Sunday, January 29, 2012

This book changed my life. No, seriously.

"Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge."
Thus begins "The Blind Assassin" by Margaret Atwood. It pretty much goes downhill from there, at least for Iris Griffen, an elderly woman from a once prominent family in Port Ticonderoga, Canada. The book is a memoir of her and her sister's life beginning in the 1920s. More accurately, its an expanation for her granddaughter, whom never speaks to her. Iris and Laura's life is fraught with hardships, from their Mother's death, to the market collapse, wars, marriage, and other unspeakable things I wont give away. The book jumps between the life of Iris now and her life then, mostly in chronological order. There is also a novel within a novel, written by two lovers in back alleys and seedy hotels. You're not really sure who they are, and as the book progresses, more and more clues are dropped so you think you know, but then something else happens to question your theory. There's a lot of mystery to be solved.
Honestly, its been a long time since I've read a novel that has grabbed my attention so completely. I snatched every available moment to read the 500+ pages as fast as possible. The characters are endearing and your heart breaks for them again and again. There isnt much happiness to be had for these sisters. Atwood has an incredible way with words. Her descriptions paint an exact picture without being excessive, which can sometimes bog down a story. Its like I say to Chase, "Too many words!! Just spit it out!" There is just such a beautiful usage here, almost like poetry, but without the fluff. Make sense? Apparently, I havent mastered this skill.
Yes, you'll cry. A lot. But you'll laugh as well. There are some great moments of humor for Iris, as a youth and in her old age. And in the end, there's hope. This is a book I would read again, and there are not many I can say that about. I also did something else I dont usually do while reading: scramble for a pen. I read one particular line over and over and in the end I had to highlight it. This will be my motto; how I want to be as a writer:
"The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it."
To write without fear of judgement, that is what I want to strive for. To first please myself, and afterwards others.
If I feel like it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Just leave the flowers on the doorstep; I'm grieving in here.

So, I know I should be working on my book or writing a blog for Long Beach Coffee Roasters, but the truth is, I just cant bring myself to do anything remotely productive. I will be losing a very valuable asset in a few months, and this has cut me to the core.
It's the photo editing site, Picnik.
I know what you're probably thinking: WTF, Mandy? Is that all? I about crapped my pants!
You don't understand! Ever since I discovered this gem it has helped me work wonders with photos and making brochures and flyers and general entertainment. Super important stuff like this:
Hold me, Alex, hold me.

And of course I would be lost forever if I wasnt able to indulge in fantasies like this:
It's just so unfair, isn't it James?

Picnik is one of those great tools that allows me to express who I am! It's about art, people. And self All that fancy shit. (The UPS guy just brought my saddle bags and tail wrap! Moment of extreme excitement! Woot!)
Someone help me out here, please. What do you use to awesome up your photos? My blogs just wont be the same without snarky comments on photos. Help me put the pieces back together. Honey badger does care!

On the other hand, this drama has put me in the writing state of mind...hmmm...

Friday, January 20, 2012

OMG I'm, Like, An Author Or Something!

As many of you have already learned, I am a badass author now. So, I guess all there is left to do now is sit back, pour a glass of wine, and let the royalties pour in!
HA! And then later I'm going to slip into a size 4 and James McAvoy and I are heading to the Oscars together to celebrate my nomination for best writer in this year's hit blockbuster staring Jimmy himself and Alexander Skarsgaard.
But seriously, I cant express how exciting this is for me. I've already sold copies online and in the coffee shop, and its like watching someone take one of my children away. But not in the creepy sense...okay, poor example. Its the same feeling I get as an artist after working long hours on a pet portrait and then seeing someone's face light up with joy upon seeing the finished product. Lots of pride, a sense of accomplishment, and a reassurance that in fact I do have some talent and to keep at it! Thank you everyone for all the support over the years. This has been a project long in the making!

Next!! Yes, I have two more stories in the works right now and a lot of motivation. And there are a few other ideas rattling around in my head, so there will be no lack of entertainment. Here's a sneak at the cover of the next story on my publishing to-do list:

So on it, folks...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"A Death in the Family" Review

I just checked off another book from my top 100 lists: "A Death in the Family" by James Agee. I can sum up my feelings after reading this book in two words: Holy Eff. This is the story of a man, Jay Follet, who, on his way home from visiting his family, is in a terrible car accident and dies. The book focuses on the day of his death and the following few days after including his funeral. Its an intense study of the range of emotions his family experiences upon hearing the news and dealing with the aftermath. The book is made even more meaningful when you learn the author himself died suddenly before the book was finished. Its a rough draft put together by the author's family and is as he wrote it with no editing. Its pretty much like looking into a person's thoughts.
OK, I knew going in that this was going to be a depressing read. What else would I expect considering its about a guy who died tragically, leaving behind a wife and two small children. The emotions are so raw and not Hollywood dramatized, ie no screaming, blubbering, throw yourself out a window type stuff, that you are completely sucked into these people's heads and feel the exact same way. What really got me was the kids and how their poor mother was trying to explain to a 5 and not quite 2 year old what was happening; why their father wasnt coming home. I could feel her frusteration and pain as she tried to tell her little daughter over and over that no, Daddy wasnt coming home today or ever. As in never. And I could understand the little girls thoughts and confusions. Its hard to explain to a child was death and forever is like. I especially appreciated how the author wrote the little boy's feelings. At first, the idea that his father is dead doesnt quite hit home. He feels almost a sense of pride in being different from the other kids at school and is ready to relish in the attention he knows he'll get when people find out his Dad died. Its real, no fluff, and very touching. The funeral is the most heart wrenching scene. All the emotions come flooding out and his mother is openly sobbing, the rest of the family is subdued, and the kids are starting to finally realize the impact their father's death will have on their lives. Everything is changing and nothing will be the same. The scenes where the author describes the appearance of Jay in his coffin as seen through the eyes of his son are so powerful they bring up memories of seeing my grandfather at his funeral, and I admit I got very teary-eyed. I dont think I've ever cried so much over reading a book. Be warned.

You'll need a good piece of mindless fluff to recover. I recommend "The A Circuit" by Georgina Bloomberg & Catherine Hapka. Its full of teenage drama. With horses thrown in. I read it in a few hours, and it was terrible, but it wiped the slate clean for my next read, "The Blind Assasin" by Margaret Atwood. It opens with the line, "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge."

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Play: Chapter 1

Here's chapter 1 of "The Play: The tale of a clever Russian noblewoman." When I last wrote a brief description, I mentioned it was in the 1860s, but it is now 1830s. Nicholas I is czar and he required people to show loyalty to the unlimited authority of the czar, to the traditions of the Orthodox Church, and to the Russian nation. Hope you enjoy chapter 1! Remember, its a VERY rough draft!

     It was my first day playing the role of the stablemaster’s daughter and the man himself was staring at me blankly. I had just explained to him the situation at hand: that he was to instruct me in all the duties expected of a lady in my position and to address me as his child for the duration of my suitor’s stay. He was obviously confused, but he said nothing, a reaction entirely opposite that of daughter, who was now being fitted for gowns and learning which fork to pick up first at dinner. Indeed, she seemed utterly delighted by the prospect.
     “Will I get to sleep in your bed?” Nadya asked after a moments shock. Her body began to tremble in excited anticipation.
     “Of course.” I replied. “We cannot have the gentlemen believing the daughter of Ivan Kostov sleeps on straw in the stables.” This seemed sufficient to secure her compliance in the matter. It appeared her father would be somewhat more difficult to convince.
     “I assure you I will do all you ask with no complaint.” I tried to elicit some response, but the man was stone. I was almost afraid this would be the end of my scheme: a frail, aging man that smelled of horses and straw and who apparently forgot that despite the fact that I was dressed in a similar fashion as he, I was still his mistress and therefore had command over him. I was prepared to tell him so when he slowly shook his head and with a sigh handed me the pitchfork he had been holding.
     “I don’t suppose I have much choice, mistress,” he lamented as I took the tool from him.
     “No, sir, you do not,” I reminded him. “And if you please, call me your daughter or we fail before we begin.”
     After spending above eight hours cleaning stalls, brushing horses, oiling saddles, feeding livestock, and other general duties of a woman in my position, I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my entire life. From the tips of my toes to the roots of my hair my body ached with every breath I took. As I lowered myself into a hot bath, the last I would take for some time, I glanced at my previously polished fingernails and was heartbroken to see them all chipped, cracked, and soiled. I sighed pitifully and leaned my weary head back. I would be sore beyond all reason tomorrow, I knew, but today was perfect. I had spent all day in the dirt like a common serf and had enjoyed every moment. What would my father say to that?


    “When Masseur Mensky arrives tomorrow you must wear this orange gown for it is the most unflattering color I own,” I instructed Nadya the night before the scheduled arrival of my experiment, though I tried not to think of him in that manner. My design in having Nadya dress less than impressive was to give the gentleman a chance to glance away from her and perchance see the humble figure I would present standing by. That was the idea, however. I sincerely doubted that particular result as I was convinced that I could have dressed Nadya in rags and he would declare it the best of fashion since my name would come with it. But enough cynicism for the present.
     “Anna, are you sure this a wise plan? I admit that I have enjoyed the past two weeks and your bed is very soft, but I believe we may have lost sight of the fact that this man will most likely not appreciate being played with. What is your own opinion to this?” Oh, simple Nadya, how I wish I could be as free as you to express myself so decidedly.
     “You may be right and your scruples do you credit, my dear Nadya, but I will not be dissuaded. I am determined to be loved honorably. Is this wrong?”
     “No, indeed. It is what we all wish.”
     “Then what possible harm may come of it?”
     “None worth regretting, I hope.” Do not count on any regrets, it thought, for if the man exerts the effort to prove himself worthy, there can be nothing but good results. And if not, well, than I am vindicated at last, Mensky will marry someone else much to that woman’s misfortune, and I will be left alone by my father. There was no going back now.
     “How shall I speak to him at this meeting?”
     “Be correct, but say as little as possible. If he enjoys conversation, he will not find it with you, therefore, he must seek it elsewhere.”
     “Like my father’s stables? A perfectly reasonable alternative.”
     “It will be the only alternative if he prefers the company of females under the age of sixty, which is the average age of the other female staff on this estate.” I prepared to leave my room to Nadya’s keeping when I glimpsed my own reflection in the mirror. The weeks of labor and few baths had turned my hair wispy and tangled, my skin was beginning to brown, and I was still unable to remove all the dirt from underneath my fingernails. Then I looked down at Nadya seated at the same mirror. Her hair was intricately plaited and pinned, her skin had liberal amounts of powder, and she was dressed perfectly for her role in this farce. Yes, we were both ready as far as appearances where concerned.
     “Is there something else?” she asked. "Any advice to offer?" I smiled wickedly. Why should this be a somber moment?
     "Yes," I finally replied. "Don't forget to enjoy yourself. This is going to be fun."
     I first glimpsed Petr Leptoff was is inconsequential as it was mundane. There we all stood in our fineries; my father wearing his regal beaver longcoat despite the high temperature, Nadya corseted until she could scarcely draw breath, and the household servants donned their itchy wool breeches for the occasion. So much to sacrifice in order to make a favorable first impression, and I laughed at the absurdity of it all. Here we gathered, suffering in the heat, and only to impress a man not even high enough to polish the czars boots. Only I, whose future happiness depended on this meeting, remained unmoved. Indeed, I had little hope in the exchange and I only wished to return to my horse, for I had need of a decent ride and the weather had been made for good gallop. Not having to contend with "proper" employments, I was able to practice my riding; an additional benefit to the scheme. Now I was impatient. What could be keeping him? Does he not know who my father is? Woe be the fellow who keeps Ivan Kostov waiting more than five minutes.
     Just as I was beginning to think, much to my own amusement and to my father's distress, that my noble suitor would not show after all, he suddenly appeared in all his glory and splendor. The carriage was quite impressive shouted to the world "I am rich, stand aside for me," as was only expected of a man with such high social standing. The horses, like that which they preceded, with coal black with red feathers atop their heads. Red was also the color which trimmed the equipage, as well as the interior I would come to discover. It was indeed large enough to house the entirety of Masseur Mensky's importance with just enough room to spare for a skinny young lady; but only if she had been deprived of nourishment for a week. As the carriage pulled around the front of the house, all the ladies surreptitiously fussed with their hair and the gentleman straightened their posture. All prepared to look their best, except for me. The coachman brought their charges to stop, and as the door was opened I thought with a smirk: "let the games begin."
     Stepan Mensky did present a fine figure of a man even I had to concede that he was indeed quite handsome. He was tall, lean, dark-haired and smiling. His eyes were ebony pools glistening with laughter and ease. He declared himself pleased with the house and the extensive grounds and commenced with the introductions to my father and whom he presumed was myself.
     "Masseur Mensky, I would like to present to you my daughter, Ryanna Akilinovich Kostova." Well done father, not a hint of hesitation. I was pleased with his performance. But his was nothing compared to Nadya's. She curtsied perfectly and extended her hand in invitation just as I had taught her that nobles do. The gentlemen smiled, clutched the outstretched hand, and bowed elegantly over it.
     "It is with the greatest of pleasure that I declare I am honored to finally meet you, Miss Kostova. Tales of your beauty fall far short of the reality. I am enchanted," and then he kissed her hand most tenderly and without regard to decorum. My father was slightly taken aback, but he did not protest and I tried not to laugh. They were words well spoken, but he probably read them in a book somewhere. And that is assuming he read anything besides racing forms, if he could read all. He continued to walk down the line of servants, my father introducing each one as they went, and I trembled as they drew closer to me. Vaguely I noticed a man falling behind, but I paid him no more attention beyond acknowledging his presence.
     Finally, after much anticipation, my father, Nadya, Masseur Mensky, and his companion stood before me and the stablemaster. I could feel the whole lot of them holding their breaths and wait. Would he say anything to me? Would even look at me?
     "Masseur Mensky, this is my stable master, Mr. Popov. He will see to all your horses during your stay. You will not find a better man to trust them to."
     "Excellent," his voice was pleasing, to be sure. Very melodious the man's can be so. "They should give you no trouble; very well mannered. But I do expect them to shine every morning. I will inspect the myself to ensure they are groomed to my satisfaction. A dirty horse is a reflection on his master, and I will not be judged wanting. The hooves should be polished and will need trimming within the next week. And do not neglect the manes and tails; I want to be able to run my fingers through them at a moments notice. Not a tangle or burr, do you understand? Oh, and do have them exercised twice a day, but not too strenuously; I do not want them worked into a froth. Is all this perfectly clear, my good man?" Was he serious? Could be this ridiculous? Should I discount him now, or blame this behavior on the long journey and allow him to redeem himself?
     Before I could decide, and indeed a before my father could even introduce me, Mensky had turned to go into the house without so much as a glance in my direction. To my father's credit, he said nothing nor betrayed any indication that the young man had made a potentially fatal error. Nadya's eyes fell on mine briefly, but she too stayed in character and quickly followed the pair inside.
     I was horrified, humiliated, and my pride was irrevocably wounded. How could he love a servant if he would not even look at me?
     "Hello," came a voice beside me. I was startled to say the least. The servants have begun to disperse, save for my pretend father keeping a wary eye behind me, and I had not noticed that I was not alone in my reverie. I turned and found the voice belonged to the companion I had barely gave two thoughts to only minutes ago. It was a young man, perhaps Mensky's age, but I was always a poor judge, a little shorter and a lot less handsome the aforementioned. His hair was longer than was in style and relatively unkempt. The color was brown, as is always desirable, but of course not exactly the right shade. His nose was too large, his lips too thin, and his dress less expensive as to be considered common. In short, he was plain. Only his eyes, though not brown, were noteworthy. Not a brighter blue could be found in nature as was those eyes.
     Did he say something? I become distracted once again. He was looking at me quizzically, expectantly. Features relaxed and he stuck out his rough calloused hand; a hand of a working man.
     "I am Stepan's oldest friend, Petr Leptoff." In response I swept and elegant curtsy, admonished myself for the slip as I could sense his confusion, and quickly recovered by grasping his hand in mine and saying:
     "Surely not the oldest. You don't look a day over eight-and-twenty." To my amazement, he laughed.
     "I meant we've known each other since childhood. Neither of us have had a single friend half so long."
     "Yes, I know what you meant." Do think I was stupid? Or was he? Did he really not understand it was a joke? He frowned and drop my hand. I hardly cared with this Leptoff character thought; I was watching my intended disappear through the front door. It took several seconds for me to realize that his friend was still there and talking to me.
     "What?" I asked irritably.
     "My have the pleasure of your name, miss? "
     "What for?"
     "Nadya, my daughter's name is Nadya, young man," Popov had broken in with, was it amusement mixed with a touch of annoyance? I have yet to master his moods.
     "My pleasure," he bowed clumsily. I had a terrible notion that I was going to have to entertain him when he was thankfully called to join the others in the house. He quickly bade me goodbye and scampered off in that direction. Yes, I said scampered, and I stand by my description.
     "What was the meaning of that?" I asked my temporary 'father' when the man was out of earshot. "He is not important; why does it matter if he knows who I am?"
     "He must hold some importance being the masseur’s best friend," the old man said cryptically. "Don't you agree?"
     I was about to protest when I suddenly realized, much to my astonishment, that he was right. Mr., Leptoff was it? Was the closest to Mensky I could ever hope to get as things stood at present. He could very well be my window into the man's soul. My questions as to his character, views, deeds could be answered without raising suspicion. I may have use for the presumptuous, and comical, Mr. Leptoff after all.