Sunday, June 28, 2009

Part 9 - a lone tear and a jellyfish

hey there,

Glad you had a good time driving around LA, consuming burgers and the enjoying extensive freeway system. I've been rained on most days in hong kong, although I did take a pretty fun windsurfing lesson last week. Hong Kong's one and only Olympic gold medal was won in windsurfing in 1996, and since then the sport has taken off. It's wonderfully frustrating - quite easy to go straight once you've got the hang of it, but turning and trying to get back to the beach is a whole different matter. I did also see a couple of very large jellyfish that scared the crap out
of me.

My section was riddled with a large number of scribbles, scrawled additions, and typewritten 'X's. Clearly someone was agitated when correcting and editing my few pages. I have entire paragraphs that have been crossed out.

I'm not sure why - I suppose it's fraught with emotional intrigue, but not much else.. Our dear Rowan receives a phone call from Matt Cater who calls to cancel his date with her to the Tibetan Museum, due to a sudden project that has come up regarding a wing (of the greenhouse?) that he needs to see her aunt Lucy about. The competition between Lucy and Rowan becomes all the more apparent, as Rowan gets oh-so-passive aggressive when she finds this out, especially when Matt suggests that Reshevsky take her instead. To be honest - I'm not sure why she's so peeved. Perhaps I need to be dumped by an attractive older man who's first love is botany, in order to fully comprehend Rowan's angst.

Ooh - I forgot to mention, she realizes her phone call was listened in on by some other party, adding insult to injury. In fact there's a wonderful line where describing 'one small angry tear drop'.

At lunch she does her best to act icy and disdainful of Matt Cater, and appears to swoon slightly at Reshevsky (i'm assuming to make poor ol' Matt jealous), especially when Lucy suggests that Reshevsky take her on a tour of Manhattan (which made me think about what tours of New York were like in the '60's and '70's.... no one went below 14th street presumably, and Times Square had begun its descent into seediness... what did that leave? gentle carriage rides around Central Park? Jaunts down Fifth Avenue?).

The last paragraph is completely crossed out, making it impossible to read, but it has something to do with an exchange between Matt and Reshevsky.

and tag back... you're it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Part 8 - mushrooms, Occidentals and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden


So sorry about the delay in getting part 8 to you. In my hasty departure for Los Angeles on Friday I accidentally took the wrong sections of the manuscript with me. I just got back this morning - took the red-eye and am barely here right now. I would wait until I am more alert to give you my next section, but I feel bad that I'm behind as it is.
LA was pleasurable. We went wine tasting in Paso Robles for a day, ate at some Jack-in-the-Boxes and drove around a lot...which seems to be what one does in Los Angeles.

"Oriental" is indeed a funny way to circumscribe a group of people; you never heard the term "Occidental" thrown around even when Oriental was in its prime. And it's strange how the modifier sticks in the case of non-human things but progresses in terms of people. It kind of demonstrates some of the politics involved the ethnic nomenclature. Groups are described by color, region, and direction (so strange). I think we should define groups by time instead of place, then we could only be bigoted toward people who aren't around anymore. Imagine being time-ist toward people born before 1920....I think ideas like that are why I should avoid throwing my hat in the social ethnography ring.

That's so funny about the poisonous plant plot point (say that five times fast), because a poisonous plant show just opened at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. I'm going to see it this weekend and get acquainted with all those sinister Oleanders.

My section is actually fairly packed with plot details, though it seems that mine are lacking the non-typewritten traces of our author and editor. I'll bet you get a 37 year old jelly stain....or a fingernail...or a maybe even a booger. Wow, that'd be awesome!

My first paragraph contains the following line: "She pointed out with particular pride her large assortment of mushrooms, from the familiar Death Angel that had been the bane of my biology class in high-school, to more esoteric fungi." This confused me; I couldn't tell whether the class was 'shroomin and thus became overwhelmed by the subject matter; whether they were poisoned to death, and as a result failed biology, or whether the taxonomic complexity of this family of mushrooms had alone resulted in a poor academic performance.The beginning of my section is essentially a short trip through "poisonous botany 101." The exchange about deadly plants is then interrupted by two stocky workers approaching Kee and aunt Lucy, alerting them that someone tried to break into the storage room. The two men didn't see the person trying to break in, but did see a car drive away. Lucy then gets angry and directs Ah Sing to dock the pay of the watchmen for their lax effort.

Next, we get a wonderful tell-don't-show sentiment from Rowan as she remarks about coming to her aunt's home for peace and finding only tumult and tragedy. She then notes that the events did "bring her out of herself." So, the tone shifts; the stormclouds overhead recede and the sun shines bright yellow light on the farm, the Greenhouse and its poison crop.

The final cascade of events and conversation are fairly complex, with many suggestive passages. Aunt Lucy is painted in a kinder light, and Rowan admits to warming up to her a bit. James Kee snaps at Lucy because she desires to call the police about the two successive "incidents." He suddenly seems sinister. This seems to be a Scooby Doo-like device to take the focus off Lucy and to bring in another suspect as a focal point. Rowan muses before dinner that things on the farm were getting more pleasant and when they sit down to dinner Aunt Lucy suggests that Rowan should get around the city so she's not cooped-up all summer. This raises the eyebrow of Reshevsky (literally) and brings Rowan to recall the conversation they had by the harpsichord. Rowan responds that she never planned on staying the entire summer, to which Lucy says to leave the option open. The final few lines are odd, with Reshevky quizzically, and perhaps defensively, wondering how the police could think that the events of the previous night were anything but an accident. He then says that the police have no reason to ask any of them to remain in the city.

This last line was strange because I don't remember a precedent indicating that the authorities were going to prevent anyone from leaving. I'm wondering if this becomes a Murder-by-Death type of deal, where everyone's sequestered in an old mansion and they start dropping like flies.
Whew, that's a lot to think about. A plot as thick as frozen oatmeal.

tag, you're it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Part 7 - 12 hour time difference, the greenhouse and poison

Dear Shane,

Occasionally one of your emails to me reads uncannily similar to as if you were sitting in that beloved Aeron chair, in front of your sparkingly clean desk, with nary a speck nor paper towel to be seen, having a ten minute ramble before going about our whatever it is that we used to do in that office. Your last email was one of those, made even more odd by the fact that we're seperated by a continent and an ocean, rather than 3 feet. That and the 12 hour time difference makes this this project wonderfully disjunctive at times.

And you're right - i have an interesting 5 pages. What i've noticed is how uncomfortable I become at having to read something mid-sentence. Like I've walked into a party that I'm not invited to, or barged into a conversation (but perhaps I'm one of the few people who care about such things... cough cough). I've also found fingerprints! I have no idea what this makes me so excited - it's not like the presence of a set of grubby fingerprints will allow us to find the author easier. But it's a great side note to any conversation one could have about the indexical trace etc. It also came on a page that was riddled with scribbles by both parties (red ink, blue ink, and pencil!).

Anyway, I'm subjected to a long meandering description of this gigantic greenhouse, which is larger than the house itself. Our Rowan wonders through the hallways herself, unaccompanied by James Kee, and comes across a variety of exotic looking plants, all tended to by my peeps. And when I say my peeps, I mean my forebearers who were all gardeners. I must admit it's very odd to see the term "Orientals" bandied about when not referring to carpets. Its neither offensive nor funny; I seriously do mean I expect to see the word 'carpet' after it.

Her aunt is somewhere in the greenhouse and Rowan goes in search of her, passing by a wooden shack that has a door marked ' Keep Out', which of course our protaganist tried to open, to no avail. In the left wing of the greenhouse, Rowan comes across a number of plants she doesn't recognize, and is startled by an old Chinese gardener brandishing a pair of sharp garden shears, who yells at her to not touch them, frightening the crap out of Rowan, who proceeds to yell for her aunt. Apparently, Ah Sing (the old gardener) was just being protective; the plants being his babies, as well as being poisonous (ah hah!! the plot thickens). One of the particularly innocent looking ones, an oleander, is apparently 'nerium indicum', which can cause something resembling a heart attack.

And I admit, i have no idea what oleander looks like but apparently it's quite common, and varieties can be deadly when ingested. check it out:

So! We have poisonous plants in a gigantic greenhouse, a locked door, a secretary who apparently chases way tourists when they come too close to the house, a potential love affair, and hoards of chinese gardeners. Dum dum dum dum..... back to you...,

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Part 6 - Jean Tinguely, John Galt and an omelette

What's happening, kiddo??

Caren's coming back soon and it had me thinking about management strategies of all things. Sitting in my black Ergo chair, and ruminating about this very compromised situation, my focus ricochets from work duties to existential musings to menial tasks to asking myself why I do anything of it at all, given what I know is the fate of this place. Just as my turmoil hit a crescendo today, 6 PM came and I felt an immediate urge to finish my part of in our project. I thought how amazing it is that some people (ahem) spend every ounce of their will trying to bend the world to their liking...and because that world has a will of its own, it fights back. Yet, because of my general respect for this project, my contribution, your opinion, etc. etc., I would go to great lengths to make sure that none of it is ever compromised on my account. So much bending, so much exerted will, and sometimes all you have to do is stop trying and give in. "Who is JOHN GALT!!!"

Just a thought...I've had a lot of time to generate them.

Another unforeseen quality of this project has been how simultaneously stressful and beneficial the lack of direct contact has been. I feel much more fluid and inspired when I write because I don't exhaust all my thoughts in a wild verbal flourish from 10:41 AM to 11:14 AM. I think it says a lot for the value of restraint, time and routine....and probably, "silence," I hear you say!

So, about the Greenhouse...oh I forgot one thing from section 4. I neglected to mention that there was a Jean Tinguely contraption in the salon where Mr. Chao died. A little bit of familiar content creeping into things, huh?

The dramatic wavelength of this book seems to be about 7.5 pages long, making every othe section for us fall at either a crest or a trough of action. This time, mine was a trough, so your next section looks to be a doozer. Part 6 begins with Rowan trying to settle down to bed after the mayhem from the night before. She wakes up after a long sleep "like the proverbial log" at 11:30, and then heads downstairs to the dining room for breakfast (if this concept is unfamiliar, Caroline, "breakfast" is what we now refer to as "brunch" but without alcoholic beverages and hangovers.) The room is empty of life but for a placesetting and a note. It is written in her aunt's handwriting, handwriting that seems to slant in "several different directions at once" - I'm not Carl Jung or that doctor on HOUSE, but I'd say this description is suggestive. Rowan is instructed in the letter to head to the Greenhouse after eating and that James would give her directions. Mrs. Chow makes Rowan breakfast -- at this point, I too thought I had caught a typo: o-m-e-l-e-t, which I spell omelette; however it seems both are correct.

RATS! Ten dollars to the first person to catch a typo?? Would that be Hong Kong or American dollars??

Chow reveals that the previous night's death was deemed an accident by the police, as the balcony rail was loose. "Mis' Dickson, she always putting off fixing balcony rail. Now too late." Rowan offers her two-cents worth of forensics science, proposing that Chao would have known that the balcony was unstable since he'd been around for a while. But Mrs. Chow rebuts the suggestion by noting how big the house is and that the deceased was more of an outdoors guy.

Rowan finishes breakfast and goes to find James Kee, who is not in his office, and then determines that she should find her Aunt on her own....

Dum da dum dum
Dum da dum dum


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Part 5 - acid attacks & diplomatic immunity


Wow! I must admit I've become very caught up in this ridiculous murder/ love mystery.

First - I figured I should tell you a bit about what I've been doing while in hong kong, and I thought it should be time for some anecdotes. I met with one of the professors at one of the big universities here the other day; a sort of 'shoot the shit' session, and he showed me around his students' thesis shows. I've been interested in purusing the Hong Kong art scene, which is very small. And it's reflected by how small their MFA programme is; they only accept between 2 and 4 people a year! Everyone is fully funded of course. We also got into an interesting discussion about the different aesthetics espoused in various East Asian countries; with hong kong artists falling into an interesting sort of interstitial space due to their recent history; definitely not looking like art from the Mainland, which has a very specific, flashy, over-the top extravagance (as I'm sure you've noticed from the various art fairs etc), and very different from say, artists in singapore, where the government actually end up being fairly controlling of what images are seen by the public, so the artists end up reading quite a fair amount of theory and create works that are conceptually more poignant then they are visually aligned with say, artists in China.

OH! And there's a serial acid dropper. 3rd attack in a year - the culprit has been dropping acid from a height into crowds of shoppers, and has injured several of them. Totally random acts of violence, check it out:,8599,1903746,00.html

And speaking of murders, there was a murder in the next neighbourhood over. A woman was knifed to death in her own home, probably by her live-in domestic helper.

But, back to our dear Rowan. I'm actually quite bummed I missed out on the murder scene. All I got in my 5 pages was a protracted conversation between Rowan and Matt Cater - I'm pretty sure that's where our love interest will be coming from. Basically in the aftermath of the murder scene, the detectives attempt to interview everyone, but the Russian diplomat claims diplomatic immunity and storms off, while Aunt Lucy apparently takes her bedroom in hysterics. Rowan feels alone and bewildered, prompting Matt to sit down next to her, where he reveals more of the complicated social dynamics that you've begun to tap into. He basically says that Rowan has a led a fairly sheltered life, and life with her aunt is much more complicated, and thus may feel more comfortable back in her own environment. This was not something our dear Rowan took to kindly - our lady has been engaged, been to parties and traveled, and will not be spoken to in such a manner! They make up however, when Matt agrees to take her to the Tibetan museum the next day. Matt also reveals that there Reshevsky and Lucy are an item, and that he is only interested in her aunt as a friend, and professionally (what on earth he does however, is still beyond me. Is he a greenhouse specialist???).

Oh, and I was really quite excited when I thought I had spotted a spelling mistake that neither our writer, editor nor the owner of the blue pen, was able to catch. But it turned out it was merely the difference between the British and American spelling of 'stor(e)y' - as referring to the horizontal section of a building.

Monday, June 15, 2009

part 4 (indexical traces and a murder)

Hello hello.

So, I'm alive..and apparently a raging hypochondriac. No more twitching symptoms or near-fainting episodes since.

Caren's still in Basel, so things are fairly low key here. I'm actually feeling rather balanced and positive despite it being Tuesday morning. I got your text last night instructing me to "rage against the dying of the light.." It brought back great memories of our take-back-Monday-night solidarity.

Keen observation about the blue edits...I think you're right...we have our first indexical trace of our young author combing back over her writing. I was also struck by how superficial the edits are; it seems to me this is a very late draft. Though I'm still due to produce my first major novel, and have never edited one myself, I assume early drafts of even the most fastidious writer's manuscripts end up in a tangle of arrows and margin notes. This one is really clean. I'm also wondering what that mark is that the editor puts whenever Ms. Lamb uses a double dash --. My Brooklyn Rail edits are all done within the program. I don't think I've seen red pen-style correction since gradeschool. Isn't it amazing how different everything is with computer programs? We find a manuscript with real writing on it and it's like we've entered in a cave in Lascaux, France...

You keep getting setting details about Staten Island? I haven't read anything yet that would indicate a specific place or time, other than the reference to the "Eastern Seaboard" and something about "modernism" that would place it in after 1900 pretty much. So with the bridge being build it would have to be post WWII, pre 196-something. Staten Island sure has changed, it seems. I might have overlooked some setting details, though. I tend to read for theme. Our project is actually doing wonders for my comprehentsion from having to sort through all the minutiae.

There I go blabbity blabbity, talking about nonsense, while I withhold the bombshell that was dropped in section 4!!!

So, after dinner Rowan is whisked from the dining room into the salon by Mr. Reshevsky. He says in a very suggestive way that she could get "hurt" at Pleasant Plains Farm. What you sensed as Rowan's fondness for Cater was confirmed Reshevsky's warning that Aunt Lucy can be downright "ruthless" to those she dislikes and that Rowan might want to avoid making her jealous. Interestingly, the mishmash of styles (modernist mixed with colonial) in the estate - a detail offered in section one that I didn't think was important - was a gesture of sabatoge toward her husband, the "late" Mr. Dickson, who cared very much about the stylistic integrity of the colonial mansion.

Just when things were heating up, Chao came in to get jiggy on the koto, chilling the situation down a bit.

As he began his practice session, Rowan and Reshevsky left down the hall where aunt Lucy stood frowning in a doorway. As the three stood there, Mr and Mrs. Braithwaite brushed by on their way to Chao's recital. After a clamor and thud, (keep in mind Reshevsky, Lucy, Rowan and, it seems, the Braithwaites are all accounted for) Chao is found dead from an apparent ten-foot fall over the 1st floor balcony. Kind of a fragile man, I'd say.

Though there has been a death, probably a murder, I can't get the tone down. I thought it was some Agatha Christie "And then There were None" shenanigans, in that people-die-bloodlessly-and-now-we-have-a-cirme-to-solve way, but it seems that it could turn into something more macabre...or, it could go the other direction, the trauma turning into an armature from which to drape a love story. For all I know, It could be a book about aliens at this point, who knows.

All very intriguing.

You're up!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Part 3 (we meet the dinner guests and find out what consomme madrilene is)

Good to hear from you. Sorry to hear about the insanity of your twitching thumb and the pins & needles. I'm flattered by the idea that my emails can be a stand in for my voice, and for what you remember of me (although hopefully less grumpy and happier).

I must admit, I'm at a loss as to what genre I'm reading too - I'm inclined to believe it will end up being some sort of mildly tawdry, semi-erotic work of fiction. Thanks for informing me that Rowan is the protagonist's name. I have no clue who this Rowan Martin is, who she's supposed to be named after; the only Rowan I know is the British comedian Rowan Atkinson, probably
best known in the US as Mr. Bean.

But! back to the story. We are introduced to her physical appearance - she's 5 ft 7, has long hair and has chosen a tasteful black paisley shift dress for dinner. And the dinner introduced us to a host of new characters: Matthew Cater who is blessed with a 'slightly crooked face' which he attributed to his mixed heritage of being Chinese (or a chinaman as he prefers to call himself) and Irish (and something about a drunken bar brawl, resulting cracked skull); a Colonel Braithwaite with his blue-haired wife Suze; a Russian diplomat named Semenov; and 'old Chao' a Buddhist wearing saffron robes.
I must admit, I was somewhat intrigued by what they had for dinner which included something called 'consomme madrilene', which thanks to Google, I was able to determine is:
The dinner conversation honestly seemed rather boring to me. I think i took a lunch break somewhere in between page 16 and 17. It was however interesting to be reminded of the fact that Staten island used to be much more isolated (the guests were bemoaning the construction of that 'awful bridge', see: The guests continued their slightly meaningless chit-chat, and through it, we find out Mr. Chao is a philosopher whom the aunt met at the Tibetan Museum on Staten Island, and that Rowan has finished college and is about to embark on her studies for her Master's in the fall. We also find out that Matt Cater (whom Rowan has taken a slight liking to) is leaving the next day for Toronto, after failing to convince the aunt that she should open her spare wing for research again. My section ends with the guests leaving for brandy and other post dinner activities, including a koto recital (whatever that is) by mr. chao.

My guess is that Matt Cater ends up stealing our dear Rowan's heart... and I'm still placing bets on there being some ridiculous sexualised encounter in the greenhouse.

Someone else though has entered the editing game - the writer uses a blue ballpoint pen and corrects occasioanally using capitals (perhaps i'm looking at Ms. Lamb's handwriting?). Let me know this continues through your section. I've become attached to the handwritten remarks.

PS. berlin was awesome - i'm posting photos on facebook now as we speak....

Friday, June 12, 2009

Part 2 (written with a twitching thumb and all about Rowan)

Dear Caroline,

It's great to hear from you! How was Berlin? Any lurid stories or great adventures to pass on?

As you can imagine, the psycho-social dynamics here are getting stranger by the day. I'm in employment purgatory. How do you motivate when you know it's all ending? And how does one simply languish when they have any amount of pride in what they do? Oh well, I'll file it away as great raw material...for what, I don't yet know.

Ok, now to the project. First, an observation about my reaction to receiving your email this morning. I initially anticipated having.... I just had the STRANGEST thing happen to me. My left arm went numb...not numb like anesthetized numb, but like pins and needles numb. It felt gimpy and half alive, and my thumb started twitching. Then a bunch of adrenaline flowed through my body and I couldn't tell if I was having a panic attack or if something was really happening. But I looked at my thumb and it was jiggling and thought, "this is NOT psychosomatic, because my eyes are watching my thumb wiggle!!"

....back to my thought: Initially, I anticipated your email arousing my curiosity about the Greenhouse, but, because of your two-week absence, and a general fondness (and probable withdrawal) from our morning conversations It's hard to separate your voice from your account of the story. It's like having your mother read to you at night, you know? Your text is freighted with all kinds of personal associations I didn't expect...

Well, before I die, I should tell you about the story:

My section brings the aunt's character into higher relief. It also lays out more about the protagonist, who we learn hasn't seen aunt Lucy in thirteen years and that this aunt is her last surviving relative. We also learn the protagonist's name - or I assume we do in this section because you wouldn't have avoided mentioning that it was ROWAN MARTIN, as in Rowan Martin's Laugh-In, a show that was at the height of its popularity when this manuscript was written. I've looked over the pages four times to make sure it's true. If and when we meet the author, we need to ask her about that.

The nuzzler, Count Nick Reshevsky (yes, "Count"), makes eyes at Rowan, who we learn looks a lot like her aging aunt. Reshevsky, it seems, is a bit of a hound dog, and his flirtations are completely within his character. After some more flirting and strangely Victorian banter, Lucy admits to having one of the "best (the editor changed it from "most-well known") greenhouses on the Eastern Seabord." Aunt Lucy then makes some disparaging remarks about Rowan's father, an archaeologist, that insult Rowan.

After a chapter break, Rowan is escorted upstairs to her room by a Ms. Chow, where she meets the maid, Millie, and reflects a bit before the scheduled 7 'oclock dinner in the dining room.

The aunt has a bit of a sinister twinge to her, but I can't tell if it's going in that direction or not. Reshevsky sounds like a very one-dimensional Jane Austen-like gentleman with a randy side. Other than that, I can't tell how I quite grasp the tone of the novel.

This is the first book I've ever read without having the slightest clue about what genre it fits into. It really causes you to look at details more closely, doesn't it? I guess it'll have to be as I assume there are no Cliff's Notes for it.

Over and out,

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Part 1 - And so we commence....

Dear Shane,

And so we commence this project. Was suddenly gripped by a wave of anxiety this morning about writing the initial email, but that could have been due to the insane sleep (ahem... non-sleep) schedule that I maintained during my time in Berlin.

I realized that along with Antonia Lamb, we will be reading Eileen Dent of the Editorial department at Pyramid Publication. Her red pen scrawls are usually matter-of-fact, but occasionally she'll punctuate one of the type written lines with a little smiley face. Do I choose to ignore the words she has crossed out? Of course not, otherwise why else did I end up smirking at the spelling mistakes made (for christsakes... 'Mecican'??).

I digress - the point is to convey pages 1 through 5 to you, not give you a breakdown on the significance of crossed out text, and my ramblings on Eileen's handwriting. Told in the first person, we're introduced to this young lady as she stands in front of her mysterious aunt Lucy, who is her official guardian, now that both her parents have died (in some unnamed tragic accident in Mexico, or rather 'Mecico'). Our narrator battles with feelings of apprehension and guilt, while standing outside her aunt's farm house in Staten Island, a borough I previously had thought was only inhabited by drivers of giant SUV's, all with vanity plates with almost-clever contractions.

The remainder of the four pages introduces us to a host of characters; from the laconic and inscrutable Chinese secretary (I was secretly hoping for a bombastic and verbose Chinese secretary, but oh well...I can't have it all) who opens the door, to the cleaning lady (also a fellow member of my ethnic group; her 10 words didn't allow anything other than a cursory insight into her character, except for the fact that she serves tea and smiles).

Our protagonist's (I just spent a couple of minutes on g-chat debating the use of the term protagonist, versus raconteur, or narrator) unease and discomfort comes to a head when she finds herself suddenly gripped by a pair of masculine hands and nuzzled (yes, nuzzled). One spilt drink and a stained rug later, it appears that this is merely a case of mistaken identity. Her back and neck resemble her aunt's, apparently, according to this mysterious goateed man.

And just as I am about to be introduced to the aunt (only the dulcet tones of her voice have so far made an appearance), my page ends, leaving it up to you to continue.