches into the safety of the churchyard, and a friend disappears, the stakes are raised. How much sacrifice is too much?

Meanwhile, the wheels of the couriers' motorcycles continue to crisscross and weave through the streets of the city, with less of them on the road every day.

As Dis attempts to unravel the patterns of death and influence, the cords tighten around his adrenaline-bound clad of riders, until it finally becomes evident that what is manipulating this modern city towards cataclysm is a much, much older history than most of them know.

As well as having a terrific cast of characters which I spent most of that Monday off hanging out with, this book touched a few long-languishing heartstrings for me. It reminded me of the raw frontier feel I got from reading the Borderland/Bordertown series (brought to life by Terri Windling, Will Shetterly, Ellen Kushner et al back in the 80s, recently revived in the new collection Welcome to Bordertown). Unpredictable and charged with magic, but very, very human. It also reminded me of the shadowy powers-at-work feel of another great piece of early urban fantasy, Emma Bull's Bone Dance.

Another good crossover comparison would be Charles de Lint's books, where everyday people grapple with extraordinary things on the threshold between now and a much older world whose lingering magic weaves through the edges of ours, alternately burning and blessing those who find it.

I highly recommend this book. It is well-written, from setting the scenes to dialogue to pacing. Even the cover design is sharp. Most of all, I feel like I know the characters after reading it. I suspect they'll be hanging around in my head for a good many years to come.

I'm tremendously glad I chose to read this book. As laden as the story is with death, it's a reminder that you get one life to live -- live it to the hilt, and then when Death comes, as it does, for Blessed and Cursed Alike, have no regrets.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

EVENT @ Rose Contemporary: Author reading!

WHAT:
Author Talk and Signing: Jenny Davidson, author of The Magic Circle

WHEN:
Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 8:00pm

WHERE:
Rose Contemporary Gallery, 492 Congress St, Portland, Maine

COST:
Free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

FMI:
rosecontemporary.com/ (207)780-0700 or email info[at]rosecontemporary.com

Come meet author Jenny Davidson, who will be discussing her new novel The Magic Circle at Rose Contemporary on April 17th. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing at the event.

Jenny Davidson is the author of four novels and two nonfiction books about 18th-century British literature. She has an insatiable lifelong appetite for fiction and a more recent obsession with endurance sports; she is currently training for Ironman Wisconsin. She lives in New York City, where she teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Her next book, Notes on Style: A Life in Sentences, will be published by Columbia University Press in 2014.

The Magic Circle, as its name suggests, centers on the theme of Huizinga's "magic circle" of game play, and his reminder that "there is no formal difference between play and ritual." (Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture)

Like a ramped-up and widened version of the film Rose Red, the story embraces the very personage of the Manhattan neighborhoods surrounding Columbia University, with special attention paid to the campus's very real history as an asylum, and to the neighboring park, Morningside Heights. These places seem to charge the very earth beneath them with their own personality, overlooked by the solemn watchtowers of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

In this setting, main characters Ruth, Lucy, and Anna, are but tokens in a larger game. The reader never quite knows who is the gamemaster. Who really makes the rules everyone plays by? Each roll of the odds twists the participants in a new direction as they move from the historical clues of Ruth's game, Trapped in the Asylum, to playing physical roles in Anna's modern NYC Bacchae. The intoxicating brew includes elements of geomancy, urban exploration, LARPing, mixed with the very real humans who find themselves wound unexpectedly tight within in the web formed when real life is threaded through with a touch of magic.

Come to nosh, drink, and talk about this and other things with author Jenny Davidson next Wednesday night!

Friday, March 22, 2013

RIP Rick Hautala -- a lifetime is not long enough.

Yesterday evening a friend emailed me to let me know some sad news. Rick Hautala, Maine author and someone I’d just started to become friends with in the last few years, died suddenly yesterday afternoon of a heart attack at age 64.

Rick at NECON 2006
I couldn’t quite believe it was true, but when I went to his website at rickhautala.com, there it was. Rick’s wife Holly had posted the following on his Facebook page Thursday afternoon: “Hi all and thank you. Just to let you know there will be no funeral, as that was not Rick’s thing. I am hoping to put together a celebration of his life in a month or two. We are just devastated here, and I really appreciate your kind words. Will keep you posted…”

As shocked as I was, I can’t even begin to imagine what Holly and the rest of Rick’s family and friends are going through. My heart goes out to them.

UPDATE: Fellow author Christopher Golden has posted on his blog about how you can assist Rick's family:
http://christophergolden.blogspot.com/2013/03/if-you-want-to-help-holly-newstein.html

Those of you who attended the Lovecraft Lounge short film showing at my shop in August of 2011 to hear him speak and answer questions about the short film "Lovecraft's Pillow" which we screened will remember how nice he was, and how willing he was to give even the smallest crowd of fans his time and energy. He was even patient in explaining over and over again how to pronounce his name [HOW-tah-lah].

Rick was the most positive, friendly, and helpful "Ink-Stained Wretch" I have had the pleasure to meet. I am having a hard time realizing I'll never get a chance to tell him this. This post is simply one more small step towards reminding local folks of Rick, the writer-next-door that so many took for granted as being forever nearby. He will be missed. I'm glad he wrote as much as he did, it's going to have to last us a long while. Here's to Rick Hautala. Maine has lost a good inky friend.

I came to read Rick’s work only recently, though like many of us here in Maine I knew of him for years. I sampled his books here and there, invited him to speak about his screenwriting work for “Lovecraft’s Pillow” at my bookshop, and almost got to give an introduction for his talk at October 2012’s “Little Festival of Horrors” at the Portland Public Library (the event was cancelled by the arrival of Hurricane Sandy). I was looking forward to having another chance to introduce him this fall, but sadly that will not happen now.

Here is the short film, Lovecraft’s Pillow, if you haven’t seen it yet:


Little Brothers, 1988
I also spent some time last year interviewing him about his “Little Brother” stories as part of my research for a Strange Maine related book I am working on right now about Bigfoot in Maine history and culture. Rick was always ready to answer my questions and set me straight on what his goals in writing were.

As Rick said to me, “Honestly, I was (and am) just trying to tell stories to entertain and amuse people … and, yeah! … to creep them out.” What more could we ask from one of our state’s longest publishing horror authors? All he wanted to do was entertain us.

To quote Rick:
The most dominant theme I see (and what do I know? I’m just the writer) is people being tested to:

1) Accept something that they believe or have been told is “impossible,” and
2) Do something about it. Face it. Deal with it. Try to come out on top.

All of the LITTLE BROTHERS stories—and THE MOUNTAIN KING, too, I think, are about people coming to grips with something that, according to their limited belief structures, is impossible … yet real, nonetheless.

Losing Rick so suddenly has thrown myself and others who always thought he’d be around into just that position. How we deal with it is up to us.

For those of you who didn’t know much about Rick, here is the introduction I wrote for his postponed appearance at the Little Festival of Horrors:

RICK HAUTALA

Hello everyone, and welcome to the second author talk of the Portland Public Library’s LITTLE FESTIVAL OF HORRORS. I have the pleasure today of introducing Maine author Rick Hautala to you. He is the published author of over 90 novels and short stories, many of which have been translated to other languages and sold internationally. His short story collection, Bedbugs, was selected by Barnes & Noble as one of the most distinguished horror publications of the year 2000.

Most recently the Horror Writers Association awarded him the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement for 2011, which was presented to him at the annual banquet in spring 2012. Rick lives just outside of Portland with fellow author Holly Newstein. He moved to Maine to go to college back in the day, and never left.

His stories, which are sometimes supernatural in nature, most often deal with monsters of all sorts. He enjoys monsters, whether they’re real or not. That’s how he approached his novel The Mountain King which he aimed to write as a rip-snorting, limb-rippingly fun monster book. The story places a family of Bigfoot-like creatures in the mountains of New England, and lets the reader in on what exactly happens when the inevitable culture clash between hikers and homicidal Bigfoot families happens.

His novel Little Brothers is a favorite of many of his fans, and spawned a handful of stories and pseudo-myths about these creatures which haunt the Maine woods. There is a new Little Brothers novella titled Indian Summer which is coming out soon from Cemetery Dance Publications. Other forthcoming books include Chills and Waiting (also from Cemetery Dance), and Star Road, which St. Martin's is slated to release in 2014.

In addition, Little Brothers was recently optioned for a film, and a team is currently working on adapting it into screenplay form.

In fact, Rick writes screenplays himself. His adaptation of award-winning author Kealan Patrick Burke's "Peekers" is currently on the film festival circuit. My personal favorite of these projects is the short film “Lovecraft’s Pillow,” which was based on a story suggestion from Stephen King. In this speculative story, a desperate and bankrupt man buys a pillow that once belonged to famed horror author H.P. Lovecraft in the hopes it will inspire his own writing. The results are … understandably uncanny, to say the least.

But enough from me. I’ll let Rick speak for himself. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Rick Hautala!

Where ever he may be headed to now, I hope his audience has a warm and friendly welcome for him, as he well deserves.

At the end of January, he was interviewed on the Francy and Friends podcast. You can download the MP3 on their site here. Rick shows up about 24 minutes into the otherwise raucous show, and talks candidly, as always, about life as a writer. His personality shines through. He was always a wonderful conversationalist. Enjoy.
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/francy/2013/01/21/rockin-with-rick-hautala-legendary-horror-author
Listen to internet radio with FRANCY AND FRIENDS on Blog Talk Radio

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Mysterious Darkness of Dean Kuhta

Occasionally I like to add the odd bit of artwork to sell in the shop. Sometimes I find new artists randomly, and sometimes I go in search of them. On a recent troll through the varied waters of Etsy in search of new Lovecraftian art, I found the prints of Dean Kuhta of Twisted Oak Press (http://twistedoakpress.com/). You can find his Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/twistedoakpress/about?ref=announce.

Windowpane by Dean Kuhta
While Dean's most eyecatching work is his collection of colorful, fairytale-like landscapes, what really caught my attention was his shadowy monochromatic work. It reminded me of the layered black and white chalk art of Jean Francois Millet and Georges Seurat, which I was obsessed with in art school, while at the same time hinting at the shifting horror of M.R. James' ghost stories, or the isolated terror of H.P. Lovecraft's dreamlike weird fiction. My favorite pieces are his "Stage I," etc., series, and his drawing "Windowpane," which makes me think of some of the most poignant imagery in Lovecraft's story "The Thing on the Doorstep."

Long story short, I contacted Dean and obtained a selection of his black and white 8" x 10" prints which are now available in the shop. Short story long, being a fellow art geek, I decided I also wanted to interview Dean about his work to introduce you all to it. Enjoy!

Q: What size are the original pieces from which you produce your prints?
Since most of my artwork is disturbingly detailed, I tend to work small. Otherwise, it would take me many months to finish anything. It also depends on the medium I'm working with. Ink, colored pencil, charcoal, and pencil illustrations are generally 8-inch by 10-inch, but I did recently draw a bigger, Lovecraft inspired, ink drawing called "The Pyramids of R'Lyeh" that is 18" x 14".

Q: What materials are you using to capture the subtle shading in these pieces?
I'm very stubborn and I've used the same drawing materials virtually my whole life. Derwent drawing pencils, General's kneaded erasers, tortillons (or blending stubs), Micron ink pens, and General's charcoal pencils. The combination of the kneaded eraser and the tortillon are what I think generate the subtle shading.

Q: What is your favorite size to work in?
I love to work big, but because of the amount of detail I tend to cram into a drawing, it usually comes down to time and resources. So, smaller drawings are usually the case. My oil paintings, on the other hand, range from 1-foot by 2-foot to 3-foot by 4-foot and are always a fun break from the small-scale, crosshatching madness.

Stage I: Departure by Dean Kuhta
Q: What are your favorite materials? Do you find working in black and white focuses your attention differently on a piece than when you work in bright colors? How does this affect your translation of a piece onto paper?
Hard question! I have to say I love working in all the traditional mediums. It sounds lame, but it's true. Each one has it's own technical issues that need to be overcome to truly bring to life an idea and put it on paper. For example, I always get pencil smudges all over the paper throughout the life of a drawing, but at the same time it seems to be an easier medium to achieve dynamic shading. Ink, by contrast, is a really clean drawing experience (no graphite all over the sides of my hands), but is extremely difficult and time consuming when shading. I don't even want to talk about charcoal shading! :P

Detail of Farmers Market by Dean Kuhta
Black and white drawings, as opposed to color, I believe, are "easier" to achieve values and contrast. Color is a whole different beast, and for me, much more difficult to successfully use to render lighting and shades. To overcome this, I've redrawn a lot of my black and white work in color. It's fascinating to me to see how a black and white drawing can possess an entirely different mood when re-drawn in color. My colors seem to be on the whimsical side, so that affects the mood as well.

Q: Are there materials that you haven’t yet experimented with that you would like to explore in the near future?
I've used all of the traditional mediums (oil, acrylic, watercolor, ink, pencil, charcoal, etc.) and I love using all of them. I definitely have my favorites that I gravitate around like ink, pencil, and oil. I've recently discovered Prismacolor art markers. They are super fun to color with and it almost feels like painting with a brush.

Q: What are your literary influences, and how do you find yourself responding to them through these pieces? I know I often start out with a literal depiction in mind, but then wind up choosing a more mysterious, oblique image for the illustration – your pieces seem to follow this idea of using suggestive imagery instead of telling a story word for word.
Great questions. I have a ton of literary influences and they're all mangled together in my head when I'm working on a new idea. Lovecraft, Tolkien, Clive Barker, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells to name a few. I'm sure that each of their influences have found their way into my drawings in some form or another. Lovecraft's dark, supernatural environments, Barker's bizarre fantasy, and Verne's epic adventures. I try to incorporate all of these aspects into my work. During my art shows, I'm regularly asked what the stories are behind my drawings. Where once I would shrug at the question, I can say now that my goal is not to tell a literal story, but to achieve an overwhelming mood through the drawing, whether it be a dark, haunting mood, or a fantastical, storybook one.

She Was Swathed in Sorrow by Dean Kuhta
Q: What elements in your pieces do people seem to respond to the most?
It depends. Some people are attracted to the style and technique, like the ink crosshatching or the pencil shading. Others are drawn in by the mood. One of my drawings, in particular, always seems to generate a dramatic response. "She Was Swathed in Sorrow" is a collaborative piece I did with a friend of mine years ago. I think the combination of the dark, surreal imagery and the creepy ink crosshatching style, combined with whatever the viewer has going on in his or her life, really has an effect and it's the one piece that consistently draws out emotion.

Q: What elements are you most pleased with?
I'm most pleased with the ability to take an idea from my imagination and successfully translate that onto a piece of paper. More specifically, a good composition is a pleasing element, as well as other artsy things like movement and balance. Designing a quality composition is no small task, and is an immensely satisfying accomplishment when achieved.

Q: What are your artistic influences in general? Which artistic influences found a particular connection with you through these pieces?
As I mentioned, books have played a big role in my artistic growth. My biggest influence, however, is without a doubt other artists. Masters like Gustave Dore and M.C. Escher, as well as contemporary artists like Alex Grey and Clive Barker (yes I mentioned him in my author list, but he's a nasty artist too!). I've always been infatuated with the work of Dore. His elaborate and complex compositions combined with an insane amount of detail are characteristics that I'm always striving to reach.

Detail from Mushroom Castle by Dean Kuhta
Q: How long do you work on one of your black and white pieces, typically? Do you work progressively on more than one at a time, or do you prefer to focus on each piece individually until it is complete?
Most everything I work on, whether black and white or color, takes me a fair amount of time. Typically a few weeks, but sometimes a month or two. The medium plays a major role in how long a drawing/painting will take. Ink is usually the quickest and easiest, whereas, colored pencil and oil are always the most difficult and time consuming. My technique with colored pencil is to start with a soft layer of color for the entire drawing and progressively build upon that until the final layer is intensely rich with contrast and thick with colored pencil. I do work on more than one piece at a time, but that's because I have a lot of other projects and commissions going on at the same time. Regardless of how many jobs I have going, I try to have a personal piece to work on a little each day.

Q: When you envision a piece prior to making it, do you draw inspiration from existing photos or art? What are the most useful to you in finishing the details and structure in a piece – photos, other artwork, or objects and scenery in the real world around you?
I'd like to think that the majority of my work has originated from my imagination. Of course, all of the influences I've mentioned always play a role, but for the most part I try very hard to come up with my own new ideas. That said, I certainly integrate elements that I see all around me into the overall idea I've conjured up. I normally don't draw from photographs, but I have to admit to using Google as a reference from time to time. I'm sorry if my squirrel anatomy skills are lacking! :P

Q: Do you have any projects you are looking forward to working on this year?
Indeed! I'm working on a huge, collaborative book project at the moment (Editor's note: a new edition of 3D Space Mazes) that will span several editions and many many illustrations. It's keeping me very busy at the moment! Additionally, I was just filmed for an upcoming episode of "House Hunters." The episode will feature a giant print of the drawing I mentioned earlier, "She Was Swathed in Sorrow." I'm very excited to see what kind of response that will generate and the opportunities it may provide. I also have five or six more art shows to do this year.

Visit Dean Kuhta online at http://twistedoakpress.com/!