Friday, December 31, 2004

Let the Countdown Begin

Well today I'm supposed to find out about a submission I made to an anthology. It's a press so small you need a microscope to find it, but I'd still like to get in it. The story I sent is one I actually really like, but it's a little long for most magazines. It also walks that fine line between genre and metafiction, which makes it a tough sell for either market. Anyway, it would be a nice way to end 2004, or even begin 2005. Depending on when I get the email from the editor. I'm sure I'll be checking my email even more habitually than normal all day today.

I should finish with the Kerouac book today, and will probably move on to one of the lit mags I have sitting around. Unless something else really cool grabs my eye, that is.

Although it won't be the same without Dick Clark, I hope everyone has a fun and safe New Year's Eve.


Thursday, December 30, 2004

Time to Get Ready!

D.C. is struggling to get ready for Inauguration Day on January 20. Pennsylvania Avenue now sits lined with bleachers; made of dark gray metal, they look strangely skeletal just sitting there. Like some unfinished art project by Christo, or at least someone trying to rip him off. Although not needed for some time they now block a large chunk of the walking space on Pennsylvania, and I guess they will stay there for a week or two after all the ceremonies. The homeless are using them as sleeping platforms. Rows and rows of tattered-clothed people sleeping in the night air makes for a very surreal scene if you drive through D.C. at night.

On the politics side, Kojo Nnamdi's show reported that the D.C. Govermnent is arguing over fine details of protection with the Federal Government. The Feds want to close down a number of streets the city regards as Emergency Access routes. I can't wait to come to work that day.

And the Kerouac thought of the day:
Thus-my new diary begins. And its purpose, simply, to rediscover my real voice which is yours too, all our real, one voice, that's so often drowned by criticism and fear.


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

So Long, Susan

With all the news from Asia, Susan Sontag's death got lost in the shuffle. I've read a number of her essays over the years, and I've always found them insightful and thought provoking. I didn't realize she also wrote plays. Her book On Photography is a wonderful look at the history of photography, but also digs in to big issues of modernism and postmodernism. A must read for those who like critical works.

For a touch of levity, I used to work in a small art museum in Washington, D.C. One day Sontag came in to look around. Oddly, Charlton Heston, actor and NRA Top Goon, chose to visit on the same day. They were on separate private tours with different curators; we really wanted them to bump into each other and see what happened. Alas, it was not to be.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

What's Your Batting Average?

To keep himself inspired and working on his first novel, Kerouac developed this convoluted system to equate how much he wrote each day to a baseball batting average. His "formula" has something to do with how much of his daily goal he completed. A good day of 3000 words would give him a batting average of .380. The less the number of words written, obviously, the lower the average. Most days he hovered around .320, or 2000+ words.

About the only thing that works for me is setting deadlines for myself; I often get the most done when I find a mag or contest is closing to submissions in a couple of weeks. But I'm wondering what other methods people have developed to keep themselves motivated. It's probably my big weak spot, so I'm always curious how others keep themselves going when the work drags and real life interests persist in interfering.


Monday, December 27, 2004

On The Road Again

Somehow I never had that Kerouac period that so many (guys in particular) seem to fall into during their late high school or early college years. I had my Huxley and Pirsig phase in early college, Vonnegut phase late in college, my WS Burroughs phase right after college, but not Kerouac. My stepbrother passed Dharma Bums and On the Road on to me my freshman year of undergrad. I remember liking them, but not being wowed by them like so many other people. To be fair, at that time I pretty much only liked books with dragons or spaceships on the cover. Desolation Angels entered my life a few years ago, which I really liked, but mostly for the guest appearances of Paul Bowles and WS Burroughs. Although I enjoy Kerouac's language, I've always had a hard time getting into his characters.

Now I'm reading/reviewing Windblown World, selections from his journals that were collected and edited by historian Douglas Brinkley. It starts with the writing of his first novel, The Town and the City, and later moves into his journey across the U.S. that became the book On The Road.

The journals are raw. The thoughts are scattered, and he vacillates back and forth between knowing his full brilliance and feeling like a hack. But I think I really like it. It seems, out of what little I've read, the most honest of his writing. Maybe it's because they are kind of like my journals: logs of life, writing progress, references to what he's reading. It's kind of fun seeing someone from the literary canon go through some of the same feelings and problems I go through with writing. He does complain constantly about not writing enough, except not enough for him is anything less than 2000 words a day. He'd probably laugh at my meager output.

I haven't gotten to the On the Road part yet, but I'm guessing those will be more detailed and less introspective. There are lots of references to an idealized classless lifestyle he wants to pursue (he holds dreams of running a ranch or farm), but not too surprising for the time period. I am a little surprised by the consistent religious quality to the writing. There are constant references to God and Christ, and getting strength from them to continue his writing and maintain a moral life. I've always associated the beats with an interest in Buddhist philosophy, but not so much Christianity. I'm curious to see if that changes, or if he holds onto those thoughts.

I'm sure I'll have more later as I get further into the book.


Sunday, December 26, 2004

Return from the land of holidays

I hope everyone who celebrates it had a nice Christmas, and has a happy new year to look forward to.

Mine was more relaxed than in years past. My parents are divorced, which usually sends me bouncing back and forth between two households. This year I spent the 24th with dad, and the 25th with Mom. I spent high school actually dreading Christmas, and I think may now be getting past all of that. About time.

I did get some nice gifts (thank you!). Highbrow stuff like Umberto Eco's new collection of essays and a subscripton to Conjuctions to lowbrow stuff like a 1950's horror movie entitled My Pal the Undertaker. And, of course, a pair of socks from Mom. My friends and loved ones know me well.

So I've got a lot of reading ahead of me, and hopefully some interesting blogs in the future. I've got some thoughts on the Kerouac book I'm reading now, and will probably get those up tonight or tomorrow morning.


Thursday, December 23, 2004

Rowling Speaks Out

I found this on Neil Gaiman's blog today. It's an interview with Rowling and Gaiman on ideas of censorship, and their books being labeled satanic just because it makes use of magic within the story.

Thought it might be of interest, since she's so much on our minds lately :). This is, btw, just about the geekiest website I've seen in some time.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

And the Mighty Goddess....

looked down at her people, and spoke. She proclaimed that the wonderful, glorious gift promised oh so long ago is no longer so far away.

Yes, that's right, true believers. J.K. Rowling announced in a press conference yesterday that she's finished writing book six of the Harry Potter series. Although a formal publication date has yet to be announced, our lady of letters says she's happy with Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince.

Okay, I'm being a little bit snarky. I just find it odd that a conference was held to announce that she's done with it. Not that it's being published, but that she's done writing it. Get ready for the publicity blitzkrieg.

I have nothing against her books. Although not brilliant, they're decent enough. And in 50 years we'll see how important they end up being. If nothing else she's gotten lots of people reading. When I taught last year, hardly anyone is my freshman classes read the newspaper, or read much of anything. But everyone, and I mean everyone, had read at least one Harry Potter book. That's a lot of publishing power, and it gives hope that at least some of these kids go on to read other things.

At least they better, because otherwise all us writers are bashing our heads against the wall for no reason.


Monday, December 20, 2004

Can't Get Away from This Guy

Although I finished Whitley Strieber's book Transformation a few days ago, he keeps popping up in my life. Late Saturday night/early Sunday morning I was up reading and listening to my worldband radio. He was interviewed by the BBC on a recent rash of crop circles in the U.K.

And now I'm reading a review in the mystery column of Washington Post's Book World for a novel called The Invisible Woman by Anne Strieber. It's a straight mystery; no aliens whatsoever seem to appear in this book. Maybe there's a relation, maybe not.

Strieber's not too uncommon of a name, but I did some searching and quickly found her to be Whitley's wife. Apparently she also hosts an internet radio show on ESP and Psychic phenomenon, and writes a column on Whitley's website. The novel got a pretty mixed review in the Post, but hopefully this will give the Stribers enough cash so they don't have to keep spinning crazy theories to make a living.

In my own life, I got a rejection today for a horror story I sent out in early November. I'll poke at it over the next couple of days and get it back at there.


Sunday, December 19, 2004

Stop reading my mind!

I'm sure most everyone has heard the Dimebag Darrell story by now. As tragic as that whole ordeal is for everyone directly involved, I have a weird tie-in. About three years ago, I wrote a story about an obsessed heavy metal fan who kills a musician for breaking apart his favorite band. It was a beheading instead of a gunshot, but still kind of eerie. Ok, an odd coincidence, but I can pass it off as something bound to happen at some point along the line.

But last night I saw an ad on tv for this crazy device from Febreze. Kind of a cd player for the nose, it runs through different potpourri smells, changing the scent every 30 minutes or so. A story I've been shopping around for several months now is about a painter who switches to using scents to create works of art and tell stories.

It's a good thing I'm not paranoid, otherwise I'd start believing I'm a crazy prophet or something. Like celebrity deaths, these synchroncities seem to happen to me in threes. So I'm wondering which of my other stories will come to life in the real world. I hoping either for my story on the bottomless hole a caver falls into, or the one in which an unfinished story comes to life in physical form and attacks the author for not writing the ending.


Saturday, December 18, 2004

Eat at Ralph's

Today is my mom's 60th birthday. I have to work today, so we actually celebrated last night.

"Mom," I said, "let me take you out to dinner. Pick somewhere nice. Anywhere you want to go."

She paused a few moments. "Let's go to Ralph's."

Ralph's is a roadside barbecue stand in the middle of nowhere, aka Triangle, Virginia. By roadside, I mean roadside. There are no tables. There's barely any parking. They do have really good barbecue sandwiches, though. And their hotdogs aren't bad, either.

I guess mom just had a taste for it. For being from Missouri, her tastes in food are very southern. But then her mom and dad were from Tennessee.

And now I offer up the strangest piece of spam I've ever gotten in my in-box. I fully expected some crazy porn site, but curiousity got the better of me.

Hello, I am an Italian journalist. My name is Giampietro Stocco and
last year I have written an alternate history novel, Nero Italiano. In
the last months I put a website with some italian allohistory- and
sci-fi contents:

If you wish, have a look: there is also an English version.

Giampietro Stocco

It's, well, strange. I figured since my online identity here is borrowed from an Italian experimental novel, I should showcase weird little things by Italians from time to time. It's animation heavy, so it might take some time if you're on dialup.


Friday, December 17, 2004

Men Writing Women (again)

The following I've clipped from Terry Teachout's Blog:

I’ve also received several different versions of the following letter, which was inspired by a passing remark I posted the other day:

"I’m one of those unfortunate folk who is allergic to most of the Major American Novelists who came of age in the Fifties. Roth, Bellow, Mailer, Updike: all leave me cold as last month’s fish."

To which an old friend whom I haven’t seen in far too long replied:

"So liberating to read your admission of an allergy to "important" 50's-burgeoned Major American Novelists Roth, Bellow, Mailer, Updike, all of whom I have tried to "appreciate" and detest...mainly because I couldn't respect them due to their awful lack of ability to create memorable, fully realized female you suppose that a possible reason for your allergy is that you are, like your beloved Balanchine, a Man who Loves Women?"

As you can see, the author of this particular e-mail knows me very well. For as long as I can remember, all but a handful of my closest friends have been women, and it thus stands to reason that I'd tend to find women-unfriendly writers tedious. What’s more, I can think of several less-than-important novelists (Elmore Leonard comes to mind) whom I enjoy in part because their women characters are both "fully realized" and extremely likable.

I do like some of the male 1950's authors, but agree that they can't do women very well. They tend to do idealized types instead of full-fledged characters. Roth in The Ghost Writer, for example, presents an Anne Frank who mananged to survive to adulthood as the perfect mate for the modern jewish man. All symbol, no character.

All interesting to me, because I'm still struggling with my story set from the point of view of a woman. Four versions later, I'm still not happy with it. I don't know if it's disheartening or encouraging that those more brilliant than me couldn't do it well, either. Perhaps it's time to set it aside for awhile for other projects, and come back later. I have a werewolf story I want to write, and another about a guy who eats a television set.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Adaptations and Nightmares

My cable tv is sufficiently low-rent that the only cable channels I get are TBS and Spike tv. Thinking they might eventually release it on video like they have a number of their other tv-movies, I've been keeping my eye on the reviews for the Sci-Fi channel's version of Ursula K. Leguin's Earthsea Trilogy. In my search I found Leguin's own reactions.

If you haven't read the books, they are relatively straight sword and sorcery type fantasy, but the strength of the characters and the symbolic nature of the story lifts it well above most other fantasy books. It's considered a classic, and for good reason. Going by Leguin's reaction, very little of the movie has anything to do with what she regards as the core of the books. In mild defense of the Sci-Fi channel, fantasy seems to be really hard to pull off in film or television. We have a recent example of a good one with Lord of the Rings, but you have to go back pretty far to find another.

So I'm wondering what, if any, movies are really good adaptations of novels or short stories. And on the flip side, which ones are so nightmarishly bad they're good, or even unwatchable as Earthsea seems to be.

For a good adaptation I nominate Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. While there are some differences from the original novel, they are pretty small and Kubrick really captures the spirit of the book. For a bad adaptation, I nominate The Scarlet Letter, the 1995 version starring Demi Moore. Not only is a trumped up excuse to show off Moore's breast enhancements, Moore herself said it was ok to make the ending happy because no one's ever actually read the book. It walks that fine line between ridiculous and unwatchable.


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Book Meme

Ok, I'm seeing this on a lot of blogs today. I'll join in since I have a weird book within reach.

Book meme:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don't search around and look for the "coolest" book you can find. Do what's actually next to you.

Eyeing the Flash: The Education of a Carvinal Con Artist by Peter Fenton. "While the pay was abysmal, the typical Ride Boy considered his job a plum, a prime opportunity to met the type of girl impressed by a man's ability to cause a carnival ride to turn in a circle or shake violently up and down."

Whitley Strieber: Crazy Kook or Publishing Genius?

I finished Whitley Strieber's Transformation: The Breakthrough last night. It certainly has its cheesy moments, but its good ones as well.

What's really startling to me is that it was NY Times bestseller (as was the prequel Communion) and that people took these books for fact. For those unfamiliar, the books tell a "true" story about a series of alien abductions the author went through. The prequel was also made into a really awful movie starring Christopher Walken. I remember seeing it with a friend of mine in high school who believed it all. He got very angry at me for laughing at the aliens that looked like a costume you'd see at Kings Dominion.

For fact, the books are structured a hell of a lot like horror novels. Not surprising, I guess, since Strieber put out two horror novels before getting into the alien abduction game. The alien stuff is subtle at first: lights in the sky, strange poundings on the roof of the house. But it gradually builds, and as it builds Strieber questions what's real, what's not. This second book focused on trying to discover a purpose behind the alien's actions. In his desperation for meaning, theories range from brutal experimentation to helping us up the next step up the evolutionary ladder. A lot of the more bizarre scenes remind me a lot of Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan series, a very magical/new age set of books that were highly popular in the 60's and also sold as fact.

So in reading this, I have to wonder. Strieber is (was) either totally off his rocker and believed all this stuff really happened to him, or he found a wonderful niche for himself and discovered a way to spin these ideas out into a flashpoint of high success for an author. Castaneda finally confessed his books were fiction days before he died; perhaps the same will happen with Strieber.


Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Novellas. Those odd little monsters that I never quite know what to do with. I have a couple in rough draft form, and they sit all discouraged and mad at me for not finishing and sending them out. But I got discouraged, not knowing where to send something of that length unless I get a deal for a collection. But I found this today in the market listings in The Writers Chronicle.

Quarterly West Biennial Novella Competition
Two Winners will receive $600 and publication of their novellas in an upcoming issue of Quarterly West. Manuscripts should be 50-125 pages in length, authors name(s) on separate title page only. All entries must include a postcard for notification of receipt, and SASE for notification of results and a $25 reading fee. Deadline: Dec 31. Mail entries to Quarterly West, Dept. of English/LNCO 3500, 255 S. Central Campus Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-9109

I've never read an issue of Quarterly West, so I don't have any clue what kind of fiction they like. It may change depending on the judge for the contest. But it's a rare possibility to dust off that novella and give it the life it deserves. Time to get editing.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Some Drivin' Music

I had the damnedest time finding anything on the radio last night for my drive home from work. On Sundays I usually listen to the old Radio Theatre broadcasts on NPR, but all the stories were Christmas related last night and I just wasn't in the mood. Even the Westerns, which just seemed really odd. So I scanned through a bunch of stations, finally landing on DC101. Apparently they do a new music show on Sunday nights.

They were playing an electronic-oriented rock song. With the heavy beat, programming, distorted guitars and the angry girl vocals, I was positive it was something new from Curve. After a couple more songs, the dj finally announced it as the new single from Prodigy. Tired of all the roster changes, I guess Liam opted this time to use a bunch of different vocalists for the new album. Looking on Amazon they have Juliette Lewis listed as a guest vocalist, so I'm guessing it was her on the song I heard. A fun track, I just find it funny that a project like Prodigy that critics always push as brilliant for their ability to reinvent themselves has put something out that sounds like its from 1991.

Yesterday I also found and bought a used copy of the Liars album They Were Wrong So We Drowned. The reviews I've seen have been really mixed, but the write-ups intriqued me. The critics seemed to have a hard time defining the album, and I was curious. Lyrically it seems to be exploring the history of witchcraft, although I'll need to listen a little more carefully to be sure. Musically it reminds me a little of old Killing Joke original lo-fi sound; it's strangely grating, driving and melodic all at the same time. So far I really like it; I'll have to see how well it holds up over the next few days.


Friday, December 10, 2004

To E-sub or Not to E-Sub

There's an interesing article/column on email submissions by Michael Bugeja in the new issue of The Writer's Chronicle. The focus is mostly for non-fiction submissions, queries and the like, but there are a few tidbits related to us fiction people.

There are a lot of quotes from T.R. Hummer from the Georgia Review. He hates e-subs. I mean really hates them. He claims a dramatic drop in quality between those who send their work in by snail mail and those who shoot them out by email. He's also scared to death of viruses and trojans, and says he automatically deletes anything with an attachment.

The article prints the automatic reply when you e-sub to the New Yorker:

Thank you for your submission to the New Yorker; if you don't hear from us within two months, consider your work rejected.

So I guess that's the wave of the future, getting rejected ahead of time, before someone even reads the story. Maybe I'll send them something, just so I too can say I've been rejected by the New Yorker!

Bugeja did talk to a few that prefer email, but they all complained about people who submit without looking at the preferred formats. For the most part, they all said they just delete subs that don't follow the guidelines. But the one thing everyone agreed on is they hate when authors send a snippy, defensive reply to an email rejection. You know, something like:

Dear Editor,

You suck ass. How dare you not see the brilliance of my story! When my novel comes out, I'll be sure to mention in every interview how you turned me down and you'll be a big laughing stock! HAHAHA!


Pissed off brilliant writer

Okay, that's not really in the article but that's what I imagined when they referred to a reply.

So I'm wondering. Have you ever replied to a rejection? If so, what did you say? If not, what would you say?


Thursday, December 09, 2004

Whitley and the Night Vistors

Well I've been busting my little typing fingers this morning to finish up three book reviews, thinking the deadline is this Friday. Low and behold, I just got a reminder email that they're due next Friday. So, for a rare change, I'm actully ahead of the game. I've been meaning to expand one of my shorter reviews (the mag I write for likes them 200-400 words) to something longer, so I can send it out to Rain Taxi Now it appears I may actually have the time to do it.

No excuses.



So after I do some housecleaning and a little bit ouside, I'll pick one, attack and see what my little brain can come up with. In the meantime, I leave you with these unintentionally funny words from Whitley Strieber:

The usual experience involving night visitors described in scientific literature and the experience I had on April 2, 1986 are as different from one another as a babbling creek is from a black coughing cataract.

Thieves in the Night

One of the aspects of my current job, both good and bad, is that I often get my days off in the middle of the week. Good today, because it gave me a chance to drop my car off for a little work and walk home home, without having to worry about catching a bus to work. On my way home I saw a car parked along the side of the road, both of its doors wide open. A police car sat in front of it. A 20-something man in a black suit was going through the car with a police officer. From what little snippets slipped into my ears when walking by, the car was broken into and some things were taken.

"Tough luck," I said to no-one in particular. I shrugged my shoulders, finished the walk home and didn't think anything more about it.

After throwing some laundry in the washing machine and working on a couple of reviews for an hour, I got up from my computer to get some more coffee. Looking out my window, I noticed my next door neighbor at her pickup truck, doors wide open and taking pictures. Curious, I walked out and asked what was going on. She just pointed to the back window of the truck and I saw the smashed window, with its jagged edges and spider-webbed remnants.

"They left the stereo," she said, "but they took about $3000.00 worth of Eric's (her son) tools."

I told her about what I saw earlier in the morning, just a couple blocks away. She nodded, and said she already called the police. I told her I was sorry, and was quietly thankful for pulling all my holiday shopping inside last night, even though I really felt like leaving it in the car.

So I guess we've got some thieves in the neighborhood. Always unsettling. My neighborhood is the virtual seat of suburbia; mostly lower-middle class, there are a lot of younger families mixed in with a few retirees who've lived here for 30+ years. Hopefully it won't ammount to anything more than breaking into cars.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Gargoyles and Aliens

What everyone's been waiting for (ha!); my "in-depth" review of Gargoyle 48. The issue overall is a solid one. The reason I continue to like Gargoyle so much is that despite, or maybe because of, the sheer variety of content and styles editors Peabody and Ebersol continue to pull together some really great work.

Michael Hemmingson offered up a fun and surprisingly heartfelt tale about a father whose own daughter brings to life all the literary dreams he once held for himself. Although I read it previously in his most recent collection, Doug Rice’s pseudo-eulogy to Kathy Acker entitled "In Memoriam To Identity" still hits all the right spots in that oddly cerebral-twisting, experimental manner that Rice is so good at.

Carolyn Osborne’s "Oppositions" and Nahid Ranhlin’s "Chance Meetings" both feature American women who fall in love with men from other cultures and focus on how the conflict of ideas and world views change their lives. Both also manage to slip in some political content in a nice under-the-radar kind of fashion. Two fun metafiction pieces, Lynda Schor’s "Corrections" and Sally Drumm’s "Alphabet Story, manage the tough balancing act of experimental form with some nice little epiphany moments.

The over the top, best piece for me (aside from Drumm’s, which I blogged about earlier) is "The Crime Museum" by Suzanne Feldman, who’s won some pretty big SF awards writing under the very cool name of Severna Park. This particular story is set in the far future, and the narrator is a trainee for an agency that goes into the past to kill people who will cause historical atrocities. Yes, I know it’s an old idea. Nearly every history class has had the discussion "If you could go back in time and kill Hitler prior to the Holocaust, would you?" But Feldman handles things well, and raises a lot of big questions about guilt, innocence and who really causes all those horrible time-markers in history.

The one story I have to stand up and scream at is James F. Thompson’s "Butterfly BBQ Sauce". The descriptions are very vivid and compelling, I love the voice of the piece but I have a couple quibbles. Even though I heard the author read the beginning at the launch party, I still didn’t get the main joke (that the narrator is a CPR Practice dummy) until halfway through the piece. That the dummy is called by two different names interchangeably only added to my confusion. The story hints at some interesting aspects of sexual roles, but I felt it pulled back before it really delved much into that territory. I’m complaining about this one so much because I think it could have been an amazing story with another editorial pass, but as it is its just ok.

I’ve decided I need something simple-minded to read for a break, so I’m moving on to a Whitley Strieber book. Nice, trashy alien abduction stuff that we’re supposed to take as fact.

Well I’m off to do some more holiday shopping. Hope everyone’s handling all the December stress.


Magicians and Pixie Dust

Well I guess I'm going to have break down and get Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Vilage Voice also has it listed as one of the top books of the year. I'll probably wait for the paperback, but with this much high praise it must be at least halfway decent. Like the Post and NY Times, they also picked Pamuk's Snow, but they've also included some that are a little more quirky and edgy than what the others offered up. Linh Dinh's Blood and Soap sounds interesting, and some like The Haunted Hilbilly sound downright wacky.

And for Lady Lit Blitz who just saw the Pixies, The Voice also has a fun article on the Pixies Reunion.

I'm working up my review on the Gargoyle issue, and should have it up later today or early tomorrow, depending on motivation. I also just finished the issue of Grand Street, which is fabulous. Sad that it's the last one ever. Good timing, too, because I just got the new Fence in the mail today.


Monday, December 06, 2004

Best of the Year

As the year winds down both The New York Times and The Washington Post offer up what they feel to be the best books of 2004. Not surprisingly, there's a good deal of overlap with books like Mallon's Bandbox, The Fall by Joyce Carol Oates, TC Boyles The Inner Circle and yes even Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Clarke.

The list from the Post seems slightly more diverse by including things like Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos (a D.C. writer I really keep meaning to read) and China Mieville's The Iron Council.

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit I've read very little on either list. Kunzru's Transmissions, to me anyway, was a fun book, but kind of a throw-away. It had a little bit to say on how the U.S. takes advantage of workers on Visas and did a great job in making computer viruses seem exciting, but I don't see it as a work of lasting merit. Dan Chaon's You Remind Me of Me, though, I thought was great character novel and stepped so close to brilliance I think Chaon may have even bumped his nose on it once or twice. A number of other things like Perotta's Little Children and Madeleine Is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum are on my to-read pile, and I'll probably add a handful more from these lists.

Washington Post luminaries Michael Dirda and Jonathan Yardley make a point to list some of their favorites. Yardley, hardnose that he is, uses it as a moment to take a snipe at the National Book Awards. But at least he admits he's picking work by people like himself: middle-aged, white males. Dirda, as always, puts up a very broad range of books, some of which look really interesting (note that he's picked Grace and Gravity, the anthology of D.C. women writers).

I'll have to give it some thought, and see if I have a worthwhile list of faves for 2004. We'll see what kind of list I can pull together.


I've Been Scrooged

Last night I went with the family to see a stage version of A Christmas Carol. Not high on my list of things to do, but it was a fun production with a lot of special effects. Mostly, though, I spent more time watching the reactions of the two kids right in front of me. One was a boy of about six, the other a girl of about four. When Jacob Marley shambled out on that stage, thunder crashing and chains rattling, the boy stood up to get a better look while the girl started crying and switched over to her father's lap for protection. But despite their different reactions neither could pull themselves away from the story. They fully believed and were fully involved in what was happening on that stage from beginning to end.

It reminded me of an arguement I had with my dad when I was a little kid. I was also about six. It was a Saturday morning and we were sitting at the kitchen table eating cold cereal and watching a Fantastic Four cartoon. I can't remember exactly what started it, but my dad started trying to convince me that the cartoon wasn't real life. But I wouldn't have any of it. I pointed right at the t.v. screen when Mr. Fantastic had his rubbery arms stretched out several hundred yards to catch some bad guy and said, "That's real, Dad,". My little kid brain just couldn't seperate the magic of that cartoon world from the reality of everyday life.

Which I guess is what I look for most of all in a piece of fiction. A story, a concept well developed enough and combined with language enough that I totally, fully believe in what's happening on the page. As I get older it seems that the pieces that do this become harder and harder to find. Gargoyle 49, for example, only holds a couple pieces that do this for me (I'll get a review on it later). I place the blame more on me than on the writing out there, though. I walk through life, more and more of a Scrooge everyday, looking for those pieces of writing, music, painting, etc to jar me out of my Scrooge-ness and back to those joyful, gullible moments of childhood belief. The difference between me and the character from the Dickens story is that I know the work is out there somewhere, and I'll keep looking.


Friday, December 03, 2004

Nothing's Shocking

When in doubt for a title, steal someone else's I always say.

For some reason today I'm thinking about work that's shocked or even offended me in recent memory. My threshold is pretty high, so this isn't an easy task for me.

The last book I can remember shocking me is probably
The Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting. The book is a pretty fun mix of memories, fantasies and fears running through the head of the narrator, who happens to be in a coma. Sorry for the vagueness here, but it's been about two years since I've read it. In one of his memories, the narrator gets revenge on a dog by taking a fresh cow bone with some meat still clinging to it, and hammers some nails into it. The narrator gives it to the dog, and takes great joy when the animal clamps down on the bone, feels the pain from the nails and can't let go.

I had a hard time reading that passage, but strangely if it had been done to a person it would have barely made me flinch. So I guess I'm one of those who can watch or read horrors done to people with no problem, but hurt and animal and I'm dumbfounded.

If I think of anymore today, I'll post them in reply section of this post.


Thursday, December 02, 2004

When Computers Rule

As promised, here are a couple of examples of web-based fiction. It's usually called hyperfiction or hypertext-fiction, a google search will bring up a lot on the theories. Hyperizons has some criticism and theory that's pretty academic, but it can give you a little bit of an idea of what it is.

One of the best I've seen is My Body by author and illustrator Shelley Jackson. It makes pretty good use of pictures and text, and the story itself is pretty unique.

8 Minutes by Martha Conway takes a different tact. Instead of navigating through different links, the page updates itself every few seconds. It takes, you guessed it, eight minutes to run through to completion.

Lady Litblitz posted yesterday about an article on computer generated writing. I haven't found the main one in my notes yet, but I found this, this, and this for a few odd but fun sites on it. A lot of programs for Macs out there for doing this (go Macintosh) and few for PC and Linux. Of course a lot of web-based ones as well. Most are pretty randomized, but I'll look through and see if any are particularly clever.

Now Forty Two has nothing to do with Hyperfiction or computers. I just thought it looked pretty cool. They're all book reviews running forty-two words in length. Kind of a fun experiment. I may work on something and send it there for the heck of it.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Women vs. Men in a Battle Royale

About two years ago, when I first started returning to the worlds of fantasy and SF, I picked up a book called the Wraethu trilogy by Storm Constantine. It’s a fun book about the next evolutionary step in humanity, with mankind stepping towards a life form not too unlike vampires, but without all the fangs and stereotypical baggage. But I think what really impressed me was the sense of character and language brought to the page. Much of it seemed as if written by a woman. The imagery, the ways the characters related to each other, even the very language had a "female sense" about it. I even remember talking about it with my girlfriend, at how impressed I was that a man could write that way.

Eventually, of course, I became disappointed. When I finally bothered to look up info on Constantine I found that he is a she, and that she picked the name “Storm” to be able to sell in the male-dominated field of fantasy fiction. After the success of her first couple of novels, she stuck with the name and hasn't looked back.

If you were to pin me down and ask specifically what made me think of the work as feminine, I’d have a big problem doing that beyond what I already wrote above.

Why is this all on my mind? Well, it seems to keep popping up. While at the reading for Grace and Gravity (see my post Laughs Between the Lines back in October) editor Richard Peabody stated that he holds no intentions for a version on male writers of D.C. because he already knew what they would have to say. Okay, I begrudgingly thought, I guess I can understand that. At the Samuel Delany reading, he cited the feminist trends in SF as being the most interesting and groundbreaking out of the current crop of writers. There was also an article in the most recent issue of Writer's Chronicle that discussed the growing superiority of women over men writing. Back in high school the idea of reading work by women never really entered my head, but nowadays I do find myself sometimes seeking it out for a different perspective. Even now in the new issue of Gargoyle I'm finding the work by women more interesting, provocative and evocative than the work by men.

I'm also probably questioning this because the story I'm currently working on is from a female point-of-view, and I'm consistently having doubts that I'm doing it justice. On the rare occassions I've tried it before, no-one's ever picked apart my representation of women, but I always worried about it. If I'm able to tap into some buried sense of female-ness maybe I can pull it off in a piece of short fiction. But I still don't really know what that means. But perhaps I'm being too specific, trying to find one or more characteristics that define writing by women. After all, women are as different from each other as men are from other men. There indeed may be no real answer.

In her interview with Cemetery Dance, Nancy Holder was asked the big question about men vs. women's fiction. Her response is one of the better I've seen with "I honestly think we're better at characterization, but if so, not by much". Still pretty nebulous, but probably the closest thing to the truth.


Tuesday, November 30, 2004

From Cemeteries to Gargoyles to X

I finished the issue of Cemetery Dance last night. It's roughly what I was expecting. On a sentence-for-sentence level, the writing is pretty professional. Things are well described, some of the ideas are fun. Nearly all of the fiction, though, has a twist or shock ending. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The gore aspect is surprisingly limited, which was actually a nice surprise.

The one piece that really deviates from this is my favorite: "Hook House" by Sherry Decker. It's a gothic troubled family kind of story involving ghosts and generations of in-family murder. It's very well detailed, and surprisingly character driven. The other piece that amused me was "Misdirection" by Tony Richards. It's about a performance artist who involves the audience in violent ways, and definitely employs one of those shock ending pieces. But I'm a sucker for anything set in Scotland, and even more so if its at the Edinburg Arts Fest.

I mentioned the Nancy Holder interview earlier, but the issue also features an interview with long time horror writer Richard Matheson. With all he's done from novels, short fiction, film and t.v. scripts he brings an interesting perspective to the genre. Also interesting that he really hates gore, and hints that he regrets writing work that used gore when he was young. There's also an interview with Sean Wallace, head of the small press Prime Books; Wallace had a number of interesting things to say about running a small press that focuses on genre work and all the difficulties involved with it. I didn't know the press by name, but in reading the article realized I have at least two of their books, both by Jeff Vandermeer.

Based on this one issue, I think I'm capable to write pieces of equal quality if I get the ideas. I know I'm no Peter Straub, but this mag gave me a nice sense of hope.

So now I've moved on to the new issue of Gargoyle. The opening piece, Sally Drumm's "Alphabet Story", is brilliant. It's an odd quasi-nonfiction piece mixing letters, journal entries and essays into one. If there's a discernable theme, I'd say it's about writers, readers and exploring and questioning the relationships the two have with one another. It's also about language, and the style and rhythm has a deceptively random feel (although I'm sure it's not random at all). I got the same feeling from it that I get from reading a Kathy Acker piece for the first time. Slightly confused, but very interested in what the author is creating. Which, for me, is a good thing. More Gargoyle later.

Lastly, I want to point people to Alt-x. It's a journal and press that specializes in hypertext fiction, but does have a few other odds and ends mixed in. I hadn't looked at them in several months, but it looks like they've redone their site and made it a lot more organized and easier to navigate. I'm curious what others might think about hypertext fiction, because I have very mixed feelings about it.


Monday, November 29, 2004

Upcoming Events

Here are a few fiction events that look interesting and fun. I find it odd to pay for simple one-person book signings, but if you're all googly eyes over Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Tom Wolfe go for it. I give the Hebdomeros stamp of approval to the Stephen Dixon reading; I've seen him twice, and both times were good fun.

Politics and Prose
Monday, November 29, 7 p.m.
Tom Wolfe
I Am Charlotte Simmons
(FSG, $28.95)
Charlotte is an innocent, upright young lady from North Carolina who is dismayed to find that the principal concerns among the students at Dupont University, a supposedly elite academic institution, are sex and drugs. As in Bonfire of the Vanities, there’s lots of humorous skewering of the antics at Dupont, typical of the numerous college campuses Wolfe visited while writing this novel.

This event will be held at Temple Sinai. Two tickets are free with the purchase of the book. Otherise tickets are $10 per person. Mr. Wolfe will be signing only his new book.

Chapters Books
Time: Tuesday, November 30, 2004 7:00 PM
Title of Event: Anita Desai
One of the most gifted contemporary Indian writers and three time Booker finalist, Ms. Desai brings her cosmopolitan observations to Mexico, where she has resided, for her new novel, The Zig Zag Way, wherein a young historian plumbs the ancient world and his own family's past.

Politics and Prose
Wednesday, December 1, 7 p.m.
Amos Oz
A Tale of Love and Darkness
(Harcourt, $26)
The latest work by this towering figure in Jewish literature is an autobiographical narrative that focuses on the context and consequences of his mother’s suicide when Oz was twelve. Oz’s story encompasses the larger public anguish of Israel. With consummate craft and deep insight, Oz has written a “tragicomedy of all immigrants everywhere.”

This event will be held at Temple Sinai. Two tickets are free with the purchase of the book. Otherwise, tickets are $10 per person.

Wednesday, December 1 6-8 PM
The World of Sherlock Holmes
Panel Discussion and Book Signing
Resident Associate Program
Location: Hirshhorn Museum, Ring Auditorium
$20, general admission; $18, members; 202-357-3030
To mark the 150th anniversary year of Sherlock Holmes' creation, Peter S. Blau (former editor of Baker Street Journal), Dan Stashower (author of Teller of Tales: The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), and Patrick Loughney (curator of the Library of Congress' Moving Image Division) discuss with Leslie Klinger (editor for the manuscript series on the Baker Street Irregulars) a spectrum of views on Sherlockian controversies and some tantalizing new theories. Book signing follows.

Folger Shakespeare Library
Friday, December 3 8 pm
"Words Without Borders" is the theme of a PEN/Faulnker event featuring readings by Gish Jen, author of The Love Wife, Don Lee, author of the story collection Yellow, and Ana Menendez, author of In Cuba I Was A German Shepherd, at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, S.E. NPR Host Ray Suarez will moderate. Tickets are $15; call 202-544-7044 to RSVP (this info was found in the Washington Post. I couldn't find web content for the event).

Chapters Books
Time: Saturday, December 4, 2004 5:00 PM
Title of Event: Stephen Dixon
Stephen Dixon is indeed an old friend of Chapters, and we are delighted to celebrate his 23 rd work of fiction, appropriately titled, Old Friends, which is, in his inimitable style, an homage to the writing life, to friendship and love. That young upstart Jonathan Lethem confides, "Stephen Dixon is one of the great secret masters...I return again and again to his stories for writerly inspiration, moral support, and comic relief."

Wednesday, December 15 7 PM
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Lecture, Book Signing, and Reception
Resident Associate Program
Location: Hirshhorn Museum, Ring Auditorium
$20, general admission; $15, members; 202-357-3030
Bestselling author Susanna Clark discusses and reads from her latest novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, which is currently ranked fifth on the New York Times's Bestseller List. Book signing and reception follow.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Dancin' On Graves

The Best Non-Required Reading finally wore me out last night. I got home from work about 10:00, fixed dinner, watched some bad S/F television (I have to give it to Kevin Sorbo for sticking with this weird little career of his). After trying to slug through yet another oh-woe-is-me story, I threw the poor book across the room.

I don't mean that metaphorically. I mean I actually held the book in my hand, whipped my arm out and tossed the book at the wall across from my bed. The damn book even broke a lightbulb on my polelamp.

So I grabbed the next thing on my to-read pile, the most recent issue of Cemetery Dance. I picked it up a little while ago when writing a horror/dark fantasy piece and never got around to reading it.

I have to say, it is a different world from the mags I usually read. The mag opens with an interview with Nancy Holder, who I take has won a couple Stoker Awards and wrote a number of short novels tied into Buffy, Angel, and Smallville. It was moderately interesting, being an area of publishing I've never really thought of much. The way she describes it, though, they don't get paid very much and the studio retains all rights to the work.

Very strangely, there's a whole column devoted to Stephen King news. It talks about the Darktower series, that hospital tv show that came and went in about a week, and other odd tidbits about what King is up to. If I'm reading right, this is a feature in every issue. Imagine the outcry from the literati if the New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly did a feature every issue on the same writer.

So far the fiction is soso. I'll post later if any are particularly good, or just downright awful.


Naturists Take On Censorship

A friend and former boss of mine emailed this to me last night. And while I'm not a naturists, censorship in any form does irk me. Act on it if you like. I'll let my friend speak for himself without any further comment.

Dear Naturists, Friends of naturists and/or opponents of censorship,

The link below will explain the issue in more detail. Basically, Barnes&Noble, under pressure from "concerned customers", has removed the naturist magazine N from its shelves. For those not familiar with this periodical, let me assure you that it isn't dirty by any usual definition of that word. What is galling is the hypocrisy of removing a magazine that looks at social nudism, while retaining Playboy & Penthouse! Not to mention any number of art/photography or "how to" books that are far more sexually graphic than anything found in N. Even if you are not a naturist/nudist yourself, please take the time to let B&N know that you're not happy with such hypocritical censorship coming from a main bookseller. The contact info for B&N is in the link. Thanks!


PS, Please pass on to any other sympathizers you may know.

Conact Info

Friday, November 26, 2004

Whaddya Mean There's No Turkey?

Well I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving yesterday and that quality time with the family wasn't too painful.

We actually ate ham at my house this year. Which is fine by me, because I don't really like turkey. But it was amazing to me. Whenever I told people, they took it as a personal attack to their idea of Thanksgiving. "Wh..What! You can't have Thanksgiving without Turkey!"

Well, I'm here to tell you that you can.

So alongside the ham it was a pretty enjoyable day. My mom wouldn't let me help in any way except to clean all the bathrooms. So, after cleaning them for the 3rd time, I looked out the window and watched the wind tear apart the rain clouds that had dominated the skies here the last several days. The sun popped out and it was quite a nice surprise. It became so bright for awhile it was hard to look outside. I dragged out my journal and started to just write down what I was looking at, and somehow it started to turn into a story about a holiday party. Very odd segueway, but the holiday party itself looks to be promising. The real odd part is that I wrote it in 2nd person (you drank enough punch to get drunk off your ass as opposed to he drank enough punch to get drunk off his ass). I can't remember the last time I wrote in that point of view, but it's kind of fun for a switch. I'm debating over making it one of those rambling narratives I complained about in Black Clock, or if I want it to have actual dialogue. We'll see how it goes the next couple of days. I'm trying to keep it short, so I should know before long.

After dinner I ended up watching Dreamcatcher, based on the Stephen King book. It was fun for the most part. I enjoyed the very non-Hollywood pacing in the early part of the film, and there are some cool parts. One character is taken over by an alien entity, and the director really had a lot of fun with that by having the character watch the actions of his own body through window in his own mind. Although I haven't read it, I have the feeling it followed the book pretty well. It had that odd balance of really good writing and hackish slop that few but King seem able to achieve. I really, really, really didn't buy Lt. Owen (played by Tom Sizemore) at all. He bought into some wacked out theories pretty quickly (So you're telling me your childhood friend with a speech impediment gave you telepathy so you could defend the Earth from an alien invasion? Ok, let's go!). I also have a hard time believing an experienced military man would really try to take on a fully armed helicopter with nothing but a machine gun when he's standing in wide-open terrain.

Not too bright.


Thursday, November 25, 2004

Girlfriend in A Coma

Ok, not really. Alex Garland's new book The Coma does throw narrator Carl into a coma, but there's no girlfriend. There is a secretary. Or maybe she is a girlfriend. It gets a little confusing at times, but its that confusion that makes this book work so well.

On a late-night ride home from work on London's tube, Carl dares to stand up to some muggers intent on robbing a woman. The muggers pummel poor Carl for his intrusion, sending him into a deep coma. He wakes up sometime later to find things changed. His friends act strangely, and even little things like cups of coffee don't seem quite right. Before long it becomes all too apparent to both Carl and the reader that he's still in a coma, and everything he's experiencing is within his own mind. Carl then dives into the depths of his memories and fantasies, both pleasant and traumatic, to jar himself back to the waking life of the real world. But as time goes on, Carl becomes unsure of what's really memory and what he's made up inside this never-ending dream world. He's forgotten who he is, or was, and even questions if he should leave this coma-state or return to the real living world.

Political cartoonist Nicholas Garland, and Alex Garland's father, illustrated the book. The illustrations are heavy, bold-lined, black and white wood cuts and open each chapter. While the text could certainly stand on its own, the illustrations do increase the odd, languid dream-like quality of the book.

Between the illustrations and large-format text, this novella is a quick but very provocative and memorable book. It's the first thing I've read by him, unless you count the film script for 28 Days Later, and this definitely presses me to seek out more.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

If the Fiction Authors Brawled with the Poets Last Night... the Gargoyle reading, the poets would have won over by numbers alone. Out of ten readers, three were fiction. Despite that (yes, I'm a biased fiction person...I freely admit it) the reading turned out well. Probably 25-30 people there, maybe half the number that came to the last two Gargoyle things I've been to. If you took out the readers and the people they brought along, not many would have been left. But turkey day looms like a big, gobbling holiday giant and probably kept a number of people away.

With a few exceptions, most of the poetry was poetry I liked. While I know in my head what I like, I'm not adept at explicating poetry. Generally I prefer poems with some sort of action or narrative; unless they are short my mind wanders with poems that are entirely descriptions of an object or scene. So I guess I like poems to be like fiction, in a way.

Eugenie Bisuclo, who came down all the way from NY City for the reading, was probably the highlight for me; her "No Assing Rough" in the issue is great, and the three others she read were very tight. Humorous and smart, with a lot of fun wordplay. I may try to seek out some of her other work. Lida Husik's quasi-political rants, as always, were fun. Reginald Harris, with his bouncing, almost bassline-like rhythms and odd little twists, were great as well.

For fiction, RD Selim read part of "Anunciation". The portion he read was a phone conversation between a woman and someone who might either be god or the devil. I look forward to reading that one to find out. James F. Thompson read "Butterfly BBQ Sauce", which I understand is the opening chapter for a novel. A woman has been murdered, and her grisly death scene is told from her point of view in a very descriptive yet eerily humorous kind of way.

The Best Non-Required Reading is not really grabbing me right now; yesterday I read Alex Garland's Coma (more on that in a later post) to escape it. Not sure exactly what it is, if it's the extreme New Yorker/Zoetrope/Atlantic Monthly content in the book or just my mood. But I may be jumping ship over to Gargoyle and come back to it at a later time.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Part Two

Continued from Delany and Butler post

Delany with his white hair, long white beard and rotond body made him look not too unlike a Santa Claus trying to go incognito by wearing a black suit. He talked very shortly about his relationship to SF, mostly how he hasn't written any in 20+ years but still loves it, and then moved on to read for about 15 minutes from his book Atlantis Model 1924, a narrative based on the life of his uncle who moved from the deep South to NY City by himself at the age of 17. The portion he read told about his uncle's experiences both as a tobacco farmer and a school teacher. The passage was a good example of Delany's stuff: a nice blend of dark and sometimes bawdy humor with vivid descriptions written in a lurid Faulknerian style of prose. Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it. Note that he picked a passage that was not sexually charged. I would have been amused if he had read Hogg. But that would have chased off most of the audience. It occurred to me sitting there, listening to his deeply resonant voice, that aside from his experimentations with subject matter and form, despite the often provocative nature of a lot of his work, Delany is first, foremost and lastly a superior story teller.

A little Q&A followed the readings. Most questions were not too profound. The requisite "Where do you get your ideas?" popped up 4-5 times, and they both handled that worn out query pretty well. Here are some of my favorites (these are paraphrased, based on my notes....and should not be taken for word for word quotes):

Q: I'm writing a novel. How do I know which character to pick for my primary character?

Delany: Figure out which character goes through the most pain or change. That should be your main character.
Butler: I'd pick 3-4 favorites, and do one book for each of them.

Q: How long does it take to write a novel?

Butler: You start a novel the moment you are born and continue working on it for your full life until it's totally written.

Q: Are the politics of today shaping what you write? Do they direct what themes you choose, and if so, how?

Delany: They are beginning to. It's difficult to say what shape they will take within my writing until I finish it.
Butler: I'm constantly reading the newspaper, and used it to forecast a lot of the events that occurred in my novels. Now I'm frightened by the idea that I may, in some small way, have prophesized the winding down of America. It makes me very angry to see the same problems, the same themes I wrote against 20 years ago resurfacing. I'm too mad about it to write about it. My next book is an escapist vampire novel. I wrote it to get away from everything.

(as an aside, a Vampire novel from Butler makes perfect sense. One of her several series is about a race of telepaths, and its easy to see her spinning off into Vampire-land in a Storm Constantine kind of way)

Q: How do you feel about the current state of science fiction? (asked by a very angry man in a star trek t-shirt who seemed to be all about agendas).

Delany: I think Science Fiction is as healthy as it ever was. The best work I see now are by the writers working a little on the feminist fringes. Writers like L. Timmell Duchamp, Kelly Link, Candas Dorsey are doing very interesting things, but people aren't as aware of them since they primarly write short fiction, not novels.

And this one was my favorite, from a boy of roughly 16
Q: I'm an aspiring writer, and I was just wondering if things you ever wrote ever caught on fire and you had to start all over again. I'm asking because this has happened to me three or four times now and I don't know what to do.

after a little chuckling from about everyone in the room:
Delany: I can honestly say that's never happened to me. The only thing I can suggest is to invest in a reliable fire extinguisher.

After the Q&A, people lined up to get books signed by one or both of the authors. There were several books available by each author, but I had brought my own. I was between three women in line, and we got into some interesting little talks about books, publishing, and the election.

I didn't have much to say to Butler except "thank you", but will say she was very pleasant. Delany seemed pleased that I brought a very well read, dog-eared copy of his memoirs The Motion of Light in Water; I thanked him for a critique of a very awful story of mine he did at a writer's conference four years ago in Cleveland, and he graciously nodded like he remembered me. I know he didn't, but it was still nice of him to pretend.

Tonight Gargoyle has the launch reading for their new issue at Chapters Books here in D.C, conveniently located one block away from my job. According to the website, Lida Husik is reading and she's always worthwhile. Looks like a good issue, too. Full report sometime tomorrow.


Monday, November 22, 2004

Delany and Butler

The Samuel R. Delany/Octavia Butler reading was held at the Museum of Natural History in a small auditorium, 200-250 seats or so, with a small, raised stage set at the end. A podium was set up, which the Director of the Anacostia Museum used to introduce the speakers, along with two easy chairs for Butler and Delany. This event was held in conjunction with an exhibit on African-American writers currently at the Anacostia museum.

The auditorium was roughly half-full, so not bad for a Friday night. Based solely on what I saw and overhead from various people there, probably 3/4 of the audience came to see Butler. And out of those 3/4, probably 3/4 of them came because of her book Kindred. A good book, or so I'm told as it sits in my to-read pile, but hopefully this event carried these people to other books. The few who came for Delany ranged from SF geeks (which I guess I'll lump myself into) and a small handful of fans of his gay literature.

Butler gave a ten minute talk on Kindred, on how she pulled the idea together, the research she did, how it sold after she wrote it. But it was more fun than your standard author talking about process (which I do enjoy). Listening to her deep, musical near baritone voice spin stories about her pulling this book together was like visiting some long lost aunt. All very surprising, since she has the reputation of a recluse. Kindred, roughly, is about a contemporary woman who travels back in time to the mid-1800's. She's forced into slavery, and from what I understand a large part of the book focuses on the perspective a contemporary person can bring to that experience. Set on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Butler spent a good amount of time researching at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore and just walking the highways and dirt roads of the eastern shore. Most of the physical descriptions came from her walking the land, visiting historical homes, and just getting a feel for things. She developed the plots within the book from personal narratives at the historical society.

After getting it written, she had a hell of a time selling it. Her agent tried a variety of publishing houses, but they didn't know what to do with it. She was told everything from turn it into a juvenile book, change it into a bodice ripper romance, or just give it up. Finally she sold it with the pulpy SF publisher that did all her previous books. It came out in paperback, had little press support and essentially vanished until another publisher put it out in trade and it finally got a lot of critical attention. It's now considered a classic of SF, a classic of pomo, and a classic of African-american literature.

To be Continued....


Oh MY!

Hmm, I see the japanese characters for my last post vanished. Very odd.

Anyway, someone just sent me this link, and I post to you with little comment but to say that it's a little, um, adult and kinky and takes the idea of booklover to a whole new level.

You've been warned.

I'm working up my little article, column, whatever on the reading from Friday night (which was excellent) and should have it up later today. Just in time, too, since the Gargoyle reading is tomorrow and I'm sure I'll have things to say about that!


Friday, November 19, 2004


Today's title, at least according to world lingo, translates as "a nice surprise" in Japanese.

So I love books that surprise me.

The mag I review books for is pretty cool, in that we meet once a month and pretty much pick whatever we want out of the piles of books that were sent in the mail from publishers. It gives me a chance to try things I wouldn't normally read. Sometimes it flops, and sometimes it soars.

I'm not exactly sure why I picked Kinki Lullaby. I don't usually go for mystery/thriller types, aside from a few noted exceptions like Elmore Leonard or George Pelecanos. I probably just grabbed it because I have an on-again/off-again fascination with all things Japan. I've put off reading it, probably just because it's a mystery. My own bias, I suppose.

It's actually pretty good. Well plotted, a strong narrator and it plays with and (in small ways) pokes fun at the whole noir style. What makes it really work are all the Japanese details. Bunraku theatre, a specific style of Japanese Puppetry, plays a huge part in the story. My own experience with Bunraku is limited to a special I saw on PBS several years ago, but I buy that Adamson knows what he's talking about and he makes good use of it within his story. And, partly because it's in Japan, the characters are slightly different than what you normally find in a mystery. Sure, there are the mobster types, the beautiful yet strange women, the almost competent police man. But they are skewed just enough to make them unique and interesting. There are a handful of moments, often just quick passages, that reminds me slightly of Murakami. Kinki Lullaby
is not that brilliant, but just an odd feeling here and there.

Anyway, Kinki was a nice surprise and I suggest it if you're looking for a good quick read. On the side, I started some research on Ladybugs to see what I can come up with for some kind of story. It's kind of fun discovering weird facts about those little bugs.

Tonight I'm going to the Samuel Delany/Octavia Butler reading and lecture at the Smithsonian. The weekend looks pretty busy for me, but I'll get my thoughts on it up here once I have a chance.

Until next time.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

They're Everywhere, Everywhere!

Last night, after chatting on the phone a bit and reading some more of Kinki Lullaby, I turned in early and feel asleep sometime before 11:30. It wasn’t long before I slipped into a strange dream.

I was at my desk, my computer on, apparently writing something. But it was my old computer, my old Apple II C with the bright green letters on a black screen. Now that I think about it, it’s possible that I didn’t write the words. I just remember reading the words on the screen, not actually writing them. I know there’s this old idea that you can’t read in dreams, but it’s crap. I do it all the time.

“Konichiwa,” said the Urban Cowboy.

“Konichiwa,” I said back. The Urban Cowboy was pointing a derringer at me, a derringer with little pretty flowers painted on it. Despite the flowers, I knew he would shoot me dead before I even drew out my battle sword. What to do, what to do.

Don’t ask me. No idea what any of that means.

My reading was interrupted by a scraping noise coming from the kitchen. I walked into the kitchen, turned on the lights and found everything covered with Ladybugs. The floor, the walls, the ceiling, the table, the stove; everything. Hundreds, thousands of tiny undulating, scuttling masses of red insectoid bodies crawling over every available space. The noise was louder in the kitchen, and seemed to come from the sheer mass of numbers of them moving together. I remember wondering where they came from, if they moved with some group purpose, and, most importantly, how I would be able to make coffee in the morning if they were all still in the kitchen.

That’s all I remember. Next thing I knew, I was awake (sort of), lying in bed with my room only lit by the soft electric blue light from my alarm clock. I had left my world band radio on when I fell asleep, and someone was babbling in Russian or some other East European language I don’t understand. I crawled out of bed and went to the kitchen, just to check. Sometimes when I wake up I’m a little confused between dreams and reality, so I just wanted to be sure.

The kitchen, of course, was fine. No ladybugs, or bugs of any kind for that matter. I took a glass out of the cabinet, got some water out of the sink and drank half of it. I walked back to my bedroom, set the half-full glass on my nightstand next to the clock, and got back into bed and fell asleep.

My alarm woke me up at the usual 7:00 a.m. My shades were drawn closed, so the light was brighter than before although still pretty low. I thought briefly about the dream, trying to remember as many details as I could before I fully woke up and forgot it all. Feelings of being both mildly creeped out and amused flitted through my head. After a few minutes of this, satisfied that I remembered as much as I could, I sat up, turned on the reading light on my nightstand and picked up the half-full glass of water. I was just about to take a gulp when I saw something floating in it.

It was a ladybug. A dead ladybug. But this was not the same ladybug I saw at sunrise the day before. This one was different. For starters, it was larger, fatter. But it’s color was different. This one was not the same bright nail polish red, but was a dull yellow with a slight touch of red mixed in. I suppose the size could come from simple bloating from the water, but I’m pretty sure it was a different one.

But the story doesn’t end there.

On my way to the metro, I drive past the school bus stop for the neighborhood. It had rained sometime overnight, and the sky was still gray and the ground still wet. Not one but two little girls at the bus stop were wearing matching raincoats, those bright red raincoats decorated to make them look like, yes, Ladybugs. And when I got off the metro this morning at Metro Center and made my way down F Street to work, I saw a scrunched up elderly lady who, despite the fact that the sun was starting to come out, walked with her umbrella opened. Which, of course, was decorated like a Ladybug.

I know this is all a little too much to be believed, and in many ways I feel like I’m trapped in some sort of Magical Realist or New Fabulist story. This would be but the first few pages, with something Ladybug related changing my life in the climax. But sometimes life really does move in patterns. Although I’m not particularly religious or superstitious, sometimes the world is just trying to tell you something. I have no idea what, though.

Phew. This ended up being longer than I thought. But I felt it strange enough to blog about. My little narrative brain is working overtime to try to figure out a way to use all this in a story. I’m not sure how yet. It’ll probably take me a few weeks to figure it out.


And the Winners Are...

The National Book Awards were last night.

Fiction: News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck
Young People's Literature: Pete Hautman's Godless
Poetry: Jean Valentine's Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003
Non-fiction: Kevin Boyle for Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age
and Judy Blume won its annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

Both the NY Times and the Washington Post offer up their different perspectives on it all. It's odd, though.

Both articles bring up how unknown these authors are, including the winner. But I remember reading reviews for News of Paraguay in both the Post and the NY Times. Lily Tuck I know has been in a lot of mags, so I know her name that way as well. Seems the winner was the most well known (not that it didn't deserve's supposed to be a great book). The Post mentions briefly that they're all from NY City, which is not surprising. Out of all the fiction nominees, though, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum's Madeleine is Sleeping looks the most interesting to me and will probably be the only one I really seek out. I'm real happy for Judy Blume, though.

Anyway, time to go to work. I'll have a Ladybug update later in the day when I have some time.


Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Diamond Dust and Ruby Jewels

Every morning the first thing I do after sliding out of bed and prying my eyes open, I head to the front window and look outside to get an idea of what the day the might hold for me. This morning, for the first time since Spring thawed everything out, I saw frost on the windshield of my car. The sun was just starting to walk up the horizon, and the light dazzling on the frost made it look like a dusting of diamonds across the glass.

I turned around and saw something on the wall. It was a small red ruby jewel with obsidian spots, and tiny legs carrying it across the off-white of my walls. A coccinella septempunctata. Known as a Ladybird in England, or a Ladybug here in the U.S. Personally I’ve always associate them with springtime, so my brain was struggling, trying to make sense of this weird dichotomy of frost outside but springtime bugs inside. I watched it for several minutes, going up the wall, back down, and then up again.

My first instinct was to put it outside, but then I thought about the frost. It must have wandered inside at some moment to escape the cold, and I saw no real reason to throw it back out there. I’m not much of a gardener, but I know enough to know that Ladybugs are useful bugs, bugs that eat those other bugs like aphids that might attack plants. Now it seems I’ll have my own personal defender of all my inside plants for the winter, at least as long as the Ladybug sticks around.

I know this has nothing whatsoever to do with writing, but I found it all rather strange. If I were superstitious, I might take the Ladybug for some kind of omen, although I have no idea what kind. Until proven otherwise, I’m grateful to have this little jewel of a bug sharing my home. It’s welcome to stay as long as it wants.



Well with The Incredibles superheroes seem to be in the air lateley.

This is a fun collage project that will hopefully grow. And here is a goofy McSweeneys story with a lot of inside jokes. And this is a weird little project that I don't quite know how to explain (you need acrobat reader for it). For a literary context, here's Shaviro's Doom Patrols, a set of essays that looks at comic books authors and characters alongside experimental artists and authors. It's several years old, but a fun read and still relevant.


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Music and Writing

Today I'm thinking about music people listen to while they work on their own art, be it fiction, poetry, painting, graphic design, whatever.

A former professor of mine listens to very complex orchestral music when he's doing a first draft, claiming the music grabs the attention of the left side of his brain leaving the creativity of the right side to run rampant. When he starts revising he listens to free jazz, supposedly with the opposite result.

I usually shoot for mood. If the part I'm writing has a lot of action, I'll listen to something that's more rhythmic like industrial or techno. If it's supposed to be sad I'll usually put on ambient or goth, or maybe Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits. For the horror piece I just worked on I pretty much listened to the Black Box the whole time, which is a collection of early industrial and techno put out by Wax Trax. For editing I guess I just put on something that won't distract me, which could be anything really. Film scores to jazz to regular rock or metal, depending upon mood.

Very very rarely, when I'm either really stuck or I'm working late at night and need to stay awake, I'll turn on a talk station on the radio, put on a cd and turn on the t.v. The odd blend sometimes brings things out of me I can't pull out on my own.


Monday, November 15, 2004

Steam that Dream into a Theme

Ok, that title's a stretch, but I was a little stuck for one tonight :).

The only real cultural thing I did over the weekend was see the new Pixar movie, The Incredibles. While I don't think it'll be as huge as Finding Nemo, it's a lot of fun and, damn it, is yet another idea I should have come up with. In fact, my grad school application was a set of three stories about relatives of superheroes, some with powers and some without. I had been thinking about going to back to that territory a bit, possibly as a themed collection, but now I think I need to wait. It would just be too colored by everything I saw in the movie.

But it got me thinking about themes for collections. Here are just a handful of my favorites.

Lost Pages by Paul di Filippo. Essentially di Filippo takes two seemingly unrelated historical figures and/or characters and blends them together in each story. For example, "Jackdaw" blends Kafka with Batman, turning Kafka into a goofy crimefighter. "Mairzy Doats" places old SF writer Robert Heinlein as President of the U.S., while "Linda and Phil" has Linda Ronstadt married to SF author Philip K. Dick.

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino. Wonderfully wacky collection that runs the gamut from SF to magical realism. Has everything from a moon made of milk to little protons warring each other.

Invisible Cities also by Calvino. This one puts Marco Polo at Khan's (Genghis I think, I'm too lazy to find my copy) footsteps, and Polo is forced to entertain Khan with stories of all the wild places his visited. Wonderfully surreal, this one borders on narrative poetry.

Tabloid Dreams by Robert Olen Butler. Stories inspired by crazy tabloid articles. Alien abductions, Elvis, and more. But very character and language driven, with a surprising level of depth for several of the pieces.


Saturday, November 13, 2004

Wind the Black Clock

I'm finally getting to my review of Black Clock.

I'll start off talking about synchronicity. Two stories in this mag I read previously in the Lit Riffs anthology I blogged about earlier. One I liked a lot, Jonathan Lethem's "National Anthem, and one I thought was just ok, Heidi Julavits's "The Eternal Helen". So right off the bat, that was a little odd. It also has "Oblivion", the title piece to David Foster Wallace's new collection in it (I have that book on reserve at the library).

Black Clock comes to us as a product of Cal Arts, published in association with their MFA Writing Program. The chief editor Steve Erikson, coincidentally, had a book in the 80's called Tour of the Black Clock. I've never read it, but from the reviews it seems to be a well written blend of mainstream and Philip K. Dick style sci-fi with some WS Burroughs thrown in for style.

This is Black Clock's first issue, and it looks like it first came out in March. Don't ask me why bookstores here only got in October. Overall the mag is pretty high quality. Mostly fiction, it also features two short poems, an essay by Rebecca Goldstein and the interview with Samuel Delany I blogged about earlier. The writing is good, very professional, very artful. In alot of ways, it reminds me of Fence, one of my longtime faves. My main complaint is that most of the pieces are rambling first person narratives with little or no action, and little or no dialogue. They're also very, very serious. If I had one suggestion overall, it would be more variety. Mostly because the pieces I think are the best are also the ones that don't fall into these categories.

Aimee Bender's "Debbieland", for example, is a riot. The story opens with a nameless narrator beating up a fellow highschooler named Debbie for wearing a skirt that's a few days out of fashion. I know, it doesn't sound funny, but Bender's telling through the eyes of the narrator gives it a dark humor that really works. The piece then skips ahead about ten years, when the narrator runs into Debbie again. Debbie confronts the narrator for past events, and some odd reflections occur. "Toyota Window" by Mary Caponegro also comes from a place of dark humor. A woman takes her Toyota into the dealership for a well overdue oil change. As she's sitting in the waiting room watching t.v, she convinces herself that the announcer on t.v is her dead husband.

"T' Zuid" by Nicholas Royle is interesting. Through a lot of point of view shifts, it relates the making of a movie to a series of recent murders. It's got an interesting structure with a somewhat mystifying ending.

Bruce Bauman's "And the Word Was" was the most moving for me. The main character is a NY City doctor who lost his son in a street shooting. The doctor has lost his faith in God, and travels to India to find Levi Furstenblaum, a WWII holocaust survivor who published books about how the Holocaust caused him to lose his own faith and how he moved on without god in his life. The piece intertwines the growing relationship between the doctor and Furstenblaum alongside some of Furstenblaum's own writings. There are some very profound passages in this story on loss, religion and the search for meaning when nothing seems to matter. I've never read Bauman before, but will definitely be on the lookout for more.

As far as a potential market, there's no info either in the mag or on their website regarding submitting work. My guess is the editor Steve Erickson solicits everything from people he knows. Perhaps after they get the first few issues out, they'll open up for submissions. Strangely, the mag contains no info on how to order copies, and there's only a phone number for ordering on the website.

As a final bit of synchronicity, I went to Borders on the way to work today to do some early holiday shopping. They were just unpacking issue #2 as I came in. Taking a quick look at it, a lot of the same writers are in it: Lethem, Bauman, Moody, (supporting my theory that they solicit everything in the mag). But the pieces are shorter in this issue, and it does look to have more variety. Issue two has a Shelley Jackson story, and one by Greil Marcus. I bought the newest Grand Street instead, because it was the last copy and I've been meaning to get it for few weeks. I may pick up Black Clock #2 later in the month, after I get some more holiday shopping done.


A real quickie

Just a real quick post while I'm waiting for the coffee to percolate. I (finally) finished the horror piece last night and sent it to two online places. While I'm not totally happy with it, I'm sick of it. If it's rejected I'll work on it some more. But it's time to move on to other things.

The Post has a fun article about NanoWriMo. And the good old NY Times has a couple good pieces. One on Alice Munro, written by Jonathan Franzen. He's right about her being underappreciated. I think she's one of the best of the modernist short story form out there; but Franzen's own aside that he's also underappreciated is a little self-serving. I worked in a bookstore when his novel hit paperback, and it defintely moved. And this book just made my Xmas list (hint hint to all who know me in real life). Zappa's a nut, in a good way, and I love that Camille Paglia reviewed this new bio on him. Lastly, this looks really interesting. DJ Spooky is a high-concept DJ and audio-collage guy who was really embraced by the NY Art Scene a few years ago. He started here in D.C., spinning at Tracks and a few other places, and the last couple years he's been touring museums and more arty performance spaces doing a lecture/performance based around his theories of collage. When I first got into him, there were also rumors of a novel called Flow My Blood the DJ Said, which is a take off of a Philip K. Dick title Flow My Tears The Policeman Said. He has a lot of fun ideas on collage, the way we piece together information, process thought, etc. Some of it applicable to writing.

You may need a login id to see these articles, but it's free. Anyway, still working up my review of Black Clock. If work is slow enough, I'll get that up by this evening. Otherwise it will be my post for tomorrow.


Friday, November 12, 2004

Delany and Genres

For those who don't know, Samuel R Delany is a writer with a rich and odd history. His career started in the 60's as a fantasy and SF writer, as part of that whole crop that raised the bar as far as pure writing within the genre. Some of his works like Tales From Neveryon are collected in postmodern anthologies, and Dhalgren is a fabulous dystopian novel. He's african-american and openly gay, and often works those as threads into a lot of his work. He's also written comic books, a good deal of experimental fiction, as well as some gay porn (his words there, not mine).

But back to the interview in Black Clock. The interviewer Steve Erickson, also head editor for Black Clock, kept directing the questions towards issues of work that transcends the genre they work inside. In other words, "_" book is so damn scary good you can't call it SF (or mystery or horror or porn or whatever) anymore, you have to call it literature.

Delany disagreed, over and over again.

He first said this on page 76:

Genre distinctions are fundamentally power boundaries. When a literary writer strikes out to bring back rhetorical figures from the marginal, low, or folk arts for use in his or her literary work, everybody says, "Wow! Isn't that great!" When a marginal...writer appropriates literary rhetoric, however, and carries it back across the border to his or her side of the boundary, to hear most people talk about it in the literary precincts, you'd think a native had broken through the fence into the farmyard and swiped a chicken...Those exclusionary forces rigorously shaped the space in which the rhetorical richness, invention and genius of SF was forced to flower.... A writer talking seriously about his or her own breakthroughs is a guarantee of arrogance, pomposity and aesthetic clownishness.

He was then asked about his own work, specifically his early fantasy novels.

"These are un-tradional sword-and-sorcery tales, though they're sword-and-sorcery nevertheless. They don't transcend the genre. They do something within it that's a bit unusual. That's all." page 84

Not sure where I'm going with any of this, I just found it interesting. Despite his notoriety as a superior writer, Delany has no problem being attached to specific genres, be it SF or porn. So I can't help but think about writers who started out as a "genre" writer, but deny their connection to it. Jonathan Carroll, who I blogged about once before, seems to have this attitude a lot.

I've finished the full issue of Black Clock now, and am pulling a review together that will be up in the next day or two.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Everything's Coming Up Delany

I seem to be tripping all over Samuel R. Delany lately. Not physically (that would be scary) but in the imaginary world of lit.

It started with the issue of Black Clock that I'm now going through, which features an interesting interview with him. This past Saturday, Miss Anonymous L. pointed out a sign to me on the National Mall for an exhibit at the Anacostia Museum showcasing an exhibit on African-American writers organized by D.C. poet E. Ethelbert Miller, with one of the writers in the exhibit being Delany.

Now I find a review of his new novella Phallos as well as the new printings of Hogg and his autobiography The Motion of Light in Water, and that he's a doing a special program for the Smithsonian on Friday November 19 with Octavia Butler.

Anyway, he's a brilliant, albeit sometimes disturbing, writer. The event looks really interesting, as does the exhibit. Tomorrow I'll post a little about the interview in Black Clock, because it does have some interesting points.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Dali and Inspiration

I tell this story a lot, and even used it in a short story once, so to all those who know this I apologize. Also, this is from memory, so I apologize to any Dali scholars out there for any inaccuracies.

Although Salvador Dali's greatest work of fiction is his own autobiography (highly suggested, btw), he does have one novel entitled Hidden Faces.

The book's pretty unexciting. It doesn't have the bizarre freeform narrative like de Chirico's fiction, nor does it have the dream like quality of Paul Eluard's poetry and short fiction. Plain and simple, Hidden Faces is a pretty typical romance set in France on the eve of WWI. I was never so let down by an idol in my life. Despite the poor text, Dali did offer some interesting ideas in the introduction.

Dali goes to great lengths to tell about his unnamed painter friends in New York City, patiently waiting for inspiration to hit before starting to paint. Salvador leaves them to write his novel in Maine, and returns six months later with his goal complete. He was amused to find that nothing in New York City had changed. His painter friends still sat in front of their blank canvases, praying for inspiration to favor them with a visit. Dali tossed his novel at them with a chuckle, then moved on to Hollywood to work on some animation dream sequences for Alfred Hitchcock. Dali then rants in his intro about the process of art, that it is a process of small steps that after time will create a whole much larger than the sum.

Anyway, this story kind of echoes what Hemmingson was bitching about on his blog (he has some new complaints about people who refer to their unpublished works as novels instead of manuscripts, but I digress). Art, even bad art, is work and takes time. Time for me to stop blogging and get to it.