MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Very blessed today to be working with Freddy Cole on THE BOOK OF LEAH. He is a national treasure!


Job well done! Nickolaus Schnetsky with director Charlie Matthau on set... The Book of Leah


Marisa Ignacio Hormel and Melinda Lerner's Bodies on Raw


"Bodies on Raw is an adventure in empowerment through food!" - Lois Barber Co-creator and Executive Director of EarthAction, Founder of 20/20 Vision

"Bodies on Raw is a celebration of the healing that can happen when people make healthy food choices. But more than that, it's a celebration of beauty and a celebration of life itself." - John Robbins, Author of Diet For A New America, Co-founder of The Food Revolution Network.

"Marisa Ignacio Hormel and Melinda Lerner's Bodies on Raw is the creative and magical fusion of food, art, and health. This book is a beautiful inspiration to those wanting to explore plant-based food as a gateway to mind-body health and vitality." - Allen "Buddy" Green, M.D. Founder and Medical Director of The Center for Optimum Health.

"Marisa Ignacio Hormel and Melinda Lerner's Bodies on Raw clearly demonstrates that our strength comes from our fuel, whether that is food or thought." - Greg Cope White Food Network Host, Food Writer of Eat Greg Eat, and Author of The Pink Marine.

"Marisa Ignacio Hormel & Melinda Lerner's Bodies On Raw encourages, guides, and stands by our side as we examine steps that we can take to help create a more sustainable, regenerative, just food system, healthy body, and healthy planet." - Dr. Brent Blackwelder, President Emeritus of Friends of the Earth.

Bodies on Raw is an inspiring compilation of testimonials from pioneering individuals who with the help of raw food, vegan, or plant-based choices have either survived cancer or conquered high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, an enlarged prostate, as well as acne, constipation, migraines, and allergies. Their words take you on a journey through the scientific realities of the power of food to discover simple tips which guide you gently towards healing, health, and fitness. This unique book is born from Marisa Ignacio Hormel's passion captured by Melinda Lerner's prowess. Witness the results.

Time Management for Writers: The Stopwatch Method for Massive Creative Productivity

Managing your work is a fool’s game because work is infinite. Good work only creates more work; in fact, bad work creates more work too.

So the more you work the more work you will have to do. It’s basic common sense that you can’t manage an infinite commodity.

What can you manage? Time.

You not only can, but must, manage your time because time is all too finite.
They say, “If you want to get something done, find a busy person.” The busy person succeeds in getting things done because he knows how to manage his or her time.

We all have the exact same amount at our disposal: 60 minutes each hour, 24 hours each day, 168 hours each week, 8,736 hours each year. If you put one hour into a project each day for a year, you’d have worked on it for 365 hours—more than enough time to write a book, and a screenplay, and a treatment or two.
“If you place a little upon a little,” explained the ancient Greek almanac writer Hesiod in his Works and Days, “soon it becomes a lot.”

Time Management Stopwatch image

 

Time Management Should Be Easy

 

Where do you find the time to get your most important work done every day?

One memorable day in Manhattan I was delivering a broken antique wall clock to my favorite repair shop. As I completed my drop off and turned to leave, I noticed an ultra-modern stand-up clock constructed of shiny pendulums, a different metal each for hours, minutes, and seconds, all enclosed in a sleek glass case. It was simply the most beautiful timepiece I’d ever seen.

Then I realized: it had no hands. At first I thought, No wonder it’s in the shop. It’s broken. But I studied the clock more closely.

Clock for time management image

No. It was designed without hands. It was a timepiece that Salvador Dali would have been as thrilled with as I was. Time moves in its own way unless we somehow capture it.

It reminded me that time is a free force. It just happens, whether you do anything about it or not. It’s up for grabs. It doesn’t belong to your family, or to your friends, or to your day job, or to anyone but you! What you’re working on at any given moment is how you control it.

The trick is where do you find that free time?—a question busy people are asked regularly. Here’s their secret: busy people make time, for the activities they decide to prioritize. One good way to wrestle with the problem they’ve solved is to ask yourself, “Where do I lose it?” When you find the answers to that question they may shock you.

I ask writers to make a chart of their weekly hours and use it to determine how many hours they devote to each activity in their cluttered, over-stimulated lives.
Maybe you’d be surprised—or maybe not—that most people have no idea where the time goes.

They come back to me with a grand total of 182, or 199, or 82 hours of activity—until I remind them that they, like every other human, have the same 168 hours each week to spend.

Then we get serious and analyze exactly where they’re lying to themselves about the time: forgetting about the endless phone calls with friends, or the true amount of time in front of the television, or the accurate time devoted to the daily commute, or the time doing absolutely nothing but staring out the window. When we get the time inventory accurate most people are surprised at the truth. But truth is the first step to freedom, and managing your time effectively is the greatest freedom of all.

I call it “making the clock of life your clock.” I believe in this philosophy so much I haven’t worn a regular watch for nearly thirty years, despite owning a vintage wrist watch that belonged to my father and an even older pocket watch that belonged to my grandfather. The only chronograph I carry around with me is one that allows me to make life’s clock my clock:a stopwatch.

The stopwatch makes the Spanish proverb, la vida es corta pero ancha (“life is short but wide”) come true.

You can get a free stopwatch app on your cell phone! In fact, most smartphones come with a built-in stopwatch app like the Clock app on iPhones.

The Stop Watch Method of Time Management

 

The stopwatch method of time management is simple. You use it to capture time, to make sure that your Priority Writing Project is getting the amount of attention you want to give it to move it—and your career success–ahead with certainty.
You know that the wall clock, or the one on your wrist or displayed on your cell phone, has a way of running away with your day. You say you’ll work on your Priority Writing Project from seven to eight a.m. and something is certain to come along to disrupt that hour almost as though life were conspiring against you.

What’s really happening is that you’re letting life interfere with your personal time management.

Of course when the interference occurs, you tell yourself I’ll catch up later,or say, “I’ll start again tomorrow and this time protect myself from interruptions.” But over the years we discover that life usually runs rampant over any and all such resolutions.

The stopwatch method works best in a life jam-packed with stimuli and distraction. It allows you to steal time. While clocks on wrists and walls record public time, your private prime time happens only when your stopwatch is running. The stopwatch allows you to call “time out” from the game everyone else is engaged in.

Simply promise yourself you won’t go to sleep at night until, by hook or by crook, you’ve clocked on your stopwatch one hour (sixty minutes) of working on Priority Writing Project.

Turn the stopwatch ON when you’re working on it, and OFF when you get interrupted.

Your stopwatch minutes may be harvested over a six-hour period, or over a twenty-four-hour period. You steal them when you can: waiting at the dentist’s, commuting to the ferry, when your lunch appointment hasn’t shown up yet, when your cell phone dies and no one can reach you until you’ve replaced or recharged the battery, when your date for the evening calls in sick.

It takes a few days to get used to this process, but once you do you’ll recognize the power it gives you over time.

If I could give you a magic pill that guaranteed you would work on your most important goals and dreams in life for one hour each day, would you take it?
Of course! And that’s exactly what the stopwatch method of time management does—it guarantees that your most important work gets done each day if you stick to the plan.

Optimum Attention Span (OAS)

 

How do you know how much time to devote to your Priority Writing Project—or to any activity, for that matter?

That’s a function of what I call Optimum Attention Span (OAS). For some activities, like watching your favorite sports event or shopping, your OAS might be extremely wide; for others, like listening to your boss complain or to your domestic partner nag, it might be miniscule. The trick is to determine what the OAS is for that Priority Writing Project.

At the start of any project, OAS tends to be smaller; as the project gains momentum and begins to appear reachable, your OAS expands. So when you start planning to write that novel, nonfiction books, or screenplay, give yourself 30-45 minutes on the stopwatch during the first week.

But reassess OAS at the end of each week because OAS changes and evolves. By the fourth week you may well be up to an hour and a half—ninety minutes on the stopwatch.

Increasing Productivity with “Linkage”

 

Isn’t it hard to work in fits and starts?

You might very well ask that very good question. The answer is that it’s actually easier to work that way than it is to work without stopping if you employ my time-management technique of linkage, what Hemingway referred to as “leaving a little water in the well.”

Here’s how linkage works. The phone rings, so you have to turn off your stopwatch. But you let it ring one or two more times, taking that time to make a mental decision about what you’ll do when your stopwatch is running again—that is, in your next Priority Writing Project stopwatch session.

And here’s an interesting secret: it doesn’t matter what decision you make when you turn the stopwatch back on.

The minute you make that decision, as you answer the phone and go on from one activity to the next, your mind starts thinking of better decisions than the one you just made; in fact, your mind becomes increasingly motivated to get back to that Priority Writing Project because it knows exactly what it will do when the next session begins.

You’ve created an automatic linkage—that makes restarting when your stopwatch is next running no longer an occasion for blockage.
Instead, you’re fully ready to jump in and get as much out of that next session as possible before it’s interrupted by life’s next distraction.

And, yes, have a desk drawer filled with stopwatches so you can employ a different colored one for each major project you’re engaged with. Or you can use different stopwatch apps on your phone.

The stopwatch method will truly make the clock of life your clock.It’s the magic writing pill.

Dr. Kenneth Atchity (Georgetown B.A., Yale Ph.D.) has been teaching time management throughout the United States, Asia, and Europe for decades.

Books include A Writer’s Time: Making the Time to Write (ebook: Write Time: Guide to the Creative Process, from Vision through Revision—and Beyond); How to Quit Your Day Job and Live out Your Dreams; Writing Treatments that Sell (with Chi-Li Wong), Sell Your Story to Hollywood: Writer’s Pocket Guide to the Business of Show Business and, with Ridgely Goldsborough, Why? Marketing for Writers. Dr. Atchity’s more than thirty films include Meg, the Emmy-nominated Kennedy Detail, Hysteria, Erased, Joe Somebody, and Life or Something like It.

Companies serving writers include www.thewriterslifeline.com, www.storymerchant.com, and www.storymerchantbooks.com. and teaching sessions can be accessed at www.RealFastHollywoodDeal.com.


 







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The Book of Leah: A great Day One under our belt!

Kate Linder, as Aileen Gold, on set day one.


 

Yale Presents Open Yale Courses on Miguel de Cervantes’ Masterpiece Don Quixote

Among the literary works that emerged in the so-called Golden Age of Spanish culture in the 16th and 17th centuries, one shines so brightly that it seems to eclipse all others, and indeed is said to not only be the foundation of modern Spanish writing, but of the modern novel itself. Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote synthesized the Medieval and Renaissance literature that had come before it in a brilliantly satirical work, writes popular academic Harold Bloom, with “cosmological scope and reverberation.” But in such high praise of a great work, we can lose sight of the work itself. Don Quixote is hardly an exception.

Don Quixote, which is the classic par excellence, was written for a flatly practical purpose: to amuse the largest possible number of readers, in order to make a lot of money for the author (who needed it badly).” To mention these intentions is not to diminish the work, but perhaps even to burnish it further. To have created, as Yale’s Roberto González Echevarría says in his introductory lecture above, “one of the unquestioned masterpieces of world literature, let alone the Western Canon,” while seeking primarily to entertain and make a buck says quite a lot about Cervantes’ considerable talents, and, perhaps, about his modernism.


Rather than write for a feudal patron, monarch, or deity, he wrote for what he hoped would be a profitable mass-market. In so doing, says Professor González, quoting Gabriel García Márquez, Cervantes wrote “a novel in which there is already everything that novelists would attempt to do in the future until today.” González’s course, “Cervantes’ Don Quixote,” is now available online in a series of 24 lectures, available on YouTube and iTunes. (Stream all 24 lectures below.) You can download all of the course materials, including the syllabus and overview of each class, here. There is a good deal of reading involved, and you’ll need to get your hands on a few extra books. In addition to the weighty Quixote, “students are also expected to read four of Cervantes’ Exemplary Stories, Cervantes’ Don Quixote: A Casebook, and J.H. Elliott’s Imperial Spain.” It would seem well worth the effort.

The Power of Vulnerability ...


The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown

Brené Brown studies human connection -- our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk at TEDxHouston, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity.




Ted Talks


Guest Post: A crusader for preserving history by Jerry Amernic



Diana Bishop is a former TV broadcaster and the author of a new book about her grandfather Billy Bishop, the flying ace who shot down 72 German planes in World War I. Her book is called ‘Living Up to a Legend – My Adventures With Billy Bishop’s Ghost.’

The other night I joined her for a screening of the film Billy Bishop Goes to War at the prestigious National Club in downtown Toronto. It was a few days before November 11th. Incidentally, this year marks the 100th anniversary of her grandfather getting the Victoria Cross from King George V.

When Diana isn’t writing books she helps ‘brand’ her clients and she branded me. What’s the brand?

‘A crusader for preserving history through the actions of unsung heroes.’

I probably never would have thought of that myself, but she’s right. Every book I ever wrote embodies this theme – some more, some less – but it’s always there. They are stories about heroes, and in the case of historical novels, about protagonists fighting some grave injustice.

Gift of the Bambino is a coming-of-age tale over three generations about a boy and his grandfather, and how the two are bound by baseball and Babe Ruth. In that one, the Grandpa is the hero.

The Last Witness is about a 100-year-old man who is the last living survivor of the Holocaust in a near-future world where people know little of the past. The survivor is the hero in that story.

Qumran is about an archaeologist who makes a dramatic discovery in the Holy Land and who is caught in the storm between science and religion. The archaeologist, whose core ideas are challenged in the novel, is the hero in this one.

So now I have put all this into a presentation that explores the stories, actions, and issues around many an unsung hero. And, of course, why history is important. I call it, well, A Crusader for Preserving History.

If only I can find the right cape.








Jerry Amernic is a Canadian writer of fiction and non-fiction books. He is the author of the  Holocaust-related novel 'The Last Witness' and the biblical-historical thriller 'QUMRAN' 

  

Jerry Amernic
Ph: 416-284-0838
Mobile: 416-707-8456

New Website 

www.jerrythenovelist.com 

 

Story Merchant Books Deal of the Week!

FREE November 15 - November 19!

Three Ed Noon Mysteries! 



Wisecracking Noon: a movie and baseball-obsessed romantic who always fights the good fight. And, more often than not, wins.

On Writing...

"Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."
 

-- Colette

Warner Bros. has now released an official synopsis for The Meg and fans can relish the guilty pleasure that it promises.


Details regarding the WB monster movie have been pretty sparse up until now. Since the ‘Mega-Shark Vs. Jason Statham’ saw its release date pushed back to Summer 2018, the only notable update has been that the title has undergone a slight change and is now The Meg instead of simply Meg.

The Meg is an adaptation of the 1997 Steve Alten novel about a surviving prehistoric Megalodon shark, which surfaces from the Mariana Trench. The book was so successful that it resulted in 5 literary sequels and an ongoing franchise. Tentative development plans were made for a Hollywood film as soon as it was published, with directors like Jan de Bont (Speed) and Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) linked to it in the early stages. Eli Roth was then onboard to shoot it, but it ultimately fell to National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub to helm it. Statham was then recruited to play the role of main protagonist and expert diver, Jonas Taylor.

The basic premise of action-hero Statham facing-off against a massive shark pretty much sells itself, but a full official synopsis of the adaptation has now been made available online by WB. You can read the whole plot summary below:

    “A deep-sea submersible – part of an international undersea observation program – has been attacked by a massive creature, previously thought to be extinct, and now lies disabled at the bottom of the deepest trench in the Pacific… with its crew trapped inside.  With time running out, expert deep sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Statham) is recruited by a visionary Chinese oceanographer (Winston Chao), against the wishes of his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing), to save the crew – and the ocean itself – from this unstoppable threat: a pre-historic 75-foot-long shark known as the Megalodon.  What no one could have imagined is that, years before, Taylor had encountered this same terrifying creature.  Now, teamed with Suyin, he must confront his fears and risk his own life to save everyone trapped below… bringing him face to face once more with the greatest and largest predator of all time.”

Along with Statham, the movie also costars Jessica McNamee (Battle of the Sexes), Ruby Rose (John Wick: Chapter Two), and Rainn Wilson (The Office). Along with the recent title change, it has been confirmed that the movie will be a PG-13 affair, meaning that graphic gore and f-bombing will be absent from the plot. Of course, when you’ve got a shark capable of eating a boat, Jaws-like injuries aren’t really an ongoing concern.

The Meg completed principal photography back in January of this year, so hopefully all the post-production work and delay will make for a good-looking monster movie once it hits the theaters. Statham himself has described it as being ‘a cross between Jaws and Jurassic Park’, and also ‘really good’. At any rate, the eclectic cast and SFX should ensure that it’s a bite above the plethora of SyFy channel movies and other Jaws rip-offs that have been released over the years. It could just a film to keep an eye on when it arrives next summer on August 10, 2018.

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A Marquee Man: Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival’s president and CEO Gregory von Hausch on becoming the voice for independent filmmakers.



To the uninitiated, how is viewing a movie at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival different from watching a film at the movie theater?

We’re not meant to serve the Tom Cruises or George Clooneys of the film world, though sometimes we do. We’re there for the filmmakers who haven’t made it yet; those who have financed their films on their credit cards. We are there to help them get noticed by a distributor or an investor. At the same time, we’re here to educate our audiences. It goes back to Shakespeare and the concept that “the play’s the thing.” We want to show films that have substance to them, that speak to people. The scripts in independent and international films are paramount, whereas in those blockbuster films, sometimes the script may be secondary to the explosions, special effects and the stars.

What do movies do that nothing else can replicate?


I think movies are the most incredible art form because they can take you from Miramar to the moon with just a snap of the fingers. They utilize everything, such as scenery, sets, music and special effects, in a harmonious way to tell a story. I get so caught up in them. If I see “Peter Pan,” I believe everything about it, including that fairies can fly. Movies do something to viewers, allowing people like me to experience things as the characters do.

What can we look forward to with FLIFF 2017?


We’ll be showing films from nearly 50 countries. The festival starts unofficially on October 27 with a salute to the European Film Awards; on a nightly basis, we’ll be showing movies that have earned the best film award each year for the past 29 years. The festival will then have its official opening night on November 3 at the Hard Rock Live, where we’ll be showing two films: “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” and “Dog Years,” which stars Burt Reynolds. We will also honor actress Karen Allen, who played the heroine in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and her directorial debut, “A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.”

What are some of your earliest memories of FLIFF?


I was hired in 1989 as the festival’s executive director, but the irony is I had never been to a film fest in my life. We were so small back then, operating out of a tiny office. I knew we needed more exposure, so I moved our office to Las Olas Boulevard, across from Blockbuster’s headquarters. One day, as I was putting up posters about the film festival on the office’s outside wall, I heard a rough voice behind me say, “What the hell is this film festival about?” I turned around, and the voice belonged to Ron Castell, the senior vice president for programming of Blockbuster. We struck up a conversation, and he got intrigued about the festival. He eventually brought Blockbuster on board, and things started moving up from there.


FLIFF Crew back in the day including (AEI/Storymerchant's Chi-Li Wong)


In its earliest incarnation, how did you manage to get FLIFF on the global film map?

There’s a little P.T. Barnum with some things we do. Our first year at the Cannes International Film Festival was 1991. We were the little fish in the sea sitting next to the Dino De Laurentiises of the film world. I remember on the first day seeing a fleet of prop planes soaring above with banners advertising Ridley Scott’s film “1492: Conquest of Paradise.” I looked at that and thought it was phenomenal marketing. I had a hunch this wouldn’t be the last time the planes would fly over, so I rented two airplanes with a trailing banner that read “Join us on the Florida Riviera.” I had those planes fly right after Ridley’s next scheduled flight, so he got everyone’s attention with his fleet, and then everyone at Cannes was looking at our banners that followed.

What do you want to achieve with FLIFF?


I went to a lot of festivals and fairs growing up, and I remember a cacophony of sounds, smells and colors. No matter where you turned, there was something happening, whether it was someone making cannolis or sausages or a performance going on. It wasn’t a one-ring circus; it was a multi-ring one. I wanted FLIFF to be more than people sitting down and watching a movie. So we’ve introduced events such as Around the World in 80 Nights, which highlights a foreign film and celebrates that country’s culture with authentic food and drinks, and performers dressed in native garb.

We couldn’t finish this conversation without asking: What’s your favorite film?
I have two, both of which I can watch over and over again and still enjoy. The first is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which I’ve seen hundreds of times. The other would be “Get Shorty.” It’s just so well-written with such a wonderful ensemble cast.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 Issue.

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The Messiah Matrix Review


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Kenneth Atchity's The Messiah Matrix is one of those fascinating books—a rara avis--that works on many levels including those that, ironically, the writer may not have been aware of in the beginning. The story of the discovery that the historical Jesus was really the Roman Emperor Augustus (neé Octavian), a secret kept under wraps by the Society of Jesus acting, as many Jesuits do, in the best bad manners of 19th-century "novels of sensation," The Messiah Matrix is the latest in a stream of fiction popularized by The Da Vinci Code though having a pedigree among a number of so-called heretical novels, previously having garnering fanfare in Irving Wallace's 1972 novel, The Word.

What separates Atchity's book from the tiresome vulgate of the roman historique is the firmness of Atchity's unadorned style, a style seemingly embedded in Atchity's erudition as a Classicist. (If ever one wanted to study good English prose written by someone well-versed in highly inflected languages such as Attic Greek or Classical Latin, without having to grapple with Chase and Phillips' Introduction to Greek or Gildersleeve's daunting grammar tome, then Atchity is your meat.) Also, even though Dr. Atchity's bona fides as a well-traveled academician are beyond me, I can certainly appreciate a fellow who apparently knows his way around Rome when writing about Rome. (I imagine Atchity could blindly find his way from the Mausoleum of Augustus on the east bank of the Tiber River to the Temple of Jupiter near where the Via Flaminia pierces the center of The Eternal City.)

With plucky heroes such as devout archaeologist Emily Scelba and quavering priest Father Ryan, both desperately fighting the forces of darkness (and trying to stay one step ahead of a Holy See that would preserve the myth of our well-known Χριστος as well as Jesuits hell-bent—literally—on bringing on the advent of the Deified Augustus as the true Christ—The Messiah Matrix lives up to its mission, providing thrills couched in provocative questions.

Considering the already sturdy tumulus of propaganda built up around the too sordidly human Octavian, who, in 42 B.C. became divi filius—"Son of God," we should not decry a few more harmless pieces of learned public relations. If Augustus and Livia had no biological children, they were blessed by a million minions of spin. The hype began with the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, probably composed in A.D. 13-76, begun a year before the death of the man significantly known as Sebastos (Reverend) but also as Imperator (General). This sort of conflation of Messiah and Master-of-Arms is a delightful hagiographic touch sure to please revolutionaries, apostates, and wise novelists looking to expand a genre designed to thrill and excite with liberal dashes of carnality and intellectualism. (If Kissinger was right about power being the ultimate aphrodisiac, then what better Viagra than a peek into the Mysteries, whether Eleusinian, Gnostic, or otherwise?)

Unlike many conventional thrillers, and more like the priapic Old Comedy of the Greeks, The Messiah Matrix seems less a plotted thing than a progression of heterogeneous episodes. The book deftly combines mythical patterns of threat, capture, escape, and pursuit—usually against terrible odds for success and under circumstances of hideous death. This is the formula of Edgar Rice Burroughs, epigone himself of many purple patches of narrative. The formula in The Messiah Matrix inheres with religious hysteria and a baroque melodrama that would have made Matthew "Monk" Lewis salivate. The book accelerates from the discovery of an aureus whose coin face shows a thorn-crowned Augustus to a series of Perilous Pauline chases through an underworld that is both heady and prosaic as the novel hits all the storytelling points required by a heroic descent in, and daring extrication from, chthonic imprisonment. (Here Atchity's bracingly correct prose enmeshes every subterranean action and texture in phrasing precisely capturing the sights, sounds, and smells of a marathon race out of Acheron.)

Deep characterization, stunning surprises, and piquant variations are not what The Messiah Matrix is about—on the seemingly intended surface, that is. Yet, a deeper reading of the book strangely teases and tantalizes. The story releases intermittent billows of ironic incense, redolent of what author Atchity may have been satirically intending all along. For example, not just another Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Emily is, perhaps, an ironical avatar of Dan Brown's insipid "sacred feminine," glittering with the aegis of Athena (though, in the modern vein, hardly maintaining the chastity of an Artemis). Neither is the ineluctably defrocked young priest Father Ryan able to surprise and astonish by any veer away from a bathetic plunge into Emily's arms. (A last minute restoration of Ryan's Vow of Celibacy would have been refreshing, but, significantly, out of the book's intriguing ironies and sometimes caustic satire, an example of which is the terms of the Emily/Priest love affair. The couple's passions are relayed as effulgently as one might find in any conventional nouvelle de romancier, with worlds sundered by the power of lascivious consummation and universes imploding as long-repressed passions flare from the frisson of suspenseful expectation to the fission of the first consummative clinch. Considering, again, Atchity's possibly ironic position to The Messiah Matrix, we might wonder if the author keeping a straight face? Our irrepressible protagonists' love is apparently real and reciprocal, fine in itself, but seemingly forced as far as the fulsome descriptiveness goes. Fortunately, all this verbiage about "electricity" between our stalwarts does not, thank Augustus, lead to an actual scene of faradized fornication.)

Without revealing too much of The Messiah Matrix, while nevertheless suggesting that everything will, like a sacral unveiling, be revealed, this critic would not suggest anyone analyze too closely Atchity's New Advent. Those left dripping at the end of The Da Vinci Code will find no such simple crudities in Atchity's immeasurably more intelligent book. Nevertheless, some relatively simple logico-mathematical formulations—and a bit of reliance on Aristotle's Metaphysics—should be sufficient to dismantle the nascent New Post-Christian Revealed Faith. When the Big News is revealed—again, in decidedly ironic, one might say, satirical terms—at the end of the novel, one can happily grin at the book's conveyance of such an unworkable faith and any attendant ecclesia based thereupon. One has to consider the very nature of the propagandizing, manipulative, disingenuous Emperor Augustus. All this makes for a denouement and coup de theatre that are deliciously wry. How else is one to take the scene where the offspring of Emily and Father Ryan proclaims Duh Word? Is the litany some half-baked Paul Kurtz zeppelin of buncombe? Or is this scene and its material legitimately felt by the author, as an admittedly respectable secular humanist manifesto? Again, however, Atchity intrigues and inveigles, ending the book with a line that seems like a species of oblique, crafty, and adroit Menippean satire, when the rosy-cheeked young minister says, "Don't you know that I must be about the emperor's business?" (Note "emperor" and its tie-back to imperator, or general. Bravo, Atchity! This line is the sort of ingenious, lapidary reference that would have fit right into David Seltzer's The Omen.)

The Messiah Matrix should not convince anyone that it was only some Joe Jerusalem who died on the cross, about as divine as the two thieves flanking the Holy Rood. However, like many mystery stories whose contrivances are satisfyingly temporary but potent, the novel will entertain. This new genre of rejecting Jesus as what the faithful know as Jesus, and fad of delegitimizing Christianity as True Writ, has already spawned, like Scylla and Charybdis, two masterpieces, where denunciations of Christ follow the apothegm indicating that a vigorous rejection of "Him" only engenders a vigorous affirmation. (This paradox was, of course, part of the genuine charm of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood.) Nor is The Messiah Matrix in the genuinely iconoclastic, apocalyptic vein of a novel like James Blish's Black Easter, where magic, working according to physical principles, is used to unleash, for one night, the entire Hosts of Hell, leading, literally, to God's death and the renascence of Dis on Earth. (Take that, Rosemary's Baby!) As in much fiction, the so-called proofs wind up relying more on manipulates than metaphysics, with whatever might be eligible for introduction as author Atchity's "apostasy" reliant, as most are, on a typically inadequate materialism.

As Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensees:

"I wonder at the hardihood with which such persons undertake to talk about God. Proving God's works from Nature…only gives their readers grounds for thinking that the proofs of our religion are very weak…It is a remarkable fact that no canonical writer has ever used Nature to prove God."

Nevertheless, despite what a casual reader might perceive as a straightforward recit, one utilizing, notably in this instance, proversa oratoria as a stylistic fundament, not a mere flourish, another view is that Atchity has really contrived a sort of mirthful roman noir, a book that may be an inversion of the Dan Brown-type it seems to follow.

If so, The Messiah Matrix resembles some sort of explication of a heresy that really wants to make fun of heresy. In terms of the sacred, venerable Augustus' depiction of how he wished posterity to view him and the "high points of his reign" (cf. Rex Wallace's book), and any charging of religious significance because of the adjectival use of "augustus," The Messiah Matrix actually reduces the first Roman emperor back to being merely a dude named Octavian. Who was that? A canny, manipulative opportunist, favored by a Senate willing to indiscriminately convey influence and de facto tyranny. A chap for whom the cognomen Augustus was undeserved, a golden crown for someone not even deserving a dented tin fillet.

This Augustus was, then, a very base fellow. Neither the Latin version of the bronze inscriptions, Monumentum Ancyranum, nor the version installed at Ancyra (modern Turkish Ankira), the capital of Roman Galatia, dare to describe the real man, who, as a private citizen, unconstitutionally raised an army and, on gaining power, killed his political opponents, although those crimes were spun as pardons.

The Messiah Matrix is a distinguished, exceedingly rich book. Get it.

~Tony Daley 

On Writing...

"If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework  … you can still be writing, because you have that space."
 

~ Joyce Carol Oates 



The Meg’ Has Been Rated PG-13



Granted, Jaws was rated PG, but that was a far different time. Those looking for true terror and nasty shark-on-human carnage may be a bit disappointed to learn that Jon Turteltaub’s recently retitled The Meg, based on Steve Alten’s shark attack novel, has been handed a PG-13 rating by the MPAA this week.

The good news? It’s listed as containing “action/peril, bloody images and some language.” Of particular note, the term “bloody images” makes us smile.

Jason Statham (Furious 7, The Expendables films) and award-winning Chinese actress Li Bingbing (Transformers: Age of Extinction) star in the Warner Bros.
film.

“A deep-sea submersible—part of an international undersea observation program—has been attacked by a massive creature, previously thought to be extinct, and now lies disabled at the bottom of the deepest trench in the Pacific…with its crew trapped inside. With time running out, expert deep sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Statham) is recruited by a visionary Chinese oceanographer (Winston Chao), against the wishes of his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing), to save the crew—and the ocean itself—from this unstoppable threat: a pre-historic 75-foot-long shark known as the Megalodon. What no one could have imagined is that, years before, Taylor had encountered this same terrifying creature. Now, teamed with Suyin, he must confront his fears and risk his own life to save everyone trapped below…bringing him face to face once more with the greatest and largest predator of all time.”

The Meg will swim into theaters on August 10, 2018.

Read more



Why We Keep Telling the Same Stories

Neil Gaiman, Halldor Laxness and the art of revisiting myths



Thor und die Midgardsschlange, Emil Doepler (1905)
Some stories are primal. Some have drawn the attention of readers for centuries or even millennia–they might be national epics, sacred texts, or myths that explain some quality of the world. Depending on the reader, they might be all those things. But just as certain stories retain the ability to hold an audience rapt, so too do they inspire a particular group of writers to retell them.
This is far from a new literary tradition. Italo Calvino’s bibliography involves plenty of genre-defying, narratively innovative, and head-spinning works; it also includes 1956’s Italian Folktales, a massive collection of, well, retold versions of Italian folktales. William Butler Yeats collected several volumes of Irish folktales in the late 19th century. And in 1973, R. K. Narayan, best-known for his works of literary realism, published a shortened prose version of The Ramayana, a centuries-old Tamil epic. Canongate’s ‘The Myths’ series has included contributions from writers like Ali Smith, David Grossman, and Margaret Atwood. Here, the definition of ‘myths’ is wide-ranging: Smith’s Girl Meets Boy juxtaposes a retelling of Ovid’s tales of changing bodies with more contemporary concerns, while Grossman’s Lion’s Honey is an essayistic meditation on the Old Testament story of Samson.

Some tellers of ancient tales prefer a decidedly restrained approach, a neutral tone that serves as a literary middle ground between the archaic style in which the stories were initially told and a more contemporary voice. For others, though, a contemporary sense of language is crucial. Chester Brown’s recent graphic novel Mary Wept over the Feet of Jesus retells several stories from the Bible pertaining to sex work. Brown uses a familiar and conversational tone throughout; one caption memorably reads “Meanwhile, in Heaven, the angels are hanging out.”

Among the highest-profile retellings of ancient stories in recent years is Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. Gaiman has a longstanding fascination with the deities. His novels American Gods and Anansi Boys feature riffs on immortals from numerous pantheons, with questions of perception, belief, and evolution thrown into the mix. Even earlier, Gaiman wrote several of the Norse gods–notably, Thor, Odin, and Loki–in his groundbreaking Vertigo comics series Sandman.
There’s an element of circularity, then, to aspects of Gaiman’s introduction to Norse Mythology, in which he writes about his own initial experience with these Norse figures.
My first encounter with Asgard and its inhabitants was as a small boy, no more than seven, reading the adventures of the Mighty Thor as depicted by American comics artist Jack Kirby, in stories plotted by Kirby and Stan Lee and dialogued by Stan Lee’s brother Larry Lieber.
It’s probably also worth pointing out that a version of Marvel Comics’ Thor turned up, albeit briefly, in the Gaiman-penned series 1602. Norse Mythology marks the fourth time Gaiman has taken a crack at these characters; like Johnny Cash going into the studio with Rick Rubin, there seems to be an effort to get back to the basics, to find what’s essential in a familiar story without too many additional trappings.

 



The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Man, Hélène Adeline Guerber (1909)

It’s significant that, by and large, there are no postmodern or metafictional nods in Gaiman’s retellings. The way in which stories are told, and how belief in certain narratives can influence reality, are concepts Gaiman has wrestled with in numerous works. Here, the narratives are more straightforward; this feels more suitable for an all-ages audience — it’s more about the flair of the telling. There is the sense that he did savor writing some choice bits of dialogue—the trickster Loki reveling in someone’s inability to consider “the exactness of their words,” for instance. And the voice through which Gaiman recounts these stories also is polished; it’s one that seems familiar and collegial with both these characters and the reader experiencing the stories:
That was the thing about Loki. You resented him even when you were at your most grateful, and you were grateful to him even when you hated him the most.
In his introduction to Norse Mythology, Gaiman writes about his process of assembling this book, reading “words from nine hundred years ago and before, picking and choosing what tales I wanted to retell and how I wanted to tell them.” In an interview with Petra Mayer at NPR, Gaiman spoke about the appeal of this particular mythology because it has an end point, which created a sense of a larger narrative. Ragnarok, Gaiman argues, “turns the entire thing into a tragedy, which gives it depth, it gives it base notes, it gives it a peculiar profundity.” It’s a prime example of how a modern storyteller can find their own angle on long-running narratives.
Like Johnny Cash going into the studio with Rick Rubin, there seems to be an effort to get back to the basics, to find what’s essential in a familiar story without too many additional trappings.
That’s an essential part of crafting retellings that will endure. In a 1988 interview with Adit De, R. K. Narayan spoke about his own work with classic narratives — retellings of The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. For him, the need to retell these stories was essential. “They are symbolic and philosophical,” he explained. “Even as mere stories, they are so good. Marvellous. I couldn’t help writing them. It was part of a writer’s discipline.”


Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman, circa 17th c.

For some writers, tapping into the essential elements of an older text can be its own reward. Others may well want to explore more contemporary questions or use the narrative to critique something in their own society. Halldor Laxness’s novel Wayward Heroes was written in 1952, but was only recently translated (by Philip Roughton) into English. From the first page of Laxness’s novel, he makes it clear that this is a conscious retelling of an older work:
Most of the stories of these warriors we find so remarkable that recalling them once more is certainly worth our time and attention, and thus we have spent long hours compiling into one narrative their achievements as related in numerous books. Foremost among these, we would be remiss not to name, is the Great Saga of the Sworn Brothers.
If the tone of that passage strikes you as overblown, that’s the point. The two sworn brothers in question, Þorgeir and Þormóður, engage in a host of bloody feats over the course of the book that ultimately feel more tragicomic than remarkable. In a long essay about the works of Laxness for Harper’s, Justin Taylor argues that “Wayward Heroes belongs in the pantheon of the antiwar novel alongside such touchstones as Slaughterhouse-Five and Catch-22.”
Whether straightforward or revisionist, these stories can be adapted into countless forms, and experienced in a host of ways.
Throughout the novel, there are reminders that this is a retelling of an older story. A paragraph in one section of the novel set in Greenland opens with a line that reads like nonfiction: “Sources state that when Þormóður reached the Eastern Settlement…” Later on, the action pauses entirely so that the book’s narrator can draw attention to narrative discrepancies: “There are two different accounts concerning what subsequently occurred between the brothers-in-law.” From there follows a long and self-effacing explanation of why, exactly, one of the two accounts has been chosen to appear in these pages.



Image from Icelandic saga

This seems entirely in keeping with Laxness’s wry tone, which takes notions of heroism and national glory down several pegs. So too is the use of narrative ambiguity when one of the novel’s central characters dies. “[W]e shall never gain a clear answer from men of learning — the old books differ widely on these details,” Laxness writes.

For writers like Narayan and Gaiman, revisiting older stories was a kind of master class in narrative: finding what was most essential about certain essential stories and making it their own. For others–Laxness certainly comes to mind, as do several of the writers who have written books for Canongate–the oldest of stories are fertile ground to examine much more contemporary concerns. And perhaps that’s the biggest testimonial of all to the staying power of some of these narratives: whether straightforward or revisionist, they can be adapted into countless forms, and experienced in a host of ways. Some of these stories date back to the oral tradition; a series of repeated retellings was what made them endure over the years, the decades, the centuries. Retelling might involve a storyteller finding their own perspective on something timeless; it might involve using an ancient tale to illuminate something contemporary. Though the stories in these relatively recent retellings are printed and bound, their lineage hails back much further into the history of narrative. What these contemporary forms and devices do, then, is give us something to handle, something to set beside more recent works, seeing how these stories have influenced generations of stories and storytellers that followed. And perhaps for some readers, these versions will spark a new cycle of tellings and retellings.