DR. ATOMIC: A Very Short Review

To be accurate, DR. ATOMIC is not a comic book, but a modern opera. However, the title fits in perfectly here, and there are no interesting comics this week anyway. It should be of interest to readers of this site, since the opera is about Robert Oppenheimer and the development of the atomic bomb in 1945. And for writers DR. ATOMIC is a great petri dish of plot and character.

Relentlessly highbrow, opera is arguably the reverse of comic books, and modern opera is tough sledding for nearly everbody with its atonality and lack of ‘a hummable tune’. DR. ATOMIC is exactly what you would expect an new opera to be — lots of singing. There are fascinating characters — physicists Oppenheimer and Teller, the General in charge of the bomb project, and many minor characters at Los Alamos. There is a story in there, about the development of the bomb — will it be a successful test? Will the explosion set off a chain reaction that destroys Earth’s atmosphere and all life? Will it ever quit raining so that we can launch, or will the wind sweep all the fallout the wrong way and depopulate New Mexico? Will the Japanese hear of the project, and by the way is it OK to drop the bomb on them?

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Nancy Jane Rants on the Radio

High Heeled ShoesNPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday let me rant about high-heeled shoes on the air this morning (Jan. 4) — an appearance that had nothing whatsoever to do with Book View Cafe or with fiction, but which did allow me to address a personal obsession of mine: Fashion that makes women vulnerable. Wearing high heels shifts your pelvis forward, putting you off balance. It’s hard to walk far in them, or to run at all. Basically, they limit what you can do, making you helpless in some situations.

Heels do make you look taller and there is a school of thought that says they make your legs look sexy. But those advantages don’t outweigh the fact that high heels handicap the wearer.

Enough ranting. I also want to announce that my Book View Cafe posting day for both stories and blog posts is moving to Thursdays as of this week. My next story,”God Bless,” a story that offers one solution to the problems facing us today, will appear on the front page Jan. 8.


The Contendahs (for the Bad Cover Contest)

We’ve had several contenders for the Bad Cover Contest, which I’ll post below the jump.

Writers bitch and moan all the time about the covers of our books. We always think we’d do better at picking covers. I had cover approval on one book in my career and it didn’t do me the least bit of good. I was supposed to see sketches, which never materialized, and I think I did a fairly lousy job of trying to explain to the artist how I saw the characters in the title story of the collection. One huge mistake I made was saying, “The narrator does not look like an armadillo.” Of course I should have told the artist what Dark does look like, because, also of course, what I got was an armadillo. Continue reading


To Be Read

Just Finished: HOUDINI, the Making of America’s First Superhero by William Kalush and Larry Sloman.  Facinating look at the life of the great escape artist.  Don’t think they really made their case that he was a spy.

Currently reading: EMILY POST, Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners by Laura Claridge.  Who knew Emily Post spent much of her childhood playing in the base of the Statue of Liberty as it was being constructed?

Beside the bed (an incomplete list):

EVIL GENIUS, by Catherine Jinks

BITTERLY DIVIDED, by David Williams

FILTER HOUSE, by Nisi Shawl

INFOQUAKE, by David Louis Edelman

What’s on your pile?


My second exercise obsession has six legs

by Jennifer Stevenson

After swimming for two years every single day, I fell in love with a new sport: horseback riding.  My husband and I began taking lessons at a hunter-jumper barn, which means they wanted me to sit on top of this enormous animal and then ride it at a fence and, presumably, go over the fence with the horse, staying on the whole time.


This terrified me, but I wanted it sooooo badly.  Unlike swimming, riding is a high-impact sport—higher than I want it to be sometimes—and if I mess up, I might hurt the horse as well as myself.  So the stakes went up significantly.


But many good things have come of my riding.

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The Gestalt of Reading

My very good friend, who we will call S, is a big fan of writer A. S has read and enjoyed everything A ever wrote. She finds his stories thought provoking and insightful. She feels a connection with his characters, and she thinks A is one of the best writers ever. I find his stories to be shallow, impractical, and puerile. I think his characters are two dimensional and puppet like, in that they do things merely to further the plot and not from any actual motivation.

So which of us is right?

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EVERGREEN: On Being a Professional Amateur #7: Where’s Waldo?

The situation: Waldo appears in chapter three as a close personal friend of the protagonist. He has an epic encounter with the villain, saves the day and endears himself to a female protagonist. He then promptly disappears for the rest of the book, while the reader is left to wonder where he went.

This is such a familiar scenario in the manuscripts I see, that I begin to suspect the “Where’s Waldo?” fad was started by a college level creative writing instructor or a convention workshop coordinator.

What happens when we treat our characters as if they were widgets?

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The Marvelous Great Tartal

Great Sea TartalThe great Tartal was once the most precious of creatures in the Wide World.  How sad it is these days that they are no longer among us.  For the Wide World is a colder, lonelier place without these great creatures that willingly carried men and women to and fro across the great waters.  A lonelier place, indeed.

Imagine that you are standing on the long, glittering marble Promenade on the shore of the shining White City.  And then, a vast body of silver and yellow-green passes into the mouth of the bay, slashing through the blue-green waters.  Imagine that this is a body of glittering living shell, strung with shining strands of bottle green and coal-red light like colored pearls.  It is a great Tartal.

Imagine that the enormous creature changes its course, slows, and its great head rises as it sights the White City.  Now the vast creature gingerly sounds the channel, seeking the way it will approach the shore.
Too large by far to take any berth in the city’s harbor, the Tartal pauses.  Then, with its mighty lungs, it exhales twin plumes of water like two whales put together, and searches again.  It senses its channel and guides itself through the waters. It does not want to beach itself upon a spit, or entangle itself in any hidden danger – great nets, perhaps, or underwater magick.  Such things would pose little obstacle to this great creature, yet there is something about the creature that is cautious, and perhaps, tired.

It inches across the bay, closer and closer still, so slowly now that it seems that it has come to a stop – but not quite – and at last, brings itself to rest alongside the beautiful Promenade that wends its way along the sandy shore. 

This is indeed what they saw in the White City on the day that Lumiere came.


How do you Find Your Way?

Hiking in the Mountains on June 17

Several years ago, my family decided to return to New Mexico where we grew up and try to revisit sites we remembered from childhood. We rented a hostel for a week: it had two long bunkhouse rooms for the kids and private rooms for the adults. The cousins entertained us nightly with Terrace Entertainment–skits, jokes, and songs that they put together. During the day, we took excursions to local places.

It was June 17th, when we decided to hike in the mountains. The hike started at about 10,000 feet elevation and was planned as a four hour trip. Hiking were myself, my husband, my brother, and three kids. It started with an easy trail up to a placid lake, where we stopped and ate lunch. We skipped rocks and played because we had plenty of time. Finally, we decided to move on.

Moss hanging from trees decorated the path. At various muddy spots in the path someone had laid a series of short logs making a dry corduroy pathway. Soon, the trail led through a stand of pines. June 17th! Under the pines there was still snow, at least 8-10 inches deep. In places, my boot slid in so deep that slushy snow fell inside the tops of the boots.

It didn’t take us long to realize that something was wrong. We should have been near the end of the trail. Instead, we came to a pole stuck in the ground that baffled us. Apparently, the winter had been harsh and had knocked down trail signs, splintered pieces of wood that now lay near the pole. We tried hold up the signs and figure out which way was “down, off the mountain.” But it was impossible to tell. We were lost! Continue reading