Other Stuff Bibliophilopolis has Been Up To…

Seems I’ve been so busy lately all I have time to blog about it is my weekly Deal Me In challenge. Rest assured, I’m still reading almost as much as ever and trying to support the local “literary community” by attending events, etc.  Below are a few brief notes on some of my other activities.

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I’ve formed a reading group at my office! You’ll not be surprised that the focus of the group is on shorter works that “can be read in an hour or less” (but not limited to short stories). We have several essays and other non-fiction on our virtual bookshelf. We’ve had three (monthly) meetings so far and have read Anton Chekhov’s “The Black Monk,” Philip K. Dick’s “Beyond the Door,” and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Brushwood Boy.” Two of those I’ve already read for prior iterations of Deal Me In, but it was still fun to revisit them and talk about them with another group of dedicated readers. We have ten people signed up but attendance had been. 6 (once) and 7 (twice). I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of our discussions and how much fun our meetings have been (we do meet in a bar, so that helps!) I created a “group” for us on goodreads.com too if you’d like to take a look or even follow our progress.

A friend who is in this new reading group also gave me a birthday present of Robert E. Howard’s “The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian.” Yes, that Conan. Anyway, I’ve read the intro and a couple stories and have kind of pledged to start a “Cimmeria Sunday!” project and read my way through them. The first story I’ve read under this banner was “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” which, as it turned out, I really liked. This type of adventure fantasy is kind of genre broadening for me too, which I consider a good thing. I’ll keep everyone posted and maybe share a story or two if I get ambitious.

A couple weekends ago, I went to a couple local literary events. One was a launch party for a collection of poems by J.T. Whitehead, a local deputy attorney general/poet who is also the husband of the director of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (which hosted the event) here in town. I enjoyed listening to his readings of selected poems from the book, which I also purchased a copy of (pictured above). The title of the collection is “Table of the Elements,” and the first section has poems titled with names of the elements, while the other section’s titles are compounds. What a great idea! In the Q & A That followed, I asked if the author was familiar with the Sam Keane Non fiction work “The Disappearing Spoon” (which I’ve mentioned on Bibliophilopois before)  he said “No, but funny you should ask…” as apparently other poets or writers have had similar ideas and one was suspicious of him wondering how he was stealing her ideas!

IMG_6174(above: poet J.T. Whitehead reading from “Table of the Elements” at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. I always think it must be a little unnerving for guests of the library to speak with a framed print of Vonnegut’s doodle of a sphincter right behind them! [photo by me])

Lastly, I went to another local author event, hosted by Bookmama’s Bookstore, whose owner(?)/manager(?), Kathleen, is a stalwart supporter of local and independent authors (in addition to Big Name Celebrity Authors – e.g., I met former Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian at her little store in Indianapolis’s Irvington neighborhood, and a million-selling historical fiction author (and Hoosier) James Alexander Thom). I’ve written before about her store and “underground” studio. This event, however, was to support the publication of “Decades of Dirt” by the Speed City chapter of Sisters in Crime, a mystery writers organization whose anthology “Hoosier Hoops and Hijinks” is part of my library AND I’ve featured a couple stories from it in this year’s Deal Me In, “More Than the Game” and “Fallen Idols“). I picked up a copy of their new effort and look forward to exploring it, especially with my 2016 focus on Indiana writers for the state’s Bicentennial.

IMG_6173(above: author Andrea Smith at Bookmama’s Bookstore, reading from her story in Decades of Dirt. [photo by me])

Bibliophilopolis has also made modest donations to help sponsor a couple local literary projects, helping to offset the expenses of one of the guests for the Banned Books week events at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, and to help fund (still 6 days left to donate if you’re interested!) an anthology of Indianapolis stories, “Mythic Indy.” More on both of these as we get closer to kickoff time. Not to mention that you may still buy the anthology we helped sponsor last year, “Indy Writes Books,” which includes a dozen stories that have been featured in this year’s Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. More info on this one may be found at http://www.indyreads.org/indy-writes-books/

What interesting bookish activities have YOU been up to that you maybe haven’t had time to blog about?

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“Indiana Horror Underground”

As a fan of words, I enjoy it when double meanings are employed. But how about a triple meaning? Such is the intention of the title of this blog post. Let me explain. A local bookstore, “Bookmama’s” in Irvington on Indy’s east side, hosted an event last weekend that featured seven or eight local authors who specialize in the horror genre. They read excerpts from their work, answered questions, mingled with the audience, etc., etc. Bookmama’s is a small store with little extra room on the main floor, so this event was held UNDERGROUND in their appropriately named “Underground 9 Studio.”

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The featured speaker – or maybe emcee is more correct – was James Ward Kirk (above) who in recent years has published several anthologies (horror, sci-fi, crime) featuring Indiana authors and stories. I actually owned two of them (e-copy) before I’d even heard of this event. Other authors present included Horror Poet Roger Cowin (below), whose “Vincent Price has Risen from the Dead” from the 2011 Indiana Horror anthology was one I had enjoyed (and did not find “abominable”), Murphy Edwards, whose short story “Bumper Music” in the same anthology provided both humor and horror, and Matt Cowan, whose story “Dark Attraction” helped bring some of the classic fears surrounding “carnivals” to the surface.

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Authors who I’d read in the 2011 Indiana Science Fiction anthology were Paula Ashe, whose story “Ladies Room” provides an answer (that you may not want to hear) to the age old question “why do girls always go to the restroom in twos?” and Matt Cowan again with his story “Unearthed” where maltreatment of an ET leads to trouble. These anthologies also featured other authors that I’d read elsewhere: Eric Garrison, Joanna Parypinski, and R.J. Sullivan, whose novel “Haunting Blue” I enjoyed last year but never blogged about. It is this last author who also wrote an introduction to the Indiana Horror 2011 anthology titled “The Hidden, Horrific Pulse of Indiana,” in which he correctly points out that,contrary to what people most would guess, the biggest annual event in Indy (judged by tourist revenue) is NOT The Indianapolis 500, but the Gen-Con gaming convention, which has called Indy its home since 2003. Sullivan notes that the “normal” people are sometimes taken aback by the (often costumed) attendees and are even glad when it’s over and the so-called “weird people” have left. Sullivan observes, however, that they haven’t left. They’ve “just returned to the UNDERGROUND. They’ve just changed costumes.” Heh heh.

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Anyway,this is just kind of a long-winded way to get around to talking about my week 13 story for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I drew the two of spades. In this challenge, “deuces are wild” and spades are my suit for darker stories. I was fortunate that in talking to author Matt Cowan (below) at the aforementioned event he had recommended another author in this volume, Marianne Halbert. So, with this event fresh in my mind, I proceeded to read her short story “Dark Cloud Rising” in which the action takes place … UNDERGROUND. 🙂

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Have you ever been “spelunking?” No? How about caving? Same thing. I’ve been in several caves in my life, but most of them have been “commercial” sites – well trodden by huge numbers of visitors. Like the tiny “Wolf Cave” in McCormick’s Creek State Park, just down the road from Indianapolis, or Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave at the other end of the size spectrum.

Once, though, I went caving FOR REAL with my Dad and brother. I was pretty young at the time – maybe fifth grade – and I think the cave we went to was Sullivan Cave in southern Indiana. I survived it, but I can’t imagine willingly doing it for “fun and adventure” as an adult. I remember at one point during the “expedition” I was directed to a small hole – about half the size of a manhole cover – in the cave floor and told that that was the passage to the next level of the cave. I remember thinking “Now who was the first person crazy enough to lower himself into there?!” Anyway, Dad was already familiar with the cave so I guess that fact, along with the fact that I was probably too young to know enough to be scared, allowed me to make it through the outing.

I do have a distinct memory of experiencing a strange phenomenon that night as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep. Whatever faint light existed in my room conspired with bookshelves, lamps, chairs, clothing, and my imagination to form a continuation of the subterranean landscape wherein I had spent most of the hours of the day. I knew it was a trick of the faint light and furnishings in my room, but it felt so real. I don’t retain many distinct memories from my youth, but that evening is one of then.

Enough about me. What about this story, “Dark Cloud Rising,” by Marianne Halbert? This story begins with a flashback to three years before the main action. An expedition of unknown purpose is apparently coming to a gruesome end, but the details are not complete. This expedition is linked across the years by three intrepid young caving enthusiasts – Topher (also an expert on bats), Garrett, and Moxie – when they find a cellphone “artifact” from that earlier expedition. Literary license is employed and the phone happens to be the same brand as Moxie’s, and she also has a cordless charging “doo-hickey” on her. This bit of luck is necessary to advance the story, though, and the three learn that the earlier expedition was involved with White Nose Syndrome (WNS) – a real world condition and a serious problem for bat populations (learn a little about it at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_nose_syndrome ). The three are shocked to learn from the memo-pad on the phone that the earlier expedition was associated with a Dr. Lutz, who “developed White Nose Syndrome.”
One says, “You mean developed a cure for WNS don’t you?”
The one searching the phone says, “No. He developed the spores for the disease. In a lab.”
But why? The reason seems precipitated by the fact that “global warming’s effects on the Earth’s tectonic plates” (yeah, I know) had “awakened” something. Something called Megachiroptera… When the three discover they’re not alone in the cave things really get interesting.

I liked the story a lot as it brought back some personal memories – and fears. The few stretches in scientific credibility or good fortune (hey, I have a cordless charger for that three year-old cellphone!) did not diminish my enjoyment of it. And, after reading, I continue to have zero interest in the sport of cave exploration.:-)

The anthology with this story and others can be found for sale on line at Amazon (Kindle version only 2.99!) http://www.amazon.com/Indiana-Science-Fiction-Anthology-2011/dp/1466397276

(Below: gratuitous picture of Vincent Price as “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”)

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May Reading – The Month Ahead

I’m always interested in hearing what my friends are reading (this is why Goodreads.com is favorited in my browser). Maybe you are the same way? Here’s what I think I’ll be working on in May:

First, a few ‘required’ reads, including a re-read of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slapstick, for the monthly meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club. The club has covered all of his novels already and this will be the first “repeat” since I began participating. I think this was only the third Vonnegut novel I had read at the time of my initial reading, and – now that I’ve learned so much more of this author and his works – I’m really looking forward to revisiting it.

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(above: the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s replica of Kurt Vonnegut’s study)

One of the reading groups at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Irvington is meeting on the 29th to discuss the second half of the Tolstoy Classic, Anna Karenina. I attended the first meeting, but have kind of left the daunting novel lie fallow for a few weeks. I need to pick it up again and see what happens to Anna, Vronsky, Constantin, & Kitty. When I finish this book, a serious gap (one of very many, I’m afraid) in my cultural literacy will finally be filled. I wouldn’t mind seeing the movie adaptation with Keira Knightley in the title role either…

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My Great Books Foundation discussion group is meeting on the 21st to discuss the famous Lawrence Sargent Hall story, “The Ledge.” It is also my turn to lead the discussion, so I plan to thoroughly read this one and be prepared.

(below: Lawrence Sargent Hall, author of “The Ledge”)

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I’ve also been reading Veronica Roth’s novel, Divergent, and may even wrap that one up this weekend. I’m liking it so far, but I admittedly have a thing for dystopic fiction. This one kind of feels like Harry Potter meets Hunger Games meets Brave New World. I know a few of my fellow bloggers were disappointed in the sequel, but enough of them also liked this one to cause me to take the plunge.  Oh, and it’s set in a post-apocalyptic(?) Chicago too (don’t you recognize Lake Michigan on the cover?), so as a midwesterner that’s a plus.

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What else? Oh, yeah, I hope to start reading The Shift Omnibus by Hugh Howey. It’s the anticipated prequel to the addictive “Wool” omnibus, which I tore through last month and have been recommending around to anyone who dares ask me. Someday I’ll post about “Wool” – if I can get my act together and write something decent.

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There are four Saturdays in May, so that means I’ll read four stories for my annual “Deal Me In” short story project. Which stories I read, however, will be determined by the luck of the draw, which is part of what makes this annual project so fun for me. That, and my line-up of fifty-two stories this year is perhaps my strongest yet. AND It’s not too early to starting thinking about coming up with YOUR OWN list of fifty-two stories for 2014 and join in the fun. Fellow blogger Dale at Mirror With Clouds is also doing the short story “Deal Me In” project with me this year.

Well, that’s about it for me (even though I will likely read a few random and unanticipated stuff too, as always). What about YOU, though? What will you be reading in May? I’d love to hear about your reading plans…

A Unique Author Visit – Mike Mullin at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Irvington

I had the pleasure of visiting Bookmama’s Bookstore in Indianapolis this past thursday after work, where author Mike Mullin (“Ashfall” and the recently published “Ashen Winter”) was a guest speaker. I posted awhile back about the first book and in that post mentioned how Mr. Mullin was a black belt in Taekwando and how coincidental it was that the main character of Ashfall (Alex) inherited that skill. Well, Thursday – as Paul Harvey used to say – I learned “the rest… of the story.”

(below: Bookmama’s bookstore in Irvington)

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Mr. Mullin first spoke a little about vulcanology (for those that don’t know or haven’t guessed, “Ashfall” is a post-apocalyptic novel that imagines the aftermath of an eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano). He mentioned, if I recall correctly, that the idea for the book came to him at the Indianapolis Central Library, when he viewed some material on that subject. Although I have two geologists in my family, I don’t know very much about the subject of volcanoes and was happy to learn more.

He related how, at the time of the great Krakatoa
Eruption in 1883, European colonists two-hundred miles away, hearing the explosions, thought they were under some kind of artillery attack. Pausing for dramatic effect (there were several wide-eyed kids in the small audience) he then said that the last eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano was hundreds of times more powerful… Our scientific education continued when Mullin described how first the use of tree-ring dating and, later, examinations of ice cores have allowed vulcanologists to see further and further back into the geologic history of our planet. Fascinating stuff.

He also performed a dramatic reading of the passage near the beginning of the book where catastrophe strikes (quite literally) Alex’s house. Technically, maybe this couldn’t be called a “reading” since he didn’t have to look at his book once, so either he’s done it often enough to learn it by heart or is gifted with an impressive memory.

He then fielded fielded questions from the audience. Some were the standard variety – How long did it take you to write it? When did you start writing? Etc. (I think he said four years to the former, with over three years spent on the revision and editing process, and the sixth grade for the latter). The second book was much quicker. Why? He “already had the characters.” I asked him about the reaction of scientists and geologists with whom he consulted when they learned the premise of his book and was happy to hear that the feedback was positive and that many thought it was “cool.”

I was surprised to learn, though, that he began to study Taekwando only AFTER he had written it into the book. He said that, due to his limited schedule, it had taken a little longer than usual for him to make the progression to black belt and that, for awhile, there was some doubt as to whether or not the blurb on the back cover (already touting him as a black belt) would be truthful. Rest assured it was, as the master of his do-jang was able to help fit the final testing into his schedule in time.

He concluded his talk with a Taekwando demonstration, breaking a brick and signing the pieces for two of the younger members of the audience.

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I got a hardcover copy of “Ashen Winter” signed for me and my friend, Ann Marie, got him to sign a copy of Ashfall for her daughter as a Christmas present. I asked him what HE was reading now, and he recommended two books: “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio and “Velveteen” by Daniel Marks. Subsequently looking them up, I doubt “Velveteen” would be my cup of tea, but the former sounds very good. Overall a fun time. I am always thankful when I see authors who are willing to visit smaller locations like this one and am particularly impressed when they are as gracious as Mr. Mullin was. Well, that’s about it. I’m off to start reading “Ashen Winter” now… 🙂

(below: Mr. Mullin’s “break-through performance”)

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Just Finished: Bagombo Snuff Box

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Over the past couple weeks, I’ve truly enjoyed devouring this collection of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. Short story anthologies or collections, by their very nature, are somewhat difficult to rate or review, even when all the stories are by the same author. While contemplating this post, I found myself reminded of a batch of favorite cookies, you know the kind, “Like Mom Used to Make.” When they come out of the oven, your anticipation heightens as the aroma and diffusing heat of the oven trigger a textbook Pavlovian response. They’re all the same kind of cookies, so you know you’ll like any individual one of them, but they’re not all exactly the same, depending on their placement on the cookie sheet, the possible vagaries of the oven, or – as in the case of something like chocolate chip cookies – the “local chip concentration” in the batter used for that particular cookie. In spite of these variables, though, when you eat one, there is little doubt you are eating a chocolate chip (or oatmeal butterscotch (Hi,Kim!), or whatever type) cookie.

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So I savored the chance to read this new “batch” of Vonnegut stories, and though some I enjoyed more (or less) than others due to their “crunchiness” or “chip volume,” there was no doubt when I finished one that I had just read a Vonnegut short story, and I was not a little sad when I realized that the entire batch had been consumed. Okay, this labored analogy is starting to make me hungry, so on to the stories…

Though sometimes labelled as a “Science Fiction” writer, Vonnegut wasn’t really one, though two of the stories could be fit into that mold, the lead off story, “Thanasphere,” and later in the book “2BR02B” (the “0” in the title should be taken as “naught” – get it?). Both were quite good, the former – written way before man’s first orbital flight – speculating on what we would encounter, and the latter envisioning a somewhat grim future with a Federal Bureau of Termination and Ethical Suicide Studios that call to mind the 1973 sci-fi classic film, Soylent Green, released eleven years after this story was first published.

(below: Edwin G. Robinson as Sol Roth in Soylent Green’s version of an “Ethical Suicide Studio”)

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Three of the stories – “The No-Talent Kid,” “The Ambitious Sophomore,” and “The Boy Who Hated Girls” – all featured the recurring character, George M. Helmholtz, the “band director of Lincoln High School,” who I first encountered in the superior story, “The Kid Nobody Could Handle” from Vonnegut’s other collection of short stories, “Welcome to the Monkey House.” I was also among those treated to a great “live” reading of this story (by fellow KVML book club member, Janet) this spring at Bookmama’s Bookstore’s “Vonnegut Day” here in Indianapolis. (below: treats for ‘Vonnegut Day’ at Bookmama’s.  Why, yes, of course that’s “monkeybread” 🙂 )

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The three Helmholtz stories in this collection were not among my favorites, however, and I wondered who the real-life inspiration for this Helmholtz character that “keeps showing up” might have been, or whether he could be a conglomerate of various teachers Vonnegut remembered from his days at Shortridge High School. Maybe one of my fellow book club members will have the scoop for me on this next week…

As you might expect from Vonnegut, there were a couple stories clearly influenced by his experience in the war, the somewhat comic “Der Arme Dolmetscher,” where a hapless protagonist is recruited to be a translator because in high school he had memorized, and was still fond of repeating, the first stanza of Heine’s “Die Lorelei” – without even understanding the meaning. The poignant “The Cruise of the Jolly Roger” is much deeper and thought-provoking, however.

If I had to come up with a “common theme” throughout this collection, it would probably be that most of the stories deal with the “struggle to find happiness” if you want to call it that. Happiness in one’s job, one’s relationships, and one’s place in society are all covered,often more than once. I was reminded of Thoreau’s observation about most men leading “lives of quiet desperation” during many of these stories. (Below: an illustration from The Saturday Evening Post from the story, Custom-Made Bride)

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Stories of this type were also my favorites in this collection. I’ve already posted about one of them, “The Package” earlier this month, but here I’d also like to recommend “Lover’s Anonymous,” “Custom-Made Bride,” “The Powder-Blue Dragon” and “This Son of Mine.” The last of these, which my friend Dale also just posted about on his blog Mirror with Clouds, came up by coincidence in my reading order just the day after Father’s Day. The story deals with two fathers and sons and their relationships, which have been sabotaged and crippled by misunderstanding. In fact, I’d argue that misunderstanding (during the search for happiness) is another common theme in this collection, perhaps best illustrated in the “Lovers Anonymous” story already mentioned.

Well, I’ve done it again and rambled on far longer than I like to in a blog post, but Vonnegut is one of my favorites, and it’s hard for me to stop sometimes. 🙂 By my count I’ve now read over sixty of his short stories, and the well will soon run dry since there will be no more forthcoming. I am not happy about this.

So, what about you? Are you a Vonnegut fan or have you read any of his short fiction? What are your favorites?

A Busy Book Week in Bibliophilopolis

Or at least it could be. Lots of stuff going on in town. We’ll see how much I actually get to do.

(1) Tomorrow, author Majie Alford Failey is discussing her book, We Never Danced Cheek to Cheek: The Young Kurt Vonnegut in Indianapolis and Beyond, at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Irvington. I stopped by Bookmama’s last week as their “Shared Pages” book club was discussing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, one of my favorite short stories. At that time, I learned of this week’s event and bought a copy of the book. It’s only 150 pages or so, and I’ve already started it.

(2) Wednesday, the “Great Books” reading group is meeting at the Nora Library to discuss Sinclair Lewis’s classic book, Main Street. I’ve always wanted to read this and have downloaded to my Nook reader and gotten started, but I doubt I’ll be able to finish by then. I need to get to one of their meetings soon, though, as I asked to be included in their emails long ago but have yet to show up for anything. 🙂

(3) Thursday (Part I) The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club, in honor of Banned Books Week, is reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I completed my reading of this classic just yesterday and plan to attend this meeting for sure, barring unforeseen crises at the office (this is the club that meets in the middle of the day on a weekday; many of its members are retired).

(4) Thursday (Part II) My book club, The Indy Reading Coalition, meets to discuss Rex Stout’s Some Buried Caesar. I just read this short book last year, and don’t know if I’ll re-read just review to re-familiarize myself with whodunit. I can’t miss e meeting, though; my attendance record of about 58 out of 60 meetings is something I take pride in. 🙂

Do you ever have weeks this filled with book-related ‘events?’ I think is is a first for me…