Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Methinks Thou Dost Protest Too Much

Mystery author Patricia Cornwell has taken out full page ads in at least two major newspapers, simultaneously pushing her theory on Jack the Ripper as well as denying that she's obsessed.

My ongoing investigation is far from an obsession but an excellent opportunity to provide a platform for applying modern science to a very old, highly visible case.

Read the full story, including how much she's spent on her investigations, on the BBC.


Katrina News

It's events like the Katrina Hurricane that show what this bizarre new medium of blogs can really do. Terry Teachout has a pretty good list of hurricane related blogs if you're looking for info from the more personal side. Each blog also spins out to links for dozens of others with similar content from a different perspective. I look through them whenever I start feeling numb to all the news reports.

If you're looking for a way to help and don't live in the area, I suggest donating to the American Red Cross. Best of luck to everyone down there.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Oh, Olsson's. What Happened?

I’m going to start off by saying that I like Olsson’s Books. I’ve been shopping there since a little kid, and I’ve always been impressed by the range of things they keep in stock and how informed their staff usually is. They also often hold readings for local authors, which few stores are willing to do unless the writer is a best seller. In general, the only complaint I have about them is that they don’t carry enough lit mags.

That’s why I was so surprised by the disorganized nature of the reading last night at the their Dupont location.

The first problem was that they lacked a microphone. While the store is not particularly large, with all the bookshelves that block the sound, and the droning of their HVAC system and cash registers, hearing was difficult. It was almost impossible to understand the gentleman who introduced the authors, and I was fairly close to the front. The podium they had set up was falling apart, and the 2nd reader wisely chose to push it to the side after seeing the troubles the first had with it.

Probably the worst aspect was that they seemed totally unprepared to sell the books by the authors. They only had a small number in stock, and I heard several people asking about them. On top of not having enough, Olsson’s didn’t have the books in their computer system and were unable to sell them anyway. A very kind and patient woman from the publisher did what she could to sell the books herself. But unfortunately she arrived expecting the store to sell them, and she couldn’t provide change. The store refused to make change unless you bought something else from their stock. I was all ready to purchase books by all three writers, but because of the change situation I had to settle for just one. Very sad, since both the store and the authors lost money due to the store just being unprepared. Olsson’s has a long reading series ahead of them, with a lot of excellent authors. I hope they get their act together soon or authors won’t want to read there anymore.

Despite all the bad mojo created by the store, the reading itself was still excellent. Billups Allen started things off; he was there to promote his novella Unfurnished but chose to read from some works in progress instead. Allen is a slightly heavyset fellow, and looked very disheveled in some brown slacks and an untucked blue dress shirt. If his name is familiar to you, he used to live in D.C. and has some strong connections to our punk scene. His delivery was a little off—monotone and occasionally stilted—but the material was strong enough that it was still very entertaining. One piece was about a man who makes some extra cash by stealing and selling organs on the black market, and it featured a very funny yet gross yet funny slapstick-style liver transplant scene. The 2nd story was about a heavy set, disheveled man (he admitted in a back handed way that it was based on himself) scrounging to find his way in life.

Joe Meno read next. He was the primary reason I went last night, because I’m such a big fan of his last novel Hairstyles of the Damned. I’ve blogged about it, and pushed it on just about everyone I know I thought might like it. His new novel How the Hulagirl Sings is about an ex-con and his best friend trying to make their way through life after their release. Meno was there punked out in jeans and a plain black t-shirt, bared fore-arms showing the bottom edges of tatoos. But it was punk softened a bit around the edges, non-threatening, approachable. He’s a skilled reader who knows his material and knows how to milk it to keep the attention of the audience. The new book seems wonderful, and I look forward to reading it soon.

Marlon James closed up the reading with pieces from John Crow's Devil, a novel set in Jamaica of the 1950’s that focuses on a power struggle between two preachers. He read with a unique rhythm and flow, and his slight Jamaican accent only added to the evocative images within his work. Powerful and wonderfully described, I hope finding a copy won’t be too difficult.

I apologize to all the readers for the unfortunate mishaps at Olsson’s last night. But trust that all readings in D.C. don't go this way, and that everyone who came enjoyed themselves. I heard several saying they would get your books online, so it wasn't a wasted trip. Best to all of you.


Monday, August 29, 2005

Events for the Week

29 Monday

7 P.M. Fiction writers Joe Meno , author of the new novel How the Hula Girl Sings, Marlon James , author of the new novel John Crow's Devil, and local musician Billups Allen , author of the horror novella Unfurnished, read from and discuss their work at Olsson's-Dupont, 1307 19th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-785-1133.

30 Tuesday

6 P.M. Readtiki: a night celebrating "Get Real Wild" adult summer readers. DJ Larry McCoy will be on hand to play dance music. Enoch Pratt Free Library, Light Street branch, 1251 Light St. Baltimore, Md. 410-396-1096.

7:00 P.M. Free poetry reading. Barnes & Noble Books, Bowie Towne Center, 15455 Emerald Way, Bowie, MD. 301-809-9077.

31 Wednesday

6 P.M. Alexandra Robbins discusses and signs Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities at Barnes & Noble-Metro Center, 555 12th St. NW, 202-347-0176.

1 Thursday

7 P.M. Mel Belin, Judith McCombs and Rosemary Winslow read from their work as part of the monthly poetry series at Mayorga Coffee, 8201 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, Md. An open reading follows; call 301-907-3081 or e-mail for details.

2 Friday

7:30 P.M. Northern Virginia Writers begins its new season of "First Friday" workshops with Richard McCann, co-director of American University's MFA in Creative Writing program, discussing "cross-training your writing" at the Leesburg Town Hall, 25 W. Market St., Leesburg, Va. Refreshments, with an opportunity to network with other writers, follow. Admission is $4 for Leesburg residents, $6 for the general public. For details, call 301-654-8664, e-mail or visit The Writers Center .

7:30 P.M. Spotlite poetry features local artist Slick Vic Low this week, performing for his CD release and live DVD recording entitled The Art of Spitting. No alcohol, no profanity, no drugs. Notre' Maison, 18 W. 25th St., Baltimore, Md. 443-824-2435.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Eternal Champion Rides Again

Back in high school I read almost nothing but fantasy. If it didn’t have a wizard or some busty amazon wielding a massive sword on the cover, I didn’t want any part of it. Mike, a drummer friend of mine at the time, once put a thin, tattered paperback in my hands called Elric of Melniboné. I was dubious, because the cover featured a gaunt, pale, rather morose looking fellow seated on a throne. The only hint of some action was a black sword sitting just to his side.

I ended up reading straight through the night and finishing the whole book. Although fully in the world of myth and magic, Elric is a very different hero. A slender, and even sickly, albino he was not the typical muscle bound hero as a well educated, scheming courtier plotting his way to the throne. As the story develops he kills his own lover and leads a revolution on his home Empire of Melniboné. An unusually complex character driven by desires of adventure (not to mention a sentient soul-drinking sword called Stormbringer) Elric pushes onward into his difficult destiny instead of taking the simple path of immediate riches of power.

Elric is what creator Michael Moorcock terms an avatar of the Eternal Champion, a being who defends the balance between law and chaos across the multiverse. Although despicable, devious, violent, and cruel Elric managed to be a compelling character because when he came down to it he acted a hero. He did whatever it took to maintain the balance, even purposefully destroying the very society he once ruled over. I had never read a character I liked and despised at the same time, so I was quickly addicted to his world.

What I didn’t realize was that reading Elric launched me into what’s one of the longest running series of fantasy books ever. As Moorcock continued writing, he expanded on his ideas of the multiverse and the Eternal Champion. He or she takes different forms in different series, sometimes fighting on the side of what we would consider good, other times on the side of what we think of as evil. Jerry Cornelius, Corum, Hawkmoon, the von Beks. Each spawned their own series of books, and each gave Moorcock the opportunity to expand on his ideas through different points in history and mythology.

Moorcock’s latest installment, The White Wolf’s Son, makes a valiant attempt at tying together a number of loose threads created over the years while still leaving some room for future volumes if he decides to push even farther. This story primarily belongs to Oonaugh, a distant relative of Elric living in modern day England. Oonaugh’s normal, twelve-year-old lifestyle is shattered when Prince Gaynor the Damned and his assistant Klosterheim attempt to kidnap her. She manages to avoid their plots, but only by falling into a Lewis Carroll inspired reality populated by sentient houses and talking foxes who love to quote Robespierre. We see most of the tale through Oonaugh’s eyes, told as a retrospective tale of sorts after she’s reached old age. Although I don’t always believe Oonaugh’s voice to be that of a woman, it gives Moorcock the opportunity to expand on observations and philosophical ideas that he would otherwise not be able to explore.

As Oonaugh travels through different realities, we learn that Gaynor and Klosterheim believe her to be an essential piece of their plot to destroy the entire multiverse and recreate it in their own image. Every world she enters seems poised on the edge of revolution, and Oonaugh’s very presence seems the cause. Elric, his daughter Oona (who's also somehow Oonagh's grandmother) and a cast of others who protect the Cosmic Balance seek to protect the girl and, eventually, a young man also related to Elric.

Needless to say, this story develops out of a very complicated nature. References to Moorcock’s past works, appearances of numerous Eternal Champions, and no small bit of philosophy make it a detailed and deeply involved book. I have mixed feelings about this. Moorcock’s dedication to his vision and unwillingness to dumb down his work is admirable. And while these aspects will certainly appeal to the uber-fans of Elric, it creates a natural barrier to anyone picking up this volume as an introduction to his writing. Surely a difficult line to walk.

To help battle this problem, Moorcock employs young Oonaugh as a device to clue in the newer reader (or readers like me who might have forgotten a lot) into the back-story by asking continual questions. Moorcock does an admirable job weaving these into the narrative, but it can get a little overbearing if you’re just reading for pure action. Not to fear, though. Elric develops and schemes political plots aplenty and the climatic scene at the end spins more thrills than almost anything else Moorcock has ever penned.

Despite some small issues Son of the White Wolf is a fresh, fabulous work, showing what an artist truly dedicated to his vision can create in the often worn out epic fantasy genre. The layers of complicated plot will satisfy longtime fans of Elric. Although that very nature might drive some readers away, it will hopefully drive the more adventurous readers to Moorcock’s other works so they can better understand everything within his vast multiverse.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Good Life

Today kicked off a week vacation from work, and I started things off by questing for my dad's birthday gift (happy b-day dad). I remember as kid that he watched the movies of The Thin Man on PBS. They've just been released on DVD, and I knew it would make a good gift for him. I started off by hitting Best Buy and Circuit City, neither of which of even had the DVD set in their system. Fortunately, Borders Books did. Unfortunately, the only store in the area that had one was out in Manassas, a good 40 minute drive from where I live. But I sucked it up since it's for the guy who taught me to ride a bike, kick a soccerball and drive. While there I also picked up the fiction issue for Atlantic Monthly and the newest issue of Cemetery Dance.

After I got home, I worked up a review for the newest Michael Moorcock book, which will be up here tomorrow, and I played around with some ideas for the story I started writing last week. Followed that up with a nice two-hour hike at nearby Burke Lake Park.

In other words, it was just a good day. Now if I my paying job could keep out the way, I could have a lot more of them. Is it bad that at 32, I'm ready to retire?


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Paglia Examines the Body of the Avante Garde, and Declares it DOA

It's a few days old, but there's an interesting interview with Camille Paglia conducted by Robert Birnbaum from The Morning News. Mostly she's there to promote an anthology of poetry she put together, but they go off on some tangents on culture, education, politics, etc.

Some of her points are valid. Problems with the current university system, doing multiculturalism for its own sake and not to demonstrate different routes to quality, the false veneer of the wealthier people on the left side of politics. But one comment really got to me.

The art world has actually prided itself on getting a rise out of the people on the far right. Thinking, “We’re avant-garde.” The avante-garde is dead. It has been dead since Andy Warhol appropriated Campbell’s Soup labels and Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe into his art. The avante-garde is dead. Thirty years later, 40 years later, people will think they are avante-garde every time some nudnik has a thing about Madonna with elephant dung, “Oh yeah, we are getting a rise out of the Catholic League.”

Perhaps it's her age, perhaps it's her stature. Maybe she's never been that plugged in. But the avante-garde has always been, at least in part, about provocation. Her dear Warhol had a brilliant mind, a mind that co-opted images out of the daily popular vocabulary and turned them into high art. Inventive, with some profound things to say about life in the 1960's. But also provocative. It created quite the stir at the time, painting nothing but Campbell's Soup cans on large canvasses. A number of critics at the time refused to call what Warhol and the rest of the Pop-Artists created art. But it stayed long enough and it influenced enough subsequent art that Pop-Art is a required section in any survey book of modern art.

Earlier in the article, she interestingly criticized Serrano for his controversial photograph "Piss Christ". It is a beautiful image when separated from the idea that the cross is floating in urine. To say Serrano's purpose was solely to antagonize "the right" limits a work that does the very same thing Warhol did with his soup cans; both force us to look at and think about a common image in a new way. That we still discuss "Piss Christ", nearly twenty years later, is a testament to the power behind the idea of the work.

So what is the new avante-garde? That's part of the difficulty. As quickly as our culture moves, a trend that crosses boundaries one day is appropriated and even blase the next month. But it's still out through writers like Harlod Jaffe and publishers like FC2. But more than likely it's also brewing and growing in places and ways critics would never consider. Only time will tell, I guess.



Because of the 20+ spam messages I got yesterday in the comments, I deleted and reposted yesterday's post on the Horrorfind convention. This means the couple of actual legitimate comments were lost. Sorry to both of you.

I've added in the word verification option for comments; while it won't make it impossible, it makes the process a little more lengthy to leave spam. Hopefully it will dissuade some of the people. I'll have a real post later on today.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Finding the Horror

Saturday I made the trip to the big convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland sponsored by the website Horrorfind. Miss L was kind enough to journey with me on this odd little trip, so I put her in charge of driving and directions.

"I can't remember if it's exit 20-A or 20-B," Miss L said.

We looked over to the lane of traffic taking exit 20-A, saw the line of cars with bumper stickers for the Misfits and White Zombie, and figured that was the way to go. We followed the flow to a nice, mid-priced Marriott hotel packed full of people. Most of the attendees wandering around were decked out in pretty standard rock/metal gear. Black t-shirts, jeans, metal chain running to the keys and wallet, lots of piercings. But a few came really committed in vampire and zombie gear. I really enjoyed the guy with the lizard face makeup, as well as the zombiefied 10-year old girl.

The ground floor of the hotel held a small convention room just for meeting and getting autographs from the celebrities. These were mostly actors, writers and directors involved with various horror and shock cinema flicks over the years, like Don Coscarelli director of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep, and Eugene Clark who played the lead zombie in George Romero's Land of the Dead. Highlights for me in that room were Julie Benz (Darla from the t.v. show Angel) and Count Gore de Vol. Ms. Benz is just about one of the tiniest women I've ever seen, but she looks pretty much like she does on t.v. The good count appeared quite dashing and strident in his vampire outfit. Actor/author/director Bruce Campbell was there as well, but he had some secret room all to himself. Although I would have liked to have met him, I'm not really an autograph hound so $20 for the autograph along with a 2-hour wait wasn't worth it for me.

The basement featured a much larger conference room for dealers, a movie screening room, a small haunted house, and mini-conference rooms for readings. The dealer room brought back memories of comic conventions from my youth. A couple of authors like Brian Lumley had tables there giving autographs and selling their books amidst all the rows and rows and rows of shop owners selling posters, action figures, paintings, books, lunch boxes, masks, movies, and more. A few small presses like Raw Dog Screaming Press and Borderlands were there, but Cemetery Dance Magazine was strangely absent (especially strange since their offices are in Maryland). A small number of indie-film makers were there as well, pushing their ultra-violent films that looked like they were shot on a standard VHS camera. Strangely, there were two or three women there billing themselves as "film stars", but were really just porn actresses. I have nothing against it, so stop fooling yourselves, ladies. If you're naked in all your movies and you're copping overly dramatized seductive poses, I don't care if you're dressed like a vampire or holding a skull between your legs. It's still porn.

The haunted house was fun, though. I was expecting cheezy animatronics covered in foam and latex, but they mixed in live actors with creepy backdrops. None of it really made me jump out of my skin, but I enjoyed more than I thought I would. Personal faves for me were the woman with a butcher knife screaming to leave her doll alone and the ten year old boy at the end. He would jump out of the wall, scream, and then open the exit for you. He really committed on the scream, though, and looked like he was having a great time shocking the hell out of people.

After a quick lunch break, we finally wandered into one of the reading rooms to hear John E. Lawson and Michael Arnzen. Lawson, a rather tall chap with long, curly hair, read some poetry. It was mostly comedic verses describing zombies, vampires, etc., and I chuckled once or twice despite myself. Michael Arnzen read a story titled "To The Lighthouse", which was basically an extension of an unfinished story by Edgar Allan Poe. He did a pretty good job emulating Poe with his special penchant for bizarre, prolonged deaths. Two things I realized sitting there at the reading:

1. A lot of the descriptions in horror writing seem based around the physical human body, even when describing something else (ie the scaffolding supported the tower like ligaments to a skeleton). Once or twice would be one thing, but it seemed a continual pattern with both writers. Not surprising, I suppose, considering so much of horror revolves around the destruction of the body. I’ll have to pay attention and see if it’s common in horror in general.

2. Although I think I could pen a horror piece from time to time, perhaps even a novel at some point, I don't think I'd ever commit a full 100% to that world. My head just couldn't live in that space all the time, for the rest of my life.

If you want pics of the convention, I went sans camera. But check out Strix N. Stones. She has some nice ones up.

My main reason for going was to check out some other markets for short fiction, and that was kind of a bust. The only presses and mags there were ones I was already aware of. So I doubt I'd go again unless it was to see someone specific, but I had a good time. If I was really, really into horror and took advantage of the movie screenings, the costume contests, etc, I’m sure it would be quite a blast. But it was definitely worth the short trip for a one-time thing.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Events for the Week

23 Tuesday

7 P.M. Clea Simon reads from and signs her new mystery, Mew is for Murder, at Borders Books-Silver Spring, 8518 Fenton St., 301-585-0550.

24 Wednesday

25 Thursday

26 Friday

12:30 P.M. The Femme Fantastik Tour. Best-selling authors, Lori Bryant-Woolridge (Hitts & Mrs), Nina Foxx (Marying Up), Carmen Green (Doctor, Doctor), Marissa Montheil (Hot Boyz), Victoria Christopher Murray (Grown Folks Buisness), and Jacqeulin Thomas (Saved in the City) bring their novels to several U.S. military bases and books stores in the Washington, D.C. area mixing romance, Christian, chic lit, and contemporary fiction all in one package. The ladies will be at Reprint Books at 455 L'Enfant Plaza SW first then they will head over to B. Dalton Books at Union Station NE later on in the day.

7 P.M. Columnist Dave Strege discusses and signs Celebrity Fish Talk: Tales of Fishing From an All-Star Cast at Barnes & Noble-Inner Harbor, the Power Plant, 601 E. Pratt St., Baltimore, Md., 410-385-1709.

7:30 P.M. Joel C. Rosenberg reads from and signs his new political thriller, The Ezekiel Option, at Barnes & Noble-Fairfax, 12193 Fair Lakes Promenade Dr., 703-278-0300.

7:30 PM Sign-up begins at 7:00 p.m. for our open mic poetry and prose reading. The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. 301-654-8664.

8 P.M. Live In The Undercroft An Open Mic/ Spoken Word vibe, featuring neighborhood artist, lite frefreshments, neighborhood artists, coffee&juice bar, and much more. Come vibe with us. St. Lukes Episcopal Church, 217 N. Carey Street, Baltimore, Md. 410-523-6272.

27 Saturday

11 A.M. Children's author and illustrator Susan Stockdale signs her recent picture book, Carry Me!: Animal Babies on the Move, at the National Museum of Natural History, gift shop, 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, 202-633-2058.

2 P.M. L.A. Banks signs her vampire huntress novel The Forbidden at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, 3500 East-West Hwy., 301-559-1140. She will also sign at 5 p.m. that afternoon at Karibu Books-Bowie Town Center, 15624 Emerald Way, 301-352-4110.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Fear and Self-Loathing in Fairfax County

Last night I was really, really in the mood to write something other than a book review, but didn't have any real ideas. I keep a notebook, aside from my regular journal, that's used solely for story ideas. A good number are writing exercises or prompts to get you going that I've come across in books or classes, while others are fledgling ideas for scenes or stories that I've come up with over time. While I don't always get a full story out it, using the notebook of ideas often gets me going down pathways I wouldn't normally venture through.

Sometimes I'll choose by flipping through the pages and pick whatever first catches my interested eye. Last night I decided to be more random. I tossed the notebook up in the air and let it fall open to a random page. I then closed my eyes, pointed, then opened my eyes to see what I picked. It said the following:

Pretend you have the ability to travel back in time. Travel into past years to meet an earlier version of yourself. How do you see your past self through your older, hopefully wiser eyes? Would you say anything to your past self? Would you do anything?

I chose to send myself back to interact with my high school self, and see where the writing took me. Things started out simple enough. I shadowed my 16 year old self as he (I?) left school, stopped off at Roy Rogers for some fries and a coke, and walked across the golf course as a short cut to get home. For awhile, it was pretty observational. I tried to remember as many physical details as I could, and had a lot of fun with that.

But things took a dark turn. When I made my today-self finally approach and interact with my past-self, I entered an area of hate and self-loathing I haven't felt in years. My fictional today-self took out these feelings pretty strongly on my past-self. Now I freely admit to not having the highest self-esteem, but it's better by far than it was in the tortured days of high school. Yes, Miss L gets on me all the time for not enjoying looking at myself in the mirror, but other than that I feel pretty well adjusted. But something about venturing into those past days brought up all those old feelings that overwhelmed me so much.

I read the piece again this morning before work, thinking maybe I was just caught up in the flow of writing and it wasn't as powerful as I thought it was. But it still hit me, it still disturbed me. I actually had trouble reading it, and I have a pretty high tolerance for disturbing books. On the rare occasions I tap into something that hits me this strongly, I know there's probably a good story in it. I just need to find the way to tie it together and communicate those feelings to a reader. It''ll be a tough path to walk, but hopefully worth the effort.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Searching For the Scribe of the Cards

I've been having some odd experiences on the metro this week, and strangely feel the need to tell them. I'll start off with today's, which is the simplest.

Like any smart metro rider on their morning commute to work, I power-walked down the escalator and across the clay-colored tile of the platform to get one of the plum spots on the train. I'm at the first stop on my line, so it's usually a given that I'll get a nice window seat. Today I found a little something extra underneath the seat I picked. It was a small plastic grocery bag from Giant Foods, and inside sat a six-inch stack of notecards bound together by a tight rubber band. The cards were all different colors: mint green, peach, baby blue, bone white. Little dividers marked with each letter of the alphabet separated and organized the cards in some fashion. Most cards had writing on them with a name and phone number, and in some cases real world and email addresses as well. The handwriting, although legible, was rough and kind of angular. The ones lacking writing had a business card or a cut out from a newspaper staples to it. What I found, apparently, was a low-tech rolodex of some sort. In this day of PDAs and contact lists kept diligently on programs like Outlook and Yahoo make the stack of cards feel very quaint, almost a novelty.

After I got off my train at Metro Center, I went to the the main kiosk to turn it in as a lost-and-found item. The woman behind the glass peered at me as I approached, clearly unhappy that I would come up and bother her.

"I found this," I said, holding up the cards.

"How nice for you," the woman said.

"Ummm...I was hoping to turn them in. Someone might ask for them," I said.

She stared at me a moment, and then said, "No one's gonna come looking for that."

"What should I do with it?"

She shrugged. "Throw it away. Keep it. Sell it. I don't care."

She then turned away from me, clearly feeling like her end of the conversation was over.

I went on to work, with all the cards in tow.

Some of the cards like "Phone Company" are pretty generic, but others like Ms. Lyons, written on a lovely mint green card and filed under "T" for "teacher" hint at some things more personal. Some cards, like the one for Longfence with the motto "Call If You Need to Talk Right Away" emblazoned on it, seem almost mournful. It gets even more involved when I find "Zinnia", no last name, written on the one single pink card in the stack. Zinnia, whoever she is, must have written her name herself, because the letters were drawn much more carefully and in an almost giddy, bubbly style. A little heart sits in for the dot of the first "i", making me think she was (is?) a romantic interest of some sort. I called the number, hoping to discover the identity of the scribe of the cards. But I was only greeted with an automated voice telling me the number was disconnected and no alternate number was available.

After looking through the cards some more, I felt a little dirty. It's kind of like peering into an odd corner of someone's life. Little fragmented, loosely knit connections that in some way make a whole person. I can't help but think of Borges, who often said the best way to know him was to read his writing. I wonder about some magic spell or some far-flung future technology that string these cards together and bring this unknown person to life. Or at least simulacra close enough to figure out who the real person is.

I also wonder how lost this person will be without all these phone numbers and addresses. A good number of the cards look pretty worn, their colors and writing relatively faded. Some must stretch back several years. I hope my mystery person has some way to pull the fragments back together themselves, and live life again in their own way.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Remember the King

On this solemn day, the anniversary of his death, please take time to remember with me the King of Rock and Roll: Elvis Aaron Presley. You can remember him best by repeating this oath he said everyday, and he made all of his henchmen in the Memphis Mafia memorize. This is taken word for word, as he wrote it on the back of an envelope.


More self-respect, more respect for fellow man.

Respect for fellow students and instructors.

Respect for all styles and techniques.

Body conditioning, mental conditioning, meditation for calming
and stilling of the mind and body.

Sharpen your skills, increase mental awareness, for all those
that might choose a new outlook and personal philosophy.

Freedom from constipation.

All techniques into one.

Elvis Presley 8th

Applying all techniques into one.

Now go out and celebrate, Jack!

Get Your JC On

This was sent to me, and I was asked to tell everyone I know who writes. Since all those people read here, I'll post here.

Hi everyone, happy Tuesday! I've announced that my agent and I just sold a book to BenBella Books: "Literary Cash: Fiction and Nonfiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash."

I'm looking for submissions in both categories. So far, I have short stories "reminiscent" of JC from Deb Grabien, Russ Rowland, Gretchen Laskas, and Gayle Brandeis. The fiction is supposed to remind the reader of a JC song, though there is some wiggle room there.

The NF section is wide-open. I'm looking for suggestions, etc.

Please pass this message on to interested writers.

Thanks, Bob Batchelor or email at

I might send him a query, because I have a draft of a story that somewhat involves Cash. It's about a disk jockey whose father dies, and ol' papa was a big fan of Cash. The story's a little out there, though, because it's really a metafiction piece, dealing with writing and not writing. If you've got something, give it a shot.


Monday, August 15, 2005

Events for the Week

15 Monday

6:30 P.M. John Irving will read from and discuss his new novel, Until I Find You, at the National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW. There will be no book signing, though pre-signed copies will be available for purchase, with proceeds benefiting the Eric Friedheim Library. For details and to RSVP, call 202-662-7129 or e-mail

16 Tuesday

6 P.M. Tim Page , chief music critic for The Washington Post, discusses and signs What's God Got to Do With It?: Robert Ingersoll on Free Thought, Honest Talk, and the Separation of Church and State (a new anthology of work by the 19th-century activist and public speaker, which Page edited) at Borders-Downtown, 18th & L Sts. NW, 202-466-4999.

17 Wednesday

6:30 P.M. Poets Omékongo Dibinga and Otema Yirenkyi, authors of From the Limbs of My Poetree and Pieces of a Rhapsody in Words, respectively, read from their work as part of the "Writer's Corner" series at the TransAfrica Forum, 1426 21st St. NW. Call 202-223-1960, ext. 132, or e-mail for details and to RSVP.

18 Thursday

7:30 P.M. Ted Bell reads from and signs his new Alex Hawke thriller, Pirate, at Borders-Baileys Crossroads, Route 7 at Columbia Pike, 703-998-0404.

7:30 P.M. Grace Cavalieri and Darcy Shargo read from their poetry as part of the Café Muse series at the Friendship Heights Village Center, 4433 S. Park Ave., Chevy Chase, Md., 301-656-2797. An open reading (sign-up at 7 p.m.) concludes the program.

19 Friday

6:30 P.M. Jamise L. Dames signs her new novel, Pushing Up Daisies, at Karibu Books-Centre at Forestville, 3289 B Donnell Dr., Forestville, Md., 301-736-6170. She will also sign on Saturday, August 20, at 2 p.m. at Karibu Books-Iverson Mall, 3817 Branch Ave., Hillcrest Heights, Md., 301-899-3730, and again at 5 p.m. at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, 3500 East-West Hwy., 301-559-1140.

5:00 P.M.-10:00 P.M. Horrorfind Convention, featuring readings/signings by horror authors F Paul Wilson, Michael Lamio, Carlton Mellick III, and more. Check their website for times, tickets and info on other events. Marriott Hunt Valley Inn, 245 Shawan Road. Hunt Valley, MD 21031. Admission: $20 per day, or $40 for the full weekend.

20 Saturday

2 P.M. Byron Harmon signs his new novel, Mistakes Men Make, at Karibu Books, the Mall at Prince Georges, 3500 East-West Hwy., 301-559-1140. He will also sign that afternoon at 5 p.m. at Karibu Books-Bowie Town Center, 15624 Emerald Way, 301-352-4110.

10:45 A.M.-6:30 P.M. Horrorfind Convention, featuring readings/signings by horror authors Brian Lumley, John Edward Lawson, Drew Williams and more. Check their website for times, tickets and info on other events. Marriott Hunt Valley Inn, 245 Shawan Road. Hunt Valley, MD 21031. Admission: $20 per day, or $40 for the full weekend.

21 Sunday

12:00 P.M.-4:00 P.M. Horrorfind Convention, featuring readings/signings by horror authors Brian Lumley, Pamela K. Kinney, John Marclay, and more. Check their website for times, tickets, and info on other events. Marriott Hunt Valley Inn, 245 Shawan Road. Hunt Valley, MD 21031. Admission: $20 per day, or $40 for the full weekend.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Festivals Aplenty for Lovers of the Word

For those of you like me weary of the heat, here are a few large-scale lit events coming up over the next few weeks to give you something to look forward to.

Things start off with Horrorfind, a convention on all things horror being held a little north of Baltimore. Movies, writers, small presses, and yes, Bruce Campbell are just some of the draws for this odd little gathering. I'm pretty sure I'll be going, so I'll have a report of sorts after diving into the dark side of lit next weekend. I'm not much of an autograph hound, but I should probably pick up Mr. Campbell's new novel to sign. Special thanks to Bruce, Thalia, and Adam for emailing me and answering my questions about Horrorfind.

Next up is a week long event held on the campus of George Mason University on Wednesday Sept 14-Wednesday Sept 21, dubbed Fall For the Book. Big name and local writers attending will read and speak on different issues of their craft and the biz of writing. I went for a few of the events last year, and found it to be great festival.

The following weekend, two big fests go toe-to-toe for attendance numbers. Friday Running Sept 23-Sunday Sept 25, the Baltimore Book Festival mixes local authors, writing groups, and publishing houses with big name writers like Louis Sachar and T.C. Boyle. Saturday, Sept 24 is the blitzkrieg of book events, the National Book Festival held on the National Mall in downtown D.C. Neil Gaiman, David McCullough, Gish Gen, R.L.'s a sort of who's who of people putting out books over this fall's publishing season. Surprisingly, there's not a lot of overlap between the Baltimore and NBF venues. If you want to catch everything, prepare to spend a lot of time on I-95.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Random Thoughts

Scott Esposito has a fun column on litblogs up on Rain Taxi. Aside from having some insights into this odd medium, he gives some pointers to a couple of blogs I've never heard of that look pretty good.

There's also a very interesting charity project up for The First Amendment Project. Sixteen very different authors, ranging from popular genre, mainstream, and literary, offer up the chance for your own name (Yes, you!) to appear in one of their works if you win the auction. Proceeds go towards the First Amendment Project, a non-profit onprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition. I won't list all of the possibilities, but here are a few:

Jonathan Lethem

What he's offering:
"I need the name of a Columbia University professor for a comic book I'm writing for Marvel. It can be your name or the name of a friend -- but if it's a friend, I need to hear from them with their permission."

Neil Gaiman

What he's offering:
"My next novel will be called THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. It's a children's novel, and will be published, er, when it's published. Maybe in 2007 or failing that, 2008. It will have lots of gravestones in it. Your name, or the name of someone you love (who won't mind) can be on a gravestone."

Dave Eggers

What he's offering:
"The winner will be featured in a strange illustrated story I'm working on called The Journey of the Fishes Overland. The winner, or someone of her/his choosing, will be encountered by the traveling fish in question, as they travel over land. It could also be a family, a house, an address, whatever. I get to decide why the fishes see this person/place, and what's said by/to or done by/to the person/place. This story will be finished and published in the fall. The name/s have to be tasteful and be undisruptive to the narrative. I reserve the right to refuse using a name I find offensive."

Anyway, it's a good cause. Consider bidding, even if you don't have an interest in having your name in someone else's book.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ghosts and Dolls

I finally watched Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence the other night. I'm a big fan of the original movie and the magna comics it developed out of, so while I was excited about it I was also nervous.

This film focuses on Batou, a cyborg cop who appeared as a secondary character in part 1. His partner Motoko Kusanagi vanished in part one; questions still sit unanswered on whether she died, ran away, or even had her soul uploaded to the net. As with anyone left behind, Batou is lonely and director Oshii makes good use of that. Wonderful little moments of him remembering his partner or taking care of his near-helpless Basset hound open up his character in some subtle but complex ways the first film didn't even attempt. The action comes through by way of gynoids, androids designed to be fully functional females, killing their human owners and then committing suicide. Batou and his new partner Togusa set out to investigate the case, sending them out through back alleys and villages of Japan checking out Yakuza and hackers alike.

Visually, the film is stunning. The cityscapes are pulled from sources like Bladerunner and the original Ghost in the Shell film while the gynoids are wonderfully patterned after the fetishist sculptures and photographs of surrealist artist Hans Bellmer (coincidentally one of my favorite artists). There have been some fantastic advances in animation over the last decade, allowing Oshii and his team to create images even more vivid, even more than the first film. The background scenes developed through CGI couldn't be more crisp, and the hand-drawn characters connect well to the style of the first film.

The ending is not quite so enigmatic as the first; whether this was done to connect more with western viwers or not, I don't know. But it certainly helps. I like that the end of the first movie raises all sorts of questions, but you watch a sequel to get at least some of those questions answered and they are (no, I won't give the answers have to watch it for yourself). Oshii tackles some similar issues as the first--man's relationship to technology, gritty future life, etc--but a new idea is added. Creating things within in our image, be they art, technology or something inbetween, will not only show the bright, beautiful side of ourselves, but also the ugly, terrible, evil side. Thematically powerfully and visually perfect, this is not just the best anime I've seen this year, but probably the best movie I've seen so far this year. I actually want to pop it back in the player right now and watch it again, and it's been quite some time a movie's done that to me.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Michael Cunningham: Rockstar

Although I read it a few weeks ago, I haven't really bothered yet to write up a review for Michael Cunningham's newest book, Specimen Days. Partly because there's already been an explosion of national reviews and I didn't see the need to promote a book already getting so much attention. Also partly because I didn't feel like I had anything unique to add to the conversation about Mr. Cunningham's work.

But it's nagged at me, it's picked at me. It's blend of three different genres (gothic tale, suspense/thriller, and science fiction) with strokes of character and theme usually found in more literary material make it a book that I would normally talk about if it wasn't so high profile. It, quite frankly, just wouldn't let me move on to something else.

I won't belabor the more obvious points of the book that you can easily find in the numerous other writeups on Specimen Days. Like his mega-hit The Hours, this new book stretches across generations, but with more tenuous links between the three different sections. Names are reused, characters resemble physically but take on different personas, and there's this weird little bowl that keeps popping into the story in different ways. And of course there's Walt Whitman; his poetry plays a big part in all three of the stories.

Yesterday it finally hit me what Cunningham's doing, at least with one particular technique. After leaving the metro station last night, I strapped on my walkman and started out on the walk to my car about a half mile away. I flipped through a few radio stations, skipping over bumble gum oldies and inauthentic modern rock ballads, finally landing on a classic rock station playing a Jimi Hendrix version of the old blues song "Cross Cut Saw". It's a song I know well, but I've never heard the Hendrix version. Hearing him rip through the melody in his frenetic, distorted way was a marvelous experience.

There's a concept in music theory called the tonic. It's occurs when a lead instrument solos, diverging in unique and interesting ways from the basic melody of the song. The tonic is the return, sometimes brief sometimes long, to the main melody of the piece of music. The idea is that the tonic grouds the solo, lends it some structure, and gives the listener something to latch onto while the musician plays around. It's a very central idea behind both blues and jazz. Frank Zappa was amazing at it, A Perfect Circle showed some promise on their eMotive album. But few are as good at it as Jimi Hendrix.

Now I have no idea if Cunningham had the idea of a tonic in mind when he wrote his book. The connection, to me anyway, seems obvious. Wanting to diverge into other styles and types of content, he created a clever way to connect these wildly different sections. Working in those little connections might make it that much more palatable for the general reader, and will certainly please any student using Cunningham's work for an English paper.

So if you're reading Specimen Days and you're tripping over some of the connections, just remember. His words are notes, his characters rhythm, his themes melody. And he's just rockin' out.


Monday, August 08, 2005

Ever Been Spooked?

Eight Stone Press is seeking all your scary, ghostly, ghastly stories. They seek first-person encounters with the supernatural in the Baltimore/Maryland area. Send questions or submissions to, or snail mail William P. Tandy, c/o Eight-Stone Press, P.O. Box 11064, Baltimore, MD 21212.

I'm assuming from this they want true stories, not complete fiction. But I could be wrong.


Events for the Week

8 Monday

7:30 P.M. Linda Joy Burke and Jonathan Vaile read from their work as part of the poetry series at the jazz club Café Toulouse, 2431 18th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-726-4680.

9 Tuesday

6 P.M. Jim Dale , the voice behind the audio book versions of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, discusses his craft (the creation of unique voices for over 100 characters) and reads from the newest adventure, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-364-1919.

7:30 P.M. Periel Aschenbrand , founder of the political-themed T-shirt company Body as Billboard, discusses and signs her new memoir, The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own, at Barnes & Noble-Georgetown, 3040 M St. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-965-9880.

10 Wednesday

7 P.M. Television and film writer Adam Meyer reads from and signs his new young-adult suspense novel, The Last Domino, at the Chevy Chase Branch Library, 5625 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-282-0021.

7:30 P.M. Award-winning reporter and newspaper columnist Brian Morton will speak on the art and science of writing about politics. For more information visit Maryland Writers. Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, room 308, 801 Chase Street, Annapolis, Md. 410-263-5544.

11 Thursday

7 P.M. Rich Merritt discusses and signs Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star: A Memoir at Lambda Rising, 1625 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 202-462-6969.

7:30 P.M. Christopher Whitcomb reads from and signs his new political thriller, White, at Borders-Baileys Crossroads, Route 7 at Columbia Pike. 703-998-0404.

8:30 P.M. Balance: an open mic poetry event. Notre' Maison, 18 W. 25th St., Baltimore, Md. 410-235-4773.

12 Friday

6:30 P.M. Nina Foxx signs her new novel, Marrying Up, at Karibu Books-Bowie Town Center, 15624 Emerald Way, Bowie, Md. 301-559-1140.

13 Saturday

9 A.M. Tim Wiles discusses and signs his work, including Line Drives: 100 Contemporary Baseball Poems (edited with Brooke Horvath), at Barnes & Noble-Ellicott City, 4300 Montgomery Ave., Ellicott City, Md., 410-203-9001.

3 P.M. Home Movie Day. Bring your own super-8 and/or 16mm film to show in this world-wide celebration of film and family. Film care tips provided. Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave., Baltimore, Md. 410-276-1651

8 P.M. Bold Expressions for Dangerous Times. Political activists and poets Alan Barish and Michael Shellington will present original work along with the words of Amiri Baraka and the Last Poets. Marcus Consuelo and Austin will open. Red Emma's, 800 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, Md. 410-230-0450.

14 Sunday

4 P.M. A Reading. Join website founder, Julie Fisher, as she hosts a reading of local poets. Open mic will follow. Minás Gallery, 815 W. 36th St., Baltimore, Md. 410-732-4258.

6 P.M. Guest host Theresa O'Rourke oversees an open reading evening of the Iota Poetry Series held at the Iota Club & Café, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va., 703-522-8340.

Friday, August 05, 2005

No, It's not a Porcupine or a Racy Movie...'s the newest award for books. Brought to us by the joint team of Publishers Weekly and Borders Books, The Quills approach literature in a manner similar to the way Billboard Magazine and the Peoples Choice Awards approach music. Straight off their site, The Quill Awards are a consumer-driven celebration of the written word created to inspire reading while promoting literacy.

I have no problem with this, so long as they are upfront about their process and the goals for the awards. And all things considered, they seem to be. The end goal is money, to get more people interested in different books by touting the best books as considered by Publishers Weekly and specially selected subscribers who took part in the awards process. Now that the nominees are listed, consumers can start voting as early as August 15 either on the Quills website or at participating Borders Books locations. The awards are presented in October, and will be televised across the U.S. on your local NBC station. Assuming they don't have anything better to run, that is.

You can check out all the nominees for yourselves. There are almost 20 categories, with 5 nominess in each category. I have little quibbles with choices here and there (such as over half of the poetry nominees being long dead), but the ones that perplex me the most are the ones under the graphic novel category. Ranging from biographies to fantasies and everything in between, I would think it would be almost impossible to choose a winner based on artistic merits. Nominee Neil Gaiman probably says it best with, "I'm not sure any of those five things are comparable anyway, other than they all have words and pictures". But then, it's a consumer poll and artistic merit may or may not play into it at all.

I'll give them credit for making the category, though. It's an area of publishing that most critics, editors and companies don't quite know how to interpret and market yet. Bookstores and libraries alike put brilliant works like Jimmy Corrigan and Mother Come Home right alongside collections of Archie and Jughead. I could argue that the Bone volume and Pekar's book are collections, not novels, but I don't have any real problems with any of the nomimees. A few quality books are missing from the list, I feel, but isn't that always the case? We all have our favorites.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Plantations, Letters, and More

I am, obviously, back from my trip to parts farther south in Virginia. Most of the time was spent in Colonial Williamsburg. Miss L and I are both geeks for historic sites, and even more so if they include living history style infotainment. Williamsburg, I guess, could be considered a Disney World of sorts for people like us. It's kind of an amazing thing, though. This weird little village putting up a veneer of 18th century so people of today will know how it used to be. Costumes, food, toys, and general bric-a-brac available for purchase at every turn, it's hard to beleive they can maintain their status as a non-proft organization.

On the way back, we stopped off at a few of the James River Plantations. There are 5 or 6 in total, all scattered on both side of the James River between Williamsburg and Richmond, with buildings dating as far back as the early 18th century. The weird part, though, is that some are still in use as homes. Even though we put the requested $2 each into the dropbox to look around, I still felt a little like a trespasser checking out the gardens and grounds for Westover. Mostly because the owners were hanging around in the back, doing things people normally do in their backyard. Unloading groceries from their minivan, playing with the dog. Their backyard just happens to sit behind a big 18th century mansion that overlooks the river. I recommend them, though. They are a little off the beaten path, but well worth the drive if you're in the area.

I returned home to find not one but two of those confusing letters writers sometimes receive. You know the ones I mean. The ones that say things like, "Good story, but no thanks. Hope to see other pieces from you in the future, though." One for a horror piece, the other for a piece a bit more literary.

It creates a very odd feeling. Encouraging, because they didn't just shoot off some form letter. The editors made the time to refer to specific things in the story (so I know they read it, I guess), and personalized it, making me feel like I accomplished something. Discouraging, though, because I didn't accomplish enough for their particular mag. Or at least not what they wanted.

So it goes. I'll keep shopping them around, and hope someone see the merits I know they have.


Monday, August 01, 2005

Events For the Week

2 Tuesday

2 P.M. Children's author Michelle Y. Green reads from
and discusses her new biography, A Strong Right Arm:
The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson
. Aladdin's
Lamp Children's Bookstore, 2499 N. Harrison Street,
Arlington, Va. 703-241-8281.

3 Wednesday

7 P.M. Samantha Dunn discusses and signs Faith in
Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex, and Salvation
Olsson's-Penn Quarter, 418 Seventh St. NW, Washington, D.C.

4 Thursday

6:30 P.M. Hip-hop writer and activist Black Artemis
signs her new novel, Picture Me Rollin', at Karibu
Books-Bowie Town Center, 15624 Emerald Way,

6 Saturday

1 P.M. Blue Mercy by Illona Haus reads from her new book Blue Mercy Mystery Loves Company,1730 Fleet St. Baltimore, Md. 410-276-6708.

1 P.M. Local authors Piper Nicole, Cynthia Crowner, Alley
Robinson, Francis A. De Bartolomeo, and T.J. Perkins sign their books. Part of the First Saturday Series at Barnes & Noble, 601 E. Pratt Street, Baltimore, Md. 410-385-1709.

7 P.M. Cartoonist Emily Flake signs her first book, LuLu Eightball.
Afterparty will take place across the street at the
Golden West Cafe. Atomic Books, 1100 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, Md. 410-662-4444.

8 P.M. Poetry for the People Speak N Spin, featuring muMs Night of music, movement, and poetry, produced in association with Femi and Native Son of the 5thL with DJ Nat Turntables and hosted by Olu Butterfly. 14 Karat Cabaret, 218 W. Saratoga Street, Baltimore, Md. 410-962-8565.

7 Sunday

5 P.M. An Evening of literature featuring Michael Glaser, along with other poets. Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway, Greenbelt, Md. 301-441-8770