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Our Souls at Night jacketWhat's it like to be inside someone else's head, looking out? That's a nut technology has yet to crack. Luckily we have fiction. Everything I know about what it's like to be...a young gay man in a repressive society, an elderly woman looking back on her life, a Japanese man struggling with identity... and on... I learned from reading fiction. With each book, I push a little outside the known world of myself.

Kent Haruf was one of those writers who could take you directly into the experience of another. In language that is deceptively simple, he describes the emotional and often isolated lives of people living in the small towns and country of the west. He died in November of last year, and so sadly, there is nothing more to read except for his last book, Our Souls at Night.

Our Souls at Night recounts the story of two widowed people: Louis and Addie live a couple houses away from one another in a small town. They know each other to say hello at the grocery store, and of course, because it's a small town, they know the rough landscapes of each others' lives - how forty years ago, Louis had an affair; how Addie and her family lived through a tragic accident. Some believe that small towns have a stronger sense of community, but in fact, it's just as easy to be isolated and removed from life in a small place as it is in a large. Addie makes a decision to poke at this loneliness by inviting Louis to be her bed-mate, to come over each night and lie in the dark with her and talk. After some initial awkwardness, they settle into a quiet joy in their companionship. Their contentmet is shared out to Addie's grandson, who stays with her when her son's marriage begins to disintergrate. But the solace they find in one another will be tested by the bitterness and anger of others.

Haruf's story is heart-rending in its simplicity, and if you have older parents, it will challenge you to think about how aging, and loss, and the judgement of others affect our elders. And it will make you mourn for the loss of this great writer.

 

I’m struggling to find a term for this. I don’t think it’s metafiction (according to the online definitions I’ve found), but if it’s not that, then what do you call a novel where the author has taken as her/his fictional universe a fictional universe created by an earlier author?

Mr. Timothy book jacketLouis Bayard, in Mr. Timothy, and Lynn Shepherd, in The Solitary House, both clearly know (and love) their Charles Dickens, a master of 19th century plot, setting, and people. A Dickens universe is filled with vivid atmosphere and memorable characters, so why not borrow them for your novel? Bayard sets his novel 17 years after the events in A Christmas Carol, and features a Timothy Cratchit all grown up and the inheritor of E. Scrooge’s substantial estate.  No longer needing that crutch, Tim finds himself weighed down by the love and trust of his late benefactor.

Shepherd, on the other hand, opts for a mystery set slightly before the tumultuous events of Bleak House, where that novel’s villain, The Solitary House book jacketSir Edward Tulkinghorn, requests the assistance of private investigator/“thief-taker” Charles Maddox to determine who is threatening one of his clients.

In both novels, half the fun (for this reader) is anticipating and recognizing how the sort-of remembered details of the originals are incorporated into the homages. It doesn’t hurt that both authors happen to tell a rattling good story on their own.

In Bayard’s subsequent historical fiction, he has switched his settings to actual events and characters (Edgar Allan Poe at West Point, Theodore Roosevelt in the Amazon), while Shepherd has stayed with fiction (killing off a Jane Austen heroine, placing mysterious bite marks on the neck of her hero).

And, if you like your Downton Abbey served with a slice of cheerful snark, don’t miss Bayard’s recaps of each episode in the New York Times.

Ben Arogundade

hoto of Ben Arogundade - Photo from www\.benarogundade\.com

We wrap up this week’s fashion theme with a book recommendation, author Ben Arogundade’s Black Beauty. As stated on Amazon:

“Through over 150 color and black and white photographs and an engaging, informed text, Black Beauty discusses the position of blacks within the beauty hierarchy of the West, as well as the kinds of work available to black models within the past century. Author Ben Arogundade also offers insight to the ways in which certain styles of black beauty have been promoted above others. In considering black icons and celebrities from Marcus Garvey, Josephine Baker, and Muhammad Ali to Billy Dee Williams, Grace Jones and Lauryn Hill, Black Beauty reveals the many differing images of those who have embodied black beauty in our culture. Portraits by Herb Ritts, Albert Watson, Richard Avedon, and other eminent photographers are included in this stunning compilation.”

Further Exploration:  http://www.arogundade.com/ben-arogundade-biography-bio-author-and-e-book-publisher-arogundade-books.html

Available at Multnomah County Library: Black Beauty by Arogundade, Ben

For those of us who love classical literature, Multnomah County Library is a great resource. There are Classics Pageturners book discussion groups at Hillsdale Library and Hollywood Library.  The book lists for those discussion series are below, and include the dates of the discussions in the annotations.  Following that are a series of lists of Western and non-Western literature from every era. For the rest of the Classics Pageturners 2014-2015 season, here is the schedule:

Hillsdale Library Classics Pageturners, second Saturdays, 3-5 pm

March 14, The second half of Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac

April 11, Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott

May 9, The Ambassadors, by Henry James

June 13, Tartuffe, by Molière

Hollywood Library Classics Pageturners, third Sundays, 2-4 pm

March 15, Utopia, by Thomas Moore

April 19, The Art of War, by Sunzi

May 17, The Second Sex, volume 1, by Simone de Beauvoir

June 21, The Second Sex, volume 2, by Simone de Beauvoir

toot your own hornSo you’ve written a book and found a publisher. Marvelous. Now, on to the next project, yes? Leave promotion of your work to publisher and publicist, right? Not so fast, my ink-spilling friend. The plasma of artistic creativity may course through your veins, but unless you’re some breed of celebrity, literary success these days depends on you taking a central role in the business side of writing. Many a well-written contemporary book has withered on the vine due to the author’s inability or unwillingness to take part in the task of marketing and self-promotion. Here are some ideas on how to approach this crucial component to your would-be livelihood (whether you’ve published yet or not.)

Networking/Marketing

Depending on the source, there are between 130,000 and 185,000 writers (or more!) in the United States and over 300,000 books published in this country each year. With so much out there, how do you get your voice heard? How do you stand out?

For networking, you might use HelpAReporter.com (HARO) to promote yourself as a news source or expert in your field (and therefore, in your book). Or you might take advantage of social media - here's an article about LinkedIn for writersDepending on your genre, you might find a local or national writer's associationThere's also the The National Association of Independent Writers and Editors, a one-stop shop for writers seeking assistance with support, marketing, professional development, and networking.

As for marketing: here are some thoughts on self-promotion from The Huffington Post, and a New York Times article on building one’s brandA site called YourWriterPlatform.com has a simple message: “Your platform makes all the difference in the success or failure of your book. The bigger your reach, the more books you are likely to sell.” A service called BookBub.com offers free and deeply discounted ebook deals as a tool to reach new readers.

Grants, Awards, & Fellowships

Maybe you’re in the enviable position of having a spouse or relative $upport your artistic vision. While such a benefactor is certainly possible, it’s unlikely some monied stranger will drop by your garrett some gray winter morn (or your spare bedroom any season of the year), plop a pile of money down on the boards of your rough-hewn writing table (or flimsy particle board desk) and tell you to “get it done.” It’s just as unexpected--and just as unlikely--you’ll be graced with one of those legendary $500,000 MacArthur Genius Grants. But never fear, there are sources of funding you may have a shot at:

Locally, there's the Oregon Literary Fellowships from Literary Arts, Individual Artist Fellowships from the Oregon Arts Commission, and various grants from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC).

Nationally, you might find grants through FundsforWriters.com or WritersandEditors.com. You might even try applying for a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts!

Freelance Writing

Wait just a minute. Maybe you’re interested in earning an income as a writer, but not interested in writing books. Rather than make a name, you’d rather earn your way as a player in the world of freelance, finding gainful employment with newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, and the like. But, how to find the support, how to network? Here are a few ideas.

Locally, there's Portland Copywriters, a group of Portland-area freelance copywriters who support each other in the creation, growth, and sustainability of one’s freelance business. Freelanced.com claims to be the largest social network site for freelancers and can help you find work in your neck of the woods. It has sliding scale membership fees. Of course, you can also find work through Craigslist: writing gigs and writing jobs are the categories to browse.

Nationally, you might find help from FreelanceWritersDen.com, the supportive place where freelance writers learn how to grow their income — fast, or FreelanceWriting.com, your source for Freelancing, Freelance Writing Jobs and Articles for Freelance WritersThe National Writers Union UAW Local 1981 is the only labor union that represents freelance writers, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) is the professional association of independent nonfiction writers.

You know, your library has scads of books that may come in handy. Try this booklist, which contains books on freelancing, marketing and promotion, legal matters, grants, and more.

- by Kass A.

Every week, new books  are added to my ever growing "to be read" pile.  While it’s a pleasant hazard of the library profession, the looming tower of unread tomes has grown a bit too tall for comfort. However, after a recent search through the new titles joining the collection, I think there's some room left. Here are three I'm excited about.

 

 

stiletto cover

 

 

 

Myfanwy Thomas returns in Daniel O'Malley's anticipated sequel to The Rook

 

 

 

 

jon cryer book cover

 

 

 

Duckie's AKA Jon Cryer's story promises to "try a tenderness" and entertain 

 

 

 

 

tricky vic cover

 

 

 

Pssst! wana buy the Eiffel tower?

 

 

 

Bethann Hardison

 

Bethann Hardison Photo: VibeVixen

Where to start, where to start? Bethann Hardison embodies the idea of making things better than how you found them. She shot to fashion/modeling fame during the 60s and 70s. The beautiful and elegant Hardison has worked in every facet of the fashion industry  as a model, booking agent, fashion show producer, in public relations, as a contributing editor for several fashion magazines (she was even Editor-at-Large for Vogue Italia in 2010) and owner of the Bethann Management Agency. She opened her agency with one goal in mind: to change the racial climate of the fashion industry. And, she did! Hardison is a driving force behind the success of some of today’s top models. She states, “Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches design houses consistently use one or no models of color.” Taking it a bit further, Hardison started the Black Girls Coalition, BGC to advocate and support African-American models. As co-founder of BGC, Hardsion authored a series of letters calling fashion houses, councils, federations and more to the carpet. If you’re curious, read Bethann's Letters. One more thing, Hardison is the mother of Dwayne Wayne. Remember? Whitney’s boyfriend from the popular T.V. show "A Different World"?  

Further Exploration: http://www.elle.com/news/fashion-style/bethann-hardison-nyfw

Available at Multnomah County Library: Skin Deep, Inside the World of Black Fashion Models by Summers, Barbara

I like lots of music that’s just plain pretty--I'll admit that I have a weakness for harmonies and a sprightly fiddle line-- but there’s something especially bracing for me about listening to women singing loud, singing honestly with little regard for “just plain pretty.” It makes me feel a little freer myself, like swearing sometimes does, like quitting jobs to take off traveling used to feel.

The latest album to scratch that itch for me is Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities to Love. The songs are catchy, with quirky, inventive guitar. The lyrics are all about power, getting it or fighting it. My favorite song right now is the first single, “Bury Our Friends.”

We speak in circles
We dance in code
Untamed and hungry
On fire and in cold
Exhume our idols and bury our friends
We're wild and weary but we won't give in

My heart gives this little leap when Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein sing that “won’t give in”.  The vocals are howled in No Cities to Love.  I read an article that said Tucker, in particular "sounds like a badly injured opera soprano, or like an enraged mother hyena.” She does, and it’s great. This whole album made me think of the story that Tina Fey told in Bossypants about Amy Poehler saying “I don’t care if you like it” , a story that seems to be resonating with me and a lot of women I’ve talked to lately. We want to be ourselves. Sometimes it isn’t pretty. We don’t care if you don’t like it.

One thing you will like is that this album, as of this writing, is available both on CD and on MCL’s streaming music and video service, Hoopla. So if you have a library card and an Internet connection, you could be listening to it right now. After that, check out this list I made of other loud, honest female voices. Let me know if there are artists I missed who I should have included!

 

Laquan Smith

Laquan Smith Photo: VibeVixen

 

What happens when you’re turned down by two of the top design schools in the country and you have no contacts or experience? Ask Laquan Smith. His grandmother gave him a sewing machine and taught him how to sew at the age of 13. This and ambition were all he needed to turn his dream and ideas into fashion history!

Anne Lowe, Willi Smith and so many, many others may have lit the match, but Laquan Smith is taking the torch and running. He is the new face of contemporary fashion. You may not know Laquan, but no doubt you’ve seen his work. His designs are devoured by today’s pop culture icons: Rhianna, Lady Gaga, Raven Symone, Alicia Keys, Tyra Banks and more. He even designs for the Joffrey Ballet! Vogue Editor-at-Large Andre Leon Talley took Smith under his wings and taught him to fly in the often fickle world of fashion. Smith uses unconventional materials like PVC and scuba material to create breathtaking works of art, we mean ... clothes. Laquan isn’t the only fresh face in fashion; check out David Tlale.

Further Exploration: http://www.laquansmith.com  and http://www.bet.com/video/b-real/2014/style/laquan-smith-spring-summer-2015.html

Available at Multnomah County Library: A.L.T. A Memoir by Talley, Andre’ Leon

Glitched haptics. The klept. Homunculus parties. Disoriented yet? Like that feeling? If so, you should read The Peripheral, the new novel by William Gibson. Known in the past for cyberpunk, near-futurism, and epic,city-destroying battles with Neal Stephenson, here he tries his hand at that most tricky SF device: time travel. Or at least, something close to that.  Fear not - this is no stereotypical yarn: no one becomes his own grandpa, and no attempts to kill Hitler go horribly awry. And it’s even slyly humorous, if you pay attention (I loved the awkwardly romantic telepresence via Wheelie Boy… you’ll see).

The Peripheral book jacketFlynne Fisher lives in the near future, somewhere in the south in a house without running water. She makes a living playing video games for hire or doing shifts down at the 3D printing fab. Wilf Netherton is a publicist in London sometime after a mysterious event known as “The Jackpot” has occurred. In his time, genetic modification is rampant, nanobots scurry everywhere, and you can control live bodies with your mind. When Flynne covers a gaming shift for her brother (a former soldier suffering from the aformentioned glitched haptics) she sees something she shouldn’t have, something that will threaten her life and cause these two worlds to become forever entangled.

We’re talking neutron star density of the new here… It’s heady stuff, bewildering and alien at first, but that’s part of the pleasure. And yet, the more things change… well, you know what they say. Artspeak is just as cipherlike and nonsensical in the future as today, publicists are still hapless and gutless (sorry Wilf!), tattoos are still a thing, and unfortunately for most of us, the rich are still getting richer, a grim reality that even those in future can’t escape.

For more cyber thrillers and biotech chillers, try this list.

 

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