Listening

It’s summer, and so I’ve started reading The Hobbit to the kids before bedtime. Even the youngest is entranced, her imagination exploding with hobbits and dwarves. I love to read beautiful writing, well-crafted sentences, dramatic passages, poetic phrases. It’s a joy; and as a writer, I try to learn something from the work, even as I say the words aloud to the captive audience of my children.

My parents read to us before bed, and I loved it. As soon as I got to college and learned about author readings, I was entranced! What a joy to hear the words of beloved writers spoken aloud. Similarly, I love audiobooks–to sit or walk or drive and listen as the stories come alive. It feels decadent, because I’m doing none of the work, just listening to the luscious words and watching the pictures in my mind’s eye.

Recently, I’ve been on a short story kick, so I looked up short story anthologies that were available as audiobooks. I wanted to share two that I really enjoyed. The stories are excellent and well-narrated:

The Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, a “super-duper triple issue, comprised ten key selections (most of the contents, actually) of FSF‘s September issue and the forthcoming double October/November issue” 2003. All very different, there are some real gems in those issues, including stories by Gene Wolfe, Joe Haldeman, Terry Bisson, and more.

Naked City, edited by the wonderful Ellen Datlow, includes stories by Peter Beagle, John Crowley, Ellen Kushner, Jeffrey Ford, and so many others. Maybe it’s from growing up in Chicago, but I love stories that feature cities as characters or integral backdrops, and this anthology has a fantastic range of responses to the “naked city.” I enjoyed all of them, but I think my favorite may be Delia Sherman’s “How the Pooka Came to New York City.”

While not a short story, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Neil Gaiman’s newest novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which recently reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List!)

I already had the pleasure of reading the novel (you can read my Goodreads review here), but I was especially looking forward to hearing it read.

If you have attended one of Neil’s readings or listened to an audiobook that he narrated, you quickly get the music of his voice in your head. I think that it gets to the point where you can read the words and hear him there in your mind’s ear, because he is as much a storyteller as he is a writer. In words and performance, he knows how and when to build tension, to make you feel unexpected and conflicting emotions, to surprise you, to scare you, and to create a genuine empathy for characters who come to life in brilliant dialog.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of his finest so far, and I could not wait to hear Neil read it aloud. I was not disappointed. It’s wonderful. If people loved the novel, they will cherish the audiobook, because the intimacy, honesty, and raw nostalgia of this mythic, yet very human, tale are even more compelling when listening to Neil’s reading.

xxo

In the Observarium

Terra Mysterium has performed some of those most engaging and unforgettable shows I’ve ever seen.  Sometimes immersive, sometimes provocative, often playful, and always fantastic, Terra Mysterium draws upon an ancient tradition of ritual theater.  They are fantastic in all senses of the word.

Terra Mysterium, "In the Observvarium." (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography.)
Terra Mysterium, “In the Observarium.”
(Photo by 8 Eyes Photography.)

You may recall the Gene Wolfe Gala from last year, a celebration of Gene’s incredible body of  work and his contribution to the literary landscape of Chicago. Terra Mysterium performed an audio play adapted by Lawrence Santoro of one of Gene Wolfe’s stories, “The Toy Theatre.”

Terra Mysterium with Gene Wolfe at the Fuller Awards.  (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)
Terra Mysterium with Gene Wolfe at the Fuller Awards.
(Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)

Well, Terra Mysterium has released their first music video, “In the Observarium,” which was screened at the open screening night at Chicago Filmmakers last month.

The haunting video is set in one of the most unusually decorated apartments in Chicago and has been getting rave reviews.

Check it out. The song is also available for purchase on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/in-the-observarium-single/id639829989

Full disclosure: My youngest daughter had her onscreen debut as the little girl ghost of Sally Faire in the video. 🙂

Breaking Time

I asked my friend Pat Prather, a talented photographer for 8 Eyes Photography and a brilliant artist, to create a memory board that I could mount in my kitchen. It would be a place to put precious photographs and mementos so that I could see them every day.

Pat Prather's Steampunk/Nouveau Memory Board. (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)
Pat Prather’s Steampunk/Nouveau Memory Board. (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)

Pat created not just a work of art, but a story told through the steampunk sculpture that surrounds the handcrafted frame, a story about a fairy who breaks time so that the memories can remain alive forever. (You can read about his process here.)

Close-up of fairy. (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)
Close-up of fairy. (Photo by 8 Eyes Photography)

I’m nostalgic, increasingly so as I get older. I often think back fondly to people I’ve loved, places I’ve called home, adventures and conversations that have had an impact on me. I’m grateful for them, really grateful for these experiences. They are treasures, and even as I look forward to the future, I am gratitude for everything and everyone who has brought me to this point.

“The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”
― Milan Kundera, Ignorance

I wanted the memory board to be a place to mount those sentimental treasures, and they are frozen there, snapshots into important moments. I’m slowly printing out photographs to affix to the board. Some are obvious choices: the dearest of family and friends. Others inspire, challenge or remind me, like the photograph of Gene Wolfe and me that I added last week.

memoryboard4
Close-up of Pat Prather’s Nouveau/Steampunk Memory Board

On May 7th, I met Gene for lunch to celebrate his 82nd birthday. Each time we meet, we chat about our lives and works in progress. I always enjoy Gene’s stories about writers he’s known, places he’s traveled, stories he’s read–so many memories, so much history. On the drive back to Chicago, I’m often lost in some Gene-inspired reverie or creative provocation.

This time, Gene mentioned an exercise attributed to Benjamin Franklin called “Imitating the Style of the Spectator.” The idea is that a writer should choose a piece of writing by an author he/she admires. After reading it over many times, the writer should hide the original text away and attempt to write the story from memory. Once it’s completed, the writer should refer back to the original and note the differences: the places where he or she forgot a detail, or did not capture the same mood or character, or had trouble with dialogue, and so on.

Gene did the exercise early on in his writing career with one of his favorite Lord Dunsany stories, The Assignation. He explained that there is much to be learned by studying the craft of the masters.

He’s right, of course. Gene Wolfe is a Master. This weekend,Gene Wolfe will be honored by the SFWA with the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for his contribution to the literature of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  I am grateful for lessons I’ve learned not just from his writing, but from his friendship.

Just below the photo of Gene and me is a photograph taken from last year’s Fuller Awards to honor Gene Wolfe. That one has a group of people who are both dear and an inspiration. They each inspire me in their own way: to keep writing, to strive for excellence, to learn from the examples of the past, to connect with others. That night was one of those important moments in my life, a night to remember.

Unlike Pat’s fairy, we cannot break time (except in stories). Time will continue with or without us.

But I find that nostalgia can work like a touchstone. Memory and nostalgia motivate me to reach for the stars, to step into the chaos of creativity, knowing that I am grounded in the past and am part of a continuum that stretches backward and forward in time. Just like Gene’s exercise about writing from memory, there’s much to be learned from the intersection of what is and what is remembered.