One of my buddies from Cafe Calabria is gentleman from Turkey who’s in, as I tend to be, at 6:30 a.m. on the weekends. He’s an early riser and his family are a batch of sleep-ins, so he takes a book, has a coffee and whiles away a couple hours. One day he was reading OSMAN’S DREAM and I told him I’d started poking at the history of Istanbul–in an aimless, I-have-no-immediate-use-for-this-research fashion–but quickly found I wasn’t up to that particular book.
A few weeks ago, months after the original conversation, he gave me THE BRIDGE: A JOURNEY BETWEEN ORIENT AND OCCIDENT, by Geert Mak.
THE BRIDGE is a slender little account of life on the Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn in Istanbul. It’s well worth image-searching it: it’s got a car deck and a retail level, is festooned with fishers (whom Mak describes eloquently) and despite being a functional block o’ concrete, manages to convey a little old-World charm. Mak spent some months hanging out with the fishers, the pickpockets, the marginal-stuff vendors of various types and backgrounds, chit-chatting about their politics, their home villages, and their hardships. The book is a documentary about these characters, a little snapshot of the place where Western-leaning Istanbul is connected to the more Eastern-influenced part of the city. It’s a much simpler book than OSMAN’S DREAM, which is a pile of this Caliph, and that Sultan, and then they invaded Mars! OK, not really.
I wasn’t grounded enough in the history, is what I’m saying, and my buddy, with impressive perspicacity, handed me something that’s much simpler, heavy on the atmosphere, and which still manages to convey a sense of an intricate multicultural society, with a capital city that has been full of diversity and compromises for centuries.
It doesn’t get hot here as often or to the degree that it does in much of the U.S., and as a result comparatively few Vancouverites have air conditioning at home. When it’s hot, we turn on the fans, we run our clothes through the rinse cycle and wear them damp, we open the windows, drink iced drinks, and go outside. We sleep badly and swear we’ll get A/C for next year, and some of us actually do. If things keep heating up, everyone will probably install a chiller.
(My house tends to get five to ten degrees hotter than ambient, which is one of many reasons why I didn’t invite a bunch of people I’m meeting with tomorrow to do it here. Melting one’s friends is so gauche!)
Imagine, now, if you had fur! Rumble spends these days lying beside his friend the toilet. I stuck my foot in Minnow, a.k.a. jumpiest cat alive, the other morning, and she did not twitch a bun. And on the one day a couple weeks ago when it was absolutely scorching, I found many of the neighborhood cats snoozing in the shade, lying on lawns, and otherwise keeping cool by just damnwell getting out out. Here’s one:
So, heat. That particular searing day, maybe two weeks ago, K was wrapping up a project at her office and I spent the day in mine, drinking tons of water and sweating like crazy. I find a good bake, once in awhile, to be very gratifying, even healthy-feeling. It was a good day. And since then, it’s been a temperature many would find perfect: hot, but not too.
As we head into this weekend it looks to be heating up a bit more, back into the less comfy range. I probably won’t go out in search of more toasty felines, though–I have that day-long meeting Saturday, a hike with Barb on Sunday morning, and some work that’s crept up on me like one of those cartoon naturalists with a butterfly net. I dealt with as much of the pile as I possibly could today, but I don’t feel as though I’ve got very much think left in me for this evening.
What I do have in me is blueberries. My favorite local farmers have once again set up a booth in the Commercial Skytrain Station, and are selling cherries and blueberries for $2 a pound, or 3 pounds for $5. I shouldn’t be telling you this. I should be keeping it a carefully hoarded secret. I want all the blueberries, which are damn near as big as my thumb, and bursting with archived sunshine. But hiding this information from all of you, when several tens of thousands of commuters stream past these guys all day throwing money at them, would be silly. Go. Eat. They’re delicious.
Slightly related because it touches on my neighborhood and photography, I am thinking of sending a few pictures to the This Is East Van project. It wouldn’t pay, but as far as I can tell they aren’t one of those “you pay us to publish you!” scams that I’m more familiar with from seeing scammers pounce, hyena-like, on young poets. If anyone knows whether these guys are legit, I’d be interested. I haven’t published any photos since I was in some (electronic) Chicago-based Art magazine a few years back. This is because I don’t throw much effort at it. But if these guys aren’t crooks it would be nice to try. You’ve probably all noticed I’m really into my neighborhood, and if you’re not sure on that score, “The Cage” comes out on TOR.COM next week and should remove all doubt.
I will have the next Journey interview for you all early next week. In the meantime, here’s another cat.
The workshop practice of having all the readers speak their piece while the author of a story or book fragment is required to listen quietly is generally accepted. I’ve seen this rule in play at Clarion and Turkey City and literary workshops too, and have heard others refer to them as “Milford” rules. I’m not sure I’ve workshopped anywhere that didn’t have this as a guideline.
Most of us seem to agree that when it’s your writing in the spotlight, the best use of your time is to just pay attention to the crits. Any energy you might spend defending what you were trying to achieve, or explaining things that weren’t clear, or catching the group up on the real life events that inspired your story (“It’s not hard to believe–it’s how it happened!”) is energy that’s better spent on a rewrite.
Where I see more mud and less agreement is in the area of a reader suggesting fixes for a given piece’s problems. There are those who are dead against this: any suggestion from you, the argument goes, is an attempt to rewrite someone else’s story. The answer you’re offering won’t be the right one. If they take your advice, the writer will screw up their story.
How much you get into actively suggesting in a peer workshop may depend on its culture and rules, on how far along the participants are in their writing career, and how well they know each other. I know plenty of people for whom a statement like, “The characterization in this could use some beefing up” would be plenty of feedback. Speaking very generally, though, and as someone who teaches people who are newer to writing, I do believe there are ways to offer concrete suggested fixes without rewriting the author’s work.
In my UCLA courses, where I get to set the rules, I allow writers to suggest specific changes to each other, with the understanding that “Do this to Element X!” is just a different way of highlighting whatever issue you had with that story element. Sometimes it’s clearer, I think, to demonstrate what you think isn’t working when you take a hypothetical bang at fixing it yourself.
So that’s how I go about it–“If you do X,” I’ll say, “then this and that might happen, and maybe we’ll understand why he killed the music teacher.” Sometimes X will be a broad, obviously unworkable suggestion, because the ‘maybe we’ll understand’ is the key to the message.
I suppose I could bend myself into rhetorical pretzels trying to explain how and why I don’t understand or agree with a given writing choice, but often a quick example of how to go about tackling the problem seems to me to be both appropriate and as elegant a way as any to get the idea across.
How about all of you? I’m open to other opinions on this, as always.
In the meantime, here’s a shot from Maplewood Flats that I think is both pretty and soothing:
On Monday morning I was closing up the house when I noticed an especially stunning dragonfly on my grapevine:
Most of my day had been set aside for fun with Kelly–fun of the strolling about taking pictures variety, no less!–so this was an especially welcome visitor. Sometimes dragonflies are quite twitchy, and won’t let you get close. This one sat quite still and let me snap it for about twenty minutes, from all angles and just inches away. It was still there when we left the house.
The rest of the day was spent in self-indulgence. Coffee and a panini first; then we went to Maplewood Flats and ambled around for awhile, admiring the everything. We were particularly taken with some immature robins who were having a go at the berries in a big tree overlooking the beach.
From there we went to Lynn Canyon, puttered across the suspension bridge, and joined a seething mass of humanity on the trail. We didn’t stay long: crowds and day camp groups and many many screaming toddlers didn’t make for a relaxing soundscape. It was neat to go from the salt marsh ecosystem to BC cedar forest, real Emily Carr terrain, in fifteen minutes flat. But the jostling and screeching were aversive; solitude was what we both wanted.
So we fled to Au Petit Chavignol, where we were the only people besides the wait staff. We had a little plate of cheese (including goat gouda with nettles!) and charcuterie, an heirloom tomato salad, some white wine (Joie Farm, A Noble Blend) and a decadent little brown sugar and butter cake with cooked cherries. I managed to shoot it before it got devoured; usually it would come with whipped cream too, but I had them leave that off.
I have to tell you that if they’d brought twice as much of this cake, I’d have finished it. If they’d brought ten times as much of this cake, I’d have finished it. Fifty, even. It was that good.
At that point it was time to go home and loaf within easy reach of our book and DVD collection.
Rather than posting here today, I’d like to direct you all to an article I wrote for Tor.com, on the intersections between magic and technology in urban fantasy and ecofantasy. It is called “Text me that hex, please? Kthxbai!”
The post is another tie-in to the Urban Fantasy spotlight going on at Tor.com this month. It gave me a chance to talk a little about the magical rules underlying Indigo Springs and to look at what some other authors are doing in a few new books, including M.K. Hobson’s incandescent The Native Star, whose book trailer is here:
Native Star Book Trailer
The Urban Fantasy spotlight, as I’ve mentioned, will also be hosting a novelette by me, “The Cage,” within the next week or so.