Archive for January, 2011

January 16, 2011

Another Cover!

by Sara Gran

Hey, I’ve got another cover! This one is from Faber & Faber, my UK publisher. We’ve also got deals lined up for a German edition and an audiobook, but no dates or covers for that yet. As you can see, in the UK version they’re going for a slightly different title and a very different look/feel overall. That’s neat for me–usually when you sell a book you have to pick one approach and really throw yourself into it, but I get to try two approaches this time! So that’s extremely cool. And while I’ve been with some great publishers in the past, I feel especially blessed this time around with HMH and F&F on the team. Both have been working hard to make sure this book is a big hit in June. In fact, you can eve pre-order it on Amazon and Amazon UK, and let them know their hard work is, uh, working hard. And that they should spend a shitload of money promoting my books!

Advertisements
January 15, 2011

screen memories

by Megan Abbott

A week or two ago, I wrote a post about muses and referred to a particular photograph, long lost, that had inspired me:

It was a photo I clipped from a magazine. I think it was from the early 1960s, black and white, and depicted a woman at a party, seen only from behind, the back of her head, shoulders, wasp waist. The black dress she wore had, if I recall, a dramatic “V” in back and you felt you were behind her, walking into a lively scene that she somehow owned. You felt her hectic power.

Last night, during a purgative and highly unpleasant process of getting rid of old files and ephemera accumulated during the last 15 years or so, I found the photo. Here it is:


This was an alarming discovery. Yes, it is a black and white photo of a woman, from behind. But aside from those facts, I had completely misremembered it. It’s not a party, there’s no plunging V, she doesn’t seem to “own the scene.” And I didn’t remember the man at all. And when I look at it now, it seems like a rather sad domestic moment, a hectoring woman and a put-upon fellow, maybe?

I have long been fascinated by the way memory distorts, rewrites—is in fact a kind of art in and of itself. But I’ve never seen it in myself in such plain terms. When I found the picture, I almost didn’t believe it could be the same one that propelled my first novel. And I wonder now at the power of one’s memory to make what one wants or needs from one’s experiences. (That, of course, is the kind of rabbit hole one might do best to avoid when digging through one’s past!)

But gosh, I’d even remembered her, with feverish intensity, as a brunette.

January 14, 2011

The Things We Hear

by Sara Gran

(I’m reposting this due to a computer error.)

So I’ve recently been obsessed with the history behind the self-help book A Course in Miracles. The book was chanelled by, or dictated to, or created by the subconscious of, a woman named Helen Schucman. Schucman was just about the exact opposite of who you expect to chanel or write a self-help book. Schucman was a psychology professor at Columbia and, from what I’ve read, deeply uninterested in anything New Agey or occult. One day, after a discussion with her collegue William Thetford about how they could improve things at the psych department at Columbia (from Wikipedia, natch)…

William Thetford (1923 – 1988), psychologist k...

Image via Wikipedia

The next four months were filled with a number of unusually vivid dream sequences and even some unusual waking experiences for Schucman [Apparantly nothing like this had happenned to her before, and these experiences came out of the blue]. Amongst her vivid dream sequences, she began to become familiar with a certain internal character who spoke to her as Jesus in her dreams. Little did she know that the voice of this dream character would soon come to dominate the rest of her life….Finally in October of that year, the transcriptions of what is now known as ACIM first began…. According to Thetford, Schucman was sitting at home on the night of October 21, 1965, when she heard an internal “voice” say to her, “This is a course in miracles. Please take notes.”

Schuman did as she was told; the result was A Course in Miracles. And from what I’ve read, Schucman hated the book. She died bitter and angry, cursing God and life on her deathbed. A secular Jewish woman, she converted to Catholicism in her later years hoping to find peace. She didn’t. She hated the book and hated everything it brought her.

Thetford, on the other hand, fell right into the groove with ACIM, leading workshops and moving out to Marin County, California, Hot Tub Capitol of America (I just made that up, but I bet it’s true, and I mean it with love). It’s also rumored that before he was at Columbia, Thetford worked for the CIA’s Project Bluebird, the precurser to MK-ULTRA, which we’ve discussed before (and will discuss many times again). One of the goals of MK-ULTRA et al. was to create technology to put thoughts in people’s heads, which many people believe they succeeded at. So there’s that, too.

This reminds me Alistair Crowley’s Book of The Law, which was also “channeled,” rather than written, and which he also, according to some, didn’t like very much. There’s also a link to Gloria Naylor’s 1996–Naylor’s book in which she writes about, as per Schucman, suddenly hearing voices in her head. Naylor attributed these voices to the government, not Jesus or Aiwass (Crowley’s source). We actually have two currents overlapping here: otherwise sane people who hear voices in their heads; and writers who have breaks with known reality. Both are more common than you would think and both are worthy of books, or at least blog posts, in their own right.

Reminds me of what my friend said when he gave me some recordings from Abraham, the being channelled through Jerry and Esther Hicks. I asked what he thought about this so-called Abraham. He said he didn’t care. Abraham gave some good advice and that was enough.

These are all the stories I love, despite never know what to believe. Or rather, I love because I don’t know what to believe.

Oh, and by the way, did you know Alisteir Crowley wrote detective novels? I’ve never been able to get my hands on one–in fact, if anyone wants to sell me one at a reasonable price, I’ll take it,

 

January 10, 2011

kerosene!

by Megan Abbott

Saturday night, I went to an event at the New York Public Library in honor of the centennial of Gypsy Rose Lee’s birthday. A woman did pop out of a cake at the end, but you knew that already.

Along the way, we saw some great old burlesque and vaudeville footage, including a gem of snippet of a very, very young Gypsy (circa 1931), looking softer and more lovely than the streamlined, ironic version of her latter heyday.

There has been a mini-Gypsy renaissance in recent years, both within the burlesque revival and in books. Last year there was Rachel Shteir’s captivating and whip-smart Gypsy: The Art of the Tease.  And now there is Karen Abbott’s new American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare–The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, which I’m eager to read, especially after hearing Abbott share at the Centennial event some tantalizing tidbits from her interviews with June Havoc, Gypsy’s sister and child star (“Dainty June”), who has always fascinated me (her memoirs were childhood favorite of mine, for the marathon dancing sections alone).

But a special and unexpected treat Saturday night was some footage introduced by Abbott that featured one Hadji Ali, a popular vaudevillian known as, well, the Great Regurgitator (or, alternately,  The Egyptian Enigma, The Human Aquarium and The 9th Wonder of the Scientific World — what was the tenth, I ask you?).

This is a long clip but, for the intensely curious and not easily dismayed among you, it’s well worth a look. (And yes, that’s Oliver Hardy, dubbed in Spanish!)

January 9, 2011

PseudoHistory & Ancient Aliens

by Sara Gran

So I now get this channel called History International with my cable plan. This is best channel EVER. It should be called the PseudoHistory Conspiracy Theory Channel. Almost nothing on it is true, but it’s really fun to watch and they have strange long commercials like I used to watch when I was a teenager and stayed up watching tv until sign-off.

On a show about the Hitler/Ancient Alien connection (please tell me you knew about this! Don’t they teach anything is schools these days?), I saw something that fascinated me–a mention of the mysterious Vril Society and one of its members, Maria Orsic. (That’s her in the photo, which I think is fascinating in it’s own right.) To explain what this is, I’m going to take a step back and introduce the Thule Society, an occult group in Berlin that, through some twists and turns, turned into the Nazi party. That’s how the Nazi party ended up appropriating the swastika, which is a beautiful symbol of ancient origins that crosses many cultures–the Thule Society folks studied the occult intensely, and, in fact, shared many of the obsessions of modern occultism: aliens, Tibetan Buddhism, and ancient Hinduism. In fact, I’ve read in a number of places that a handful of Tibetan lamas actually came to Berlin to help Hitler with his cause–obviously, they’d been entirely misled as to what his true cause was, but Jeez, can’t these lamas, like see shit? That’s a big bubble burst. The whole Nazi thing actually makes a lot more sense as you look at is a case of religious fanaticism, rather than a political movement, and it also helps explain why so many otherwise intelligent people were taken in by them–the whole occult, pseudo-mystical thing is very appealing. It’s also useful to keep in mind that these occult groups were all the rage across Europe and the US from the Victorian Era through the thirties–the Golden Dawn is the best known example. But while the Golden Dawn was seriously devoted to spiritual study (and in-house bickering), many just took the form and forgot about the religious stuff: the pseudo-freemasonic trappings of the Ku Klux Klan (calling themselves Grand Dragons and the like) were influenced by this mystical trend, as were the masked, point-hatted costumes of Mardi Gras krewes. (As an aside, many Nazis also believed the earth was hollow, an old theory that has waxed in waned in popularity over the years.)

Anyway, I hadn’t known (and am still not entirely sure, given my sources) that the Thule Society had a kind of ladies auxiliary in the Vril Society, led by Maria, a medium and psychic. According the always-factual internet, the women of the Vril Society channelled  Sumerian entities and never cut their hair (like some Sikhs, they may have believed the hair can serve as an antennae for otherworldly news).  They worked towards channelling alien technology to create a flying saucer for their Nazi brothers. Apparently it all relates back to a Victorian-Era work of science fiction called Vril: The Power of the Coming Race, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton–the inspiration-by-fiction bit reminds me of the current hoopla around the Anastasia books.  According to this deleted wikipedia page (how massively insane does something have to be to actually get deleted from wikipedia?), Maria and her Nazi-ettes disappeared in 1945.  So who knows if there was a Maria and if there was, what became of her and her long-haired sisters?

Of course, one reason why all this fascinates me so is because I, too, study the occult, Tibetan Buddhism, and yoga. And I find the alien thing pretty interesting too. But the conclusions I’ve reached–that all sentient beings are truly one, subject to the illusion of time, space, and separation, and if I cause another harm that is literally indistinguishable from harming myself (not that I always practice that, of course)–are pretty different from those the Thule Society reached: kill everyone.

Incidentally, someone recently spray-painted some swastikas on a road sign near my house. I don’t think it was personal– HALF-JEW LIVES HERE, ATTACK! I think it was likely just some bored kids who figured the one and only thing they could do to get in trouble in our little hippie town. But when I saw those swastikas I realized, after over ten years of studying yoga, I couldn’t see Hitler’s swastika anymore. The real symbol is so much stronger and older than that. Instead I enjoyed those swastikas as a reminder of the divine Self inside, every day, until, the country sandblasted them away, and I missed them when they were gone.

 

January 8, 2011

wild kingdom

by Megan Abbott

One of my favorite Christmas presents has been Frank: The Voice, the new Sinatra biography by James Kaplan.  Sinatra is a long-term fixation of mine, nearly as much for his complicated personality as for his music. It’s a terrific book in all ways, including in explaining (to me, who knows very little about music) some of the less explicable elements in Sinatra’s gifts, e.g., the power of his phrasing, that something-something in his delivery that makes the song just quiver then bloom inside you as you listen. Apparently, his approach was pretty doctrinaire:

I take a sheet with just the lyrics. No music. At that point, I’m looking at a poem. I’m trying to understand the point of view of the person behind the words. I want to understand his emotions. Then I start speaking, not singing, the words so I can experiment and get the right inflections. When I get with the orchestra, I sing the words without a microphone first, so I can adjust the way I’ve been practicing to the arrangement. I’m looking to fit the emotion behind the song that I’ve come up with to the music. Then it all comes together. You sing the song.

This peek into the process is both illuminating and a bit of a shame. I’m glad to know it (and to know the seriousness with which he took his craft), but now I want to forget it and just listen.

Yet when I read about Sinatra’s personal life, it only deepens the songs for me because of the deep tumult there. A difficult, contradictory character, and an immensely appealing one to me. I’m now in the Ava years, that dangerous dance he did with movie star Ava Gardner as his career was hitting the skids in the late 1940s.

Both bruised souls with a taste for hard-drinking, hard-living and a kind of giddy nihilism, they were a combustible match. As Kaplan writes,

Frank had found his true partner in the opera that was his life.

Indeed. Gardner notes that, soon after their first big night together, the astronomically ambitious Sinatra told her, “All my life, being a singer was the most important thing in the world. Now you’re all I want.”

(Of course, he said this at a time when he’d yet to carve out a new role in music for himself, post-boy-crooner, but still.)

A choice bit, from Betty Burns, the wife of Sinatra’s manager, Bobby:

We would be sitting in the living room and hear them upstairs in the bedroom quarreling and arguing. Ava would scream at Frank and he would slam the door and storm downstairs. Minutes later we’d smell a very sweet fragrance coming from the stairs. Ava had decided she wasn’t mad anymore, and so she sprayed the stairwell with her perfume. Frank would smell it and race back up to the bedroom. Then it would be hours before he’d come back down.

January 5, 2011

Miniatures, Models, and Queens

by Sara Gran

Speaking of movies, I saw IRON MAN 2 last night. There were two interesting things in this movie. One was the great multi-layered use of miniatures/architectural models and the great NYC locations. For mysterious reasons Iron Man has a big exhibition/show/whatever-he-does in Flushing, Queens, home to both the 1939 & 1964  World’s Fairs–you may  know it as the place with the giant open-sided steel globe (the Unisphere). Now, the interesting part is that there was a sub-plot about Iron Man’s father (who as it turns out is Roger Sterling!), in which Father built a giant scale model of the whole Flushing World’s Fair complex (!!) and made a short LOST/Dharma-Initiative-ish film with the scale model as a prime feature (!!). As if that wasn’t cool enough, it turns out this scale model, when rearranged, holds the key to saving Iron Man’s life, or something like that! (And proves that Roger Sterling really loved him after all, but who cares?)

Now this is especially interesting because although they didn’t mention it in the film (at least not that I noticed), Flushing is home to its own outstanding model/miniature–a nearly 10,000 square foot building-by-building model of all of New York City, called the New York Panorama, made by a family of insane people to re-enact famous New York crime scenes with mice, kittens, and puppies in costume. No, not really (but wouldn’t that be cool?)–it was built for the 1964 World’s Fair, held in the same location (I just break in at night and do the kitten thing for fun). I went there with none other than Megan Abbott a few years back, and we had lots of fun pointing out places where we’d lived, gone to school, etc.  They’ve even got the Roosevelt Island tram up and running! It is truly extraordinary. The Panorama is housed in the Queens Museum, a nice place in its own right. So there’s some fun little layers here in an otherwise not-too-fascinating film.

The other interesting thing about IRON MAN 2 was that the women were less stupid and whorish than in Iron Man 1. Did people complain about that or something?

January 4, 2011

bird on a wire

by Megan Abbott

On Christmas Eve, I saw Black Swan, which I thought was pretty extraordinary, and I’m still working it all through in my head. Stylistically, it’s sort of an unholy union of unholies: Roman Polanski, Dario Argento and the brightest work of Brian De Palma (Sisters, Carrie)–which may sound like a  nightmare to some, but for me is kind of the Big Dream.

I’ve heard some dismiss the movie as “over the top,” which is a criticism I’ve never really understood. If I didn’t seek out heightened realities in movies, I wouldn’t be going to many (and I love movies). Moreover, I think “over the top” or histrionic or all those criticisms are frequently code for something else–and might have to do with a certain discomfort in movies about women, about women’s bodies (in ways that aren’t situating them solely for ornamental display), about what used to be called “female hysteria” (or just “hysteria,” since the word itself derives from “womb”).

(It’s interesting to set it alongside director Darren Aronofsky’s last film, The Wrestler, in this regard–an explicitly kitchen-sink-realistic rendering of the male body facing self-imposed abuses for the sake of a different kind of performance.)

It’s an expressionistic movie, which is one of my favorite kinds. Before I saw it, my friend Reed told me that he thought many of the film’s naysayers were making the mistake of judging it as a film about dance or as some realistic depiction of the ballet life and finding it lacking. But the movie has no interest in realism, or objective realities. The world of the movie is the world of someone’s head, not someone’s life.

There’s so much to swim in in the movie:  split selves … driving, mutilating perfectionism … an arrested sexuality. But Black Swan is also, and perhaps mostly, a movie about an artist, and I think it might be kinda revelatory about that. In A.O. Scott’s piece in the Times, he refers to it–by way of praise–as an “overheated, wildly melodramatic rendering of an artist’s struggle.” How do I create this (e.g., this performance, this painting, this book)? I can only do so by becoming it. It’s a process of brutal self-annhilation and transformation. It requires, depending on how you look at it, utter self-erasure (“I’m no longer me, I am IT.”) or complete self-absorption (no movie in recently memory has so stunningly depicted the egotism of the artist–there is no world in the movie but in the dancer’s head. It’s the only thing that matters.).

And so it’s also about aesthetic risk. Natalie Portman’s emotionally fractured dancer pushes her body beyond physical limits to make it correlate with the beautiful chaos in her head. She feels herself as the “black swan” and wills herself to become it, to manifest it. The flesh resists but finally submits. And it is, as Scott writes, a kind of “liberation in self-destruction.” And the movie takes those same aesthetic risks, walking a tightrope between art and kitsch, between psychological complexity and camp. But if it didn’t risk the fall, it would lose all its incantational magic.

This is, admittedly, dark stuff. It makes us squirm under our skin. And makes us maybe even want to make fun of it, that nervous giggle we get when we see something very internal, secret, private laid bare out there. But Black Swan also warns us sneakily of the dangers of that, of repression, restriction, compulsion. You hold them down, they come back bigger, badder. The movie asks us to, even at great risk, release ourselves.

January 2, 2011

The Dark Woods

by Sara Gran

I love this bit from the Bill Moyers/Joseph Campbell talks. Anyone who hasn’t seen the POWER OF MYTH interviews–I think you can watch them gratis on Netflix, or at least rent them–needs to watch this today, or your life will continue to make no sense and confound you at every turn.

MOYERS: But aren’t many visionaries and even leaders and heroes close to the edge of neuroticism?

CAMPBELL: Yes, they are.

MOYERS: How do you explain that?

CAMPBELL: They’ve moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you’ve got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can’t. You don’t have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience – that is the hero’s deed.

(picture by me of Armstrong woods.)