Wednesday, September 21, 2016

BOOKLOG 58: LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (THE MODERN VERSION)


BOOK LOG 58: LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (THE MODERN VERSION)
Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes: The Early Years; When Evil Calls; The Choice; Consequences; Volume 1 (Hostile World); Volume 2 (The Dominators); Volume 3 (The Fatal Five); Legion Lost; Great Darkness Saga
Various authors and artists
DC Comics Entertainment

Instead of telling you about the prose books I’ve been reading (or editing), I should tell you about the graphic novels I’ve been reading this year, from time to time, in between projects. There are other graphic novels I’ve been reading (manga, actually, but I’ll tell you about those another day), but since I have a lot of Legion books near me right now, I figured I should tell you why these are memorable.

First (of course there’s a first; how else would I set the scene, aside from a literal “As you know”?), I got interested in comics and the Legion in particular when I was a teenager. From then on I read them voraciously, got in contact with others of a similar comic persuasion (by mail; these were years long before the Internet, my children), wrote letters to the editors of the comic books, even sold a few stories, and worked at a comic company for a short while. Let me sum all this up by saying I was intrigued. Of particular interest to me were the stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes.

The Legion was first introduced in the late 1950s, about a group of three teenagers with amazing powers from the 30th century inviting Superboy to join their club. The stories about their adventures that ran in the 1960s had a particular cachet because a number of the most memorable were written by a teenaged boy named Jim Shooter, often inspired by whatever he was studying in junior high and later high school. Stories by a teenager about teenagers! These were stories about Superboy and his pals when he went into the 30th century, teenaged heroes with names like Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy and Brainiac 5 and Matter-Eater Lad. (Yes, Matter-Eater Lad, often named as one of the most ludicrously titled. But logical. Again, a topic for another day.)

Later on, I found out that there were other readers who also found them of interest, one of whom I married (yes, dear reader). To this day, I count many as friends. I stopped reading comics after a few years because other matters took precedence (making a steady living, among others), but I kept the Legion close to my heart. (Considering by then I was married to someone who could cite issue number and other details of the early Legion stories, it was always going to stick around.) The Legion kept popping up in DC books in various forms, and even though Marvel was getting accolades for their group and teen books (do the Avengers and the X-Men strike a chord?), the Legion were generally mocked (Matter-Eater Lad often mentioned in the mockery).

Skip to the present day (finally! You say). The Legion has changed a lot since I first read them back in the 1960s. They’ve gotten older, they’ve lost members (the team even has a hall of fallen heroes), they’ve gone through turmoil, all reflecting not only their readership but the turmoil and complexity of the world and society. I liked a lot of the storylines (a lot of it could have used blunt editing, frankly, but there’s a reason I wouldn’t work there), a lot of the art worked while a lot didn’t (pretty pictures don’t tell a story), but there was enough that I kept reading.

Of particular interest was the storyline about a xenophobic character named Earth-Man who’s turned down for membership to the Legion, and in retaliation, he builds up another super-hero society and attempts to destroy the Legion. He calls himself as Earth-Man because he views the Legionnaires not from Earth to be an infection, a detriment to the world, and becomes a terrorist. (I told you it reflects modern society.) He’s foiled by the Legion, goes to jail—but in a twist, he’s forced to join the Legion, even as he keeps in touch with his xenophobic terrorist allies, plotting to kill the Legion and its offworlder components. He doesn’t want to be there; the feeling is mutual. How he changes made for interesting reading (along the way, he sleeps with a blue-skinned Legionnaire, so yes, he does have to change). In all, I found it worth reading.

(Matter-Eater Lad? His world and everything in it was poisoned, so to survive the people had to adapt to eat every- and anything. See? Very logical!)

Coming up: West of Everything by Jane Tompkins

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Organizing Work (and Life)



Recently, I finally picked up an appointment book after years of using a digital version, then printing out a copy of each month’s activity. Then about two years ago, for whatever reason (the wireless connection in my house has always been iffy, and the router finally died earlier this year), the printer became a solitary unit (that is, it wouldn’t connect with anything; it scans and copies, and so it will print as well, but only if I bothered to figure out where to insert a memory stick). I haven’t had a chance to figure out why; I hadn’t needed to use it, and when I need printouts, I went to the library one block away. (I’m not good with technology. Not uncomfortable, but it would take me a longer time to suss out the problem than I wanted to waste when I could have been working.) Of course, for a long time that worked fine. When I wanted something more than a few pages from the library printer, I could go to the Staples a mile away (and since I don’t have a car, I walk to, but again it has to be something I have to make sure I have an hour to waste walking there and walking home).

It’s getting to the point, though, that not having a printer is getting inconvenient. And because I don’t have a printout of my month’s goals, I was getting frustrated that I’d miss deadlines (like those for OtherWorld Diner) that I shouldn’t have. I kept telling myself I’d fix the connection or break down and call a repair guy (grr!), but I never have.

And I still haven’t. At least for the deadlines, now I have a little book made up of months, weeks, and pages on which to write notes. Just like I had...before the digital age. Like the big leather binder I still have on my desk, gathering dust. It’s shut and put in a safe place; I have no space on my desk for something that size.

Life as a story guide
Why hasn’t the whole “I have all the deadlines I need to remember on my laptop/phone/other device” worked for me? I had all those deadlines on my computer’s calendar, but I’d get a reminder and I’d say oh yeah I should get on that and that would be it. More often than not, the reminder would come up when I was working on a project and wasn’t at a point to work on it. With a binder of paper, small (mass market paperback size), I have it propped open to the proper month, with everything I have to do coming up not giving me a gentle reminder. No, in my own handwriting, scrawled, sometimes in CAPS. For me, that works.

I think of it in pretty much the same way authors—including me—have story binders. My life and work as a story, basically. This is particularly useful for those writing series and crucial for those writing fantasy and science fiction series. I’ve seen remarkably elaborate versions, in thick binders, color illustrations and maps, so the tiny details of a fictional world remain fresh. An organizer is the same thing for real-life folks. (And a great start for a story, come to think of it! You can see it, can’t you? “Dental appt 9am. Mktg meet 11am. Lunch/blind date 1 pm. Note: Pick up toothpaste.”)

I know someone who actually offers a service to build story binders for those who need to keep track of the details for a series. Doesn’t matter if it’s historical or fantastical or science fiction or small-town contemporary; she’ll keep all those details for you, and if you decide to insert a tiny detail, tell her and she’ll make sure she has it for you. Yessirree, it’s an organizer for your story! (If you’re curious about her service, ask me!)

Meanwhile, my life organizer is being populated by the day with projects, deadlines, workshops, and even appointments. And it works for me.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

BOOKLOG 57: The Big Short


BOOKLOG 57: THE BIG SHORT
Inside the Doomsday Machine
by Michael Lewis

After Thomas Wolfe there was Tom Wolfe, he of the white suits, writing about modern-day nonfictiony things, including The Right Stuff, on which was based the most excellent movie. After Bonfire of the Vanities, his satirical novel looking at the indulgences, though, I lost track of his work, for one reason or another. Somehow, his fiction just wasn’t as riveting as the nonfiction he wrote.

In the vein of the early Tom Wolfe is Michael Lewis, who’s written riveting nonfiction in the books you may have heard of from the movies made from them (Moneyball? Liar’s Poker? The Blind Side? Aw, c’mon. That last movie won Sandra Bullock an Oscar. You remember). Since I read Moneyball when it was referenced in an interview I was editing, at the magazine I worked at when it was first published (the book, not the magazine), I’ve been a Lewis fan. For someone with little interest in math or Wall Street, I’ve spent a large part of my life involved in both, and surprisingly (or not), reading about both.

Anyway, with The Big Short I actually saw the movie first, for once. The cast was intriguing enough, and the topic a challenge enough (talking about the derivative markets and making it understandable for the movie-going audience? This we had to see), that we had to check it out. And it worked! Complete with the actress of the moment Margot Robbie (you may know her as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, and the second wife in Wolf of Wall Street) in a bubbly bathtub explaining a complex bond tidbit. She was on screen for less than a minute, but it was memorable. (Do I remember specifically what her topic was? Of course not. But I did admire the conceit of having her explain it.)

But that’s not the book. (There are a number of asides like the one with Robbie to explain some detail, but that’s the one bizarre enough to stick.) Lewis explains the primary characters in a great big explosion that occurred on Wall Street—metaphorical, not literal—who at the beginning of the book don’t know each other. Lewis explains each, the characters, their backgrounds, and how they came about to be involved in the meltdown. If you’ve ever read The Bridge at San Luis Rey, in the same manner, you have unrelated folks involved at one moment in time and then, suddenly, they are related, in a way. If you like disaster movies, this is a disaster that doesn’t involve Michael Bay or Irwin Allen. Emotional disasters are a whole ‘nother thing, and Lewis details it all.

If you ever want an example of how getting involved in Wall Street isn’t good for anyone’s health in the long run, this book will make it clear.

Coming up: West of Everything by Jane Tompkins

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

BOOKLOG 56: The Book of Yokai


BOOKLOG 56: THE BOOK OF YOKAI
Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore
by Michael Dylan Foster

Those of you who know me know that I co-present a series of workshops looking at myths and legends around the world and how each changes depending on region (for those curious, it’s the “Silk Road and Beyond” workshops, looking at dragons, vampires, werewolves/shapeshifters, angels, demons, ghosts, bigfeet, and even faeries, with “The Seven Seas” entry looking at water myths and creatures). The challenge on occasion has been finding reliable sources of information that doesn’t dip into someone’s gaming lore or comics or some such, all of which are inspired by but doesn’t necessarily adhere to the traditional lore. Fortunately, between my co-presenter Jacquie Rogers and me, we managed to find clean sources.

And only after all those workshops we scrimped and scraped for data did I discover this work. Timing is everything, and I don’t got it! But just in case this can help you, I’ll tell you about Michael Dylan Foster’s book. According to his bio, Foster is an associate professor of East Asian folklore at Indiana University. So he’s got academic chops in the topic (and I am so jealous!). He observes that the Japanese tend to hold their myths and lore closer to their lives than other cultures do, part of their everyday lives, so that in itself shapes the culture.

Foster dives into detail about the differences between two similar examples of folklore, separated by regional differences; considering that Japan isn’t that big a country, it’s remarkable the variations you can suss out if you look, and Foster looks. If you find yourself forgetting the great variations of nature and culture, this book will give you a great big honking reminder. A fun read overall. Highly recommended!

Coming up: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Monday, July 04, 2016

Happy 32nd Interdependence Day!


For those of us in the US, today is Independence Day, celebrating the day we as a nation decided not to be ruled by another nation. In other parts of the world, though, it's just July 4. But wherever we are, no matter what culture we're currently in, today is Interdependence Day for my husband and me, because it's our anniversary.

We got married on July 4 in Brooklyn, NY, 32 years ago, and had our reception in the restaurant in the tallest building in Bay Ridge. We chose that spot because that's where we lived; we loved the area (the southernmost tip of Brooklyn, right before the Verrazano Bridge, which leads you to Staten Island), and by having our reception in that building, we could see the fireworks over in Manhattan. It was one day that we knew most everyone we wanted to invite would have off, and surprisingly, neither the church nor the restaurant were booked. It was a lovely, sunny day (okay, it was summer in New York: It was scorching, the church wasn't air-conditioned, but the sky was a beautiful blue), and we remember it fondly still. 

Eventually, we moved away -- across the country, even, to Washington state -- but we had the opportunity to go back to New York a few years ago, just in time for our anniversary. We had dinner at the restaurant at the top of that same building, and watched the fireworks over in Manhattan again. We remember that fondly, too.

How is any of this relevant? Well, I write and edit romances. And our wedding was romantic. And it's Interdependence Day. So Happy Interdependence Day, one and all!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

BOOKLOG 55: The Highwayman


BOOKLOG 55: THE HIGHWAYMAN
A Longmire Mystery
by Craig Johnson

As always, Craig Johnson’s Longmire series, mixing up elements of mystery, paranormal, modern-day western, and even soap opera (here and there, not much, don’t worry), comes through once again with this book. In The Highwayman, local legends come into play, specifically ghost stories. Like all good ghost stories, there’s a grain of truth in the one that is the central story here. Once more, Johnson brings us into the Wyoming world of Walt Longmire, this time introducing us to the local state police who keep the roads safe, and tracking down those who choose to abuse them. Central to our story this time are even those who have died keeping them safe—who are rumored to still do so, even after their deaths. What’s going on? There’s also a rumor about gold coins that were stolen long ago, but they’re showing up near a site where a particular highway patrolman met his death. Was he involved? Did he know something about them? Walt Longmire has to find out.

I have long recommended these books by Craig Johnson, and this latest one just proves once again to me there’s good reason.

Coming up: The Book of Yokai!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

BOOKLOG 54: Sayonara Slam


Booklog 54: SAYONARA SLAM: A Mas Arai Mystery
by Naomi Hirahara

You may or may not remember my writing about Mas Arai, the elderly Hiroshima survivor/gardener/amateur detective, whose English is none too good (but then neither is his Japanese), but who nevertheless manages to solve many a puzzling crime. Anyway, just to refresh your memory, he’s an elderly Hir…okay, now you remember. Sort of. Seriously, Mas is a kibei, a Japanese-American, born in the US but educated in Japan, in his case caught in Japan during World War II. This is Hirahara’s sixth mystery with Mas, this one concerned with a suspicious death in Dodger Stadium during the World Baseball Classic, Japan versus Korea, during which Mas, who has a unique perspective since his son-in-law is the head of the gardening staff there, discovers that the death was murder…and the story begins.

As always, Hirahara has done her research to build memorable subplots, in this case using a little-remembered historical fact about an American POW ship that brought Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Peruvians (kidnapped from Peru, in fact) to a prearranged location during World War II to exchange for Allied POWs. The fact that the Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Peruvians weren’t spies and had nothing to do with the war didn’t matter. Then there was all the great detail about knuckleball pitchers (I’m a Seattleite, and remember Phil Niekro, knuckleballer extraordinaire, fondly), and the master/apprentice relationship in Japanese culture/baseball, and how Korea fits into Japan’s modern history, all explored. And Mas finally being forced to acknowledge that yes, he has a girlfriend.

My only complaint about this book, in fact, was the editing: where was it? Tenses jumped all the time, POV changed for two sentences out of the blue, and typoes that suggested that there was a step left out (when one reads that someone’s “interest was peaked,” you know that editing was uncertain). Fortunately, I could skip it because, after all, it’s Mas.

Coming up: Hm. I know!