Saturday, October 31, 2009

Second Skin

Once upon a time, I was a pirate, a cowboy, a knight in shining armor, a werewolf, Spiderman, and even a Gary Carter baseball card. And I didn’t just dress up for Halloween. I really dug costumes. At home, I reenacted the Star Wars Cantina scene playing John William’s album full blast. I liked to pretend I was Walrus Man, never Greedo. Greedo got blown away by Solo. I wasn’t a dummy.

I wore a costume to my first Broadway show, Dracula, starring Raúl Juliá. I was five and I donned a cap to the performance. My parents took me to Sardi’s for a snack before the show. When I made my grand entrance into Sardi’s, plastic-fanged, slick-haired, and cape-clad the captain announced, “The count has arrived.”

The whole restaurant set its eyes on me. I grabbed part of my cape to hide my mouth not because I was scared, but because I was a real ham. Know anybody else with the theater bug so early on in life? I really should have been an actor.

Naturally, whenever Halloween arrived I was excited about playing a new part. I wore two different costumes, one for the daytime and one for nighttime. After school, I went trick-or-treating in The Forest Hills Gardens, my neighborhood. Some of the houses had the spirit, cobwebs strewn through the hedges, a plethora of skeletons dancing in the window, fresh-cut jack-o-lanterns. There was none of this storefront candy-begging although the first threat of tampering was making news.

We tended to go to the same houses each year and at night I went in my building. That’s when I put on a second skin. Mom didn’t always have to make two. Sometimes I appropriated a store-bought-job, other times I recycled from previous years. My costumes took up a good deal of space in my toy chest.

Spiderman was my favorite. I really enjoyed slipping into his character though I regretted not having true web-slinging abilities. What especially resonated with me and sometimes weirded me out was the fact that Peter Parker, Spidey’s Alter Ego, grew up in Forest Hills, my neighborhood. He was a science whiz, had tendencies toward being a loner, and is probably the most sensitive Super Hero. When I skimmed through the comic and studied Stan Lee’s sketches I wanted to tread the same ground.

Even though he was hands down may favorite I didn’t wear his getup every year. I reserved it more for private time. I don’t think I liked the way I saw some people gaping at me when I wore his outfit, especially on those cold Halloweens when my mom made me wear a jacket. It didn’t seem right to cover up Spidey’s second skin. And I didn’t like wearing his outfit in the building because my neighbor’s saw me with my dad and naturally this would betray the Spiderman identity.

So you can see my little conundrum.

I guess maybe I took my play life too seriously, but the strange coincidence of my favorite Super Hero living in my neighborhood brought me my first superstition. And it happened during a critical imprinting phase, my youth. To compensate, to quell this little bugger I ate lots Snickers, Mr. Goodbar, Milk Duds, Goobers, whatever was in my goody bag. I wore different skins, twice each Halloween, and other days until I got it out of my system.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Interview with Katherine Gilraine

Today my special guest is Katherine Gilraine, author of the The Index Series a dazzling fantasy novel.

JG) Katherine, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with Paper Cut.

KG) Thanks for having me here.

JG) I'm sure my readers are interested in knowing about your creative process. What's it like?

KG) For the lack of a better word, random. Highly, highly random. I can be walking down the street, or be at work, or knit something and notice that it would be great if I wrote this down and spiced it up a little. Usually, that's exactly what I end up doing. Usually, I end up writing completely at random and baste the scenery together.

JG)Love the way you sneak a choice cooking word in there, baste. Mind if I borrow it?

KG) It's recyclable.

JG)How long did it take you to write the Index Series? How did you come up with the title?

KG) The Index has been named by a friend of mine, actually, and very inadvertently. He was working on a screenplay and had been tossing titles around, so we ended up bantering about what to rename my series as well as his screenplay. The Index seemed to be most fitting.

It took me about the better part of two months to finish out the first draft of Book 1. NaNo 2006 was responsible for about the first twelve chapters, but after I claimed the win, the story was effectively writing itself. I let it write itself to completion. I finished it out about a week before Christmas 2006.

JG)How are book sales going? Marketing? Is anybody helping you with getting the word out there?

KG)Sales are slow, but the word is slowly getting out there. Marketing, though, is going fantastic - also in a huge part thanks to NaNoWriMo. I really have to thank my friends, though, because they were and still are instrumental in story development. A talented journalist I know, Miss Lisa Basile, had crafted a press release and is working on distribution. So only a few people have directed my own marketing efforts - business cards, blogs, website.

JG)Where can I get a copy of your book?

KG) - as well as on Amazon. I am working on the bookstores as well!

JG)I understand that you hold a regular job in addition to your writing and you also manage a jazz band, what's that like?

KG) It's definitely an exercise in time management! My regular job is wonderful as far as letting me have a "writing break" between work-related tasks, so I usually take about 5-10 minutes at a time to quickly type a something up, and write over my lunch break as well. After hours, I generally stay at the office and multitask my writing with booking calls. The band had actually been there from the conception to publication stage, since I wrote and edited during most of their shows...earned me a lot of points from those guys, but they're fantastic and I love booking for them. Overall, I try to do as much as I can and manage my time to the best of my ability.

JG)With all the things you are juggling how do you get things done? What's your game plan?

KG) In a single My game plan is to focus on the here and now and crank as much as I can to the best of my capacity - I can plan the future until the future arrives, but if I don't act, I will still be exactly where I started. Nothing ventured is nothing gained.

JG)What books do you like to read?

KG)I'm a sucker for history - period history had been a recent fascination and I did a lot of Tudor/Elizabethan era reading; learned a lot about society structure of the yesteryear, so to speak. I am also a major, major fan of true crime, and to be specific, unsolved mysteries. I love solving puzzles; which is why I'm pulled to things that people now either don't think about or just can't figure out.

JG)Who are your favorite authors?

KG)Hands down - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You can go far and wide, but you can never compare to the original sleuth, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

JG)How long have you been writing?

KG)Truthfully - all my life. When I was a kid, I would do poetry, short stories, various derivative fiction based on classic adventure books. Mostly, I'd just keep a journal, put my thoughts on paper before I got my own comp. Nearly every day involved some form of words being put together into something.

JG)I know you are active in NANO. How many times have you participated? What's it like? And how has it helped your writing?

KG)This will be my fourth year and I credit NaNo fully in being the catalyst I needed to go forward with publishing. Every writer needs some sort of a deadline and without NaNo, I severely doubt that I would have written Book 1, or its follow-ups. Writing on a deadline pushes the creative capacity to the absolute limit in a way that very few things can replicate and it's a great way to lay out the bare bones of the story. The touch-ups are for the editing phase.

JG)Do you have any upcoming readings? Where?

KG)Not at this moment, but I'm hoping!

JG)Share anything else you'd like to about the craft of writing.

KG)I mentioned a saying, that I actually incorporated as a personal motto: Nothing ventured is nothing gained. I see a myriad of authors for NaNo with some seriously amazing manuscripts who never go forward with getting them out there. And I tell them: venture. Even if it will be tough, next to impossible to garner attention to your work - put it out there. Venture. Because there is always going to be a reader, there is always going to be someone who will love it and be inspired by it. For every author, there is bound to be a reader.

JG)What is your next project? Have you begun a new novel?

KG) The Index is my pet project for life, for all I know! The story and the series really began to write themselves after I wrapped up NaNo 2008 (Book 3). The characters' stories are ever-continuing and this year will be Book 4 - the final book of the first arc. The second arc is going to be another story, for sure.
My next big project, however, involves the band. I want to do well on booking them and I'm working for a few places that may be a good fit for their talent. They're a fantastic bunch, really - and who knows, I may well not be the only person that can edit a book at a jazz show!

JG) Well, I want to thank you once again for visiting my home away from home. You've been a fabulous guest. And I'm sure we all will be hearing a lot more from you and The Index Series in the future.

KG) Thanks again.

Check out Katherine's website for The Index Series

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Behind The Book

I want to go on record as saying that the gift of reading is probably the greatest gift a child can receive. It's something taken for granted, but life-changing. When I heard Martha Southgate say she'd met with a young man who had told her that "Third Girl From The Left" (her novel) was the first book he had ever read I was moved.

How lucky that young man was, how lucky the writer for giving a priceless gift, the love of words.

There's something called Butterfly Theory that says the simple flutter of a single butterfly's wing can change the world. It sounds too phenomenal, bordering on preposterous, in fact its almost maudlin in its sense of careless hope.

How much impact can we make on one person's life? And how would we measure it? So many people need so much help it's overwhelming. There's poverty, illness, gross violation of the soul. How can teaching a child to read matter so much?

Well, it's simple really. This small gesture opens a young mind, bridges the gap between what is impossible to what is possible. It takes great effort and discipline. It's almost biblical teaching a child to fish instead of giving the child the fish, yet the irony here is that the reader cannot read without a book.

Pardon my slippery sense of allegory there is indeed a point. I've come to know Behind the Book for a few years and have seen some readings, attended a function or two, and seen some of these extraordinary people at work. They're goal is simple to teach the young to read, but what is so challenging is getting the necessary materials, the books, to the classrooms. Sounds hard to believe, but in today's world with so much corporate and bureaucratic irresponsibility where time and again bailouts go to the deepest pockets while the smallest pockets stay empty pockets. Children suffer.

There are schools who seriously need to beg for books. That is a crime. It's unconscionable. Behind the Book has done something at a critical juncture. While they are not a new kid on the block, they've been around since the Spring of 2003, what they do is heroic. They offer books, they offer time. They put the authors, whose books have been donated, in the classrooms to get kids excited about reading.

Jo Umans is the founder and fearless leader of Behind the Book. She gathered the idea for her organization while serving as a part-time librarian in her sons private school. She saw how excited students reacted to the guest authors as the writers read their words aloud. A kind of magic unfurled. This, she figured, could take place in the NY City public schools if the resources and the right people worked together.

If you peruse the list of authors on their roster you will be amazed at all the support for this fabulous organization. Francine Prose, Myla Goldberg, Jennifer Egan, A.M Holmes, Colum McCann, Rick Moody, Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Lethem, and on and on and on.

It's about cultivating a lifetime love of books.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guilty Movie Pleasures

Guess I am in one of those bonky moods. I feel compelled to share a top ten list of guilty movie pleasures. Usually, I pride myself on being this film dweeb who is a snob about everything from cinematography, shot-tracking, dialogue, narrative arc, fade-ins, segues, leitmotif and all this other spiffy stuff, but I'm going sweep that under the straw mat- for today anyway.

1) Rocky IV (the soundtrack rocks and I love that awesome Drago line You vill looose)
2) Wedding Singer (great cheesy flick. Love the scene where all hell breaks loose and the father-of-the bride bites Sandler's leg. Love Steve Buscemi's wedding toast "What were they again oh, yeah hookers)
3) Devil Wears Prada (Guys don't admit to liking it. Love Ann Hathaway. Tucci has all the best lines.)
4) Dirty Dancing ("Nobody puts baby in a corner." R.I.P Patrick.
5) Breakfast Club (Allie Sheedy's response to Judd Nelson's sex question: I'm a nymphomaniac. I'm a compulsive liar)
6)Selena (The late, great tejano star, played by a stunning J-lo. "I would do anything for S-E-L-E-N-A-S")
7)Goodfellas (Can't get enough of it. "Funny, funny how! Am I hear to amuse you?")
8)Sideways (How can any wino not love this. "I'm not drinking any Merlot.")
9)American Splendor (Love Paul Giamatti. I think he's the cat's pajamas. They should post his pic on a box of Cheerios.)
10)Bad News Bears (The Original with Walter Matthau. Nothing better than that Buttercrud, lush and Tatum O'neil playing catch.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ommegang's Three Philosophers

Cooperstown is known for the baseball Hall of Fame, but it also happens to make some great beers too.

Ommegang Brewery, part of the Duvel Belgian empire, is domiciled out there. Great hoppy brew. The one I've been fond of is the Abbey Ale. Tastes like a Trappist treat. Its fruity, nutty, has medium-plus body and is a perfect pair with cheese that bites back.

Recently,I had their Three Philosophers, which is also tangy and tasty. After a big swill your mouth feels like its sucking on fine Ecuadorian cacao with a touch of roasted chestnuts.

If I was forced to say what Three Philosophers this beer brought to mind I'd have to say Kierkegaard, Dewey, and Mo from the Simpson's. I think you'll find it as good good, maybe even better than Chimay's Blue label. Though I've loved that gnarly Belgian in the past my taste buds have been undergoing a transformation lately.

Drink it with a bowl full of nuts and Camembert.

Monday, October 26, 2009

'86 World Series with My Dad

Since it’s that time of year I feel it is fitting to write about the Fall Baseball Classic. This is not a scoop on whether the Yankees or the Phillies will take this year’s World Series nor do I wish to rehash the playoffs. Instead, I would like to share an incredible memory from childhood, the time my dad brought me to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

If you’re a baseball fan you can recall the drama of that particular game. Redsox fans were sure they had it in the bag with their Rocket on the mound, and quite frankly, the Mets were floundering on the field and at the plate.

The whole complexion of the game changed on a routine-hit-grounder, through the legs of Bill Buckner, (a lifetime .300 hitter) who would unfortunately be known as a goat for the rest of his ballplaying life.

As unbelievable a game as it was there’s a part of my memory that trumps the whole game and the 56,000 crazy Mets’ fans waving foam thumbs, blaring horns, screaming their voice boxes into laryngitis. The most amazing thing about that night was that my dad and I rebuilt a bond that was slowing slipping away.

We didn’t have a ticket for the game. Okay, so you’ve probably bought a scalped ticket at some point in your life: rock concert, charity ball, maybe a football game. This is not that story. We didn’t have tickets and we didn’t buy any. Got me so far? We didn’t sneak in either. My dad simply flashed an usher his fireman’s badge, and the old timer let us pass the gate. It was the greatest magic trick I had ever witnessed, and my dad’s full hazel eyes gleamed with triumph. When I think of it now it’s like a gateway to the past, his beaming joy that moment we made our way in the stadium must have been the same joy he’d experienced going to a ballgame with his dad. But, maybe that’s even a lame comparison because he set a new spark for us, kept us from drifting apart, at least for the magical night.

I think it’s worth mentioning that I was a 12-year-old twerp, who’d been passed the solipsist’s gene from some distant relation. On the twerp-scale, I ranked in the highest percentiles for complaining, whining, nagging, and demanding. “Get me popcorn, get me a soda, get me another hotdog.” I’ve never been a true fan. I love the game of baseball, but I’m the consummate analyst and sometimes prefer reviewing scorecards then actually watching games. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it is what it is.

My dad had to slap the scorecard shut just so I wouldn’t miss a homerun. He must have felt the lost grip he’d had on me. I had already drifted into a pre-teen haze replete with non-stop gaga over pop music, girls, and the mother of all pipedreams that I’d trod the wet dirt of Shea Stadium’s infield, as their future star third baseman. This last point, this hope was one he shared with me, but that too was slowly ebbing as I found less time to take practice swings.

None of this was going to ruin the night. Dad held his badge in high esteem. He was a member of a grand brotherhood, men from a bygone generation willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, their community, their sons. When I saw my dad pull out the last of his bills from his wallet, to get me another dog and Coke, I caught glimpse of his badge, shining in the moonlight. I noticed the right side was dented. It reminded me of his helmet which was partially melted from the excruciating heat of the fires he fought.

His badge poked out of his wallet like a Crackerjack prize. I asked him if I could hold it, and the expression on my dad’s face was pure pride. He put it in my hand. It was surprisingly warm and it made my fingers smell like a thousand nickels. It was unvarnished, plenty of nicks by the ladder company number, but when a bit of moonlight kissed the brass it glowed like a piece of King Tut’s tomb.

We watched the game, huddled in our pullovers, hands stuffed in pockets with a gentle whisk of wind blowing the wisps of hair behind our caps. For a brief moment we were invincible.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem

At the reading last night, Lethem dispels a haggler who lambastes him for talking ill about Russians by saying "For the paperback, I'll say a few bad things about the Chinese." Lethem has a reputation for being an equal-opportunity-satirist, it's his specialty. He also knows something about scribing kickass prose.

I became I disciple after I read Motherless Brooklyn. I remember going on a junket with a couple of droogies of mine and passing by the Gowanus and saying hey that's where Lionel Essrog tread. Then The Fortress of Solitude became a must read for me. Lethem spins a story of Brooklyn that's full of grittiness and whimsy. How the hell does he do it? Well, he's a King's County man for one and he's an urban anthropologist if this city ever had one.

Chronic City is his latest baby. And it's a beaut. Chronic, just so you know, is top-of-the-line pot, the good shit, the antithesis of schwag. Chase, the former child star, Upper East Side dinner party fixture pals around with Perkus Tooth an oddball highbrow cultural savant. Perkus has this ferocious ability to think elliptically-- he doesn't even know when his synapses clank onto their prescient discoveries.

Chase and Perkus get into some mischief and whatnot. There's a lot of choice verbal barbing. Chase is also in a relationship with a female astronaut who pens letters from outer space. I've seen some critics comment that this book seems more Pynchonian than his earlier works. I see Jonathan Lethem busting out identifying with his Chronic-juked Chase.

The Brooklynite plans to read a different chapter at each of his readings so you could listen to his whole book. In a recession like this, that's a sweet deal on his part. Trouble is you'd have to get yourself to all his events. He got the idea while he was chilling out with some pals in Maine before the novel went into print. Instead of reading to himself, whereupon he might've sluffed through slow parts he put his performance voice in high gear and swigged lot's of honeyed tea.

If you don't feel like pawning yourself as a book groupie or plunking down for the lit gem then I suggest catching a bit of him on podcast. Oh yeah, and Wall Street Journal actually offered a free excerpt. What up with that?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Good Rejection

I've been meaning to do one of these posts for a while now. After you're a published author it doesn't get any easier. You still get rejected. Lately I've taken my lumps from independent bookstores, publishers, journals, newspapers and magazines trying to build the buzz, I've even gotten rejected from a few fine chicas hitting on them (what else is new) even though I showed them an excerpt of my novel and blurbs about me on my Blackberry.

So what do you do? Grin and bear it.

Yesterday I got my umpteenth rejection from Pindeldyboz, a pretty solid lit journal. I've been sending to them for 5 years now. Pretty much anything I send them comes back with comments. Mostly praise. I hate form rejections. I only think they gave me one of those, three years ago. But, they've become increasingly more positive over time. In fact, yesterday's letter seemed like a glowing review. The editor in question, since I'm dropping a name this time, actually apologized for passing on it. He wanted the story to turn out somehow differently. I think my ending was a real bummer for him.

This begs a different kind of question. How does a bummer story earn a rave review? Through a twist of Bizarro logic I suppose. I'm not one-hundred percent sure. What I do know is that I will be on Pindeldyboz pronto and sending another story their way. Maybe this time a personal essay. I think I am starting to get the hang of that.

I have a special request. Send your own story out to them. They are a fine journal and publish both in print and online so you don't have to worry about throwing out the journal and never again being able to live onto literary immortality. If you happen to get lucky let me know maybe I can ride your coattail.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Interview with Maria Rachel Hooley

Today my guest is writer Maria Rachel Hooley, author of New Life Incorporated, When Angels Cry, & The Sojourner series.

JG: Maria, thank you so much for taking the time to share your writing experience with us.

MH: It’s my pleasure.

JG: You’ve written 20 books. Tell us a little about your creative process.

MH: I've been writing most of my life, and I think over time the process has definitely gotten a lot easier. Perhaps as writers, we not only grow into our own style, so to speak, but also our own 'skin' the longer we do this. I don't start a project thinking of a specific genre. It typically starts with character and the rest develops around that, which is why I write in so many genres. The process I typically use is what is called The Snowflake Method because it starts with one of the hardest things to write--a one sentence pitch about the whole novel. Then the steps gradually expand until the novel is plotted, and the writing begins. It is awesome for developing conflict and making sure all threads of the story are tied together.

JG: My readers would love to know how you market your books.

MH: Marketing is tough, especially for self-published authors, but there are so many different places online which can help you establish your platform and get your name out there. I have a Wordpress blog and I also have a website. I also have an Author Central page with Amazon. In addition to these, I also frequent,, and others. One of the good aspects of marketing as an independent author is that a lot of readers take a more active approach, and a lot of the online social and marketing sites are geared toward this. One thing I will say that made it easier for me is that over the years I've built a strong publishing history with poetry and other shorter forms.

JG: How has your writing evolved over time?

MH: I think the biggest thing that helped my writing evolve is poetry. It's one thing to have the basics down, but learning how to use images really transformed my style. I can definitely see a huge difference in the first five novels I wrote and those which came after because that's about the time I started to really hone my poetry skills.

Aside from that, overall, I think the writing is a lot cleaner and tighter. While my writing has always been about characters first, I think my Achilles' heel, description and setting, is finally getting closer to where I want it.

JG: Byline is an impressive journal that does short stories, poems essays, how is Carolyn Wall as an editor?

MH: I really can’t say much about Carolyn Wall because she was not the editor in question when I had the non-fiction piece about greeting cards published. The editor I worked with was Marcia Preston, and Marcia was very good. She had a specific direction she wanted the piece to go and gave great suggestions. I do know that Carolyn is a member of OWFI and I've heard really wonderful things about her.

JG: What books do you like to read?

MH: I really love fantasy and historical fiction. I think the common element is the feeling that a journey is involved.

JG: How do you divide your time between family and writing life, do you have a routine?

MH: As far as dividing my time between writing and family, it's really a juggling act. There's a whole lot of things that vie for my time, from my job as a high school English teacher, to my adjunct job of teaching remedial English classes at a local university. I don't really have a schedule because there are so many expectations, but for me, writing is rather like an addiction. I'm always doing it. If I have fifteen minutes, I'm in the story and writing. I don't wait for huge chunks of time because that might not happen. I tend to write every day, but I never know quite when I'll be doing the actual writing from day to day.

JG: What's the literary community like in Oklahoma?

MH: I know that Oklahoma does have some wonderful writers, and there are several different kinds of events, from literary festivals to writers’ conferences, to poetry readings and more where artists can find a great place to share their craft.

JG: Do you belong to any writing groups or workshops?

MH: I do belong to the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. I have belonged to OKRWA, Oklahoma's RWA chapter. I also participate in The Scissortail Festival in Ada, among others.

JG: Have you hosted any events?

MH: I have never hosted any of the workshops. I have acted as a judge or category coordinator in different writing contests, typically in poetry, but I've also judged scripts.

JG: What are your thoughts on writing workshops?

MH: Writing workshops are valuable for numerous reasons. For a beginning writer, there's lots of information on writing and submitting that will help. For writers who are more experienced, you meet a lot of contacts there, and sometimes that makes a huge difference in opening doors. For a published writer, workshops and conferences can provide places to meet readers and places to sell books, as well as making new contacts.

JG: Favorite books, authors
MH: I love Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, and Ariel by Steven Boyett.

JG: Would you say you've had an a-ha moment as a writer?

MH: I think the biggest a-ha moment was when I entered a writing contest with two different entries, and both judges made the same comment: I was working through personal issues. I consider this an a-ha moment because both pieces were completely fictional. There wasn't a shred of reality in them, yet my words had made the judges believe I had submitted something real. At that moment I knew I wanted to keep writing because I knew I could possibly make a difference with the reality I created.

JG: Here's a silly question: I see you use Wordpress. Did you ever use blogger? Do you have a preference?

MH: I've thought about looking into blogger but because my days are so swamped, I just haven't done it. I don't really like how the widgets work with Wordpress, and I couldn't get the fReado widget to work at all.

JG: What are you working on now?

MH: My current project is a science fiction thriller called Eternity Systems. It focuses on a homicide detective investigating a string of brutal murders tied to a virtual reality corporation called Eternity Systems, a company made famous by its claim that even the dead don't stay dead in virtual reality. Yet now living women are being stalked and killed as victims to feed a serial killer's depraved desires in his own virtual reality.

JG: What is next project?

MH: The next project will probably be a second YA urban fantasy in my Dreamwalker series which deals with a teenage girl whose dreams now affect her waking life in the form of supernatural creatures seeking to destroy her.

Maria Rachel Hooley is the author of 20 novels and most recently Sojourner and When Angels Cry. Below you will find blurbs on both her new books.
Check out her website at

Sojourner (YA urban fantasy)
Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Moon has been dreaming of her murder her entire life, and in those dreams, a dark presence is there, watching. When she returns home to Hauser's Landing, the very place her father disappeared, she comes in contact with a gorgeous boy named Lev Walker, and it's not long before she's falling in love. But there's something wrong with Lev. When she realizes he's the eerie watcher in her dreams, she'll have to discover the truth. Is he a guardian angel or a sojourner, an angel of death who has come to collect her soul?

When Angels Cry (women's fiction)
Kaylee Renard has never taken the time for love. Independence and financial security have always been top priority. Besides, she believed there will be time for a relationship later, when she can fit it in. In light of a terminal cancer diagnosis, however, her views change, and when Kaylee passes out and falls into a pond, Bastian Connelly, alone and suicidal, goes in after her, hoping that in trying to save Kaylee's life, he will end his own. But life isn't done with Bastian, and neither is love. As Kaylee comes to love him, she wonders what she's missed and seeks to find whatever gifts fate might grant her.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Red Balloon

As a child I was very fond of The Red Balloon. I guess I had that glorious mix of Curious George and Lewis and Clarke. I loved adventure and mischief. I found the story intoxicating. The librarian from my local branch read the story for us, a clutch of eager Indian-seated kindergartners. I didn’t actually see Lamorisse’s film version until a bit later so I concocted my own image of the boy in earnest pursuit of his red balloon.

Did I know a darn thing about ulterior motives and bunko artists— husbands who’d Wife Swap just to get their pasty mugs on the tube. I must admit I was much to inchoate to know such things. Thank goodness. But, I’m not going into “Balloon Boy”. My memory of The Red Balloon is too special to sully it with a dead-on comparison.

I was a tad over five when I went to the local branch for story time. Ms. Bellamy lulled us with her tender voice and her gift of assonance. She looked up as she read off the page. She’d catch you open-mouthed listening to every word she uttered. I had the princely feeling she was only reading to me, but of course the room was full of other eager ears.

Ms. Bellamy had proffered my first library card a lilywhite, partially perforated paper rectangle that I kept on top of my sock drawer. Babar, Curious George, Lyle Crocodile, and The Red Balloon were all of my original loaners. The books had a peculiar, but dizzying smell of parchment and warm bread. I was nourished by that first delightful panoply of words. Most of all I loved being read to, and unfortunately it would take quite a while before I had the boundless appreciation to read to myself.

Maybe as an only child I wanted the company of a cherubic reader like Ms. Bellamy. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t carry on myself. I could busy myself with Legos and Girder Panels. I had the making of a city planner both from antiquity erecting pyramids and also in a forward-thinking quasi Frank Gehry sense.

I was very sad when the Parisian bullies destroyed Pascal’s balloon. I think it caused my first hiccup and I couldn’t watch the same scene the second time. I guess seeing that brutality may have contributed to my fictive bend as I tried to give Pascal, a new beginning. I also found it magical, but terrifying he could ride a hot-aired balloon. Back then, I was still afraid of heights.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Coke is it!

For a long while I’ve wanted to do my own Cola comparison. I’m a sommelier for crying out loud I should be able to spout off about any type of beverage. You pick wine notes from anywhere: Decanter, Wine Spectator, Wine News, peruse through Michael Broadbent comments and you’ll see Bordeaux with a tang of cola. I love it.

Well, the truth is I was born and bred on the stuff. I remember going to family gatherings at my cousin Janine and Jackie’s and drinking cup from Styrofoam cups, shindigs at Uncle Gene’s where I practically inhaled the caffeinated jewel from the can. Okay, so with what you know so far does that make you want to think twice about my palate? Hey, Oz Clarke recalls with reckless ebullience the time he swigged Mouton Rothschild from a Dixie cup, in a parking lot no less. Now you’re talking.
It’s the antithesis of serious imbibing and that’s what makes it off-the-hook. I pledge this and my membership to the American Sommelier Association, my certification to Wine and Spirit Education Trust, and all the hours I’ve logged in consulting collectors— I’m the real deal when it comes to judging beverages.

Let me also say I have a tremendous penchant for Peru’s Golden Cola— Inca Cola— it’s surreal. The ne plus ultra cola experience. It’s made from Guarana fruit which comes from South America and has a particularly high level of caffeine-potency. It’s like pineapple, meets passion fruit to the ninth power. It got me over a cold recently. Banged out 75 pushups like water for chocolate.

But, if I can’t have my Inca Cola I usually gravitate toward Coke— the American version. Moroccan which I’ve had with my buddy Christian back when we were in Marrakesh is good, but will rot the teeth out of your moth if you drink the whole bottle. It’s that sweet. Mexican Coke isn’t bad, but it has this lingering peppery quality to it. I kid you not and reminds me a little bit like Royal Crown Cola which I used to be very fond of.

As a kid, I also liked CC and Cola the cheapie you got by the gross at Waldbaums. That stuff tasted like liquid fun dip. The Technicolor sugar dust from just about any candy store.

Now Pepsi always makes me the most thirsty after I drink it. Can really hardly do more than a twelve-ounce can and I usually don’t finish it.

Zero had me hooked for a bit, but it just doesn’t have the je ne sais quoi of Classic Coke. What can I say I’m a classic kind of guy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Build a Better Bookshelf

What do you put on your virtual bookshelf? It’s a fair question. A lot of what is sitting on my real bookshelf is collecting dust. Some books, I’m embarrassed to admit, have gone unread. I have this terrible habit of taking stuff out of the library. I also like to read at bookstores. If I bought all the books I intended to read I’d put myself into a deeper financial hole than I’m already in. But, buying books is not like buying outfits. If you don’t wear that cerulean blue Johnny collar top this season you better give away the next.

You might have heard of Shelfari. It’s an online book lover’s paradise where you flaunt the virtual libraries you’ve put together for yourself. Some are mega eclectic. Some aren’t, but if you look around you will find others who share similar book tastes. You will also stumble upon things you’ve never heard of. You’ll find those who have anointed themselves with a qualified opinion on good reads. Take it with a grain of salt, tune in with keen ears, do what works best for you.

I look at it as another kind of burden for myself because I can’t seem to get my real-life bookcase into respectable order. Actually, I have a section of books I’ve traded with friends and colleagues. For some reason this keeps growing. It’s almost as bad as abusing the library except I don’t get hit with any fees unless you consider threats of bodily harm.

This year I really don’t want any physical presents for the holidays. I don’t even want books. I want somebody to help me organize what I already have and find out the most efficient way to give back all my loaner materials.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Guest Blog by Nannette Croce

(I'd like to welcome my friend the distinguished writer and editor Nannette Croce to Paper Cut. She is the founder and publisher of Zine Writer and will be guest blogging today on the changing face of the literary journals.)

Online Publishing at the Crossroads

When I started working with online publications at the end of the last century (that term still has me thinking horse & carriage), zine credits didn’t count much, if at all, when submitting to print. The literary cognoscenti equated the relative ease of starting an online publication, the primitive appearance of early websites, and the fact that most zines didn’t pay (now most print pubs don’t pay either) with being less selective.

In fact, many zines like The Rose & Thorn that started publishing in 1997 were already receiving more than enough submissions to choose only the best. At the same time the lack of competition from well-credentialed and (back then, less ubiquitous) MFA grads, made the Internet fertile ground for new skilled writers who, after years of rejection, just wanted their work to appear somewhere––anywhere––it could be read. And once past the “stigma” of having to publish online, those writers realized the distinct advantages it provided over print.

Once that piece had appeared in the current issue, it wouldn’t be dumped in the trash by everyone but the writer and his Mom; it would be archived online for people to read in years to come and where it could be linked to from a website. Publishing online provided an online presence so contacts could Google a writer’s name and find samples of her work. But by far the greatest advantage was that as more and more people started spending more and more of their time online, zines reached more readers in varying parts of the world than all but the biggest print publications.

It wasn’t long before credentialed writers began to catch on. While exclusively online literary zines still weren’t getting submissions from the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, in my last couple of years working with The Rose & Thorn, we did receive many submissions from writers with credits from the “better” print journals. By then, though, it had become the credo of most zines to remain open to new writers and to ignore credentials when reviewing submissions. (My current employer Sotto Voce attaches no names or bios to work under review.) Other characteristics specific to zines were accepting different genres and requiring a good story with good characters in addition to the well-crafted sentences and killer similes that seemed to take priority in most print journals.

Hence, for a short time, online publishing became the most perfect of worlds. Zines (though many dropped the old connotations of that term for “online journals”) had come to be considered valuable writing credits, while, at the same time, maintaining that level playing field where new and experienced writers competed solely on the quality of their writing.

Enter the big guns. It was just a matter of time before the big name print journals, facing a dwindling readership and difficult financial times, would see the benefits of publishing online. Many venerable print journals like The Kenyon Review and Agni now publish online counterparts. Magazines like Narrative have a mainly online presence with the print version being secondary. Narrative has brought to the web the afore mentioned Ms. Oates and other names like Rick Bass, Lorrie Moore, Robert Olen Butler, etc., etc.

This transition to where everyone will be publishing online has brought Internet publishing to a crossroads. Will these former print journals impose their hierarchy on the egalitarian web and relegate the online pioneers to where they were a decade ago, or will everyone have to open up to a broad range of writers and subjects? This will depend on readers and writers.

Readers vote with their clicks and every online journal I’ve been associated with received literally tens of thousands of page views per month. This would imply that people are reading online who never picked up a print journal. It’s hard to imagine that these people were biding their time waiting for Agni to come online.

Writers need to decide how important it is to appear in those “big names.” If tens of thousands of people read your work and it appears in a journal you respect, does it matter if the contributors’ names are Alice Munro and Rick Bass?

Only time will tell.

Nannette Croce was formerly Co-Managing Editor at The Rose & Thorn and is currently Assistant Fiction Editor for Sotto Voce. Her work has appeared in various online and print journals including The Rose & Thorn, Sotto Voce, The Writers Post Journal, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her blogs are zine writer insider tips for getting your work published online and cross reference a book review blog (where she recently reviewed Shades of Luz She also runs CROSSxCHECKING an editing and critiquing service.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Give Me The Pulitzer For Flash Fiction

I want to win the Pulitzer Prize for the best first chapter I’ve written. If I’ve bagged the great literary award then I can get down to business and write the Great American Novel. Naturally, the follow-up chapters will have to be as amazing as the first. Does this sound nuts? A bit over the top. There already is a James Jones Fellowship for a first novel-in-progress which means that you must connect on your first try. Stellar sophomore efforts need not apply; although Glimmertrain has just begun a fiction contest for the best start of a short story. And why not? Why shouldn’t creative writing earn accolades for best intentions and for great potential? Obama has won the Noble Peace Prize even though the time bomb is still ticking. Okay, so I’ve switched gears and jumped to politics from creative writing. I’m driving at a bigger point here.

I think a lot of people are stunned about the whole Nobel Prize thing. I think writers were shocked when Herta Mueller won the Noble Prize for Literature a few days ago, but this business of giving the Peace Prize for unfinished business isn’t just a case of being premature or overly optimistic. It’s irresponsible. It puts an enormous amount of pressure on the president. And let’s say he is able to resolve the global balance of power struggle what then? Will he win another Noble Prize as a bookend?

Has the need to create a utopian image trumped the need to create a utopia? How far do we go with this? If peace is the goal then shouldn't, at least, a semblance it be reached.

To me the committee seemed not to put the cart before the horse, but to have committed a fallacy of slippery slope. They've set a bendable precedent. And in the long-run that only shakes heads, not hands.

I fear that there is such a need to get things done in a general sense that we often leave things undone. It’s one thing to put your soul into something and fail at it. Samuel Beckett said it best when he said, “Ever tried? Ever failed? No Matter, try again, fail again, Fail better.” But, when one hasn’t toiled, hasn’t labored in the truest sense one hasn’t completed one’s mission.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Curating the Dinner Party

At the Opium Live launch Todd Zuniga asked Anya Ulinich what dead writers she'd have over for dinner. She picked Nabokov and Grace Paley. Two great choices if you asked me and they could counterpoint for the other.

My mom always liked to play this game at gatherings. She didn't frame the question what writers she'd ask over to dine, but what people? Coco Chanel, the Mahatma, Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill. Okay, so sometimes a literary luminary popped onto the list. My mom has always been very fond of Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle.

Some people aren't into these games. Not all of my relatives and certainly not all of her friends. But, the ones that are game can give delightful results. I remember once being over at friends of ours. The new boyfriend, Michael, of my mom's friend's sister was a real card. He mentioned people I had never heard of. I was only eight at the time. Michael was convinced he bore an uncanny resemblance to George Plimpton. He didn't. But, he knew a lot about him I would later find to be true. Michael also had a particular interest in Gore Vidal and André Gide. He also had a penchant for collecting trilobites which I was absolutely smitten with. I was still in my paleontological phase. He draw a pretty nifty sketch of a Devonian-aged fish and I gave him a thumb's up.

Why do I bring this up? I really never saw the guy again. My mom's fiend's sister dated regularly and had moved onto somebody else, but I kept asking about Michael. He'd piqued my curiosity. I don't know if he is alive or dead, but he is the kind of guest I would love to have at a dinner party.

And since I'm on the topic of curating dinners for lively corpses I'd be hard-pressed to find better company than Oscar Wilde, Samuel Johnson, and Benjamin Franklin. I really think I'd hit it off with Thomas Jefferson Too. I never really did get over my paleontological phase.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Why the Snapple Top Makes a Good Substitute for a Fortune Cookie

A Venus flytrap can eat a whole cheeseburger. I learned this fascinating fact #880 from under a Snapple cap. Committing it to memory is not going to stop the Great Recession or save the whales but it got a chuckle out of me. I'm into random musings. Maybe this is why my mind drifts off too far to be a good journalist and I am fiction writer. Maybe I'm a born spin doctor.

I love books where wild sheep chases take place which is why I appreciate Haruki Murakami, Italo Calvino, Thomas Pynchon, Don Delilo, and on. In Veronica Nicolas Christopher's protagonist's whole life changes taking a wrong turn through a hallway. William James calls this stuff the way of the Pathfinder.

Philip Roth notoriously penned a good chunk of his novels from headlines he read out of newspapers. The point I'm driving at is you never know where that glimmer of story, as Pam Houston says, comes from. For me though, I think there is something more. Not to get Cartesian on you, but for me I want to discover an indubitable truth. And in today's world, cobbled from spin, it's no easy task. This is by the way why blogs seem to be spawning healthy, independent lives from the mainstream front.

I still believe a bit in Lincoln's old adage to know 90% of your opponent's argument before forming your own. Something to that extent. And this is why I keep putting various, disparate pieces together in the hope that someday I will have my own Eureka moment.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

And the Noble Goes to...

Have you read any of Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio’s books lately? Hmm. Or maybe you’ve recently picked up 2006 Noble Winner Orphan Pamuk’s Snow.

I don’t want to give the impression that the prize is politically motivated or is a kind of Lifetime Achievement Award, although it does raise brows and draws new readers to the chosen one. Whatever drives new readers is great for literature. To draw to the literary landscape today is a great challenge as we already know. Whatever the motivation to pick up Herta Mueller’s work is well worth it.

I’m a firm believer in expanding the literary landscape. Writing style, subject matter, and rules of syntax lure readers to their favorites, but I’m one who approaches my reading like my wine. I relish a diverse sample. I’m not hung up on Kirkus Reviews, plugs from Slate, or tweets from Salman Rushdie. I read what I read.

Some might consider mine an eclectic, unfocused approach— cherry-picking. I call it stylized discrimination. A healthy lust for poetic memes. But, seriously, I don’t pretend to have the inside dope on all the words, critical and otherwise. I take the Socratic approach, I admit I knowing nothing and work from there.

I am a slow reader and want to experience a book for the work of art it is. In other words, I cannot speed read so I wouldn’t bother reading the plethora of airport fluff. I do take recommendations. I will not pigeonhole everything. I’m a New Yorker, I honor our sacred bird.

So far I know this about our 2009 Noble Laureate. She began her career in 1976 translating for an engineering factory, and was canned in 1979 because she wouldn’t play by the Communist regime’s rules. Herta’s husband Richard Wagner is also a novelist.

I’m not sure if I’ll start with Ms. Mueller’s debut collection Niederungen or Oppressive Tango as I’ve always had a weakness for the Argentine dance. I will make it a point to acquaint myself with her work because I want to expand my reader and writer’s eye.


The Noble Prize in Literature has been awarded since 1901. The only years that no awards for literature have been given are: 1914, 1918, 1935, 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1943.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Virtual Belly Button

[Click here to enter The Literary Lab Genre Writing Contest]

Webfetti and gadgets are the buttons of our day. It used to be a sign of solidarity to wear a a pin, a patch or button on your denim jacket to show off your favorite band, presidential candidate, ballplayer. Since our days revolve around the keypad it's only natural that we look for stuff to dress up our cyberdomains. Wallpaper is too insular. Too old hat.

When you have a blog or website you want to share it with the world. It a part of of you. Your very own virtual belly button. I've stuck a Duotrope badge on my page. I will soon tack on one for NANO because they are mega keen. I have quotes from Twain because he was the Mack Daddy of his day- for ours too.

If you haven't already done so I suggest checking out the Genre Wars they have a cool badge to stick on your blog. They have a fiction writing contest that embraces all the sub-genres and it will a literary slugfest- so to speak. Above is the picture of the contest and is sponsored by the esteemed The Literary Lab.

One last note before I go. Do you remember candy buttons? Those Technicolor sugar-hopped strips of paper that were usually stuffed into your goodie bag for b-day parties. That was one button I was never really fond of, but I did once proudly wear Billy Joel and The Police buttons on my stonewashed denim jacket.

Long live The Piano Man and Sting.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Movable Desk

I’m a mobile scribbler. My movable desk (AKA my lap) finds its way onto buses, planes, trains, and other automobiles. I’ll sit on a rock with my notebook and take stock of the confluence between the world around me and the one passing through my brain.

Yesterday, I decided I needed a real desk. What with my recent move I’ve been typing away on the dining room table. I probably could have kept up for a little while longer, but I’d already been testing my better half’s patience long enough.

My buddy offered me a retro office desk. The thing was as big as a Greyhound. I had no idea where to put it. I needed something simple. Fortunate for me that I live in the neighborhood Furniture Central, Steinway has so many table shops, good stuff, junk, and so-so. You have to have a good eye. The prices are another story. I’m convinced there’s a black hole parked between taste and tacky. Prices not commiserate.

I’m not cheap, but I’m not willing to plunk down a month’s rent for gaudy or impractical. When I veer off onto a side street and see a piece I can imagine in my bedroom/office I poke my head in the shop to inquire on the price. Nobody. I could sweep the desk off the sidewalk and be on my merry way. My bad back is my conscience for the day. I rub my hand over the flat top. Pretty smooth. But, it’s a street model.

A middle-aged man in an ill-fitting fishnet cap and fleshy ears walks to the desk. He has handout written all over his grimy face. I stand my ground.

“Nice desk,” he says.

“It’s ok.”

“How much?” he asks.

“That’s what I’m trying to find out.”

He scratches his fleshy ear and lopes into the shop. At this point, I say to myself you’re not horning in on my desk, bub. When I make it into the shop he is already sidled up to the counter, but there is no attendant to wait on him.

Two can play at that game.

“How much would you pay?’ he asks.
And there’s no way I’ll let him bait me. “You first.”

“Strong pine, last you a long time. Seventy dollars.”

I do a quick mental calculation to make sure I have enough cash on me. My fishnet-hatted foe probably only carries sweaty bills and this place doesn’t look like it takes plastic. When I figure I can beat him by twenty-odd bucks, if the bidding were to go that high, I make a kind of smirk.

Then a skinny kid comes out of the storage room. Finally, we’re going to get a little service around here.

“It come in tan or you like burgundy maybe,” the man says.

“Excuse me?”

“Yuri, go bring burgundy piece for show.”

The skinny kid ducks back into the dusky storage area and then it hits me that this clown is the owner. Somehow I feel more embarrassed for him and the flat beak of his cap that makes me think of a duck-billed dinosaur.

I take two crisp twenties and a crinkled ten out of my pocket.

“Fifty bucks.”

“Strong wood. Yuri carry it for you home and put it together, seventy-five.”

“That’s ok, I can take it myself.”

“Sixty five, we tie it up neat to the roof of your car.”

“I’m walking.”

“You’ll hurt your back.”

“I’ll be fine.”

I take the initiative, put the fifty bucks in his hand. He looks at it briefly as if I’m giving him quarters for the laundry, but then accepts it. Yuri takes his sweat ass time finding the box. They were out of the tan so I settled for the burgundy.

The whole way home, which although wasn’t technically far but it was sure as hell awkward, I reminded myself that I had to put the desk together. And though my back ached, my knees and thighs were bruised from trying to prop the box upright, I had this sweat moment of triumph coming to me. I hadn’t put anything together in as long as I could remember. What better way to get a creative boost than to build my own writing desk.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Sliver of Turturro

Back in August, I posted about bit players I noticed as guests on sitcoms. This is sort of a hobby of mine, but today I feel compelled to share two minor parts played by John Turturro that I just discovered. I'm a big fan of his work. He covers a wide range: grandmaster chess wonk in Luzhin Defence, pizza parlor primogenitor in Do the Right Thing, newfangled celluloid writer in Barton Fink, Herbie Stempel in Quiz Show.

When I saw Turturro in Desperately Seeking Susan, playing the part of cheeseball MC Ray I was surprised. It's been quite a while since I've seen the film. And, unlike Barton Fink, starring a more mature, painstakingly brooding Turturro the cheeseball MC had a touch of the actor's unmistakable flair. By voice he is recognizable and you can't forget his face.

I also caught a glimpse of him haggling Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters. If you are not acutely attuned the glimpse is missed. It's towards the beginning and during a madcapped scene of merging and diffusing throngs. Turturro plays a young writer who stops Woody for maybe 5 seconds. There's only a peripherally view, but a good shock of John's curly locks.

I did a quick scan to see some other films I haven't seen him in, mainly recent ones. Transformers and Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen. I won't catch either of those though I was nuts about the toys as a kid. But, I might be on a lookout for him on Flight of the Concords or on a Monk rerun. I'd love to see him teamed up with Tony Shalhoub.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Glass of Mastroberardino

I have a proclivity for wines from southern Italy more so than their more famous Northern regions. I think it has something to do with the volcanic soil. Aglianico is king among the southern Italian red varietals though I have had many other pleasant quaffers.

Piediroso may not be a household name unless your house is somewhere near Campania or Apulia. Recently, I had one of Mastroberardino’s entry level reds, Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio. I hasten to pigeonhole this wine with the unflattering moniker, but I'm going strictly by price point. Mastroberardino has great depth in his portfolio, nevertheless, as price points go, the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio is a bargain. It doesn’t have the complexity as say the Taurasi, but then again the Taurasi is predominantly Aglianico. Think of the Lacryma Christi as the introduction to Villa dei Misteri which hails from Pompei and is comprised of 90% Piediroso and 10% Sciascinoso.

Lacryma Christi is made up of 100% Piediroso. The wine is redolent of violets and undergrowth. You see these descriptions all the time and say to yourself “what are kidding me?” but this wine smells like somebody’s garden. It doesn’t carry the whiff of industrial-strength fertilizer or chemicals. It’s pleasantly bitter on the palate enough to know there is a balance between fruit, acidity, and only an insouciance of tannin.

Drink it with fennel-encrusted rack of lamb or fried eggplant.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Pysanky are Ukrainian-stylized eggs. A wax resist method or batik is used to decorate the eggs and a special instrument called the kistka etches the design.
They are usually made for Easter, but folk artists make them all year round. Some have extremely intricate patterns. Most have designs of animals, wheat crops, flowers, trees.

Their origin comes from a myth in which the egg is symbolized as the source of life. Though Christian Ukrainians adopted it by 988 AD (with the rise of Christianity) the pysanky had a long illustrious pagan tradition.

Iryna Bilianska from the Sokol region of Western Ukraine used an embroiery pattern on her pysanky. Hers are more floral-designed than my mom's. My mom made many with deer patterns, trees, and interwoven geometrical shapes. We had a china bowl full of eggs many years ago, but our cat tested her soccer skills with virtually all of the ornaments in that bowl including a few treasures my grandmother had made.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Helen Levitt

A small tribute to Helen Levitt hangs in the Met’s halls en route to the Contemporary art wing. Her photographs capture the kinetic charm of the city’s urban landscape. There's an influence of documentarian geniuses Cartier-Bresson and Walker Evans although Levitt has less edge, focusing on urban youth in all its free-spirited glory. One of her standout shots is a Mid 40’s picture of two adults and a child stylized into a kind of totem pole. The woman stands tallest has a slack mouth and peers toward the east probably Uptown. The darker-skinned, chunkier man wears a stern look and faces the opposite way. Below him, is a messy-haired child in dreamy, yet frazzled consternation. The boy gapes in the same direction as the woman. His vantage point both physically and chronologically lower may hold the answer to what has grabbed his attention.

Notice the mimetic play of frames within frames in the first shot. The theatricality comes purely from the children (subject's imagination) rather than the artist.