Thursday, July 27, 2006

My New Experiment

Lately I've been really dissatisified with my fiction writing. Particularly my descriptions of people. For whatever reason, they seem weighed down by surface details and severely lacking in anything else. So I started a new daily project, for any day I'm working at the library.

1. Before leaving for work, pull a number out of a hat. This number is the library patron I will write about. Meaning if I draw 19, the 19th patron I help will be my subject for the day.

2. Spend no more than 10 minutes jotting down notes on the subject.

3. Start with, but don't limit myself to, physical details. If I noticed the patron before helping him/her, include those details as well. If helpful write about what help they needed (ie what books they checked out, needed a library card, etc). Feel free to make inferences and guesses on the subject's personality and history based on appearance, demeanor, etc. The use of dialogue is encouraged but not required.

4. If I help multiple people at the same time---ie checking out books for a mom with two kids---I may write about the entire group but the focus should be whoever hands me the library card or directly asks me for assistance. In the event I can't determine who the subject is, flip a coin.

5. The end product should be between 50 and 100 words. Edit and modify as needed to make it readable.

The rules might be altered slightly as I go, but I doubt by very much. I want to keep the choice of who I write about relatively random. It's easier to write about colorful characters---the wacky ones who are so much easier to write about. This exercise is partly about writing about normal people and making them interesting and distinctive. We'll see how it goes. If any turn out unusually well, I might post them.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Abandon The Old in Tokyo

Japanese comics are best known for the phenomenon of manga. With its wide-eyed heroes and cute storylines, even the most serious of them still present the world as a generally happy place. But manga has a darker, less popular cousin named gekika. Much like the indie-comics movement of the US, gekika started in the 1960’s and continues today, striving for more realistic stories with a general theme of how difficult life can be.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi is one of the more respected practitioners of gekika and this new collection Abandon the Old in Tokyo brings together seven short stories created during 1970 when he experimented with ways of merging it with the lighter manga. With characters struggling through everyday situations of horrible jobs, lost love and alienation he uses black humor to create thoughtful allegories and reflections on life in modern-day Japan. The opening tale “Occupied”, for example, features an artist for children’s books. Intensely bored with his job he finds new inspiration in one of the most unlikely of places: the scrawled graffiti on a bathroom wall.

In “The Hole” a disfigured woman sets a trap for and captures a man hiking through the woods. As the tale unfolds we learn the reasons for the hiker’s capture are not as random as they first appear.

With spare dialogue and very little narration the stories rely quite heavily on Tatsumi’s ability to tell the tale through his imagery. The black and white artwork places sketchy, manga-like figures against a densely shadowed backdrop of towering, intimidating cityscapes and forests creating nice visual echoes with the storylines.

Much like Murakami's novels, these tales have a magical, fable-like quality. Even the oddest story---an almost surreal tale of woe about a failing business who is so despondent he is only able to make a connection with a dog---carries with it a message about the difficuties of reaching beyond your ablities and wishing for what you can't have. While definitely not for those searching for light entertainment, Tatsumi’s work will appeal to fans of the more offbeat and grim side of independent comics.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Friday Link-o-Rama

Scott McCloud's Story Machine is a wonderful tool if you're stuck on a writing project. Especially if you're stuck in that "what am I going to write about" mode.

Matt Cheney on extensive exposition. Or as SF people often call it, Infodump.

A new anthology celebrating the work of Robert E. Howard is looking pretty cool. Great line-up for SF and Fantasy fans.

The NYT on authors doing their own Audio Books.

TVV on the history of women illustrating for comics.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of Library Thing. Sharing what's on your bookshelf sounds interesting on the surface, but it seems like yet another way to communicate with people about reading and writing without actually doing it. And I do enough of that already.

New issue of Beltway, the DC-based online poetry journal, is up. The focus this time is on places within the DC region and has work by peeps (both local and non) like Elizabeth Bishop, Gregg Shapiro, Richard Peabody, and Sterling A. Brown. It's a fun tour of the region, whether you've been here or not.

Feminist SF-the Blog! writes on issues of race and gender in the multiverse of Joss Whedon.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I'm Not So Radical

This past weekend Miss L and I ventured to the Center Stage in the heart of downtown Baltimore for the Radical Bookfair, hosted by Charm's City's own radical bookshop Red Emmas. The fair brought a number of small presses and radical bookshops to promote and sell items; it also featured special workshops, mostly focused on DIY techniques to publishing and running an indie bookshop, although there were others like making your own feminine hygiene pads using scraps of sewing material (really).

Not surprisingly, most of the dealers were selling political material. I think what was most surprising to me is how little the extreme left end political thought has progressed---not that it's progressed really in other groups either. Much of it was based in communism and pretty much every publisher and bookshop offered some sort of version of Marx's writings or critical interpretations of them. Others extended into anarchy and social independence, and there were a couple of presses specializing in feminism.

Most of the people attending were in their early 20's and were either dressed for a punk rock show or donning t-shirts with the hammer and sickle symbol or a big portrait of Che Gueverra. Needless to say, both Miss L and I were a bit out of our element---fascinated, but out of our element. Neither of us could be confused for Republicans, but we felt kind of like we were walking around in that environment.

Not that all the dealers were selling political material (although most were). A few tables were selling indie zines and comics on everything from punk rock to working crappy jobs. There was one publisher with a table full of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks ---Miss L bought one that looks pretty good. A interesting magazine called Spread was also there; it's a quarterly mag on the sex industry written specifically for people in the industry (strippers, prostitutes, escorts, etc). Miss L bought a copy out of sheer curiousity, and it covers everything from health concerns to running a business. We both wondered if the two women working the table were in the biz itself, but we didn't get up the nerve to ask. I also learned that the Baltimore City Library system stocks, catalogues and loans a large number of indie zines, most of which they get through Atomic Books. One of these days I'll have to dig into their catalogue and see what they actually carry.

The one thing I bought was a novel entitled An Open Entrance to the Shut Palace of Wrong Numbers by Franklin Rosemont. If you're not familiar with Rosemont at all, he was the de facto head of the U.S. branch of Surrealists during the 60's and 70's. Although he wrote a lot of his own material, he's probably most widely known for editing various collections of essays by founding Surrealists members like Andre Breton and Paul Eluard. If you have a copy of the Surrealist Manifesto anywhere in your library, take a look---Rosemont was probably the editor.

Strangely, the table I found the book on was packed with books by Rosemont. More than I ever thought existed. The young man behind the table looked like he had stepped out of a 1950's movie. Dressed in a sweater with alternating green and black stripes, small-framed glasses and a black beret on top of his head he was certainly ready to play the part of the token beatnik. i honestly didn't know how seriously to take him, especially since he was at a table filled with Surrealist texts. We had a nice chat, though, about the current state of writing and the lack of solid political thought in art today.

Would I go again? I honestly don't know. I'm still digging through all the various freebie magazines I walked home with, which is partly why this post is so late. A lot depends on that, but I feel like the whole event kind of cemented something I've long suspected about myself---as much as I love radical artwork I don't really subscribe to the whole radical lifestyle for myself, no matter how romantic the image can be sometimes. For those that do follow the lifestyle: go for it. We need people on the fringes of thought to keep the rest of us moving.