Saturday, April 28, 2012

Woman of secrets


I am a woman of secrets these days. Only of the literary kind, mind you, but secrets nonetheless. And they are making me feel rather mysterious. Adventurous. Glamorous. Maybe even a bit famous. Of the kind of anonymous fame that only novelists may be lucky enough to achieve.

But this is confession time, so I’ll reveal as much of my secrets to you as I legally can:

Secret #1: In lieu of reasonable payment for copyediting for a well-known Italian academic whom I dare not name, I have persuaded him that it is in his best interest to help me publish my own book.

Or I might just take the money instead. I dare say my indecision lends me even more mystique.

Secret #2: How can this Italian academic can help this to happen, without having any direct connections to either a literary agent or publisher of narrative in Italian, let alone in English?

Easy. What he must do is to plonk down a copy of my manuscript over a cup of coffee with his own editor, one of the largest and oldest academic publishing houses in the English-speaking world, who will remain anonymous. Then that editor, who has no interest in publishing memoirs, can hand it to his wife to read in bed at night. Having unwittingly become a ‘reader’ of the kind usually hired by agents and publishers to sift through the slush pile, she will in turn recommend my manuscript to her husband as a fantastic read that she couldn’t put down. The academic editor, as a seeker of good literature, will then feel obliged to pass it on to one or more of his friends who work in a non-academic publishing house. Where it will undoubtedly be picked up.

It’s foolproof.

Secret #3: But to cover my bases, I also could milk a connection I might have with a major Italian publishing house. The connection is through a friend of mine in the Naples area who has already published academic texts with this publisher, which of course can’t be named mainly for anti-jinx purposes.

Secret #4: I’m having my entire 470-page memoir – set in Naples – translated into Italian. The translator is too young and innocent to be exposed at this time. To protect her privacy and provide her with a work-conducive environment, she’s being held in a safe house in the U.K.. So please don’t try to investigate further. Carolina’s rather busy at the moment, and she’s mine.

Secret #5: I might take a pen name to protect my own identity once I become a world-famous author. I’m thinking H.R. Salami or Carmela Della Mela.

There are my secrets. You heard them first, at least in part. Sorry, I would tell you more, but if I did I’d have to kill you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The color of today

Resene's "Caper"
My husband and I have been trying to decide what color to paint the exterior of our typical Kiwi wood cottage. We wanted to go bold, though not Christmasy, with green and red. You’d think that our local Resene paint dealer, with its hundreds of colors to choose from, would have had exactly what we (let’s face it, I) had envisaged. But I wanted a green that was slightly less military than Flax but more ballsy than Frontier. And a red that was a little less muddy than Fahrenheit and a little more tame than Raging Bull. Don’t you think, honey?

Be honest: that’s why you men love us.

As I struggled to find the adjectives to describe my color hesitations to my husband, I began to wonder about the person whose job it is to name the paint colors in the first place. About how much fun it would be to come up with names like Hippie Green, Surf Crest, Alter Ego, Cha Cha. And about how much I want that guy’s job.

But it’s probably not all fun and games. There must be a method behind the madness. A technique. Glancing through our color swatches, in fact, I can see there is some sort of pattern.

Clearly, some paints are named after something that shares the same color. For example, there are…

Plant or flower names: Laurel, Holly, Apple Blossom, Palm Leaf
Food names: Celery, Toast, Avocado, Caper
Spice names: Cumin, Paprika, Wasabi
Drink names: Moccaccino, Espresso, Brandy, Merlot
Animal names: Turtle Green, Flamingo, Grass Hopper

There are geographical names, with an overwhelming majority of Italian destinations:

Habitat names: Woodland, Marshland, Desert, Rain Forest
International place names: Trinidad, Xanadu, Norway, El Paso
Italian place names: Padua, Sorrento, Stromboli, Tuscany, Como

But it’s once the visual matches have run out that the fun – and the magic – really begins.

Whimsical names: Goblin, Sea Nymph
Emotions: Envy, Ecstasy, Bitter, Joie De Vivre
Dangers: Roulette, Hazard, Havoc
Deep and meaningful names: Destiny, Oracle, Eternity
The name of a mysterious person on one’s mind: Christine, William, Mandy, Consuela
Wild and crazy names: Birthday Suit, Whizz Bang, Go Ben, Oh Behave

And when all else fails, you can always just use the tried and true name of the color to name the color.

Literal names: Green Meets Blue, Red Red Red

And these are just the greens and the reds! Oh, I wish I could get paid to name paint colors, but for now I’m willing to do it pro bono. With all the paint colors in our house for the most part already named, I’ll take on the even greater chromatic challenge of naming the complex hues of my mind. If my mood were made up of colors, what would they be today, an unproductive day at home being a mom and trying to get out of a slump? (Note to Resene or Dulux customers: the following paint colors are not yet available.)

Plant or flower name: Weed
Food name: Nachos Again
Spice name: Salt
Drink name: Caffeine
Animal name: Wrinkly Tortoise
Habitat name: Floodplain
International place name: Pluto
Italian place name: Napoli
Whimsical name: Giant Octopus
Deep and meaningful name: Que Sera Sera
Emotion: Faint Hope
Danger: Analytical Thinking
Mysterious person on my mind: Ivan the Bulgarian
Wild and crazy name: Hocus Pocus
Literal name: Grey Meets Dirty White

Phew, that was hard work! But fun. So what about you? What are some of your made-up paint names to describe your mood today? Or even just some really good ideas for paint names?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The perfect-book recipe

My son eating black beans & rice on his 1st birthday
I just finished rereading Robert Harris’ Pompeii, perhaps the most perfect book in the world, for the third time. I realize now that I already told you that in a previous post. Having a poor memory – since the birth of my son – might make me needlessly repeat things, but it also makes for a good deal of suspense when rereading my favorite books.

Suspense, it’s something I like in a book. No, I demand it. Pompeii positively erupts with suspense. My own manuscript has a good dose of it, at least I hope it does. And of course, we wannabe writers write books like the ones we want to read ourselves. So what else, besides suspense, does Pompeii have that makes it possibly the most perfect book in the world? (Sorry, repeating myself again.) What’s the formula?

The perfect-book formula is something like a recipe: it’s one of many and not everyone is going to like it. I still don’t understand how my husband never likes polenta, no matter how much I jazz it up. But he likes reading Stephen King. I actually do not like the taste of milk chocolate, no matter how crazy that may seem to some. But I loved Salt: A World History. We are all different, thank goodness.

With that in mind, I’d still like to share with you with my own perfect-book recipe, with the first being the main ingredient and the last needed in the smallest proportion, but still – like a sprinkling of black pepper – important for the whole. And because I like Mexican and Italian dishes, which traditionally have a small number of ingredients, I’ve limited myself to the bare essentials and left out other pleasant little garnishes, like humor. Which I’ve never really liked much anyway.

1. Real characters – Really, without good character development, you don’t even have a book. But I don’t always need to like the protagonist: extra-hot chilli may irritate and sting, but I’ll still go back for seconds.

2. Suspense – I need a reason to read. I need to be hungry to eat. I’m lumping pace and flow along with suspense here, as they seem to go hand in hand. But this doesn’t mean I like action-packed thrillers or science fiction. On the contrary. Although I do love the odd volcanic eruption or storm out at sea, I’m most impressed by books that hold my interest even when nothing much happens at all. That’s an art.

3. True story / Solid research – I’m willing to overlook a lot of faults for a true story or book that teaches me something about the world or its history. If I don’t end up loving the way a book was written, it’s nice to know I haven’t wasted my time reading something utterly made up. There are many simply-written and unpretentious memoirs out there, for example, that tell stories that are impossible to forget and leave you feeling inspired. Just plain black beans and rice, no toppings: satisfying in a very primal way.

4. Beautiful language – I’d like to say I was a fancy enough writer to put this first on my list, but it would be a lie. Without good characters, a reason to read, and some sort of educational or inspirational component, then all you have is a pretty little rhyme. Who cares if the dish looks good if it doesn’t taste good? And yet, when beautiful language is combined in just the right proportionwith the other ingredients…mmm, that’s where the magic occurs. And if you get too used to that subtle complexity of French cuisine, you may never go back to rice and beans. Because you have known true love. Because you have seen the green ray of sunlight over the horizon. Because you have seen angels.

5. Dialogue – At the risk of looking like a fool, I’ve had to add this to my list. Because, honestly, if I flip through a new book and see those thick black chunks of paragraphs uninterrupted by indentations and quotation marks, it’s scary and overwhelming. Like those complex Thai dishes that you know are probably going to taste great, but the list of ingredients is so long that you are sure at least one of them is going to trigger a migraine, a miscarriage or a previously unknown allergy.

6. Satisfying ending – Dessert. You don’t need it, but you want it so badly. Don’t pretend that you don’t.

This is a very subjective list, even though I know deep down that I’m right. So how about you? What is your perfect-book formula, in ranking order?