Crime Pays

We launched the new store this week!! More info about it here.

Getting it up and running in time for the Christmas deadlines has made sleep a low priority (especially with that last minute realization of needing to learn and understand the tax laws of the European Union the minute before I launched).

Clip below is a good example of where my mind’s at right now.


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Poem of the Day: Thanksgiving for Two

The adults we call our children will not be arriving
with their children in tow for Thanksgiving.
We must make our feast ourselves,
slice our half-ham, indulge, fill our plates,
potatoes and green beans
carried to our table near the window.
We are the feast, plenty of years,
arguments. I’m thinking the whole bundle of it
rolls out like a white tablecloth. We wanted
to be good company for one another.
Little did we know that first picnic
how this would go. Your hair was thick,
mine long and easy; we climbed a bluff
to look over a storybook plain. We chose
our spot as high as we could, to see
the river and the checkerboard fields.
What we didn’t see was this day, in
our pajamas if we want to,
wrinkled hands strong, wine
in juice glasses, toasting
whatever’s next,
the decades of side-by-side,
our great good luck.
Poem copyright ©2014 by Marjorie Saiser, “Thanksgiving for Two,” (2014). Poem reprinted by permission of Marjorie Saiser.

Marjorie Saiser

Biography
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A Literary Tourist’s Fruitless Search for the Canadian Dissident Novel

You are a tourist to Canada in the season of book awards and writers’ festivals.  You have timed it this way.  You are a literary tourist, or a book lover, at least.  The kind of traveller who seeks out immersive cultural experiences.  Wherever you go, you do your homework.  It is a trip to Anglophone Canada, so you have brushed up on your English (which was pretty good to begin with).  You study maps.  You read up on the history, current events, and controversies.  And now you will go deeper.  You are looking for literature in situ.  You will talk with some Canadian readers, meet some Canadian authors, perhaps.  You will ask big questions and really get inside the soul of this country.

For the most part you get what you came for.  You find some good reads.  Books you will take home and really savor.  You will get inside the Canadian experience, for sure.  You find an enticing rural family saga.  Some nice books about identity—quite a few.  And some of the anxieties-of-the-bourgeoisie style books you find so charming.  They seem beautifully written, and you look forward to making time for all of them.  So you are satisfied—but not satiated.  There is something else you are looking for.  Another kind of story, by another kind of author.  A dissident novel, by a dissident author.  An overt challenge to complacency—or to the state, even.

coverAll throughout this journey you have found it hard not to think of a particular novel—not the one you are seeking, but one that serves as analogue for your experience in Canada.  And it isn’t even a Canadian novel, perhaps not even one that could be written by a Canadian—as you have lately, tentatively, concluded.  Time and time again, you are reminded of Event Factory, by the American author Renee Gladman.  It is a strange and challenging book, and you think of it because it seems to depict the situation in which you find yourself as a literary tourist.

Event Factory takes place in the fictional city of Ravicka, and its protagonist—just like you—is a visitor from afar, with a goal to immerse herself in the local culture.  Like you, she has studied the host society and language and is ready to converse with the locals.  But immersion proves elusive.  Among a variety of other things, she is seeking—just like you—an important text and its author.  It is not, in her case, a dissident text, but a book nonetheless.  And like the book you seek, it proves elusive.  Are the locals being evasive in response to her enquiries?  Or is it that she misses some component of the language to make her desires understood?  It is not clear which.

Your trip to Canada feels much the same way.  You have asked for, but still not found, your dissident novel by a dissident author.  You are not sure why.  Certain events in this country—contentions, protests, and catastrophes of the past decade—have not escaped your notice.  But they seem not to have found their way into the literature; or rather, they haven’t found their way into the novels you see on short lists or book festival display tables, anyway.  What you are looking for is something edgy.  Something from the counterculture.  About someone blocking a pipeline through unceded territory, maybe.  From anyone who writes in opposition to power, or writes about people who take chances.  You ask around, and a few suggestions come up—quite a few, actually.  They are all novels by Canadian authors, to be sure.  But they are about people taking chances in other countries.  No—that’s not what you’re looking for, you say.  You want books about people taking chances in this country.  In Canada.  You are directed to some nonfiction titles, but that’s not what you want, either.  You say it has to be a novel.  A creatively imagined, perhaps contrarian response to whatever turmoil has happened in this country.

You try to be as specific as possible.  You would be happy with some critical satire, at least.  Each country surely must have its satirists.  A Kurt Vonnegut, or a Michel Houellebecq—someone taking liberties at the expense of his own countrymen.  Vonnegut gets some understanding nods, but it seems few have heard of Houellebecq.  So you tell your Canadian interlocutors that even an earnest, disgruntled Marxist will do.  Doesn’t every nation have one of those?  A Takiji Kobayashi, for example.  Someone taking on their own society in their own present age—as Kobayashi did, a lone voice against Japan’s paramilitary intelligence service.  Alas, no one has heard of Kobayashi.  It is hard to convey a common point of reference.

Eventually you find a bookseller advertising arcane knowledge of even the most obscure titles, au courant of the contemporary novel.  By this point you are desperate, so you spill your guts.  You know what’s been going on in this country, you say.  You have been following events.  That man, you say.  That last prime minister.  The one who wanted to sabotage all the climate negotiations.  Yes, she knows about him.  And the new one, who lobbied to send the oil down south.  She knows about him, too.  And that day—the day when 900 protesters were jailed in a single scoop.  And the people who turned off the pipeline valves.  The grandmother who went to jail.  Those people up north—First Nations people—the ones crammed into shacks who can’t get clean drinking water.  These are all dramatic stories, are they not?  Surely they must have made their way into Canada’s novels.

The bookseller hears you out, but remains silent.  She looks pensive, but you can’t read in what way.  Perhaps she is thinking about a book.  Or perhaps she is insulted that all you seem interested in is Canada’s dirty laundry.  So you tell her you like that other stuff, too—the family sagas, the identity stories, the midlife crisis stories.  It’s all great stuff, you say.  But you want to see the other side of Canada, too—through another kind of Canadian novel.  The dissident novel.  Perhaps, you venture, there could be a Canadian Dostoyevsky.  A political risk taker.  You tell her you imagine there must be at least one Canadian novelist like that.  There must be someone like that right now, all things considered.

The bookseller maintains her reticence, and finally you say this: “I am a professor of dissident literature.”  It is a lie, but how else can you encourage her to bring forth the novel you desire?  “My interest is purely academic,” you say.  “In every country I visit, I seek out dissident novels, dissident writers.  That is all.  I have no political motive.  Simply, I wish to return home with a research sample—with an example of the dissident Canadian novel.  Or having had a conversation with a dissident Canadian novelist.”  The bookseller asks whether, because you mentioned Dostoyevsky, you would like a crime novel.  And so you leave her shop empty-handed.  And soon you leave Canada, too—on your scheduled return flight home.

Perhaps if you had had more time, you think, you might have found that obscure, dissident novel.  And you wonder if it was some fault of your English—your lack of facility with the Canadian dialect—that prevented you from finding it.  Or was it that the Canadians you met were being evasive?  Had you insulted their national pride by asking for some contrarian—perhaps, in their eyes, “anti-Canadian”—literature?  Or could it be that no such book, that no such author exists in Canada?  It would be incredible, you think, that such a thing could be true.  It would be very strange, indeed.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The post A Literary Tourist’s Fruitless Search for the Canadian Dissident Novel appeared first on The Millions.

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Poem of the Day: Wildpeace

Not the peace of a cease-fire,
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
but rather
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
A peace
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds—
who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)
Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.
Yehuda Amichai, “Wildpeace” from Selected Poetry. Copyright © 1996 by Yehuda Amichai. Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.

Source: Selected Poetry(University of California Press, 1986)

Yehuda Amichai

Biography
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Money Makers [EPISODE]

There’s a scene in the buddy cop movie Rush Hour 2, starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, that takes place in a crowded Las Vegas casino. After some tense action, a small bomb goes off near one of the roulette tables and money flies everywhere.

A company named ISS Props had provided the money for that scene (and several others) to the filmmakers. The fake money amounted to nearly a billion dollars in fake bills — and the company was surprised when one day, during the filming, two men from the Secret Service showed up to their office. The Secret Service was there because some of the fake cash had gone missing from the set and had started turning up on the Las Vegas strip. CEO of ISS Props, Gregg Bilson Jr., was now facing a serious charge: counterfeiting.

The U.S. has strict penalties for counterfeiting that can be traced back to the 1860s. Around the time of the Civil War, there was a lot of counterfeit money circulating through the country. The federal government needed to assure faith in its currency, so it got serious about cracking down on counterfeit bills. All reproductions of U.S currency became illegal, including photographs of money.

In 1865, a new enforcement agency was formed to help deal with the counterfeiting problem: the Secret Service. That agency is now part of the Department of Homeland Security and is generally associated with protecting leaders and their families. But in the beginning, they were part of the Treasury Department, and their only job was to fight counterfeiting.

The ban on any photographic representation of money was in place for about a century, and this created a problem for people who worked in visual media, which came to include film.

In the early days of cinema, when money was needed in a film, producers often used Mexican pesos. After the Mexican revolution ended (around 1920), a bunch of regional Mexican money that had been created during the revolution lost value and was sold for cheap.

El Banco del estado de Chihuahua banknote via the Dorothy Sloan auction website

The notes from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, where Pancho Villa held power, were some of the most widely used in film. Filmmakers weren’t really trying to pass them off as American dollars — it was just all they had to work with, and they assumed audiences either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care.

In the second half of the 20th century, the government began relaxing restrictions on the rules around photographing currency and it’s now legal to show real money in film. Using real money is great for scenes where you only need to show a small amount in a close-up shot. But for scenes where you need a lot of visible cash, it can be too risky. For those kinds of scenes, fake money is often preferred.

Prop $100 bills with ‘Motion Picture Use Only’ – prop money images via RJR Props

It’s now also legal to make reproductions of U.S. currency for use in film, but there isn’t a lot of clarity about how “real” fake money is allowed to look. Trent Everett, who oversees counterfeit operations at the Secret Service, says “it depends. It’s very subjective. If it’s the same size as a current U.S. currency note and it’s made in the likeness of our U.S. currency, then we view it as counterfeit.”

Over the years, prop money in movies has begun to look more and more like actual money. Some companies did (and still do) turn out bills that run afoul of the law, because prop money that passes muster for the Secret Service can look too fake when you see it on screen.

Some people make bills that are the same size as real money, but with one or two small design changes — it might say “In Dog We Trust” instead of “In God We Trust,” or have Benjamin Franklin making a weird face, or be stamped with a small disclaimer. All of these would probably unacceptable to the Secret Service.

Gregg Bilson’s bills for Rush Hour 2 featured many small differences setting them apart from the real things, but they were still too close to reality for the Secret Service. Bilson had to turn over all of this prop money to be destroyed. They also confiscated and destroyed all the electronic files used in creating the fake money.

Bilson lost a lot of money — not just fake money, but the real money it took to produce the fake money. Bilson’s losses were in excess of $100,000, but he did not face any other penalties or jail time.

Fake movie money isn’t just leaking out of movie sets — It’s being sold on the internet on sites like Amazon.com, where anybody can purchase it. These fakes can look surprisingly realistic, even relatively close up.

Given how difficult it is to make money that looks real, but not too real, it’s hard to imagine who still wants to be in the business of creating and supplying fake money for the movies.

Prop money stacks via RJR Props

But there are a few people still doing it, including RJ Rappaport, president of RJR Props, which serves the entertainment and commercial advertising sectors. RJ’s warehouse is full of fake devices used by television and film productions, including futuristic-looking machines with lots of knobs and buttons and an entire room dedicated to prop money — palettes and briefcases of money plus rolls of cash.

Prop $10 bills with ‘Motion Picture Use Only’ – prop money images via RJR Props

Rappaport says it took three years of back-and-forth with the Secret Service to come up with a design for prop money that the feds felt comfortable with. That kind of guidance isn’t something they normally provide, but Rappaport managed to finagle an exception.

Prop money in Let’s Be Cops scene via RJR Props

Rappaport notes that fake money is such a hassle that there’s really no real money in it, so to speak — “It’s not a big money maker, no joke intended.” But he provides it to clients, knowing they’re going to come back for other props that will earn a profit.

TV and movies are full of characters who come across suitcases full of cash. It’s a fun plot device—what will the characters do with all this easy money? What would it be like to hold it all? But behind all this cash is someone like RJ Rappaport who has been through a meticulous design process and years of back and forth with the Secret Service. Because for the film producers, there’s just no such thing as easy money.

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A passion for ballet leads to romance in “Cantique,” a novel by Joanna Marsh

Colette Larson, the twentysomething lead in Joanna Marsh’s debut novel, Cantique, is like so many intelligent and multi-faceted young women these days. While her day job is fulfilling financially and occasionally intellectually, there is a creative spark missing, one that she only finds when she’s in ballet class. Not a professional dancer, Colette nevertheless takes her classes as seriously as she does anything else in her life. She studies dance, knows how to take care of herself to best perform in class, and gives it her all when she is there.

Her home life is satisfying, if a bit deficient in the romance department. She ends her days watching documentaries and eating takeout with her roommate and fellow dancer, Sammy, and her cat Garcon. Ballet offers her a physical and emotional lift and gives life to her creative spirit.

Colette’s life takes a turn for the dramatic when she is laid off from her job as an administrative assistant for a clothing company – a job she had hoped would eventually lead to a career as a designer. While out for a run, she spots a “help wanted” sign in a small hardware store. Although she is hardly cut out for screwdriver sales, she has also been without work for a month and is beginning to feel indebted to Sammy. She halfheartedly applies and is shocked when she is hired.

The Ballet, courtesy Isabel, CC license

Tempe’s staff is a charming mix of small-town personalities and Colette is soon baking them treats and admitting that this temporary gig might be okay for a little while longer – especially when she meets the son of Tempe’s owner. James just happens to be one of the company members of the Westmoreland Ballet where she takes class. Handsome and talented, he is instantly smitten when he meets Colette at his father’s store.

Colette can’t believe her good fortune: could this be real?

The plot of Cantique evokes the story of many classical ballets we see on stage: an unlikely couple meet and fall in love but are separated by circumstance or misunderstanding. The ballets with happy endings (e.g. “Sleeping Beauty” or “Coppelia”) bring our couple together again while the darker ones (e.g. “Giselle” or “Swan Lake”) do not.

Ballerina, courtesy Lia Kapelke, CC license

James and Colette are our stand-ins for the handsome prince who finds his gorgeous peasant in a country shop. Their love blooms but then a real princess steps in and claims the prince for herself; in this case, Alex the stunning ballerina who is James’ partner. As mature as Colette considers herself to be, she becomes jealous at the intimacy of the two partners and of Alex’s obvious interest in James.

 

Which ending will our lovers have? Which ballet will Cantique give us?

The novel is more than a simple love story, however. Along the way, Colette finds her own path to creative fulfillment, one that doesn’t necessarily involve James. It’s a journey of self-discovery and a tale that reminds us to pursue our passions.

As Colette cries to James, “Do you know what it’s like to be so passionate about something that you can do absolutely nothing with?” His response is, perhaps, the author’s own philosophy. “Obviously, God gave you this passion for a reason,” he declared. “Something will come of it.” (p.136)

Cantique is suitable for a broad range of readers, young adult and up, dancers and non-dancers. Certainly many adult dancers, much like my own students, could see themselves in Colette’s story. The novel may be purchased here.

Courtesy of the author

About the author:

Joanna Marsh is a professional librarian, archivist, and recreational dancers based in Kansas City. She holds an MLS degree from Emporia State University and a BA in Humanities from Northwest Missouri State University. Cantique is her first novel. For more information, visit joannamarsh.com.

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Grand Opening!

Grand Opening!

CHA-CHING

We finally have our very own store!

But wait, you ask, didn’t you already have a store? Well yes technically, but it isn’t until now that we REALLY have one to ourselves. One where I can have the store just as I want it to be (or as far as my programming skills let me) without all the bulk that typically comes with those middle-men stores. It will also serve as the foundation for allowing new types of merch in the future (*cough* book?).

So check it out, I’d love to know what you think! If you have any suggestions or questions, feel free to send me a message at [email protected] or any of my social media channels.

Also if you’re thinking about Christmas, check out this handy page for Christmas deadlines (sorry if it’s already too late for your country but hey everyone loves a special post-Christmas present, they never expect it!).

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