I’ve been reading Tor.com’s excellent Harry Potter reread series. It reminded me of something that always struck me as odd. Voldemort is only called Voldemort because young Tim Riddle was a fan of anagrams. You see Tom’s full name, Tom Marvollo Riddle, can be rearranged into I am Lord Voldemort. The whole thing is a bit of a cheat. If you’re going to create your new evil guy name out of your old name, why not use all the letters? Is Lord Volamdiemort that much sillier than Voldemort? Get it together, Riddle. Also could several generations of wizards have been spared a lot of grief if he’d reordered his name into Molar Mold Volt Ride. Would he have spent his considerable energy creating a theme park ride based in the wonders of modern cosmetic dentistry?
Anyway it made me curious about the potential locked in my own name. This is what I came up with.
Use A Nit Last
A Sun Tat Lies
At Suits Lane
Tai’s Nut Sale
I Lust At Sean
I’m probably not going to suddenly wake up noseless and go on a genocidal, magical, world domination quest. But I will start looking for Sean, he sounds hot.
Things have been going quite nicely as of late. The seemingly endless winter appears to be overish. My arm is healing. No more cast, no more pain, but I do have to do regular physical therapy to regain full strength. I’ve started a new job that I really like, though it is occupying some of the brain space that used to be devoted to writing.
On the writing front, I turned in my last Betsy-Tacy review for Forever Young Adult. I don’t know yet when it will be posted, but you can read the first four here, here, here, and here. It’s been great revisiting these books that meant so much to me growing up. As well as sharing them with people who feel the same. I’ll probably put a cap on the reread by reading Emily of Deep Valley, the only one I’ve never read. As well as the long out of print Betsy-Tacy Companion, which I treated myself to as a Christmas present. Since FYA wasn’t promised those, I’ll post the reviews here.
Last summer one of my stories won the Geek Partnership Writing contest. I’ve received the certificate in the mail and the official announcement is now posted here.
Got to admit, it was really cool to see my name.
In other contest news, for the fifth year in a row I’ve entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. This is the third year for Random Acts of Nudity. In 2012 it reached the semifinals, last year it was cut in the first round. This year it’s reached round 2, but didn’t reach the quarterfinals. Still it bested last year’s result.
Speaking of ABNA, one of the fellow writers I met through the contest runs a blog called Word Soup. He takes five hundred words of a work in progress and “boils” or cuts and condenses it to trim out the excess without losing the content. Just reading the previous posts has trained me to look for the unnecessary wordage in my writing. So I offered up a passage from Tooth and Consequence to be boiled. You can read it here. While not every suggested rewrite sounds exactly like my voice, most are spot on. I’ll definitely be coming back to his suggestions when I start revising this manuscript. Considering that my most recent revision on a different story cut 15,000 words without fundamentally changing the story, boiling is a skill to hone.
This Sunday I attended a discussion with fantasy author Emma Bull, hosted by the Minnesota Speculative Writers Meetup Group. Ms. Bull is the author of many books, including the urban fantasy classic War For The Oaks, which happens to be set in Minneapolis.
A few of the highlights:
She is in the process of writing a short story, or possibly a novella, inspired by the character of Wonder Woman, if rather than a comic book super hero, she were an urban fantasy character. I want to read that! She thinks it will become a series, though it will have to be finished and published first. She admitted to working a bit slowly, so it could be a while before it sees print. If anybody hears about such a story, let me know.
She is also working on the sequel to her novel Territory, to be called Claim. The novel is set in Tombstone Arizona in 1881. The gunfight at the o.k. corrall will be a major event within the book. I asked her if the gunfight in the book would follow the course of the historical gunfight and she said yes, mostly. She’s clearly done extensive research on the gunfight and Tombstone. It’ll be interesting where the fantasy element comes in.
One of the things she was most excited about is a fitness app called Zombie run. The conceit is that the runner is a messenger for a town in a post zombie apocalypse world. You run with your headphones in and s voice gives you missions to complete and warns you when there are zombies chasing you and you need to speed up. It also follows an episodic narrative. After talking at a convention about how much she loved it (she’s now completed both a 5 and 7k) she was contacted by the story editor for the app, and has written two episodes since.
She said the fastest she’s ever completed a book was when she collaborated with Steven Brust on the epistolary novel, Freedom & Necessity. She started it out of the blue by writing a letter by a character she was discovering as she wrote. She realized it was a game and the only person she wanted to play with was Steven Brust. She put it in an envelope, drove to his house, rang the bell, handed him the letter and drove away. He had no idea what it was all about, and thought he’d done something so terrible she could only confront him in a letter. Once he opened the letter, he was on board. They then wrote the book in turns by answering each other’s letters. I kind of love that idea, where you have no idea where the story is going until you get your partner’s section. Though they did stop about halfway and plot out the end. I’d love to try this sometime.
Finally one of my favorite moments was when she said that during her research for Claim she saw an update in a Tombstone Epitaph from the period. It said something along the lines of “We still have no information on the origin of the severed arm found in the road last Monday.” She read that and thought “I know where it came from” and a new subplot was born. I like this because it’s so similar to a story Neil Gaiman told during a talk I wrote up a few years ago for Read Comics. In which he read a news story about a large brass bed found in the London sewer system, that no one could figure out how it got there and his first thought was “I know.”
To close out this list of good things and links, I made a batch of chocolate tarts filled with caramel whipped cream, for a charity bake sale at work. They sold out within ten minutes. They were delicious if I do say so myself. I’ll probably write up a post with the recipe soon.
How big of a Neil Gaiman fan am I? Here’s a hint.
I was first exposed to Neil Gaiman as a teenager by my sister, albeit a indirectly. She lent me the Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll. I devoured it in a few days. I raved over it to her (it’s still one of my all time favorites). She mentioned that it reminded her of a particular arc of a comic book series called Sandman. I filed that away for future reference. About a year later, I was perusing my local Borders. I spotted a few Sandman trades. At that time I didn’t have a lot of money or many possessions to my name. Every purchase was carefully considered. I read each volume’s description until I found the one who’s plot sounded the most like Bones of the Moon. It was A Game of You. I took it home, hoping I hadn’t wasted my twelve dollars.
It probably wasn’t the best place to jump into the series as it was the most self contained arc, without many links to the series overall. It didn’t matter, I was hooked. Over the next year I read the rest of the series in order of what was in stock at the book store at any given time. I had already realized that I liked comic books before I left home, but I doubt I would be as into them as I am if I hadn’t spent that time in the graphic novel section searching for Sandman volumes I hadn’t read yet.
Once I’d devoured the entire Sandman saga, I snapped up everything else with the name Neil Gaiman on the spine. And they didn’t disappoint. Neverwhere, Mr. Punch, Stardust, they all sparked my imagination and made me see the world in a new way. I love the way he writes, often in a personal but slightly esoteric style. I love the way he mixes myths and everyday life in a way that makes me feel like this is the way the world has always been, I just hadn’t noticed before. And I love listening to him read his stories.
And my love of his writing sent me down many unexpected paths. It led me to delving into comic books. It led me to going to signings and conventions at a time in my life when getting out of the house for things other than work was a challenge. It led me to other artists who spoke to me, like Jill Thompson, Dave McKean, and Susanna Clarke.
What it didn’t do was spur me to do was write. Oh, it inspired me and made me long to be a writer. But I wanted to write like Neil, which I couldn’t. I would start a story and give up after a few paragraphs. I just couldn’t do what he does. It took a long time for me to realize that I’m not supposed to write like Neil, I’m supposed to write like me.
Occasionally I hit on something that feels like it plays in the same sandbox as Neil’s work (such as the story I posted on Halloween) and it pleases me immensely, but I’m no longer trying to imitate my idol. After all, he does an excellent job of being Neil. We don’t need another one. And I get to create something that only I could have created. Maybe I’ll never reach his level of craftsmanship, but I’m going to keep trying. And that is one of many reasons I’m a fangirl.
I hope this will be a semi regular feature where I discuss some of my biggest influences. First up Jim Henson.
Like most people born after 1969 my first exposure to the work of Jim Henson was Sesame Street. Back then I didn’t know there was a person behind the puppets. They were entirely real to me. My prime watching years were 1980 to 86. It was a little different than it is today. No Murray or Abby Cadabby, only minimal Elmo. Not nearly as structured about when each segment aired. It was still the early years, I vaguely remember Mr. Hooper and a Snuffy who was imaginary. I clearly remember Gover as a waiter, Ernie stealing Bert’s nose, a song about a llama going to the dentist, Kermit as a reporter. Sesame Street made a huge impression on me and I absorbed as much as I could. It taught me about letters and numbers and words. It also taught me that being smart was important, but wanting to learn was even more important. It taught me people were all equal regardless of color: black, white, blue, green, it was all good. And no matter their quirks—if they can’t count, if all they want to do is count, if they tend to devour your worldy possessions, if they bother you while you’re trying to sleep, or if they’re perpetually crabby—your friends are your friends.
And they were my friends. I trusted them and loved spending time with them. Even after I found out there were people making them say or do the things they did, they were still living breathing beings to me.
My Muppet years started later than the Sesame years but they definitely overlapped. (In this case I’m referring to the ensemble of characters who populated the Muppet shows and movies, though it can be used to refer to all of Henson’s puppets including the Sesame gang). I don’t actually remember a time when I didn’t know of the Muppets. I think I might have been born knowing the lyrics to the Rainbow Connection. While Sesame’s focus was on education, The Muppets were all about entertainment. The Muppets were a little more sophisticated than their Sesame Street counterparts. They were a tiny bit more complex both in their design and personalities. It’s remarkable that Henson and his fellow performers could imbue bits of felt and fur with such a range of emotions. These puppets could convey pathos, joy, ennui, insecurity, mania, frustration, contentment etc. That versatility meant you never knew for sure what you’d get with them. Sometimes it was pure vaudevillian shtick. Often it was zany, chaotic, whimsy. And sometimes it was raw emotion that spoke to the core of the human experience. (Okay, that was a kind of hyperbolic.) Few things have moved me the way Gonzo singing I Want to Go Back There Someday in the Muppet Movie did. Many of the few that have, also involve Muppets. (If you want another example of the muppets moving you to tears, search for Just One Person on YouTube.)
Despite their differences Sesame Street and the Muppets have a lot in common. Such as their affinity for the absurd. But most importantly, like Sesame Street, the Muppets are about acceptance and tolerance. Everybody is welcome.
Once I learned that there was a man behind Kermit and Ernie and the Swedish Chef, I sought out to find more things he’d done. And there was a lot. Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, The Labyrinth, The Storyteller. All these worlds bursting with imagination. It came as a shock, yet felt entirely right when I learned that Henson and his team created the Yoda puppet for George Lucas, and Jim’s longtime collaborator, Frank Oz, brought him to life.
It’s a cliche to say that there will never be another Jim Henson. But it’s the truth. He was unique. My world is richer because of his creations—because of him. I was ten when he died. It was the first time I was so affected by the death of some one I never met. I’m so glad that Sesame Street and the Muppets have carried on after he was gone. Kids need them, I need them. They reflect the world the way I want it be be. Full of laughter and hope. And I’m glad that his company continues to produce incredibly creative and original projects like the TV show Farscape and the movie Mirrormask. Jim is gone, but his inspiration continues.
And I will always be a fangirl.