Thursday, March 29, 2012

Favorite Writers: Poe Ballantine

When I lived in Munich, one of my favorite possessions was a copy of The Best American Short Stories 1998. Most of the time I read German literature, an attempt to improve my vocabulary, but when my brain was fried from too many 25-letter-long words or from looking up what Verf├╝gbarkeit meant for the fifteenth time, I would pick up the slightly worn, lime green book (guest edited by Garrison Keillor), and read a short story.

The story I loved the most was a melancholy one about troubled kids born into dysfunctional lower class families, written in strange and wonderful imagery. This story has stuck with me over the years, popping into my mind at random times. It's called "The Blue Devils of Blue River Avenue," by Poe Ballantine. The prose is straightforward, just simple enough to accommodate the quirky descriptions and observations. To my delight, I just found that this story is available online. I found it by searching for "poe ballantine wolf," because this is the image that sticks in my memory:

"My mother didn’t like my going over to the Sambeauxs’. There was something mysterious and menacing about that house: a bloodcurdling scream, a silhouette of a knife in the window, a wolf on its hind legs with a leather tail scuffling along behind the juniper trees."

Here is another one I like:

"His hair was short and fair, and he had the polite and unassuming stride of a farm boy. From a distance, the Sambeaux house must have appeared to him to be the place to make friends. There were children everywhere: peeping from windows, lounging against cars, hanging lemurlike from trees, barelegged, barefoot, the spirit of Peter Pan and Tobacco Road. There were paper clouds above the Sambeaux roof, pink pastel streaks painted across the sky, devils on the rooftop, monkeys on wires. A big cardboard vulture squealed over. Homer knocked on the door. Roland and Langston ushered him in."

Here's a great description of the narrator's mother:

"My mother cut sharp glances at me. She had the kind of vision that went right through you and saw into your future. She saw me taking LSD, or driving drunk off a cliff, or marrying a Filipino go-go dancer with a long scar across her abdomen. She saw weeds coming up in the garden of my innocence, and wormy, wild apples waving in the wind.."

Rereading this story now, I still love it just as much as I did back in 1998. I could post a hundred more excerpts--the writing is a dream, so elegant and controlled and interesting. Poe Ballantine is the kind of writer I aspire to be like. If you liked these excerpts, I highly recommend that you go read the full story here.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Huzzah for my CP!!

Just wanted to take a moment on this wonderful, drizzly Friday to spread the word that my fantastic, amazing, probably-hiding-a-superpower CP Liz Briggs has just accepted an offer of representation from her dream agent, Kate Testerman of KT Literary.

Hooray Liz!!!!!!
I would add some sort of fancy animated fireworks here, but that is beyond my limited skills. So here:

Besides being CPs, Liz and I keep each other sane during our day jobs by keeping up a near-constant stream of chats, and last Wednesday she tortured me like this:

Liz: OMG 
me: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      what what what
Liz: omggggggggggggg
me: NOW

It was so much fun to watch this all unfold. Querying is no fun, and Liz did some hard time in the query trenches. But she's a smart cat, and she used every bit of feedback she got to improve while querying. And it doesn't hurt that her book is AWESOME, with exciting high action, tech geekery and swoooony romance. Believe me, you want to read this. So head on over to Liz's blog to congratulate her and read the full story!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My 2013 Oscar Predictions

I know they're no true measure of artistic excellence, but as a guilty pleasure, I love the Academy Awards. I like the predictable seasonal shift when fall comes and the quality (or pretentiousness) of movies increases, and I like trying to guess which ones will be recognized or which performance will get snubbed, and keeping my ear to the ground for unexpected dark horse buzz.

Sadly, this year Oscar season came and went like a fart in the wind. I haven't seen The Artist yet, and I'm sure it's good, but overall my reaction was: meh. So a few days ago, I was listening to the Chicago soundtrack and lamenting the lack of big budget extravaganzas at the cinema, and I took a look to see what next year's crop of Oscar bait might look like.

And friends, things are looking very good indeed. Here's what I'm salivating over for next fall:

The Great Gatsby - Baz, Leo, Tobey, Carey. I've never been a huge Leo fan, but I feel like he's growing into himself, and the stills from the set are luscious. And that's not even a word I use.

Lincoln - Spielberg's next offering on the alter of Oscar looks like it could be mind-blowingly good. I was sad when I first heard that Liam Neeson backed out of the title role, but his replacement, Mr. Day-Lewis, is even better. Add some Joseph Gordon-Levitt and some Sally Field to the mix, and I'm a happy girl.

Django Unchained - This could quite possibly be horrendous, but I enjoyed Inglourious Basterds, and based on the cast, I have high hopes for Mr. Tarantino's slave revenge fantasy. And look, there's Leo again! Let's hope he takes himself a little less seriously in this role.

Les Miserables - Hmm, we'll see. I'm kind of already over another Les Mis film, but the director gets props for making The King's Speech last year, and I am always a sucker for a musical.

Skyfall - Daniel Craig is back as 007, and this time he's facing off against Javier Bardem. I can't say anything else, because my head just exploded.

The Hobbit - Yaaaayyy Peter Jackson I'm so glad you resolved your differences and decided to direct this one. I expect nothing but excellence.

Hyde Park on Hudson - I don't know how this one snuck past me, but it's already in the can. Bill Murray as FDR? The pictures look convincing, but I'll reserve judgment until I see a clip. Mr. Murray must have gotten a taste for the gold after his nomination a few years ago, eh?

Life of Pi - I have no idea how they'll pull off a film of this excellent book, but it's Ang Lee, so...good luck.

And if next fall is too far away, even the summer blockbusters are looking better than usual: The Dark Knight Rises (huzzah!), Dark Shadows, The Hunger Games (not that I'm complaining, but who releases a blockbuster in March?), The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man...

Are there any other movies coming out this year that you're excited about?