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Maria Alexander

(s)Word Slinger

Tag: writing

Tori Stori

Twenty years ago, Tori Amos released Boys for Pele, a powerful album named after the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. I’d only become aware of Tori earlier in the year, around the same time I’d started corresponding with Neil Gaiman. It was 1996, back when you’d go to the record store to buy music. All they had in stock at the store I went to was this new album. Since I’d never heard her music before, Pele was my first exposure to her work.

As I listened to Pele in my tiny in-law apartment in San Francisco, I was blown away by both the music and her passionate, dreamlike lyrics. Not only had I never heard anything like it before, I was in the middle of a divorce and some huge life changes (to put it mildly) that had cost me many friends. So, Pele spoke to me like nothing else.

On July 12, 1996, I went to see her perform at the Paramount Theater in Oakland. “Tori Stori” is what I wrote to Neil that night after I saw her. It mimics the style of the piece he’d written for Tori in the show’s program.

In honor of the 20th anniversary release of Boys for Pele, here’s the piece I sent him.

*****

“Tori Stori”

There was a girl.

She was dressed in black and leather, for that was all she knew how to wear well, and she came to see the red-headed woman play. And sing.

The girl arrived quietly. Alone. For she didn’t know anyone who liked the red-headed woman, except a man who lived half-way across the country.

She entered the old art deco theater – the “moderne” architecture – and sat, nicely setting aside the memories of yesterday that the building pulled from her. Not yesterday as the day before, but yesterday a hundred years ago. She thought, “I’m going to enjoy today, for it’s what I’ve got now.” And she did.

Others arrived. Younger ones. They sat behind her and talked.

“Aren’t Neil and Tori dating?” asked a young girl.

“Who’s Neil?” asked a boy.

“You know, Neil Gaiman?” another young girl responded authoritatively, yet she sounded as if every statement were a question. “He’s, like, this writer? He, like, writes comic books? BUT,” she hastily added, “he’s very, very talented.”

The girl in black laughed. Quietly.

Then after other, less intelligible discussions, one of the young girls began reading out loud from the programme. After only a few words, the girl in black knew the man who lived half-way across the country wrote that. (“I can name that author in three words, Bob.”)

She got up and bought a programme. And read it.

The lights went down. People cheered, screamed, clapped. “Billy Ray was a preacher’s son. When his daddy would visit, he’d come along…”

Out came the red-headed woman onto the stage. She was small. She sat at the piano and started to play. And play. And sing. My, could she sing. And she moved. Up. Down. Stomping her foot. She reminded the girl in black of a billy goat, bucking and stomping, moving her head up and down. But playfully. Passionately. A Leo. Definitely a Leo.

The red-headed woman keened. Not just about horses, and leather, and Charlie Brown, but about lost loves, a mirror-cracked childhood, and God…

The girl in black cried. And she did not stop crying.

The incredibly lovely, melancholy swells from the Bosendorfer washed away the numbness of pain and stress in the girl’s heart and opened a river in her flesh. For the first time, she didn’t care if anyone saw her cry, like she did sometimes watching movies with boys. She rested her head back. And wept.

Much, much too soon, it ended. The red-headed woman finally left the stage (it was the fourth time she’d left the stage). The lights went up. Everyone was standing, clapping. Including the girl. Especially the girl.

Then the girl left. As quietly as she came. She went home.

And she wrote this to the man who lived half-way across the country.

7/13/96

Get Ready for the Wild Rumpus!

We’re getting close to the release of Mr. Wicker!

Hardcover copies of Mr. WickerThe Wild Rumpus starts September 16, 2014. You can still preorder your copy at a discount on Amazon. If you have Amazon Prime, you get free shipping!

Guest Blog Post at Save the Cat! on 9/19

Look for a guest blog post by me on the Save the Cat!® website next Friday, September 19th. I’ll be talking about how to approach common POV writing problems that screenwriters have when they try to adapt one of their scripts to novel. Since Mr. Wicker began as a script, I’ll be speaking from personal experience and sharing my expertise as both a produced screenwriter and published fiction writer.

Shades and Shadows Reading on 9/20

As a pre-celebration, I’ll be reading from the novel at the Shades and Shadows Reading Series. Here are the details:

September 20, 2014
8:00 pm
California Institute of Abnormal Arts
11334 Burbank Blvd
North Hollywood, CA 91601
$10 admission fee

Official Book Launch at Dark Delicacies on 9/21

The official celebration will be a signing at my favorite bookstore, Dark Delicacies!

September 21, 2014
2:00 pm
Dark Delicacies
3512 W. Magnolia
Burbank, CA 91505

See my Appearances page for more information about upcoming events in San Francisco, Orange County and San Diego.

Stay Tuned for More Sword Controversy

I’m currently writing a guest blog post for SF Signal about swords in film and fiction that might heat up the interwebs, as well as completing interviews for The Qwillery, The Big Thrill, and many more.

Catch you all on the flip side of the rumpus.

Book Trailer for Mr. Wicker

Lots of talent went into this video. John Palisano directed the trailer and created the special FX, with backup from major Hollywood effects pro and author, Mike McCarty. The gorgeous and creepy interstitial cards were created by the very talented designer, Neil A. Williams II. I wrote the Mr. Wicker theme ages ago, but Jill Tracy‘s amazing adaptation and performance of it just floors me. Her magic makes this video complete.

And, yes, there’s something special at the end. Ahem.

Is this “triggery”? Yup. So is the whole damn book. Consider this a warning. Or a big red, shiny bow. Whichever you prefer.

Thanks for watching! Don’t forget: save money when you pre-order your copy of Mr. Wicker directly from Raw Dog Screaming Press.

Perfume Drinkers and Pig Tails: Márquez the Marvelous is Dead

 

“…memories materialized through the strength of implacable evocation and walked like human beings through the cloistered rooms.”

Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Mr. Wicker starts with this quote from one of Márquez’s classics. It was the first of his books I’d ever read and it continues to haunt me with its scorpions and butterflies. In fact, my new YA novel is rife with references to this amazing story as the 16-year-old protagonist is reading it in her AP English class when she meets the boy of both her fondest dreams and coldest nightmares.

I fell in love with Márquez when I read that book, with his passionate imagination and permeable reality. I had read many fantasy authors but nothing captured my own imagination and inspired it as deeply as this tale. I probably loved it in part because of Márquez’s highly visual writing style. The page, canvas. The pen, paint. Motion, color, metaphor: Márquez is king.

By the time I’d read Love in the Time of Cholera, I was drunk on the magical realism of other South American authors such as Isabella Allende, Laura Esquivel and Julio Cortázar, but Marquez still reigned supreme. I loved that Marc Klein and Peter Chesolm used Cholera in Serendpity, a John Cusack film that is very close to my heart for many reasons. The image of Florentino eating flowers and drinking cologne so that he can taste Fermina was so wildly romantic that it infects my every creative impulse. Of course, not every character is like Florentino, but part of me wants to recreate him in every romantic gesture because we can sympathize with his desires for intense connection. The experience of connection that transcends physical boundaries is one of my favorite themes in magical realism and certainly the most profound for me in Márquez’s works.

I struggled with his last book, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, and I have yet to read Living to Tell the Tale, but it promises our greatest and most personal insights into one of the most brilliant literary minds of our age.

And now Márquez has passed. The world mourns. I, too, feel the weight of this loss.

But the world should also celebrate — with perfume and pig tails. Full moons and diamonds. Love letters and oranges. With trembling and anger. Truth raw, naked and sweating on a sleepless night.

For Márquez has at last merged with the infinite. Let his memory materialize in our words and dreams.

 

Forgetting “A Fish Called Wanda”

Last night, I re-watched A Fish Called Wanda with my boyfriend, who’d seen it dozens of times and had even memorized the script. I’d seen it when it came out with my then-boyfriend (who would later become my ex-husband).

The thing is, I didn’t remember a single thing about it. In fact, whenever someone would mention the film, I’d feel an aching, nauseated hole in my memory. Not just a dislike, but a visceral unpleasantness. And I had no idea why.

Netflix said I’d give A Fish Called Wanda almost 5 stars. I mean, like, all the stars except the tiny corner of the last star. Holy sure thing, Batman! I’ve rated enough Netflix movies over the years that it’s pretty accurate. All those red stars combined with my beloved’s enthusiasm for the film made me decide to re-watch it.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s brilliant — the twisting plot, the fantastic acting, the characters, all with Kevin Kline huffing a patent leather boot. But as I watched the movie, I realized exactly how I’d not only forgotten the film, but why I shoved it off into Vague Hateville.

I was an Evangelical Christian when I saw it.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think Jesus approved of crime comedy. He seemed pretty okay with my infatuation with Inspector Clouseau and the Pink Panther movies, as well as my love for Get Smart and The Naked Gun. (If I had known about my future friend Alan Spencer’s Sledge Hammer, I’d have been totally smitten with that, too.)

No. It was because I was terrified of Jamie Lee Curtis’s incredible sexual power. Wielded by her sharp intelligence, her body was deadlier than any gun — or steamroller — brandished in the film. Between the extramarital affair and the multiple backstabbing affairs, I was terrified of her seductive powers. Not only were her actions “sinful,” she was unstoppable. And appealing…

Was Michael Palin fantastic as the stuttering, animal-loving bank robber? Yes. Was John Cleese completely endearing as the domestically challenged barrister? Yes. Was Kevin Kline hilarious every time he tried to “apologize”? Fuck yes. But all I had remembered was the vaguely sick, horrified feeling I’d had when I’d realized how powerful sex was: the “bad” thing I’d been fighting my whole life, whether it was the painful fallout of my father’s affairs or my own, more innocent quirks.

And Jamie Lee Curtis just proved it was all true. Sex outside of a proper Christian marriage was, without a doubt, bad bad bad.

I’ve changed my mind about a lot of films since I was “unsaved” in 1996. Like The Piano. Oh, god. When I’d first seen the film, I’d watched with satisfaction as Flora tattled on her ho mama, which led to the axe scene with George. I’d been so uncomfortable with the infidelity, I could barely stand watching the film. But as soon as I was “unsaved,” I watched the film again on a whim and OH MY GOD! I LOVED IT! I loved every moment, every detail, every gorgeous shot, Michael Nyman’s haunting music…just everything. And I cried during the axe scene. Oh, god! No! Ada! Poor Ada! I felt sorry for George, too, but not when he turned into the axe-wielding asshole.

Afterward, I thought, “Christ. Do I have to re-watch every goddamned movie I’ve ever disliked before now?”

I stuck to comedies mostly, like The Life of Brian. I could barely tolerate it before, but now I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVED IT with blasphemy sauce on top! I probably appreciated it more than most people.

Cinema opened up to me. Books. Music. I stood awash in the glorious downpour of human experience with new-found compassion for human frailty. It wasn’t that I suddenly had no moral guidelines. Far from it! I had strong feelings of right and wrong, but for once no one was dictating them to me and I could appreciate nuances of circumstance. I no longer obsessively checked everything I took in against some soupy salvation list that’s ingredients changed depending on the perspective of the pastor I consulted. And the maddening, deafening inner din of “Is this of the world? Or of Christ? Is this godly? Would Jesus approve?” had finally fucking stopped. That peace that Christians talk about? The one that “surpasses understanding”? Once Jesus had cleared the room, it arrived at last. I met art quietly by myself — just me with my intellect, my tastes, my sense of humor. I could still reject a story because of its violence against women, racism, or what have you, but my inner compass interfered far less with my ability to enjoy a story for what it was.

Best of all, I could tell my own stories without worrying about what Jesus or anyone else thought. I started writing and never stopped…

To be honest, I still don’t like Wanda. (I’m not sure we’re supposed to, anyway.) And I am certainly not thrilled with the message that the right man with enough money can tame a woman and make her behave, either. Still, I really enjoyed A Fish Called Wanda.

I give it four stars.

Me, Masturbation & Clive Barker

Clive-Barker-clive-barker-nekkid

I just finished an essay for Peter Crowther and Pete von Sholly’s latest project coming out from a British publisher. I’m not sure I can talk about the project yet, but my contribution is an essay that’s an R-rated literary romp about my former film mentor and favorite horror author. The first line of the piece is:

“My first masturbatory fantasy was Clive Barker.”

It sort of goes downhill from there. So to speak.

When Pete asked me to write about Clive, I knew couldn’t write a dry-as-dust bio. It had to be shocking, personal, and entertaining. I wanted to reveal Clive the man alongside his work: his kindness and generosity, as well as his diabolical imagination. Clive as both the shaman and sinner. To reveal both his sense of humor, as well as his profound spirituality.

There’s even a funny anecdote that involves Neil Gaiman and big noses.

When I learned Clive had been in a coma last year, my world stopped. Yes, in some ways he’s immortal because his contribution to horror is so sweeping that he’s touched generations to come. But he’s human. And I want people to know about him, the person you might not guess he is based on his writing alone.

It’s a love letter–agape love, that is, not eros, although it reads more like the latter than the former. I don’t know that anyone else would have published something like this.

Anyhow, I’ve seen von Sholly’s illustrations and they’re incredible. Many other amazing authors are contributing, too. I’ll be sure to announce when you can pick up Pete & Pete’s creation.

Now back to the completely wicked book-in-progress and the thriller short story cooking in my head.

“Saturnalia”: When Your Nightmares Write Stories

Something chittered and cackled as it danced in the shadows of the naked trees. Maria skirted her dead jeep, putting it between her and the noise, afraid that the creature would burst through the foliage. She tried to make out what it was, but the trees flanking the road confounded her eyes with their twisted limbs. Thick smoky rivulets streamed from beneath the battered metal hood, further obscuring her vision. Yet something rustled beyond the sharp, frosty branches of the forest walls. Something feral and utterly frightening. 

From “Saturnalia”

In 1999, I had a really effed up dream.

The dream was not only scary as hell, but extremely detailed and well plotted. It included an entire ensemble of strangers, a brother named Joshua who had died, and a town with a secret so dark it could only hide in a Louisiana swamp.

I wrote it down immediately and called it “Saturnalia.” The details of the dream were so deeply carved into my memory and psyche that I even named the main character after myself. I didn’t act like myself in the dream, though. I was naive, trusting, religious, forgiving…a person sure to find trouble.

(Okay, arguably I’m the kind of person sure to find trouble, but this is another kind of trouble.)

First Person, Worst Person

Anyway. I originally wrote it in first person. Although I love first person — my two most popular stories are in first person, present tense — it just didn’t work for some reason. It felt too much like telling someone my dream and not a story. (Then again, when I read it out loud to my old writing group comprised of women in the film industry, I got bitched out for scaring one of the members. It clearly worked on some level.) When I moved it out to third person past tense, it helped considerably, but for many reasons the story remained a mess. I’m still kicking myself for handing in the gooey lump of crap that I did to the Dark Faith anthology editors. “Saturnalia” definitely belonged in either of the anthologies they eventually published.

Washing Up After Heartbreak

As if hitting bottom, she just didn’t want to wash up until after that heartbreaking rejection. I gave her to a friend who lives in New Orleans for a locality check and to a Hispanic friend for a cultural check. They picked the gummy, gross bits off of her and I set to scrubbing her head to toe. I then had my writing group read it and they came back with a resounding YES.

Where You Can Read “Saturnalia”

While it didn’t appear in Dark Faith, you now have it for your enjoyment in both of these great anthologies:

Left Hanging: 10 Tales of Suspense and Thrills

Blood Rites: An Invitation to Horror

But Seriously — WTF?

Where did this dream story come from? This total heart-fuck, mind-fuck, spirit-fuck of a story — it wasn’t inspired by the news or anything I read. Maybe my brain stored some kind of aborted nightmare baby one of the many times I was watching The Wicker Man as I ate Morning Star Strips.

Mmmmm. Morning Star Strips.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad it happened.

Poor Maria. I wonder if she made it out of Ville D’Or alive?

Bun Bu Ryō Dō: The Twofold Way of Pen and Sword

by KisaragiChiyo

As some of you might know, I’m recovering from hand injuries I sustained at work. This has impacted my life like a moon-sized meteorite slamming into San Francisco. Not only do I have to use a voice recognition program to write — both at work and home — but for the time being I can’t wield a bokuto, much less an iaito or katana, until my hands are in better shape. While shinkendo is highly ergonomic — way more so than any sport — it’s best that I rest my hands altogether.

Bushido on the Bench

Until I recover, I can only observe in shinkendo class, which is exactly what I did today. And just as I have been pondering bushido and what it means to be a samurai when not practicing the martial arts, Sensei brought to class today some notes compiled by Nicholas, one of the top students at Honbu dojo. He had compiled several ideas and philosophies that Obata-kaiso discussed at a recent class. (Thanks, Nicholas!)

Bun Bu Ryo Do

One of the philosophies was of Bun Bu Ryo Do — the twofold path of pen and sword. The samurai were successful for so long because they studied both cultural and martial arts. They mastered both the pen and the sword, making them formidable intellectual and military opponents.

People sometimes ask me “Which is mightier, the pen or the sword?” This question bugs the shit out of me. It’s not only cliché but completely fuckwitted. So if you can possibly restrain yourself, please refrain from asking it. But what I can say is that being a writer makes me a better warrior. I’m a complete person. And apparently the samurai agreed.

Isshin Nigan Sanzoku Shite

Another concept that Obata-kaiso spoke of that startled me was Isshin Nigan Sanzoku Shite, which is a sort of hierarchy of the body. Obata-kaiso says that we must take care of our bodies in the following order: heart and mind; eyes; feet and legs; and hands.

This kind of rocked my world because, as a samurai in training who is currently “handless,” I would have thought that the order would be reversed, that we would start with our hands, feet and legs. But as part of my recovery, I’ve been studying biofeedback and this hierarchy perfectly matches what the biofeedback specialist Dr. Stephen Sideroff talks about on his CDs. When healing from injuries, first address your thoughts and feelings, as well as the way you “look” at events, because if you’re stressed, you lose vital blood circulation to your limbs — which is how I got into this hand mess to begin with.

“Sword = Soul” Bitches

At some point, I will ease back into things. I’m perfectly productive with the tools that I have with which to write, but I long for my sword. Your sword is an extension of your soul. That’s why, whenever a friend shows you an edged weapon that he or she bought, you must be respectful of it, even if it’s a rusty piece of junk from the bowels of Beijing. Because insulting their sword is like insulting their soul – something I generally try to avoid. It’s just the right thing to do when you are on this path.

The Blade Goes Both Ways

Life is full of setbacks. You have to keep moving forward however you can, keeping your eye on the goal. Yet in many ways, this doesn’t feel like a setback. I’m learning more about swordsmanship and bushido than I ever could on the mat or in front of the target. My spiritual life is richer and I understand certain concepts far more accurately from watching than from doing. And more than ever, I appreciate my Sensei and dojo mates for the good friends (and in some ways family) that they are.

Wishing you all health and happiness these holidays!

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