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Elizabeth Hand
Posted on Friday, February 16, 2007 - 10:48 am:   

Zali will post this on my site tomorrow, but for now, here's this just in ...

Hand (Mortal Love ) explores the narrow boundary between artistic genius and madness in this gritty, profoundly unsettling literary thriller. Cass "Scary" Neary, a self-destructive photographer, enjoyed her 15 minutes of fame snapping shots of the punk scene's most squalid moments. Now forgotten and aging gracelessly, Cass gets a shot at rehabilitation when a friend assigns her to interview Aphrodite Kamestos, a photographer from the fringe of the '60s counterculture, whose morbid vision influenced Cass herself. On remote Paswegas Island off the coast of Maine, Cass finds a dissipated and surly Aphrodite who sees in Cass the darkest aspects of herself. Worse, Cass discovers that a remnant of a commune Aphrodite helped found has taken her bleak aesthetic to the next level in an effort to penetrate mysteries of life and death. Cass is a complex and thoroughly believable character who behaves selfishly-sometimes despicably-yet still compels reader sympathy. The novel's final chapters, in which Cass confronts a horrifying embodiment of the extremes to which her own artistic inclinations could lead, are a terror tour-de-force that testify to the power of great fiction to disturb and provoke.(Apr.)
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PM
Posted on Friday, February 16, 2007 - 11:02 am:   

It's on my reading list.
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Elizabeth Hand
Posted on Friday, February 16, 2007 - 12:34 pm:   

I'm pretty psyched.

It was a horrible book to write. Now it all seems like a bad dream. Really.
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justin headrick
Posted on Friday, February 16, 2007 - 06:56 pm:   

got mine preordered...can hardly wait. it's tough when i get new worthwhile books, becuase i know it will be awhile before i see another compelling story come my way...i've tried to pace myself, but it's no use.
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Elizabeth Hand
Posted on Saturday, February 17, 2007 - 04:33 am:   

It's difficult for a writer, too -- knowing the expectations of readers (and editors, and agents, and bill collectors) but not being able to write more quickly. I can't, anyway. I've written several short stories or novellas in the last year, which I hope might fill the gap, but I write novels very slowly and always envy those writers who can produce them faster -- one a year, I gather that's the ideal.

But I generally have to struggle through several hundred pages before I even have a clue as to what I'm doing. At which point I have to throw almost everything out and start again. For some reason this doesn't happen with shorter fiction, even with longer shorter fiction, like novellas -- I tend to write those at white heat. But novels are very difficult for me. It takes a long time for my vision to cohere and for the characters to come together. I always fool myself into thinking "Oh, I'll write THIS one quickly!"

But it ain't never happened yet.
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Paul Witcover
Posted on Saturday, February 17, 2007 - 10:48 am:   

terrific review, and very quotable!
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Jeffrey Ford
Posted on Saturday, February 17, 2007 - 11:41 am:   

Liz: Congratulations on the starred review. I really dug the book. It moved, in the reading, like a bat out of hell, and, at the same time, had a lot of depth. Great characters!
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Elizabeth Hand
Posted on Saturday, February 17, 2007 - 12:28 pm:   

Thanks, guys! I'm glad you liked it, Jeff -- I always like those bats outta hell myself!
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Tuesday, February 20, 2007 - 04:26 am:   

Great review, and hopefully the first of many excellent ones.
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Elizabeth Hand
Posted on Tuesday, February 20, 2007 - 04:54 am:   

Thanks, Ellen. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
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Bronwyn Elko
Posted on Tuesday, February 20, 2007 - 12:30 pm:   

Awesome, Liz! Congrats for making the bad dream a provocative and alluring reality. I look forward to reading it.

I totally relate about writing and throwing out hundreds of pages . . . thanks SO much for sharing that.
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PM
Posted on Tuesday, February 20, 2007 - 01:22 pm:   

"I write novels very slowly and always envy those writers who can produce them faster -- one a year, I gather that's the ideal."

Better to write well than shower readers with less than your best.

It's heartening to hear that you care about what you're writing!
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Elizabeth Hand
Posted on Tuesday, February 20, 2007 - 02:48 pm:   

Oh, the throwing-out part, it's so discouraging. But sometimes it's all you can do. All I can do, anyway.

With this book, I just Could. Not. Get. It. Right. It started as a straightforward (for me) contemporary fantasy, a la Black Light or Waking the Moon; I had a plot, a setting, characters, everything. But it just didn't work. Then it very briefly (mostly in my head) became a horror novel (I mean a supernatural one), and then somehow ir became what it is, i.e. a book with no element of the fantastic, and very little in the way of my usual special effects -- lyrical description, etc. It's a very stripped down narrative. The whole book basically had to be carried by the narrator, who's a pretty fucked-up character. So it was just exhausting and emotionally depleting to be in that person's head for several years.

It was very different for me to write like that. I can't say I enjoyed it much -- I learned how much pleasure I derive from being able to write lyrically. Which may in itself be a bad habit. Or maybe there's a halfway point, I dunno.

I've reached a point with writing where, if I don't care about it very deeply, I just don't want to do it anymore. I honestly don't see the point. I'll be 50 in a month (!) and am very aware that this is the only shot I have to work with the tools I've gathered in the previous half-century. A lot of what I write is done to honor people I've known, some of whom are dead now, others lost. Like the Cavafy poem:

Ideal and dearly beloved voices
of those who are dead, or of those
who are lost to us like the dead.

Sometimes they speak to us in our dreams;
sometimes in thought the mind hears them.

And for a moment with their echo other echoes
return from the first poetry of our lives --
like music that extinguishes the far-off night.



So I don't want to screw it up.

I'm completing a more lighthearted project now (Pandora's Bride), a book that's an entertainment or jeu d'esprit; but after that it's once more into the breach.
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PM
Posted on Tuesday, February 20, 2007 - 04:28 pm:   

"The whole book basically had to be carried by the narrator, who's a pretty fucked-up character."

Reminds me (recently) of the narrator in Shepard's "Lepidopterist". Not so much that the narrator is "fucked-up" but the difficulty of abandoning your prowess to provide a realistic voice that is not your own but of course has to be your own.

Don't be a method actor! :-)
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Elizabeth Hand
Posted on Wednesday, February 21, 2007 - 04:45 am:   

It's interesting you say that, because I often do feel as though I'm a Method actor, doing stuff like this. I trained as an actor at university and failed dismally at it -- I was not good, and suffered from sickening stage fright -- but some of the schooling stuck with me. I never imagined it would have any utility in writing, but in an odd way it did. Maybe a certain thinning of the walls between one self and another, that makes it possible to channel another's voice.

I wonder how other writers do this? Lucius? Anyone?
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PM
Posted on Wednesday, February 21, 2007 - 09:14 am:   

My impression with Lucius is that he writes of his own life experiences or something rather close to it.

So emotionally he's already been there.

"I never imagined it would have any utility in writing, but in an odd way it did." Yes but we want it to stay in a "safety zone". But yeah writing is perilous for some and there's probably no way around it.

If emotionally possible, I'd take the writing that you would tear up and keep it in a folder(s). It could be your shit folder(s). You may look back on it one day and consider it as useful...besides scholars love to dig through shit :-)

As to the acting disappointment, well it's better that we can (selfishly) enjoy your writing than say mock your acting.
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Bronwyn Elko
Posted on Thursday, February 22, 2007 - 08:38 am:   

Yeah. For me, it's definitely like channeling. One problem I have is that sometimes my 'radio tuner' gets stuck on one station. A voice will prattle on and on about stuff outside the story frame. Same thing with the movies in my head. They start without my hitting 'play', move beyond the story I'm trying to tell and it takes trememdous effort to switch channels. Sometimes I have to simply let them spool themselves out. Very frustrating. Sounds crazy, I know. :-)
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Christopher Barzak
Posted on Thursday, February 22, 2007 - 01:06 pm:   

I read the excerpt of "Generation Loss" on the Small Beer website and just wanted to say that I absolutely cannot wait to read this novel. The prose is so sharp and stripped down, it feels like it could really cut. Congratulations on the PW review--I hope it's the first of many!
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, February 23, 2007 - 05:30 pm:   

Just because one uses one's own experience, doesn't mean one doesn't need the Method. It's all a fucking act. Right now I'm writing a novella called Dogeared Paperback of My Life about me as seen through the eyes of an alternate me, who misapprehends the me character to an extent. Even though it's all about me, :-) it calls for some serious Stanislavsky. Even if I've been there emotionally, I'm not there now and I have to use sense memory to recall things. And I don't just utilize the method. I practise laughing, for one thing. This has given some old girlfriends the notion I was nuts, but laughing like the character, like a character whose laugh you know, helps conjure up the appropriate metaphor needed. to describe it, Anything you can use to make the prose more precise, acting or LSD or whatever, is good.

How do I do it? I haven't had any training, but I know what acting is and I'd be surprised if what I do is markedly different than what you do, Liz... though I use more drugs, I'm sure. You live in a character, you invent a portion of him or her that you use to fold around you and you grow it from there.

Anyway, I'm reading GL and it's very good. Takes me a long time, though...but that's not Liz's fault.
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Elizabeth Hand
Posted on Saturday, February 24, 2007 - 10:52 am:   

Thanks, Christopher -- I should pass along a debt of gratitude to my friend Bob Morales, who was the one who helped me get that opening in order. He suggested re-ordering the paragraphs a bit, and by gum, he was right!

I'm in Pound Ridge, at my parents, visitng my daughter briefly after a brilliant whrilwind tour of Providence & Newport RI with Paul DiFi & Deb Newton, host and hostess of the gods. Paul & Deb scored tickets to go see Patti Smith at a Providence bar called Lupo's on Thursday night, first time I'd seen Patti since about 1979. She was in great form, the show rough in the best ways -- like seeing a real working band, not over-rehearsed etc. They've bene in the studio & hadn't been touring for a while. They did a brilliant cover of "Soul Kitchen" and an absolutely incendiary cover of "Gimme Shelter" that was one of the single best live songs I've ever seen -- really fantastic. On Monday I'm catching the Tibet House benefit concert at Carnegie Hall, whre PS will be playing as well. She debuted a cover of "WithinWithout You" and I wondered if that might be their contribution to the TH gig.

I'm with Bronwyn on the effort to switch channels. I find it very tough sometimes. Feel loike I need an exorcist to get cass Neary out of my head, even now. Lucius I LOVE the notion of you laghing while working -- ha! I can't use drugs now and never could write using drugs then, though I did used to drink & smoke (cigarettes) while working, back in the day when I was in my 20s and had yet to learn the first thing about writing. What does the job for me now is olistening to the same song over and over and over again, ad nauseum. I do say things out loud sometimes, to try and get the voice down.

But laughing? Gotta draw the line there, Lucius. I have to say, I have no clue how any of my characetrs laugh. But it's a great idea.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, February 24, 2007 - 03:35 pm:   

It gets you away from generic description. Laughing is one of the most idiosyncratic things people do, and can provide, if described accurately, an interesting support to some quality expressed by the character or else pose a contrary (a wheezing, spitting laugh, for instance, in an otherwise fastidious character) that can be used to comment upon that quality or foreshadow a weakness or whatever. It's just another arrow in the quiver.
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Elizabeth Hand
Posted on Sunday, February 25, 2007 - 04:16 am:   

I think laughter is probably one of the most difficult things for an actor to do, the way hands are supposed to be the most difficult thing to draw. Maybe my characters don't laugh. Maybe nothing is ever that damn funny.

No, I'll try that next time I'm working on something. For me, it's mostly just the rhythmn of speech (when I read my work aloud, though, it's also about dialect, but I don't do much of that on the page). Sometimes I get a couple of people talking and it's like they take over, and I'm just taking notes -- I love when that happens. Love writing dialogue like that.
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, February 25, 2007 - 05:14 am:   

"For me, it's mostly just the rhythmn of speech..."

Of course. The laugh is just one more thing an author can do. And as you well know, laughter isn't always funded by humor...most laughter. People use laughter mainly as punctuation.

ANyway...
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PM
Posted on Sunday, February 25, 2007 - 07:54 am:   

True, Lucius is not always a happy laugher :-)

Laughter establishes believability.

But let's not have everyone running to the bathroom. I continue to be struck by films that go out of their way to portray the potty.

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