The Friday Buzz: Horror will thrill in '07

Could it be a shock to anyone that The UK Independent hails horror writing as "one of the coolest literary trends of 2007?"

Horror even has a subgenre to replace chick lit: Called Para Porn (catchy, in a perverted sort of way), these "paranormal romances" are being marketed by publishers such as Piatkus, Headline, Orion and Time Warner. (Might any of you horror-savvy readers out there give me a few titles in this genre?)

Why the surge in horror/fantasy/sci-fi? LitLove has been exploring the topic -- with great subtlety and perception, as usual. The Indpendent speculates that "what meaning 21st-century readers are seeking in the new horror is disputed:"

(Publisher) Gollancz's (editor) Jo Fletcher is convinced that the prevailing culture of fear created by the "war on terror" and rising crime has helped create a market for books in which fear is contained, even though unknown "others" haunt the page. "When things are going well in the world people are less interested in horror," she claims. "When times are dark, then horror becomes more popular."

Gee, what insight. Good to know we have erudite editors manning the helm of the next literary trend.

Anyway, here are some upcoming titles for those who like their lit dark and mysterious:
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (Stephen King's son) (Gollancz, March)
The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall (Canongate, March)
Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert (Bantam, April)


Thoughts for Thursday: The reading confluence

I had a weird, wonderful confluence between writing & reading, a strange happenstance of disparate books coming together, that broke through a sort of block I'd been having in my fiction writing. Hard to explain, but I'll try:

Three of my current and completely random reads underwent this synergistic explosion in my brain: Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood (which I just finished), Trilby by George du Maurier (found on a dollar cart last week) and Hester by Margaret Oliphant (found in search for Victorian novels).

Cat's Eye and Trilby both have sight and vision as a major motif. Du Maurier, as it happens, lost vision in one eye, which terrified him, and led him to address vision in his novel.

Cat's Eye and Hester are both "realism novels," meaning the stories may not "go anywhere," and that is part of their structure. This gave me a "duh" moment (the pessimist's equivalent of Oprah's "ah-ha" moment), when I "got" what Atwood was going after with Cat's Eye: the messiness, false starts, unraveling endings and dead-ends of real life versus the tight plot and progressive narrative of a traditional novel. (Can't wait to read Hester and see how it compares to Cat's Eye...)

The Atwood insight in turn gave surge to a virtual wave of ideas, motifs, symbols etc. that I envisioned for my own fiction. As a bonus, a particular "voice" I want to achieve popped into my head....a moment of clarity.

A good feeling to see how all of my reading is "paying off," in terms of how it is acting in my subconscious. (Geez, if only I could & would actually write.)

Oh, I don't feel I have come anywhere close to explaining the complete surprise of the book-to-book dynamics and how amazingly satisfying the feeling when all the divergent streams brooked together.

But, somehow, I have a feeling many of you writers & readers out there know exactly what I'm talking about.


Let's hear it for the powers of Austen!

If you've been following the comments of my previous post, you must have seen the love affair most of us have with Jane Austen.

I dare say a reader cannot be unhappy with a Jane Austen novel; how many other authors can make that claim?

Incredibly, her entire canon consists of seven books (six published during her lifetime). Her sister, regrettably and with little foresight, burned most of Jane's correspondence, and a diary or journal has never been found.

Just for fun, I decided to get a little dialogue going over the Powers of Austen. Below are her titles. Which one is your favorite and why? Which haven't you read? Are you not as in love with Austen as most readers -- why? How has Jane influenced your reading or writing? Let's get plain about Jane!

As for me, I have yet to read 3 of her novels: Northanger Abbey (the 2007 RIP Challenge, I vow!), Mansfield Park and Lady Susan. I admit, I love, love, love Pride & Prejudice. The dialogue simply sparkles; it is witty, subtle, intelligent. How Jane could be gently sardonic (sometimes, not so gentle) without tipping into cynicism is one of those unfathomable mysteries of genius. Characters and plot sing. And her voice: Utterly original, still fresh today. Second to P&P? It's a tough call ... perhaps Sense & Sensibility. I love the relationship of the two Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, and the plot is vintage Austen.

What are your thoughts on Jane Austen?

Lady Susan
Mansfield Park
Northanger Abbey
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility


Atwood, Austen and a month of romance

Okay, so this is the 3rd revision on this post. (I'm forming an "L" with my forefinger and thumb and holding it against my forehead.)

Along with Atwood’s essays on writing, I finished Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye. I enjoyed the book, but did not love it. I feel bad saying that. I feel like a jughead saying that. I don't feel particularly literate.

Don't get me wrong: The prose is exquisite. Every paragraph is a jewel, every chapter a collection. But at the end, a pattern didn’t emerge, a story wasn’t told. I was left with a handful of jewels.

The title refers to a certain kind of marble, an unordinary type, a prize that needs to be won:

The cat’s eyes are my favorites. If I win a new one I wait until I’m by myself, then take it out and examine it, turning it over and over in the light. The cat’s eyes really are like eyes, but not the eyes of cats. They’re the eyes of something that isn’t known but exists anyway; like the green eye of the radio; like the eyes of aliens from a distant planet. My favorite one is blue. I put it into my red plastic purse to keep it safe. I risk my other cat’s eyes to be shot at, but not this one.

Secrets – what is seen but not acknowledged, known but not discussed – seem to me to be at the heart of the novel; this paragraph, addressing an illegal abortion, emerged as the most sinister and deadly in a series of secrets observed or experienced by the narrator:

But what she’s done has set her apart. It belongs to the submerged landscape of the things that are never said, which lies beneath ordinary speech like hills under water. Everyone my age knows about it. Nobody discusses it. Rumors are down there, kitchen tables, money exchanged in secret; evil old women, illegal doctors, disgrace and butchery. Down there is terror.

Cat's Eye also, finally, refers to self-portrait painted by the narrator. This is just one of many references to sight and seeing -- and Shakespeare's three witches and colors and symbols and metaphors galore. Heaps of 'em. A glut.

I think I am tired, tired in a profound and ground-down sort of way. Must*recover*soon.

I’m glad I read Cat's Eye; I want to read more Atwood. But it was difficult to live with the peculiarly deadened tone and postmodern plotless plot for 461 pages.

Time to ditch heavy reading! In California, spring is in the air. Yellow daisies are blooming, some California poppies are already spreading their bright orange petals, and around twilight, a certain tree in Berkeley smells like gardenias dancing with honeysuckle. A little romance is in order.

So it was with a sort of stepping-off-the-treadmill relief that I turned to Jane Austen for my first book in a precious month of romantic reads. I initially selected Mansfield Park, but, as the introduction claimed it to be the “least popular” of Austen’s books, I immediately scuttled that in favor of Persuasion, which I finished over the weekend (along with half of a biography, Jane Austen by Claire Tomalin). These books, along with a bar of expensive chocolate and the studious ignoring of SuperBowl MXCMVI, initiated the lovefest in proper fashion.

I picked up a Victorian Oxford Classic on a bookstore dollar cart – can’t remember the title or author, but I do recall the words “violin,” “Victorian Paris,” and “affair” in the descriptor text. I think I’m in love already.