Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Last Thing On My Mind

This eBook hype, right? I'm way too busy finishing the edits on my own novel so I can send it back to the publisher, but this is getting to me enough right now so I have to write it off my chest.

Let's say printed books go out of fashion. Bookstores close down. There are no more printed books, or only in rarity shops or on your grandmother's shelves. Everyone reads their stuff on a Kindle or an iPad or something similar. Or listens to it on their smartphone or iPod. Probably self-publishing gets easier, anyone can put their story up there, right, and as a reader, you can browse and find whatever you want.

There are two things about this I find really disturbing, and I don't mean to hurt anyone's feelings, but...

Who will tell you what to edit? Who will say to you, "This is great, but you need to cut it down, change that part, consider that character again," and help you shape your novel into a sleek, elegant book? A paid editor? Someone who will put their stamp on your work instead of kicking you into doing it yourself? Or are you maybe one of those authors who think their story is perfect right from the start and no one has a right to meddle? Come off it, friend. No one is. Are you going to throw it at readers with all its repetitions, typos, superfluous people and lame side plots? Please don't tell me you're good enough to see all the faults yourself. No one is. That's what publishers are for. Really.

And then there's this.

A book reading. This here is the amazing Neil Gaiman, reading from Graveyard Book here in Hamburg last year, and I tell you, he is the best. Hearing him read his own words to you in person brings them to life like no other medium could. And standing in line to get him to put one of his lovely drawings and his signature in the book you hold in hand is an experience I would not want to miss, and with me, hundreds of other fans that day. Obvious question: How do you sign an eBook? How will you be able to stand in front of an admired author and tell him, "I love your graphic novels, but your others are not that hot." and have him smile at you and reply, "That's ok. I love the graphic novels too." Which he did, to me.


My big fear is that with this eBook thing authors will become a lot more anonymous, and I don't want that. I want to be able to go to book readings and I want to be able to GIVE book readings some day soon. I want to meet my readers, read to them, have them ask questions about my books, my writing and my publishing experiences, heck, about whatever they care to know about me. I want to be a person behind the stories. I want to hear that cute conversation Neil Gaiman had with his then-fiancĂ©e and now-wife while he signed for me, when she commented about how he would be spending hours  with his fans and she would go shopping in the meanwhile and he smirked at her and asked if she maybe was jealous of his popularity. Which earned him a slap on the shoulder.


So many things are easier, better, faster and even nicer with the internet and the many things it offers. Books, I think, need paper. And a cover to make you want to read them. Don't you just love the smell of a new book? The excitement when you open the crackling pages for the first time? I do. And I don't want to miss it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl Memories

Sometimes, through very little things, big memories are awakened, the kind of memories that you have carried in your heart for a long time, and then you share them, and in the other person they resonate like a wonderful, huge bell.

This happened to me today when my friend Ginny talked about the Super Bowl and its commercials, and I told her about the Cannes Commercials Prize in return. It was a typical, nonsensical facebook chat about nothing important, where everyone strives to be as funny and original as possible to amuse the others, and it really meant nothing.

But in Ginny in brought back a memory of another Super Bowl, and she wrote it down and sent it to me in a message, and it rang said bell in me. I asked Ginny if I could post it as a blog, which surprised her more than anything else, and she asked me why I wanted to do this. I can't rightly explain. It's just that this is the kind of story I would want to tell, a personal, touching story of a family and how their Super Bowl night will always be connected to that moment in their life.

Here is Ginny's story.

There was one ad in 2005, sponsored by Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser, that had me in tears. In November of 2004, Sarah told us she was going to Afghanistan for a year, leaving in Feb 2005. At Christmas, she told us (confirmed for me) that she is a lesbian. In January, she began her 6 weeks of pre-deployment training with the rest of the 249th General Hospital. (Keep in mind that even this early, there was lots of anti-war sentiment everywhere, even in the States, and DADT was very much in place).

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl went on as usual. We were in Salt Lake City and were invited to a 'party' at a more upscale sports bar. The party sponsors, Solar Turbines, had several tables. It was noisy, of course, but also sort of family oriented so there was a group of teenagers nearby who were extra noisy. We were actually having trouble hearing some of the commercials; but, hey - they're just commercials, right? Then comes a shot of the interior of an airport terminal - lots of people standing around - then a soldier, (at this point you can hear a pin drop in the restaurant) and another, then a whole unit. The crowd parts - and one after another they begin to applaud. At this point, I had tears rolling down my face and needed to blow my nose (thank goodness the napkins were paper). And then I had to explain... I think I only saw that ad one other time; I cried then, too.

I don't know if the ad had anything to do with this, but later that year, when Sarah came home on leave, she came to Phoenix through Dallas. There were several other soldiers coming through customs as well and they exited together. Outside customs, where they needed to separate and go to their connecting gates, there was a group of greeters waiting - they began applauding and handing out thank you gifts and snacks. Sarah said it was very warming and she was very grateful - especially so when she got on her next flight and the woman sitting next to her looked her up and down and said, "So! How does it feel to kill women and babies?" (Sarah was a combat medic; never left the hospital compound, never fired her weapon once in the entire year and, even if she had, it would have been at armed combatants, not women and babies.) The woman then stood at the rear of the aircraft talking to the flight attendants for the rest of the flight. Sarah is very forgiving. I'm still angry enough that I would like to find that woman and slap her silly.

But I still get a little teary when I think about that ad. (btw, as of Nov 21, 2010, Sarah has completed her duty to the army and is fully and honorably discharged.)

Thank you, Ginny, for letting me share this.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

On The Midnight Train To Frankfurt

Not very often, but from time to time, the urge grips me to go back home.

Home, to see my parents and the city where I was born and raised, Frankfurt, and my sister who does not live too far away. Memories of my childhood are not too kind, my father being a true Middle Eastern despot and not too fond of me for the choices I've made for myself, but there's my Mom, and she loves it when I visit. For a few days I'm her child again and she can pamper and care for me, cook my favorite dishes and make me a hot water bottle before tucking me in for sleep. I'm going to be fifty-five this summer. But I let her, and it feels very nice to be a kid once more. No one cares for you like your Mom does. She brought home orange juice, but because it was cold (fresh from the cooler at the supermarket) she warmed it up a bit. I had to put it out on the balcony in the snow before it was in any way digestible again, but the thought was so sweet, she did not want me to drink it the way it was and get a tummy ache. The back rub before going to sleep I refused though.

To get from Hamburg to Frankfurt, I ride in this.

The ICE train. A wonderful German invention, this high speed train, it will whisk you across the country in no time. The 500 miles from Hamburg to Frankfurt, eaten up in less than 4 hours while flying low over the railway tracks. The restaurant aboard is pretty neat too, with white tablecloths and linen napkins and a perfect service.

Frankfurt Station was in upheaval when I got there. The local football team had just lost a game, and while I tried to make my way to the subway dispirited fans swarmed the hall, their red scarves hanging like limp, mourning flags from their necks, their faces a study in defeat. The police, out in droves in case sadness turned into fury, had little to do but point me in the right direction. Maybe the bitter cold held tempers at bay, but there were no hysterics.

I grew up here.

It's not as terrible as it looks. For some weird reason someone decided, in the late 60s, to set these high-rise apartment buildings in the middle of a stretch of lovely greenery, and for a while it was a very coveted, en vogue place to live. Not more, of course, but then, we were the height of chic. My parents have lived there for forty years now. It's like a small, upright village. Coming back here feels weird, stepping back into being a teenager, staying in my old, nearly unchanged room, looking out over the forest and remembering all the dreams and hopes I had back then. Many have come true, some not. But I'm closer to them now than I ever was before, so maybe it only needed a little time.

My sister rescued me after two days of pampering from my Mom and fighting with my father (and to cite my sweet friend Emerenta, I'M INNOCENT!!!), but I'm still sorry he can get to me like that. In fact, we are quite alike in that I'm afraid, my father and I, both easily angered by the other. We should not be together in one city for longer than it takes a pebble to fall from the hand of a very small person. Like, a toddler.


Time with my sis at her castle (the castle she lives in; it does NOT belong to her) is always like being at a spa.

This time, my sister invited me to her neighbors for breakfast as she had to go to work. They came to pick me up in her corner of the castle and took me to their apartment, the one above that large terrace you can see in the pic. And while sitting in the large, wonderfully colorful and ancient castle kitchen I was told anecdotes from the Vatican University where my host studied as a young man. He is now a retired university professor for Catholic theology, and he had a lot to tell.  His wife looks like Helen Mirren. Or rather it is not so much that she looks like her but that she reminded me of her with her clear eyes and her alert, quick mind and her bird-like bones. We sat around that huge wooden table, ate smoked sausage from their son's organic farm. ("My son is an organic farmer. He does meat." No kidding), drank tea with honey, and I was STUFFED with food. Two slices of toast? That's not nearly enough, dear, breakfast is important, you got to eat! We won't let you go before you've eaten your egg, it's organic, too, and do try the jam, it's from the farmers' market, and so delicious! What, no cheese? You don't like this cheese? I'll get you another. Mark: I'd not met them before.

My sister works at my old university.

This is the main building. You know who  taught here? Wilhelm Roentgen. The man who discovered x-ray. And do you know who invented condensed soup, milk, and those soup cubes? The guy this university is called after, Justus von Liebig. He had a Chair here too.

This is where I studied. And my hubby. We met here, got married and raised our older son on this campus.

Last night I came home. I was so tired, my bones and nerves ached after three days away from home, and the train was crowded.  Across from me sat this young girl, no more than twenty I guess, dressed in sturdy outdoor clothing and walking boots, her blond locks contained by a red kerchief, a huge backpack beside her, and a staff that put Gandalf's to shame.  She seemed absent-minded and nervous, bored by the long trip, impatient. Most of the time she stared out of the window into the darkness, an uncertain traveler among passengers with a destination. Shortly before we reached Hannover she turned to me and asked if I knew any cheap hotels in Hamburg. I had to say I'm sorry, but no. She nodded and accepted my apology with a small smile. The man sitting next to me got out his phone to talk to his young daughter, advising her on how to remember the words she would need for her English test the next day, telling her to think of "vegetarian" to recall "vegetable" (which is how I guessed she must have been relatively young), and then promised her to be back in two days, and they would play her favorite video game together. And to dream something nice.

The traveling girl accosted me again, this time to ask about the airport in Hamburg, was it big, and did international flights leave? Like, to Reykjavik? Or Greenland? Again, I could not tell her. Well, anywhere international? This I could answer. London. Of that, I was totally sure. We talked a while, and then I asked her where she was planning to go.

"The North," she replied, "Somewhere in the North. Iceland would be best." I was going to ask why she did not have any tickets or travel plans, but desisted. "Hamburg," I said instead, "Is not the best place to catch a plane to an international destination. You should have got out in Frankfurt."

She shrugged.  Yes, well, it was a little late for that now. I asked her if she was going all on her own, and if she had done this before, travel without any planning, and I'm still thinking about her reply today: "Yes, but never before with so little. This pack-back is heavy, but there's not much inside."

We got to Hamburg a short while later.

This is what you see when you arrive here at night by train. I think it's a pretty good impression of our town.

My hubby and my kid were waiting for me at the station, and the first thing my son told me was that two cheeseburgers were not enough to fill him. Gosh, it's good to be home again.