Tuesday, September 13, 2011

COMMENTARY: Everything old is new again

And how.

I just got an advert for a company that is selling reconditioned vintage manual and electric typewriters. They give the typewriters a new sporty coat of paint often two-tuned in hot shades of red and purple and they make sure the works are operating to spec. For this, consumers are paying $500 and up.

And that's a "sale" price. By the time I saw the ad, most of the machines were on hold or sold, too.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Directors: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
Writers: Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman

Marion Mack ... Annabelle Lee
Glen Cavender ... Captain Anderson
Jim Farley ... General Thatcher
Frederick Vroom ... A Southern General
Charles Henry Smith ... Annabelle's Father (as Charles Smith)
Frank Barnes ... Annabelle's Brother
Joe Keaton ... Union General
Mike Donlin ... Union General
Tom Nawn ... Union General
Buster Keaton ... Johnny Gray

Up until last weekend, I'd only seen clips of silent films. Oh yes, I knew how they were done. The film was projected on a screen and a musician played along. In the finer movie houses, they had an organ. In the lesser, a piano.

When a friend told my husband and I that The General was showing at the Tennessee Theater, we had to go see it. I've seen the theater's Mighty Wurlitzer organ whenever they have a regular talkie. Their house organist gives a topical performance before each film, but I've never seen a silent was they were done back in the old days.

MOVIE REVIEW: Attack the Block

Director: Joe Cornish
Writer: Joe Cornish
Nick Frost: Ron
Jodie Whittaker: Sam
John Boyega: Moses
Luke Treadaway: Brewis
Terry Notary: The Creature
Alex Esmail: Pest
Joey Ansah: Policeman 1
Flaminia Cinque: Italian Woman
Paige Meade: Dimples
Leeon Jones: Jerome
Jumayn Hunter: Hi-Hatz
Adam Leese: Policeman 2
Chris Wilson: Arresting Police Officer
Lee Nicholas Harris: Police Officer - swat
Franz Drameh: Dennis

Sam's walking home from a late-night shift at the hospital. She's chatting with her Mum on her cell-phone and not paying attention to her surroundings. The minute she rings off, Sam belatedly realizes she's wandered right into the hands of a street gang.

Of course, she's mugged. She runs home, calls the police, and they go out in a van and attempt to find the hoodlums who robbed her.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Prospect of My Arrival -- By Dwight Okita

“You’ll be the first baby ever to be given the chance to preview the world—before choosing to be born or not. You will have three weeks to make up your mind.” Dwight Okita

I first encountered The Prospect of my Arrival when I served as a judge in the inaugural Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards Contest. The 5,000 word excerpt was one of the half dozen which has haunted me for the years since, particularly because the story is one of the most unique I’ve ever read. Prospect was a finalist in both the 2008 and 2009 ABNA contests and has well-deserved the positive commentary in both venues.

Finally, the book's coming out and I was fortunate enough to receive an Advance Reader Copy from the author. It's been a long three-plus years to wait, but I can tell you the end result was well worthwhile.

How many of you would choose to be born if you had a chance to preview the world you’d be born into? Thanks to science, that’s the opportunity Prospect has been afforded.

Scientist and “Facilitator” Dr. Trish Mesmer introduces Prospect to the Pre-Born Project. He will get a chance to meet a range of people from all walks of life to help him make up his mind whether to be born or not. These people, who Trish terms “Referrals”, will form a type of knowledge base around Prospect that will help him make up his mind whether to choose to be born or to return back to the gene pool. The latter choice may well mean that Prospect is never born, Trish cannot answer that question. He may go back to a “pool of possibilities to be born another time.” Or not.

Prepared with a wallet, cellphone, ID, credit cards, spiral notebook, pens, computer tablet, and snacks, Prospect goes out into the world unguided to explore. Prospect is allowed to live in a twenty-year-old body developed especially for him. This body has no fingerprints, but gains knowledge from a special chip called a Cybersavant which allows Prospect to understand and interact with the world. He will have gaps in his knowledge and these gaps are going to cause him some trouble according to Trish. He’s got to watch out for his weaknesses and just do the best he can.

Of course, not everyone supports this experiment in ultimate choice. Prospect gets threats via the phone to leave the “abomination” of the Pre-Born Project. From what source these threats are coming from, he doesn’t know. On the other hand, Karl Bangor of Big Farm Corp, one of the executives of the corporation who designed the body Prospect inhabits, doesn’t see the Pre-Born Project quite the same way as Trish. It’s a nuisance to him and he just wants Prospect to decide to be born. That’s the best outcome for his employer and he’ll do what he can to make that happen including urging the Referrals to support a birth decision so Prospect can hurry up and be born.

Prospect has several Referrals scheduled, from the woman who’s to be his birth mother to Irene, an elderly greeting card designer who is dying of cancer. Prospect is scheduled to run the gamut of life experience in order for him to make an informed decision.

Prospect is a strong and different story which is difficult to classify, because it contains both elements of dystopic science fiction along with a touch of Young Adult coming of age. Those of a philosophical or ethical bent will want to discuss the implications of a child's choice on whether to be born along with other aspects of Prospect's near-future world.

Prospect’s character is written so well you want to nurture him and guide him through the best of what this world has to offer. Frankly, from the beginning, I hoped that Prospect would be born because I felt the character’s sweetness and willingness to experience life non-judgmentally would be a fine addition to the gene pool.

And those of us with maternal instincts are occasionally biting our nails through the more difficult encounters. Prospect gets lost, finds his way and finds unique opportunities through the experience. Reading this story is very much akin to the exhilaration of your first carnival ride followed straight on by getting lost in the gritty works of the midway.

All is not rosy. His future mother is the first Referral. Prospect learns he has a sister, Joyce, who may well have met a bad end. Another referral, Trevor, was chosen because he’s a difficult person to deal with (in his own words) and he’s opposed to the Pre-Born Project.

I was asked by the author what scene touched me the most. That's a difficult decision and even harder to place in a review for fear of spoilers. For me, the most compelling scene in the book was with the greeting card author who is dying from cancer. Given a moment, Irene could create a verse that so reflected a person's life. On the page, you saw the beginning in Prospect with all the sweet potential and the end in this author with all the bittersweet poignancy. The contrast was as sharp as black and white and one of the most beautifully and compassionately written scenes I've read in a long time.

Prospect has definitely evolved through the two early iterations I had the privilege of reading via the ABNA until now. All those questions asked via Amazon.com in the open reviews of Dwight Okita’s work have made him a stronger writer. He’s also the kind of person who accepts criticism with stoic grace. I admire his perseverance and I still predict that his prospects are going to be bright for his future in writing.

For those of you interested in ordering The Prospect of My Arrival, the soft cover will be available in October with the Kindle version to follow in November.

To order the book, please visit 'The Prospect of My Arrival' at CreateSpace.com. The link will not be active until the title is released and that may be towards the end of September.

Rebecca Kyle, September 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Secret Life of Bees--Sue Monk Kidd

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the books I'd take with me if I was stranded on a desert island. So, when I compare a book to Harper Lee, you know I'm serious. I don't do it often. To me, it'd be like taking a literary goddess's name in vain.

The Secret Life of Bees was recommended to me by a very dear friend from Austin after I'd read The Help and found Stockett's work good but somehow lacking.

Yeah, I guess I am asking someone to "paint a starry night again." (Joni Mitchell) That really can't be done, but I'll settle for some excellent Southern fiction with racial undertones that offers more than just an anemic description of the turbulent Sixties.

And yes, I got just what I wanted and then some. The basic story, Lily Owens is fourteen years old living with her father, T. Ray. Her mother was killed when she was four in a domestic accident with a gun--Lily is not sure whether it was her fault or not, but she blames herself. Since then, T. Ray has recruited Rosaleen, one of the peach pickers who worked for him, to act as surrogate mother for her. Rosaleen's a heavy-set Black woman who doesn't spare her tongue on anyone, but Lily knows that Rosaleen loves her.

When Rosaleen gets in trouble with some White men when she and Lily are walking into town for Rosaleen to go register to vote after passage of the new Civil Rights Act, Lily realizes her caregiver might just end up being killed. She undertakes to break Rosaleen out of the hospital, where she's been confined after a "fall" which caused her to have a concussion.

Armed with nothing but a vague memory of her Mom, the name of a town "Tiburon", and a picture of a Black Madonna, Lily and Rosaleen take off to find someplace safe. Considering this is a young White girl and an older Black woman traveling alone in Jim Crow South, this is a daring undertaking. Luckily, they find a Black farmer who's willing to take them three miles from Tiburon.

There, Lily finds a jar of honey with the Black Madonna on the label. She and Rosaleen go to the Davenport house and meet the "Calendar Sisters", August, June, and May. These three women are beekeepers who bottle and sell honey with the Black Madonna label. There, they discover a unique type of matriarchal spirituality which centers upon a Black Madonna statue and an admixture of Catholicism. Lily also may well discover the truth about her mother.

The Secret Life of Bees is a powerful tale of love beyond family and race. I wish I could someday write half as beautifully or authentically as Ms. Kidd does. She's got a skill at capturing the intricacies of difficult and painful relationships that few authors ever approach. At one point, she has Lily writing an angry letter to her abusive father, T. Ray, which is ironically signed "Love Lily." This says it all and so much more.

And yes, Kidd tells more of the tumultuous Civil Rights era than The Help did. I'm not sure whether the relationship between Lily and Rosaleen is more authentic or not, I'd like to hope so. The Secret Life of Bees is well worth reading and passing along to a good book loving friend.