09-07-07: Erika Mailman Lights 'The Witches
Trinity' ; Agony Column Podcast News : A Conversation With Ruthanne Lum
McCunn and Fan Wu
baby, burn! Oh wait, already used that caption.
You don’t have to wonder where Erika
Mailman found the idea for her
novel 'The Witch's Trinity' (Crown Publishers / Random House ; October
2, 2007 ; $23.95). Of course, we all know that there are plenty of historical
records surrounding the various witch trials that took place over a four
hundred year span of time. Anyone can rumble around through them and cook
up a tidy little tale of "Burn the witch!"
But Mailman has a more personal perspective on the matter. She discovered
a witch in her family, Mary Parsons, who was tried not once, but several
times for witchcraft in Massachusetts in the 1600's, and – this is
a story you don't often hear – found innocent. Mary Parsons lived
into her eighties.
As Mailman mentions in her informative Author's Note, it was a technological
innovation that drove the witch-burning craze. Shortly after Gutenberg
invented the printing press, still a revolutionary tool some five hundred
and fifty years later, top that Steve Jobs – an early bestseller
appeared with the title "Malleus Maleficarum" ("the Hammer
of Witches") by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. Think of it as
an early version of 'Witch-Burning for Dummies'. Basically, this book gave
those in power the ability to point a finger at someone they didn't cotton
to and say, 'Burn 'em!"
Our perception of all this witch-burning nonsense is filtered through innumerable
(well, actually only one) Monty Python sketch(es) and ten years of over-the-top
performances by Vincent Price in his prime. Far outside the realm of either
lies a truth we'll just never really know. But Mailman's novel, based on
her research into her own family's travails offers an intense, visionary
glimpse into the ways in which religious beliefs married to new technologies
can be used to marginalize the undesirable.
'The Witch's Trinity' fires off in 1507 in a remote German village. Suffering
from a famine, the villagers are happy to see the arrival of a friar who
promises to rid them of the curse that has brought the famine. Güde
Müller is an elderly woman whose daughter-in-law would prefer one
less hungry mouth at the table. What's more, she's experiencing strange
visions. Is it bad bread or something worse? Worse is, of course, a village
using high-tech reproduced witch-finding manuals to point a finger. No,
worse is knowing that the finger should be pointed at you.
Mailman brings a transparent clarity to her vision of a village possessed
by hunger. And I find it rather interesting to think about the flip side
of witch hunts, to wit, Blessed Virgin sightings. It was after all, in
a village in Germany some three hundred years later that some version of
the godly, as opposed to the satanic, appeared in Marpingen. We're always
so sure that there's something beyond our lives, something outside the
reality we perceive. As with many things, we can easily blame this on innovative
new technology, in this case, books.
in the attic; Fan Wu left, Ruthanne Lum McCunn, right.
Agony Column Podcast News : A Conversation With
Ruthanne Lum McCunn and Fan Wu : 'February Flowers' and 'God of Luck'
Wu, February Flowers.
Lum McCunn, God of Luck.
is a conversation with authors Ruthanne Lum McCunn ('God
of Luck') and Fan Wu ('February Flowers'), conducted
in the attic of the
Capitola Book Café shortly before their appearance there last
night. These two women have fascinating novels and lives to match.
was really quite fun for all. You
can hear the MP3 from this link,
or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.
09-06-07: 'Steps Through the Mist' with Zoran
Zivkovic ; Agony Column Podcast News : Legends in the Making : Talking
Books with Michael DeSarno
Two Forms of Beauty and a Bargain
next stop ....
It's not often we're lucky enough to get two forms of beauty and a bargain.
But that is precisely the case with 'Steps Through the Mist' (Aio Publishing
; September 30, 2007 ; $23.95) by Zoran Zivkovic. I'll not make this
article or argument particularly complex; it's pretty simple. Zivkovic's
prose and compositional skill make the words on these pages ethereal
and intelligent. Aio Publishing prints a piece of book hardware that
is flat-out gorgeous. And, at $23.95, the whole shebang is bargain no
reader of this column should pass up.
Zivkovic writes fables that have a universal appeal, novels that slot together
fables in delicate layers and books that subtly re-define reality. In 'Steps
Through the Mist', Zivkovic draws us into the lives of five different women,
each experiencing a subtle separation from the reality we share. A rigid
schoolmarm finds herself facing a young girl who knows the dreams of others.
Those dreams spin out, each into its own story; a woman in a madhouse,
a skier with a choice, a fortune teller with faltering faith, and an elderly
woman with a precious alarm clock. Zivkovic's prose, as peerlessly translated
by Alice Copple-Tosic, has the kind of transparency and beauty that makes
one think not of other writers, but of other art. You read Zivkovic and
see crystalline sculptures and austere, minimalist paintings in galleries
whose name is just beyond your grasp.
For this reader, 'Steps Through the Mist' is rather like a series of interconnected
episodes from The Twilight Zone at its zenith. Part of this is the classy
black-and-white presentation of Aio Publishing. The books epitomize graceful
design, with black-edged pages, generous print size, everything to make
the journey of the words into your mind a pleasure. The beauty of the writing
is matched in every sense by the beauty of the presentation. The capper
is that at $23.95 for a small-print run hardcover original, it's really
quite a bargain.
Alas, this is a bargain you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere but the
specialty booksellers – like Mark
V. Ziesing, Borderlands Books and
today's podcast interview, Legends
Books. Or you can buy directly
from the publisher, which is probably the best way to support such efforts.
But this book isn’t about support. This book is simply a beautiful
book object, what reading is all about. Make the most of your good fortune.
Agony Column Podcast News : Legends in the Making
: Talking Books with Michael DeSarno
Today, on the Agony
Column Podcast News, I speak with Michael DeSarno of Legends
DeSarno has an eye for books.
We talk about moving books in the real world via Internet marketing and
I find out DeSarno's picks for forthcoming books. You can hear the
MP3 here, or subscribe to the podcast using iTunes.
09-05-07: Walter Moers Enters 'The City of Dreaming
Books' ; Agony Column Podcast News : The Future Then : A Conversation With
Kim Stanley Robinson
In Case You're
Not Already There
"Yes, I speak of a place where reading can drive people insane. Where books
may injure and poison them – indeed, even kill them. Only those who
are thoroughly prepared to take such risks in order to read this book – only
those willing to hazard their lives in so doing – should accompany
me to the next paragraph. The remainder I congratulate on their wise but
yellow-bellied decision to stay behind. Farewell, you cowards! I wish you
a long and boring life, and, on that note, bid you goodbye!"
Walter Moers returns to Zamonia, the setting for his novels 'The 13 1/2
Adventures of Captain Bluebear' and 'Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures'
with 'The City of Dreaming Books' (The Overlook Press ; September 6, 2007
; $26.95), a mere 464 pages of surreal, hallucination-dipped literary madness
suitable for readers of any age, so long as they've sort of lost their
minds in advance.
studious young dino-dragon thingie.
Moers is a peculiar
writer, whose latest work is reminiscent of both Stanislaw Lem's
silly space fables and China Miéville's 'Un
Lun Dun'. 'The
City of Dreaming Books' begins when Optimus Yarnspinner, a young literary
dragon, inherits an unpublished story by an unknown author from his
literary godfather Sir Dancelot Wordwright. Dancelot, on his deathbed,
young Optimus to go to Bookholm to find the author and perhaps pick
up a magical thingamajig that will bestow upon the horned, winged
the power to become a writer. How could any sane reader resist such
No need to. Moers, even in translation, is a joy to read. He has a
straightforward, no-nonsense approach that makes the nonsense which
follows all the more
enjoyable. This is a book specifically written for book geeks, and
you can see why Miéville cited Moers in my last interview with him.
Moers explores all the dark crannies and lightly-read hallways of reading,
writing and everything associated with both to people them with all manner
of fantastic monster, critter, cross-breed and creation imaginable. What’s
more, he illustrates his own books and does so incredibly well.
Bookholm is a reader's and writer's dream and nightmare brought to
life. Deadly literary agents, Booklings and Bookhunters threaten young
in his quest for the Orm (ie, thingamajig), "a kind of mysterious
force reputed to flow through authors at moments of supreme inspiration." Moers
writing here is darker, a bit more dangerous, and happily for me at
least, more monsterific than his previous work. But it retains the
same wit, the
same zany energy of 'Captain Bluebear' and 'Rumo', the same inclination
towards a dense torrent of puns and imagination, the literary riffing
that Moers does so well.
Do yourself a favor and don't look ahead at the illustrations. Not
that they give much away, just that the joy of encountering them as
the book is irreplaceable. And don’t let them scare you into
thinking that this is a kiddie book, because it's not. Moers invests
heft into his characters to make you care what happens to them and
glad that it's happening in such a wonderful landscape, which is itself
character, one that will appeal to all readers. It is a truly literary
But that's not the only landscape that Moers works in. Check this very
peculiar video out:
I'm sorry – I did not retain enough German to understand pretty
much any of the words. But you have to love those little duckies, and
computer animation certain retains the visual style you find Moers'
illustrations. He's enough of a polymath to get himself over the language
into the Duh-murrican media consciousness.
I suppose that Moers' work is an A / NOT-A switch; either you like it or
you don't. But I also suspect that lots of readers might find they do indeed
like it. The problem may be actually finding a copy you can pick up and
read in your local independent bookstore. I presume that it will be shelved
somewhere amidst the piles of bestselling YA fantasy titles, lost in the
crowds. That's why I put up a large image of the cover. Find 'The City
of Dreaming Books', even if you think you already live there.
Column Podcast News : The Future Then : A Conversation With Kim Stanley
Today's Agony Column
Podcast News is a conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson,
whose most recent book is 'Sixty
Days and Counting', which
triptych meta-novel Science in the Capital. (Hardly a realistic
notion these days, but...)
Here's a non-science fiction book by a science
writer that quite accurately predicts the future, a presidency dominated
by concerns over climate change. In case I have forgotten to remind readers
of late, Robinson is the gent who coined this gem of a sentence: "We're
living in a bad science fiction novel."
The idea that all science
fiction is about the present is prevalent in the field of late, but this
was not always the case. Heinlein and especially Arthur C. Clarke attempted
to predict the future and Clarke didn't do so badly.
09-04-07: Jonathan Strahan Brings on 'Eclipse
1' ; Agony Column Podcast News : "Almost No Yes's" : A Conversation
With Laura Furman, Editor of 'The O. Henry Prize Stories'
Thirty-Two Years and Counting
from the past of the future.
"This isn't 1975,
it's 2007," Jonathan Strahan observes in the introduction
to 'Eclipse One' (Night Shade Books ; November 22, 2007 ; $14.95). "A
different time calls for a slightly different approach." Originally,
Strahan tells us, he was going to call his new anthology series 'Universe',
after the series edited by the great Terry Carr back in the 1970's and
1980's. Instead, he put out a call for suggestions, and just as he was
starting to despair, was handed the title 'Eclipse' by no less than Jetse
de Vries, editor over at 'Interzone'. If you ever get a chance to go
to a science fiction convention, make sure you get yourself over to the
dealer's tables and the Interzone booth when de Vries is there. You'll
see why any suggestion from him seems bigger than life. de Vries himself
seems bigger than life. Talk to him and you're in a wild and exciting
movie. Given the security cameras mounted in so many major metropolitan
where a convention is likely to be taking place, you probably are in
'Eclipse One' is yet another bizarre sign of the literary environment in
which the declining numbers of readers find themselves. I guess this is
the publishing equivalent of what happens when you kill off all the predators
in a landscape. The deer (writers) flourish and the few remaining meat
eaters (readers) have the pick of a remarkably strong crop. It is indeed
very strange. Ask any writer, publisher or editor: should I take up a career
in writing short stories? They'll answer, Sure, if you want to like, starve.
But that doesn't stop some incredibly talented writers from reliably producing
stellar short fiction. It can't be for the money. It must be for the art.
Imagine that. Imagine this title / author list: "Unique Chicken Goes
in Reverse" by Andy Duncan, "Bad Luck, Trouble, Death and Vampire
Sex" by Garth Nix, "The Last and Only, or Mr Moscowitz Becomes
French" by Peter S. Beagle, "The Lost Boy: A Reporter At Large" by
Maureen F. McHugh, "The Drowned Life" by Jeffrey Ford, "Toother" by
Terry Dowling, "Up the Fire Road" by Eileen Gunn, "In The
Forest Of The Queen" by Gwyneth Jones, "Quartermaster Returns" by
Ysabeau Wilce, "Electric Rains" by Kathleen Ann Goonan, "She-Creatures" by
Margo Lanagan, "The Transformation of Targ" by Jack Dann & Paul
Brandon, "Mrs Zeno's Paradox" by Ellen Klages, "The Lustration" by
Bruce Sterling, and"Larissa Miusov" by Lucius Shepard. All original
to this anthology.
There's a downside to this list, which is that it automatically invalidates
all the 'Complete Fiction of [put author name here]' collections we
just bought by many of these authors. That's a hit I'll be happy to
that for reasons beyond reason, beyond commerce, for reasons that could
only be artistic, the short story form is more vital today than ever,
certainly more so than in 1975. Back in 1975, the sort of writers we're
were writing about today. This very day, this year 2007. The visions
ranged from the wildly optimistic to the utterly despairing, but none
captured the future that unfolded. They did however, paint a particularly
impressive picture of 1975, just as 'Eclipse One' offers a wonderfully
imaginative look at our world. These stories are written in a future
– and set in fantastic worlds or even our own ordinary everyday world,
just tweaked – that the futuristic writers of 1975 were unable and
in many cases not intending
Thirty-two years from now, in 2049, as we teeter towards the center of
the century, one has good reason to wonder if the short story will still
even exist. Or if books will exist, as we know them now. Let us imagine
that future, knowing that any vision, any prediction, any calculation we
make will be totally, utterly wrong.
Agony Column Podcast News : "Almost No Yes's" : A Conversation With Laura Furman, Editor of 'The O. Henry Prize Stories'
Furman, top from the RH website; bottom her anthology.
For today's podcast, I'm honored to present a phone interview with
Laura Furman, the editor of 'The O. Henry Prize Stories'. In yet another
that the art is alive even if the commerce is crippled, the O. Henry
Awards continue, ninety-six years and counting. (I swear I didn't just
the death of the short story in the article above. Really.)
If you read short stories, if you write anything, if you want to read short
stories or want to write anything, do yourself a favor and listen to what
Furman has to say. She's funny and absolutely riveting as she talks about
the history of the awards, the Man Himself, her amazing process for choosing
the stories and the book itself. It's an essential work for any reader
who enjoys short fiction or writer hoping to get short stories published
Not only does it offer the finest examples of the form, it includes a lot
of ancillary material that rounds out the collection into a mini-course
in writing and publishing short fiction.
The jurors – Charles D'Ambrosio, Ursula K. Le Guin and Lily Tuck – each
write an essay on their selection. (Furman explains who the jurors are,
how they're chosen and what they do in the interview. ) Each author contributes
notes on his or her story. All this would make the collection invaluable,
but like a Popeil appliance pitch, wait, there's more. The list of the
magazines that submit their work for consideration alone is worth more
than cover price; said list includes addresses and editors' names, thus
replacing the unwieldy Writers' Guide with a 26 page précis
that offers you the best of the best markets. After all, these are
that, should you be lucky enough to get published in them, will send
a copy of the issue in which you are published to the editor of the
Prize anthology. What more could you ask?
There's a reason an institution lasts so long. It's smart and the people
who run it are smarter. You can hear the MP3
from this link, or just subscribe
to the podcast. Knowing, of course, that the death of Podcasting is just
around the corner. In the Future, that is.
09-03-07: A 2007 Interview With Guo Xiaolu
"Self-censorship is profound as a Chinese author, and I don’t
think anyone like to admit that."
author at the BBC.
witty, entertaining, profound.
Guo Xiaolu's 'A
Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers' is fascinating book on
a variety of levels. Not surprisingly, the author is even more
fascinating on more levels. A filmmaker, novelist, and poet in China,
she came to London in 2002, knowing very little English. She immediately
started a diary-dictionary where she recorded the new words she learned
each day. Five years later, those scraps of paper have been transfigured
into her first novel written in as she calls it "broken English." I
had the good fortune to speak to her via telephone a couple of weeks
ago, and was even more fortunate to speak to her at length via an ISDN
connection to the BBC in London. This is one of the most intense and
interesting conversations I've ever had with an author. She was riveting
and dove into her answers to my questions with the same ferocity it takes
to learn a new language, then to turn around and write, then sell a novel
in that new language.
Even though she's a filmmaker with an award winning feature film, she
told me in the interview that she'll be happy to keep her distance from
the planned movie based on her novel. She speaks with an emotional authority
and power that is quite captivating; that's apparent in the novel as
well. Here's a link to the
MP3 version of the interview, which lasts
some 52 minutes; make sure you leave late for work so you can get mired
and traffic and hear the whole shebang; otherwise you may find yourself
sitting in the parking lot and listening. Here's a link
to the RealAudio version, or you can just simplify your life and subscribe
to the podcast.
Bring roses. Get ready to fall in love again.