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Monday, 23 November 2009

Death of a Superhero


Book Cover

Not since Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum has the pains of growing up been rendered this powerfully – Blick, Zurich



I'm a kid at heart. Any book with the word 'superhero' in the title, the tag line, the blurb or in a review of the aforementioned book will have my spider-sense tingling. It is a definite in. So when I was thumbing through Alma Books' Spring 2010 catalogue and noticed at the back a photo of a book cover, well, the book cover you'll have noticed before you started to read this review, I was hooked. It didn't really matter what the book was about I was interested.

Here's how the blurb from the back of the book begins:

Donald Delpe is a troubled teenager. Not only is he a ‘terrible teen’ by default, as obsessed with sex, music, videogames and drugs as the rest of his gang…

I was a bit worried when I read that opening bit that Donald was going to be a really unlikeable character. I didn't need him to be loveable but I didn't want him to be nasty. Much to my delight I took to him right away but I'll come back to that. Let's continue with the blurb:

…but he is also suffering from a life-threatening form of leukaemia, which makes him an even more difficult boy, both for his parents and his teachers.

Tuesdays with Morrie Okay. Now that could go a few ways but I saw this building up to be a real tear-jerker, a sort of adolescent Tuesdays with Morrie. I wasn't sure I was up to that. Now, having finished it I can't pretend that it wasn't sad, it was dead sad, but it was also dead funny. Death may be a serious business but how many teenagers take anything that seriously, even be it their own impending death? On with the blurb:

Escaping into his own comic-book realm of immortal superheroes, ruthless villains and sex-crazed vamps, he repeatedly dashes his family’s hopes by refusing to fight the battles facing him in the real world.

The book is written in an unusual way, part narrative, part script, part comic-book outline. I'm a writer; if I was heading full throttle towards death I'd write about it, so what would I do if I was an aspiring comic book artist? It makes total sense to me. The blurb concludes:

As famous psychologist Dr King is brought in to help, a glimmer of hope is rekindled. But will the doctor break the rules, betray the parents’ trust and risk everything to help Donald achieve his greatest wish? Or will Donald be the one to save the doctor?

Hmmm. This has been done before surely, young, handsome doctor formulates radical treatment plan, one that his elders insist has no chance of success and will probably do more harm than good. Yeah, I can see where you might come up with that idea but that's not really how things play out. As for saving the doctor, now that does sound clichéd. Are we seriously expecting him walking into the sunset at the end of the book a changed man after his encounter with this extraordinary human being? Not quite. Okay, maybe a bit but when you put it like this is all sounds like the plot to My Sister's Keeper or Lorenzo's Oil or something.

The Mighty I compare the book to films because it's being made into a film, due for release in 2010, and I think it might do quite well if the film manages to steer that fine line between sentimentality and dark humour. It can be done and I would refer you to Peter Chelsom's 1999 film, The Mighty, about a wise-cracking terminally-ill kid who, along with the neighbourhood's dim-witted, over-sized outcast, together create their own superhero. See, I know about all things superheroic – well, a lot of things superheroic.

When I used to collect comics back in the sixties there was one thing that annoyed me about them, they'd present a starting cover showing something that never actually happens in the comic. That bugged me. The one that jumps to mind is Supergirl smashing the miniature city of Kandor and Superman crying our something along the lines of: "My God! You've just killed seven million people!" Superman_307_supergirl_smash_puny_kandorNever happens. I find blurbs a bit like that, never completely honest. They're hard to write I'll give them that but they should be viewed with caution if not exactly taken with a pinch of salt. So, I'm not saying the blurb is that bad but caveat lector (that's my best guess at reader beware) is all I have to say.

I don’t think the blurb does the book justice that's what I'm getting at but enough about that, let's have a look inside.

The book begins:

Fade in ... DONALD DELPE. Fourteen years old. A skinny kid, shoulders as meatless as coat-hangers. Odd-looking. No eyebrows, no hair. Face like a peeled potato. Walks paddle-footed down the streets of Watford…

Now, wait a minute! According to the New Zealand Herald Donald is "[q]ueer-looking" and is walking down the street of Wellington.

Eh?

When I got sent this book for review – actually I begged a copy – I was delighted that it was by a New Zealander (I couldn't remember reading anything by a New Zealand writer before) and so I was royally cheesed off to find the book was set in Watford. Now I'm even more annoyed to find that the edition that was published in New Zealand was set in New Zealand. Why the change for the UK? Are the streets of Wellington too exotic for our tastes?

The book is written in three acts followed by out-takes and deleted scenes. Once you've got to the end of Act Three the story has effectively come to an end. Its not-overly-complicated plot is tied up and that seems to be that. I frankly felt a little disappointed by the ending. And then I read the so-called out-takes and suddenly this became quite a different book. It's hard to know when a story is finished. It's hard not to say too much. In the novel Donald goes missing for a few hours. This unfortunately gets his doctor into a lot of bother but we never learn what happens during those hours, they're quite expertly glossed over. And then, once we think the story is over, we discover what happened. The deleted scenes also allow the storyline to run on a little and serves as a dénouement. It's very cleverly done.

The Bucket List Okay, in the film The Bucket List two terminally-ill old codgers make a list of things they want to do before they kick the bucket – see the Pyramids, drive a Shelby Mustang, kiss the most beautiful girl in the world, that sort of thing – but what would top a fourteen-year-old boy's bucket list? Getting his neno ("Nookie Experience Number One"), joining the Six-Inch-Deep Club, landing the Martian Probe on Venus. The blurb says he's "obsessed with sex". He's not obsessed with sex, he's fourteen.

His big problem? Sex is on his mind, as usual. Been this way for a couple of years now. Acid-tripping on testosterone, lonesome as hell, his every second thought X-rated. Were these mind movies ever to go out on general release, the film censors would have to cut them to ribbons for family audiences, bleeping and blanking and pixelating all the reality out them, until they became the 12A-rated sleeper which is all the world ever sees of Donald F. Delpe.

(Note to self: shouldn't that be '18-rated'? We've not had an X certificate in the UK since 1982?)

It's high summer, 2006: the summer when nearly everyone feels they have tentative links with Hollywood, the land of fantasies so far away across the rolling sea; the summer when nearly everybody fancies themselves in show business and has begun to think in frames per second, dream in Panavision, see the world in montage, as scenes either brilliantly or poorly directed, as a series of smash-cuts and slow-fades to black, of lives as hits or flops, of relationships as comedies with cliché endings, of the Past as prequel and the Future as a franchise whose film rights are unencumbered – making all life, all of it, behave in the glorious nowness of the present tense common to film scripts, so that even the rubbish man is insomniac waiting for a call from his agent, and all the local barbers and bars display photos of staff with their arms wrapped around a star. It is the first summer in memory where an ordinary, hard-working, God-fearing life looks like an awfully dim choice compared with the brilliant projections of white light through celluloid.

This is how Donald sees life. When his parents drag him to church – not that they're especially religious, they're just desperate – he spies a good-looking brunette on the far side of the nave. Actually 'good-looking' is my expression. This is what Donald 'thought-bubbles' (his euphemism for thinking):

An Eve with centre-parted hair, a radiant babe, a babeatron, a looker to send his heart tom-tomming.

From simply adoring her from afar his internal movie disintegrates in his usual "grope-fest" of a film:

The film is obviously a turkey, shot for his own amusement and repetitive in its obsessions, but he will not touch a frame of it. … But then he gets an itch. An unscripted itch. Under his beanie. A monster scalp tickle that will be cured only by removing the woollen disguise, by real fingers digging into actual skin. Oh God, oh God he prays. Where art thou?

He pulls off his beanie.

And what a moment for her to look over at him, this girl who should've / could've / would've worn his ring. Their eyes meet, lock. Donald's fingers freeze mid-scratch.

Being fourteen is awful at the best of times but being fourteen and suffering from cancer must suck big time. Which it does. And we get to see a lot more moments like that where McCarten's plot conspires against poor Donald.

This is where I didn't like the word 'gang' in the blurb because Donald tends to keep to himself. Even when his father brings two of his friends, Mike and Raff, round to see him when he sees them he rushes back into the house and his dad has to take the two boys back.

The blurb mentioned a 'famous psychologist'. That would be Adrian King – "early, fifties, revered, published, brilliant" neither handsome nor it seems "a sexy man" carrying a bit too much weight although he has "a redeeming elegance that makes him uplifting company among people who wish to contemplate higher-order things" – and we get to learn quite a bit about him and what's going on in his life both with and apart from Donald. He's not dying of cancer but his life is in almost as much of a mess as his patient's. His wife and he live apart during the working week, she on a farm where she can fuss around her horses, him in a flat in the city with "Roof", Rufus, the cat his wife bought "before her interest in pets spread, became equine". Their relationship is one of "reciprocal tolerance". That's the doctor and the cat I'm talking about there. As far as his relationship with his wife goes he's the one who seems to be doing all of the tolerating. Their sex life is almost non-existent so he had that in common with Donald if nothing else. He suspects his wife is giving the local vet one but can't muster up the energy to do anything about it.

They are a mismatched couple let's put it that way. I'm talking about Adrian and Donald now. Here's a fairly typical interchange between doctor and patient:

Int. Oncology Ward / Hospital. Day

It's one of those days for Donald when you feel like a piece of taxidermy, when the last thought you had has been frozen on your face since the moment you got shot. A jammed idea and a trophy expression now yours for evermore.

ADRIAN: Do you want to talk about anything?

DONALD: I'm not going to make it.

ARDIAN: We don't know that.

DONALD: I'm not going to make it.

ADRIAN: (after staring at him, waiting for more, to no avail): What do you mean?

DONALD: I'm crapping out before I've even partied. (Shakes his head at the raw injustice of it.) And you know what the worst thing is? The worst thing? I'm gonna die a friggin' virgin. Pretty pathetic.

ADRIAN: You need to try and get sex in perspective.

DONALD: Hey, fuck you. I'm fourteen. Sex is my perspective.

ADRIAN: Okay. I know. I remember what it was like. Kids like you… you get a hard-on when you see a crack in the pavement.

Donald looks at Adrian with something like respect.

DONALD: I like that. Who said that? Oscar Wilde?

ADRIAN: Toilet wall.

Are you starting to see why I took to Donald right from the jump? Yes, he has an attitude but he also has a biting sense of humour.

That quote was from the opening page of Act Two. I could've picked an earlier interchange but most of the early ones are a bit one-sided. By Act Two Adrian has at least managed to break through the teenager's wall of silence.

A three-act structure is a type of dramatic arrangement. It includes three broad actions:

  1. Setup (of the location and characters)
  2. Confrontation (with an obstacle)
  3. Resolution (culminating in a climax and a dénouement).

And that's how the novel works only the dénouement is, as I've already said, a part of the 'Out-takes and Deleted Scenes' section of the book. It's also fair to say that the supporting players in the book, the mother, the father, the brother, the two best friends and the love interest could have been plucked from any plucky, well-meaning made-for-TV movie. They play their parts perfectly but this is Donald's book.

Oh, there was a bit of the blurb I missed out. The next paragraph begins:

Inspired by true events…

Why do I need to know this? I don't. So which bits were real? Does it really matter? Can you imagine how many books you could say that about? Actually I've found an interview with the author where he does say precisely where the inspiration comes from but I'm not going to tell you because it's the scene around which the whole book revolves but I can see where the attraction was. He was certainly inspired:

This was not a typical book to write for me. Either I took in too much coffee or it was something in the air in Corfu where I wrote the bulk of this short book, but it all came to me in a mad exhilarating dash. At one point I was writing 20 pages a day and in four weeks I had finished the first draft. – interview with Mark Thwaite for The Book Depository

One of my all-time favourite books is Billy Liar Billy Liarabout a boy in a dead-end job in a dead-end town who copes by fantasising. Donald Delpe's frustrated young life is heading towards its own dead end and this is way of facing up to what looks like being the inevitable. But is it? A short scene from the comic where Donald's hero comes up against his nemesis, a mad doctor, The Glove:

MEANWHILE… further down the street. THE GLOVE lowers his BINOCULARS and picks up a RIFLE. He and his NURSE have taken up a perfect position behind a LOW WALL.

THE GLOVE: Here he comes. Excellent.

NURSE: But darling, you said I could do it. You know how hard I've been practising. Pleaaseee let me kill him…

She's tough to resist, especially when she has her hand on his CROTCH. THE GLOVE gives up the RIFLE.

THE GLOVE: Okay. But don't fire until I say. (Raises binoculars and once more sees MIRACLEMAN and RACHEL roaring closer, closer, closer.) Wait till he comes within range… wait… we'll only get one chance… wait…

NURSE: (taking aim) Can I ask you one question?

THE GLOVE: Shoot.

She FIRES! BANGGGG!!!

THE GLOVE: What are you?!!!!... I didn't mean – YOU IDIOT!!! – I just meant…

THE NURSE: What? You said SHOOT. You said shoot.

THE GLOVE slaps his head as MIRACLEMAN roars safely by on his MOTORBIKE.

THE GLOVE: Women! Aaarghh!

So, he's only fourteen, what did you expect, great literature? Of course the blurb says that the superheroes are immortal. Well, there's actually only the one superhero, Donald's alter ego, MiracleMan and that's the big question here: Is he somehow going to die and if he did what would be the consequences? Of course in the world of comics superheroes die all the time, it's a cynical marketing ploy and we all know that now, but do you think that Donald would buy into that? You'll have to read through his comic to find out. And that really is the key to understanding Donald if you can overlook all the gratuitous sex; Donald's is a comic that would not get a Comics Code Authority stamp of approval.

Before I forget you might have noticed a certain Rachel clinging to MiracleMan on his bike. That would be a proxy for…

SHELLY DRISCOLL, fifteen years old, brunette, from an unhampered upper-income family, two credit cards already in her wallet, going places. She plays the piano, can pound out the Minute Waltz in fifty-five seconds flat, toys with the idea of being a concert pianist but is unlikely to marshal the discipline.

Yep, she was the brunette from church and so out of his league. So what are we setting up here, a kind of Love Story where it's the Ryan O'Neill character that gets sick and dies? Not quite because he pretty much makes a total muck of their first 'date' and that looks like that. He's going to die a virgin. Or is he? Going to die? Or going to lose his virginity? Or going to lose his virginity and then die because it would be awfully hard to do it the other way round?

I'm not saying. What I am saying is thank God for all those deleted scenes and out-takes.

This was a good book. I think it will make a better film. Comics are all about images before anything else and this novel doesn't have any. A few black and white ones might have helped. – I've seen that done before – but what it really needs is for the characters to come to life. And that's what the new film will hopefully bring; MiracleMan will be animated by Munich-based Teixter Fil while the rest of the film will be shot using live actors in New Zealand and not Watford – thank God. Variety reports that Freddie Highmore and Jessica Schwarz will star; McCarten will sit in the director's chair himself and not for the first time:

It was that with great foolishness and no small trepidation therefore that I recently put my name forward not only to adapt but also to direct for the cinema a new novel of mine, ten years after my first fledgling effort to complete the same tricky trifecta.

I was emboldened by a single presumption: that these three different disciplines are actually only variants of each other. By this I mean that the writer of novels directs the action in a scene just as meticulously, and just as visually, as a director, while the film director, by the injection of his or her ideas, is also rewriting the scene and is thereby partly a novelist. If it’s all the same game, then, the challenge is not one of mastering different art forms, but merely becoming competent with very different tools. – The film of the script of the book

McCarten's novel won the Austrian Youth Literature Prize and was a finalist for the 2008 German Youth Literature Prize. I find that interesting. I see nothing to suggest that this book was aimed at a youth market – indeed some parents would object to their kids reading it I'm sure – but those were the books we were swapping in the playground when I was young, the ones we weren't supposed to read. In 1960 another book about a disgruntled teenager found itself actually banned and it has been a subject of debate ever since. That book is, of course, Catcher in the Rye, and although I find it hard to imagine that book being passed around in a schoolyard I have no doubt that it was. I'd like to see teenagers getting their hands on this and recommending it to each other. I don't see it happening – X-rated . . . sorry, 18-rated . . . films have taken the place of books in that respect. It would be something if the film of this book got passed around the playground. That would be an achievement.

If life is a film, what do you think Donald thought of it? Let me leave you with his suggestion for his epitaph:

 

I want my money back. I didn’t understand a thing.

 

***

mccarten102_v-gallery Anthony McCarten is a playwright, filmmaker, poet, and fiction writer. McCarten, with Stephen Sinclair, wrote Ladies’ Night (1987), a play about male strippers that became an unprecedented commercial success. It has been translated into six languages and was the most successful touring production in Britain between 1990 and 1994. He has also directed films, published a short story collection, and a number of poems. Death of a Superhero is his third novel to make it to the big screen, The English Harem being the first and, his fourth novel, Show of Hands being the second. Not sure what happened to Spinners.

19 comments:

Scattercat said...

Sounds like an interesting book! For several years, I've been tinkering with a somewhat similar idea involving roleplaying games (with actual dice, not MMOS), but they've not yet achieved even the modest mainstream success comics have.

BTW, as far as superhero novels, I quite enjoyed "Soon I Will Be Invincible," which ends up being a combination deconstruction/homage to the good old Silver Age. Plus, villainous monologues and Batman as a borderline autistic. Good times.

Kass said...

You've done such a good job of reviewing the book, I think I'll wait for the movie. "Past as a prequel and future as a franchise"....especially apt, as is "acid-tripping on testosterone."
Do you have a pile of reviews you whip out and post on blogger every so often, or do you REALLY read these books in between postings? When do you have time for your 5th novel or your family? Just wondering.

Art Durkee said...

The movie "The Mighty" is based on the young adult novel "Freak, the Mighty," which I read years ago and quite liked.

It's like the movies have almost no original ideas of their own anymore. Everything is borrowed from somewhere else. The few original screenplays I've seen in the past few years tend to be very good and memorable. Granted some of the movie versions from novels do, too, but geez, it's like, the quest for product supercedes the desire to do anything really risky and creative.

Rachel Fenton said...

"Are the streets of Wellington too exotic for our tastes?"

Sadly not!! made me laugh a lot, this did!

Watford's probably bigger than Wellington....there are probably more English people who've never been to Watford compared to NZers and Welly....Welly would be easier to follow in a map...just rambling...

Fantastic review, all it needed was a dynamic theme tune!

Elisabeth said...

Another wonderful review, Jim.

You introduce us to a world of literature we might otherwise not meet. I love wondering from one week to the next what you might come up with, always different always so readable, and you move between so many different forms and genres that I share the thought with Kass, when do you manage all this reading.

It's clear you put an enormous amount into your preparation. Your blog is a literary researcher's treasure trove. Thanks again.

I hope you see fit to tackle Gerald Murnane's Barley Patch. It has been very well received here. It's said to be his best.

Dave King said...

This struck me a being a case of never judge a book by the blurb. A stereotypical set-up handled in an unexpected way is almost guaranteed to be an all-fired success with me, and that is what this book seems to be. Interesting, to say the least. I, too, have an adolescent interest in super-heroes - handled unconventionally, of course!

Jim Murdoch said...

Okay, Scattercat, that's Soon I Will Be Invincible added to my wish list for Xmas. Thank you for that recommendation.

Kass, yes, I REALLY read every book I review. I read one book a week (usually in the early hours of the morning if not the middle of the night) which is why you'll notice I favour short books but I do take on the occasional longer book (I have two whoppers from Canongate at the moment). I don't have a pile of reviews to dip into. I do have a stockpile of posts (12 at the moment) to save me getting into a panic trying to get a particular post written in time but that's it. I can go for several days without being able to write a damn thing but it all averages out at about 1000 words a day.

As for my current novel, I printed out a copy of what I have written to date (about 23000 words) and read through it while Carrie was in America. To my surprise it's not too bad. I had intended to use the free time to see if I could kick start the second half but typical me I fell into a blue funk no sooner had she walked out the door and didn't shake it for a week which left me 7 days to read a book, write two book reviews and two articles simply to keep my stockpile up to date; that put the kibosh on any real writing although I think I managed a poem.

My wife is my family and we spend all our time together. I work up at 5:30 this morning and found her up and we've sat here clattering away at our laptops for three hours which is when she dozed off and I went into my office to fill out some forms. That's fine for easy stuff like blogs and comments but when I do serious writing I go into my office.

I'm still not recovered from the breakdown I had a couple of years ago (if you don’t know about that you can read about it here – the comments especially expand on what's up with me) and it's starting to really tick me off because if I could only get my head together there is so much I could get done with the time I have. As it is I usually have about four hours 'clear head time' a day and I have to make the most of it. You have no idea how much TV I watch because I can't think.

I had hoped that by now I'd be back to my old self and begun working myself into my next breakdown but I think my body's just had enough so I'm devoting myself to stuff I can pick up and put down easily. One of the main thinks I suffer from is forgetfulness and I simply can't work on a large text like a novel if I can't remember stuff because, with me anyway, 90% of the work takes place in my head anyway. By the time I put up most of my articles I can't remember a ruddy thing about them and have to reread them sometimes to work out what the comments are on about. But we cope. At the moment we cope but I'm trying to come off my meds again and if the same happens as last time (which was what prompted the post I linked to) I won't be able to keep up the pace and I'll have to cut back again. Here's hoping though.

Jim Murdoch said...

Art, I did not know that. Interesting. As for turning novels into films I don't have a problem with it in principle as long as they're faithful to the source material. And it can work well even, as in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, where the end result is very different from the book. No one has the time to read everything. I've never read any of Agatha Christie's work, not a thing, but I've seen every adaptation that's appeared on TV with the singular exception of the Tommy and Tuppence stories; I saw a couple and tired of them very quickly. I don't feel a desperate need to check out her style and I have no doubt that her books are eminently readable but there's too much else that I would rather read instead, an entire to-be-read shelf if I'm being honest and I have no doubt that Xmas will add to that despite the fact I still have no less that five books left from last year. All these free review copies are fine but they do take up a lot of time.

Rachel, I don't know why that bugged me but it did. I know that the author splits his time between the two places and maybe America too if I remember correctly (but don't quote me – you know what my memory's like) but I just couldn't see anything to be gained by changing the setting . . . or lost! If he'd never mentioned the city's name at all the book would've worked just fine.

Glad you liked the review. It's always so much easier when it's a book you've taken to.

Elisabeth, I think most of your answers will be in the comment I made above. It's hard to explain how I can write such involved articles and reviews and yet can't finish a novel. I mean seriously I could finish the thing in two weeks if I could get two clear weeks and I would drop everything if I got that kind of window because that's all I'd need. I'd spend months afterwards editing it but I can do that stuff in dribs and drabs but not real writing which is why all I've turned out for the last three years has been poetry and a few bits of flash fiction and God alone knows where they came from because I'd never written flash before. (You can read one in Ink, Sweat and Tears if you fancy.)

I will get round to Barley Patch but don't hold your breath. I'm just about finished reading Inland but I'm not sure I have a clear enough picture in my head to write a decent review of it.

And, Dave, yes, I'm very much the same. There really is very little that hasn't been done before but it's amazing just how people manage to refresh tired old plots and formats. I mean when Star Wars came alone it was described as cowboys and Indians in outer space but then a few years later what does Joss Wheedon do with Firefly? He literally has Wild West towns, herds of horses and a hero from some civil war running around with a six-shooter plus alien planets and cool spaceships . . . and it worked. It didn't pretend to be anything other than what it was.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for introducing me to the 'flash' about truth, Jim.

It resonates for me in the world of 'white elephants' and what to say and not to say in order to stay safe and not give offense.

I, too, will never finish a book, while the lure of the computer, the email and blogging are so close to hand.

Jim Murdoch said...

I'm glad you liked the flash piece, Elisabeth. It's one I'm quite fond of myself and I will blog about it when I can think of an in. I've been meaning to ever since I heard it had been accepted but I kept allowing myself to get caught up in other topics and then it was live. Ah well.

As for reading, it's not so much that the computer distracts me it's more that I've gotten into the (bad I would say) habit of waking up in the middle of the night and reading so much so that it takes a lot more effort to pick up a book in the day when there are more distractions. That said I'm off into my office right now to finish Inland so I can make a start of a review which I would really like to have outlined by Thursday at the latest but even if I get it done quite quickly I won't post it till next year most likely especially since I'm thinking of taking a break over Xmas this year.

Kass said...

Jim - I had NO idea that you had ANY kind of a 'condition' at all. It didn't show in your writing. Thanks (I think) for the background. I read it all. Impressions:
1) I really like Carrie.
2) I really like all the people who read your blog.
3) We all have our own brand of madness.
4) You are exceptionally talented - your way around, into, & with words is compelling.
5) My own bouts with clinical depression & anxiety and stories of Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac don't interest me & so I'm sure they would be of no interest to you.
6) Your blog is a bright spot in a dim world.

Jim Murdoch said...

Didn't mean to go on so much, Kass, but some questions can't be answered in a simple sentence. As for your impressions, let's have a go at some of those simple sentences:

1) I'd be lost on so many levels without Carrie.
2) They're an odd mixture but they're my odd mixture.
3) Mad I could cope with.
4) If you say so - I'm not going to argue with you.
5) We are no longer a minority.
6) Fine but turn the light out when you've done.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Oh my, Jim, I'm currently writing a YA fantasy and you brought forth a lot of the pitfalls, but also strengths (and therefore difficulties for the YA author) of writing in the YA genre.

And it's totally bizarre to switch locations--why? Do the publishers believe anyone interested in reading a novel about a 14-year-old won't read it if it's set in another country?!

Art Durkee said...

When I was working in book publishing, we got a lot of free samples and review copies, and I was allowed to keep a lot of what came into the office. There was a weekly batch, and the coworkers all picked it over. I grabbed a lot of the new SF, and at one point had a lot of first edition hardcovers of some topflight fantasy and SF authors. i had to sell a lot of those when I moved out West in 2004, as I was homeless for awhile.

Breakdowns. I'm tired of my own situation, too. Literally tired of feeling sick and tired. So I sympathize with your plight a great deal. I was doing better, actually, till this relapse of my chronic illness was caused by the bad craziness stress this autumn; now I'm dealing with again not having any energy, not having a clear mind as much as I'd like, and not being able to do half of what I used to. It really sucks some days. So, again, I hear ya, and wish us both better days to come.

There are a few New Zealand writers for young adult books that I have really come to like. I got turned onto them when working i that office I already mentioned; a lot of YA and children's books passed through our hands, it was a big market we were into.

So I highly recommend:

Sheryl Jordan, "The Juniper Game"

anything by Margaret Mahy

Jim Murdoch said...

The reason I brought my health, Art, when Kass made her comment was that I don't want people to be under any delusions about my abilities. There will be those who assume that I'm dipping my nib into a never-ending fountain of knowledge and that all of this is easy for me and that is simply not the case. Many of the subjects I tackle I know next to nothing about and what you get is purely the result of a few days' hard work which I end up forgetting within a week or two. I can do this because I am intelligent and have a talent for being able to cut to the chase when doing research; I cannot speed read and absorb what I'm reading but I can scan and pinpoint what I need to read that is relevant to my subject.

When I first fell sick three years ago I expected to be laid up for a few months at worst. After the first few weeks I started to get bored with daytime TV and so set about writing all the Wikipedia articles on Beckett to keep going though the motions of working. And that worked out fine. But when I went back to work after that I had a worse breakdown that the first one and that's been 2½ years. I tried to come off my meds to see if I was better a year ago and had relapse. I'm trying again just now but I won't know for a couple of months what state of mind I'm actually in.

The simple fact is if my head was clear and I wasn't so damned fatigued and I could sleep for a full eight hours there is so much more that I could be doing. At the moment this blog is there to keep me sane; I'll worry about trying to finish my current novel later but if I never finish it I still have four novels under my belt which is two more than Larkin ever finished – I could live with that.

As for yourself, I guess I feel the same about you as other feel about me. I'm continually impressed by the quantity, quality and diversity of the work you produce. Maybe, like me, you've simply pushed yourself too hard too long and your body's having no more. As long as neither of us gets any worse, eh?

Elisabeth said...

Quite apart from your book review, Jim, Death of a Superhero sounds like an apt description for your conversation with Art about the tendency you both perhaps have to push yourselves a little too hard.

I can speak. I suffer the same disease. Perhaps many of us in blogland do.

Let's face it, what drives a person to write incessantly to strangers across the globe about all manner of things, some of which we know about and many of which we are ignorant.

It all contributes to information overload and the stress of daily living. But for the time being, I for one love it.

Jim Murdoch said...

To be honest, Elisabeth, I can't imagine any writer who doesn't overdo it because virtually all of us have had to fit our writing around jobs and families. I think that must be where I got into the bad habit of waking up in the middle of the night because that time was mine exclusively. And here I am at 4am writing this comment having woken up at half-one after a mere hour and a half's kip. At least I don't have to get up at ten to six like I used to do to get into work for seven.

Jeanne said...

What a delightfully long and detailed review! I'm going to have to look for this one for my son, who'll be 14 soon. I'm always looking for books with male protagonists that he might like.

Jim Murdoch said...

Jeanne, I'm glad you appreciated it. Yes, I think when I was fourteen I'd have thought you a cool mum to give me a pressie like that.

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