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.


Monday, November 08, 2004

He'll Light a Fire Under You. Or Set You On Fire. Or At Least Give You Heat Rash.

If you're feeling a little bit whiny today, check out Michael Hemmingson's blog entry entitled "I Have to Work For It? No Way, Dude!". Whether you like his writing or not, he puts out about a book a year, so it's hard to argue with his output. He does a lot of satiric stuff, often blending the tropes of erotic, porn and pomo all together into one big mess. He's got a bunch of collections out there, and has edited a couple of anthologies. I think he's in the upcoming issue of Gargoyle as well.

Anyway, despite his less than tactful approach he has a point. Art takes work. Even for those it seems to come to easily, they still put the time in to get it done. I don't place myself in the whiny camp he's talking about, at least the same whiny camp. I usually direct my whines at myself. Someday when I need to fill in a random entry I'll tell this wonderful Salvador Dali story about inspiration. Until next time.


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Ka-Pow! Ka-Blam!

I have to put the issue of Black Clock aside for a couple days. I was sent a copy of this odd little book called Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno to review. At this point, I'd call it a High Fidelity for young adults/teens, meaning it's a psuedo-romantic, self-relflective book for h.s. boys. Not bad. A lot of good humor, and great punk rock references. As a twist, the main character's in love with a heavy set girl, and he's all mixed up about it. Feeling he shouldn't be in love with her, but yet he still is.

If you have some time, Here's a link to a long but worthwhile interview with Neal Stephenson. He answers questions about writing, the first amendment and who would win in a fight between him and William Gibson.


Doing the Unstuck

I'm "borrowing" the title of a Cure song I don't like to talk about creative blocks. I'm wondering how others get past those points you just can't seem to push through, be it in a story, song, painting, whatever. Here are a few I use:

1. If the story has a lot of action, I write a scene forcing the two most oppoosite characters to talk to each other, even for a little bit. Sometimes the conflict can be summarized in one line of dialogue in what might take a page or more of action.

2. Write in a different space. Meaning, pick up the notebook, get out of the office and write somewhere you don't normally write. A coffee shop, a park bench, the back seat of car, anything to change your environment and get the juices flowing again.

3. Write a scene I've already written, but from the p.o.v. of a different character. Often I'll end up blending ideas from both versions into a new one.

I'll post others later on in the reply section.


Friday, November 05, 2004

Crawling out of the aether

Well the claws of my cold have finally dulled enough that I can think relatively straight, at least straight enough to put a few sentences together.

Not much reading or writing the last two days, but I did make it through a lot of movies. Both good and Bad. Dawn of the Dead (the new one), Matchstick Men, Rush Hour II, and Memories (a collection of three anime shorts). Dawn of the Dead, despite being a great horror movie, may not be the best thing to watch when you're feeling a little like the living dead yourself.

On the lit side of things, I started reading an issue of Black Clock, a mag out of California I've never heard of. It has a lot of heavy hitters like Mary Caponegro, Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, Aimee Bender. Also has a few interesting photographs. It looks very professioanal, but I'll pull a full review of it together after I finish.

I'll try to have more profound thoughts tomorrow, after all my thought processes return to normal.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Guilty Pleasures

As my sinuses continue to squeeze my head to a pinpoint, I'm wondering about people's guilty pleasures. You know you have them. Those authors you read, those t.v. shows you watch, those bands you listen to you might not want the world at large to know about. To get the ball rolling, here are a few of mine:

T.V.: Smallville I'm a junkie for anything tied to comic books. Sometimes kryptonite being the cause of nearly everything is a little tiresome, but I can't begin to tell you how excited I am knowing that Mr. Mxzptlk, the great imp of comics, will be on tomorrow night's episode.

Books: Simon Hawke. Started reading him with his "Time Wars" series back when I was in sixth grade and I still get whatever he puts out. In the 90's he did a series about magic coming back to the modern world (which feature everything from levitating taxi cabs to talking brooms), and now he's writing mysteries set in the time of Shakespeare. Cheezy and tongue in cheek, I never quite know how seriously he takes his own stuff.

This morning I just sent a story to both Barrelhouse and Pindeldyboz. I'll report on their response times when Ihear back.


Monday, November 01, 2004

Viruses descending

Well the flu bug caught up with me today, so I'm not feeling too perky. And it's all compounded by the fact that the hvac at work is not working right, making it 85 degrees in the office.

So no writing for me today. No jabbering giants, no pontification ravens. Hopefully I'll be up for that world again tomorrow.

I did just send off a piece to a themed anthology dealing with comic books. My specific story's about a comic book author describing intertwining plot lines for different stories, and it is kind of meta-fiction. Don't know if they'll like it, but we'll see. I also have my eye on two places for another story I'll be sending out tomorrow.

I'm still debating the whole nanowrimo thing. I need to finish the horror piece first, and then I'll see how I feel. I have ideas for other shorts, but this could be the kick in the pants I need to get back to writing longer work. Still a little torn, obviously.

Until next time