My new novel, The Revisionists, is set in contemporary Washington and steeped in post-9/11 paranoia. One of the main characters, however, is a time traveler from the future. His job is to make sure that a horrible event ensues in Washington as dictated by History, in order to bring about his own Perfect Future. Which, of course, turns out to be not quite as perfect as he at first believes.
In writing the novel, I took a second look at some of the great dystopias that have graced the page and screen over the last few decades. It’s surprising how much fun it can be to read about and view the end of the world, or whatever it is that comes after. Some of my favorites:
–Cloud Atlasby David Mitchell. Like my own book, only a small part of this is set in the future, but that section is intricately connected to this complicated novel’s other storylines. In addition to some narratives set in the past, Mitchell tells a story about a clone/slave in what sounds like a futuristic Korea, where people are bred for certain tasks and resistance is futile. Then another storyline takes us even further into the future, to a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, where mankind has been reduced to an almost Neanderthal state after some horrific disaster. Spooky, thought-provoking stuff.
–Braziland 12 Monkeysby Terry Gilliam. Brazil might be the best dystopian film ever made, and certainly it has the scariest appearance ever by a former member of Monty Python (beware of Michael Palin’s cheery grin). Big Brother is everywhere in this film, and our hero is sucked into The System simply because his name is mistyped on a government file. And even though 12 Monkeys is mostly set in the present, the time traveler from the future is so terrified by the world to come that his fear permeates every scene. We don’t even need to see much of his time to be scared of it. Continue reading “My Seven Favorite Dystopias in Books and Film”→
East of downtown Mendoza, Maipú department has a huge concentration of wineries, many of them open for tours and tasting. Weekday tours are the rule, but several are open Saturday morning and a handful on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. The Grupo 10 No. 182 colectivos reach several of these from Mendoza’s main bus terminal; they are arranged according to distance from the capital. Public transportation is cheapest, but guided tours or hired remises can make logistics simpler — and safer than driving.
One of Mendoza’s largest wineries, dating from 1898, López is an industrial facility that grows 95 percent of its own grapes on 1,060 hectares near the Uco Valley town of Tupungato; 90 percent of its output is for domestic consumption, while 10 percent goes for export. Its diverse line includes cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, Sangiovese, pinot noir, chardonnay, chenin blanc, and semillón.
Hour-long guided tours, with fluent English-speaking guides, begin with a video and then cover the entire production process, from the arrival of the grapes to bottling and packaging, and end with a liberal tasting. On 48 hours’ advance notice, López arranges lunches or dinners for a minimum of four people, with unlimited wine. A new building, specifically for tours and tasting, has been under construction.
Bodegas López (Ozamis 375, General Gutiérrez, Maipú, tel. 0261/497-2406) is 13.5 kilometers from downtown Mendoza. Free of charge, tours take place hourly 9 a.m.–5 p.m. weekdays, hourly 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Saturday and holidays, and at other times by appointment only. English-language tours take place at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. weekdays and Saturday morning only.
Museo Nacional del Vino y la Vendimia
Seven blocks south of Bodegas López, the former Bodega Giol (Ozamis 1040) was once a major winery that has fallen into disrepair and awaits a major building project. Meanwhile, across the street to the south, the founding Gargantini-Giol family’s French Classic mansion is now the Museo Nacional del Vino y la Vendimia (Ozamis 914, tel. 0261/497-7763, email@example.com), offering a good historical summary of Maipú’s winemaking industry (guided tours US$0.25).
Unfortunately, when the province took over the winery for offices in the 1960s, it sold off most of the classic furnishings and painted over the original woodwork and zinc ceilings, but it has recently undergone a major renovation. Guided tours, with wine tasting, take place 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Monday–Saturday, 9 a.m.–3 p.m. Sunday.
Bodega La Rural
One of Mendoza’s largest wineries, with a capacity of 10.7 million liters and four vineyards scattered around the province, La Rural produces some of the country’s finest premium vintages in its Rutini line. On only 10 hectares (though it has vineyards elsewhere as well), its Maipú facility turns out red varietals including cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, and Syrah, as well as chardonnay and gewürztraminer. It is now owned by the Catena Zapata group but operates autonomously.
Dating from 1885, La Rural is also one of the most popular wineries for guided tours, partly because of its remarkable Museo del Vino, a wide-ranging collection of antique winemaking technology. The museum includes vehicles like tractors and trucks, plus horse carriages of many kinds, and also has a well-integrated first-rate tasting room and an art gallery.
Despite capable guides, tours can be disappointing — and excruciatingly slow — because La Rural’s popularity means groups as large as 50 people. Avoid holidays, in particular, and try to go early in the morning in hopes of joining a smaller group.
Bodega La Rural (Montecaseros 2625, Coquimbito, tel. 0261/497-2013) is open 9 a.m.–1 p.m. and 2–5 p.m. Monday–Saturday, closed Sunday and holidays.
Bodega Viña El Cerno
It’s tempting to call Viña El Cerno the anti–La Rural, as this tiny boutique winery’s annual production is fewer than 10,000 bottles each of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, Syrah, merlot, and chardonnay, plus some sparkling wines. Genuinely charming, its aged brick cavas hold barely a dozen visitors, but the guides are gracious and its ample tasting facility — guides also instruct guests how to go about it — is ideal.
Viña El Cerno (Moreno 631, Coquimbito, Maipú, tel. 0261/481-1567) is about seven kilometers south of La Rural on the same bus line. It’s open 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Monday–Saturday.
Bodega Familia Zuccardi
One of Mendoza’s biggest wineries, Zuccardi is a mass producer of fine wines for export as well as table wines for the domestic market. Well-organized tours allow visitors to taste its standards and even test varietals, such as pinot grigio and marselan, being produced in small batches only. English-speaking guides are readily available. If there’s any criticism, it’s that the winery itself is less architecturally striking than some newer competitors.
Zuccardi also hosts one of the local industry’s biggest events, mid-November’s Degustación Anual, where the company sets up a series of tents showcasing its diverse wines, including some of their experiments. For a modest fee, public admission gains the right to almost unlimited sampling, to the accompaniment of live music and other entertainment.
Bodega Familia Zuccardi(RP 36, Fray Luis Beltrán, Maipú, tel. 0261/421-0000) offers guided tours (US$4 pp) on a drop-in basis 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Saturday and 9:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Sunday. There are also specialized tours, such as a Wednesday cycling and tasting excursion through vineyards, and hot-air ballooning. As it’s one of the farthest wineries from downtown Mendoza, public transport is awkward, and a taxi costs around US$40 round-trip.
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There’s a great expression that people use in Brazil whenever they hear a story that seems too over-the-top to be true (which is surprisingly often in Brazil): “é coisa de novela.” (literal translation: “it’s something from a soap opera”).
“Coisa de novela” is not only a testament to the prevalence of soaps in Brazilian culture (novelas are broadcast every night, on all major channels, from Monday through Saturday), but it’s also a reflection of the fact that in Brazil, life often imitates soaps. One need only turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or eavesdrop on any lively bar conversation to confirm this veracity. Yet, for suds of the highest order, a story that was making the rounds this week – in the international as well as Brazilian media – takes the cake (or rather, the sauce).
What happened is a sordid tale containing all the ingredients of a classic soap: jealousy, intrigue, murder, and a surprising twist so unbelievably farfetched that it strains credibility.
What makes me especially proud is that the whole saga went down in my neck of the woods; in Pindobaçu, a small town in the interior of Bahia, some 250 miles from my adopted hometown of Salvador.
It all started in June when Maria Nilza Simões, a Pindobaçu housewife, hired Carlos Roberto de Jesus, an unemployed ex-con, to do away with a woman named Erenildes Aguiar Araújo, known by most people in town by the soap-worthy nickname of Lupita.
Maria Nilza claimed that Lupita was having an affair with her husband and she offered Carlos Roberto R$1,000 (roughly US$ 550) to get rid of her adversary.
The day of the murder was to be June 24 and all was going according to plan until the hitman-to-be came face-to-face with his target – only to discover that she was an old childhood friend. Unable to kill a pal, Carlos Roberto confided in Lupita and together the two devised the perfect murder – using ketchup.
Brandishing two bottles of this trusty condiment, Carlos Roberto and Lupita headed to the bush where they staged a mock murder. After being gagged and having her blouse ripped, Lupita was covered in ketchup and arranged on the ground with a threatening machete planted next to her armpit. Carlos Roberto proceeded to take pictures of the victim on his cell phone as “proof” that he’d really done the dirty deed.
Pleased with Carlos Roberto’s handiwork, Maria Nilza paid up and was feeling quite victorious until she went to the municipal market a few days later and was stunned to see her hitman in the throes of a warm embrace with none other than the murder victim!
Livid, she went straight to the police station and denounced Carlos Roberto as a thief. When the police subsequently hauled him in for questioning and discovered the real story, they were stunned. “In eight years of service I have never heard anything like this, and we hear a lot of stories,” the police chief told Salvador’s Correio da Bahia newspaper.
The rest of Brazil – and the world – heard the story this week when the (laughably unconvincing) assassination photo of a ketchup-doused Lupita made the rounds of newspapers and blogs.
Meanwhile, like any good soap narrative, this saga seemingly still has a lot of suds to be squeezed out of it. While the three protagonists await their day in court – Maria Nilza for issuing death threats; Carlos Roberto and Lupita (who received a R$240 cut for her participation) for extortion – their attempts to return to normal life have been in vain.
While Carlos Roberto skipped town, the villainous Maria Nilza faces public humiliation for having been taken in by such obvious fakery. “How could she not notice that the machete was stuck into (Lupita’s) armpit?” indignant shopkeeper, Vera Márcia de Araújo, told the Correio. “Now the whole town is laughing in her face.”
Meanwhile the heroine in this whole affair is Lupita – now fondly known by all the town’s residents as “Mulher Ketchup” (“Ketchup Woman”) – who, in a baroque (and confusing) plot twist, told the Correio that “the cobra” (aka Maria Nilza) was actually having an affair with her husband (his breaking off the affair was what drove Maria Nilza to murder).
The town’s biggest celebrity ever, Mulher Ketchup is so popular that cars honk at her and passing school buses filled with kids stop and cheer. Even the mayor is thrilled, stating that the media surrounding the episode has been “positive” in that it has shone a spotlight upon the previously unknown Pindobaçu. He even suggested that Lupita would make a great candidate for municipal office. She already has the support of local radio-show host, Walterly Kuhn, who was responsible for breaking the fake murder story in the first place. “People here are fed up with the present team at city hall,” Kuhn told the Correio. “Why not get some ketchup in there?”
In the meantime, stay tuned for the next episode in which Mulher Ketchup’s husband, jealous over the embrace she supposedly shared with Carlos Roberto, trashes her bedroom, sets her clothes on fire, and walks out on her in a furious rage….
We kick off our week-long celebration of the publication of THE REVISIONISTS by Thomas Mullen, a book that Publishers Weekly called (in a starred review) an “excellent thriller set in the near future” and that Library Journal (also in a starred review) called “an outstanding dystopic novel.” Here, Mullen examines the world of totalitarian fiction. Weigh in with your picks in the comments.
I used to be such a nice, quiet young writer. Only recently did I realize I’d turned into a benevolent dictator.
Unlike most revolutions, it happened gradually.
* * *
It started in 2006, when I saw the amazing Pan’s Labyrinth. A few weeks later, I was surprised when a different film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The golden trophy was awarded to The Lives of Others, which I promptly paid my nine bucks to see, sitting through the opening credits with a healthy dollop of skepticism. “You think you’re better than Pan’s Labyrinth?” I thought. “Bring it on.”
Wow, did it ever. Where Pan’s Labyrinth used fantastical interludes and horror to tell the story of a little girl and her mother during the final days of the Spanish Civil War, The Lives of Others was a deceptively straightforward narrative about an agent of the Stasi, East Germany’s feared secret police, who spies on a controversial artist. They instantly became two of my all-time favorite movies, and I don’t envy the Oscar voters who had to choose one over the other.
Later I realized that they had at least one thing in common: they were both set in totalitarian regimes. Their protagonists had richly developed inner lives, yet they were struggling within systems that tightly constrained them, putting rigid controls on the decisions they could make, the people they could associate with, and the things they could say. They were watched by eyes they could not themselves see.
A Single Shotis in many ways a different breed of noir than other, less daring works of crime fiction—particularly in regard to the way the novel ends. Was choosing a fate for Moon difficult for you? Or did it simply seem like the natural conclusion all the way through your writing process? (Did you have this beginning in mind right from the start?)
I had no idea how the novel would end when I began it or, in fact, until the moment it unfolded while I was writing it. Once I have the characters I’m writing about in mind – i.e. once I feel that I know them – I try to think as little as possible while writing. And I never outline or plan out in advance what will happen in a novel or to the people in it. Once I’ve created the characters, the story as I see it comes more from them, than from me. I do my best to follow wherever they lead me and, through my own filter, accurately record their accounts. I’ve never had much luck in trying to manipulate anything to come out a certain way in my own life, and doubt I’d be any better at it in the lives of fictional characters. Plus I can’t imagine the monotony of writing from an outline. I sit down to write each day with only a vague idea of where I’m headed – and never knowing where I might end up – which for me makes writing more of an adventure than a task.
What are some of your personal favorite novels, and do you see any of their influence inA Single Shot, looking back on it now?
I’m an eclectic reader and a lover of many novels, though two unifying elements are found in the ones I admire most; indelible characters whose stories are compelling because of who they are; and a rich evocation of the particular world they live in. In that vein some that, in no particular order, come readily to mind are, Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath, Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Collector, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, The Sheltering Sky, Augie Marsh, A Flag For Sun Rise, The Quiet American, The Stars At Noon, Suttree, The Killer Inside Me, The Risk Pool, The Cement Garden, Paris Trout, The Professional, Mystic River, Affliction, Fat City, etc.
I don’t in truth see the influence of anyone else’s work in A Single Shot (or, for that matter, in any of my work except possibly in my novel Deepwaterthe opening scene of which, in retrospect, may have its inspiration in a favorite novel of mine) any more than I think the way in which I speak is influenced by the voices of other people I admire or care about.
More objective readers of the work might see something I don’t, I’m not sure. It would be interesting for me to know.
You’ve heard about the vintage 1920’s trains resurrected in promotion of Boardwalk Empire, right? They started running this weekend–videos and photos here.
The big news this week, was Bouchercon in St. Louis of course–check out Publishers Weekly‘s recap. For a more personal touch, don’t forget your favorite crime fiction blogger! Odds are you’ll find reflections there, too.
In our ongoing celebration of the publication of the first Mulholland Classic, A SINGLE SHOT, author Matthew F. Jones details the ongoing story of how a book becomes a film.
The history of A SINGLE SHOT’s journey to the screen (a history yet in the making) is a torturous one that extends almost back to the novel’s original release in 1996. First optioned in 1997, the novel has been under option every year since, albeit by a number of different producers and with four different directors attached in that time. From 1997 to 2007 I was shown versions of, I believe, six different screenplay adaptations of the book (though I’m sure there were more the producers chose not to show me based upon my reactions to the ones I did see!) by a variety of Hollywood writers. Before showing me his version of it, the writer first attached to the project warned me, “I loved your book, you’re going to hate my script.” When I finished reading it I sent him a note saying only, “You’re right.” Since it was the first script of any kind I’d ever read maybe I was being a little unfair, though even in retrospect I believe that assessment was right on; it was pretty horrible. In trying to make an homogenized version of the story the writer had sucked out all of its soul and made John Moon into a somewhat dimwitted, good-hearted backwoods character only an LA writer (actually I believe this particular writer was from Manhattan, same difference to a rural upstate New Yorker!) thinks actually exists. And the bad guys of course were made into downstate Italian wise guys! Thankfully that script went into the toilet along with the first option. It puzzled me at the time why someone would go to the trouble and expense of optioning a book only to hire an adaptation of it that would remove the book’s core essence and power. How little I knew about the business of movie making!
In 1996, Daniel Woodrell was one of the first to weigh in when Matthew F. Jones’ acclaimed novel A SINGLE SHOT was first published, writing: “Jones owns a fine writer’s eye for the kind of details that matter” in a review that ran in The Washington Post. As Mulholland Books brings A SINGLE SHOT back into print, Woodrell was gracious enough to weigh in once again fifteen years later, with the following essay included as a foreword in the Mulholland Books edition of A SINGLE SHOT.
In a time when reliable standards of personal conduct have allegedly eroded and, no longer anchored by religious conviction or cultural cohesion, have diminished to irresolute situational postures and secular mumbles, an older, less elastic code of honor may seem vastly appealing, even heroic. To avert the confusions attendant on choice, such codes are simplified, starkly so, but clearly: Do that to me, you can rely on me to do this to you. Do that to my kin, watch for smoke from your garage. Say that to my wife, and this is the bog where your worried relatives will find you face down and at peace forever. Should it require the efforts of generations to uphold this code, to respond to the responses, so be it. Such codes ask an awful lot of adherents (my own great grandfather was an adherent, and when a slander on his wife reached his ears obeyed the code promptly and went door to door with a pistol throughout the neighborhood I still live in, but, shrewdly, no one he encountered would admit to being the source and he did not get the satisfaction of killing some poor wretched gossip and his wife attempted suicide by drinking Paris Green while he was out thoroughly publicizing the slander) and deliver little, but they yet exist. Continue reading “Six Angles of Wrath: An Appreciation of Matthew F. Jones’ A SINGLE SHOT”→