Review: Je Christine

Thanks to Robert forwarding me an email, I ran off to catch this performance at Bard yesterday. I always wish that Bard were better about letting folks know about things happening on campus. I hate hearing about them afterward!

A small but appreciative audience shared the experience and stayed to talk with Suzanne Savoy (who has an impressive list of accomplishments beyond television work!). She had been intrigued long ago by that wonderful image of Christine writing away in her chamber and while working on a very ‘painful’ television series (hmmm, wonder if it’s this one) decided to create a one-woman show in order to enjoy having complete control.

Savoy worked on the translation of Christine’s writings herself; having grown up in Montreal, she was inspired by the older nuns she knew there and their particular cadences of French. The play begins with the very medieval notion of Dame Fortune’s changeability and traces the ups and downs of her life and times from favoured child of her philosopher father to desperate woman in exile. Savoy has skilfully knitted together Christine’s texts with a few augments for context to bring to vivid life this extraordinary woman with passion, humour and grace. Moving around the compact yet evocative set, she gave a moving performance that made Christine’s skill and conversational style so clear, engaging the audience directly at times. The power of her delivery–even under thundering rain that started falling during the performance–made Christine’s timeless words reverberate. And we all agreed afterward that when she declared the storm would be over in war-torn France the rain actually seemed to slow at that moment.

And she’ll be at Kalamazoo, talking about her translation with the Christine de Pizan Society.

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[Yes, I know I need to write up my two conference trips for your vicarious pleasure — soon!]

FFB: The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark

Was she asking for it?
Was she asking nice?
If she was asking for it,
Did she ask you twice?
Hole – Asking For It

2018-01-07 15.32.47It seems redundant to call this a lean novel from Spark — her novels are singularly lean. I always feel as if they have been sanded fine. I’ve been on a kick since the winter break before and after seeing The International Style of Muriel Spark exhibit with Miss Wendy at the National Library in Edinburgh, which I highly recommend you see. I loved it in the nosy way writers always want to peek at the process of others, but also damn, the woman had style — and chops. I feel like I need to cut my own prose to the bone like her or I’m just dithering too much. But you can’t miss anything: you have to absorb every clue. The thing is you don’t always realise what is a clue. You have to become hyper-vigilant and note everything which leads to a kind of madness rather like the heroine of this book.

coverThe Driver’s Seat is a great example of this. There is not one word in excess. This is a crazy book, off-putting to many I’m sure (I looked at some of the contemporary reviews) but both brilliant and searingly insightful. The blurb on the back (and what a marvelous cover, Penguin) from David Lodge calls it not only a ‘tour de force’ but ‘a crime story turned inside out’ which is a great description. Within the first few pages, you know that Lise is going to die. With mordant zeal, the narrator points out the clues that will be put together at the end of the investigation.

Many of them will puzzle the police forces. They’re both vivid and seemingly inexplicable. Like the clothing captured well in this cover: ‘the necessary dress’ as she calls it. the colours are so garish the porter of her building laughs at her.

She says, ‘Are you going to join a circus? Then again she throws back her head, looking down through half-closed lids at Lise’s clothes, and gives out the high, hacking cough-like ancestral laughter of the streets, holding her breasts in her hands to spare them the shake-up. Lise says with quiet dignity, ‘You are insolent.’

How marvelous is that? This whole world is at a slant, Lise’s particular slant, from her model of efficiency modular flat to the sudden and violent reaction to being informed that the dress she’s trying on is ‘stain resistant’ (‘I won’t be insulted!’). The alternation between helpless laughing and crying quickly leads to the deduction that the ‘months of illness’ that punctuate her sixteen years at the same job are definitely related to her mental health.

Now, here’s where it might get a little spoilery if you don’t want to know more about it than the fact that she’s doomed. She heads off on her holiday telling people she’s meeting a boy-friend though she doesn’t seem to know who and constantly lies about what she has done and plans to do. Even the narrator draws back at times, shying away from true omniscience at the most interesting junctures yet with chilling suggestions that have to be carefully sifted.

Lise is lifting the corners of her carefully packed things, as if in absent-minded accompaniment to some thought, who knows what?

The narrator seems uncertain what’s really going on, yet knows a great deal of facts –they’re just impossible to explain.  The novel reads like an assemblage of facts that took some time to put together, yet still don’t add up. Lise buys all the items used in her murder, deliberately and particularly. She even urges her befuddled killer to murder her: ‘She told me precisely what to do.’

Was she asking for it?
Was she asking nice?

I suspect that like many of us, Spark may have heard one too many times about a ‘girl who was asking for it’ and wondered what sort of woman would ask to be killed, really. A mad woman, an insanely driven woman who is both consumed by lust and gravely puritanical — and utterly deranged. Asking for it?

I have bookmarked the Liz Taylor film version, but I dunno…

I admire her hugely. Check out all the FFB over at Patti Abbott’s blog including Evan Lewis’ post on Bill Crider’s celebration of life.

Spark Satire

My Wandering Uterus ToC

Wandering Uterus Proposed for web

The all-but-final table of contents for My Wandering Uterus, the collection of travel writing by women that Byron and I were foolish enough to brainstorm together — joking! I suppose this is the nearest I will come to that feeling of a baby being overdue (at this rate, I fear it will be coming out smoking a cigar and demanding a martini). But the end is in sight!

We have poetry, memoir, travelogue, fiction, humour, and more from very different women who inhabit all walks of life — even a mother and daughter! I’m grateful to them all for trusting us with their tales.

There are one or two details to firm up [contributors! please correct any errors you see in your title, name or punctuation] but here we go:

A Journey Charm — K. A. Laity (translation from medieval English)
Foreword — H. Byron Ballard
Accidental Openings — Carolyn Coulson
Wearing the Shalwar Kameez — Dawn Reno Langley
Once Upon a Time in Mexico — Catherine Lundoff
Poems — Devon Balwit
In the Course of a Pilgrimage — Tahni J. Nikitins
The Five Dollar Car — Diane Payne
The Threshold of the Sheela — Amy J. Rio
Mexican Getaway — Tonja LH Vernazza
In Search of Sorrow — G. Clark Hellery
Freedom of Voice — Jessica Marie Baumgartner
How Could I Disappear? — Sandi Hoover
The Week I was Jodie Foster — Leanne Breiholz
The Time I Went to Malta — Holli Shan
Sally Lunn — H. Byron Ballard
Good Fortune — Ellen J. Perry
Five Poems — Miriam Sagan
From Warrior to Chaplain: Giving the Middle Finger to the Patriarchy — Tiffany Andes
Notes from Barakhamba — Kate Telma
Pilgrimages — Ginger Strivelli
Chasing Shadows — Tammy Conrad
Motosexual & Trains of Thought — Shannon McRae
Five Days in Sydney: Remembering Judy Garland — Joan Coulson
Journal of Drive Therapy — Clara Vann-Patterson
Get Miles — Susannah Blanchard
My Uterus Did Not Wander — Tamara Miles
Never Look at their Faces and Other Unwritten Rules — Sonya M. Hamrick
Traveling the Crow Road with My Daughter — Sheri Barker
Freedom to Move About the Cabin — Angela Kunschmann
The Anniversary Train — Catherine Nurmepuu
The Beauty of Language and the Inadequacies of Standard Dictionaries — Ellen Sandberg
My Wandering Freedom — Lisa Wagoner
Walking Veiled through Khan el Kalili — Cynthia Talbot
Hotel Sheets — Victoria Squid
Across the Cerulean Sea: Woman on Water? — MJ Toswell
Colophon: Blessing

Coming soon! The Blood Red Experiment

The Blood Red Experiment – Neo Giallo Horror Magazine
Get it on Pre-Order for your Kindle. Only 99 cents.
Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 15
Inspired by the genius of Hitchcock and his films, latin luminaries such as Argento and Bava directed macabre murder-mystery thrillers, that combined the suspense with scenes of outrageous violence, stylish cinematography, and groovy soundtracks. This genre became known in their native Italy as giallo.

Giallo is Italian for yellow, inspired by the lurid covers of thrillers, in the way that pulp fiction was derived from the cheap wood pulp paper of the crime stories, or Film Noir came from the chiaroscuro of the German Expressionistic lighting.

We at TBRE want to bring gialli-inspired stories by some of the best crime writers on the scene today to a wider audience, giving birth to a new literary movement in crime writing, NeoGiallo, and drag this much maligned genre screaming and slashing its way into the 21st Century.

Click for Amazon Pre-Order

My novella, The Madonna of the Wasps, involves a cult, an ancient knife, some art students, and a woman who thinks she may have found a way to live forever. If only it didn’t involve so many other people dying…

 

Writer Wednesday: Rita Lakin – The Only Woman in the Room

51z634jhfgl-_sy344_bo1204203200_THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE ROOM
Rita Lakin

I can’t recommend this book enough. A terrific travelogue through the Hollywood and television industries from the PoV of writing — and you know how those industries hate writers. Lakin has a multifaceted career that spans the 60s, 70s and 80s, everything from Dr. Kildare to The Home Front and Flamingo Road.  A suddenly-widowed woman with small kids Lakin landed a job as a secretary at Universal Studios, where she had the time — and the support! — to begin reading scripts to learn the trade. And did she ever! Her first big break is a script for Richard Chamberlin’s Kildare that uses her own experience of grief to give it emotional punch.

Of course things don’t go swimmingly forever after: this is television after all. Lakin breezily recounts moments of humiliation and betrayal with a survivor’s comic remembrance. Her dogged pursuit of a career despite these setbacks, the sneering of her fine arts writer pals (sound familiar?) and the active sabotage of some real stinker relationships (oh. my. god.) demonstrates the real love Lakin has for this form of writing. Her prose is lean and lively. There’s never a dull moment. She loves to hold you in suspense by changing topics.

But she never forgets: her pal Doris who wrote that one short story that did so well amongst literary mags, who wouldn’t even watch her script debut on television — sixteen years later asks for an entré into the business. Lakin, despite working all of those years to get where she was, helps her friend out. That’s a lesson, too. Opening the door for other women was a touchstone of her entire career. After going to Writer’s Guild meetings where she was ignored or to meetings with producers that were just couch casting attempts, Lakin learned a lot but she never got bitter.

–even over her terrible, lousy, leeching loser of a husband Bob. That takes some doing. Though she is plain about Harve Bennett stealing her MWA Edgar in 1970 for Mod Squad (what a creep! who of course went on to a long and successful career as a producer: crime pays).

Things you can learn from Lakin: Never trust Aaron Spelling. Always be leary of producers who promise the world. Get everything in writing. Seriously, everything. Praise people who do good work even if they steal it from your mouth. Hollywood hates writers. Hollywood has trouble remembering that women are people until women remind them. Still.

Lakin has nothing but good things to say about the people who were generous to her over the years. Sydney Pollack, Richard Chamberlin, Steve Bochko — she has a whole chapter on Bochko as the break-through show runner, a job she tried to convince producers to give to her when she pitched a series, but there wasn’t a name for it yet. Every innovation builds on what went before. We just don’t always know or see it.

In the scriptwriting business getting breaks matters, Lakin makes clear, but having done the hard work to be able to make use of them is the real key.

 

Call for Submissions: My Wandering Uterus

medieval pilgrimThe fabulous Byron Ballard (forensic folklorist & village witch) suggested putting together an anthology of women’s travel writing to be called My Wandering Uterus. And while I continue to say, ‘No more editing jobs!’ somehow I have been roped into this project. So here is the call:

We seek essays, stories and poetry about your experiences of being a woman on the road — the joys, the perils, the lessons, the changes. Whether a spiritual pilgrimage or a forced evacuation, in pursuit of opportunity or escape from your past, travel broadens. What have you learned?

We would like to see a diverse treasure trove of entries from women across the globe from every walk of life and as many different experiences as possible. If you no longer have a uterus or were born without one, never fear: all women are welcome.

Submissions should be:

  • Previously unpublished anywhere
  • Not submitted anywhere else
  • Length 3-8K prose/3-4 pp poetry
  • Formatted: Times New Roman, regular, 12 point; 1″ margins; 1 space after full stop; lines spaced 1.5; use paragraph formatting to indent first line not tabs; no header/footer
  • Identified with a title, your name (and pen name identified as such), working email address on the first page: the file name should include your surname & the title
  • Submitted in DOC, DOCX or RTF format via email to victoriasquid at gmail with your name, the story title and total word count included in the body of the email; make sure the Subject line includes “Submission: Traveling Uterus” + your name
  • Due by July 1, 2017.

We will ask for world-wide print & ebook rights for a year and pay at minimum $10 via Paypal plus give you a copy of the book. We hope to do some fundraising to make the payments more generous but that will be determined as we go along.

Good news: we have already hired the amazing Stephanie Johnson to do the cover art!

If you need a little background on the concept of the ‘wandering uterus’ as a diagnosis to control women, please read this wonderful piece.

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Happy Know Year

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Begin how you mean to go on,

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Take up your weapon of choice,

this-machine-kills-fascists-type

Fill you heart with joy,

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Summon all your powers,

Hecate

And show the world what you’ve got.

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