Thursday, February 27, 2014

Check out this cool #Shakespeare insult kit

... thou filthy-worsted-stocking, one-trunk-inheriting knave.

What is happening in #Syria is not cool.

This image of the apocalyptic Syrian collapse reminded me of the film CHILDREN OF MEN. No, that's not a good thing.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lolita (and its greatest interpreter)

I think this is my fourth time through Nabokov's masterpiece, and dammit, it gets better every time.

That's my way, though, obsessing on beloved books. It may be absurd, given the many great books I haven't read, but that's how I'm wired.

They tried to make a movie of LOLITA in '97, which kind of worked and kind of didn't, and lost tons of money. Before that, Edward Albee tried to write a stage play based on the novel, which didn't work. This may not be the kind of book that lends itself to direct adaptation. Nabokov's own nod-and-a-wink indirect adaptation, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is a lot more fun, in part because it doesn't even pretend to hit all the same notes the novel does. The 1997 film, though, is worth noting here because it features Jeremy Irons in the role of Humbert Humbert. Irons's fine work in that film led to his selection as the reader for the official audiobook, and that audiobook is what I want to talk about.

Jeremy Irons's performance in this unabridged recording of the novel is astonishing, something that will outlive all of us. I just can't stop coming back to it. Irons captures all the black humor, all the subtle transitions, all the fierce intelligence, all the literary references, all the agony, all the ardor, all the self-loathing, all the frustration with destiny. He nails all of it. It's all here. The substantial research and preparatory work he must have done for the film pays off here in a much, much greater achievement. We may not have a two-hour version of this that works, but we certainly have an eleven-hour version that works, and somewhere the author is smiling.

There will always be people who hate LOLITA despite not having read it. Whether you have read the book or not, whether you are willing to admit this is an essential book or not, I can promise you that you will not regret listening to this performance. You'll hear a great actor, at the top of his game, nailing all the roles and all the nuances of one of the greatest novels ever written.

Listen to the opening by clicking the link below.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Eight Writing Commandments

I've started work on the new novel FREED, which is going to focus on two peoples exiled in their own land, the San Franciscan Counterculturalists and the Palestinians. Feels very strange, but also a little liberating, to be wandering new terrain. But I had to, otherwise I would be running afoul of the Eight Writing Commandments below, composed by Ajay Ohri.

Now that I've sent backup files of +JIHADI (novel by Brandon Toropov) off to +Richard Gibney and +Adella Wright while Elite Eyeballs peruse it, I had to move on.  (It was time to stop tweaking anyway.) In keeping with 4) below, I had to start on something new. Either microfiction or the new book. Having done a few microfiction pieces already, I jumped in on the new Big Novel. 1100 words in, who knows how many of them I'll end up using.

If you're a writer, you could do worse than to review these eight principles daily and make a personal commitment live up to them. I got at least one book done that way.
No, I'm not ready to post anything from FREED yet. The excerpt from my finished novel JIHADI can be found here.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

"What's your novel about?"

It took me at least four years to come up with a comprehensible one-sentence answer to this question. After one sentence, I start sputtering again. Need to work on that.

Now it's done, or at least as done as these things get in my world, and under inspection by Elite Eyeballs. You can't buy it, or read it, but you can sneak a glimpse at an excerpt here.

On to occasional microfiction, and the new novel, FREED.

#MLK Day, Trump, and the incomplete national conversation

The friction that you still get from some people when you stand up for the non-negotiable-ness of the Martin Luther King holiday points to an interesting, incomplete national conversation. Here is a recent post from someone on Twitter reflecting the kind of friction I'm talking about:

It's my experience that most of these people -- I've talked to more than my share of them over the years -- continue to think that this is a holiday for black people, which is our problem.

Actually, I could understand someone opposing the idea of taking a day off in honor of one ethnic group, because that's a deep-stupid idea. You would have to follow it up with Serbo-Croatian-American Day, or whatever. To the extent that Columbus Day is perceived to celebrate Italian-Americans, it's a deep-stupid idea. (It's a deep-stupid idea in other ways, but that's another rant for another day.) And that's what a lot of people seem to think the King holiday is for: honoring black people. "Giving" them something.

That's false. It's also a distraction. A lot of the people who spread this idea know full well that that's not the point. They know, in their hearts, that this is really not what we should be talking about, nearly four decades after this great man's death. 

Our incomplete conversation about the equality of citizenship in America continues every year, on this holiday. 

Today is the chance we get, once a year, to celebrate ALL the moments of American history where we said, "Look, around here, we are equal citizens of one nation, not just in theory but in fact. And we are no longer putting up with any bullshit to the contrary."

Period. No debate. No wiggle room.

There are no second-class citizens in this country. You have to go to another country if you want that kind of life. 

Martin Luther King Day dares us to open that conversation. Martin Luther King Day says, "Listen up. We don't care how comfortable or familiar it may feel to think about certain classes of people as being inherently superior to others. We tried that. It doesn't work. We rejected it. We don't care how many traditions or secret societies or jokes you've gotten used to over the years. We chose, as a people, to reject all that nonsense, so get off it, and if you've got a problem with getting off it, here's a day off to think about it."

Personally, I think this should be a MANDATORY holiday for EVERYONE: public sector, private sector, everything in-between sector. If you've got an objection to taking a day off to celebrate diversity, you're the person who needs this holiday the most.

I say all this not because I have some special love for African-Americans as a group, but because this conclusion is central to modern citizenship in this country. 

This is something we figured out on a cultural level, following significant trauma, thanks to Dr. King's life's work and his sacrifice. 

So. You can't hate the Irish, or the Jews, or the Japanese, or the Muslims, or the blacks, or any other group, and claim to be in the mainstream anymore around here. That's what this day celebrates. That's what we talk about today. Because we need to.

That conversation is relevant to black people, yes, but it's just as relevant to the descendants of the Japanese who got stuck in concentration camps in World War II, and to Jews who still fight anti-Semitism. In fact, it's relevant to everyone in the entire country, specifically including immigrants and Muslims, the ones set up now by certain fascist demagogues as the occupants of the lowest spot on the American totem pole. 

This holiday says it's not cool to hate on those groups. It's not cool to single them out. It's not cool to blame them for the country's problems. And it's not American. So cut it out.

The fact that the holiday still draws lots of sneers and grumbling and overt opposition online tells me that this conversation is relevant all year long. But somehow we manage to step over it. Today, though, there's no stepping over it.

Sometimes societies have a little growing up to do. We are still growing up in America. This ongoing, once-a-year conversation matters because it can help us to grow up. 

Yusuf Toropov is the author of the novel JIHADI: A LOVE STORY.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Paul McCartney shows me how to mash a proper batch of potatoes

You thought I was kidding, eh? You thought this was some obscure pop-culture reference, under which "Paul McCartney" or "mash" or "potatoes" actually signified something else, something far less interesting, so you don't actually get to SEE Paul McCartney showing how to mash a proper batch of potatoes, right?

Wrong-o, Mary Lou. Here is Macca showing you, me, everybody enrolled in Mrs. Salem's English Class back at Tamalpais High School, circa 1979, and everybody everywhere else for that matter, how to do the Trick What Ought to Be Done, potato-wise.

I pause only to point out that potatoes, onions, and Paul McCartney all happen (!) to figure in my novel JIHADI, which see, see, and see again.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Yes, I really do have this #CaptainAmerica comic book

It figures prominently in my novel JIHADI. I remember reading it in early 1969. Reordered it, via eBay, in 2012 as a writing prompt for the novel. A dear friend restored.

Interesting to see all the Captain America merchandising in full swing now. The list of (Marvel, not DC) fixations I invested pocket money in back in the mid-to-late Sixties and early Seventies would include: Cap (he's just "Cap" if you're really into him), Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, The Silver Surfer, The Hulk, The X-Men, Captain Marvel, Thor, Dr. Strange, and the Black Panther. And two attempts at self-parody which I loved, Not Brand Ecch and Spoof, both of which vanished despite my patronage.

That was all hot stuff, back in the day. Nice to see some of it coming around again.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Where can I get a copy of #JIHADI?"

It warms my heart (and Paprika's) that this is becoming a FAQ.

Right now, you can't, unless you're somehow connected to my circle of beta readers. I'm sharing the manuscript with Elite Eyeballs, in pursuit of a contract with a traditional publisher. Stay tuned, though, and Paprika and I will update you on the book's progress through the wilderness.

In the meantime, an excerpt from Chapter One is available here.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Point to ponder for #Islamophobes

It makes about as much sense to fear and hate ISLAM (rather than individual Muslims) as it does to fear and hate COOKBOOKS (rather than Hannibal Lecter).

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


The question is not whether there are mobs in the street waving pitchforks, calling for our heads. I don't think there are likely to be mobs in the street.

What I resent is the fact that two idiots in Boston who kill three people "for Islam" make the danger music play for endless news cycles on Fox News. But one idiot who kills seventy-seven people in Norway "for Christianity" passes from the headlines in a week or so. The bias is systemic and sickening.

Those who point that out are talking more about a desperately dysfunctional, media-driven national culture, I think, than about any openly fascistic, xenophobic tendencies in the "everyday people" one encounters in public. Is it permitted to ask, though, whether the former can ever create the latter?
Click the photo for a sample chapter from my novel JIHADI.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman dies at 46 and I can only think of one film: SYNECHDOCHE, NEW YORK

Shocking news: #PhilipSeymourHoffman  has died. He will be missed. You'll be hearing a lot about him, but less than you should about SYNECHDOCHE, NEW YORK. One of the great performances of our time, scandalously underappreciated. We just lost a great talent, and if you ever want proof of that, watch this film twice.

"But though the ideas that drive 'Synecdoche, New York' are difficult and sometimes abstruse, the feelings it explores are clear and accessible. These include the anxiety of artistic creation, the fear of love and the dread of its loss, and the desperate sense that your life is rushing by faster than you can make sense of it. A sad story, yes, but fittingly for a movie bristling with paradoxes and conundrums, also extremely funny."  -- NEW YORK TIMES

This performance for the ages was one of the starting-points for my novel JIHADI.

En Attendant

So here is the deal. I have put six years into +JIHADI (novel by Brandon Toropov) and the beta reader feedback has been strongly positive. People have asked me where they can get it. Instead of self-publishing it, I have set it before Discerning Elite Eyes. Which means waiting.

The first chapter is here, though. You don't have to wait for that. Maybe I shouldn't say so out loud, but I'm proud of it. There are 99 more chapters. I'm proud of them, too. But everybody's going to have to wait. Just like I'm waiting.

In the meantime ... I'm not standing still. I'm taking notes on the new novel, whose working title is FREED.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

THE KILL #flashfiction

(The plan that has emerged: Weekly bursts of microfiction, copyrighted but open for inspection, as  +JIHADI (novel by Brandon Toropov) makes its phased, maddeningly slow tour of elite slush piles. A sample chapter for JIHADI can be found here. The piece below was chosen as one of the top four at +Siobhan Muir's site yesterday.)

"You have to bring the right tool for the kill." Not the inscription I would have chosen for the inside of a wedding ring, but indulging Emily was now my weakness.

She’d told me, weeks ago and in deference to my loathing of the outdoors, that it was all a metaphor, that engraving. The saying probably had some intricate family history, deriving from their various free-from survivalist competitions. Emily’s late father had made quite a name for himself in this field.

"A metaphor for what, exactly, dear?" I was whispering in her ear on the night of our rehearsal dinner, a little embarrassed at not having pressed the point earlier. Our courtship had been brief.

"WHAT's a metaphor for WHAT, Bookworm?" Emily’s green eyes gleamed. Her lean face was flushed, her tight red former-jockette-curls shorn nearly to baldness in anticipation of our journey to the banks of the Amazon. Insects or something.

"The engraving," I whispered.

"I said that was a METAPHOR?" Shouting over the music.


She laughed, again too loud.

"WHATEVER, BOOKWORM" she bellowed, and downed a half-glass of deep red wine.

Never seen her inebriated.

I took a deep breath, steadied the sudden trembling in my hands.

"What's the name of the hotel we'll be staying in, down in Colombia, dear?"

"WHAT hotel? Mm. Wait. I remember what it was a metaphor for. Sex. It was a metaphor for sex."

Her laugh rang out again, the laugh of a woman comfortable beneath the moon.
Copyright (c) 2014 Brandon Toropov, all rights reserved. Do not reproduce. You are welcome to link to this post.