Thursday, March 31, 2005


I just received the galleys for a short story a small publisher picked up for an anthology.

It's a unique experience for me, because it was sent electronically. All done in MSWord using features I've never really explored, the editor's changes stand out in red. I have to go through them and vote yes or no with a right-click on the mouse for all the changes. Thankfully most of the problems are format issues with their house-style (one space after periods instead of two, for example) a few grammar mistakes that I would have caught if it hadn't been my own work. My previous experience with galleys is limited to print versions covered with copyeditor marks. This is a much easier system to read, and while I hate to admit it Microsoft plugged in some nice features to allow all of this. It certainly made things easier in a time sense. The publisher resides in Manitoba, Canada and I'm all the way down in Vriginia. With the state of international mail, who knows how long it might take to mail changes back and forth to each other.

The full book should come out sometime in May or June, assuming everything goes well. I'm really curious to see what other stories lie inside those pages. I'll post an update when the book comes out, but in the meantime I have some editing to do.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Hebdomeros Mailbag

loiusdad1819@___ asks:

I like the quote you use on your profile. What is it?

It's time I come clean. This will be really hard to admit, but here it goes.

Hebdomeros is not my real name.

I know, I know. You all feel ripped off. You feel lied to. You might even be thinking, "If he lies about his name, what else could he be lying about? Why I bought Alex Garland's The Coma solely because of his review, and now I may not read it! Damn you, Hebdomeros!".

To make it worse, I ripped it off.

Hebdomeros is a pretty kick-ass novel by Giorgio De Chirico. Best known as a painter and somewhat of a precursor to Surrealism, De Chirico's novel tells the story of Hebdomeros as he wanders through a very imaginative and confusing landscape. From a Surrealist point of view, it's a brilliant book and one of the few novels they officially supported (they disliked most fiction of their day for being too realistic and preferred poetry over any other written form). Although not the easiest of reads, it's worth the effort for De Chirico's unique descriptions and bizarre sense of prose.

I picked the name for a variety of reasons. I'm a fan of both De Chirico and Surrealism, there are many links between my interests and the novel, and it's obscure enough that I didn't think anyone else would be using it. Probably most important, I just like the way it sounds.



Say it loud, say it often.


Back to the question.

The quote comes directly from the novel, and I like the attitude behind it. Thanks for asking.

On a completely other note, I'm pulling together some tentative ideas for some regular features here. We'll see how much people (including me) like them, and if they are even worthwhile.


Monday, March 28, 2005

Shake that Stick

Lady Litblitzin passed along a book meme, so I guess it's my turn.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

A little confused by this one, as is everyone else. I would want to be Haruki Murakami's A Wind Up Bird Chronicle. I haven't read anything else in recent years that filled my head with such magic and wonder.

To burn? I could never, ever, ever burn a book. I can't even throw away cheap-ass review copies I sometimes get from the magazine. But if I had to, it would probably be anything by Al Franken. He's not half so clever as he thinks he is, and he gives good liberals a bad name by engaging in all the name calling he complains about so much. He can be funny, but I used him in teaching Freshman how not to write an essay. Not very well thought out at all.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Yep. As a kid, I remember having a crush on Eilonwy, the spunky yet still lady-like like heroine in Lloyd Alexander's Prydain chronicles. Kathy Acker is probably the closest as an adult (she inserts herself into her own books, so I'm counting it).

The last book you bought is:

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami and The Collected Stories of Roald Dahl. Bought shortly after the first of the year, and haven't read either one yet.

The last book you read:

Tumbling After by Paul Witcover

What are you currently reading?

Look at the sidebar, you slacker! Oh, ok. The Rise and Fall of the Indian Rope Trick by Peter Lamont. Silly but well researched book on the history of the greatest magic trick ever dreamed of.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

Empire of the Senseless by Kathy Acker
The Complete Works of Harlan Ellison
Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
Bullfinch's Greek Mythology
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I'd probably give completely different answers in a week, but oh well.


Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Just-us League

Last night I watched The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, which someone at worked had taped and loaned to me. It's a fun concept, merging all of those iconic 19th century action and gothic characters into one massive story. It had more potential than it pays off with, though. The comic series by Alan Moore that's it's based on goes into considerably more depth with the plot and quasi-pomo style links to the original stories. Although the main plot twists are all the same in the movie as in the comic, they come off a lot more believable in the comic form. I'm sure it's mostly because they're developed more deeply. From a guilty-pleasure action movie standpoint, though, it's still kind of fun. Hard to beat Alan Quartermain teaching Tom Sawyer how to shoot a rifle. And the passing of the hero torch between the two is a nice touch (and in a way echoes the passing of empires from Britain to the U.S.).

This is, I think, the second movie based on Alan Moore's comics. The first was From Hell, the Johnny Deep flick about Jack the Ripper. Likewise, it wasn't a bad movie. It just lacked a lot of the more complicated nuances of Moore's themes and plots. I keep hearing grumblings about a movie based on Moore's landmark work The Watchmen. In many ways it would be more difficult to do, at least as a stand-alone movie. There are a lot more fans of that title, and it would be picked apart to much higher degree.

In a somewhat related note, I'm wary but curious about Sin City, which opens this weekend. Based on a series by another great comic book author, it should at least be a fun action ride. Miller reportedly had significant involvement in the script and direction so it's possible it might follow his ideas more closely than the movies based on Moore's work. Visually, at least, it looks pretty close. We shall see.


Friday, March 25, 2005

Hebdomeros Mailbag

Not sure why I got this in my email last night, but i did:

In the immortal words of Freddy Mercury, "Who wants to live forever?"

I do.

I am seriously looking for a beautiful female vampire to infect me with eternal life. After all it takes more money to do a fraction of the things one wants to do than can be made in several lifetimes. As a vampire one at least has a fighting chance of accomplishing something worth writing home about.


Assuming there really are vampires, I would think the last people in the world they would want to bring into their fold are people begging to join. You're setting yourself up to be a donor for life (in vamp culture, donors are people who willingly give up their blood). But maybe that's me.

And if you really want eternal life you might have to go with a less beautiful vampire. I would imagine the really sexy ones have to fight off the offers with a stick. Or maybe a stake. Not sure.

Try one of the ugly old masters. One of those shrivelled, heavy set, bald guys with bulging veins and purple lips. They might just be desperate enough to give you a little try, you desperate little weasel.

Seriously, though, run, run, run away from anyone who claims vamphood. Real or not, sexy or ugly, they're not worth the danger.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

Sandwiches with Frank Zappa

After much debate with myself I decided to return to school. Registration began yesterday, so I'm still getting adjusted to this new situation.

The campus is unusual, and spreads out across a desert flat as a table top. I arrived close to sunset yesterday. With the sun's orange rays streaming down, the desert sand glowed with the color of fire. Scores of jungle gyms and swing sets littered the landscape. Some appeared brand new and gleamed in the bright light, while others were dull, rusty and looked ready to topple over with the slightest breeze. Instead of large stone buildings, the school uses gigantic circus tents for classrooms. I walked by them, lugging my heavy load of books and clothes, trying to find my way to to the dormitories. With my arms getting tired, I searched for someone to help me out.

I saw a large man with a shaved head wearing a sign across his chest that said, "Hi! I'm Simon. Ask me if you're lost."

So I walked up to him and said, "Hello, Simon. Am I lost?"

Simon raised an open palm to me and I saw a deep green eyeball in the center. I first thought it an elaborate tattoo, but it winked at me. "Do you know where you are?" Simon asked.

"Yes. No. Kind of. At college."

Simon moved his hand with the eye up and down in a nodding motion. "Do you know where you're going?"

"Sort of. The dorms. I don't know where they are, though."

"You're borderline," Simon said with a sigh. "But lost enough, I suppose, for me to talk to. Just head that way. You'll see the dorm with your name on it."

Simon's free hand pointed farther down the plateau. Following his direction, I found my way to an encampment of smaller tents ranging in all styles and colors. Mine was a simple dome tent, bright green, nestled underneath a giant swing set. Aside from the single swing, the set also had a gleaming silver slide a a long rope perfect for climbing, swinging or both. I walked though the doorway and looked around. The bare floor was neatly swept, with nice neat lines running through the sand. The sunlight blazing through the fabric of the tent gave everything a neon-green hue. A man was sitting on the floor, legs crossed and fumbling with a red flying-v electric guitar. He's average height with a thick mass of curly, black hair and a jet-black mustache, wearing white t-shirt that exclaimed, "Gravity. It's not just a good idea. It's the law."

"Hi, I'm Frank Zappa!" he said as he stood up. "I guess we're roomies."

He held out his hand to shake my own. I took his hand, felt his tight grip and said, "Nice to meet you. I thought you were dead."

Zappa simply shrugged in reply. "They'll accept anyone at this school."

"You still play?" I said, pointing at the guitar. "Are you a music major?"

"Nah. That's just a hobby now. I'm majoring in sandwiches."


"Yeah. They're my passion now."

Zappa bends down and presses hard on the ground. A giant refrigerator popped out of the ground, brought up by some spring-loaded secret panel. The refrigerator stands three people high and two people wide and seems much too large for the size of the tent. Yet, somehow, it manages to fit. Zappa opens the door and starts tossing sandwiches at me as he pulls them out of the refrigerator. Tuna on rye. Hard salami on a baguette. Broiled fish eyes between two pieces of chicken-fried steak. Asphalt patties on wheat grass bread. I look at them closely.

"They look delicious," I said. "But they're all made out of styrofoam."

He gave me a look like I'm an idiot. "Well of course. You don't get to work with real food until your at least half-way through the program."

I nodded, pretending to understand.

"What about you?" he asked. "What's your major?"

"I'm still trying to figure that out."

"Undecided, eh? You better decide soon. Might end up like Simon out there."

"What do you mean?"

"Word is, he refused to declare a major. By the time graduation rolled around they had to give him something to do. So now he just stands out there, helping people who are lost. So you better get on track, bucko." Zappa then made a gun shape with his hand, cocked the trigger and fired at me. A pop sound came from nowhere.

"Well," I said. "I'm going to unpack."

"Please do. Don't let me stand in your way."

I unrolled my sleeping bag and unpacked my books and clothes, piling them up neatly wherever I could. Zappa played with his sandwiches, swapping the parts from one to another creating new and bizarre combinations of potential food. After packing, I read a bit of the newest issue of Fence and put my head down to sleep. Zappa was still up, playing with his sandwiches.

And thus began my new foray into education.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Language in Mind

Last night I went to a lecture/panel discussion at Ford's Theatre in downtown D.C. Tied to their current show Big River, the panel consisted of cast members and the director of this musical based on Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Produced by the San Francisco-based theatre Deaf West, the show simultaneously incorporates singing and sign language throughout the performance.

One of the actors, who is hearing but has been acting with deaf theatre companies for several years, made some interesting comments on sign language and theatre. Their goal in adapting a musical like Big River for both singing and sign language is to make use of sign language for something more than conversation. In a way, the idea is to create a sense of music and poetry within sign language.

My personal knowledge of sign language is pretty limited. I know how to finger-spell my name and some basics like "Thank you", "Hello", "Yes", and the all important word "Toilet". But from what little I understand sign language is not, as many think, an adaptation of the spoken english language. It is its own language with its own rules, structures, syntax and quirks. So in a sense when an interpreter signs a spoken message (or the opposite), what they are really doing is translating. The director described their use of both languages within performances as something akin to movie subtitles, which is probably not too far off.

All of which has me wondering about language and how it works inside the brain.

I know when I think I generally think in words in the english language. There are the odd occasions when I'm trying to picture something visual or hear something auditory, but generally I think in words that I hear in my head. I wonder if the deaf, particularly the deaf who have never heard speech, think in sign and how exactly it takes shape within their mind. There is a definite deaf culture, and all this must impact how they think, how they approach the world and how they interact with it. What, exactly, could consitute poetry, music, and art within the context of sign language? I'm probably asking questions with obvious answers to some people, but to me they are a little perplexing.

It's something to consider if you ever try to write from the perspective of a character who thinks in another language, be it French, American Sign Language, or another form of communication we have yet to experience.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Setting the Scene

We all know setting is important. It's that area where the characters live and breathe, that special place where the action occurs. It's sometimes vastly important to the story, and other times a quick sketch of a backdrop. In the right hands and in the right story setting can transform from a simple location into a profound echo of the metaphors and themes of the story.

It doesn't happen very often, but it's always very strange to me when I read a novel or story set within a location I know pretty well. The novel I'm reading now, Tumbling After, takes place in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware. It's about three hours from where I live now, and I spent many a good summer there as a kid. At least so far, author Paul Witcover's vison/memory is more general than mine. Aside from quick mentions of route 1, it could really be Anybeach, U.S.A. I'm hoping eventually the characters will drift down to the boardwalk and pass Rehoboth oddities like Dolly's Candy, Gershman's clothes, or even a kitsch-infected mini-golf place. But so far its all waves and sand between the toes, and nothing really distinguishing. There's a lot of local color to the place, and not using seems like a waste. Perhaps it wouldn't mean a thing to a reader who's never visited Rehobeth, but to someone who has it comes off a touch pallid.

But at least Witcover hasn't written anything out and out wrong.

A few years ago I read Children of the Night by Dan Simmons. Part of the novel is set in Alexandria, Virginia and he describes it as a sleepy, southern farm town south of Washington, D.C. Now that description may have fit Alexandria of the 1960's, and that may very well be the last time Simmons made it there. But the novel was set in the 1990's, and many of the details were just laughable. It's been a long, long time since the homes in Alexandria had cows in the front yard. I'm all for it, though, if the city wants to bring them back.

This little entry is nothing against Witcover or Simmons (I actually like Simmons quite a bit). Just a little lesson on watching those little details that can trip up the reader. If it's been awhile, you just might want to visit that place you're writing about.


Friday, March 18, 2005

Random Blogginess

First, I really enjoy my sitemeter. Not so much for how many people come and visit my odd little online home, but more for how they got here. Some level of traffic comes through by way of the reviews I plug in. Perfectly understandable that people would stumble through here looking for more info on Joe Meno or Seth Greenland. But a few things seem completely random. I experienced an odd spike in traffic last week following my three-day thread on the dangers in writing. But these people came through not because of some serious investigation on the trials and tribulations of creating art, but because of my line "puffy callous on the knuckle of my middle finger". Apparently I am not alone in this affliction, and many came here seeking answers.

Afraid I have none. I am sorry to let you down, dear reader. And although I'm not personally bothered by my callouses (I also have them well developed on the pads of my fingertips from playing bass guitar) I'd be happy to share possible solutions since so many seem interested in this issue.

Secondly, Sitemeter's letting me know that I have a lurker. Most of the traffic through here is East Coast U.S. time. Not at all surprising since that's where I reside and I sometimes post about events in the D.C. area. But one lone person from Iceland seems to check in once a week. Or, at least, someone who's played with their computer enough to make it look like they're from Iceland. So hello to you, Icelandic lurker. Feel free to post if you like. Don't be afraid. Despite the hardness of my name, Hebdomeros is actually a nice guy. Ask anyone.

I've added a few links to the side, and am considering adding a few more. Placed here more for my easy reference than for anything else, they're worth looking at if you have the time.

Tomorrow I'll actually write about writing.



Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Spirit Behind Eisner

As graphic novels and comics in general gain more and more respectability, it's no real surprise for more book-length critical texts to start appearing. Since he invented and continued to re-invent the art of the graphic novel over the years, Will Eisner is an obvious but still excellent place to start. His recent passing only makes this book even more timely.

The Will Eisner Companion by N.C. Christopher Crouch and Stephen Weiner is part mini-biography and part summary of Eisner's major works. The Spirit, both it's creation and it's analysis, comprises the first third of the book. The history behind this seminal character warrants a full book to itself, and Companion provides some interesting details and analysis. Eisner's early desire to bring a new sense of realism to comics started in the 1940's, and developed in the unique strip of The Spirit by working in more realistic characters and problems day-to-day life alongside the action stories that were, and still are, the standard. The rest of the book focuses on Eisner's creation of and experimentation with the graphic novel. Companion attempts to explain the themes of character, religion and social awareness so integral to Eisner's stories, and it does a fair job in a Cliff's Notes kind of fashion.

Authors Couch and Weiner have both been strong advocates for graphic novels the last few years, contributing solid reviews to places like Library Journal and Comics Journal, the critical bible of the comics industry. Because of this, I did go into this book expecting a little more depth. The work is approached and described in pretty basic terms, and considering the credentials of the two comes off a little limited for anyone with more than passing knowledge. It is, however, a solid introduction to Eisner's very accomplished work and career. The collections of Eisner's work, spanning over sixty years, really showcase his skill as an artist and storyteller and will certainly inspire the unfamiliar to investigate him further.

In the 60's and 70's critic and author Damon Knight called for an increase in the quality and depth in the criticism of science fiction, and the time seems right for the same thing to happen with the graphic novel. And while I don't think this book in particular is the ideal, it is surely a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

What's Mything?

This week's Studio 360 was all about artwork influence by myth. They focused on the Orpheus myth of greek mythology, and looked at theatre, film, and music that explored and expanded on the myth. Most of the material looks at the idea of Orpheus as artist, and what the myth has to say about how and why we create art.

Right at the start I shook my fist at the radio and said, "Hey, Kurt Anderson. Mr. Radio Host. You better talk to Nick Cave, because he's got a great song about Orpheus."

And he does. It's on the 2nd disc for his new album, Abattoir Blues / Lyre of Orpheus. And while Cave isn't interviewed, they do listen to the song briefly.

The most interesting segment is probably the interview with Sarah Ruhl, whose play Eurydice picks up where the story left off. Eurydice, as all who enter the underworld do, loses her memory and her ability with language after dying. The spirit of her father, who somehow managed to retain his memory, finds her and teaches her to speak and remember. It sounds like an amazing idea, and I might look into getting a copy of the script at some point.

Personally, I'm more attracted to myths of trickery. Particularly when the gods get tricked into giving something to mankind or the gods trick each other. Prometheus, Loki, Coyote...there are so many and I love them all. But to each their own.


Monday, March 14, 2005

On the Fence

Not surprisingly, Issue 14 of Fence is poetry ladened. I'll just be commenting on the fiction in the issue.

The opening story, "The Artist's Voice: Hearing is Believing" by Manuel Gonzales, tells the story of Karl Abbasonov an immensely talented musician and composer who suffers from a unique affliction. Starting at a young age, whenever he focused his mind on playing or composing music he would endure painful, horrible headaches. Despite this, Abbasonov loved music and kept working on his art. His condition worsens with age, to the point that he becomes completely paralyzed. Without the ability to speak, Abbasonov develops the ability to manipulate the internal workings of his ear allowing him to speak. As far out as it sounds, Gonzales does a wonderful job at working in just enough explanation to make it believable.

Lisa Pearson's "How the Slowworm Struggled, But Not Too Much" focuses on a small worm plugged from the safety of the earth by the claw of a bird. The worm feels special for being the one chosen by the bird, obviously not aware that the bird probably chose him as dinner and not for anything profound. It's an odd but effective mix as you feel this poor little worm's joy in soaring through the air and seeing things like clouds and sunlight for the first time, but the fear for the worm knowing it's about to die. A simple, short piece but very effective.

Two pieces move into the wacky. Alice Bradley's "The Panty Thief" works in a silly mode for the most part, having great fun with a man's obsession of stealing panties from clotheslines. The story shifts at the end, transforming his joy into painful shame. "An Account at the Advance at Northgate" is a wild account of an inexperienced general leading his troops against the onslaught of the Roman Empire. The twist: the disputed territory is a modern-day shopping mall.

The issue closes with Harry Matthews' "My Life in the CIA: How it Began". It's actually part of an older, longer work by Matthews being reissued by Dalkey Archives Press. It's a first-person narrative of a man who everyone thinks to be a CIA spy. Most of the piece is spent with circular arguements, denying any and all connections. Matthews was the only U.S. member of the France-based experimental literature group OULIPO, who combined mathematical structures into their poetry and fiction. Nearly countless jokes and jibes are made at the art world in particular, as well as the culture at large.

Overall a pretty solid issue. Enjoy if you find it.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

Old Friends on a Train

Blogger's been giving me problems as of late. I haven't been able to log in to create new posts or reply to people's comments. So no, I haven't been avoiding my duties as an amateur blogger. The infernal system just wouldn't let me on. I've got a little backlog of posts to get up, but I'll do them one at a time. This one relates to this past Thursday night:

One night after work I walked from the office to the Farragut West metro station, It was a nice night, cool but not cold and I had Nick Cave singing on my headphones. After waiting a few minutes I got on the train to Virginia and caught a glimpse of a familiar face, sitting behind me a couple of rows and on the other side of the aisle. The way the seats were arranged, we faced opposite directions.

For some reason I hid myself, putting my open copy of Fence high up in my lap and hunching over it to obsure my face as much as possible. When the light was just right I could use the reflections on the windows in case he noticed me. He read a magazine for a few stops, and then his cell phone rang. He spent the rest of the time, about thirty minutes or so, chatting with whoever was on the other end of the conversation.

This is someone I've known for probably half my life. While I wouldn't say I'm particularly close to him, I still see him socially once or twice a year. I wasn't purposefully avoiding him. Well, I guess technically I was. But it wasn't like I didn't want to say hello. It became more like a little game, waiting to see how long it would take him to notice me. If at all.

In the end, he never noticed. He started to get off the train a couple of stops before mine and I grabbed his arm as he shuffled by. We made the obligatory, "Ha ha-I didn't see you" exchange, our fingers pointing at each other in mock amusement.

But, of course, the joke was on him. I saw him the whole time. Ha ha.

Tomorrow I should have my review of the Fence issue up. Provided blogger keeps cooperating.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Danger continued

Novelist Jodi Picoult wrote an interesting column for this week's Book World in The Washington Post.

She writes about the odd mixture of praise and flack she's received for her novel The Pact, which deals with, among other things, teen suicide. I'll let her speak for herself:

Why, then, would an author risk potential sales by writing something people might consider upsetting? Well, it's probably not for the reasons you'd think. I don't write about controversial issues because I like to be edgy. I write about them because-like my readers-I don't have all the answers. When a moral or ethical question roots itself in my mind, I find myself thinking about what I'd do in that situation. I force myself to turn over every stone, consider the issue from every perspective. I find myself walking down roads that are often uncomfortable: talking to the parents of pediatric cancer patients, for example, who would move heaven and earth-not just stem cell research laws-to save their children; speaking to victims of sexual abuse, who cannot shake the memory years later; asking a battered wife why she still loves her husband; listening to a teen who attempted suicide explain what the world looks like through her eyes. None of this is easy, but it opens my eyes, and I have every reason to believe that's a good thing. For every uncomfortable parent who wanted to burn a copy of The Pact, there is a reader who has come up to me in tears to confide that he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

Just as different readers are attracted to different sorts of books-mysteries, romances, dramas-so too are different writers drawn to different kinds of books. While I can appreciate a good beach read as well as the next person, I also think there is a place in modern fiction for the sort of book that exercises one's moral compass and asks questions that cannot-and maybe should not-be answered.....Ultimately, the reason I gravitate toward diffcult subjects is that I produce a better novel when I'm personally challenged...

It's one of the better reasons I've read for writing dangerous or challenging fiction, no matter the consequences. My work used to be more theme-oriented, but the past year has been more plot oriented. I guess there's nothing wrong with it, but I'm starting to rethink things and make some plans for deeper stories. I still plan on writing about werewolves and ghosts and aliens, but hopefully in ways more profound. We'll see.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Danger, Danger!

This week's episode of Studio 360 was a pretty good one. The focus was on art that places the artist in one form of danger or another. A major example made was Eva Hess; her unusual sculptures would not have been possible without the synthetic materials that came of age in the 50's and 60's. Her near-constant exposure to the chemicals eventually ended her life. Trumpeter Matthew Steinfeld contributed his own story of a damaged lip caused by playing his instrument to aggressively over a number of years. A few references to performance artists, particularly those like the guest Elizabeth Streb, who purposefully put their bodies into situations that could possibly cause harm. Say jumping through a plate glass window, or living in a gallery with live coyotes a la Joseph Beuys.

What I'm wondering is what exactly could constitute "dangerous" writing. On a pure physical level, I imagine a very industrious writer could get some sort of repeptive stress injury, either from typing or writing by hand (I'm currently eyeballing the puffy callous on the knuckle of my middle finger made by many a pencil).

While this would probably apply, I guess I'm actually thinking of "dangerous" in another way. Writers from the past who challenge our morals and basic ways of thinking are often dubbed "dangerous writers". In the somewhat distant past, the Marquis de Sade certain fits the bill, while Kathy Acker and Harold Jaffe are probably the most widely known modern-day equivalents. At least in the U.S. And, of course, who can forget Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. As far as dangers go, it's hard to top a fatwa called out on you by one of the world's religious leaders.

But what drives them, exactly? Why write on topics they must know will confound, anger and perhaps even drive your fellow man to vehement violence against you just for the words you write? de Sade was thrown in prison for his words, and Rushdie sent into temporary exile. I'm sure the above were all told at one point in their respective careers to tone it down and behave before something really bad happened. But they persisted anyway. I have respect for people, for artists, like that. Perhaps it's the lack of sleep or the pounding headache, but I'm having a hard time deciding if I would have the strength to do the same.

More tomorrow, by way of Jodi Picoult.


Monday, March 07, 2005

Be Careful What You Write

Evidently in Kentucky the lines between fact and fiction are not quite so clear as where I grew up. I feel sorry for this poor kid. I wrote some pretty hateful material in highschool. If under the same restrictions, I would probably still be reliving the life of the Count of Monte Cristo.

Got a shovel, anyone?


Saturday, March 05, 2005


The Tori book Piece by Piece ended up becoming a bit of a letdown. It's not really a biography so much as a collection of interviews conducted and edited by music critic Ann Powers. The format became very problematic for me; often times I felt excluded from the finer details that really should have been explored. For example, the book does an excellent job in covering Tori's difficulties in having a child. This pain is communicated very well, but then we're cheated a bit by not getting a moment of her daughter Natasya's birth.

All the way through I kept comptrasting it with the recent Anthony Kiedis bio, Scar Tissue. Kiedis wrote very frankly about both his successes and his failures, particularly his drug abuse. Placed alongside each other Piece by Piece comes off a little two-dimensional.

Most of the book takes very broad, intellectual strokes at explaining Tori's artistic process. Where her ideas come from, how she develops them, how she works with the musicians and tech crew that support her. Some of this is interesting. The whole study of archetypes and Tori shifting into different ones for each album hints at a number of possibilites for artists of any type. But the ideas are explored on such a basic level I got frustrated. That and I got tired of reading the short interviews with her musicians who couldn't stop raving about how amazing she is to work with. Instead of providing pages and pages of quotes saying, "Tori's just amazing on how she picks up what I'm doing,", telling a quick story that illustrates this would be much more illustrative, not to mention interesting. Show, don't tell, as the old adage goes.

Powers also makes a lot of assumptions that the reader brings a certain level of knowledge of Tori's background. After getting suffiently frustrated I looked up some quick bios on her online just to give myself a better frame of reference. This means it's probably geared mostly towards the superduper-Tori-fan, and maybe it's just not for me. Somehow, though, I expected a little more.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Plagiarism: The Most Sincere Form of Flattery?

I'm working on a review for Isaac the Pirate: Capitals, the follow-up to Isaac the Pirate: Exotic Lands, a graphic novel I reviewed about a year ago. They're originally printed in French, and volume 1 received some pretty big awards for both story and artwork there. I started doing some searches online to see if volume 2 received similar accolades, and found a pretty favorable if somewhat cursory review of it.

Midway through the review, something struck me as odd. A paragraph explicating the artwork really stuck out, like it was written by a different person. Even more strange it looked familiar to me. It bothered me for about a day, and then it hit me. I wrote the paragraph.

Now first I just thought I was being spacey. I dug dug around my computer and found my original review, and unfortunately my memory was correct. The lifted an entire paragraph, word-for-word, from my review on volume 1 for their review on volume 2. Since the paragraph focused entirely on the artwork and had nothing to do with story, it fit right in.

I don't retain the rights to anything I review, so I sent an email to my contact at the magazine. The mag gets quoted a lot on places like Amazon and others, so I don't think they care so long as they cite the author and publication. This is obviously a little different.

I suppose I should be angry about it, but really I'm just amused.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Rediscovering Tori

I still remember the first time I saw Tori Amos. It was the spring of '92 and I was working at the campus radio station; for some strange reason a pass for two tickets floated into my hands for a show of hes in a small club in the D.C. area. She was just starting to promote her album Little Earthquakes, and although I had no idea who she was I was intrigued by all the buzz over her.

It was a dark, sitdown club with lots of tables. Everything was pitch black save for the lone, bright light focused on Tori and her piano. Her almost sultry voice and unique piano playing combined in a way I'd never heard before. I didn't really follow all the lyrics at the time, I remember feeling oddly balancde between the sensual and the intellectual. That and her wild, red hair and the way she attacked the piano (one critic used the unfortunate description "humping the piano") gave the performance an almost mystical feel. The club (and Tori as well) made a big deal about her growing up in Baltimore, and I remember her mother was there.

I was smitten, at least for a time. After I actually listened to her album and heard the lyrics to songs like "Crucify" and "Me and a Gun" I realized she was more than just another up-and-coming pop star with attitude. This girl had something to say; and while I didn't get it all at the very green age of 19 I still got into it.

Over the years, my fascination with her waned. I still buy and enjoy her albums, but I don't consider myself much of a fan. I haven't bought her new album yet, and although she's playing live in D.C. soon I have no plans to go. Despite all this, I still picked up the new book Piece by Piece.

The book's not so much a bio as it is a collection of personal essays/interviews expounding on her creative development. For a pretty strong feminist she takes an almost New Age approach to her development places a lot of stock in Jungian-style archetypes. Although only halfway through the book, I can tell that a large part of her interest comes from growing up as a minister's daughter yet loving ideas of rock and roll and sexuality. All of her subsequent work often involves the taking on of seemingly polar opposite roles and examining how they exist simultaneously in everyone. The Virgin Mary/Mary Magdalene roles, for example.

Although I do wish it dug a little deeper, it's an interesting read. But more enjoyable is coming back to her music and re-immersing myself in its powerful beauty. It's like running into an old friend and picking up right where you left off.