Thursday, March 21, 2013

March Madness for Readers

We who are basketball illiterate need no longer be left out of March Madness. Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City is providing an NCAA tournament-type bracket for us readers. The titles are ranked and seeded for our own Big Dance.

Share your choices with friends and family and see how brilliant and well-read they are. Of course, the truly smart and literate members of your circle will chose the same books you do.

The first set of competing books are now available for voting. Click on to vote for your favorite books and follow the voting to see if your picks are winners.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

“Life of Pi” in 3D
When I was a little girl, more than half a century ago, I saw my first 3D movie. At the opening flaming arrows came out into the audience. I snatched off my special paper-framed glasses, went down behind the seats, and didn’t come up again until my parents were ready to go home.
Things have changed. I have changed. I love the concept of 3D movies. Disney World awakened me to the glories of 3D cinema. Misbegotten rereleases of movies like “Jaws” in 3D reburied my enthusiasm under what I believed to be impenetrable volcanic mud and ash.
Then came “Avatar” stoking an ember into flame. I could overlook the rehash of every old Tarzan movie I’d ever seen complete with restless, dancing natives and the search for…you name it… In “Avatar” it was unobtainium, which my daughter pointed out was scientifically abbreviated as BS.
But the special effects were stunning. And immediately the ‘it’ I was searching for was a good movie in 3D. So when I heard Life of Pi was being made into a movie and a 3D movie at that, I knew I had to see it.
I had a serious problem. Despite recommendations from my well-read son, and an equally well-read friend, and good intentions on my part, I had not yet read the book. My son suggested that I would probably like the movie, but it would be best to read the book. And I had only three days before the movie opened in my hometown.
Luckily, Life of Pi is a slender volume and was immediately available through the internet wonder of Barnes and Noble’s Nook. (Don’t get me started on the financial dangers of books being so easily purchased day or night, rain or shine.)
With passages like “A white splinter came crashing down from the sky, puncturing the water. The water was shot through with what looked like white roots; briefly, a great celestial tree stood in the ocean.” And “The sea lay quietly, bathed in a shy, light-footed light, a dancing play of black and silver that extended without limits all about me. The volume of things was confounding—the volume of air above me, the volume of water around and beneath me.” This book was intended to be 3D.
The story, told in poetic simplicity, twists and turns through cultures and philosophies and geographies. It’s hero balances precariously on the edge between life and death, sanity and insanity, reality and fantasy throughout the book. Here is a story worthy of the special effects of a 3D movie.
For those of you not familiar with the story, it follows a teen-aged Indian boy through his survival alone on a life boat with a Bengal tiger adrift in the Pacific Ocean for 227 days.
Then there was the question of whether or not, Hollywood would be up to the task.
The film won 2013 Academy Awards for Best Direction, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects. I can’t speak to the music, because quite honestly I don’t remember it. I think it must have fit the movie though, or I would remember it.
The visual effects were outstanding, especially the tiger. I particularly remember the computer generated tiger’s paws as he went from well-fed to emaciated during the ordeal. His paws became angular bone and sinew covered with a pelt, dulled by starvation.
The 3D effects were overshadowed by the CG work. And truly, the film will lose very little if you see it without 3D.
The book gives you the ultimate 3D experience. Pi describes the sea at night:
“At multiple depths, as far as I could see, there were evanescent trails of phosphorescent green bubbles…. As soon as one trail faded another appeared. … from all directions and disappeared in all directions. … like time-exposure photographs of cities at night, with the long red streaks made by the tail lights of cars. … driving above and under each other as if they were on interchanges stacked ten storeys high. And here the cars were of the craziest colours. The dorados…showed off their bright gold, blue and green as they whisked by. Other fish that I could not identify were yellow, brown, silver, blue, red, pink, green, white, in all kinds of combinations…. Only the sharks stubbornly refused to be colourful…. …one thing was constant: the furious driving. There were many collisions—all involving fatalities—and a number of cars spun wildly out of control…bursting above the surface of the water and splashing down in showers of luminescence.”

Monday, March 4, 2013

Don’t Open with a Weather Report

“It was a dark and stormy night…”
How many of you out there have writing teachers, coaches, mentors, whatever, who admonish you against starting your Great American Novel with a weather report? Yeah, me, too. And I think they’re probably right.
But weather certainly has a place in our world and in our work.
I grew up in Oklahoma and learned early-on that watching the weather can be a matter of life and death.
For a while, I lived on the edge of a vast wheat field and was privileged to watch combat between man and weather. Combines clanked and roared their way back and forth across ripe wheat trying to get the crop in before the weather hit. In this case, the weather was rain and hail bearing down on the men and their machines. And threatening their livelihood.
Storms on the prairie (and, for that matter, on the Gulf of Mexico) may not always be big enough to have a name, but they have a face, a front edge that you can see for miles.  
Here on Colorado’s Front Range, the weather is seldom intense. From my chair at the computer, I cannot see the glorious Rocky Mountains because of The Foot Hills. They block my view. But far from resenting their intrusion, I love them.
They teach me about the weather here. When the morning light shows them clear and bold, I’ll have yet another of the many sunny days. A wave cloud can mean a dreary day, because it usually spreads toward Denver out on the prairie to our east and blocks the sunshine until that short, amazing time when the sun blazes from below the cloud before sinking behind the hills.
And on days like today, when the foot hills are shrouded in roiling blue-gray, I know the weather is very close. There is no face, no edge to see, just the knowledge that it, whatever it is, is very near and very soon.
Like the dark moors of the Brontë sisters and Arthur Conan Doyle’s London fog. And that saddest of rains in A Farewell to Arms. It is coming.

So, unless you have a damn good reason to, don’t open your story with a weather report. But, if it helps you tell your story, use it.