Monday, October 31, 2011

Nanowrimo--still time to sign up!

It's almost November 1st here, and chances are it already is where you are. Still time to sign up, though.

Give it a go, why don't ya?


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Blogradio chat

I listened to this blogradio chat yesterday about hardboiled and noir fiction, hosted by Giovanni Gelatti and featuring authors Paul D. Brazill, Darren Sant and Luca Veste. Some of the sound is a bit garbled, but that's not surprising considering that these guys weren't all even on the same continent. I appreciated their discussion of  what noir and hardboiled meant to each of them, as well as some nice book recommendations. But what I really liked was the sense of excitement abroad about what it means to be an author publishing in these transitional times. When you work in an indie bookstore, a lot of the time the discussion is depressing--the end of books as we know them, the end of the brick and mortar store, the actual storefront. This may be true, and it will be sad if we lose actual objects and actual places when it comes to reading. But to listen to these guys, it has never been a better time to be a writer. They're getting their stories published and read, they're find a community of crime writers and they're excited about it.

I like being poised where I am between the old world and the new. It can be difficult to articulate my own stance, but it's very interesting to try.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Normandie

The Normandie, by Reginald Marsh

We saw the S. S. Normandie as she arrived once. This was before the war. Stella and I had a few hours to kill before we had to start working at the club and we loved the harbor anyway, all that fresh air and sun was such a difference from the nightlife. It made us feel as young as we were, which most of the time, we didn’t. Lucky was meeting us there too, which was a plus, because say what you will about his mob connections, he knew how to treat a lady right. It was Lucky who knew all about that ship. He caught up with us just as it was sailing into the harbor and it was thrilling, let me tell you. Lucky said it was the biggest, fastest passenger ship in the world, and he was the kind of guy who knew about those things. He angled some way to get us all aboard, and I thought it was probably the fanciest boat that ever set sail and certainly the fanciest tub I’d ever been in. Lucky told us it was Art Deco. All I thought was, Only the French would ever think to do up a boat like this.

Lucky took a lot of pictures of us aboard it and then put an arm around each of us and told us he would take us to Europe on it one day. We knew it was just a line, but it was a good kind of line, the kind of line a girl can build a dream or two on when she’s working late hours in a smoke-filled room and the gents aren’t of the nicest quality and besides, her feet are killing her.

Then Lucky went to prison and the war broke out. I guess everyone’s luck runs out sometime.

Not too long after Lucky went inside, the Normandie arrived again—not on any luxury cruise this time, but just escaping from the Nazis. We had the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth there too for awhile, all lined up in a row, like boats in a tub. Then France fell and we seized the Normandie to use against the Nazis. The Navy rechristened it the U.S.S. Lafayette, and began turning it into a troopship.

I visited Lucky in prison a few times and once he asked me whether I still had the pictures of that day on the pier. I was surprised he was so sentimental, but then he was Italian and I guess they are--probably too much opera in their childhood. Anyway, I brought them to him and he kept them.  

Stella and I still liked to go to the harbor. There were lots of people, and it was cheap entertainment.  But one afternoon at about two o’clock a wave of panic came toward us through the crowd, and that’s how we learned that the Normandie was burning.

Like everyone else, we went to watch it burn.

It took twelve hours for the whole show to end. Stell and I had to go back to work long before the ship listed over to one side and gave up the fight. But the next day we joined the throngs who walked past the ruined hulk that it had become. It was like going to the funeral of the president. All around us, there was talk of Germans. Everyone knew they were up in Germantown or right there in our very midst, planning acts of sabotage.

Stella nudged me and off to the right who do I see but Tony Anastasio. Tough Tony, they called him. His brother was Albert Anastasia, another mobster friend of Lucky’s, and Tony had the International Longshoreman’s Association about sewn up himself. He was smoking a cigarette and leaning on a railing, looking out at the ship. He turned to us blankly, then recognized us—we knew him through Lucky and through the club—and offered us each a cigarette.

“Does Lucky know about the Normandie?” I asked. I had a feeling it would upset him, so I wasn’t sure if it would be better for him to know or not.

“He knows,” Tony said. He seemed a little glum. “So what do you gals make of it all?”

“Germans!” we said in unison. We were sure of this. Everybody said so. The devils had slit the fire hoses. They had put gasoline into the water sprinklers. No deed was too dastardly for those Gerries .

He smiled, and looked out over the water.

“What, don’t you?” Stell asked. She was incredulous. To us it was all as plain as the rather prominent nose on Tough Tony’s face.

 “Just an accident, girls. Don’t worry those pretty heads about the Gerries.”

We must have looked skeptical.

“The guys tell me a spark caught the life jackets and they went up—whoosh! All filled with kapok. Ever heard of it?”

We shook our heads.

“Highly flammable.” He looked at his watch.“ Hey, I gotta be somewhere. See you gals at the club tonight? I certainly do hope so.” He winked, and was gone.

I watched him off, wondering how he knew so damn much about kapok.

It turned out there was no German sabotage. The fire had been started by a welding torch, just like Tony said. It also turned out that Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano was moved from a maximum to a minimum security prison shortly thereafter, in exchange for a few favors having to do with protecting the harbor from sabotage. Maybe they really did prevent a few German dirty tricks. Or maybe the only ‘sabotage’ Lucky kept us safe from was his own.

Lucky’s sentence was commuted and he was deported to Italy after the war, where he fell for a dancer, who was younger than we were by then. So we never did get our cruise, but maybe that was for the best.

I still wish I had those pictures I gave him. But then, Lucky probably had other uses for them all along.

This story was written for Patti Abbot's flash fiction challenge. She offered to pay five dollars to Union Settlement for every story written by October 18th. So even if the story is rotten it's still a good thing to have tried. I found the Marsh painting first and the story of the Normandie later. What really happened to it is still a subject of contention.

Union Settlement
237 East 104th Street
New York, NY 10029-5499

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Nanowrimo 2011

Not to pressure you or anything, but it's now October 15th, so it's time to start thinking about whether you are going to do Nanowrimo this year or not. Not sure what it is? Click HERE and all will be revealed...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The 2011 Muse Online Writers Conference--personal highlights

Every year since this conference began I start it out in pretty much the same way. I look over the advance material on workshops and chats and try and figure out what appeals to me--and then end up doing something completely different.

To be honest, I'm never quite sure why I'm attending the conference when I start out. Not that I think it will be a waste of time, just that I don't really have an objective. This year was no exception. I took the time off and thought well, if it lags a bit, I can at least finally clean my house.

But no. I got completely immersed, as I always do if I actually have the time to give myself over to it. When I wasn't in the chat rooms attending presentations about everything under the writing sun, I was trying to complete various assignments.

Here are some personal highlights:

Margot Finke offered her workshop on hooking an editor from the first page. I sent something in, and got a good tip and some additional things to consider, but in some ways the best part of this workshop is to read the way Margot edits other people's work. You're a little more detached and a lot less defensive and you can see what she's saying. A truly tireless Australian. Thanks, mate!

Janie Franz's freelancing workshop was basically a complete course packed into a few days. I think I only managed to complete about half of it during the actual time, but the handouts are thorough and will be an excellent reference. I'm torn about freelance writing as a bigger commitment, but I know if I actually snag something, I'll give it my all. Great course, Janie.

Pepper Smith took on what is usually a team effort in offering a suspense workshop. She was great on analysing what is and isn't suspense. I think one of the most successful of us who gave this a stab actually wrote a humorous piece about a pet awaiting dinner. It's not about the actual peril, it's about the state of anxiety induced in the protagonist. Thank you, Pepper, for guiding us through all this. I've got a suspense piece to work on as a result.

Perhaps the most surprising development for me was when I joined D. S. Kane's chat and subsequently his workshop called True Lies: Writing Covert Training and Missions into Fiction. I didn't realize until I took his workshop that I've actually been increasingly drawn to reading and perhaps writing about the realm of spycraft in our modern world. Excellent resource and gracious teacher--thanks, D.S. Kane!

Karina Fabian lead a host of excellent chats, and though I did not attend her workshops this year, I was constantly impressed about how effectively she presented her information in her chats, including an impromptu chat about clutter and the writer--by popular demand.

Funnest chat? That presented by the awesome A.R. Braun, up and coming horror writer. I don't typically write horror, but I loved the way he threw us all into writing a horror story together--which actually had a nice twisty ending. I have to admit that I was laughing more than cringing at the unfolding, but that's probably just my very macho mentality (I lie.) Checked out his workshop afterwards and I'm sorry that he did not get more horror writers to follow through, as he had some very sound principles for people who are interested in this genre.

You can't mention the Muse without mentioning host Lea Schizas in the same breath. This is her baby. She's a Canadian dynamo, who manages to be anywhere and everywhere in the conference, sort of like God. She's got a publishing venture up herself now: MuseItUp publishing and MuseItHot Publishing. Having written a story for an anthology for Lea, I know that she's a terrific content editor and a real go-getter on behalf of her writers.

This is only one small corner of the conference. Registration will be open for next year shortly. I'll post a link here when you can sign up. There will be other courses and workshops through the year which you will then be on the A list for. It's free. What's to lose?  

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Muse Online Conference 2011- Day One

I don't know who actually follows this blog, but I thought I'd use it for the time being to write a post or two about my progress through the Muse Conference this year. I've attended this free online conference since its inception five or six years ago. It's always fun, it's always a little bit different, and I'm pretty sure I always feel this kind of dithering feeling at the beginning. Unlike other conferences where you leave your daily life behind, in this one you find yourself in the middle of it, and you will frequently find that someone has left to take their dog out or sign for a package, or because a storm has knocked out their internet. You learn to take these kinds of things in stride.

Today was a bit dicey. There seemed to be an internet problem from this end, and I think there may have been some problem on the site itself. But late in the afternoon, everyone seemed to be working again and I hit my stride, found myself entering workshops and submitting samples and getting into the spirit of the whole thing once again. I forget that this is pretty much how it always happens. I forget that the domestic space disappears and the conference drags me in. Bad news for the house. Good news for the writer.