Month: January 2013

The Moors

The MoorsIn The Moors, Ben Marcus offers an intensely close-up vision of a lonely man who’s falling apart. Thomas — or “Thomas the Dead,” as the protagonist has begun to think of himself — rises from his desk for a cup of coffee only to find himself in what would be, for anyone else, the mildly awkward position of heading to the break room at the same time as an attractive female colleague. For Thomas, however, the awkwardness is magnified by an obsessive nature and a sharp break with reality. Following closely in his colleague’s wake, Thomas’s mind races with a myriad of loosely connected, frequently violent thoughts and images. Haunted by images of his bed-ridden wife and his socially awkward young son, Thomas entertains and abandons thoughts of a sexual encounter with the colleague whose name he can’t quite recall, all the while struggling desperately to maintain his tenuous grip on reality. Reminiscent of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground and the nightmarish impersonal landscapes of Franz Kafka’s fiction — with a hint, perhaps, of the perverse intellectual meanderings of Douglas Adams — The Moors explores loneliness and mental deterioration in painful yet poetic detail.

All net proceeds from sales of The Moors benefit The Friend Memorial Library.

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Enchanted Britain

Enchanted Britain CoverAs its title suggests, Traci Law’s gorgeous new book of photography, Enchanted Britain: A Photographic Journey, takes readers on a magical tour of the land that brought us such wonders as The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. I recently had a chance to chat with Traci about the book and the magical (yet real!) landmarks that she captures in its pages.

What drew you to Britain for this project?

I have always been drawn to the myths and beauty of Britain.  At the risk of sounding cliché, there’s just something very magical about it with all the castle ruins scattered about, the ancient and medieval buildings and the scenery.  Over the years I’ve built up a vast collection of images from Scotland, England and Wales and wanted a way to share them with people beyond art shows.

In producing the prints for this book, you used a process called HDR or High Dynamic Range imaging, which gives each photograph the appearance of a painting or a dreamscape. What was behind this decision, and what was involved in the process?

Wells Cathedral (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

Wells Cathedral (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

HDR is a process that some photographers love and some photographers loathe. It’s definitely a different look from what we’re used to seeing in photographs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. For Enchanted Britain there were many images that this process simply did not work well.  However, I decided to use all HDR images to continue with the idea of the magic and enchantment of Britain.  Personally, I love the look it gives.  For some images, like Kilchurn Castle in Scotland, it gives a softer feel whereas for other images, such as the Chapter House stairs in Wells Cathedral, it gives an eerie, mysterious look.

On average it can take twenty minutes to nearly an hour per image to get the look just right. I use three different programs to achieve the perfect look for the subject and image. Of course, it is important to have a good original image to start with.  HDR can change a look but it can’t perform miracles.

In your “other lives,” you’ve worked on archaeological digs and have been the host of Morbid Curiosity TV, a web series exploring the relationship between history and paranormal phenomena. How did your other interests influence your work on Enchanted Britain

It was through archaeology that I was accepted to work on a project at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in England and it was there that I was able to explore more of the true England and appreciate their history on my own.  I’ve always been interested in history and the medieval period so everything managed to fall into place nicely.  A few years later I went back and drove around the United Kingdom without really having a plan other than to photograph anything and everything.  Some of the places I visited I had heard of from my days in the paranormal field, such as Rosslyn Chapel, but it was their history that drew me to visit.

I suppose, ultimately, it was my deep appreciation of history and respect of people and places that really influenced the images I chose for the book as well as influences how I see things when photographing in general.

Thanks, Traci, for an enchanting conversation!

Kilchurn Castle (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

Kilchurn Castle (Copyright 2013 Traci Law)

Bear Season

BearSeason_Cover_(SmV_Dec20)Let me say right off the bat that I loved reading Bear Season. It’s the story of a young first-generation Polish-American boy named Chester who’s struggling to grow up without a father in 1950s Detroit. The only male role model he has is an alcoholic uncle who regales him with tales of the preternaturally talented bear who served with his unit a decade earlier in World War II. Teetering on the verge of disbelief in the bear and the mythology surrounding it, Chester embarks on a road trip with his uncle in an effort to help him make peace with his painful, war-torn past. What follows is a heartfelt tale that works both as a grail quest and a coming of age story highlighting the power of storytelling and exploring the relationship between the past and the ever-moving present.

Throughout the novel, author Bernie Hafeli demonstrates both a strong instinct for storytelling and a keen understanding of the human heart. His eleven-year-old protagonist offers the perfect balance of innocence and experience — embarrassed yet protective as he is with respect to his Polish heritage and his uncle’s outlandish tales, torn as he is between wishing to see the world and longing for the comforts of home, and ambivalent as he is about lying to his mother to protect his drunken uncle from her unrelenting distrust. The world from Chester’s perspective is full of contradictions, and much of the narrative explores the ways in which the young protagonist learns how to deal with them on his way to adulthood. Life, it turns out, rarely presents cut-and-dried answers to any of our questions, so the best we can do is keep moving forward with the stories that allow us to make sense of the chaos.

Given its title and the centrality of a bear to the novel’s plot, it’s probably no surprise that Bear Season brought to mind the works of John Irving, whose own fascination with bears has made novels like Setting Free the Bears, Hotel New Hampshire, and Last Night in Twisted River (among others) so memorable. Additionally, the novel’s focus on young people of relatively recent Eastern European extraction brought to mind Daniel Torday’s The Sensualist, a gem from last year published by Nouvella Books. Yet Bernie Hafeli ultimately writes in a voice all his own — one, needless to say, that I hope to hear more from. All told, a moving, playful, and memorable novel.

For a sample of Bernie Hafeli’s work, check out his short story, “Don’t Ask,” at Ampersand Review!

Peach

peach-300Brief but thoroughly engaging, Peach by Joanne Green is the story of a young high school student struggling to come of age in the late 1960s while simultaneously working through the horror of what she uneasily calls “a rape thing.” What makes this story especially memorable is the voice of its narrator, Peach Sweeney. Growing up in an age of rapidly changing attitudes toward sex, drugs, and politics, Peach comes off as a latter-day female Holden Caulfield as she longs to march on Washington DC but gets stuck attending a button-down prom with a distant cousin. Also note worthy are Peach’s pithy turns of phrase. Her cousin’s old Thunderbird, for example, is described as a “four-wheeled saddle shoe,” while all of the boys at the prom “look like Easter eggs” and their dates “like toaster dolls.” Yet as witty as Peach is, the novel proceeds with the kind of sad, loving gravitas that naturally attends the loss of youth and coming of age. The result is a tiny book that is as charming as it is moving.