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.