Thursday, December 29, 2005

Holiday Surprise

No matter what you celebrate, the holidays this time of the year are filled with all sorts of presents. A fruitcake from the Secret Santa at work. Candy from that aunt you haven't seen in a long time. Socks from mom. A gift card to Best Buy from Dad. A documentary on chickens from your significant other ( didn't get one too?). But sometimes the best presents are those you planned yourself and completely forgot about.

Yesterday I got home to find a nice little package sitting in my mailbox, a wonderful little book called Alice Redux. Pulled together and edited by writer/editor/poet Richard Peabody, it's an anthology he's had trouble selling to publishers and finally decided to just put it out through his own Paycock Press. There are some big name writers (Robert Coover), local D.C. champions (Miles David Moore) and even a small handful of people I know from grad school. And, of course, a bunch of writers I'm not familiar with. It follows the pattern the Mondo series (Mondo Barbie, Mondo James Dean, etc) Peabody edited previously; he simply asked for work inspired by Carroll's classic work Alice in Wonderland and let the writers have their way. Some appear to be nice homages, others are satires, but a good number are unique pieces all to themselves. From genre work to mainstream to experimental, AR promises to spin poor Alice in every direction you can imagine (and many you probably haven't).

Despite the ever growing pile of books in my yet-to-read pile, I think I'll be shifting AR into the on-deck position. So I'll be tearing through the Thomas Paine book I'm reading now just to get to it (not that it's a's a damn good book, too). If you're at all interested, there's info on purchasing the book (as well as other items from Paycock) here and of course through Amazon.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Grendel Vignettes

Matt Wagner's newest graphic fiction collection, Grendel: Red, White & Black, brings together 23 vignettes all written by Wagner and each illustrated by a different artist. For the uninitiated, Grendel is a long-running, innovative character created by Wagner about 20 years ago that brought a sense of grit, noir and character that hadn't been seen before in U.S. comics. Over the years the Grendel legacy has grown to include a variety of versions, each one bringing his or her own flavor to the stylish black costume and two-pronged sword that make up the Grendel trademark. The stories in this book all focus on Hunter Rose, the original and most popular of the Grendel incarnations. Rose leads a double life: one part NY City sociliate, the other the black-costumed assassin and crime boss known only as Grendel.

Most of the tales showcase Grendel's stylish yet grisly killings of competing mob bosses and snitches, but a small number focus on Argent, a werewolf who will one day kill Grendel. In full issues Grendel is a surprisingly complex character, balancing two very different lives and doling her own special brand of mob justice on the streets of NY City. But these stories are mostly quick action scenes, and they often feel like pages Wagner left out of other issues. There are some subtle references to main conflicts in Rose's life, but they are so subtle only the hardcore fans will have any idea they are even there. It's unfortunate, because Wagner is a gifted story-teller and has continued to break new ground in comic book stories over the last two decades. A series, even a short one comprised of single, stand-alone issues, with a rotating roster of artists would come off much better than what he has here.

The artwork, on the other hand, is quite impressive. Wagner pulled together a roster of highly talented, diverse artists who all offer up their own unique visual interpretations of Grendel. From the fairly straight comic style of Kelly Jones (Sandman) to the hip-hop inflected indie-spirit of Jim Mahfood (GrrlScouts) the book is a good example of the sheer variety of styles and methods a collaborating writer/artist team can tell a story. If only the stories themselves were more worth reading.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Son of a Witch

In some ways Gregory Maguire has it pretty tough. About a decade ago Maguire unleashed his novel Wicked into the world. An inventive novel that recast the iconic character Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West as a hero and revolutionary fighting against the tyranny of a despot known simply as the Wizard, it's one of those rare books that developed a life all its own. Early reviews in the fantasy markets were highly favorable, but it became one of those books to really spread, at least as I remember it, by word of mouth. People who would never normally read fantasy were passing it around and enjoying the inventive retelling of the classic story of the land of Oz. People I worked with at the time, and even people in my family, who barely read a book a year were picking it up and reading it on their daily commute. And, of course, it developed into a hit musical on Broadway that's now enjoying a successful national tour.

So when I say Maguire has it pretty tough, I say it in regards to the expectations for his sequel to Wicked, an enjoyable book called Son of a Witch. While Wicked carried the story of Elphaba to the starting point of the original Wizard of Oz tale, Son picks up where the Baum book left off, right after the death of the Witch. Elphaba left behind two young children, a daughter Nor and a young boy named Liir who may or may not be Elphaba's son. Without knowing what else to do, young Liir follows Dorothy and her yellow brick road menagerie back to Oz hoping the Wizard might tell him if Elphaba is really his mother and give him the same sense of purpose the Wizard gave Dorothy and her friends.

Unfortunately, the Wizard refuses to even see young Liir, so the boy enters into a decade of soul searching. He travels, looking for Nor across Oz and in the prisons of Emerald City. He then joins the millitary, enjoying the structure it provides his life. But eventually his rearing and possible heritage catch up to him and he finds himself in demand to help foster a new revolution.

An odd series of deaths, deaths leaving the victims with their faces scraped off, start appearing all across the land. As Liir travels he discovers the new head of Oz, an Emperor with ties both to Elphaba's and Liir's past, sits behind the machinations. The new Emperor uses the strange killings to spread distrust between the various races of Oz: Munchkins against humans, humans against sentient animals, and so on. With all this distrust between each other the only place they can turn to for leadership is the seat of power at Emerald City. Wielding Elphaba's flying broom and donning her magical cape Liir makes some small but bold gestures that help the populace of Oz and re-plant the seeds of hope Elphaba first tried to spread a generation before.

In some ways this new novel is stronger than Wicked. Wicked, at least for me, has several long stretches that are pretty dry and need some work to really be necesssary. But Son is a much tighter work, making use of flashbacks and different viewpoints to help move the story along. The secondary characters here are better developed and seem less stock types than those in the earlier novel. And Liir's quest---both to find himself and to save the people of Oz--- is much easier to believe and track with than the motivations that drove the bitter yet heroic Elphaba.

But so far the reviews for Son have been pretty mixed. What Wicked has that no further sequel can ever have is a tight connection to an iconic character. Readers enjoyed rethinking the Witch's actions and seeing them from a different perspective, and no further sequel can have that. So when you read Son and all its coming sequels, for there are hints that can easily lead to at least one more book in this world, read it on its own merits. Read it as a well-wrtten, well crafted fantasy that can stand on its own two legs. You'll enjoy it much more.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Fantasy on the High Seas

There's something to be said for formula fiction. While most of it just is what is, and will probably be forgotten in a few years time, a small handful of writers are able to work within a formula and still create something entirely unique. Samuel Delany's Neryona fantasy series, for example. Or the oddly satirical thrillers of Carl Hiassen. Trapped within the constraints of their formula genre, that beat against the walls, stretching them out to include new territory most other writers never considered before.

While my newest read, James M. Ward's Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe, doesn't stretch up to the same high-end of literature the authors above do, it still manages to create something a little different. At its core, the novel is a coming of age tale for Halcyon Blithe, a young wizard just coming into his own unique abilities. Blithe's innate abilites are well beyond that of most others, making him powerful but a bit arrogant. His training and skill, though, lacks refinement and sometimes causes him some problems. There's also an overarching plot-line involving war between the good guys (the Arcanians) and the Maleen, and evil empire trying to take over the world. The main difference between this book and so many other fantasies is the setting. This one takes place on a boat.

To be specific, it takes place on the Sanguine, an Arcanian battleship with its deck and sails built onto the back of a living, breathing sea dragon. Ward's imagination really comes into play when he mixes realistic nautical details---sails, rigging, battle tactics----with doses of magical support----controlling the wind for sailing, magic shields to protect you during a sword-to-sword melee. A good half of the book is made of training sessions, each one designed to show different aspects of life and warfare on the high seas. While this does carry a little too long, it gives the reader a chance to meet a wide cast of charactes on the Sanguine; from the able bodied Captain all the way down to the newest recruits, the Sanguine is filled with a wide array of distinct personalities. When it becomes clear that one of these personalities is a sabateour who infiltrated the crew, their situation is made all the more dangerous when they enter battle against three Maleen ships. Blithe is ordered to guard a key area of the ship during battle, putting both his safety and that of the entire ship on his using everything he's learned in his recent training to survive. While still a fairly predictable fantasy, the nautical elements make Ward's novel just different enough that readers a little bored with the typical fantasy will find it both familiar and new.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Horizons Far and Strange

I hadn't peeked at Strange Horizons in a couple of weeks, but I popped in there today and found out a review I did for them a couple months ago finally made it up last week. I'm pretty pleased with it. The editors were very helpful, and probably make me look a lot smarter and informed about an odd niche of sf than I really am. I'm not always that impressed with the original fiction they put out, but the reviews department does a pretty nice job. I'm happy to be part of it, at least for one piece. If they offer up other interesting books to review, I'll try to take part.

This week, Lori Ann White reviews Michael Blumlein's The Healer, which I reviewed myself awhile ago. She seems to like it more than I did, but she makes a couple good points for its merits. The main character's inaction, though, I found almost maddening. Also, Greg Beatty reviews A Sense of Wonder, a new book of criticism of the work of Samuel Delany by Jeffrey Allen Tucker. I've been a fan of Delany's for some time now, and just idea of some well thought out interpretations of Delany makes me drool.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Little Annie's Fannie

This past Saturday night Miss L and I paid a visit to the 14 Karat Cabaret Club in downtown Baltimore. If you've never been there before, it's bar/performance space hidden away in the basement of Maryland Art Place, a non-profit organization that supports artists living and working in Maryland. The bar is dark, with brick walls decorated with paintings, sculptures and photographs by local artists.

The evening started with a very odd animated short film entitled Asparagus. Made in 1979, the animation style is kind of Disney meets Surrealism. Much of the "action" takes place inside a woman's home, with shrinking houses and fields of giant asparagus rolling by the window. Metamorphosis, games with perspective, and a few other light touches make it a pretty accomplished film both in concept and delivery. And the loads of overt sexual and scatological imagery make it very funny, and definitely not your kid's cartoon.

Next the host came out stuffed into a spacesuit. The spacesuit boots were strapped to large cement blocks, so when she walked it imitated a space walk quite nicely. Abstract electronic music played in the background and, as she floated in outer space, she recited most of the lines of Hal the computer from the sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (coincidentally, my favorite movie of all time).

Next in the line-up was Esmirelda, a DC-based singer/songwriter. Donning a 50's style dress and her hair tucked up into a short beehive, her appearance matched her songs quite nicely. Playing an electric-acoustic guitar, she punched out songs with melodies influenced by Buddy Holly and 50's Doo Wop music. But Esmirelda is not a cover artist or a tribute performer. Her songs are all her own, with topics ranging from pre-operative transexuals, yeast infections, and being the kind of woman she wants to be with or without your approval. I've never heard of her, but she's obviously a seasoned performer, knowing how to work in some banter to connect with the crowd. Smart, slightly genre-bending and pretty damn funny.

The main event, and the prime reason we attended, was Little Orphan Fannie: A Whorehouse Musical. Put together by Wire Hanger Productions, the same team of writers and performers who brought Baltimore the musical version of Mommie Dearest, Fannie is a bawdy retelling of the classic Annie story. As is obvious from the title, the story takes place not in an orphanage but a whore house run by a transvestite named Madam Mannigan. The girls may indeed be orphans, but they are also prostitutes who both enjoy and hate what they do. Fannie is a prostitute with big dreams of finding a john to take her away from the nasty life of the whorehouse and thinks she may have found her man when Daddy Fourbucks, a man searching for a good time on his 21st birthday, walks into Madam. Trouble, and hilarity, ensues when it becomes obvious that Daddy Fourbucks is more of a man's man than the lady's man he's trying to be. Little side moments include a parody of the Vagina Monologues (one of the girls has one that predicts the future), simulated puppet sex and a husband and wife team trying to involve Madam Mannigan's in their scheme to become porn film moguls. A couple of the songs are a little rough, but by and large it's a fun and very dirty sendup of a classic just looking to be made fun of.

Originally billed as a one-time performance, the event was popular enough that a number of people got turned away at the door. If you're interested at all, they announced tentative plans to hold the performance again on Friday, December 16. Doors open at 9:00. Keep an eye on the Club's website for updates, and go early so you don't get turned away.


Hebdomeros Update: 12..08.05

The second performance is now confirmed for Saturday, December 17. So don't go on the 16th. They won't be there. But go will probably sell quickly again.


Friday, December 02, 2005

Looking For Jake

With his unique mixture of Dickensian settings, Lovecrafitan terrors and socialist political theory China Mieville achieved popularity and critical acclaim both within and outside the community of fantasy readers. While certainly descending from the traditions of fantasy and horror his novels, especially Perdido Street Station, developed a style uniquely his own. I picked up his new collection Looking For Jake filled with hope for finding something great within the pages. And, for the most part, it is. U.S. fans should note the collection contains several stories thus far only published in the U.K.

The weakest pieces are those based almost totally within his political ideas. "'Tis the Season", for example, is a world with commericialism done to the extreme. It's Christmas time, and everything--absolutely everything--related to Chistmas requires a license of some sort to participate. Although a fun read, it's little more than a throw-away piece, something you laugh at once but aren't likely to ever look at again. Likewise with "An End to Hunger", an odd blend of conspiracy theory and parody of charity organizations gone wild that reads with a political purpose all too obvious.

He takes some bold, dare I say even experimental, steps with a small handful of pieces. "Entry Taken From a Medical Encyclopedia" is exactly what it sounds like, although the disease Mieville imagines for us is bizarre, well thought out and holds a unique history of discovery. Alongside artists Liam Sharp, he tries his hand at a short comic strip telling the story of city at the edge of war. Although it appears Mieville aimed for a lean, crisp and pithy style similar to Alan Moore's (The Watchmen) generate a piece that's a bit disjointed, sparce and diffiicult to follow. While these two are not wholly successful, it's always nice to see a writer stretch a little beyond his abilities by trying new things.

Mieville really shows his skill and imagination in the more horror-oriented pieces. He has that rare gift of identiftying those fears that flicker and lurk within the deepest, darkest basements of our own mind and dropping them down right in front of us. The progtagonist of "Different Skies" is an elderly man who fears the aggressive teenagers living in his neighborhood. He has a new window installed in his room and at night one of the panes looks out not on the beautiful park his home overlooks but onto a dank, dark alley filled with children who taunt and threaten him through the glass. In "The Ball Room" (a piece co-written with Emma Birchaum and Max Schaufer) turns a simple, common playroom in a furniture store into a haunting room of accidents, death and mystery. With all the bad horor I've read over the past year it was wonderful to read these creepy little gems that work beyond the simple twist ending and gore filled descriptions.

The strongest piece by far is the novella "The Tain", the longest story in the collection and the one that probably comes closest to the depths of his novels. For eons the population of a paralell world lived trapped within our mirrors and forced to mimic us as our reflections. Finally they burst free of their reflective prisons and begin destroying humanity. Sholl, the one human who holds a talent for defeating the inhabitants of the mirror world, becomes a begrudging hero and faces the difficult concept of surrender as the only means for mankind's survival. Giving his ideas more length gives him the room to mix his invetive horror with touches of political thought, hinting that Mieville's true gifts lie with the longer form and not the tightly nestled gems of short stories.

Extreme fans of Mieville's might grumble a bit that only one piece, "Jack", is set in the fantasy land featured in his novels. But if you can look beyond that you can see a writer willing to explore a variety of ideas over what promises to be a long and interesting career. Despite some of it's flaws, Looking For Jake is a collection well worth seeking out.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Long Time, No Blog

At least really blog. With the kind of content I like to write about. But I've been a bit distracted as of late.

The most recent distraction was, probably like most people, the holidays. #2 is my Nano work in progress. Which despite my not updating my NanoWriMo profile I have kept up with a bit. Mid-week I crossed the 20k word threshhold, which was my initial goal for the month. Even though it's scattered as hell and would probably get me a one way ticket to the nearest Asylum (which, I think, is St. Elizabeth's) I've got 3 complete chapters. Or at least complete enough that I have a better idea of where things are going than I did four weeks ago.

But my main distraction, both this past week and really all this month, is career related. Finding that right career path is dificult for everyone, but you throw in the desire to actively pursue interests like writing into the mix and it gets more difficult. Do you get a job that makes you write during the day, possibly making you sick of writing by the time you get home, or do you pursue something completely different? I once heard Samuel Delany say that every writer in the beginning of his career should work as a ditch digger. It doesn't demand anything of you mentally, so you have time during the day to think about writing and then time at night to actually do the writing. Trouble is, I'm getting to that point that I'm looking towards big life things like marriage, kids, a house....all that normal crap everyone wants. I've spent most of my working life in different jobs at arts organizations, and I've tried teaching college. Arts jobs just aren't doing it for me anymore, and while I loved teaching I grew tired of hearing that I'd have to slave away as a part-time adjunct for 5-10 years before getting anything full time.

So I started looking at libraries. It's working with books, helping people find information and literature, but not in the same corporate way that it would be if I worked for a publishing house. Whether or not it's the right choice, I don't know for sure. But it seems a better path than the one I'm on now. I applied to graduate school late last month, and somewhat to my surprise I was accepted to my first choice of schools. Now I'm facing that big life change. I'm excited about learning something new and taking some steps in another direction, but nervous that the steps are the wrong ones. Only time, I suppose, will tell.

But in the meantime, I have a novel to keep cranking away at and book reviews to churn out and life to live. I hope to keep reporting on all of the above as I go through it.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

I've spent most of the last two days cleaning and doing yardwork, getting ready for the two houseguests for Thanksgiving. A lot of work, with small gratification. But that's okay. It will be a nice day once the food's in the oven. We're actually having ham, not the glorious turducken shown in the photo above. No one else seems as intrigued by the concept of the turducken (a hen shoved inside a duck, then shoved inside a turkey doused in cajun seasoning) as me, so I may just have to order my own sometime.

Hope everyone has a great day. I'll have something writing/reading related up tomorrow.


Saturday, November 19, 2005


Yesterday Miss L and I took a break from everything and took in a matinee of the new Harry Potter movie, Goblet of Fire. As a preface, I'll make it known that I'm not a mega-fan of all things Potter. I've enjoyed the books I've read (about half of them) and the movies have all been pretty entertaining but I don't approach Potter with the sheer mania and extreme fandom some seem to. My boss at work, for example, re-read the entire series thus far in the weeks leading up to the release of the HP novel that came out this fall. She also keeps pretty extensive notes on everything Potter, trying to forecast future plotlines like some great psychic. Her fandom is not limited to HP, though. The background image on her computer at work is a mildly racy photo of actor Scott Bakula.

But I was writing about Harry Potter.

Goblet of Fire is a surprisingly fun movie. From someone who's only read the book once, and not in some time, I was really pleased. It's much better paced than the last HP movie and Finnes as Voldemort is one of the creepiest figures I've seen in recent cinema. I won't go so far to call it great art, but it's probably the movie I've enjoyed most on a sheer entertainment level this year, with Batman Begins coming in at a very close 2nd. The challenges the four go through for the Tri-Wizard contest made me think a bit more about some of my plot twists and obstacles, and I'm rethinking them a bit. Because, at least for now, it's all about the NanoNovel. I can't even walk down the street anymore without thinking how it might tie into the NanoNovel.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Nano Update

I lost my writing flow the last few days. A few weeks ago I caught a pretty bad head cold, and the cough was still lingering. For some reason last Friday I decided to go running, and I spent the rest of the day hacking up my lungs. That combined with staying up way to late several days in a row caught up with me and got me sick again. So I napped during my lunch hour at work, napped on the metro ride home and went to bed right after dinner every night the last several days.

But I'm feeling more human again. Yesterday I finally got hero #2 to the fantasy world, and I've written a few scenes from the point of view of Clive the talking dog. Now that I'm in the fantasy world I'm going to try to just let my mind go and populate it with some crazy races of creatures. Creatures with spider torsos and human heads. Sentient being who eat through photosynthesis. And the always required Birdmen. Or maybe not, I haven't decided yet.

Today's my day off, and I'll be fine-tuning some book reviews and then trying to crank out 5 pages or so for the NanoNovel. Good luck to any others out there trying to keep pace.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Google Print

I know this topic already is taking up a lot of bandwidth, airtime and printspace in lots of other venues, but it's important enough to spread as much info as possible.

Tomorrow representatives from Google, the Author's Guild and the Association of American Publishers will meet in NY City to discuss the big hullabaloo over Google wanting to scan and publish vast quantities of material online. A large part of the disagreement seems to come from the way tech companies do business; tech companies often get so enamored with their new toys and blaze ahead, hoping law will restructure around them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is bound to cause some intense debate over the next several months until both sides come to some kind of an agreement. Whatever happens, the publishing industry and writers may very well face some of the same issues music labels have dealt with ever since Napster first went online.

Quite possibly one of the better looks at the issues involved comes not from a lawyer or a tech expert, but a lone writer in Scotland. Author Charlie Stross speaks from the unique point of view of an author who offered his recent novel Accelerando for free online while you could still buy a hardcopy at your local bookstore. More than anything, I appreciate his point that he just wants to be asked first.

If you need more detailed info, take a look at the COCOA proposal and even sign their petition. It's an important issue for anyone who writes or who wants to write for a living, and best to be informed as much as you can.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Happy B-Day Mr. Vonnegut

Yep. Today is Kurt Vonnegut's birthday, and he reaches the well earned age of 83 if the article I read this morning is at all accurate.

Of late Vonnegut's become somewhat of a letdown to me. His recent books still have their clever moments but by and large lack the punch his masterworks like Breakfast of Champions deliver. His political essays written for various magazines and newspapers since 9-11 have also lacked a certain polish, although they certainly contain a lot of the anger he's always had, just none of the clever pathos. Despite that, I'll always have a soft spot in my reading heart for Mr. Vonnegut. His books cracked my head open to some pomo ideas that I still love to play with, and I don't think anyone else has delivered them in a manner quite so universal as Vonnegut. When I'm out at dinner tonight with Miss L and some of her pals I'll insist on a toast to one of the great writers and satirists of our age.

And for any who would deny his influence upon society, just pay a visit here.


Nano Update

I hadn't intended to be reading Mieville's collection Looking for Jake as inspiration reading while scrawling out my NanoWriMo entry, but it's kind of turned out that way. I'm really impressed with how he takes an unusual fear or psychosis and makes it reality in his fiction. Probably my favorite story thus far is "Different Skies". The man character is an elderly gent living in London. Teens are getting a bit wilder and the old timer is a bit afraid of them. He has a new window installed in his apartment; by day it's normal but at night one of the panes of glass looks not outside his own home but onto a dark, dirty alleyway. A gang of shadowy kids lurk there in the mysterious alleyway, taunting him with messages in chalk on the walls and tossing rocks at his window. Very odd, very distinctive and very creepy.

My own writing is going ok. As of now, I'm a little shy of 15k words. So I'm actually ahead of schedule for my own goal of 20k words. I'm pretty much ignoring everyone pushing so hard to 50k. Someone in the forum said it best when they said, "NanoWriMo isn't about competing with other writers. It's about competing with yourself and whatever goals you set." Approaching it that way, I feel pretty good about what I'm doing and what I'm writing. It's a big stinking mess at this point, but after everything's laid out I feel pretty sure I can straighten it up a bit after about a thousand edits.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Porgy and Bess

A good write-up at The Post for the free broadcast of Porgy and Bess the Washington Opera put together on the National Mall this past Sunday. Basically, they set up a large screen on the mall near the Hirshhorn Sculpture garden and did a live broadcast of their performance that afternoon at the Kennedy Center.

I myself was not able to attend. Sadly, I was working. My Mom, however, did go and I had the chance to "interview" her about her experience over dinner at the nearby Gordon Biersch restaurant. So with a blackened Mahi Mahi in front of me and some kind of stir fry in front of her, I asked my mom about the whole event.

Heb: So, how was it?

Heb's Mom: Right before it started they said they had an estimated turnout of 7000 people. But more kept coming as the screening continued.

Heb: Ok. So how was the music.

Heb's Mom: Oh, it was great. I've heard Porgy and Bess on albums before but I've never sat through an actual performance. Not even on television. Even though it was in English, they still used Supertitles. It really helped me keep up with the story. The sound system they used was great and whoever ran the cameras did a fabulous job shooting from different perspectives.

Heb: What kind of people came to the screening?

Heb's Mom: A mixture. Most were people were middle-aged or older. But a lot of families with small children. A number of people brought dogs. The dogs didn't seem to like it, though.

Heb: No?

Heb's Mom: Well, they would bark pretty loudly everytime one of the sopranos sang. One thing they really did well was have plenty of porta-potties set up. Some of the mroe uppity people looked at them like they were some kind of abomination, but everyone used them during intermission.

Heb: So will you go to more things by the Washington Opera?

Heb's Mom: I'll think about it. I already subscribe to two other things and the Washington Opera is a lot more expensive. Maybe if I drop one next year I'll start going.

So there you have it.

I'm sure Washington Opera hopes the free concert, which their own board apparently paid for, will increase interest in their performances. The only opera I've been to was a free dress rehearsal held a few years ago at Constitution Hall. But I'm afraid I have to agree with my mom on this one. Their bottom end seats run $45, and prices run all the way up to $290. A low level worker bee like me has to think twice when he sees a movie for $12, so even their low end seats are a stretch for a joe blow like me. Special events like these are great, because they expose people to opera who might not otherwise be able to drop $290 or even $45. So keep doing the freebies...people love them.


Stop Reading....

and go vote, you slacker!

There are important state-wide elections going on in most states in the U.S. today. Some states, like New Jersey and my own Virginia, are particularly vital because we are electing new governors and the races look like they will be close ones.

I stopped at my local polling station on my way to work today. Very sad to see only two people in line ahead of me, and both of them obviously part of the retired set. I know most people go after work, but still. If you haven't voted, leave work early, run out on your lunch break. If nothing else, you get a free sticker.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Fast Cars and Sweaty Guys in Jumpsuits=Hot Romance

Good reliable Harlequin Romances recently announced a new line of titles based on the still growing Nascar racing trend. The debut novel In the Groove by romance author Pamela Britton is slated to be released in January of 2006, right before the Daytona 500.

I never really caught Nascar fever. I went to undergrad in a pretty small town and I clearly remember my friends and I making fun of all the people who shopped in the Nascar store at the local mall. I didn't get it then, and I don't really get it now. But it's an undeniable phenomenon, and not surprising romance would take steps into the Nascar market.

I'm imagining romantic laisons committed on top of cars, in cars while they zoom around the track and perhaps even on those little flat platforms on wheels mechanics use to work under cars. I'm hoping for a retooled version of Ballard's Crash, but I doubt things will get that racy. More likely we'll have Fabio squezzed into a skintight jumpsuit, smelling of sweat oil and gasoline, flexing his fabulous pecs and gawking at an innumerable ammount of heaving bosoms.


Friday, November 04, 2005

Nanowrimo: Day 4

My progress so far has been pretty slow, writing a couple hundred words each day. Initially, I hand-write everything. Probably part of why I'm so slow.

I'm not exactly sure what happened, but this afternoon I started typing in what I had so far, expanding and editing a bit as I went along. Somehow I ended up with 4k words. Not sure how I did that. Placed alongside some very speedy writers out there dishing out 5-10k a day, it's not that impressive. But I'm quite pleased with the progress. At that rate, I'll hit around 20k or a little more. A number I'll be pretty happy with for a month's work. The trick will be to keep going after November.

The next chapter will probably be tougher. I now enter the actual fantasy world of my fantasy (there's some hopping back and forth between the "real" world and a fantasy world). I don't have the fantasy world as well thought out as I probably should, so I'll be relying pretty heavily on my inner critic shutting the hell up and the little kid in me letting loose with every weird detail he can muster up. I may be sidetracked here and there by odd real life things as well, but I hope not too much.

I plan on making coffee my best friend over the next few weeks. That's the only way I'll be able to keep up.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

That's Entertainment

Gaiman follows up the success of his modern-day, mythical fantasy American Gods with the equally mythical and darkly comic gem Anansi Boys. Charles "Fat Charlie" Nancy leads a normal, ordinary, even boring existence. Strapped to a London office job he's less than thrilled with, his approaching wedding with his fiancé Rosie is the only thing he has to look forward to in life. One day Charlie calls the U.S. to invite his estranged father to the wedding and finds out he just died. After jetting off to Florida for the funeral he not only discovers a brother he didn't know he had, he also learns his father is the West African trickster god known as Anansi. Charlie’s brother Spider, who possesses a wide array of magical powers almost equal Anansi’s, later visits poor Charlie in London and spins Charlie’s life out of control. Spider takes over Charlie’s life and gets him fired, sleeps with his fiancée and even gets him arrested for involvement in white collar crime Charlie had nothing to do with. When Spider refuses to leave Charlie decides to fight back by getting assistance from other gods, some of whom are not so fond of Anansi. And that's when the real trouble begins. The other gods lead the brothers into adventures that are at times scary, and others downright hysterical. At first Charlie is completely overwhelmed by this new world, but he is, in the end, Anansi's son and shows just as much flair for trickery as his brother.

With its quirky myths and inventive fantasy fans of Gaiman will be thrilled with AB. But Gaiman writes this time with a fuller sense of character. American Gods held such a large cast it sometimes got a little distracting. But here focusing on a smaller handful gives Gaiman the room to really breathe life into these amazing characters. His writing is also funnier, sillier and readable in that special way that looks so much easier than it really is.

The end result is fantasy that is funny, readable and extremely entertaining. I wondered sometimes, though, if just being entertaining is enough. Particularly now as I pen my own crappy submission for Nanowrimo, I wonder if we need to ask more of writers and more of ourselves when we write. Perhaps after grad school and reviewing various books for awhile it's hard for me to sit down and just plain enjoy a good read. But I can't help but feel that Gaiman is capable of just a little more in terms of a story that will really, really move his readers on a deeper emotional level. Don't get me wrong....he's earned his status as a popular and respected writer and I'd love to have his career. But if AB was a meal at my favorite eatery, I came away from the table still just the tiniest bit hungry.


Monday, October 31, 2005


Hope everyone had a good All Hallow's Eve. Mine was pretty quiet. I spent it wearing my leather mask, listening to Skinny Puppy (there's no other music more suited to Halloween) and handing out candy to kids in football jerseys way too old to be trick-or-treating. But it's better I get the candy out of the house, so I doled out the Paydays and Reese's Cups in large handfulls.

I did do a couple of things over the weekend that were quasi-Halloween related.

Saturday night Miss L and I ventured to the AFI theatre in Silver Spring, Md. They were running old silent horror movies and using musicians to play new scores for the films. We saw Der Golem, an old German movie based on the Jewish Folktale the Golem. Music was written and performed by Baltimore's own Yeveto, a quartet composed of guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion and cello. Kind of an interesting mix of indie and experimental rock with chamber music and film scores. Edgy, gritty but often still melodic. The style often reminded me of other indie-rocker instrumental groups like Mogwai and God Speed You Black Emperor, but the overall sound was more diverse and dramatic. Their material complemented the film nicely, and I'll be curious to see what non-film score work they develop.

Last night took a very different turn. One of my co-workers, a 50-something self-described bear of a man, is obsessed with Cher. Okay, more than obsessed. Somehow he also holds the talent of imitating her singing voice. Last night he made an appearance at a bar dressed in full Halloween witch regalia, belting out such Cher winners as Dark Lady and Half Breed. For each song, you got a free drink from the bar. So by the end of the evening CherBear was pretty lit, prancing around the bar and enjoying himself like I've never seen. It was nice to see him so comfortable and relax, even if the music isn't my typical taste.

Tomorrow is day one of NaNoWriMo. Unless I really get into a flow, I don't actually expect to pull together a full novel in a 30 days. Not even the short novel of 50k words most are shooting for. I'm pretty much aiming for an average of two pages a day, a more realistic goal for my normal writing speed. If I get that much I'll be pretty happy with myself. The website is interesting. There are number of forums set up so people can ask quick research questions from all the members, as well as forums for people just to bitch about their lack of progress. In some ways, the website almost seems designed to give you more ways to avoid writing. But we'll see how it goes.

I'll probably be posting complaints and updates at various points over the month. I may or may not keep a running word count here, just to stick my face out completely for public ridicule.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Albinism in Literature

With NaNoWriMo right around the corner, I'm cramming in some last minute research before I actually start writing on November 1. Probably not terribly surprising to anyone who reads here even somewhat regularly, the basic plot is a dark fantasy/horror with some light experimental touches. At least that's the hope.

I decided awhile ago that my main character will be an albino. But I want to treat this character differently. Albinos in literature and art are often used as thematic props, with little or no depth and little relation to what ablinism really is. So part of what I want to do is make my character as real as possible, and I'll do that partly by poking fun at some of the other books out there that use albinos in more stereotypical ways. My character is a literature student, so it would be important to him to be aware of all this. Here are the ones I've stumbled across so far:

Albino Knife by Steve Perry
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock
The Invisible Man by HG Wells
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
The Likes of Me by Randall Beth Platt
Ghost Boy by Iain Lawrence
I Sent for You Yesterday by John Edgar Wideman
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
Maia by Richard Adams
White Jenna by Jane Yolen
Bulletproof Soul by Steven L. Shrewsbury
Skels by Maggie Dubris

Strangely, I've read most of these over the years. The few I haven't, I'll try to snag at the library. If people know of others, please email me or reply to the post. All help appreciated!

Special thanks to Albinism in Popular Culture.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Tales of the Blue Bear

When I was a little kid, about ages four and five, one of my best friends was another boy named Brendan. He was, and quite possibly still is, the best storyteller and most convincing liar I've ever known.

Once when I was visiting him he convinced me dinosaurs lived under his house, and the little hill in his front yard came from a Tyrannosaurus rex bumping his head. The dinosaurs hid underground during the day but prowled the neighborhood at night; the only way to keep them at bay was to have a red-colored night light shining in your bedroom. Otherwise, you'd become a nice midnight snack for something large and reptilian. Now I knew dinosaurs were extinct. And I knew the probability that some small contingent of them living under Brendan's house was pretty small, but he told it so well I believed him. I used that damn red night light for weeks. He even had the ability to convince himself of ridiculous things. I remember one hot summer week spent digging a hole in his backyard because Brendan convinced us that we all wanted to go to China. And Brendan worked harder at it than anyone else.

The title character in Walter Moers’s fabulous illustrated novel The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear is much like my old friend Brendan. Bluebear is, quite simply, a walking, talking bear with blue fur. A blue bear, as we are told on the first page, lives for 27 years and this novel is a first person account of Bluebear's first 13 1/2 lives. Each "life" is a stage in his growth and works like a fable with a little lesson. But don't worry. These aren't preachy little fables with some old man with aa long beard scolding you at the end. These are fables of monsters who fatten up their victims with fabulous food for months before eating them. Fables of city-sized, smoke belching battleships cruising the high seas. Fables of....

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The book opens with Bluebear's first memory: as a cub, floating with nothing more than a nutshell as his life-raft, he heads straight for a giant whirlpool threatening to suck him down into oblivion. Suddenly, he's saved by a boatload of liliputian pirates who teach him everything you could ever want to know about sailing. From there he enters into a lifetime (okay, 13 1/2 lifetimes) filled with humor and bizarre adventures. One part Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth and two parts Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the novel mixes fantasy, science fiction, and tall tales into a wonderfully satirical cocktail you can't help but gulp down. Traveling through a land called Zamonia, a lost continent floating somewhere on the planet Earth, he encounters headless giants, pterodactyls who fly around saving people from otherwise certain death, and a giant spider who lures in its prey through fabulously convincing illusions. Many of the stories are improbable, in fact downright unbelievable, but Bluebear's wry and sly storyteller's voice, much like my friend Brendan's, makes you want to believe so much that you can't help but buy every little thing the hirsute adventurer is selling you.

There is much to entertain here; Moers’s wild imagination and fun wordplay have an almost childlike whimsy that remind me why exactly I love reading. Although much of the book walks the line between YA and adult, Moers works in enough depth to entertain the most disbelieving adults. The writing is definitely strong enough to carry itself, but coming from a comic book background Moers also includes black and white illustrations that enhance the whimsical nature of the story.

With so many little side trips to Bluebear's narrative, the story might frustrate those eager for an easy to follow, straght-lined plot. But this is not that kind of story. This is the kind of story you have to sit back and enjoy, no matter where it takes you. It does, eventually, tie together all the loose threads in a number of fun ways, re-using characters from past adventures and forcing Bluebear to use skills he learned earlier. This is truest in the city of Atlantis, where Bluebear becomes a professional story teller. Pulling from all his past adventures, his wild imagination and natural gift for drama Bluebear competes in slam-style competitions for money and fame. He's wildly successful, besting all challengers quite easily until he's faced with his idol, a half-man half-fox creature who returns to competing after a lengthy retirement

After developing a strong cult following both in Moer's native Germany and the U.K., there's now a movie in the works and a second book on the way. With the first book finally coming to the U.S. there are likely to be many more joining me in this joyous, guilty reading pleasure.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Four and Twenty Blackbirds

For as long as she can remember, Eden Moore has been gifted with the ability to see ghosts. Three dead sisters, all distant relatives of Eden, visit her quite frequently, watching over her and offering their cryptic advice. Much of it confuses young Eden, until she is attacked by Malachi, a distant cousin who believes Eden to be the reincarnation of their voodoo priest of a great grandfather. The three ghosts guide her through a forest and mine shaft, allowing Eden to escape harm and putting Malachi in jail. Not suprinsingly, Eden wants to know why this cousin she never met wants her dead. Raised by her aunt, it's natural that she would turn to her for answers. Although she seems to know a good bit about it all---Malachi, the great grandfather, the dead sisters, Eden's dead mother--- she refuses to tell Eden anything, claiming it's all to protect her niece. This is but the opening chapter to Cherie Priest's Four and Twenty Blackbirds, a horror/dark fantasy romp through the mansions, swamps, and cellars of the southern US.

The story jumps ahead twenty years; Malachi escapes imprisonment and makes another attempt on Eden's life. When her aunt still won't tell Eden anything, Eden conducts some research that leads her to a long-deserted home for troubled teens, an antebellum mansion, a new age bookstore and, finally, to the deep, dangerous swamps of Florida. The deeper she digs, the more frantic the ghosts become. At the core of Eden's story lies an ancient family curse, a curse connected to her great-grandfather and his search for eternal life. Set in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, much of the book pulls from the traditions of the southern gothic horror tale. Family secrets, incest, ghosts, voodoo magic much of it is familiar territory. But despite some of the reliance on overused motifs author Priest pulls it off, and mostly through Eden.

Although she'd probably drive me crazy if I ever met her on the street, Eden’s a fantastic character. She's the kind of person who sends food back in a diner not once, not twice, but three times. The kind of person who sits on the outside seat on the bus and refuses to scoot over for anything because, dammit, that other seat’s for her purse. Not at all likable in real life, but it makes for a fabulous character. So often characters in a first novel sit back and just let things happen to them. But Eden is a doer, a person who runs out to find what she wants, no matter the consequences. Things are rarely slow down in this tale, because Eden is constantly pushing and prodding to find the secrets behind her family.

From the horror angle, the writing is deliciously spooky. Whether it's an abandoned building, a dank, claustrophobic swamp, or the latrine at a summer camp the layers of detail and near-Faulknerian language suck you into her world. Priest also knows the difference between dancing ghostly images off in her corner of the eye and putting something ghastly right in front of you, and she knows when to use which method. She's certainly not breaking new ground here, but it's a wonderful page turner and after seeing so much bad horror and dark fantasy over the past year it's refreshing to see someone who can deliver a good story with a strong central character and truly evocative language. Fast-paced, ghastly fun from a writer of real promise.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tipping the Tree

Last week I sent in a review of the new L. Timmel Duchamp book Alanya to Alanya to Strange Horizons. It's a pretty good book, very political, and in the review I make some assertions linking it to Feminist SF, particuarly the Feminist SF written in the early 1970's. Along with Kelly Link and one or two other writers, Duchamp has been linked to a undercurrent trend in SF revitalizing feminist themes. Considering Duchamp also admits the heavy influence in the book's afterward section, I felt it a pretty good link to make in a book review.

Stange Horizons liked the review, and liked the links I made. But they wanted something more specific--metions of specific writers, stories or novels to tie into Duchamp and the themes of her new book. I know a little about the Feminist SF, but mostly the big names. Octavia Butler. Ursula K. LeGuin. And, of course, the grand master of it: Alice B. Sheldon, aka James Tiptree, jr. But I didn't feel informed enough to start making links to specific works.

So I've spent the last few days in my local library, combing through about 30 years of short fiction, book reviews and criticism. It's an interesting little subset of SF, and if there's one commonality at all it's that men and women see the world and think differently and the differences need to be explored and celebrated. Some stories go so far to suggest---ok, more than suggest---that if our societies were based more on the female-style of thinking instead of the power driven male style, the world would be a better place. With so much out there, it's a little daunting at the moment for me to choose which author, much less even which story, to focus on. But I'm thinking Tiptree is the way to go. A number of the basic ideas in Duchamp's novel seemed pulled right out of Tiptree, although Duchamp expands on puts her own stamp on them. I'm sleepy, and my brain is still a little muddled, but hopefully I'll get it done within the next day.

Coming soon, I should have a review up for Cherie Priest's ghosty novel, Four and Twenty Blackbirds.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

Anne Rice: Changing Gears

Best known for her widely popular novels involving vampires, witches and mummies Rice leaves the Goth behind her and explores the mysteries beneath the childhood of Jesus Christ in her newest novel, Christ the Lord. At age seven, Jesus and his family leave Egypt to return to their home and find themselves caught in the middle of a revolution after the death of the first King Herod, then ruler of the portion of the Roman Empire that included Israel. Rice does a fabulous job developing and weaving layers of historical detail. From political upheavals to Jewish ceremonies to proper weaving technique, I was quite surprised by how smoothly she creates the atmosphere of the times.

Although the historical and cultural details are authentic and well done, it is the character of Jesus that drives this novel. Jesus feels like a typical seven year old boy, but he’s a boy suddenly discovering abilities no one else possesses. With but a thought he brings clay birds to life, makes it snow, and even resurrects a dead playmate. Strangely….and as a comics fan I mean this in the best possible sense…this concept reminded me more of X-Men comics than anything else. There’s many a mutant hero who bumbled through the early days of his or her power, and that unique form of self-discovery is always full of possibilities.

Stunned by these odd happenings he turns to Joseph and Mary for answers. When they are not forthcoming he’s forced to hunt out clues through local legends, rumors and a strange spirit who visits and taunts him in his own dreams. Told in the first person from Jesus’s point of view, the strength of the novel weighs heavily on Rice’s ability to make him believable both as a child and as the son of god and she does a winning job with it. The wisdom of all things religious fills Jesus completely, but he’s naïve of day-to-day events. It’s almost charming when he can’t understand why a young girl he used to play with suddenly prefers at age twelve to learn about weaving and raising children. Fully developed and likable, Rice’s version of Jesus is not only believable, but probably her most memorable character since Lestat.

My only complaint about the book would be her use of language. Her prose style is very plain, very direct and lacks a certain poetry I’ve seen in some of her other work. That said, it probably makes it more accessible to a general audience. It’s difficult to say how well this book will do for her. Many of her vampire fans may not follow, because the subject matter lacks a lot of the flashy, gothy glamour many of her other works have. But breaking out into a different area widens her audience, and since she handles the story with a sense that’s both bold and reverent she just might pull it off.


Friday, October 14, 2005

Best of the Year

The National Book Award Nominees (very happy for both Didion and Vollman, btw) aren't the only big announcements for the week. The mag I review for pulled together the "best" for the past year. As explanation, most of my fellow reviewers are librarians, and the reviews are supposed to be adult books that a teen reader might like. The “best” are books the mag covered in the past year, and can be anything. Like normal, this year is dominated by fiction, but there are also a couple of graphic novels, a memoir, and some other non-fiction. All are judged equally, regardless of style, format, or genre.

Basically, anyone who reviews can nominate a best book. Once nominated, someone else reads it and either supports it or turns it down. If supported, the person who nominated it makes a short presentation to the group, and then there’s a vote. I seconded a few, turned down a few, but the only book I nominated is Anderson’s graphic novel, King. The whole nomination thing’s giving me a little more perspective on these awards. Even though my name is loosely attached to the list, I’ve only actually read three of them. Aside from Anderson’s, I read Will’s Choice, The Memory of Running, and Star Wars: Visionaries, all of which I give high marks to. But the others I have no idea about, aside from what other people have told me. From what I gather, our system is not that different from many others. In some ways, I'm quite proud of how diverse it is and pleased it's not all best sellers.

The big list this year (in no particular order) is:

Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation by Jeff Chang

The Children's War by Monique Charlesworth

Dear Zoe by Philip Beard

Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War by Ernerst Furguson

The Good Man Edward Jae-Suk Lee

King: The Complete Edition by Ho Che Anderson

The Lost German Slave Girl by John Bailey

The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ophelia's Fan by Christine Balint

Pardonable Lies: A Maisie Dobbs Mystery by Jacqueline Winspear

Sky Bridge by Laura Pritchett

Star Wars: Visionaries

The Summer We Got Saved by Pat Cunningham Devoto

Sunny Ward of the State by Sonja Heinze Coryat

Will's Choice by Gail Girffith


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Future is Now

At least in D.C., anyway.

Future Washington is a new anthology edited by Ernest Lilley, editor for the SFRevu. The volume collects 16 SF tales all based in Washington, D.C.

It's a great idea, one I've actually had myself. I've dreamed of putting together a Fantasy/SF/Horror mag in which all the stories have to take place in the D.C. area. Ideally showing areas, people, and events not normally portrayed in fiction and movies. There's a lot of weirdness in this area, and few writers really play with it beyond the typical stories involving lawyers, politicians or ex-millitary guys with walls full of machine guns. Perhaps if I ever get more publishing clout, it's something I can pursue.

It's a little bit of a letdown that they didn't pull more from local talent. As far as I know, Brenda Clough is the only local writer (she lives down in Prince William County, and teaches at the Writers Center of Bethesda, Md.) represented. Allen Steele has a sister in D.C. (no, I'm not some crazy Allen Steele stalker....I used to work with her in a local art museum), but I don't think that counts. And it's certainly not because there's no SF talent in the area. There's quite a bit, although primarily in the short form. But with such a good idea at play, and notable writers behind them, Future Washington is bound to have some real gems in it. I'm sure I'll do a review when it comes out, so keep looking.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Catching Up

I've been sick the last several days with a pretty nasty respiratory thing. And while I'm much better today, I still get hit with some pretty frequent coughing fits that feels like a little gremlin with a pickaxe is trying to dig his way out of my chest. So I've fallen behind on a lot of things, both in real life and here. Most importantly, I just realized that I missed the 1st birthday of this here blog. As of October 5, I've been typing in entries on writing, art, and life in general for one year. I feel like I should say something more important, more meaningful. But I won't. At least not today.

In the meantime, I've added two new links to your right, under other blogs. First is Matt Briggs, an author currently based in Seattle, Washington. He was kind enough to send me info on his readings for his new novel Shoot the Buffalo when he was in the area over the past couple of weeks and I've been reading his blog ever since. Not suprisingly, a lot of it right now focuses on his novel and all the trials and tribulations related to it, and his comments are pretty thoughtful.

I've also added Mumpsimus, a blog maintained by Matt Cheney that I discovered through the Lit-Blog Co-Op. His blog is SF/Fantasy oriented, but it's SF/Fantasy that includes writers like Ishiguro who really walk the line between styles. So it may be of interest even if you're not a hardcore SF person.

Lastly, take a listen to Tom Vitale's story on NPR about The Paris Review. The story covers a little bit of their history, their new direction, and what the recently ousted editors are now up to (they're starting their own new mag based on what they feel the Paris Review should still be doing). It's a pretty big story if you have any interest in lit mags. You'll need either Real Player or Windows Media Player to listen to the story.


Friday, October 07, 2005

In Defense of the Avant Garde

Author Ben Marcus contributed a thought provoking essay to Harpers titled Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life as We Know It (printed only in part need to buy the mag for the full essay). The title is tongue-in-cheek; Ben Marcus, a long-time supporter and creator of experimental fiction, reacts here against comments author Jonathan Franzen published in various places over the past year or so.

If you're not inclined to read the article, Franzen has printed in various places (most recently in an online chat at the NY Times) how experimental fiction, including historical works like Joyce's Ulysses, create a barrier between the mass reading public and authors and are at least partially to blame for the drop in overall sales of literature. Marcus even notes a recent short story by Franzen in which an author becomes embittered by following his pursuits of experimental fiction while his ex-wife enjoys a profitable writing career in Hollywood.

I'm not sure what more to write that Marcus doesn't already, but will include as a reminder that Franzen was the bloke that turned down the offer for his novel The Corrections to become an Oprah book. Just seems he's clamoring for the popularity, acclaim and money he missed out on and he's trying to place blame wherever he can.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Politics and Art: Not Always the Best Partners

Ron Charles, Senior Editor over at Washington Post's Book World, wrote an interesting review for the new David Maine novel, Fallen. Not interesting because he makes the book appear good (which he sounds fun) but because he includes two quick little political jabs that seem very out of place in the review.

Fallen is a retelling of the Cain and Abel story from the Old Testament of the Bible. When briefly explaining the mythic conflict between the two brothers and how it was at least in part instigated by God, Charles writes:

Why spark such deadly conflict between these brothers six thousand years ago (according to the Kansas School Board)?

Charles continues with:

But how to generate any dramatic tension with material that's so well known? Except possibly for George W. Bush and Michael Brown, everybody has a pretty good idea of what's going to happen...

I guess I just don't get it. I'm not sympathetic to the whole intelligent design movement, but the quick poke at those who are along with the jab at Bush and Brown seem not just unnecessary, they seem wildly inapropriate. I haven't read Maine's novel, so I can't verify 100% that there's little or no political content, but the review by Charles does not indicate anything of the kind. I'm sure he wrote it thinking it a cute comment that might bring a chuckle out of the average reader. And the average reader of the Post being at least a little left of center, I'm sure many did emit at least a minimal guffaw. I just wish Charles had used the ink on the page to write a review of what looks to be a solid book instead of working in his personal political agenda. That's what the editorial pages are for, not the book reviews.

If you want, you can read the full review here. If you don't already have a userid and password and don't want to sign up for one, try Bug Me Not.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

Strange Lights in the Sky

Last night Miss L and I went to a fireworks display sponsored by the Kennedy Center. The display was designed by Cai Guo-Qiang, and chinese painter who's made a side career out of developing unique fireworks displays. The Kennedy Center developed a month long program of Chinese music and cultural events throughout all of October, and the fireworks last night kicked off the month.

Quite a number of people showed up. We arrived about ten minutes before the 9:50 p.m. start time, and the banks of the Potomac just to the side of the Kennedy Center were jammed tight, with people standing and sitting in lines all the way down to the bridge into Virginia several blocks away. The viewing patio at the Kennedy Center was likewise packed. There was a nice mix of people: families, adults, students killing some pre-party time wandering down from GWU.

The demonstration started when severall small boats pulling tiny platforms behind them tacked back and forth across the water. The platforms began shooting fireworks into the air above them as the boat continued their short journey, back and forth. The fireworks exploded above the boats as they moved, creating a dazzling line of color and light in the sky. One of the difficulties of the location is that the section of the Potomac the display was on sits directly underneath one of the main arrival patterns for airplanes coming into National Airport. The boats had to halt their air barrage from time to time when planes flew too low.

A good sized barge floated in the water directly across from the Kennedy Center to give us the finale, an "awesome tornado spiraling across and punctuating the sky". The barge shot off two barrages of exploding flowers of fire, explosions so loud I felt them reverberate in my chest and the echo that bounced off the buildings in nearby Georgetown was still pretty damn loud. But after those initial volleys they seemed to have severe technical problems. We waited it out for a good half hour, watching a police boat shuttling over to the barge, checking things out and then leaving the barge back by itself. I just hope no one was hurt. Despite the problems, it was quite a beautiful display for anyone who likes bright shiny objects dancing in the sky. And judging by the crowds, that's just about everyone.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Play's the Thing

Monday I went to Ford's Theatre in D.C. to hear a talk by local playwright Ken Ludwig. Author of popular stage farces like Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo, Ludwig was there to speak about his newest play Leading Ladies, now running at Ford's. While I wouldn't call him America's greatest living playwright or anything, he's good at a style of cornball, slightly over the top farces that are generally pretty fun.

Much of the talk focused on the current play, where his inspiration came from, what he tries to do with all his plays, etc, etc. But someone finally asked something that made my ears perk up a little. They asked, quite simply, how and when he decided to write plays over any other form of literature (the below is a paraphrase, not a quote).

My brother's only a few years older than me. We were raised by the same parents and in the same town. But for some reason he has no interest in anything. My interest in writing really comes from a love of the theatre. Like most people, I first got involved in high school in the obvious way of acting. But the more involved in got in theatre, the more I learned about and appreciated the other crafts that go into theatre: set design, lighting, technical crews, directing, costumes, and of course writing. As I got older, realized that's where my talent is. Writing is my way to participate in what I love the most; theatre.

It's a lovely sentiment, and probably why I'll never write a play. My fond memories as a kid are not of theatre, but of sitting in libraries, the back seats of hot cars in the summer, or curled up under a blanket reading to myself. It was, and still is, one of the great pleasures in my life. Hopefully I'll be able to contribute to people's reading pleasure as much as Ludwig has to people's theatre pleaure. Dare to dream, I guess.

My posting will probably be sporadic the next several days; I have a few non-blog writing projects coming due and need to get cracking on them. I'll get a few up here and there, though.


Friday, September 23, 2005

Thanks, But No Thanks

As you may or may not know, along with the National Book Festival on the National Mall in downtown D.C. tomorrow, there's also a major protest/rally against the Iraq War scheduled. I've been wondering ever since I heard about it if the two would overlap or even clash in some ways, and it looks like it's started. For some perspective, the various protest rallies appearing on the White House ellipse and near the Washington Monument are about a ten minute walk from the Book Festival on the National Mall.

This article at The Nation reprints a letter poet Sharon Olds sent to the first lady, Laura Bush. For those too lazy to click the link and read the whole letter, it essentially details Olds' internal struggle in loving the idea of participating in the National Book Festival, but not being able to justify attending it and the related dinners when she feels so against the war in Iraq. She closes with:

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.

I understand her feelings, but it is a shame Olds can't put aside her political feelings for what's really a pretty good cause. Aside from promoting writing and reading in general, the fair hosts a lot of kid's programs and it's one of the few places to see so, so many children excited about books. But frankly, I'm suprised we haven't heard more of this. I respect Olds' choice, even if I wouldn't have done the same thing under the same circumstances. My plan consists of going back and forth between the two events throughout the day.

Special thanks to Jen at JMWW for sending us this story.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

What's Lady Churchill Got On Her Wrist?

Printed in a low-cost zine-style, lit mags like Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #16 are probably often passed over by people in shops. The cover’s a simple, 2 color thing with a cartoony set of illustrations. Inside, the type is small and running down two columns with narrow margins. If a piece ends mid-way down the page another one, even if it’s by a different author, starts right up. Well, I’m here to tell you that at $5 a copy, it’s well worth picking up if you’re lucky enough to run across it. I freely confess that I picked it up a few weeks ago because

a) it’s cheap
b) Kelly Link has connections to it
c) it’s cheap

Because of Link’s connection to LCRW (I think she’s edited for them before, but she’s listed now as “outtern”) I expected it to be a mag focused on fantasy and s/f stories. Character driven fantasy and s/f, but still coming out of those genres nonetheless. While some pieces do contain small fantastical elements these are primarily mainstream pieces, but very quirky ones. The full length stories feel like something that might appear in Conjunctions, although without a lot of the postmodern baggage. Likewise, the short-shorts remind me of the odd material you find on McSweeney’s Online, although these are better crafted than most of those at McSweeney's.

Eric Gregory’s “You and I in the Year 2012” is a great example of what I mean. It’s a first person narrative about Jeff, a man trapped within the general malaise and boredom of his own life. He’s not depressed exactly; just a bit dissatisfied with his current existence. One day he receives an unsigned letter in his mailbox claiming all life on earth will end in the year 2012 when a giant asteroid strikes the planet. With connections to the Mayan calendar and other goofy conspiracy theory plots, this is all treated in a light, farcical manner. While Jeff only half believes the letter, it works as in impetus, pushing him to examine his life. I won’t give away the ending, who the letter came from is a big mystery that would be evil of me to reveal, but I will tell you that Jeff makes some changes in his life and leads us to an ending that connects wonderfully to the rest of the text.

The other piece I really enjoyed is the least fantastical. Sean Melican’s “Gears Grind Down” is a fabulous portrait of Henry Vick, a simple farm man with an incredible gift for all things mechanical. His gift lands him an appointment to the big city college, and while he’s hesitant to attend, he goes to satisfy his mother. He finds himself overwhelmed, both by living in the confusing big city and by the content of the classes. His academic abilities aren’t the best, but he struggles through and improves as the story develops. Isolated because of his differences from the other students, Henry finds solace within a non-working clock tower on the college campus. He sets out to repair the giant timepiece, and Melican’s writing of these scenes is downright magical. My only complaint about the piece is that it was difficult to nail down the setting. I wasn't clued in right away that the tale is set in pre-industrial times, and even now I'm not sure exactly when or where it took place. But this is a small complaint. Thoughtful and subtle, Melican's created a simple story that’s quite memorable.

Highly recommended, this little zine packs it in tight with a number of wonderful, professionally-wrought stories. I may even be adding this to my subscription list.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005


This article on Bookcrossing is pretty interesting, at least for book whores like myself. If you're not aware of the practice, the website defines bookcrossing as the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.

While not a new practice by any means, the website gives you the added pleasure of tracking the books you scatter to the winds. You register it on the site, affix the tracking number, and people who find it can add to the book's history. You can then see everywhere your book travels. If you're looking for a book you can also use the site to hunt down books in your area.

Kind of a world-wide library of sorts, with the randomness of it all giving it kind of a Borgesian or Pynchonian feel. I've never done one myself, but I've found a couple in the D.C. area. One that started out in Seattle, and another with origins in Italy. Maybe I'll do one and post results (if any) here. I've been selling some of my books lately on ebay, sometimes at a loss, to give them new life. But this is more appealing since you get more of a sense of it living on and more people enjoying it. I just need to pick a worthy book, a book that Josephina Barrista at the local coffee house won't toss out with the trash.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ice Cream Headache

Ok, there is now, officially, way too much going on in the DC-Baltimore region this weekend. Just received the following through the experimental music listserv I'm on:

The Baltimiore High Zero Festival
Thursday, Sept. 22nd to Sunday, Sept. 25th at
The Theater Project 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore, Maryland

Showtimes: Thursday-Sunday 8:30-midnight
Saturday matinee show, 1-4PM

Admission: Individual concert: $10
Festival pass: $35

Sound installations, workshops, and site-specific performances begin
Sept 15th all around town!

For a full schedule see:
Tickets can be purchased over the phone:410-752-8558

Baltimore's HIGH ZERO Festival is one of the largest and most radical festivals of improvised music in the country, bringing together an amazing group of players each year for all-new collarboations, united united in their wil-to-experiment and desire to cross boundaries into the unknown. Ranging across the territories of jazz, sound art, electronic music, noise, contemporary composition and mad scientism (at least), the festival is flavored by the visionary imagination and noncomformost sensibility of Baltimore's vital and unusual experimental scene, incorporating many levels of possibilities simultaneous: freely improvised concerts, site specific performances, sound installations, and workshops throughout the city.

I've been once before, and it really is one of the true gems of the Baltimore art scene. If you have any interest in experimental and/or improv music, and you can squeeze it in between exhibits at the Baltimore Book Fair, the National Book Fair, and the Small Press Expo, I highly suggest going. A number of performers are local to the region, so it's also a rare chance to support a lot of local musicians.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Count Gore's Grand Return

This post is mostly for anyone who grew up in the D.C. area. Online horror host Count Gore De Vol hosted an online chat today, courtesy of the Washington Post. He spins some great anecdotes about his time as the Count, Captain 20, and Bozo and shares some wisdom on horror movies. If the WP asks for a login and you don't have one, try Bugmenot. Both Miss L and I posted; see if you can guess which questions are ours.

For those who didn't grow up in D.C. during the late 70's and early 80's, Dick Dyszel was a local television host on WDCA 20, what is now the UPN station for the area. He hosted a kids program called W.O.W. as Captain 20, and late night horror movies as Count Gore. Hosts at one point in time were a vital component of local stations, and he was a damn good one. A few years ago, he started up his current website to play horror movies online, broadcasting material that slipped into the public domain. He now also has a site for Captain 20, mostly for historical purposes at this point.

Waking up to him, seeing him again in the afternoon when you got home from school, and sneaking downstairs to watch his shows late at night. It was kind of like having a crazy, fun uncle coming to visit you every day. If you didn't grow up watching his shows, it's hard to explain how much he was a part of the lives of all the kids in the area. This was pre-cable, so everyone...and I mean everyone....watched him.

Dyszel's moved back to the D.C. area, and will host the midnight movie, Young Frankenstein, Saturday night September 17 at the Landmark Theater in downtown D.C. Give him a warm welcome home if you go.


Dancing the Horrors Away

If issue 52 of Cemetery Dance exemplifies the horror field, a large number of the writers have a fascination with the twist ending. Personally, I'm not a big fan of it unless it's done extemely well. When done well, the twist should cause the reader to have one of those magical "A-ha!" moments, causing them to suddenly catch on to some of the clues the writer skillfully placed throughout the story. When done poorly, it can either remind me of Scooby Doo cartoons or just flat out irritate me. I'll use Tim Waggoner's story "Home Security" as an example of what I don't like. Not because its infringments are more significant than others in the issue, but because it's a short-short and easier to talk about here.

The starting premise is simple. Ray heard a noise in the middle of the night and gets up, knife gripped in his hand, and scours the dark corners of his home for an intruder. We've all had those moments when we thought we heard something and just have to check it out, and Waggoner does a very good job in laying out the physical space and playing with the tension. Lines like

Listening for a rustle of clothing, for a foot being uplifted and put back down, for the silent but unmistakable feel of air being disturbed as a body moved through it. (45)

I actually found to be quite lovely in a creepy sort of way. But after going through his home, Ray finally realizes that no intruder exists. We feel his relief with him, and then we get the ending:

He was glad the prowler had turned out to be nothing more than a phantom of his imagination. He had a job to do, one he'd put off far too long, and he didn't want to be interrupted. He raised the blade and brought it down on his wife. (45)

Well now. I was certainly taken aback by that, so if that was Waggoner's main goal I guess he succeeded. I've read the story four times now, searching for even the slightest hint that this was coming. But it's not there. Part of my frustration comes from the rest of Waggoner's story being done so well. I expected something more out of the ending, and when that didn't happen I felt like I had been tricked and cheated. Unfortunately, a good number of the pieces in this issue play with this style of ending. While I can see why some readers might like these, it's just not for me.

The stories I do like are the ones that don't try to trick you, my favorite being "How Far We All Fall From Grace" by Michelle Scalise. A plague of some sort has swept through the country, killing in numbers we can only guess at. Houses with people showing symptoms are quickly quarantined, and the quarantine itself is strictly enforced by an armed militia. Young Wendy lives in the midst of this with her family, most of whom believe the plague to be a punishment passed down from god. Early in the story, the family buries the grandmother and they are quickly placed under quarantine. Although most of her family accepts their fate, Wendy takes matters into her own hands and plans an escape. What is most horrifying about this tale is not graphic details dead bodies or disease, but how close our own society is to making moves like this when fear runs a community. Scalise's prose is right on target, and when the ending hits it challenges the reader to think what s/he would do under similarly extreme circumstances.

The other piece I really enjoyed was Joel Lane's "Among the Dead". David works a rather thankless job, under pretty horrible conditions considering it's office work. He sits in his anonymous cubicle, typing away on the computer, his productivity constantly under scrutiny. Lorraine, the woman in a cubicle near him, starts feeling ill. Perhaps its the lack of air conditioning, perhaps something else. She passes out, and isn't breathing when the ambulance takes her away. She dies shortly thereafter. David and the rest of the staff are given an early lunch, and when they return he finds Lorraine's space already filled with a temp. We then enter a mildly surreal section that connects well with the themes of the tale. Although a little over the top in its details, Lane effectively communicates that sense of dehumanization nearly everyone has felt when working for a job they don't enjoy. Perhaps my enjoyment is just a sign of my job loathing, like my earlier appreciation for Pick Your Poison.

The issue is entirely worth it for the reviews, though. CD prints a ton of them, and I found the range of what they cover pretty interesting. Pulpy-style horror books are no surprise, but they also gave a very favorable review to Robert Coover's Stepmother. A running theme through a lot of the reviews, though, criticized some books that focused too much on character to what they saw as the detriment of thrilling/chilling plots. Kind of the inverse to criticism one sees in mainstream lit reviews, so I found the perspective interesting.

I've been pointed by a few people online to some other horror mags that put out work a bit different from CD, some supposedly more driven by character and theme. I'll be curious to see how they compare.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

My Addiction

If my attitude towards books is any indication, I can never do crack. I just wouldn't be able to stop.

I went to the monthly magazine meeting last night to discuss what I reviewed over the past four weeks and pick out new stuff for the next round. I went in promising to control myself and not take too much. I have piles of older books to read, not to mention some lit mags both in print and online to catch up on. And I have at least one thing coming in the mail from Strange Horizons to review. I've also decided to take a stab at NanoWriMo this year, so I'm doing some prelim research for the novel...novella...whatever it ends up being, and need to set aside time for that.

So, what did I take?

Three graphic novels, all of which look promising, especially this one. The new TC Boyle collection, a bio on the remaining living astronaughts who've been on the moon, and an interesting looking dark fantasy by Cherie Priest.

Sometimes it feels like the more I read, the more I find to read.

Speaking of which, I'm really enjoying the Cory Doctorow book. I've never read him before, but his writing is kind of an odd marriage between Jonathan Carroll and early Neal Stephenson. Plus the references to Steel Pole Bathtub keep making me laugh.

I'm working up reviews for the last few things I've read, and those should start appearing over the next few days. Unless I get distracted, in which case all bets are off.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Heading Dead West

The edgy graphic novel Dead West, which wonderfully blends the tropes of the western cowboy tale with zombie horror stories, opens with a short prequel. A small Native American village is wiped out to make way for a town called Lazarus. Years later the lone Native American survivor returns and places a curse on the now bustling burg. The dead of the town rise from their graves and start attacking and snacking on the remaining inhabitants of Lazarus. Speed ahead one week and a stranger comes to town, an unnamed bounty hunter searching for a fugitive known only as the Fat Man. Caught in the midst of this horrifying event, the bounty hunter finds himself helping the trapped members of the town so he can reach and kill his target.

Spears’ story shows a skilled balance between heart-pounding action and quick little side moments that give the readers a chance to catch their breaths. The tale reaches its inevitably violent-yet-campy conclusion when the Calvary, quite literally, arrives by way of a division of civil war soldiers that wander into the scene with their guns and cannons blazing. Rob G’s artwork adds to the fast-paced plotting through a sketchy, frenetic and angular style. His depiction of violence works on a bone-splitting level that will satisfy horror fans, but toning down the gore just enough so it won't shock the average reader.

Fans of the Spears and G. team may be surprised by the lack of character development and deep themes that their previous project Teenagers From Mars provided so skillfully. Spears gives few clues to the identity of the bounty hunter and why he’s so intent on catching the Fat Man. But it’s well suited to this lone gunman style of western, making more than a few nods to Sergio Leone spaghetti western movies like Fist Full of Dollars as well as the cowboy anti-hero Jonah Hex of DC Comics. Besides, those looking for big themes in this book are probably missing the point; the book’s intent is one of pure fun and a thrilling source for guilty pleasures. Fans of zombies, westerns, and zombie-westerns (yes, they do exist...and in quite a level of abundance) will rejoice over this thrilling story, but DW probably won’t convert anyone normally opposed to either style. But as different as it is from their other works, DW points at a powerful collaboration between two creative minds that are heading towards a promising and diverse career.


Monday, September 12, 2005

Events for the Week

With the fall publishing season now in full swing, there's suddenly a lot to do as far as lit events in the area. Get off your duff and enjoy. Special Note: in the interest of brevity, I have not listed anything related to the Virginia Fall for the Book festival. I may or may not post separately about it, but I have added links to the right for area festivals if you're interested. Fall for the Book offers lots of panel discussions, readings, and lectures by both nationally recognized authors and local treaures. Read the events carefully on their web pages. Some events are on the campus of GMU, others at the Fairfax County Government Center. If going for any of the "big name" writers, go early.

If there are any other fests or events I should know about, email me. Happy to post them.

12 Monday

7 P.M. Blues legend B.B. King signs The B.B. King Treasures: Photos, Mementos & Music From B.B. King's Collection (compiled with Dick Waterman), being published on the occasion of his 80th birthday, at Borders-Downtown, 18th & L Sts. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-466-4999.

7 P.M. Acclaimed Web designer Hillman Curtis presents a lecture, "Making the Invisible Visible," and signs his new book Hillman Curtis on Creating Short Films for the Web at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW. Admission is $20 for nonmembers; call 202-639-1703 for details and to RSVP.

7 P.M. Jewell Parker Rhodes reads from and signs her new Marie Laveau mystery, Voodoo Season, at Borders-Silver Spring, 8518 Fenton St., Silver Spring, Md. 301-585-0550.

13 Tuesday

6 P.M. Israeli writer Etgar Keret reads from the collection of short stories The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God. Ben and Esther Rosenbloom JCC, 3506 Gywnnbrook Ave, Owings Mills, Md. $12/person.

6:30 P.M. Tamara T. Gregory signs her new novel Passport Diaries at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, Md. 3500 East-West Hwy., 301-559-1140.

6:30 P.M. Writers Live at the Library Series. Ayana Byrd and Akiba Solomon read from and discuss their compliation of essays by and about women. Enoch Pratt Free Library, central library
400 Cathedral St., Baltimore, Md. 410-396-5430.

7 P.M. Terry Pratchett reads from and signs his newest Discworld novel, Thud!, at Olsson's-Courthouse, 2111 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va., 703-525-4227.

7 P.M. Kim Addonizio reads from and signs her new novel Little Beauties at Chapters Literary Bookstore, 445 11th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-737-5553.

7 P.M. Salman Rushdie reads from his new novel, Shalimar the Clown. This is a ticketed event at Temple Sinai, 3100 Military Rd. NW, Washington, D.C. Two tickets are free with book purchase; otherwise, they are $10 each. Also note that Mr. Rushdie will sign only Shalimar the Clown. Sponsored by Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC. 1-800-722-0790

7:30 P.M. The "New Voices" series, designed to introduce emerging poets to the community and honor mentoring poets, begins its fall season with readings by poet Rod Jellema and some of his students at Grace Church (Georgetown), 1041 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Call 703-425-5583 for more details.

14 Wednesday

7 P.M. Robert Hicks reads from and signs his new novel The Widow of the South at Olsson's-Courthouse, 2111 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va., 703-525-4227.

7 P.M. Bret Easton Ellis reads from and signs his new novel Lunar Park at Olsson's-Penn Quarter, 418 Seventh St. NW, 202-638-7610.

15 Thursday

6:30 P.M. Writer/cartoonist Frank Cho talks about comic books, creativity and censorship in the arts industry. Harford County Public Library, Abingdon Branch. 2510 Tollgate Rd, Beltsville, Md. 410-273-5601 x 222.

7:30 P.M. Poets Lia Purpura and Jonathan Vaile read from their work as part of the Café Muse series at the Friendship Heights Village Center, 4433 S. Park Ave., Chevy Chase, Md. An open reading (sign-up at 7 p.m.) concludes the program. Call 301-656-2797 or visit Word Works DC for details.

8 P.M. A Poetic Sit led by and featuring Ben Hogan. Notre' Maison, 18 W. 25th Street, Baltimore, Md. 410-235-4773.

16 Friday

7 P.M. Mick Foley "Scooter" Book Signing. Author and former professional wrestler Mick Foley will read and sign his new novel, Scooter. Borders Books and Music, 170 W. Ridgely Road, Lutherville, Md. 410-453-0727.

17 Saturday

5 P.M. Conceptual artist damali ayo discusses and signs her new book How to Rent a Negro at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, 301-559-1140.

18 Sunday

1 P.M. The Riverdale House Museum hosts a reading by Regency Romance authors Kathryn Caskie, Kate Dolan, Janet Mullany, Diane Perkins, Mary Jo Putney and Lucia St. Clair Robson . Admission is $5, which includes a guided tour of the house and refreshments. The museum is located at 4811 Riverdale Rd. in Riverdale Park, Md. For details and to RSVP call 301-864-0420 .

1 P.M. Elizabeth Poliner reads from her new novel Mutual LIfe & Casualty as part of the DC Arts on Foot Program. Chapters Literary Bookstore, 445 11th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-737-5553.

2 P.M. Richard McCann reads from Mother of Sorrows, his collection of short stories published by Pantheon. He is joined by poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, who will read from The Maverick Room. (Graywolf Press). $4.00 (Member), $6.00 (Non-Member) Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, Md. 301 654-8664.

2 PM Garrison Keillor: Good Poems for Hard Times, Lecture and Book Signing. Garrison Keillor brings his humor and eloquence to some of his favorite poems by poets from Raymond Carver to Emily Dickinson to Charles Simic. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program. Location: Lisner Aud., GW University, 730 21st St. N.W, Washington, D.C..$24, general; $18, members; call 202-357-3030 for more info.

4 P.M. 3rd Sunday Poetry Series. Poetry by Clarina Harriss and Yvette Neiser. An open mic follows. Minás Gallery, 815 W. 36th St., Baltimore, Md. 410-732-4258

4 P.M. D.C. Poets Against the War presents a reading by Carolyne Wright , author of Seasons of Mangoes and Brainfire, at Busboys & Poets, 1390 V St. NW. Call 202-387-POET or visit Bus Boys and Poets.