Saturday, March 31, 2012

Proust. Why Did It Have To Be Proust?

I am an uneducated prole. I have never read Marcel Proust. I keep mixing him up with Marcel Marceau. And, really, what the hell does a mime have to say, anyway?

Marcel Proust - The Mime Years
The thought of reading anything that can be described as "epic", like say, a 3000+ page, seven volume novel (in French), makes me break out in hives. I barely got through Don Quixote without an aneurysm. All I remember about that is wondering what the hell Pancho Villa was doing hanging around a schizophrenic Spaniard when he should have been leading a revolution in Mexico.

I might have gotten his name mixed up with someone else. It happens a lot.

Sancho Pancho Villa Panza - geared up to fight revolutionary windmills
So this Proust guy (I like to pronounce it PrOWst. Pisses off the French.) answered this questionnaire written in some girlfriend's diary, or something (What the hell was he doing snooping through her diary, anyway? CREEEEPY.) when he was thirteen. Like a thirteen year old kid has anything useful to say. Should have saved up his words. Could have written a longer book.

So today I'm taking this questionnaire, or at least some of the questions. It's a little long. But instead of answering it like 13-year-old Marcel Proust who was probably still waiting for his balls to drop, I'm going to answer it from the perspective of when I was 20.

Dear god. That was over 20 years ago. We had Members Only jackets, Patrick Nagel prints. Miami Vice was still on the air, for chrissake.

Damn, I'm old.

All right, let's do this before I throw back a bottle of Ambien with a Smirnoff chaser.

Your favorite virtue: Good at not getting caught. Yeah, I get that might not be a virtue per se, but it worked for me in my twenties and has continued to this day. Proust answered "The need to be loved," which is a little co-dependant even for the 1890's.

Your favorite qualities in a man: The desire to lend me money. Again, I think I'm one up on Proust who answered "Feminine charms". Either he wasn't clear on gender assignment roles, or there are things about Proust I was previously unaware of. That makes him either very confused or very self-aware.

Your favorite qualities in a woman: See above. Really, I was equal opportunity in my twenties. I'd mooch off anybody. Again, Proust seems to have a flexible interpretation of gender roles, answering "Manly virtues." Bold ground to break for the 19th Century. Good on ya, Marcel.

Your main fault: Wow. That's a whopper. The main one? That's like asking what the main fault is with Congress. Let's see. Well, there was that time with... no, I think there's still a statute of limitations issue there. Maybe the... nooo. No, that would be BAD idea. How about...

You know what? Fuck it. I have no faults. I'm perfect.

Your favorite color: Black. Black as a moonless night in a dark cave in the deepest depths of the ocean. Black as Batman's sunny disposition. Black like my soul.

But periwinkle's a close second.

Your favorite heroes in fiction: That cable / pizza delivery guy who's always gettin' some in 70's porn films. Have you seen his mustache? We're talking epic Magnum PI proportions here. You could hibernate three muskrats and an incontinent otter in that thing and not find them until Spring. Proust answered "Hamlet", which is just depressing.

World history characters I hate the most: Proust answered "I am not educated enough," to which I say, good on ya, Marcel. Me either! I'm not fond of that Hitler guy, and I hear that Genghis Khan was kind of a dick, but other than that I don't know anything I don't pick up from episodes of Hoarders and Toddlers In Tiaras, just like God intended.

What is your present state of mind: In my twenties it was "unadulterated panic" most of the time with more than occasional bouts of drunkenness.

Come to think of it that hasn't changed much.

Your favorite motto: Proust's answer, which I suspect sounded much more interesting and snappy in French, was "I should be too afraid that it bring me misfortune." I'm not sure that's really a motto. Maybe he was afraid to say his motto? What motto could bring misfortune? "Damn the torpedoes"? "Remember The Alamo"? "Hey, sailor, wanna dance the hornpipe?"

But me? I don't know. "Carpe Diem" seems a little pretentious, and to be honest, really doesn't fit a procrastinator like me.

How about McDonald's? "I'm Lovin' It!" Did you know Nutella has a motto? I didn't. "Che mondo sarebbe senza nutella" Means something like, "Hey, hot stuff, how'd you like to lick my nutella?"

No? Wait. My bad. That's Jif Peanut Butter.

Point is I don't have a motto. I'm not a motto kind of guy. Mottos are antiquities version of bumper stickers. Bumper stickers are an ineffectual means of communicating my nuanced views on a variety of issues that cannot be reduced to a simple pithy slogan.

What? Oh. I stand corrected.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Feeling like a celebrity

by Meredith Cole

I always read the Proust questionaire at the back of Vanity Fair with great interest, so today I'm feeling like a celebrity answering these questions. Next I'll be demanding chilled Perrier and that my entourage be given a slot on the blog site.

Now for the questions:

  • My favorite virtue:  Loyalty
  • My favorite occupation: writer (of course!)
  • My idea of happiness: A good book, a beach and a yummy drink. Or at least a good book and somewhere comfortable to sit.
  • What would be my idea of misery? Losing family and friends.
  • Where would I like to live? The South of France.
  • My favorite fictional heroines: whoever my latest protagonist is in my book
  • My heroes in real life: Doctors without Borders and international aid workers
  • My favorite names: Just check my books for character names. They're all there.
  • My favorite color and flower: Blue and crocuses
  • My favorite bird: the robin
  • The natural talent I'd like to be gifted with... A beautiful singing voice
  • My biggest fault: impatience
  • What I hate the most: cruelty
  • If not myself, who would I be? A flapper.
  • What is your present state of mind: tired by content.
I've enjoyed learning more about everyone and their characters this week. Thanks for helping me feel like a movie star!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I thought this was a multiple choice test...

Proust - just who is this guy and why is he asking us questions? Maybe we have a few questions for you Mr. Proust - like where'd you get that funny name. Oh, from your parents. Well, actually that makes sense. Okay onto the questionnaire.

Your most marked characteristic? - I don't think I have one - which would make my lack of a marked characteristic my most marked characteristic.

The quality you most like in a man? - Anything that is the opposite of arrogance.

The quality you most like in a woman? - Curves probably don't qualify as a quality but how about kindness.

What do you most value in your friends? - Friends must be there for you even when you're wrong or you fail.

What is your principle defect? Unfortunately I have two - Arrogance and Self-Loathing. its a constant battle.

What is your favorite occupation? Writing by far - I think race car driver would be good as well but I only get to do that in my free time and my imagination.

What is your dream of happiness? Happiness is a very vague construct - one can be happy in difficult situations because they relish a challenge, I on the other hand would prefer a tropical beach underneath the hot sun with the waves crashing and a rum punch in my hand.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? Have to agree with Hillary on this one - The inability, for whatever reason, to pursue one’s dreams. Or perhaps to have none or give them up.

What would you like to be? Dictator - perhaps even Caesar - then I would fix everything and re-impose democracy.

What is your favorite color? Turquoise

What is your favorite flower? Umm... not sure but I love the smell of Orange Blossoms

What is your favorite bird? Hawks and Eagles and Crows - and best of all Humming Birds -they are the coolest.

Who are your favorite prose writers? Now - a whole bunch - at age 20, probably Mark Twain

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Princess Leia - I know that's pathetic you don't have to remind me

Who are your favorite composers? Beethoven, Sting, Bono and John BonJovi

Who are your favorite painters? The guy that painted my house was a decent fellow - also VanGogh - saw something on him recently about how he was tortured by his own pain and yet extremely kind.

Who are your heroes in real life? Every one fighting the good fight of trying to make it through without hurting others.

Who are your favorite heroines of history? The Unsinkable Molly Brown comes to mind,

What is it you most dislike? Long Questionnaires might be on that list but in truth I hate utter selfishness, those who already have far more than they need, not just wanting more, but being willing to lie, cheat and steal to get more.

How would you like to die? Is it okay if I wouldn't like to at all?

What is your present state of mind? All quiet up there - hey is anybody home?

To what faults do you feel most indulgent? Not sure I know all of them but over-zealousness is totally forgivable.

Alright - who has the answer key - I need to see if I'm right about this.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Of Hell and Handbaskets

An embarrassing admission: the Proust Questionnaire makes me think first of Vanity Fair magazine, rather than the esteemed author. The assignment this week is to answer Mr. Proust's questionnaire from the point of view of your 20-year-old self. I'm not sure that I can do that, since I'm don't think I've matured much past 13.

Your most marked characteristic? My willingness to go to Hell in a handbasket. Seriously, if you can get me a ticket, I'll go.

The quality you most like in a man? Wit.

The quality you most like in a woman? Wit.

What do you most value in your friends? Trustworthiness.

What is your principle defect? Impatience.

What is your favorite occupation? Writing and traveling.

What is your dream of happiness? Going to Hell in a handbasket, then writing about it.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? The inability, for whatever reason, to pursue one’s dreams.

What would you like to be? Better at writing first drafts.

What is your favorite color? Red.

What is your favorite flower? The lily.

What is your favorite bird? The crow.

Who are your favorite prose writers? Megan Abbott, Ken Bruen, Dennis Tafoya, Laura Lippman, Linda Fairstein, Walter Mosley, Dennis Lehane, Sara Gran, Truman Capote, Meg Gardiner, Harlan Ellison, Louise Penny, Reed Farrel Coleman, Chris F. Holm, Brad Parks... too many to list properly.

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Holly Golightly, Lily Bart, Lilly Dillon.

Who are your favorite composers? Sergei Rachmaninov and Bear McCreary.

Who are your favorite painters? The Pre-Raphaelites; also Théodore Géricault and Gustave Dore. I saw Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa and Dore's “The Enigma” for the first time when I was 19 and went to Paris for the first time, so this really could be an answer from 20-year-old me.

Who are your heroes in real life? People who make life better for others, and especially those who risk their own safety by doing so.

Who are your favorite heroines of history? Cleopatra, Boadicea, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc.

What is it you most dislike? Intolerance and willful ignorance.

How would you like to die? Peacefully.

What is your present state of mind? Obsessive.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent? Aside from cruelty, I think all faults are forgivable.

* * *

Monday, March 26, 2012

Proust Vs. Hulk

By Reece Hirsch

This week, I’ve invited a guest blogger to answer the Age 20 Proust Questionnaire – The Incredible Hulk.  While the Hulk is actually 50 years old, I thought he would be well-suited to the famous questionnaire because his emotional maturity level plateaued at a fairly young age.  This is an abridged version of the questionnaire because Hulk grew a little impatient with the questions.

Your most marked characteristic?

Proust:  A craving to be loved, or, to be more precise, to be caressed and spoiled rather than to be admired.

Hulk:  Anger.  Hulk very angry.  Hulk working on it, though.

The quality you most like in a man?

Proust:  Feminine charm.

Hulk:  Hulk like a man who stay calm, not make Hulk angry.

What do you most value in your friends?

Proust:  Tenderness - provided they possess a physical charm which makes their tenderness worth having.

Hulk: A sense of humor most important quality for Hulk.  That and super-strength.

What is your principle defect?

Proust:  Lack of understanding; weakness of will.

Hulk:  Hulk already talk about his anger management issues.  Hulk starting not to like all these questions.

What is your dream of happiness?

Proust:  Not, I fear, a very elevated one. I really haven't the courage to say what it is, and if I did I should probably destroy it by the mere fact of putting it into words.

Hulk:  Better film adaption would make Hulk happy, but Hulk not optimistic.  As critic once said, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m Ang Lee.”

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?

Proust:  Never to have known my mother or my grandmother.

Hulk:  Gamma ray accident.  And since that already happen to Hulk and Hulk live, every day a gift.

In what country would you like to live?

Proust:  One where certain things that I want would be realized – and where feelings of tenderness would always be recriprocated.

Hulk:  New Zealand.

What is your favorite color?

Proust:  Beauty lies not in colors but in their harmony.

Hulk:  You kidding Hulk, right?

Who are your favorite prose writers?

Proust:  At the moment, Anatole France and Pierre Loti.

Hulk:  Stan Lee.

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?

Proust: Phedre (crossed out) Berenice.

Hulk:  Hulk have to go with his cousin, She-Hulk.  Hulk all about family.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?

Proust:  Will power and irresistible charm.

Hulk:  Hulk has given this lot of thought.   Hulk would like to be able to shoot super-destructive lasers from his eyes.

What is your present state of mind?

Proust:  Annoyance at having to think about myself in order to answer these questions.

Hulk:  To be totally frank, Hulk a little angry right now.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?

Proust:  Those that I understand.

Hulk:  Hulk very sensitive to plight of people with radiation-created superpowers.  Hulk recently formed a 501(c)(3) to help.  Website coming soon.

What is your motto?

Proust:  I prefer not to say, for fear it might bring me bad luck.

Hulk:  Hulk no like being defined by motto or catch phrase.  Hulk so much more than that.  But if Hulk have to answer question -- Hulk Smash!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Proust Questionnaire - Angus MacGillivray Age 13 (almost)

Vicki here, and you want me to remember when I was 13? I can barely remember what I was thinking last week. Instead I've decided to hand this questionnaire over to Angus MacGillivray, son of Fiona MacGillivray, of my Klondike Gold Rush series. Angus is 12 years old in the books. And that's almost thirteen, isn't it.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

When my mother tells me to go home because I’m not old enough to stay in the Savoy to watch the girls dance the can can.

Where would you like to live?

Right here, Dawson City, Yukon Territory.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?

Assisting Corporal Richard Sterling and the NWMP in tracking down a bad guy!

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?

When my mother treats me as a child. She is a mother, after all. And she’s just a woman, so you can’t expect too much.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

Horace Holly and Leo Vincey in She by Rider Haggard. What a tale of adventure and heroism! I also really really liked The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling. Actually, I shouldn’t tell you this, but those stories are almost like my real-life adventure to rescue my mother when she was captured by that devil Paul Sheridan and dragged off into the Yukon wilderness. The place we found! Well, I’m not allowed to tell you about that. I might write it down someday. I could call the book Gold Mountain.

Who are your favorite characters in history?

General Gordon, the hero of Khartoum. Admiral Nelson, of course. So many great British heroes to choose from. Although my Scottish mother wouldn’t like to hear me say that. She insists that the only true heroes were the highlanders at Culloden on the side of the Bonnie Prince.

Who are your favorite heroines in real life?

Uh.. Gee, I don’t know. Queen Victoria, I guess. Women don’t do much that’s important, you know.

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?

I can’t think of any.

Your favorite painter?


Your favorite musician?

I guess the guy who plays the piano at the Savoy Saloon and Dance Hall is pretty good.

The quality you most admire in a man?

Loyalty to Queen and Country!

The quality you most admire in a woman?

Beauty (like my mother).

Your favorite virtue?

Manly heroism! Nothing is more important than standing tall in the face of unimaginable danger.

Your favorite occupation?

An officer in the North-West Mounted Police. That’s my goal. Although my mother, I fear, wants me to become a gentleman. She thinks she’s very modern, but can be a bit behind the times. Not much call for gentlemen out here in the Yukon Territory at the turn of the century.

Who would you have liked to be?

One of the men who came west on the Great March West of the NWMP in 1873. Opening up a whole new country! What adventures they must have had. Not much new land left to explore anymore here in 1898. Although there is that place I’m not supposed to tell you about.

You can read about Angus and Fiona's adventures in Gold Digger and Gold Fever, from Dundurn Press. The third book in the series, Gold Mountain, will be released in April.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

That Dang Proust

by Gary

So I too had to look up the origin of this Proust Questionnaire business. Interesting. Well, here's my answers as best as I can conjure up what I was like way back then....and yes, these are pretty much the answers I'd give at my age now.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Getting drafted for Vietnam when I graduate (I was 13 as a freshman in 1969).

Where would you like to live?
The New York City in Marvel Comics.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Cheerleaders crazy for me.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?

Who are your favorite characters in history?
Frederick Douglass, Grandpa John Phillips, a cowboy.

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
The Black Widow (see Marvel Comics), Modesty Blaise and Mrs. Peel.

Your favorite painter?
James Bama – he did the covers for the Doc Savage pulp reprints for the Bantam paperbacks.

Your favorite musician?
Sly and the Family Stone – technically this is a band.

The quality you most admire in a man?

The quality you most admire in a woman?

Your favorite virtue?

Your favorite occupation?
Writing and drawing my own comics.

Who would you most like to be?
My dad, compassionate, can fix any machine, and Namor, the Sub-Mariner, who doesn’t take no stuff from anyone, super-strength and somehow flies with little wings on his ankles.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Emotional Anatomy of Lucky Number 13

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

This questionnaire from Proust is designed to be answered by a thirteen year old. I’ll admit, I’m long in the tooth and thirteen was a darn long time ago. There’s also that early-onset senility to deal with but I have to be honest here, I don’t know who I was at 13. I’d struggle to answer these questions using the same head I was using just five years ago. I suppose it’s part of the reason I don’t think I’m aging as fast as the Department of Motor Vehicles does. The girl I was is long gone. I’m not sure I would recognize her if, in some weird science fiction temporal disturbance moment, I were to run into her in a park or a store (obviously not a bar where she might be more likely to run into me). To once again bond with this stranger, if only to get through this week’s blog, I was forced to cheat. When H.G. Wells invented the time machine, or the Tardis if you’re a Dr. Who fan, what he was actually describing a much smaller square. To be thirteen again, I need only venture as far as my journals. Why I still have them is beyond me. Maybe I knew I’d need reference materials to recapture any vestige of myself from a bygone time. It wasn’t sentimentality, I know. The journals appear to be the only personal item I ever really save. Now, after having read some of the entries made around that fabulous, horrible, surreal graduate to teenager moment, I offer you the insights of the me that was.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Weekend trips to visit my father.

Where would you like to live?

Somewhere warm by myself.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?

Not having to share a bathroom.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?


Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

Marco Polo (who it turns out is not fictional).

Who are your favorite characters in history?

Kublai Khan and Golda Meier (born in Wisconsin).

Who are your favorite heroines in real life?

Juliette Low (Founder of the Girl Scouts).

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?

Jo March (writer) and Dinny Gordon (archeologist).

Your favorite painter?

Claude Monet. (I couldn't have named a non-Impressionist at 13)

Your favorite musician?

No idea but I'm guessing they weren't so much a musician as really cute and appearing to sing. I would no doubt be embarrassed now. Okay, it was probably Shawn Cassidy. Ouch.

The quality you most admire in a man?

Looks. (Yes, I was a shallow youth).

The quality you most admire in a woman?


Your favorite virtue?

A commitment to learning.

Your favorite occupation?

I wanted to grow up to be a forest ranger. I had dreams of living in a watch tower in Oregon. This is the kind of job you can only get when someone dies leading me to later in life...

Who would you have liked to be?

Anyone but me. Wasn’t that age fun?

Having written this blog, I’m forced to look at the ways I’m different than I was then. I’ve reached the undeniable conclusion that I have been the subject of an alien abduction. Oh, the places we will go and the people we will leave behind…

Who were you at 13?

Thanks for reading. I was going to include a photo from this time of my life but Holy Hairstyle, Batman!


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Life at Thirteen

By Michael

(1) What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

The kid who wanders the hall between class periods and lights a Bic under the butts of classmates who are standing at their lockers. Also, having to explain the scorch marks on my jeans to my mother.

(2) Where would you like to live?

On a mountainside in Colorado by the side of a waterfall, next door to Kim Basinger.

(3) What is your idea of earthly happiness?

Long John Donuts from the German bakery on a Sunday morning. Kim Basinger.

(4) What fault do you most indulge?

I’m thirteen, so I try to indulge every fault equally and thoroughly.

(5) Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

This year I’m reading mostly nonfiction, especially the True Case Files of the FBI. Hoover interests me less than Ma Barker’s sons and Al Capone.

(6) Who are your favorite characters in history?

Kim Basinger.

(7) Who are your favorite heroines in real life?

Ma Barker (as an anti-heroine). Kim Basinger.

(8) Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?

See answer to question #5.

(9) Who is your favorite painter?

Picasso. Or Francis Bacon. Or Edvard Munch.

(10) Your favorite musician?

I’m in that sweet middle ground between the Beetles and Black Sabbath.

(11) What quality do you most admire in a man?


(12) What quality do you most admire in a woman?

Kim Basinger-ness.

(13) What is your favorite virtue?

See answer to previous question.

(14) What is your favorite occupation?


(15) Who would you most like to be?

I’m having a hard enough time just being myself to want to be someone else.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Am Thirteen...sorry.

by Tracy Kiely

• What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

No friends and a nasty break-out. Oh, and big thighs. (Remember, this was the age of mini-skirts and leg warmers.)

• Where would you like to live?

In a big house on the beach. There are servants, of course, but they are discreet and don’t nag me to clean my room.

• What is your idea of earthly happiness?

Staying up until one a.m. to watch Perry Mason, and then getting up at noon to watch Bugs Bunny. Powdered jelly doughnuts are included. What do you want? I’m thirteen.

• To what faults do you feel most indulgent?

Being impulsive and procrastinating.

• Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper from The Pyrdain Chronicles. I could not put this series down. I spent the whole summer curled up with these books.

• Who are your favorite characters in history?

King Richard III. My mother made me read Daughter of Time, and I became convinced that King Richard was not the humped-back villain of Shakespeare’s famous play, but rather the fall guy for Henry VII’s villainy. I go on and on and on about my theory to just about anyone who will listen. Oddly, my social rating with the opposite sex tanks about this time.

• Who are your favorite heroines in real life?

My mom and grandmother. They are funny, smart, kind and so...together. It’s this last trait, I think, that holds me so captivated. Being “together” is a trait I have no experience with. It winks at me like a diamond from the bottom of the sea.

• Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?

I have two: Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables and Erin Gandy from Cat in the Mirror. I love Anne’s vivid imagination, kind heart, and unfailing optimism as she deals with not only being an orphan, but an orphan with red hair (!), freckles, and an unromantic name. Erin is a different kind of hero; she is shy, awkward, and unpopular. During a school field trip, she suffers a concussion running away from some bullies, and awakes in ancient Egypt to a life eerily similar to her own.

• Your favorite painter?

Monet. Mainly because he’s the only one I really know at this age.

• Your favorite musician?

Uh, Sean Cassidy! Duh! Have you seen my room? I have 41 – 41! – TigerBeat posters of him on my walls. He is sooooo cute!

• The quality you most admire in a man?

At age thirteen? Eye contact would be nice.

• The quality you most admire in a woman?

Intelligence. And humor. And good hair. Oh, and the ability to tan like that Bain de Soleil chick in the ads.

• Your favorite virtue?


• Your favorite occupation?

Cartoonist for the New Yorker. The knowledge that one actually needs artistic talent for this occupation has not yet sunk in.

• Who would you have liked to be?

At age thirteen? Well, there was Colleen G., the super cute head cheerleader and Mandy R. because she had perfect hair. I mean perfect! It was blond and did that Farrah Fawcett flip thing to perfection! When you have mousy brown hair and eight – eight! – Cowlicks – these things matter. Hey, I never said I was deep.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Goosed Proust

by Joshua

Oooh, a questionnaire! I do love me some questionnairing. Sometimes I go to the mall just so I can track down the clipboard people and answer their surveys.

What can I say? I'm a giver.

Anywho, here are my answers:

1. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Hmm. Toughie. I remember learning in elementary school that it was the Mariana Trench, but then in college I watched Shoah. So I guess I will compromise and answer that the lowest depth of misery would have to be a 10-hour film about the Mariana Trench.

2. Where would you like to live? I love this question, if only because I do in fact like to live. Ah, but location, location, location. Let's see. I have lived in Warwick, Rhode Island; Binghamton, New York; Brooklyn, New York; and Atlanta, Georgia. I have not lived in Calcutta, India, but I learned yesterday that there hasn't been a Calcutta, India, since 2001 so there goes that idea. I guess my answer would have to be that I'd like to live close to my family and friends. Ideally, this location will also have a good bookstore and a comfortable mattress.

3. What is your idea of earthly happiness? I'd say the planet seems pretty content at springtime. Then again, springtime in the Northern Hemisphere is autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. No wonder the Earth is bi-polar.

4. To what faults do you feel most indulgent? My own. Next question.

5. Who are your favorite heroes of fiction? Hamlet, Candide, Ishmael, and The Giving Tree.

6. Who are your favorite characters in history? Oh, Proust, did you know I first entered college as a history major? You're so perceptive. My favorite characters in history would have to be Michel de Montaigne, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Dr. Sam Beckett.

7. Who are your favorite heroines in real life? My mother and sister, my female friends, and Connie Chung.

8. Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Lysistrata, Rosalind, and Annie Hall.

9. Your favorite painter? A toss-up between Georges Seurat and Francis Bacon. Actually, I would love to see that grudge match. In Claymation, of course.

10. Your favorite musician? As in performer? Bruce Springsteen. As in composer? Tchaikovsky. As in band? The Beatles. As in member of the Beatles? Ringo. Yeah, that's right, I like Ringo. At parties, I'm that guy.

11. The quality you most admire in a man? Intellectual curiosity.

12. The quality you most admire in a woman? Intellectual curiosity.

13. Your favorite virtue? Intellectual curiosity.

14. Your favorite occupation? Answering questionnaires.

15. Who would you have liked to be? Oprah.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Post-Menopausal 13-Year-Old

I know little about Marcel Proust, and when I say that, I am not exaggerating. When I hear the name Proust, my memory immediately flashes back to my early twenties when I shared an apartment with a friend determined to read all the works of the French novelist. 
When tasked with this week’s topic, I had to look up the questionnaire. That’s how in the Proust dark I am. I found it interesting that he answered similar questions at the ages of 13 and 20. But this week I am only concerned with the questionnaire he answered when he was 13. When  filling it out for myself, I wondered if I should answer it as I would have at the age of 13 or as I am now at age 59. Much to my surprise, some of our answers aren’t that different in spirit. Does that mean I think like a 13-year-old or that Proust thought like a middle-aged, post-menopausal woman? Proust’s answers are in brackets:
  • What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Hopelessness [To be separated from Mama]
  • Where would you like to live? Some place peaceful near water, either the ocean or a lake. [In the country of the Ideal, or, rather, of my ideal] 
  • What is your idea of earthly happiness? Having peace of mind. [To live in contact with those I love, with the beauties of nature, with a quantity of books and music, and to have, within easy distance, a French theater]
  • To what faults do you feel most indulgent? Laziness.[To a life deprived of the works of genius]
  • Who are your favorite heroes of fiction? The Count of Monte Cristo, Indiana Jones, Oliver Twist [Those of romance and poetry, those who are the expression of an ideal rather than an imitation of the real] 
  • Who are your favorite characters in history? Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Earheart [A mixture of Socrates, Pericles, Mahomet, Pliny the Younger and Augustin Thierry]
  • Who are your favorite heroines in real life? Single mothers. [A woman of genius leading an ordinary life]
  • Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Scout Finch and Odelia Grey (sorry, had to say that!) [Those who are more than women without ceasing to be womanly; everything that is tender, poetic, pure and in every way beautiful]  
  • Your favorite painter? Mary Cassatt [Meissonier]
  • Your favorite musician? Yo Yo Ma [Mozart]
  • The quality you most admire in a man? Confidence, kindness and integrity [Intelligence, moral sense]
  • The quality you most admire in a woman? Confidence, kindness and integrity [Gentleness, naturalness, intelligence]
  • Your favorite virtue? Kindness [All virtues that are not limited to a sect: the universal virtues]
  • Your favorite occupation? Writing and reading [Reading, dreaming, and writing verse]
  • Who would you have liked to be? Not sure I want to be anyone else, but I’d like the success of Janet Evanovich, the looks of Padma Lakshmi, and the intelligence of Hilary Clinton. [Since the question does not arise, I prefer not to answer it. All the same, I should very much have liked to be Pliny the Younger.]

Sunday, March 18, 2012

True Lies

By Chris F. Holm

Trust. A loaded topic if ever there was one, particularly for a cadre of professional liars to kick around.

This probably won’t come as much surprise to anyone who’s read my fiction, but I ain’t exactly the trusting sort. Not that I started out the cynical bastard I am today. I was once a pie-eyed, trusting kid; my worldview's hard-earned. I’ve met my share of hucksters, fiends, and outright unreliables in life. I’ve been knocked around both literally and figuratively by folks who were supposed to have my back; I’ve been betrayed by friends; I’ve been let down by heroes, partners, and confidantes. (That, or I'm fortunate enough to've lived a relatively charmed existence, free from strife, so I was forced to manufacture some deep-seated trust-issues for the purpose of this blog post. I am a professional liar, after all.)

So you wanna know who I trust? I trust those selfsame professional liars. As Michael mentioned in his post, the trick to trust is to do so wisely and well, and he ain’t wrong the words “Trust me” ain’t often uttered by the trustworthy. Well, if that’s the case, then maybe the reverse is true. So color fiction my Bokononism, ’cause as far as I’m concerned, fiction’s just lies to live by.

I trust Chandler when he tells me dead men are heavier than broken hearts, and I hope to God I never have the opportunity to prove him wrong.

When Christie suggests that very few of us are what we seem, I take her at her word.

Thanks to Joseph Heller, I’m convinced it’s possible to buy eggs for seven cents, sell them for for five cents, and make a tidy profit.

Doyle’s edict that if I eliminate the impossible, then whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth sure rings true to me.

Though I’ve no idea what the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is, I’m certain Douglas Adams will be proven right in his assertion that the answer is 42. (That dude really knew where his towel was.)

Le Carré, a professional liar in more than one respect, once told me a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world, and I believe him.

And when Vonnegut instructed the babies of the world, “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind,” I knew he was a liar I could get behind.

So there you have it: I trust the liars. And you know what? So far, the liars have done right by me. After all, every now and again, life's bound to let you down, but fiction never will. Trust me on that one.

Oh, and speaking of lies, if you’d like to read some more of mine, my debut novel DEAD HARVEST is on sale now. In it, you’ll find ten tips to a flatter stomach, pointers on getting rich by placing tiny classified ads in newspapers all over the country, and the recipe for my one-step foolproof lo-cal Hollandaise.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Trusting yourself

by Meredith Cole

Trust is a strange and tenuous thing. Too much and you're a walking target for hucksters and thieves. Too little trust and life becomes just what you'd expect -- one unhappy disappointment. Balance is really the key, and I live with the dual personality of someone who was a resident of New York City for many years, but now lives in a high trust Southern town. The local stores in Charlottesville still encourage you to write checks, and apparently they haven't been burned enough to change their ways.

I've been thinking about trust and writing lately. Trusting yourself as a writer is a challenge, especially when you're new at it. You try something off the wall with a character, and then have regrets. You workshop your writing and then react to all the comments by taking out pieces of your work that should have stayed or slavishly trying to do exactly what others suggest. Your work suffers and you lose even more confidence. A vicious cycle.

Although I'm not preaching arrogance or misplaced confidence, I do think that writers have to work at trusting their gut in order to be great. You can't rely on an editor to "fix" your work. You have to become a better editor. You have to read and read, and then write and write until you become better at everything. Trust doesn't happen overnight, or even in a few months. Trusting your gut can take years and years, and still you might have a crisis over a bad review or a strange comment. You might think "I'm terrible at this" and find it easier to give up. But hopefully you don't. Hopefully you realize that stories are unique because every writer is different. And hopefully you love the process of writing, so you quickly get back to work finding your voice and learning to trust your gut to help you find your way through your story. Hopefully.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

This trust concept

Would you trust these people?
Hi. Gary here, filling in for Kelli.  

So this week we're talking about trust.  Trust is a pretty tough subject for your average PI.  The job description generally calls for dealing with shifty characters who lie to the detective, cheat on each other and steal valuable stuff.  And those are the ones who turn out to be innocent.  

But at least one of them's a killer.  More likely than not the killer will take a crack at murdering our hero as he zeroes in on the miscreant.

So trust is not a major component of the PI business.

The charming Rebecca Cantrell, who I trust, sent me a list of questions for this week. But they apply to fellow bloggers, and I'm a visitor, so allow me to answer these for my hero, Nicolaos, the only investigating agent in ancient Athens.  He works for an up-and-coming young politician by the name of Pericles.

Who would turn you in?

Pretty much anyone for half a drachma.  This is Greece, after all, and modern jokes about bankers and Greek debt aside, their reputation for larceny goes back thousands of years.  

There was a for-real case once when a Spartan army turned up outside the city walls of Athens.  Pericles said he'd take care of it.  He wandered over to the enemy camp with a bag of 12,000 coins.  He returned without the bag.  The Spartan army commander ordered his troops march home.  

At the end of the financial year, Pericles entered this massive expenditure in the state accounts  as for "necessary purposes".  For years afterwards, when an Athenian spent some dubious sum, he would tell his friends he'd spent it on "special purposes", and then they'd all roll about the floor laughing.

Who would know but not tell?

It's pretty much guaranteed that witnesses who withhold  vital information will die before they get a chance to recant and tell.  This seems to be a law of the universe as rock solid as the law of conservation of momentum.

Who is your partner in crime?

Nico has a partner in crime.  Diotima, an annoyingly virgin priestess of Artemis.   That's them on the cover image.  Diotima was a real historical person, a genius who is mentioned by Plato, and one of the three most brilliant women of her century.  My version of Diotima has a tendency to blackmail people.  I wouldn't trust her if I were you.  

Who is your first victim?

My first victim, as in, the first person I ever killed in print, was a real historical person named Ephialtes.  He's largely forgotten these days, but Ephialtes created the world's first democratic parliament.  Incredibly, a few days later, he was assassinated.  That happened for real! 

Who will be the police officer who comes to arrest you?

No police in ancient Athens!  Justice is a do-it-yourself business.  The closest male relative of any victim was expected to prosecute a murder.

Who will be your lawyer? 

That's easy.  Pericles, who we remember as a statesman, appeared in court on any number of occasions.  And being one of the greatest orators ever, he tended to win.