Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Happier tales

And on to better things, since everything is out of my hands now.  I've done what I could to get the ball rolling on the plagarism matter.  And if it happens to turn into an avalanche, well...overall, though, I can say that I'm satisfied with the steps the university has taken so far in pursuing this matter, and I just hope that An and I can resolve this before it gets much further.

For several years, now, I've received invitations for a fiction writing contest in Philadelphia Stories, but this is the first time that the contest rules have allowed people "originally from the US" to enter.  Up until now, I had been stuck with stories that I wanted to enter but couldn't, owing to my expat status.

Fear not, Bouke, I will not be entering "Forgotten".  

But it does make me somewhat optimistic about another short story I've written, titled "Made" (I'm a one-word  person, apparently), finally seeing the light of day.  Being almost twice as long as "Forgotten", and three times more layered, has made me wary of submitting it anywhere, since word count limits are rather strict.  It remains, after all these years on my hard drive, one of my favorite pieces that I've ever written--delightfully tragic, in every sense of the word.  That being said, it still requires a substantial bit of editing, and to get myself "in the game" of writing fiction again, I've been reading a lot of fiction.  In no particular order:

Perfume:  the Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Suskind:  Strangely metaphysical, beautifully written, and, as in the movie, you're left with a disquieting sense of unease about what it means to pursue beauty.

Saving Fish from Drowning, by Amy Tan:  Not my usual choice of authors, for all that I loved The Joy Luck Club.  For a while she was writing these stories about women who'd been through unthinkable tragedies, heartache, pain, suffering--in small doses, it is riveting stuff.  In large quantities, it numbs you to the sadness of everyday existence.  So when I picked up this book, it was because it wasn't the "usual":  eleven tourists on a mishap-ridden trip to Burma disappear without a trace.  They are being followed by the spirit of the woman who was supposed to be their tour guide.  Surprisingly free from a lot of gruesome things (at least, until the very end), it is a wonderful meditation on the consequences of intentions.

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler:  Again, not my usual choice.  This was a book that I'd chosen from the stack of books that Dan and Amanda were going to get rid of before moving back to the US.  Snarky, snappy, 1930s-detective fun.  But while I loved the language and the excitement--gunfights! blackmail! sexy cars! naked women!--the big reveal, the moment when you find out how everything links together, was a bit of a disappointment.  I'm not sure why--perhaps it was because everything was so mysterious, and then to have what was essentially base human desires at the bottom of it all, with a mental-illness copout, just sort of puts a damper to things.

The One from the Other, by Phillip Kerr:  Also from the pile of about-to-be discards of Dan and Amanda. I was surprised that I could enjoy it so much, given the era--post-Marshall Germany--and the guilt that books set in that time period usually entail.  I found Bernie Gunther's amorality to be, ironically enough, the most moral of the entire lot of characters.  And I must say, the plot lines were ingenious.  It has also done the almost-impossible, which was to get me curious about the other Bernie Gunther books.

Smart Swarm:  Using Animal Behavior to Change our World, by Peter Miller:  Technically this doesn't count as fiction, because it's not.  But it's what I call "science-lite"--science written with a general audience in mind, and therefore skimming over things such as flaws in the data, exceptions, and, perhaps the most glaring omission of all, is the dangers of mob mentality (he does touch on the subject, but stops short of drawing a clear line between utilizing a smart swarm and falling victim to "everybody's doing it").  That being said, it is a fascinating read and offers surprising insights into how stupid animals--ants, termites, fish--do incredibly smart things.  And it makes those cute little quadrotors that much more creepy.

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