Friday, February 27, 2015

Veritas Diaboli

27th February 2015

And the Oscar goes's a bit like professional boxing - you want to believe in it, but you just can't. Still, we have always pinned laurels on our "greatest and whitest," it seems to be something in our makeup. And we all watch in rapt fascination the lives of these largely dysfunctional people. It's sort of a sick parade, and yet you can't keep your eyes off the spectacle. But I suppose it means as much as it did in ancient Greece when they planted the wreath on the head of the gladiator. It's just that our gladiators are in Darth Vader costumes. The real person is a sickly worm living inside a helmet. But then our age doesn't really care that much about real people.

It is the era of truthiness, not truth. I won't defend "the truth," because like everyone else, I can't define it. Pontius Pilate turns away from the condemned Christ with the words, "What is truth?" We're still asking. It's something we feel at a gut level, but it's not quantifiable.  On a visceral level you know that people who murder and maim in the name of truth are nowhere close. And neither does it have to do with "facts" necessarily, which is the realm of science, even though "science" has spawned its own priesthood, as have the militant atheists.

It's what art can point to, though never define, and why, I suppose it's a good thing to honour the efforts of the cinematic artists as the world did at the Oscars last Sunday night.
And besides, if I were truthful, I would admit that following the three-hour long production, I was out in the snow with my dogs, trundling along with my hood pulled up against a black moonless sky, deciding on my acceptance speech if I were ever to receive the award for best adapted screenplay. I decided I would quote Yeats, because the poets get closer than most in this quest for the truth. But I won't tell you which lines of Yeats. You'll have to watch the Oscars - just don't hold your breath!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Shucks, folks!

20th February 2015

Just for this week, I'm going to suspend my Woody Allen line that awards are meaningless (Adolph Hitler - Best Nazi!), because I actually just got one! They sent it to me on Valentines Day and it's for best 2014 Time Travel novel. I have never heard of the book site that gave it to me (CataNetwork), but then I have never heard of most book sites. I don't care if its three women (my guess, is it's  women, because women are the book readers of our age - and what does that  tell us?) sitting around a table in Hoboken (I don't know where that is either.) I am going to take the Sally Field approach and overflow with gratitude because now I know they love me! They had all the time travel books out there to choose from and they chose mine!

I am particularly appreciative of the timing of this award because my agent is currently in negotiations with my editor for the second book in my time travel series, Druid Hill. Now it's a slam dunk - hey, I got this award from Hoboken, how can you say No?

At some point, someone signed me up for LinkedIn, so I am listed on that site, but I don't use it. Still, they send me e-mails all the time prodding me to provide a proper profile. They ask me where do you work, and I say under the stairs, because that's where I wrote a few of my novels. In a cupboard under the stairs, to be precise. I don't even do Twitter anymore much. I am a publicist's nightmare, because all I do is this flaming blog, which I might add seems to have some appeal in the world arena. Currently, my biggest audience is in Germany. (Vielen Dank, Deutsche Leute - wissen Sie, ich arbeitete neun monatelang als Au Pair Maedchen in Deustchland. Ich habe Sehnsucht nach gutes Brot, Bretzeln und Leberspaetzle!) My fellow Brits check in once in a while, but aren't regular readers. Hey, thanks for nothing - don't you know I have an award?! I can just imagine my Scottish acquaintances say,  "Right, that's it! I always knew she was full of herself."

I jest. My fellow compatriots are good Calvinists (or in Scotland, Knoxians.) Whenever you get an award, there's the Christians ready to tell you not to let it go to your head. (A Dubliner once told me that if they see Bono on the street, they don't make a fuss in case it goes to his head!)  But I've been in the closet (under the stairs) for too long. I shall crow!! Even if pride does come before a fall, you know Proverbs 16:18. Yada, yada, yada. I'm back to Woody Allen. So, the award might not mean much, but it makes me proud. And for today I'll claim that pride. Thank you Hoboken - I appreciate it!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Honest to God!

13th February 2015

Friday, 13th! Get out your ghost and ghoulie costumes! The veil is drawn thin once again. Hold up your crucifixes - the pagan runs rampant for another of those Halloween days!
A week or so ago, I wrote my blog in response to the Charlie Hebdo incident, trying to make the case for satire in any age and culture. So I am more than dismayed to see Jon Stewart announce this week his retirement from the The Daily Show. He is one of the few effective jesters we have in this country, and as I was trying to point out, every king needs his fool to keep fresh air moving about his head.
When I first came to this country, I had never encountered anything like "The National Enquirer," and I still don't get it. I don't get Fox News either. I don't understand how a substantial portion of the nation can bury their heads in the sand and not care that they are only hearing what they want to hear.   Bill Moyers, another "whistle-blower" has written screeds on lying in America and how it goes unchecked, much like the inbred lying that goes on in alcoholic families to keep the truth from the door.
So, the jesters are crucial in this country more than in most others in the "free" world, and this is why I hope the Daily Show carries on in some fashion. If it doesn't we are all in danger of asphyxiation.

How does all this relate to literature? What is the truth of stories? It's hard to define, but something that you recognise in your gut when you see it. Jane Austen painted a pretty picture of early nineteenth century English society, but it wasn't really the truth, was it? Oscar Wilde got closer by mocking the whole upper crust pantomime. Not long after Austen, Emily Bronte was painting dark moors and subterranean landscapes of the heart which her prim critics described as "demonic." JK Rowling writes tomes about the suppressed pagan and magical in our history, and the folks down south burn her books. 

But one thing worse than burning books, is not writing them in the first place. We need stories to breathe by. We need the jesters and we need the bards, to save us from ourselves. We need the druids, too, but I don't know in this day and age what they would look like. I'm not sure we would recognise religious truth-sayers anymore if we fell over them.

Friday, February 6, 2015


6th February 2015

The word Numen literally means "a nod of the head." And that is what the Pulitzer board did in the direction of Donna Tartt last year for her book "Goldfinch," and what I would also like to do, because I have just finished her book, and it deserves a nod of the head. Not in the way Harding's "Tinkers" did and does, because that prize was awarded for the sheer beauty of the prose. Tartt's book relies more on plot than poetry, but the dialogue is top-notch and the narrative certainly does compel you along. I'm not sure about it's ultimate message, which seems to be that life is a cesspool with only rare moments of illumination, because I see life as something a little more sun-lit in its own right. I do like her Artful Dodger, Boris - he's the Zorba of this book, although he is an alcoholic and drug addict, and I'm not sure you get to celebrate life through a character that it is zoned out for much of it.
The narrative, of course, centres around The Goldfinch painted by Fabritius in 1654. It is one of those numinous revelations that for Tartt shine out of the cesspool.

Numen in its common usage, of course, refers to a sort of other-wordly presence encountered in the everyday. A God nod. An epiphany, I suppose. It is these encounters that provide the spark for our artistic endeavours. Of course, it doesn't really matter what it is - it could be a piece of string. It could be a red wheel barrow or a crow.

It's not the object of the numinous experience that matters, but the space in which we encounter it. I'm avoiding the word "religious" to describe these moments here, but I still maintain that the artistic and the religious experience are just different sons of the same mother. The sexual is another sibling in that family.

Publishing news: I am over the first round of hurdles with Druid Hill, the sequel to Veil of Time. This round was for my agent, Esmond. I did one final sweep of the novel and it seemed to pass muster, so we're off with it to Abby, my editor at Simon and Schuster (who has first right of refusal, as per my contract for VOT.) Let's hope we get a nod of the head.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Golden Apples of The Sun

January 30th 2015

I used to read a picture book to my children when they were little called "The Lupine Lady." It was about Miss Rumphius who searched her whole life for adventure and in the end, when she was too old to travel any more, settled into the kind of house over the ocean that one day I hope to occupy. And here Miss Rumphius pondered how she could leave the world a better place. She thought and thought, and here's what she settled upon: lupines. From that time until her death she scattered lupine seeds along every trail, on every hillside, through every town until in the spring of each year the land was ablaze with pink, purple and blue lupines.

I bring that up because in a similar way I would like my legacy to be poems. Not my poems, but the great poems our race has left along the way. And I would like to sow them in the hearts of the young, where they can do the most good. When my children were a bit older, I paid them to learn poems.
Poetry is important because it exists at the perfect point of balance between  wonder and the intellect;  it is the kernel around which all other fruits of art flourish. Even a painting has a silent poem at its heart.
Why is Shakespeare celebrated - for the stories? No. To modern ears the narratives are overwrought and often plain silly. For the characters? No. Even Hamlet on his battlements is close to caricature, the youth weighed down by existential angst. Ophelia is as alien and outdated as some Freudian notion of female hysteria.
It's the poetry, silly: Life's...but a walking shadow, a poor player that frets and struts his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. 
Life's but a walking shadow. Pure nectar.
Top of my list of poems-for-pay is Yeats's "Song Of Wandering Aengus." I will pay anyone money to emblazon these words on their brain cells:

I went out to the Hazel wood
Because a fire was in my head,
Cut and peeled a hazel wand
And hooked a berry to a thread
And when white moths were on the wing
And moth-like stars were flickering out
I dropped the berry in a steam
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had lain it on the floor
And gone to blow the fire aflame
Something rustled on the floor
And someone called me by name
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossoms in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And vanished in the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands
I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hands
And walk among long dappled grass
And pluck till time and time are done
The silver apples of the moon
The golden apples of the sun.

This is why you have to have faith in humanity. Despite its depths of depravity sometimes, it is capable of moments such as this. Which is why poetry is the queen of the arts and why I'd like to be known one day, not as the lupine lady but as the poems-for-pay lady. I can think of no better gift than a shining poem to set like a diamond in the dark soul.  I don't care how disturbed your thoughts, how starved your heart, if you bury these words inside of yourself, a warm glow will take hold that wasn't there before.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Uber Alles

January 23rd 2015

I have a good friend who is one quarter Cherokee, whose name is Son of Little Horse, and with whom I talk about the dark things, the mind-bending things. He tells me that according to the Indian way of thinking, there are seven directions: north, south, west, east, up, down and inward. It's the "inward" things we talk about. He hasn't read my published book and doesn't think he needs to, because he knows my intent. He knows that ultimately the point of this series lies in the shadowlands. Every time I see him he says, "And how is the third book coming along?" He knows fine well I haven't even begun the third book, but he is trying to urge me to it.
I have been to the place in Scotland, way up north and east in the hinterland, a final stronghold of the ancient Picts, where I want to set the book, but the topic scares me. I don't know if it's not too big for me to tackle. You see, because it's asking the explosive question: How would our world look today if Christianity had not flown on the wings of Roman expansion and spread throughout Europe, but settled back into the Middle East as a cultish off-shoot of Judaism, as is how it began. The problem is, I can't think of any area of our life that would not be different. And so I am shying away from thinking about it at all.

I think it would all be very different, because once patriarchy takes over, it changes how we live, how we worship, how we go about meeting our fellow man, woman and animal. It beats its chest and says me uber alles! The ancient Japanese sage described Christianity thus: "Man against God, man against man; Man against nature, God against nature; God against man - funny religion."
I don't want to be idealistic and say that if matriarchies had been the norm, than all would be rosy. But I do want to say that it would be a hell of lot rosier! If you take male territorialism out of the equation, then how many wars would there have been? If you take male territorialism out of the equation, would we be on the brink of destroying our planet? If you take male territorialism out of the equation, then the native people of the Americas would be a much happier less ravaged people (which is why my Cherokee friend is pushing me here!)

So, if you shift the paradigm, how would things look? That is the enormous, maybe unanswerable, question for my third book in the Veil of Time series: if a parallel universe exists in which humanity had not gone the male supremacy route, the Roman-driven Priest-laden road, what would it look like? Think about it. (And if you come up with any really good answers, let me know.)

Friday, January 16, 2015

You're Rocking the Boat, Charlie

January 16th 2015

The first thing I want to say in this entry is that I understand the mess that western greed has created in the Middle East. I get it. I do.
And then I want to move on rather quickly to saluting the cartoonists who died in last week's terrorist attack in Paris. Apart from lacking a sense of humour, the people that perpetrated this evil have no understanding of the necessary role satire plays in any society. What a small and shrivelled icon they have in their prophet if they think he needs them to defend him against this. The killings weren't about the prophet anyway, they were about fundamentalism and totalitarianism, two modes of ideology that are about as far from religious sentiment as you can get. As far from art in its many incarnations.
But even if the prophet did need these bozos to defend him, here's why satire is good anyway:  it's one of those checks and balance scenerios that America prides itself on but which rarely in any governing body here gets to see light of day. In Arthur's Court you had the jester. In Shakespeare you have the fool. In modern day you have the comics and the cartoons. It should be separated from politics of any kind, and its a public service.
Comedy is one arm of the arts, and the arts are there to hold up a mirror to any culture. Totalitarian regimes are scared of mirrors, because they don't want people to see the wheels and cogs in the machine behind the facade that holds their ideology together. Enter the thugs.

I don't care whether they are wearing a keffiyeh, yamaka or mitre, if they are saying "Don't Speak, Don't Write, Don't Draw!" they are thugs, and that is not a religious position. Or any place in which humans can aspire to a higher self.  
Of course, if you allow every artist their freedom, you'll end up with, as well as some good art, a lot of trash. My local art museum thinks turtles walking around with Ipads on their backs and a stuffed cat cut in two amounts to an art exhibition. But it's a small price to pay. You don't have to go to these exhibits. The artist, the comic, the satirist, however, does have to speak.
Satire is there to be disrespectful. That's the point. It's a healthy thing. Society needs it. And as Salmon Rushdie said, "What would respectful satire even look like?"

Most importantly, the human being is nothing but a rigid post if you take away the ability to laugh, and, yes, even at ourselves. An aged man (says WB Yeats but lets say any man or woman) is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick unless soul clap hands and sing and louder sing for every tatter in its mortal dress.

My guess is the prophet Mohammed was not a paltry thing. Religions don't grow up in an atmosphere of paltriness, at least not at the outset.  But these mirror-smashers are paltry. Thugs who see their job as maiming and killing have very little song going on in their souls.